(The Root) —
"My girlfriend and I are planning to visit my mother. She's upset because my mother has told us we'll have to sleep in separate rooms, since we are not married. My girlfriend says I let my mother push me around too much, but my mother has always had these rules. My girlfriend is now suggesting that this is being done because she is white. Help!" —U.H.
Maybe you do have a habit of letting your mother push you around too much. I have no clue. But on the issue of separate rooms, there's not much you can do, and you don't have much of a leg to stand on. You and your lady are traveling to your mother's home, and since Mama pays the mortgage, she gets to create whatever rules she sees fit for her house. It's a dictatorship, not a democracy.
And this rule, about unmarried young adults not sharing a room, is pretty common for black households. I'm sure there's at least one set of random black parents who are like, "Sure! Sleep together!" but I haven't met them or heard of them yet.
The stories I do hear illustrate what extremes many black families take with this rule. For instance, after reading your query, I joked with my mother that my fiance and I should be able to share a room this Thanksgiving, since, you know, we're getting married. Her response: "Was there a wedding ceremony that I didn't attend?" Bottom line: A "ring on it" isn't good enough to share a bed in her home; only a marriage license grants permission.
I mentioned your story to a friend, who responded with a story about how her mother once told her own 60-something brother who was visiting with his live-in girlfriend that they had to sleep in separate rooms. Being an unquestionably grown man and all, who wanted to sleep next to his woman, he wasn't happy about that. But it was either abide by his sister's rules for her home, don't visit or pay for a hotel. He went with his sister's rules.
I didn't realize the "separate beds" rule was "a black thing" until I taped a relationship-panel segment for VH1. The hostess asked whether sex in your parents' house was a "yea or nay," and I, the only black person on set, quipped about not being able to sleep in the same bed with my then-boyfriend in my parents' house. I thought all families, of all colors, operated that way. Everyone else was sort of shocked. "You can't sleep in the bed with your boyfriend when you visit your parents?!" They looked at me just as crazy as I was looking at them.
Your girlfriend sounds as if she comes from a more liberal household, possibly like some of my nonblack friends from college whose parents thought nothing of them dating at 12, having opposite-sex sleepovers in high school or their boyfriends sharing the bed when they went home together on school breaks. That's not better or worse than how your mom operates, just different.
Explain to your girlfriend that your mom has a more conservative outlook, always has, and that the no-sleeping-together rule isn't personal. If you can throw out a story about the time (long ago) when you brought a black woman home and the same rule applied, that may be helpful.
If she's really offended by your mother's rule, then there's always the option of doing what my friend's uncle didn't: Don't go, or get a hotel room. By staying put or heading to a hotel, you can sleep however you want and do whatever you want in that bed, without breaking Mama's rules.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at email@example.com.