"To spy or not to spy on my girlfriend"
Q: Last week I picked up my girlfriend's cell and read a very intimate text from someone who was no doubt a sexual partner. I completely flipped out and have been thinking about downloading some of the "spy" software that allows you "to find out everything they do on the Internet and computer." Do you think that's a good idea?
A: No. I'd start by asking your girlfriend about the text message you saw and see both what she says and how she acts. But let's say, for arguments sake, you're not satisfied by her response or simply don't trust it. Now, you've got a problem. But it's not one that would be solved by signing up for one of those "I spy" services. Indeed, my understanding is that this spyware can alert you to keywords in her chats, instant messages, emails and can let you see everything she posts on Facebook, every site she visits or searches for, and every photo she's posted. You can also retrieve passwords and logins. Horrifying, I say. Whether or not you find more dirt, you're already proven yourself distrustful -- so what's the point? A relationship dispute is not akin to a court inquisition. Whether by talking more or seeing a couple's counselor, you need to get to the root of the problem, which seems to be lack of trust and/or sexual indiscretion.
"My mother opposes gay marriage, but loves my husband"
Q: My husband and I have been together for over 20 years and were married last October. My mother has said she's very happy and loves my husband. This week at dinner my mother said she was thrilled that "gay marriage was not legal everywhere." Here's the problem: My mother, and especially my stepfather, are rabid Republicans. I know they will continue to follow the Republicans again on this issue. Do I make a big deal about it? Do I point out that they want to deny my husband and me a fundamental right?
A: Now, you understand that age-old adage cautioning people not to discuss politics (or religion) at dinner; it can give you indigestion! (or worse). Since you say your mother loves your husband, I think there's a strong disconnect for her between the personal and the political. What I suggest doing is sitting down with your mother (leave your step-dad out of this) the next time you're together and explain how same-sex couples are discriminated against because we can't marry. Use concrete examples and make comparisons to their marriage. For instance, if your partner dies, explain that you're not eligible for his Social Security benefits, but that your mother is when your stepfather passes. Sadly, you have about 1,100 federal benefits that are denied to gays and lesbians to choose from as your examples. A lot of straight folks have never thought of these inequities, but once pointed out, the inherent unfairness is often quite persuasive. If this doesn't change your mom's mind, then either agree to disagree or ask her to put a lid on it (but nicely because it's your mother).
"This mother-in-law is a Bridezilla!"
Q: My boyfriend and I will be holding a civil partnership ceremony at the end of this year and have decided it will be a simple affair. Neither of us wants a big "traditional" wedding and we are limited to a strict budget in any case. We have gotten the ball rolling and have started organizing everything that needs doing -- registry office, hotel, suits, a photographer, etc. My main problem is my future mother-in-law -- up to now I've always had a great relationship with her. Now she's suddenly become a Bridezilla. She insists on being kept up to date on every little detail and wants regular briefings on our progress. She finds fault in everything we do too. (The hotel isn't nice enough and the menu sounds awful for starters.) She keeps asking us to give her jobs to do. I have tried appeasing her by giving her small tasks, but I'm running out of jobs to invent. I have spoken to my boyfriend about her but he doesn't see it as a big deal. He thinks we should just ignore her. But, I can't!
A: If this weren't so difficult for you, I'd have a big laugh about it, because Bridezilla mothers-in-law are such a classic by now -- straight brides (and grooms) have had to tolerate them since the beginning of time. Gay couples tend to encounter less of the kind of interference you're describing if only because we usually cover the costs of our own nuptials (when our parents aren't paying, they don't get as much of vote) and we often partner later in life (when our folks have gotten used to us making our own decisions).
But I now see that a mother-in-law is a mother-in-law is a mother-in-law! Hello equality.
You've done everything that you can do; the idea of small tasks is brilliant. It's now up to your boyfriend to take on his mother and set some limits -- even if he doesn't see her meddling as a big deal. He needs to do it for you -- both for in terms of your wedding but also to establish the right boundaries with your MIL for the years to come. You can tell him I said so!
Steven Petrow is the author of the forthcoming book, Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners, and can be found online at: www.gaymanners.com. Got a question? Email him: ask@gaymanners.