"Are you dating anyone?"
Christina Weber's mom would often nudge her millennial daughter about dating. Weber, 35, was trying but grew tired of the dating apps she was using: "Fifty percent of the people lie and, 30 percent never leave their computer or phone to meet anyone in person," she says. That prompted her to launch the Underground Unattached Curated Dating Experience, a company that brings together men and women in New York and Los Angeles for evening events and helps them to connect afterward.
Two years later, Weber's mother still prods and tells her daughter that she is too picky.
Sound familiar? We wondered how parents might best offer relationship advice — solicited or unsolicited — to their adult children.
"Very carefully," says therapist Wendy Aronsson, author of Refeathering the Empty Nest. "If your adult child asks your opinion about a romantic interest, think through your answer, and be careful with black-and-white responses."
She suggests taking a Socratic approach and responding to their questions with a few of your own. Start with, "Why do you ask?" Parents need to decipher the often not-so-obvious reasoning behind the questions. Is the child asking for approval or having second thoughts about the relationship? Knowing that can help craft your answer so it's honest and thoughtful. Still, blunt any negative response, keeping in mind how your child typically reacts to criticism.
As far as unsolicited advice, steer clear unless there's emotional or physical abuse involved. Then absolutely start asking questions. Otherwise, Aronsson says, "Our best learning comes from trial and error, and as much as we might want to prevent that in their relationships, we can't."
But some advice — often universal truths — may be appreciated. Weber, of Venice Beach, Calif., reached out to her Facebook followers to ask for the best relationship advice they have received from their parents. Among the answers:
- Don't rush. "Don't get married before age 30. My mom felt especially strong that I not rush any of my earlier relationships and said that I would learn a lot about myself after I turned 30. I am eternally grateful that I listened."
- Look for more than romantic love. "Marry your best friend" and "marry someone that laughs at the same things you do."
- Fully commit. "A relationship is not 50/50. It needs to be 100/100. This way, if one of you is dropping the ball, the relationship as a whole is still receiving 100 percent." And, "Relationships are everything — they matter over money, career, etc."
While that sort of wisdom has stood the test of time, what are some other suggestions that we can pass along to our children? Based on her dating company experiences, Weber offers these tips:
- Skip the coffee shop on the first date. Try an activity instead. "Nothing interesting happens having coffee, but if a couple does an activity then it adds some 'story juice' of a shared experience." Weber suggests checking out a museum exhibit or heading to a park to take photographs.
- Practice listening. People are afraid to be silent, so they talk too much at times. Suggest your child listen carefully and build the conversation off what the other person says.
- Be yourself. "In order to fall in love you have to be yourself and feel that the other person values that," Weber says, "not some image you've created."
Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. A New York University journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at Mothering21.com.