AI: Dealing with Family
For a while now, my family has been subtly bringing up the fact that I don’t have a boyfriend. It started up on Valentine’s day, and culminated on them almost harassing my friends for information (which they were kind enough not to give out).
While I can understand where their concern comes from – because I am twenty and haven’t brought up any romantic interesting for the past, huh, five years?; it still feels incredibly insulting – and that’s not even because I in fact do have a girlfriend, thank you very much.
It’s insulting because one, it shouldn’t be a reason for worry that I am focusing on studying harder than on getting a boyfriend, and two, because it seriously is no one’s business. These are people I don’t want to be out to, and my privacy should be respected, regardless of our relatedness.
So I wanted to ask:
Have you ever had to deal with this situation? How do you make it clear that being a relative does not entitle anyone to your privacy? How do you make them understanding it isn’t polite to worry about someone’s love life as if it’s all that matters?
The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 3pm ET.
Okay – I don’t know your family, obviously, so I could have this all wrong.
But I totally disagree with your attitude towards this. Your family seem to have your best interest at heart, so there’s no reason to be insulted by them. It might be irritating, but that’s what you get when you aren’t out to your family – people working at cross-purposes. It’s not their fault!
I don’t agree with you at all. I think it is appropriate to be insulted when one’s family keeps reducing their worth to relationship status. Is that *really* the most important thing in a person’s life? They don’t have her best interests at heart–they have their own interests (literally–they’re being nosy) at heart. If they had her best interests at heart, they’d be encouraging her in the things she’s open to talking about with them, such as education, and not focused so much on her relationship status.
See, but if I actually were straight and single (which is what they think the situation is)it wouldn’t be any less insulting that they think I’m not “complete” without a boyfriend by my side.
As I said above, my being insulted has nothing to do with the fact that I’m not out (nor intend to be) to them. It has to do with them not respecting my privacy and holding the aspect of my life I think says less about my worth as a human being (that is, my relationship status) above everything else I do and am successful at.
Also, the fact that I’m insulted by this does not mean I don’t understand they think they’re doing what’s best for me. Because I do.
But understanding where they come from so absolutely does not mean I have to put up with it, 😛
Except that Aretha’s family has gone behind her back to try and get information. Not having a boyfriend isn’t like perhaps suspecting that someone might have a drug issue or some other problem that they might have trouble admitting. There is nothing wrong about not having a boyfriend so going behind her back to try and suss out information is a massive invasion of privacy.
I’ve had to deal with the situation a lot. As far as my parents are concerned, I have never, ever been in a relationship. My best response is always to just roll my eyes and say nothing of substance, with no mentioning rights to privacy or politeness, because any real response opens up the dreaded ‘why?’ question that I do not want to grapple with.
It is hell to deal with though, and always has been. The entire situation is presumed straightness wrapped up with the notion that single is bad, topped off with “people are going to think you’re a dyke” which is just all kinds of fucked up, and sprinkled just a tad with the idea that women aren’t complete without a man.
It doesn’t help how my family tends to go about it, though. One specific incident involved my brother changing my facebook status to “I finally have a boyfriend!” which my mom found hilarious (and which I did not notice until people had already commented on it). Nice way to elevate how shitty that makes me feel- make it a public mocking too while I tell everyone no, that was posted as a joke.
woops, this was not supposed to be a reply. :/
Okay, but is it possible that they suspect that you have someone else in your life that you’re not telling them about? Like I said, I don’t know your family. But families generally ~are~ nosey. They probably feel it’s their job to be nosey, and it’s probably just because they care about you (I don’t buy that it’s out of self interest, Will!)
I think the fact that they’re asking friends for the goss means they probably do suspect something’s going on. It probably makes them feel excluded or that there’s something wrong.
They’re your family and they just want in! I think it’s quite normal for parents to want to know who you’re with. Do you have a good reason for hiding your sexuality from them? Would they go nuts and cut you off?
Yeah, I should make it clear this is not my parents I’m talking about. I do think my parents have the right to know, and I would answer if they asked (though I’m not quite in the place to actively bring it up to them just yet, because they might not be ok with it). This is aunts and uncles and cousins.
I come from a huge family and everyone treats everyone like they’re extremly close – this is actually something quite ingrained in our culture – and so yes, they tend to be very nosey. But I am a very private person, and while my parents understand and respect this and usually wait for me to come to them, the rest of the family doesn’t. And currently, I’m physically closer to the rest of the family.
Which is why this bothers me so much. (Well, that and the fact that they really think I’m miserable in life for not having a man by my side and that “it isn’t healthy” to just “study my life away”.)
And being such a private person, I really wouldn’t like my sexuality to go ’round on family discussions, so that’s mainly why I’m not willing to be out to them. I don’t really mind their reactions, as much as I would my parents’, or as much as I mind *being talked about*.
Oh, and as for you first question, I think they just find it really awkward that I never seem to have any romantic interests, and hope that it’s because I’m hiding it and not because I actually have none (because that would be so sad, right?.) Which, again, is the core of why I’m so annoyed: it just. shouldn’t. matter.
My question to you, then, is: what is the altruistic reason for reducing someone to their relationship status? If it is not promoted by self-interest (whether that be enjoying gossip or maintaining some sort of gender/sexuality status quo or maintaining family reputation or whatever), then what is the selfless reason for doing so?
Ah okay. Not sure why I jumped to the conclusion that this was about your parents, sorry! I get where you’re coming from in that case.
Totally been (partly) there, Aretha. For a good decade there, visiting my father’s side of the family always involved someone asking, “So, do you have a boyfriend yet?” The conversation usually lasted about thirty seconds.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
And that was usually that. It became a bit of a running joke with my Mum, who knew where I was coming from (she didn’t date anyone until she married my Dad at 27). It was especially funny the year I came out, and the answer became, “Because I have a girlfriend.” Good times 🙂
My Mum’s side weren’t nearly as bad, but I saw them more often, so they were very much used to my studiousness.
Have never had any of my relatives approach my friends, though, that’s not cool. I would agree with Will above, it projects their version of ‘what life should be’ onto you, without taking into consideration that you are who you are. If we accept that we have different systems of valuing, we can learn to judge (there’s got to be a better word I can use there) others based on what they value, instead of what we value. An incredibly simplified example: just because I dislike fish, doesn’t mean you’re an inherently awful person for enjoying a good salmon.
Will: I think in many cases parents like to keep up with their kids’ lives so they can be there for them if things go wrong.