Michael raised practically all of the parental red flags: he was an unambitious young man who’d dropped out of school and did the occasional odd job for a living; he rode a motorcycle; he sometimes ‘forgot’ to pick me up for dates; at the rare family gatherings he attended, he was monosyllabic to the point of rudeness; his hair and fingernails were seldom clean. For me, in the throes of a difficult adolescence and at almost constant loggerheads with my father, he was a gift from the gods.
Fast-forward a quarter century and my daughter, whose first few years of teenage-hood were similarly tempestuous, has hooked up with an ‘unsuitable’ boy. I was disinclined to like this young man from the beginning: I didn’t like the way he spoke to my daughter (the only way he seemed able to communicate with her was sneeringly), he refused ever to meet my eyes, and I found his general demeanour sulky, unenthusiastic and cynical.
But, remembering Michael, I zipped my lip. My reasoning was that if I left well enough alone, my daughter would lose interest.
Only, she didn’t. Over a year later, they’re still together. And not only has their relationship not become any more comfortable, but he hasn’t become any more likeable.
And I’ve been finding it harder and harder to keep my counsel. Recently, when I overheard him sniping at her, I just couldn’t keep quiet. ‘I don’t like it when you speak to my daughter that way,’ I told him. ‘The world is full of people who’re only too willing to run you down – you don’t need your nearest-and-dearest doing it, too.’
‘I was only joking,’ he said, staring angrily at the floor.
When, on Valentine’s Day, he didn’t even call her, I was outraged for her. She pretended she didn’t care – but I’m her mom, and I know that of course she did.
And there’ve been other incidents – I’ve caught him out in a lie (a pretty big one); he’s behaved in a remarkably irresponsible fashion that led to the theft of some of my personal property; his mother had an entirely unwarranted go at my daughter and he didn’t stand up for her.
What to do? My daughter is old enough, now, to understand that if I disapprove of a relationship, I probably have reason to – and she’s not blind to the failings of her boyfriend, anyway. ‘He can change, Ma,’ she tells me – but I’ve been alive for a lot longer than her, and I know that the kind of ‘changes’ that would be required to turn this disagreeable young man into someone willing, considerate and pleasant to have around are pretty damned profound.
In the meantime, as much as my daughter wants to have him around (although why, beats me), I don’t, and I’ve been contemplating simply banning him from my home – but my daughter lives here too, so that isn’t fair, is it?
How should parents deal with unsuitable romances?