Living Columns & Blogs

Carolyn Hax: What’s behind his concern?

DEAR CAROLYN: I’ve had difficult relationships with both of my parents (Dad an absentee alcoholic, Mom generally decent but prone to very cruel outbursts during my childhood/teen years). After struggling with this, I’ve come to accept that I simply don’t love them as parents – I wish them the best and bear them no ill will; there’s just nothing warm or fuzzy there – and that’s perfectly OK.

Accepting this has both taken a lot of stress and guilt off my plate.

My question is: How can I explain this to a new boyfriend who is very into self-improvement and is convinced I’d be happier if I could somehow build this warm relationship with them?

Not Understood

DEAR UNDERSTOOD: If he were “very into self-improvement,” he’d be trying to get closer to your family, or his own. Pushing you to do this (or anything else) means he’s very into other-improvement.

It would be a lot easier if rescuer-types would just say outright, “I think you’d be better if you did things my way, meaning I don’t accept you as you are or respect the choices you made to get there.” But they never do others that favor, do they? Instead, someone who wants to fix you generally will present that disrespect as loving concern.

This may sound like a sharp response to the soft notion of his embracing the cause of Family. But what his embrace rests on is his certainty that you can do better and that he knows best. If he doesn’t grasp that, even after you explain it to him – please do – then what’s to stop him from supportively insisting you can eat better, discipline the kids better, manage your career better?

Wanting to be our best selves is noble and important, yes – when it’s our idea. When someone else wants it of us, it’s just a tarted up form of control.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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