The summer I met Jay, I introduced her to my family as my new friend. We grew familiar over an internship coaching softball and teaching English language arts. By the end of the summer, we were a couple. After years of concealing my orientation, I finally came out to my mother; I said the G-word. I explained Jay wasn’t just my friend. She was my girlfriend.
My mother’s response was surprisingly supportive, and she went on to regard Jay amicably. However, until a short while ago, my mother referred to Jay as my "friend." Toward the end of our phone conversations, she'd politely asked, "And how's your friend? Is she good?" Each time, I replied, "Jay is great."
Recently, after explaining this situation to a new acquaintance, I was asked if my mother was an immigrant parent. This perceptive stranger explained how her mother did the same. "I think sometimes immigrant parents don't have the name for it." She shared that her Indian mother referred to her cousin's partner as friend because, outside of wife and husband, she never used the words boyfriend or girlfriend or partner.
Based on past experiences, my predisposition was to believe most people will not fully accept or understand my relationship. My mother included. Yet there we were--me, my twin sister, my Puerto Rican girlfriend, my sister’s Jamaican boyfriend, and my West African mother--a contemporary family, at dinner on Thanksgiving. I had just finished sharing my gratitude for my partner of six years. The last person to share was my mother, for whom I braced myself. I didn't know how she was processing my apparent display of affection. Throughout the evening, I held my partner’s hand and hugged her close. I wondered if I had gone too far. She began her remarks by saying how she was thankful for all of us. Then she spoke directly to my partner, Jay, saying "since the beginning you've never left her side," and how grateful she was for how we cared for each other.
Hearing those words wiped away years of wondering if she accepted me and wanting her to be a part of my relationship. My mom may or may not have a name for my relationship, but in that moment I understood that she knew what love looked like, even if she didn't have a name for it. Instantly, I realized that my mother couldn't cared less about who I loved than she did about how I was loved. In six years, she grew to trust Jay and our partnership because she could see its promise. It showed whenever Jay accompanied me on home visits with grocery bags in hand. It showed whenever she made a point to sit down in her room and genuinely ask how she's been. It showed whenever she went out of her way to ensure I had a better relationship with my mother. At the end of her speech, my mother then went on to also thank my sister's boyfriend for being a "good friend." Jay, my sister and I glanced at each other before bursting into laughter. "Give it four years," Jay joked.