I’m a 35-year-old woman and I love my girlfriend, but I don't relish her family. In almost every way you can name—culturally, politically, religiously—they're pretty much the opposite of my social circle. I'm not saying I can't spend time with them: I can. We see them occasionally and I try to enjoy them for who they are. My family is nowhere near perfect, and no wealthier or healthier than hers, so I'm not judging hers. It's just that, deep down, I'm afraid perhaps I shouldn't commit to a person whose roots seem so different than mine. My girlfriend and I seem to be mostly on the same page with our values and lifestyle, but still I worry that as time goes by, she may become more like her kin.
He Said: When I’m dating a guy, and am curious about how he’ll age, I sneak a look at his dad. If he's still handsome at 70, that's a pretty good sign about the quality of his genes. However, when it comes to "values and lifestyle," not appearance, the fruit really does fall far from the tree. In fact, most sentient adults grow up mimicking their parents best traits while distancing themselves from the bad ones, which, depending on the generation, often involve politics and morality. Polls show, for instance, that young adults overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage, just one generation removed from the biases of their parents. It doesn't mean the older generation is evil; its members just grew up in a very different time. So encourage your partner to grow into and articulate her own values and lifestyle, and then decide how—and if—you really fit in. With any luck, your partner will extend the same respect to you.
She Said: I have to admit, I’m torn about this one. On one hand, I agree that people do, for the most part, embrace their parents best traits while tossing aside the values and habits that don’t work for them. Or at least they try to do so. In reality, I’ve noticed that while many of my friends were able to significantly separate themselves from their parents’ ways during their twenties and thirties, as time goes by, the older generations’ traits unequivocally sneak into the picture, and I’m not talking merely about physical appearance. One previously free-spirited friend seems to be getting more like her narrow-minded, anxious mother by the day. Another’s frugality has evolved to his dad’s penny-pinching as he nears 50. Personally, no matter how I try, my voice just keeps getting louder and I’m convinced it will do so until I’m literally shouting everything I say, just like my larger-than-life mother (who also bequeathed me many gifts).
Life has a way of tossing curveballs, time has a way of wearing us down, and we do tend to resort to our genetic and early environmental cues to some extent. It’s unprogressive and unsexy, but it’s a grown-up truth. So you can probably expect your girlfriend to show a little more of her family’s aspects as she ages. But unless you’re from British aristocracy, or Manhattan’s upper crust, or attended one of those Northeastern boarding schools or colleges that clings to the notion of class and the ever-elusive “good family,” this is no reason to hesitate. For you love your girlfriend. And you’ll be too busy struggling with your not-so-healthy-or-wealthy tendencies to focus on her faults. And lastly, learning to accept and even embrace someone in all their strengths and weaknesses, including the weaknesses they inherit, is really the entire reason we are here. You can try to outrun that gargantuan task by finding someone whose family seems perfect, but I suspect that sooner or later it will bite you in the ass and you’ll have to learn patience, tolerance, and unconditional love anyway.
“She” is Robin Rinaldi, 7x7’s former executive editor, currently at work on a memoir titled The Wild Oats Project.