I’m the girl your parents warned you about. No, I’m not saying this in hopes of being alluring through quirky rebellion. It’s the truth. I’m not the person your parents want you to date. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give me a shot.
Here are some of my red flags: I am a fiercely opinionated woman who dates people of any gender. I’m heavily modified with tattoos and piercings. My closet is almost solely black, but my hair has been every shade of the rainbow. I’ve grappled with mental illness my entire life.
Your parents probably never sat you down and said verbatim, “I’m warning you about the risks of dating people with tattoos.” But they may have indirectly told you the types of people they believe you are “too good” to date through off-the-cuff comments about certain identity groups. When you bring home someone in one of those groups, trouble can follow.
“Sadly, parents’ fears about who their kids hang out with seems to be an age-old problem that simply shapeshifts with each new generation,” says Jen Rives, MA, LMFT. “Parents have an instinct to make sure their children are protected, happy, and successful. Combine that instinct with another human instinct of mistrusting ‘otherness,’ and you get a lot of fear.”
While the list of people parents warn about is different from generation to generation and family to family, these seven groups are common targets for misconceptions and bias. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth dating.
1. People With Tattoos & Piercings
According to one study, 38% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo, and 23% have a piercing somewhere other than their earlobes. Some recent studies have found that people with tattoos have higher self-esteem than those without, and many people with body modifications say their tattoos and piercings are foremost a form of art and self-expression. In the end, tattoos and piercings may indicate a potential partner has a good sense of who they are, is confident, and, hell, isn’t afraid of commitment.
2. People Who Date More Than One Gender
Those who are bisexual, pansexual, or experience attraction to more than one gender are often mislabeled greedy, promiscuous, and untrustworthy. But according to women who have dated bi men, bisexual men are preferred partners for those who don’t value traditional masculinity, want to challenge gender roles in a relationship, and want to explore their own “kinks.” Plus, dating people who are attracted to more than one gender can expand your allyship and understanding of sexuality.
3. People Who Date More Than One Person At A Time
Only 51% of those under 30 claim that their ideal relationship is “completely monogamous.” While your parents may conflate nonmonogamy with cheating or think you are not being given the attention you deserve in your relationship, dating someone who has multiple partners can actually teach you a lot about about sexuality and relationship dynamics, help you confront jealousy in relationships, hone your time management skills, and challenge your ideas of what a successful relationship can look like, all while prioritizing super transparent communication.
4. People Who Don’t Hold Traditional Jobs
Dating a person who is an artist, freelancer, or otherwise self-employed may up send a red flag for your parents, but unlike in their day, it’s the norm. About 35% of the workforce is in gig jobs or some sort, meaning you are likely to run into a gig worker in your dating life. These people need to posses discipline and passion while also recognizing the short- and long-term work needed to reach a goal. These qualities can all translate into successful relationships.
5. People Who Challenge Your Family’s Beliefs
If you are dating someone whose view of the world is radically different from that of your family, it could cause conflict. Someone who is dating a proud feminist but comes from a conservative family, for example, may have to play mediator in tense conversations — and face questions from their family about their partner’s beiliefs. But finding a partner who (respectfully) challenges your beliefs and brings a new perspective to the table can be fun and exciting. As a generation, we value diversity and so-called “liberal values” more than any before us, and that’s because we know that championing inclusion is always a universal good.
6. People Who Live With Mental Illness
Those who live with mental illness are often seen as unstable, moody, or even dangerous. But dating someone with mental health struggles isn’t a negative. Plus, with 1 in 5 Americans experiencing mental illness, it’s likely to come up. People living with mental illness arguably think about their own emotional and mental state more than anyone, making them intensely aware partners. And according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, many people with serious mental illness have “strong, supportive, long-term relationships.”
7. People Who Have Experienced Addiction
Like those who struggle with mental illness, those who have battled addiction face considerable stigma. Yet people who have experience with addiction can make loving and supporting partners. If you decide you are both in the right place for a relationship, a person in recovery can teach you a lot about judgement, trust, communication, and strength. Plus the determination and commitment sobriety takes translate into core relationship values.
So maybe the people your parents warned you about aren’t so bad after all. And with technology like dating apps giving us more access to the “other,” hopefully these unfair stereotypes won’t be passed on to future generations.
“[Newer generations] really value diversity. I think that coming of age in with the global power of social media and the internet has a lot to do with it,” Rives says. “Social media has increased agility in navigating people’s differences, which is bound to cross over into partner preferences. Which, in my opinion, is a great thing.”