DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a gay college student, and I think I have found my soulmate. We are engaged. I want to tell my parents that I found someone I love, but I have no idea if they even know that I am gay. My parents are very supportive and we are close, so I know I can talk to them, but the topic has never really come up.
Now I am ready for the next chapter in my life, and I'm not sure how to go about it. I don't know If I should just introduce them to my fiance, or if I should tell them about my sexual orientation first. I just want them to love him as much as I do. What's the right way to share my news? -- Gay and Engaged
DEAR GAY AND ENGAGED: I think any parent would be surprised to learn that their child is engaged if they hadn't heard about or even met the fiance yet. I suggest that you slow down and think about your approach. What would be the most welcoming and respectful way to introduce this person that you love so much to your parents?
I recommend that you start with a face-to-face conversation (or videoconference, if necessary), where you tell them that you have news to share. First, tell them that you are gay. You can ask them if they already knew. Sometimes parents have a sense of who their children are even before their children know. Talk about your sexual orientation. Answer whatever questions they have. Listen closely so that you can be fully present with them in this conversation.
If they seem accepting of your life as it is, tell them that you have met someone special you would like for them to meet. You can talk about your partner and about what makes you compatible. I would wait to say that you are engaged. Give them a chance to meet your partner and develop a relationship before you introduce the subject of marriage. (I would make the same recommendation if you were straight.)
In time, you can share that you want to marry your partner and that you are engaged. Be prepared for questions about your plans for the future. You are in college. Chances are your parents will want you to complete school before you marry. This may be a challenging point of negotiation. Know that it is common for parents to want their children to get grounded academically and financially before marriage. If you make a different choice, be prepared to sort it out over time. Don't take their desire for you to move slowly as a negation of your sexual orientation. It is more likely about making sure you are ready to fully step into adulthood.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I find it so difficult to get my children to send thank-you notes after they receive gifts. They enjoy what they receive and then move on without that important act of acknowledgment. I have tried to get them to close the loop, but it's hard. Christmas is coming, and I want them to take this seriously. What strategy can I use to be successful? -- Expressing Gratitude
DEAR EXPRESSING GRATITUDE: Let your children know that just as they often stay up in anticipation of what Santa will bring, they will have to stay up on Christmas night writing their thank-you notes. Otherwise, you will have them pack up their gifts and keep them packed away until the notes are completed. The immediacy and shock of this new discipline will likely get them to change their ways. Rather than making it a punishment, you should sit with them and encourage them so that they learn to enjoy this act of gratitude.