Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Maryland: My 13-year-old son just informed me that he is gay. I want to be supportive, but I have a hard time believing a 13-year-old knows ANYthing definitive about his sexuality yet. I had decided to just say, "Okay," and carry on as if nothing had happened, but a friend of mine says it would be incredibly demeaning not to treat my son's outcoming as sincere. What do you think?
Carolyn: I agree with your friend. A 13-year-old knows a lot about his sexuality. Think back to when you were 13. Maybe your tastes have changed since then, but you were still you, no? And knew it when you had a crush?
I imagine your son would like to hear — even now, belatedly — that you're proud of him for telling you this, since that can't have been easy (there's no way it was easy); and that you love him, always have. Your love presumably has never been contingent on who he loves, so why start now?
Also assure him that he can come to you, since the road from 13 to independence is hard for everyone.
Parents and kids are both in the business of finding a comfortable and stable emotional place in the world, and anytime they can be each other's allies in that quest, both are that much better for it. This has nothing to do with anyone's sexual orientation.
When loved one is hurting, make every effort to understand
Va.: My wife and I have spent the past two years trying to get pregnant without success. I like kids but am not desperate to have children of our own, so my wife is really the one who is suffering in this. For the past two years I have been accused repeatedly of not understanding what she is going through. I understand she wants a baby, but I don't understand how it can be making her so miserable. Is there any way I really can understand this, or support her without understanding?
Carolyn: I say this as no fan of the "you have no idea what I'm going through" accusation, which only drives people apart: You need to try everything to understand.
Think in terms of a need/urge of your own that you would call primal. It's such a personal thing for people … maybe a musician's impulse to make and hear music, or an athlete's yearning to run, an inventor's drive to tinker? Equate it to a border collie's instinct to herd, even. Something that's both physical and emotional, and that helps define someone.
Not all women have this primal urge, but your wife apparently does, so identifying an analogous urge in you will help you understand.
To sympathize, though, you may just need to see that the person you love is really, really hurting — having to part with her vision of herself. It's not like she's failing to achieve a lofty dream, like winning an Olympic gold. She's surrounded by people who have gotten (and sometimes don't even want, or loudly complain about) exactly what she wants by absolutely nonspectacular, even accidental, means. That's crazy-making stuff.
And a husband who sees her from a detached place as a bit of a mystery? Then it becomes lonely-making. Heartfelt effort can help alleviate that.
Write "Tell Me About It," c/o Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.