Often, our very first pieces of advice about love, dating, relationships, and intimacy come from our parents. Whether it’s ‘The Talk,’ random stories and anecdotes, or rules about how relationships should function, our parents always seem to be there to let us know how it’s done. Or at least how they believe it should be done. Sometimes this advice is asked for, but most often, it is given whether we want it or not.
Sometimes this advice is really great. Parents share what they’ve learned from years of dating, multiple relationships, and their years of marriage. They share what has worked for them and what hasn’t. They give us their experience in the hopes that we won’t have to make the same mistakes they did. Some of us have learned how to have really healthy, loving, committed relationships because of our parents.
But other times, this advice is really bad. Like monumentally bad. Like disastrously bad. Sometimes our parents have really outdated ideas about dating and relationships that color their advice. Or maybe they have pretty prejudiced ideas about intimacy that lead them to give really bad advice. Sometimes, our parents just have downright crazy ideas about dating, intimacy, and relationships that lead to some really hilarious, sad, tragic, and hilariously tragic pieces of advice.
I asked the question, “What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve gotten from a parent, caregiver, or adult mentor about dating, relationships, and intimacy.” I also scoured the Internet for the funniest answers I could find. Here’s what I came up with:
14“Sometimes just gotta do it yourself. Let me tell you how”
One person shared that her mother was an avid supporter of shall we say ‘self-gratification.’ Her mother told her that if she wasn’t getting pleasure from her partner then she shouldn’t be afraid to just do it herself. On its face this isn’t bad advice at all. Getting physical pleasure on a regular basis is really important to a healthy life and a healthy relationship. The hilariously messed up part what was her mother told her next.
Her mother offered to let her use her vibrator any time to get the pleasure she was looking for. This offer was made in front of her father and resulted in a painfully embarrassing discussion of the importance of ‘self-gratification.’ Of course, she was mortified and quickly declined her mother’s offer with the proper amount of disgust. Unfortunately, this was not the only time this conversation occurred. Her mother was adamant about this piece of advice.
13“You should always bring up marriage and kids on the first date.”
The woman who shared this piece of advice from her mother comes from a very traditional, Indian family. Arranged marriages are still a thing in Indian cultures, as well as many other Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, so dating in itself is kind of a foreign concept to many traditional Indian families. The woman who shared this also shared that her mother and father had an arranged marriage, that they are still married, and that her father is the only man her mother has ever been with. Such is their culture.
For those families that do allow their children to date, the purpose of dating is still to find a suitable marriage partner as quickly as possible. When she was in college, this woman asked her mother for advice before a first date, and in her thick Indian accent, her mother told her, “Just go out with him and ask him what he thinks about getting married and having kids.” Little did her mother know that this is not exactly normal first date conversation.
12“Don’t ever embarrass a man. Men can’t handle embarrassment.”
One woman said that she was told that it was of paramount importance that she never embarrasses a man that she was dating. She was told that men are incapable of handling embarrassment and that if she embarrassed the man she was with then he wouldn’t like her anymore. The other pieces of advice that went along with this were that she should just let the man she was with do whatever he wanted and not contradict him when he was wrong, again, because it would embarrass him.
The amount of sexism in this advice is literally makes me cringe. And amazingly it manages to be sexist to both men and women. First off, a woman should never be under any obligation to not contradict a man or not speak her mind. Telling women to be quiet is the way sexism ends up ruling the world. Second, if a man is going to stop liking a woman for something as petty as being embarrassed, she’s better off without him. Third, this advice gives men absolutely no credit. Toxic ideas about masculinity do make it hard for men to admit they’re wrong sometimes, but to imply they’re completely incapable of handling feeling embarrassed is ridiculous.
11“You should keep dating men, just in case you aren’t actually queer.”
Another person shared that when she spoke to her parents about the fact that she was attracted to women, her parents responded that she should just keep dating men in case she wasn’t queer. Obviously, this is a pretty close minded response to being hearing that your daughter is queer. It’s a pretty hurtful response to hear when reaching out to your parents for advice as well.
This kind of advice is indicative of pretty outdated views of dating and sexual orientation. A lot of people our parents’ age still aren’t comfortable with queerness. Some of them still think that identifying as queer is phase their children are going through or that they are just experimenting.
Of course, giving advice like this is really dismissive of people’s intimate experiences and their attractions. Definitely not the best advice parents could give on dating and relationships.
10“Women who date women ‘taste’ different.”
This woman shared that, in her many conversations with her mother about being a lesbian, her mother once told her that lesbians have a different pH balance ‘down there’ because they didn’t have real intercourse. Her mother told her that lesbians must ‘taste different’ because of the differences in their pH balance ‘down there.’ Her mom also said that there were certain things that she could eat to make sure she ‘tasted better’ for her partner. The conversation culminated in the claim that lesbians who have babies always have boys because of their differences ‘down there.’
There are really no words to describe how hilarious, and inaccurate this advice is. The woman, who is herself a lesbian, said that she never bothers to challenge or correct her mother when she gives these outrageous pieces of advice because they’re just too funny. And she doesn’t really want to address the realities of her intimate life with her mother.
9“Boys will be boys.”
In the ‘tragic’ category, comes this piece of advice from a mother who really did not get it at all. The woman who shared this experience said that she tried to tell her mother that she had experienced a sexual assault and her mother did not believe her. When she went on to describe what had happened with the boy her mother simply said, “Boys will be boys.”
This awful and sad piece of advice is all too indicative of the way sexual assault is viewed in the modern world. Women’s experiences are often dismissed, and if they aren’t outright dismissed, then women are often blamed for what happened to them. The attitude of ‘boys will be boys’ excuses inexcusable behavior and creates an atmosphere where boys and men do not face consequences for their inappropriate and illegal behavior. Since no consequences are faced, boys and men believe that sexual assault is acceptable.
7“Women shouldn’t be the pursuer.”
The woman sharing this advice was told by her parents that women shouldn’t ever pursue the men they’re interested in, women should just be pursued by men who are interested in them. This is definitely a super outdated piece of dating advice, but it was common enough, even in our parents’ generations.
Back in the day, dating looked a lot different. Women were supposed to pretend that they didn’t have any interests or desires. They were supposed to be flattered and happy when a man was interested in them, regardless of whether or not they were interested in that man. Women were simply supposed to sit back and let a man pursue them.
Today, this is completely obsolete. Women pursue men they are interested in just as passionately as men pursue women they’re interested in. It’s no longer seen as taboo for a woman to ask for the first date or to make the first move toward intimacy. We live in different times and outdated, sexist views on dating need to go!
6“Never date an artist.”
Artists have long been on parents’ lists of people they don’t want their children dating. Of course, parents want the best for their children’s future, and necessarily that includes their financial futures. The common stereotype about artists is the ‘starving artist,’ who constantly struggles to make any money off their art. Parents worry that if their children end up marrying an artist they’ll never be financially stable.
This may end up being true, but everyone knows that love has nothing to do with money. Those who are dating or married to artists also know that there are ways to make ends meet while being a professional artist. ‘Starving artists’ aren’t the norm anymore and Millennials are particularly skilled at the art of the ‘side hustle,’ which makes them money while being able to produce their art. Or their art is their side hustle.
The idea that an artist is a risky or unsuitable partner is definitely a prejudice parents need to get over.
5“Forget about that awful ex and just get back in the dating game.”
It is a known fact that parents can’t stand to see their children hurting. They want to make it better and they’ll give any piece of advice they can to make it better, even if it’s really terrible advice.
When you’re really hurting from a breakup it can really suck to hear that you should just get back out there again, especially from your parents. Most of us have felt a lot of pressure from our parents to settle down, so the advice to just get back in the game may feel like a callous attempt for them to get you partnered up and settled down.
This advice is also really awful in a practical sense. We all need time to grieve the loss of a relationship. If we try to jump in to something new too quickly it can be unhealthy for us and it’s certainly unhealthy for the new relationship we try to get into.
4“Play hard to get. Men love it.”
This advice, given to so many women, sets up the idea that dating should be a complicated mess of head games. This leads to a lot of confusion for both parties and ends causing a lot more heartache than fun. It also hearkens back to the idea that women shouldn’t show their interest in men or their desire to date, that they should just be passive in the dating process.
This also sets up the more dangerous precedent that when women are saying no they really mean yes. This causes men to aggressively pursue women, even when they’re not really interested. When women coyly play hard to get, they are sending the message to men that they aren’t meaning what they say and that their words have no value. Women may think this is harmless, but it’s not. Devaluing women’s words, especially the word “no” has devastating consequences in our society, mainly assault on women.
3“Never trust a man you met online.”
I grew up in a time when the Internet was new and chat rooms were just becoming popular. As a pre-teen I heard all sorts of horror stories about girls and women who chatted with men online, met them in person, and then got abducted, assaulted, or killed. My mom was particularly nervous about me chatting with people online and I was lectured many times about the dangers of talking to strangers online. I swore I’d never try online dating.
Years later, when I was re-entering the dating game after choosing to be single for a year, a friend dared me to create an OkCupid profile and I did, desperate to meet some new people. I chatted with a few people, and eventually chatted with one guy I thought was hilarious. We set up a first date. That was over five years ago and we’ve been married for almost two years.
Online dating is the norm now, so if Mom and Dad are still telling you that you can’t trust anyone you meet on the Internet, ignore them.
2“You should marry this one. He’s a really nice guy.”
Parents are always over eager to see their kids get married. They can be overly pushy and encourage you to stay with someone who isn’t right just because they like them or just because they want to see you married and know your future is set
Sometimes this is really good advice. If your parents really like your partner it can be a really good sign that they’re the one. But this advice is almost always the worst advice if it’s in response to you trying to tell your parents something about your relationship that’s bad or makes you uncomfortable. A parent who is willing to brush aside something that makes you uncomfortable or ignore bad treatment is not capable of giving good advice about a relationship. Do not let the pressure you feel from them to get married discourage you from leaving a relationship that’s not right for you.
“Always show your best self early on in the relationship.”
This piece of advice manifests in a lot of different ways. Like, “Don’t let him see you without makeup for a while.” Or, “Don’t use big words so you don’t make him feel stupid.” And, “Don’t let all your quirks show too early.” The gist of this piece of advice is “Don’t be yourself until you know that they can handle the real you.” Of course, we all try to do this early on in the relationship. It’s natural to want to be liked and to try to curate our personality so that we’re more likely to be liked.
But doing this to the extreme is really unhealthy for a budding relationship. Inside, you’ll end up feeling like you’re hiding yourself from your partner. Also, if you start to show your true colors later on in the relationship, especially the weird things about you, and your partner reacts badly, then it feels like they didn’t ever know the real you.
It’s much better to be honest from the beginning. I’m not saying you have to pour out your whole life story on the first date, but definitely don’t hide who you are. It won’t do any good in the ling run.
1“My parents never told me anything at all.”
Finally, one woman shared with me that her parents never gave her any advice about dating, relationships, or intimacy. They were always too embarrassed to talk to her about these things. This woman said that because her parents never talked to her about normal, healthy dating, relationships, and intimacy, she looked for her lessons elsewhere, mainly the media. Of course, the media representations of these things are often really poor and she learned a lot of unhealthy behaviors related to dating, relationships, and especially intimacy.
She continued by saying that one of the most important lessons she missed was about consent. She had no idea what it meant to give consent or that if she had been coerced in to intimate relations without giving her explicit consent, that was assault. She shared that she had been unknowingly assaulted multiple times and never been able to articulate her experiences as assault because she’d never been taught what healthy intimacy looked like.
Sometimes even the worst advice from our parents is better than none at all.