When I was fourteen, a family friend’s son saved my life. We went on vacation by a river, and when I was playing around with my siblings, the currents carried me to a spot where my feet couldn’t touch the ground. I don’t know how to swim, and I would have died if it wasn’t for Jason (not his real name).
Ever since that incident, my parents had been pushing me to do things with him, like hanging out, going to amusement parks, buying him dinner, etc. to show how grateful we were. I was okay with it, because, after all, he did save my life and I was more thankful than anyone. But after awhile, it became a little annoying. I’m sure that sounds a little ungrateful and rude, but I didn’t want to be doing everything with Jason. But every time I would say anything, like “Do I have to watch a movie with him today?”, my parents would look at me as if I had just said something along the lines of “Why can’t I rob a bank and spend all the money on battle axes?” I didn’t really have much of a choice, so I just went along with it.
But now, I’m nineteen and this is still going on. Along with the numerous gifts Jason gets on every holiday imaginable, my parents still push me to be around him. Jason's embarrassed and a little uncomfortable, so he also tries to tell them that it’s fine and that they don’t need to do all this stuff for him, but they just say that I’m forever in debt to him. I don’t doubt that what Jason did was heroic, but it’s gotten to the point where I’m starting to think that there isn’t a way out, and I’ll end up having to marry Jason or something. I want to live my life without remembering what happened to me years ago, but I just can’t seem to shake it off. Auntie, how do I tell my parents that I don’t want any part of it anymore? How are you supposed to treat a person who saved your life respectfully, but let them go respectfully, too? I really want to move on. As grateful as I am, Jason is a shackle and a part of my life that I don’t need.
Whoops! Sorry, you guys. I was just making a small, involuntary screaming noise at the idea of a person's life being forever overshadowed by one freakish, stupid, awful thing that happened when they were still in middle school! It's like something out of a nightmare!
...A nightmare which our poor, dear, unfortunate letter-writer is being forced to live with every day. And Sparkler, I'm really, really sorry—because when it comes to getting your folks to stop pushing you to remain friends with Jason, I think the answer is... well, you can't. I mean, most of the crazy parents we hear about are just control freaks, or helicopters, or boundary-challenged, or extreme examples of normal middle-aged person paranoia run amok. But holding you permanent hostage to this incident—which was a big deal at the time, I'm sure, but is also the kind of thing that so many people have in their past? Dude, I don't even know, it's just too bizarre. I think your parents might be on drugs. Or aliens. Or aliens on drugs.
So it's just lucky for you that a couple of drugged-up aliens don't actually get to decide how you deal with this.
Which is to say: it's well past time that you took matters into your own hands—preferably by sitting down with your rescuer over coffee and saying, "So, I'm just wondering if my parents' insistence that we hang out all the time is as weird and uncomfortable for you as it is for me."
At which point he'll be like, "YES, OH MY GOD," and you'll both laugh with relief, and then mutually agree to leave each other alone except for the occasional group get-together or Facebook message. And if you need to, you can tell him exactly what you told me: that you're grateful to him for rescuing you, but that you don't think that moment ought to be the be-all, end-all of both your lives. That's a completely legitimate thing to feel, and any reasonable human being will completely understand it. Not only that, but moving on from what happened is a far better way to honor your hero than letting that moment define you. Jason didn't save your life just so you could spend the rest of it dwelling on how you almost died.
And because I put the chances at about 95% that this poor dude is just as fatigued and frustrated by this whole ridiculous drama as you are, one straightforward conversation about this should be all you need to solve things.
Of course, your parents probably won't like this, and they'll probably say as much... although then again, the fact that it's a joint decision means that they'll be hard-pressed to question it, lest they impugn the judgment of their personal superman. (Also: depending upon the figurative brass qualities of Jason's gonads, he could do you a real solid here by telling your parents that this was his idea, and that he thinks you both need to move on. Maybe ask him?)
But here's the really important thing: you don't owe your parents a justification or explanation for moving on. You realize that, right? They're not in charge of you or your relationships. You don't need their permission, their encouragement, or even their understanding to redefine this relationship. You can just do it.
And the next time they try to tell you that you're forever in Jason's debt, you are fully entitled to tell them that actually, no, you're not—and that while they're welcome to keep hounding your savior despite his obvious discomfort, and to keep dwelling on your near-accident like a couple of actual lunatics, you intend to show your gratitude by living the life he heroically saved like a normal human being.