[Two Pronged] Caught between my family and my boyfriend
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dra Holmes and Mr Baer,
Please enlighten my mind. My ex-boyfriend and I decided to part ways about 8 months ago. I initiated the break up because my family didn't approve of him because of the differences of lifestyle. He belongs to a modern type of family, which is liberated in values, while I belong to a bit more conservative/traditional one. I even had to lie about my whereabouts to my family just to be with him. It lasted for two years.
I also don't want to disappoint my family and so the guilt and the fear of disappointing them intensified which made me feel like I have to choose between the two, my family or him.
I chose my family, of course.
At that time, it felt like it was the best decision to make. However, in the process of moving on, time made me realize that I made the wrong decision because I terribly miss him and still love him that much. If only time machine existed, I would have done it differently.
I once stalked his Facebook and saw a picture of him still wearing that promise necklace he gave to me when we were still together, but returned to him when we broke up.
Being the marupok me, that gave me a little hope, that maybe he isn't over of the idea of "us" yet. Or probably I'm just the greatest assumera on earth.
Do you think it's a nice idea to talk to him? Or I'll just let him go on with his life and I'll go on with my life too? You know, letting fate do its job? What do you think I should do?
Thanks a lot!
Thank you for your email.
Parents and relations have interfered with children’s choice of partner since time immemorial. Reasons may have varied — religion, class, race, education, — but ultimately such children may have to decide either to follow their heart or their heritage.
You have faced this choice and decided to break up with your boyfriend in order to appease your family, who disapproved of him because they are “a bit more conservative/traditional” whereas he comes from a more modern and liberal background. Unhelpfully, you give us not one single example of how this difference in lifestyles actually manifests itself and so we have to accept that they may be irreconcilable.
Eight months after your breakup, you are experiencing remorse and are stalking your ex online, trying to interpret his every move, word, choice of clothes etc. as a positive or negative sign that he is open to reconnecting with you. And you want to know if you should call him.
Well, if you think you made a mistake breaking it off with him, the answer must be "yes."
However, there is a serious issue that must also be addressed that you seem to have ignored, deliberately or otherwise, and that is the unresolved problem of the difference in lifestyles that caused the breakup in the first place.
When describing how you were forced to choose between your ex and your family 8 months ago, you say "I chose my family, of course."
What has changed since then? How will you resolve the seemingly irreconcilable? Are you prepared to leave your family for your ex, presuming of course that he is open to resuming the relationship? You need to sort all this out if you are to avoid facing the same conflict as 8 months ago.
All the best,
Thank you very much for you letter. I agree with Mr Baer’s statement that “if you think you made a mistake breaking it off with him, the answer must be ‘yes’.” He also asks you two very important questions: “What has changed since you ‘chose your family’? Are you (now) prepared to leave your family for your ex, presuming of course that he is open to resuming the relationship?”
Because this seems to be the crux of your problem.
Mr Baer seems to insist you be able to articulate what exactly has changed and how you can resolve the seemingly irreconcilable. Luckily, I am not as harsh.
I can’t help feeling that the that a large part of your difficulty stems from the childhood you had. I can almost imagine what sort of upbringing you (and many of us) had which underscored the message: We are only training/teaching you for your own good. Do what we want/approve of and things will go well.
As a toddler, it is no contest. Of course you would abandon your sense of self rather than risk the devastating consequence of being abandoned by your parents. It is only the more sentient child, realistically no younger perhaps than 15/16 years old, who comes to understand that choosing what one really wants rather than seeking parental or barkada approval is a healthy display of self determination.
Clinical psychologist and the author of Paradoxical Strategies in Psychotherapy. Dr. Leon F. Seltzer gives a few tips on getting over people (parent) pleasing. You can read them in his 3-part article in Psychology today. By the way, a bit of “tsismis” — his articles have received over 26 million views.
In my opinion, his most helpful suggestions for you, Maria, are: Do everything possible to heal your psychological wounds from childhood. Because your people-pleasing patterns probably came into existence to help you reduce strong feelings of vulnerability with your parents, to the degree that you can access those earlier hurt and scared parts of yourself, you can let them know that that part of your life exists now only as memory — that you're now grown up and have your own authority, and that your inner security no longer hinges on placating and "making nice" to others.
Throughout this process of recovery — and personal re-discovery — remember that the essence of all of us is worthwhile. We all deserve love. When we can at last please ourselves — become the loving, supportive, nurturing parent to the wounded child parts deep within us — we'll be well on our way to reclaiming our most authentic self.
And this is the same self we felt obliged to abandon when pleasing our parents seemed tantamount to our very survival.
But the suggestion I like the most because it is more accessible is from former computer analyst and clinical psychologist Dr. Jay Earley who emphasizes developing greater autonomy. Here, verbatim, are some of his pointers: "Set limits when you need to . . . Stand your ground when others disagree or push their perspective [on you]… Recognize that other people may not always like what you say or do, and take the risk to do it anyway. As you practice being autonomous, your People Pleaser part may fear that you are being unpleasant or unnecessarily aggressive because it isn't used to this… Reassure it that you are just taking care of yourself, and that's OK." (I am so, so sorry the website from which I read all this is no longer accessible.)
Dearest Maria, all these suggestions above and whatever insights you may gotten from this article and further reading will help you decide exactly how to contact your former boyfriend (should you still be so inclined).
It is so clear how what happened to you started with your family and affected what might have been one of the greatest decisions of your life. If your reconciliation happens and things move on from there, terrific! But even if it doesn’t, reaching out to him is good training for developing your own autonomy and will serve you in good stead in the future.
All the best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.