If you’ve never been interrogated by your parents about your love life, first off: What’s your secret? And second, consider yourself #blessed, because it can get real awkward, real fast. This is especially true when faced with the seemingly impossible task of explaining a no-labels relationship to your parents. Because how do you explain that you and this person go on dates, have sex, and have met each other’s friends, but you’re not technically "in a relationship"? How do you make them understand that in today’s dating culture, this is perfectly chill as long as you’re both chill with it? It’s nerve-wracking to think that they’ll judge or won’t approve.
One important factor to consider before you tell your parents about your romantic relationship is what the nature of your parent-child relationship with them is like. Certified sexuality professional Janielle Bryan says that safety should be top of mind. If you think your parents won’t approve of your relationship to the point that the conversation would jeopardize your safety, keep it to yourself for now. "There’s a difference between not taking it well, and [threatening your] safety," Bryan tells Elite Daily. "If you believe that telling your family about the nature of your relationship will cause harm, then it’s best to not disclose."
In a similar vein, if you know it’s going to be an uncomfortable conversation, don’t bring it up until you’re ready. "If your family has strong opinions and feels entitled to share them freely, you might want to hold back," Dr. Alexandra Solomon, a licensed clinical psychologist and relationship expert, previously told Elite Daily. "[But] if your parents are awesome at meeting you where you are and providing support and encouragement, go for it."
While your "to tell or not to tell" dilemma may feel slightly different than bringing your serious college bae home for Thanksgiving, Bryan recommends divulging your no-labels relationship to your parents the same way you would any other kind of romantic relationship. "Labels or no labels, introducing any partner should never be a surprise. You’re less likely to receive pushback if this isn’t the first time they’ve heard about them," Bryan says. "Give them time to adjust to fact there is someone in your life, before explaining the nature of your relationship." Once you feel like your no-labels partner has been sufficiently integrated into the narrative of your life, you’ll be in a better place to tell your parents about them.
In general, when telling your family about a new relationship, there are a few things you can do to ensure the conversation is had with empathy, understanding, and everyone’s well-being in mind. Talk to your parents or guardians face-to-face, if you can. Pick a neutral spot to have the conversation, like a park instead of at their house or your apartment, so nobody feels trapped. Expect some questions from your parents about it all: how and where you met, when your relationship progressed from friends to lovers, and probably, among other questions, why neither of you want to use labels.
"Go into as much detail as you feel comfortable with. Remember that this is your relationship and not theirs," Bryan says. "All romantic relationships look differently, and that’s perfectly all right." Apart from "partner" being a gender-neutral, go-to term for a significant other, the term can come in handy in this situation. It implies that there’s a relationship without giving your parents any of the nitty-gritty details, Bryan says.
Even if your parents don’t react warmly to this love-life update, it’s important to remember that you don’t have anything to be ashamed of. According to Bryan, your family’s pestering or rapid-fire interrogation questions might stem more from their own concerns, rather than them trying to exert control over you. "At the core of all those invasive questions and apprehensive looks, parents want to know their child is being loved and not being taken advantage of," she says. Try to see where your parents are coming from, but don’t be afraid to be firm in your stance.
Still, if you feel like you’re giving an impromptu press conference, remember that you can end these relationship conversations with your parents at any time. "Be prepared to set boundaries if you know your loved ones are going to ask [too many] questions," Bryan says.
At the end of the day, your happiness — not your parents’ — is what truly matters most in this situation. Whether you want to explore your romantic and sexual options, side-step the pressure that comes with DTR-ing, or just want to "take it slow," you can thrive in a no-labels relationship. You’re allowed to share the joy of this blossoming partnership with everyone in your social circle — parents included, if you so please.
Janielle Bryan, MPH CHES, public health professional and sex educator
Dr. Alexandra Solomon, a licensed clinical psychologist, relationship expert, and psychology professor at Northwestern University
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