Good Evening
Good Evening

Should I tell my boyfriend my parents don't like him?

DEAR CAROLYN: I'm a dentist and am lucky to make really good money. My boyfriend works at a blue-collar job and makes considerably less, which doesn't bother me. We've been dating for about a year and I know he has a great work ethic. He is an amazingly kind man and treats me with care and respect. I feel very blessed to have him in my life and I know he sees marriage in our future. He met my parents a few months ago. We had a lovely meal, and things went well. I thought. My parents talked to me privately afterward and made their disapproval clear. They called him immature and brought up the disparity in our salaries. I really thought they wouldn't have an issue with my boyfriend because they both come from working-class backgrounds. Every time we talk, they push me to break up. I'm close with my parents and they have been my biggest champions, paying for my college and supporting me emotionally throughout dental school and setting up my practice. Cutting them out of my life would cause great emotional distress. It's really wrenching since boyfriend thinks they like him. I can't share this with him, right? It's wearing me down. Do you think they will eventually back off, seeing how happy I am? Is there anything I can do to help them accept him?

Worn Down

WORN DOWN: Why, "every time we talk," do you give them room to keep pushing?

Your choices aren't limited to "sit there and take it" and "cut them out of my life." You have agency. You have a voice.

You can say, for example: "If you have concerns about [boyfriend's] character, then I will hear you out." Once, by the way — this is not license for them to carp. "But if your only message is that you would choose differently for me, then you've made your point and it's no longer open for discussion."

As always, these words are worthless unless you back them up. After you draw your line, you shut down their further attempts briskly and without raising your voice: "Next subject." Either they pivot with you or you leave the conversation.

On your own time, it might be worth exploring why your parents object so strongly and persistently. That he's "immature," for example, might be something you haven't given a proper look just because they paired it with their myopic fixation on pay.

It's also possible — just a theory — they did all their scraping and spending and supporting in hopes you would move up the socioeconomic ladder to heights they felt they could never reach themselves. If so, they may — also a theory — feel you're putting their gains at risk for this man.

If that's accurate on both counts, then it doesn't make their position any more fair to you and your boyfriend, or any less myopic about class and human worth; dentistry is not destiny, what your boyfriend earns now is not what he earns forever, and what people contribute is not just about what they earn. But it would explain their pushing against their own backgrounds. Just something to put in the mix.

Oh — and yes, don't tell him yet. Give them a chance to fix it before risking a permanent break.

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