Dear Dr. Smith:
I am a self-proclaimed approval-addict. I’ve always needed everyone’s approval, mostly my mother’s, and now I’m in my thirties and nothing’s really changed. Last night I was speaking with my mother on the phone and somehow the conversation turned into a heated debate where she had the nerve to tell me (as she did when I was 15!) that I should have sex with a man (because I never have) and that until I do, she will never fully accept that I’m a lesbian. I feel ridiculous asking this, but do you feel as though I need to be with a man to confirm that I am a lesbian? Most importantly, when will I get over needing my mother’s approval?!
I wish I could ask your mother the following questions:
Is she straight? Has she ever been with a woman?
If the answers are ‘yes’ followed by ‘no,’ my final question to her is: How can she be sure she’s straight if she’s never been with a woman? I’d like her to hook up with a woman and, afterwards, if she still thinks she’s straight, I’ll accept her identifying as hetero. Honestly!
If we polled the human race, we would find that most heterosexuals do not first experiment with homosexuality before declaring their sexuality. Your mother’s well-intentioned double standard is not the way to solve a question that has never even existed.
Kudos to you for not following your mother’s suggestion at 15. It’s amazing how children yearn for their mother’s approval, regardless of age. At a certain point we need to weigh our need for Mom’s approval against the need for our own personal integrity. As adolescents we seem to instinctively understand this—hence, the adolescent rebellion. But in adulthood, we are sometimes more attuned to the needs of others (society calls this “maturity”); often to the exclusion of our own needs.
In my experience, people tend to come around when they get to a point in their lives where they need acceptance the least. I don’t think jumping through hoops will change your mother’s feelings, so you might as well live your own life and start working on the one thing you have control over—yours. As far as the Almighty question about when we’ll no longer need our mothers’ approval, all I can say is I’ll let you know when I get there! n
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