Dear Amy: Our adult daughter and her partner have been together since college. They live together in another city. There has been some talk of marriage over the years.
Several months ago, they video-called us to let us know that the partner no longer identifies as male, but as gender non-binary. He has adopted the pronouns they/them/their.
They are not to be referred to as a “man” or her boyfriend. When/if she and they marry, they will not be her husband, but a gender-neutral term.
My wife and I have concerns, but are ultimately tolerant of their choice.
However, she and I have been using the English language for a collective 100-plus years and are having a hard time making this linguistic transition.
Our daughter (not them) gently corrects us, and there seems to be an indeterminate grace period for us to get it right consistently.
On a recent visit, I was corrected, and yet made the same mistake within a minute. I don’t think I’ll ever get the hang of this language-bending.
I found myself (normally chatty and jokey) shutting down and saying less out of concern I’ll use the wrong pronoun again.
I am trying but feel burdened by constant awareness of one person’s gender identity and having to choose my words so carefully.
Struggling with Them
Dear Struggling: You both love your daughter, and she loves all of you. Always start with that.
You will adjust.
One way to do this is to use the person’s chosen name, versus referring to them by a pronoun, certainly if they are present, i.e.: “Chas, what’s your take on that?”
You have known this person for a long time. That person is still there, carrying the same memories and shared experiences from before this transition. So, make an effort to see them for who they are, and as more than just a source of some awkwardness or confusion for you.
Keep your sense of humor, don’t become defensive, let them know that you’re a work-in-progress, and that you’re hoping for their continued patience while you adjust.
Dear Amy: I have never had a dog as a pet (but I have had cats and horses).
I am uncomfortable about some things regarding my boyfriend’s German shepherd.
Some examples: We stopped at a rest stop on the interstate and he let his dog out of the vehicle to run around loose while he used the restroom, although there is a leash law at the rest stop and a designated area for dogs.
When we were camping, he let his dog run loose without supervision, and it urinated on the mat our friends had placed in front of their motorhome.
His dog greets me by jumping on me. I feel that this behavior is too rough, especially when sometimes the dog’s toenails scratch me and break the skin.
When I try to walk, the dog stays right in front of me, touching me. My boyfriend says that the dog will move along with me as I move, but it makes me feel off-balance and I worry I will trip.
I’ve voiced my concerns to my boyfriend, but he doesn’t see a problem. He says that dogs will be dogs, and that he likes dogs better than people.
I look forward to your advice.
Dear Questions: You say you have some experience with animals, and yet I maintain that any human being with a shred of human-sense (regardless of animal experience) would realize that a loose dog can get hit by a car, can attack another human or animal, can be taken, injured, or simply choose to leave with a better-suited and more responsible family.
Every scenario you present exemplifies a complete lack of regard for you — your comfort and your safety — as well as for the dog, which is obviously undisciplined and at risk.
You have been handed an extremely clear lens through which to view this man.
If you ignore what you see, your life will quite literally go to the dogs.
My immediate advice is that you should set both man and dog loose to wander at the interstate rest stop of life.
Dear Amy: “Dazed and Confused” was extremely distressed by the sudden reappearance of a long-ago ex.
I totally identified with her. I had an ex reappear, toy with my emotions, and then abruptly leave — just as he had done years before.
What a waste.
Dear Burned: I assume that at this point you’re relieved he took a powder.
You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.