Waving, Not Drowning

Dear Viv: How should I introduce my conservative parents to my "alternative" boyfriend?

On this week's podcast, Viv discusses the rejection of an invitation to move in, how to introduce a tattooed boyfriend to conservative parents, how to support a sister with mental-health issues, and whether or not to get involved in a family fallout

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv,

After a lot of consideration, I asked my partner if they'd like to move in with me. To my surprise they said they couldn't live in my flat because it doesn’t suit their lifestyle, (not enough creature comforts, not enough space for their clothes). This may seem trivial but it took a lot of courage to ask the question and I feel like their answer is a huge rejection. What does this mean about our relationship? Should I consider breaking up with them over this?

Hello, passionate flatsharer! Thanks for your letter. I’m reading between the lines here with you saying “they said” and “their lifestyle” instead of he or she. But no matter the gender of your partner and would-be flatmate, this question has the same answer. This is a question about commitment. It sounds as if you’re not on the same page. Have you had that conversation? Can you have that conversation? I feel bad that you’re having that conversation with me instead of having it with your partner. Of course, this is a huge rejection but I think there could be some sensible reasons for it and it doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is over. Maybe your partner really needs their own space. Maybe they just don’t feel ready to move in with you yet. Maybe they want to break up with you but don’t have the heart to say it. There are a million interpretations. You can’t know until you have the conversation. I think you have to be prepared to open yourself up a bit more in order to get to the truth. Say: “You rejecting my offer to move in really hurt me. What’s going on? Do you still want us to be together? Do you think we’ll ever live together?” There’s no way to answer these questions without asking them. I don’t think this is a trivial thing at all. But I also don’t think it’s immediate grounds for a break-up. Get yourself some rhinoceros hide and be prepared to ask the painful questions.


Dear viv,

My boyfriend and I have been together for 9 months now and my parents are really keen to meet him. The problem is he has several tattoos and piercings, which is a major part of his personality (which I adore and would never change) but I know my parents will be really against. They’ve made their feelings on these things quite clear for as long as I can remember and I just don’t know whether they’ll be able to restrain their disapproval. Is it too soon to put him through this? Is there anything I can do to help reduce the impending nightmare that is them meeting for the first time?

Aarrrgh! I love this question! I would really like to be a fly on the wall at this meeting. I wonder whether one of the best strategies here would be for them to meet on neutral ground, for starters. Your parents are perhaps going to feel less uncomfortable if you meet in a restaurant where there might be other tattooed, pierced individuals, for example. I don’t know how comfortable they or your boyfriend will be if he comes into their own space on a first visit. But I’m racing ahead. What you really want to know is whether it’s too early for him to meet them when you’ve been together for nine months. Which is really code for: “What if they react so badly that he dumps me?” So what you’re really talking about here is whether your parents are going to put your boyfriend off you. Meeting the parents is a big test of any relationship. And I think maybe it’s better to find these things out sooner rather than later. If your boyfriend is a decent person then he’ll understand that your parents are entitled to their views – however reactionary, old-fashioned and silly – and that their views actually have nothing to do with him, with you and certainly nothing to do with your relationship. Of course, it’s always possible that your parents will embarrass you with some odd looks or misplaced comments. But you can survive that. What will be interesting to see if how your boyfriend reacts – if he looks after you and shows you that it’s OK, he can take this. I’m guessing that you’ve warned him in advance and explained your feelings about your parents: that although you have different views about things and they are not very tolerant that you love them and they’re still your parents. I’m sure he’ll understand that. What a great meeting this will be. Maybe you should get a new tat and some piercings in solidarity? Only kidding. Don’t want to give your parents a heart attack.


Dear Viv,

My sister has struggled with her mental health for years and recently went through a really bad depressive and anxious episode. Through some NHS therapy and medication she’s in a much better place now, but can still have bad days or weeks. While she was really ill I helped as much as I could, but now that she’s feeling better we don’t really discuss it – if I bring it up she tends to brush it away, almost as if she doesn’t need me now. Our family was never great at talking about our feelings, and although we’re close we don’t see each other very often. How can I make sure she’s taking proper care of her mental health without making it seem like I’m being patronising or interfering , and how do I let her know that I’m here for her if she needs to have a proper talk?

Dear Viv,

My nan won't speak to my brother for silly long-forgotten reasons. Since their fall-out he's had a baby, her first great-grandchild, but she still won't resolve anything. I'm finding that my own feelings towards her are changing as there's always this huge negative elephant in the room and it's harder and harder to ignore, especially as the baby's first Christmas is coming up and she refuses to be a part. If I speak out though, I can guarantee she'll stop speaking to me too.

These questions have been edited for length. 

Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@thepoolltd.com. The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

You can subscribe to The Pool's podcasts on iTunes.

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