I came across two very interesting situations the other week. I'll try to keep as general as possible, as I don't want to name names.
A friend had her 'mother-in-law' accuse her of being the overly dominant one in her relationship, inhibiting her boyfriend's potential in life. The mother decided to do this at a dinner party, in front of the boyfriend's family.
Another friend, who has been dating a guy eighteen years his senior, has decided to break it off with his 'hot daddy' because he's uncomfortable with the thought of what his parents would think of his relationship - especially given the boyfriend has more in common agewise with them than with their son.
It seems like parents have this outdated model of masculinity they use to measure their children's relationships by. Basically, their son must call all the shots - or at least, pretend to listen to their partner's needs, then make the call as befits their own specific needs. There's no room in this vision for the other partner's goals or needs (if they get in the way of their son's), and their child's partner definitely should not in any way hold any power over their son - whether that be in terms of age, social standing, or financial status.
The thing they tend to forget is that relationships are full of all sorts of inequalities. The disparities in knowledge, emotional maturity, experience (in every aspect of life), income, age, ethnicity or subcultural alignment... whatever. They are what makes the relationship interesting, what attracts us to our partners. And yes, they can result in situations where one partner exerts a dominant role over the other. Maybe it's just the foucauldean in me, but one would hope that in a good relationship, these roles switch at times and reach a general equilibrium of some sort.
I guess the scary thought is that it's not just parents who harbour these assumptions - people will risk their own happiness by accepting them. Sides, provided you have a family, they will accept your partner (in some way) once they realise just how much you care for each other.
(This last point doesn't justify some family members' expectations that their son's partner needs to demonstrate love for their son in order to meet their approval).
Fuck, i'm such a hopeless romantic.