The Hook Up: How to deal with a girlfriend’s unsupportive family

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My girlfriend and I have been together for nearly a year and a half and things could not be going smoother. We love and support each other, my friends like her, my mom likes her, most of her family likes me. The only problem is with her mother. She does not like having a bisexual daughter and likes that we’re together even less (I’m the first girl my girlfriend has dated). If you asked her mother what she thought about LGBTQ people, she would say she’s pro gay rights, pro same-sex marriage, belongs to a very progressive faith community, etc. However, when it comes to my relationship with her daughter, she tells her it’s not real, that she’s only dating me because I “paid her any attention,” that she’ll grow out of it and find a man, and that the only way she can handle this is to pretend it doesn’t exist (she even ignored me when I came to meet the family). It’s putting a strain on their relationship (her mother won’t admit that either) and while I do my best to support my GF, I feel so powerless. Our relationship is only getting more serious and I’d like to at least have a cordial relationship with her whole family, but is there anything I can do? — Do Right Bi Her

Anna says: The short answer, DRBH, is to keep being your awesome self. I doubt you’ll find that very comforting however, so let’s delve deeper.

As much as we’d prefer it, we can’t control other people’s opinions of us, even if their opinions are TOTALLY WRONG, as I’m sure is the case with your girlfriend’s mom. Sometimes these situations blow over in time, as parents come to terms with their kids’ queerness, and the more they time they spend getting to know you. My mom thought my sexuality was going to be a phase for a few years. She also did not like my first girlfriend at all, which I took very personally even though she was, in fact, quite wrong for me.

Sometimes parents are like lesbians—they need a lot of time to process, which makes sense if you think about it. I’m sure your own coming out process required a lot of time, care, and thought, and it’s no different for our families and friends coming to terms with it (well, OK, it’s a little different).

That said, however, there are some actions you can take to try to win your girlfriend’s mom over and they are as follows:

Don’t let her ignore you

The next time you meet, actively and politely engage her. You can’t go wrong with complimenting her cooking, the style of her house, any interesting jewelry/clothing she’s wearing, etc. Don’t be excessively effusive or anything because it’ll seem fake, but do genuinely compliment her and talk to her. She might try to passively avoid you, but if you are proactive, then she won’t be able to avoid you for long. Stay upbeat and positive throughout the exchange, even if she’s being chilly to you. The idiom “kill them with kindness” does work, even though you might have to swallow a little bit of your pride at first.

Get to know her

When you are trying to get her to open up, avoid boring topics like the weather or your job (unless your job is awesome and interesting). Ask about her interests—get your girlfriend to help with this if you have no idea what her mom is into. My mom makes beadwork, for instance, and she can talk about beads for hours. When you show interest in her hobbies and life, you’re also sending a message that since you care about her daughter, you care about her, too. Granted, talking about your girlfriend’s mom’s Etsy soap store might not be the most scintillating conversation you’ve ever had, but hey, you just might learn something about the amazing health properties of essential lavender oils or something.

Ask for advice

Here’s an advice columnist’s secret: Whenever I’m having a hard time connecting with someone conversationally, I’ll often pose questions to them from my advice mailbag. People love talking about relationships and giving advice because it makes them feel valued and interesting. The key is to make sure you’re not asking for yourself—that is, don’t go to her mom and be like, “So how can I get your daughter to be more kinky?” Your advice question should be about someone else, a friend, a relative, whomever. And it shouldn’t be too serious or controversial. For instance, “My aunt’s neighbor is always inviting her to church, and my aunt doesn’t go to church. Do you think she should come clean or keep passively avoiding her invitations?” Or, “My brother and his wife just bought a house. What do you think would be a cool housewarming gift that’s under $100?” Or, “My friend wants to get married, but it’s only been six months. Do you think that’s too soon? How long was your engagement?” If relationship advice is too chummy for you, you can also ask for generic advice, like restaurant recommendations, vacation ideas, etc. The larger point is to make her feel good about herself, which in turn makes her feel good about you.

Bribery never hurts

Mother’s Day is approaching, after all. You could send her a bouquet, card, or tasteful muffin basket if you want to go the extra mile. If that’s too over the top, just opt for a nice wine or dessert the next time you have a family dinner.

Be patient

A year and a half might feel like a long time to you, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s no time at all. Keep on being a nice, respectful human being and a great partner to your girlfriend, and her mom should eventually see the light, especially since the other members of her family are into you. There are instances though, where despite your best efforts, compliments, and soap conversations, a parent won’t be swayed. As a friend put it, “Sometimes your significant other’s folks are going to be assholes, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Even if your partner is understanding, it’s still their parents.” If that ends up being the case, then try your best not to take it personally, continue to be nice and respectful, and remember that the only actions we can control are our own.

But seriously, bro, get the cheese basket.

Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at annapulley.com and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your The Hook Up questions at askthehookup@gmail.com.

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