Dear Care and Feeding,
I have three kids—two daughters (23 and 21) and a 19-year-old son. Both of my daughters have had boyfriends in the past that I have accepted and treated like sons. Currently, I am having trouble finding redeeming qualities about my daughter “Erin’s” boyfriend “Dave” besides the fact that I guess he treats her right.
He’s been in the picture for about three years and a few months ago they moved six hours away together (after living together for about a year locally) so he could recapture the magic of his college town. I am supportive of Erin spreading her wings and exploring, I just wish she was doing it by herself or at least for herself, rather than following a guy. (She has said she would not have chosen to move to this city.) I have tried to cut him some slack because I remember being 25 and being sure that I knew more than everyone else. I have tried to get past Dave’s habit of lecturing me about my field of expertise, his ambition to be a “professional poker player,” his appreciation of Jordan Peterson, his need to correct or one-up everything said in his presence… the list goes on. I am having a bit more trouble getting past him trashing me to my own kids (he joked that I was marrying my now-wife for her money), making racist and homophobic comments, and having his overconfidence and inability to take advice negatively impact my daughter’s financial future (related to decisions on housing, salary negotiations, car loans, etc.)
I had a heart-to-heart with Erin before they moved about some of the issues that have damaged Dave’s relationships with me, my wife, and my other two kids (who have both told Erin they’d prefer to spend time with her alone). My other daughter tearfully told Erin that Dave always makes her feel dumb, disrespected, and like her career is unworthy. Erin seemed to listen, seemed to agree that a lot of what Dave says and does is problematic (“I hate when he does that, too,” “I wish he wouldn’t do that”), and then literally nothing changed.
I know better than to make an ultimatum and irrevocably damage my relationship with Erin. It’s no longer a simple matter of “Erin could do better” (she could)—I feel pretty strongly that I don’t want this kid joining our family. Slate’s advice columns often talk about icing out racists unapologetically and making choices for one’s own mental health to avoid family gatherings where you know people there will do you harm. We are at the point where my parents are asking when we’ll be “rid of him” and my wife and son are anxious at the thought of sharing special occasions with him for years to come. Is there anything I can do to accelerate Dave’s exit from our lives? Or are we condemned to five years down the line one of us writing in seeking validation in our decision not to go to Christmas to avoid Dave?
Dear Boyfriend Blues,
I’m so sorry that you’re in such a difficult position. It sounds like your family has already given Erin an earful about her partner, but it hasn’t changed anything for her in terms of how she feels about him. You can try again and again to let her know how awful Dave is, but ultimately, nothing is going to change until she accepts the truth about who he is for herself. In the meantime, you could disinvite Dave from future family functions. He has insulted your other daughter profoundly and his commentary often goes against the values that you have worked to uphold within your home. He makes people uncomfortable and should not be allowed to ruin these gatherings. Unfortunately, that means Erin may choose to remain with him during holidays as opposed to traveling without him.
I would continue attempting to talk to Erin about the man she is dating. Ask her questions about how he makes her feel, how his comments impact her, and what moving to this new city has meant for her. Attempt to get her to see for herself what kind of man Dave is without berating her for choosing him or otherwise questioning her judgment. Remind her about how badly he made her sister feel, and that she, herself, has agreed with you all in the past about his behavior. Whatever you do, try not to let Erin become isolated in this relationship. You and other family members should stay in frequent contact with her, making sure that she is talking to people who are honest with her about Dave and who can hear her out if she ever chooses to open up about the likely challenges she is having herself in being with him. I hope she comes to her senses soon. Wishing you all the best.
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