I need advice on differing cultures between my parents and my boyfriend. My boyfriend Bill and I have been together for about a year and a half and we are both almost thirty years old. I have a large, tight-knit family, and we like to go out a lot and do community-oriented things in our home life. His family is more independent, and they like to do their own thing in their home life. Nevertheless, when I visit them his parents are always friendly and interested in what I've been doing. But when he comes over to my home, there's an awkward tension of differences in etiquette when he enters the house. My parents might be sitting in the living room, and he comes in quietly. He might mutter, “Hey,” but it's just so awkward, and my parents won't say a word. I used to probe things along by saying, "Hey, Bill’s here everybody," but I've given up on that. I've talked to both parties about it, and they both have very different perspectives. I have gone back and forth between them on this subject, and have had an exhausting number of talks with Bill about this.
My parents have said that as a man dating their daughter, he needs to show the proper respect of giving a decent hello. In their perspective, it's their house, and the onus is on him to greet them first. If they say hello first then, they're enabling him. This is embarrassing to hear.
According to Bill, he does say hello, and they are the ones withholding a greeting and being rude. He's the one coming in as a familiar guest and should be greeted rather than made to feel like an outsider. Every time I ask him to give a more direct greeting, he thinks I'm putting him down. He says it's just his personality, and they need to be more accepting. It has become a big soft spot for him, as he feels like I'm not defending him—that I'm allowing my parents to dictate how he should do things (or change him) when they are not doing their part to welcome him.
From my parents’ perspective, that's ridiculous. They are asking him to be a man, and step out of his comfort zone a little. They believe these are signs of immaturity and a lack of self-confidence and respect. Despite the fact that they do get along when he's around (for the most part), neither side is backing down. The opinions of my parents are hurtful, and Bill has made it known that he needs to know I can stand by him on this. The awkward greetings continue to happen, and they are painfully embarrassing for me.
Signed,Caught in the Middle
Dear Caught in the Middle,
It’s clear that you are frustrated with this situation and you feel pressured as the one in the middle. Being caught in the middle is rarely a good thing. The person in the middle tries to deliver messages to both parties and be the mediator and negotiator. This seldom works out well, and the person in the middle usually ends up displeasing both parties. Your parents and boyfriend should be discussing this directly with each other (Proverbs 26:17, Matthew 5:23-24, Matthew 18:15).
It would appear that your boyfriend and parents understand this from a different perspective and they have differing expectations about how people should behave. As you pointed out, cultures differ. Even families within a similar culture differ in their customs and mannerisms. Your boyfriend needs to understand this and adapt to your parents’ expectations. He cannot expect your parents to be like his family and accept his (perhaps) muttering a “Hey” as a proper greeting. Your boyfriend sees your parents’ behavior as cold and unwelcoming, but he is misinterpreting your parents’ behavior. Your parents see your boyfriend’s behavior as immature and disrespectful. Your parents are correct. Your boyfriend is demonstrating immaturity by using his “personality” as an excuse and he is demonstrating disrespect by continuing to offend your parents and refusing to change his behavior. Furthermore, he is demonstrating immaturity by placing you in the middle, and then blaming you because you aren’t “defending” him. He is old enough to understand this, and he needs to show proper respect toward his elders and honor your parents as if they were his own (Exodus 20:12, Leviticus 19:32, 1 Peter 5:5-6).
God bless,Aunt Dara