DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 20-year-old student in an interracial relationship. In the days pre-lockdown, my girlfriend flew into NYC from Paris while I flew into Connecticut from SoFl. Because we hadn’t seen each other in three weeks, I told my father I would take the train into NYC to visit her. He said that was, “okay.”
My girlfriend advocated for LGBT rights throughout high school and college, so we went to the Gay Pride Parade with her two friends. She took a picture of her friends and I with a Rainbow Flag in the background. She posted it to Instragram, and Facebook. All was good.
Next thing I know, I received a message from my sister, “Dad is pissed you went to the Gay Pride Parade.” I shrugged it off. Despite my father’s brother being one of the thousands of homosexuals who died from AIDS, he’s a homophobe. Not wanting to fight with him on his settled ways, I ignored it.
The next day, I received a phone call from my mother (she and my father are divorced). She demanded I take the photo down from Facebook because I pushed one of my father’s buttons (there had been a little bit of tension between my father and I on something else). I told her I couldn’t ask my girlfriend and her friends to take their photos down. Although I could untag myself, I thought it would be silly to comply with such a request.
My sister picked me up from the train station when I returned to Connecticut. She told me, “Dad went off on your girlfriend yesterday. He called her a ‘slut,’ a slew of Asian racial slurs, a bad influence, and insulted her political stances. He threatened to not help you pay for school.'” This took me by surprise because my girlfriend has had dinner with him, and she spent a weekend with me at his place.
My father’s said terrible things. He’s one of those, “If black people can say the n-word, then anyone can say the n-word (except he says the word)”, “Bisexual people don’t exist” (he doesn’t know I’m bisexual), “You can’t rape your SO,” pieces of s
t. But, he’s helped pay for my living expenses (I attend a school in NYC. Apartments can be cheaper than dorms, and work won’t be enough to pay for it on my own). Given that, I’ve put up with his s
tty comments. This crosses line several times over. Even if this is resolved, I would be very uncomfortable with my father seeing my girlfriend again, or my girlfriend’s parents (who are wonderful) meeting my father.
Should I tell my girlfriend about this? If I should (and I’m inclined to think I should), how should I do it? Even though she’s one of the most kind and intelligent people I know, she was extremely nervous before she met my father. When she spent the weekend at his house with me, she was nervous. She wants him to like her.
A Conflicted Boyfriend
DEAR A CONFLICTED BOYFRIEND: The problem isn’t what to tell your girlfriend, it’s how to manage your father.
You’re stuck in a s
tty position, Conflicted. It’d be one thing if he weren’t a dominant presence in your life; you could treat his bigoted piece-of-s
t dinosaur ass like an embarrassing inconvenience that crops up on occasion. Unfortunately, you’re forced to put up with him for now because he’s got you by the financial balls and the leverage this gives him over your life is going to put some serious strain on your relationship with your girlfriend. This is especially true if he’s going to use his financial hold over you to bludgeon you into toeing his line. As a result, you’re stuck in a situation where you basically have the s
tty option on one side and maybe less s
tty option on the other.
There’re really aren’t any easy answers. If you tell your girlfriend about the things your Dad has said, she’s probably going to be incredibly hurt. On the other hand, if you don’t, the odds of his doing or saying something horrible in front of her (or her family) or worse, to her are likely going to go up exponentially. There’s nothing to stress out a relationship when you feel like you’re constantly having to defuse bombs every goddamn day.
So what do you do about all of this?
Well… unfortunately in this situation, just about the only thing you can do is try to thread the needle as best you can. There’s going to be a natural conflict in the desire to confront him, to try to educate him, to try to avoid things entirely or to just grit your teeth and hope you can get out of the interaction without his saying something horrific. There’re going to be consequences to any of these actions, which will inform just what you might be willing to do. And frankly, a lot of it depends on whether your father is the sort of person who’s full of bluster and hot air or if he really would try to use your financial dependence on him to control you.
The first thing I’d suggest is that you give your girlfriend and her parents an edited picture about your father. You don’t need to tell her about the things he said about her – there are things that our partners have a right to NOT know, especially when knowing is going to hurt her needlessly – but you should tell her that your father is bigoted as hell. The more she understands what he’s like, the less of an incredible surprise it will be if and when he does blow up at her. It will also help her understand why you don’t want to bring her to events where he’s involved; the last thing you want to do is to paint a target on her forehead. The odds that he’ll like her are low; the odds that he’ll say something that’ll hurt her are very goddamn high.
Next: you’re going to want to take a two-pronged strategy of saving up as much money as you possibly can in order to remove his leverage over you, while also trying to keep the peace… for now. It absolutely sucks to have to knuckle under to somebody who’s acting like a bigoted s
t-head, but if he is likely to make good with his threats, then the only real option is to go along to get along until you can make your escape. That might entail cutting your expenses to the bone. It might mean having to dial back on courses while you take on work to start saving up enough that you won’t have to rely on him. You might look into getting roommates to make living on your own more affordable. Or it might mean biting your tongue, keeping your head down and white-knuckling it until you can get your degree and get the hell out… while also keeping your girlfriend and her family at a distance from him.
It can feel like you’re selling out your soul for the cost of your education. At the same time however, this may be the price you have to pay to get your degree and not be dragged under financially by impossible student loan debts. Like I said: it’s a s
tty option and the other options are just different degrees of s
In the meantime, you can take steps to keep your sanity and minimize his ability to directly affect your life. The first is to lock down your social media accounts. Now, if you block him or unfriend him, he may well notice and this could end up making things worse. Therefore, you need to get very familiar with Facebook’s privacy settings. The current set-up gives you options that allow you to control who can see what you post with a fine level of granularity. Use them. Set up a filter that includes everybody but your father and set it so that he doesn’t see anything. No shared posts, no comments from mutual friends, no tagged photos, nothing. This is where you will want to spend the majority of your activity, especially if it’s things that’ll set your father off. If you have friends or family members who may provide that information – telling him that you checked in to an LGBTQ advocacy meeting, f’rex – then they need to get filtered as well; it doesn’t do you any good to lock him out if other people are just going to give your secrets away anyway. You’re going to have to be very on top of any changes to those privacy settings. Facebook has a tendency to change them without warning, and that can leave you unexpectedly vulnerable.
If you absolutely need to, you can also consider setting up a new Facebook profile entirely and migrating as many friends over to that one, while keeping your old one as a dummy to pacify your father.
Next: consider doubling down on your education. His hold on you is contingent on paying for school; getting done as quickly as possible cuts one of the ways he has of controlling you. If you can manage some summer courses and a higher course-load, you’ll be out of his reach that much quicker. You should also look into other possible sources of funding for school. You may be able to apply for scholarships or aid programs that will make it easier for you to afford your classes – hopefully without saddling you with mountains of debt after you graduate. The more you can minimize the power he has in your life, the less of an obstacle he’ll be.
Once you’ve got your degree and you’re out from under his thumb… well, that’s up to you. At that point, as long as he doesn’t have that financial hold over you, you are the one who has the leverage. You can use the threat of your presence (or lack thereof) in his life as the stick to make him shape up his act; if he’s going to be a bigot, he can do so without you being there. Leave him with a copy of “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo and tell him that if he wants to be part of your life, then he needs to f
king evolve already.
It’s an incredibly s
tty situation, Conflicted and you have my sympathies. I hope you can get through this with your sanity and relationship intact.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org