Love Him, but Leave Him Alone; and Does It Matter If She’s Faking It?
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I am the straight father of a gay 19 year-old. My wife and I support him in his lifestyle and love him more than anything in the world. I read your column because he brings every issue of Letters home to us. He recently told us that he’s in a relationship with a 36 year-old guy. He seems happy, and I don’t want to “knee-jerk” with a reaction that might drive him away. But he is 19, he is my son, and his welfare is my responsibility. Do I talk to this guy? Is he taking advantage of my teenager? What do I say to my son? Help!
Dr. Hurd replies,
My job is not to tell you what to do. My job is to point out errors in your thinking. Here’s your error: The words “my son,” and the phrase, “His welfare is my responsibility.” He is indeed your son. But he’s not your property. It’s his life. Of course you feel for him and care about him. But his life is not yours to live.
Once upon a time it was different. When he was two, he was totally your responsibility. I understand how it’s hard to shift that context now that he’s 19. “Seventeen years ago” isn’t very long for a loving parent, but to your son, it’s a lifetime. If he asks for your opinion, by all means give it. But there’s nothing you can—or should—do here. If there’s a problem with the relationship, he’ll figure it out soon enough. Even if he doesn’t, or if he goes into denial about it, there’s nothing you can do to change his mind. None of us can be told whom to love or not to love.
I can’t advise about his relationship based on age alone. Fabulous relationships exist between adults with vast age differences, just as do terrible ones. The issue of age alone tells us nothing about your son’s well-being in this situation, even if it were yours to decide.
The best thing to do for him is what it sounds like you’re already doing. Love him, be there for him, and stop worrying about what you can’t control. If he someday has difficulties, he’s better off with a father who can be confident and not weighed down by worry. Just be there for him should he need it.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner of 16 years has trouble getting around because of some surgery she had for arthritis. Neither of us are “spring chickens.” From time to time I like to go out for a drink and to listen to some music, and she simply does not want to. I don’t know whether she’s using her inconvenient (but not debilitating) infirmity as an excuse to not go out, or if it really is hard for her. I want to get out once or twice a week, but of course I’m wracked with guilt. I feel like I’m wasting my life in front of the TV.
Dr. Hurd replies,
If you don’t know whether your partner is exaggerating her physical ailments, then I certainly don’t. You’re in the best position to know. If she is exaggerating, she’s certainly doing a good acting job. Usually we can uncover lies by spotting contradictions in peoples’ actions. For example, the kid who says, “I can’t pay attention in school because my mind is racing,” can easily focus—with Einstein-like precision—on video games and other things important to him. Maybe that sort of thing happens with your partner?
Let’s take this a step further. Let’s assume she is exaggerating her ailments. It’s not nice, but why is she doing it? Most likely, she prefers to stay home. Does it really matter whether she prefers to stay home because she’s in pain, or for some other reason?
The only solution is compromise. Go out from time to time without her, but always invite her along. Don’t give her a hard time for not going. If she gives you a hard time, don’t be defensive. Hear her out. And then say, “I know it’s a good solution for you if I stay home. But it doesn’t work for me. I’d actually prefer you go with me, but I understand you can’t. Is it OK if we find a solution that at least works halfway for both of us?” The only reply she can give you, other than “yes,” is, “No. I want a solution that works for me, and not for you.” I don’t think she’ll say that.
I realize it’s not an ideal situation. Many pain patients tell me in counseling that they hurt more after they go out than if they didn’t. This doesn’t mean that they still shouldn’t go out sometimes, but just as her arthritis isn’t her fault, it isn’t your fault either. You have nothing to feel guilty about. Your partner isn’t well, and that’s tough for you both. Don’t make it tougher by feeling guilty over something that isn’t your doing.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, life coach, and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email Dr Hurd