Should I tell my parents I'm shacking up?
May 5, 2009 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Should I tell my fundamentalist Christian parents, who live on the other side of the country, that I'm shacking up with my girlfriend? If so, how? Warning: long.

My parents are fundamentalist Christians who were aghast that, when I visited my long-distance girlfriend, I stayed at her house rather than in a hotel. Now she is moving here and we're going to get a new place together. I can only imagine the conniption from my parents that will ensue. To give you an example of what they're like, when I stayed at her place, my dad considered that to be "shacking up" (huh?) and my mom asked me if there was anything she'd done that had "caused me to lose my moral compass." (I am not a regular churchgoer and haven't been since I moved out on my own, although my dad is only now beginning to understand that I am not merely a lapsed Christian but am basically not religious at all. But my mom had still thought I was at least a good person until I did that... she was really disappointed.) Like many Christians of their generation, they both seem really focused on what other people will think of them, not just what the Bible tells them to do.

My girlfriend understands the situation and has very generously offered to let me pretend she doesn't live there when I talk to my parents. The trouble is, my parents and I have a scheduled weekly phone call to catch up with each other. At some point I will either let it slip or else find myself in a situation in which I can't be elusive and must outright lie to one of my parents, which makes me uncomfortable. Plus, of course, this feels like I'm ashamed of my girlfriend, which I am definitely not; my gut feeling is that it does not serve our relationship well to hide her from anyone.

Also, my sister and her husband will be visiting here eventually, and it's inevitable that they'll meet her. My sister is not an idiot and will figure it out even if my girlfriend's not in the house. They are both Christians as well, but they're not hardliners like Mom and Dad (my sister, for example, has been known to have a beer from time to time). They probably won't care too much that I've shacked up, but I don't expect them to keep my secrets for me. However, it is unlikely that my parents will visit anytime soon.

Despite the fact that it is often frustrating dealing with them, I love both my parents and don't want to hurt them unnecessarily, especially since they are quite old and set in their ways. There is zero chance I would be able to change their mind about the issue or avoid hurting them. My girlfriend has tried to help me by casting this as a "protect them from the world the way you would protect a child" thing, which doesn't quite satisfy.

As it happens, my dad will be out of town over Memorial Day weekend, which will mean I'll be talking to just my mom that Saturday. She is the more tolerant and intelligent of the two of them and she has told me that she will love me no matter what I do, even if she disapproves of it. So one option is to tell her then and let her break it to him; I am pretty sure she has successfully softened him up in times past.

My dad, on the other hand, has given me mixed messages -- at one visit he told me if I ever shacked up with someone, I'd not speak to him or see him again, although more recently he has said that he too will love me no matter what. And perhaps he's gotten over the shock of me "shacking up" since in his mind, I've done it already.

Part of me is, frankly, OK with not seeing him again; it would make my life easier in a lot of ways. He spent a three-year period some time ago telling everyone he was going to die soon, so I have steeled myself for the day I wouldn't be able to talk to him anymore. Actually, I was kind of waiting for that to happen so I could get on with my life without worrying about what he thinks, but he's in fine health and will probably live to be a hundred.

I'm ashamed to say it, but I'm not some twenty-something; I'm 40! It galls me that I've spent this long living my life in a futile attempt to satisfy my father. I feel like I've given up so many things that could have made me happy just to avoid his disapproval. I have, in the past, actually broken off relationships that might have been really good because I knew my father would never approve of the woman in question. (She was the wrong race, wasn't conventionally pretty, not religious enough...) I moved thousands of miles away from my parents about 10 years ago with the intent of getting out from under his thumb -- and here I am, middle-aged, still squirming.

Like any son, I crave my father's approval. But time has shown me that I won't get it; anything I do will be wrong in some way. (For example, my sister attends church, but it's the "wrong" church. Same fundamentalist denomination, just "too liberal.") I feel I owe it to my girlfriend and myself to get past this issue and live my life the way I see fit. As an aside, then, if you have any helpful suggestions on how to do that, I would be happy to hear them.

So, hive mind, what do you think? Should I drop the bomb, and if so, how should I aim it? One option I have considered is to tell them she has moved to the area, so at least I wouldn't have to hide the fact that I'm doing things with her, but omit the living-together part for now. I have also considered trying to do away with the weekly phone call, and switch to talking to my parents only when one or the other of us have news we want to share. Both of these would make the pretending option somewhat more tenable, though I still don't like it much. Am I being selfish by wanting to be honest with my parents even though I know the truth about my life will hurt them?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (50 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Tell them the truth; you're a grown-ass man.

I have, in the past, actually broken off relationships that might have been really good because I knew my father would never approve of the woman in question. (She was the wrong race, wasn't conventionally pretty, not religious enough...) I moved thousands of miles away from my parents about 10 years ago with the intent of getting out from under his thumb -- and here I am, middle-aged, still squirming.

You can either start living your real life now, or you can wait until your parents die. I recommend the former.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:05 AM on May 5, 2009 [57 favorites]


Don't pretend. It's going to come out sooner or later. Your girlfriend sounds great, but living a lie is going to wear on a relationship at some point.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:10 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, man. I totally, totally feel for you, and I can see myself in this exact situation at 40. Actually, my boyfriend and I will be living together starting this summer, and I've been struggling with whether or not to tell them as well (they live across the country, are not likely to visit me, and what they don't know won't hurt them...but as you say, it feels like I'd be acting as if I'm ashamed of my boyfriend which I'm definitely not). Whether they will berate me or cut me off remains to be seen; they've done both to my sister for choosing to divorce.

I wish I had an answer for you, I'm really struggling with this myself. I'll just head off all those who are going to tell you that it's just so easy to tell the truth and let them deal with the consequences and say that I understand that it really isn't when it comes to this kind of religious judgment.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:10 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm about to move into an apartment with my girlfriend and another guy. Two bedroom thing, so you can guess where everyone will be sleeping. My parents aren't big fans of it either, so I can sort of understand where you're coming from.

I knew they wouldn't like it. And when I told them I made sure to tell them in a way that wouldn't be understood as asking for permission. "We're getting an apartment. We're living with [friend]." Not overly mean, but not even a hint of "is this OK with you."

Key difference I see is that we're getting married at the end of July, so that could have an effect on their reaction.

Hit me up if you need to talk.
posted by theichibun at 8:12 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


It galls me that I've spent this long living my life in a futile attempt to satisfy my father. I feel like I've given up so many things that could have made me happy just to avoid his disapproval.

I feel you. I'm also in my 40s and had a dad that was impossible to satisfy. Here's the thing, it never really goes away until you stop it. My dad died a year ago (I hadn't spoken to him in 5) and I still find myself thinking from time to time that "maybe this time he'll be proud of me."

Give it up. Live your life! You've given them as many years of your life as they gave of theirs to raise you. You're even. If living your life in a forthright and honest fashion causes your parents pain, then it's THEIR PROBLEM! Don't hide what you are doing - but don't make the big phone call either. You don't owe them any explanations.

What I'm trying to say is that this won't go away when they die. You made this cage, not them.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:18 AM on May 5, 2009 [13 favorites]


1. You are responsible for your actions. You are not responsible for your parents' reactions. They are not children.

2. You make a strong case that your parents will figure out your living arrangements eventually. Why compound their disappointment by lying to them?

I'm not a fan of beating around the bush. Just come out and say it. "Mom, Dad, [girlfriend] and I are moving in together." Don't apologize, don't soften them up, don't imply that you want their forgiveness, happiness, or whatever. Just lay it out there neutrally.
posted by adamrice at 8:21 AM on May 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


You already know what you want to do. In a sense, you're encapsulating the problem right here: you're asking someone on this site to give you permission. I know that sounds harsh, but think about it. In some sense, you've lived your life looking for approval and permission from your parents (which most of us do to some extent), but you are looking outside of yourself just by asking this question of us.

But, since you asked: Yes, nominate your girlfriend for sainthood, but do not put her through the torment of pretending. Shack up. Do not admit to shacking up; proudly state that you have moved in with your wonderful girlfriend. Do not embrace your father's victimhood. Oh, how it will pain him that he is not in control. Tough.

My father, though not religious, worked quite hard to ensure that I would be a carbon copy of him in all things. My individuality was not approved of in the slightest. I eventually made the decision that the world didn't actually need another one of him, and gave up trying to make that happen. It's very liberating. I highly recommend it.

You could partially deflect your father's religious objections with "My actions are between me and Jesus." And, if you're a Christian who isn't Catholic, they are. The Bible has plenty of quotes about minding your own business; dig them out.
posted by adipocere at 8:21 AM on May 5, 2009 [15 favorites]


Your parents leave you no choice but to break their hearts. They'll get over it.

However, putting your life on hold until they die is irrecoverable.
posted by sid at 8:23 AM on May 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


A few years ago, my cousin was dating *gasp* a black girl. My grandparents tried to hid their racism behind concerns that if they had kids they would be "speckled" (alopecia. Yes I know that makes no sense), and that she's "not the same kind of catholic", whatever that means. I flew off the handle and told them that someone who was born when they were in their fifties (me) should not have to tell them to grow the hell up.

They got over it and love the great-grandbabies now.

I know it's not the same thing, but really, dude, you've gotta man up. You may have to threaten to disown your father, not the other way around, for his petty, childish bullshit. Tell them that you've scuttled relationships your whole life out of fear of their non-approval. Tell them you're 40, not 14, and really, it shouldn't be the child who tells the parent to grow up.
posted by notsnot at 8:27 AM on May 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure at forty, you should be condescending to give me advice, and not vice-versa. I'd say, there are some things you can safely lie about and some things you can't. There's no way you can cover up living with someone, and it will be much worse to be "caught" than if you just came out with it. Perhaps you know the best way to walk on egg-shells around your own parents, but that bit about not wanting to hurt them would be a good start.

We all have old fogies set in their ways. We still love them. Your parents are just an extreme example of the plight of everyone else.
posted by Faust at 8:29 AM on May 5, 2009


The trouble is, my parents and I have a scheduled weekly phone call to catch up with each other.

Cut the leash, dude. You're too old to have a scheduled check-in time with your folks. Talk to them when you actually want to talk to them.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:30 AM on May 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


My first instinct is to tell them and tell them to get over it. I mean you are 40 for gods sake. I assume you are financially independent and don't have to worry about being "cut off" like you might have at 20. However, do you have any intention of marrying your girlfriend in the next couple of years? If no, that's fine and it's time to tell your parents. But if it's yes, it might be worth it, for her sake and your sake, to fake it for awhile. If you foresee marriage in the future, her life might be a lot easier if she isn't the whore who took you to the dark side and ruined you forever.
posted by whoaali at 8:33 AM on May 5, 2009


Despite the fact that it is often frustrating dealing with them, I love both my parents and don't want to hurt them unnecessarily, especially since they are quite old and set in their ways. There is zero chance I would be able to change their mind about the issue or avoid hurting them. My girlfriend has tried to help me by casting this as a "protect them from the world the way you would protect a child" thing, which doesn't quite satisfy.

As others have said, unless you are the master of deception they are probably going to find out eventually no matter what you decide to do. If you hide it from them indefinitely, you'll avoid a confrontation for a while, but you'll have to spend a lot of time and effort keeping the truth from them and you'll have less control over how and when they find out.

So regardless of what you decide, you should prepare yourself for whatever massive blow-up you expect to result from the revelation. They may say hurtful things or even break off contact altogether. You need to keep in mind, though, that this is your life and ultimately you stand behind the decisions you make, even if your parents don't approve of them. Part of standing for something is accepting the negative consequences that come with it, so you should feel confident that telling your parents the truth is doing the right thing, even if it hurts your relationship with them.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:40 AM on May 5, 2009


Your parents leave you no choice but to break their hearts. They'll get over it.

However, putting your life on hold until they die is irrecoverable.

posted by sid at 4:23 PM on May 5 [+] [!]

This.

It's sad, but true -- and it's not your fault. Just stay in touch with them, make it clear you're ready to talk with them when they want to, and eventually there will almost certainly come a point when they want to talk to their son more than they want to obey this pressure they percieve to shut you out.
posted by teresci at 8:46 AM on May 5, 2009


I've been through this, but thankfully not with my parents. I lied to my grandparents and fundie aunts and uncles when I shacked up in college. I was hundreds of miles away and not particularly close to any of them, but guess what: it didn't take them long to figure it out anyway. (Fundies are always snooping around for sinning so that they can judge and feel superior to other people.[1] And yeah, my family was nasty about it, but I didn't care. I only lied to protect my parents from their self-righteousness, and eventually they got over it.)

My point is that while your parents' beliefs might seem dumb, they aren't. You won't be able to keep this from them, and if you try, it'll blow up in your face. Stand up, be a man, and make it clear that you don't feel like you have anything to be ashamed of. Likelihood of huffing and puffing is high. Likelihood that they'll actually quit talking to you is much smaller than you think.

[1] Flame me if you want, but my fundie uncle is horrified that his son lives with a male(!) roommate. No, he's not gay. He's just splitting the rent with another dude. And yet, my uncle thinks there must be something nasty going on. Can't live with a woman, can't live with a man -- these people are impossible to please. Don't waste your life trying.
posted by junkbox at 8:50 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was the girlfriend in a similar situation, and he chose not to tell his parents for a long time. It was stressful for me on many levels. Keeping this kind of secret is really unfair to your girlfriend -- she will be forced to join you in your lie should she meet your parents, and what if your parents want to visit you? Are you going to hide all her stuff?

You're an adult, act like it. Own your choices.

Your parents are also adults. If they choose to be upset by this, or cut off ties, or whatever, that's a choice THEY are making. It's not your fault that they can't handle it. You aren't responsible for protecting your relationship with your parents or protecting their feelings. You are responsible for doing what's best for yourself and your relationship.
posted by tastybrains at 8:53 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tell them. Don't lie or hide it. Emphasize how happy it's making you, how it's not wrong becuase you are two commmitted loving adults, and say you hope they support your decision and grow to like/love your gf as well, and that you're excited about all this. Saying it all nicely like that will just make them feel like jerks if they feel like arguing about it.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:54 AM on May 5, 2009


They're adults, you're an adult. The sooner you tell them, the sooner everyone will get over it.
posted by hermitosis at 8:55 AM on May 5, 2009


You are 40 years old, for chrissakes.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:10 AM on May 5, 2009 [9 favorites]


Nthing everyone else; you can't hide this, and you shouldn't try.

I love both my parents and don't want to hurt them unnecessarily.

This is not what's going on here. If they choose to wallow in grief over something like this, they're doing it to themselves. You are not in control of their reactions.

On the other hand, it looks to me as if you're in the habit of avoiding confrontation at all costs. This is YOUR problem, and you need to take responsibility for it. The choices you have regularly been making as you talk to your parents about your life have made a decent, honest relationship impossible. You've avoided confrontation, at great expense to everyone involved, for your own comfort. It's understandable, but don't dress it up as having been for your parents' benefit.

Being honest doesn't mean being nasty about it, or striving to prove that you're a good person or that you have a right to make your own choices. It means putting yourself -- your real self -- out there. Their reaction is their responsibility. There's the chance that their reaction will be really shitty, but is your current relationship so much better anyhow?
posted by jon1270 at 9:13 AM on May 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Marry her. If your parents' opinion matters so much to you, marry her.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:21 AM on May 5, 2009


You are right on the edge of being who you really are, and being free. You are a step away from becoming whole, grown up, and master of your own destiny.

Don't live a wasted life. Go for it.
posted by Vaike at 9:25 AM on May 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


There are two ways to be a grown-up here: either stand up to your parents or marry her.

Anything else is totally juvenile. Ridiculously, laughably juvenile.

I know that's mean. But seriously, maybe it's time to be a man.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:30 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


My fundamentalist parents have pretty much cut me off for divorcing. Mention it if the subject comes up -- approach it in your mind like this: "Oh, I didn't think to mention it because it's none of mom's/dad's business." Don't give reasons, don't justify, don't try to explain. Just please live your life.
posted by motsque at 9:30 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Your dad won't cut off ties with you. That is a lie that is meant to manipulate you. If you don't really care if he does (and you even crave the peace you would have if he would just die already) it's a particularly unpowerful lie.

I suspect you already knew the answer you would get when you asked ("tell them, let them deal with it, duh") but you wanted our permission to consider your own feelings and your girlfriend's to be as important or more important than your dad's. Consider it granted! You and your dad are now adult peers.

Your new family is the two of you. It comes first, and further, it is where you now should look for, and will find, approval and love.

(I like the "daddyissues" tag.)
posted by fritley at 9:31 AM on May 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh wow, I wholeheartedly disagree with the opinion that you should get married to placate your parents. Wow. You should get married if the two of you want with all your hearts to get married, and for no other reason in the world.
posted by fritley at 9:34 AM on May 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


It sounds like you want to tell your parents but you don't want to upset them. Telling them is the best thing to do here, unless you think living with your girlfriend is a very temporary thing. If you intend to do this long term, though, you really should tell them. You know they'll be upset initially, but it sounds like they will get over it eventually. They could be angry for a long time, though. My parents sound similar to yours in how they react when I do something they do not approve of; they are judgmental and have definite ideas on what I should or should not do, and when I waver from that, they try their hardest to reclaim control of the situation. I generally avoid telling them anything I know they won't approve of until it is absolutely unavoidable. Telling them about moving in with your girlfriend is something that I would deem unavoidable, because as upset as your parents will be when they find out, if they find out you've been living with her for x amount of time they will have one more thing to be upset about--that you kept the secret from them for so long. Anyway, the pattern that usually follows for me is this: parents explode, accuse me of being a horrible daughter, tell me I don't know what I'm doing, that I'm doing it to hurt them, etc etc etc. Some emotional blackmail commences. It is horrible to go through and every conversation with them is a small form of torture. But after awhile, after they've had time to get used to the idea and realize that I am not changing my mind no matter what they say, then they start acting normal again. Gradually.

So, tell your parents, but be prepared because it won't be easy. If the conversations get too upsetting for you, just excuse yourself from the conversation and tell them to call you when they've calmed down a bit. If they don't call you after a couple weeks, call them again anyway just to briefly check up on them. Repeat if the conversation gets out of control. In short, behave as best you can so that they know that you aren't doing this to hurt them or because they failed as parents or you don't care about them. With my parents, I pretty much have to just let them vent at me until time has passed (trying to reason with them, or worse, arguing, only further upsets them). Try not to let them get to you. To be clear, I'm not advocating that you let your parents walk all over you, and I don't think this sort of behavior in parents is okay, but I know as well as most people with similar parents that this is how they are and how they will be. Tell your parents, stand your ground, but be there to support them because they will be upset and possibly hurt, regardless of whether their feelings are justified or not. Your parents aren't going to change but from what you've written, it doesn't sound like they would write you off forever for this.
posted by Polychrome at 9:34 AM on May 5, 2009


You could not tell them on the basis that you're 40 years old and it's none of their fucking business who you live with, or how.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:45 AM on May 5, 2009


I do not think it is selfish to tell your parents. I think how you share this information is important, and feel that writing a letter could be a good way to do it.

You could address some of the reasons why you are worried about upsetting them, and explain your decision in a thoughtful way, while giving them space to think about it.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 9:46 AM on May 5, 2009


Oh, dear. Forgive yourself. Forgive your parents for choosing to live their lives through the judgment of others. And, move on. At your next weekly phone call, take a deep breath and tell them how much you are in love with this girl and that she's the best thing that's happened to you. Tell them you can't wait to have them meet her. Tell her that you guys are taking a big step and moving in together. If your parents start to rant/rave, be strong and say that you knew they would disapprove but that you're in love and this is a decision you and your girlfriend have made together and you hope that they will like her. Then cut the conversation short. You may have many of these conversations with your parents if you want to keep them in your life. They may cut you off. Regardless, you need to turn your focus to YOUR life. Live it with love in your heart, for yourself and your girlfriend and all the other good people in your life. Make a good life that you can be proud of. You're 40, it's time.

Good luck!
posted by amanda at 9:48 AM on May 5, 2009 [12 favorites]


It doesn't matter if you do everything your parents ask you to do for the rest of their natural lives - it won't be enough. Nothing will ever be enough. They don't accept you because they don't want to accept you for some unknown fucked up reason of their own.

Cherish the relationship you have with your wonderful girlfriend, be honest with your parents, go out and enjoy your new life and let the chips fall where they may. If you're looking for permission, I'm giving you permission to live your own life they way you choose.

Best of luck, it's not easy, but it is worth it.
posted by Space Kitty at 9:56 AM on May 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Should I tell my fundamentalist Christian parents, who live on the other side of the country, that I'm shacking up with my girlfriend?

Yes. You have to tell them. Don't hide your life from them.

If so, how?

Mom, I wanted to let you know that Jane is moving here from Anytown to live with me. I'm so excited about this, because I love her so much, and I can't wait for you and Dad to spend more time with her to find out how awesome she is.

No, we haven't talked about marriage (or whatever the appropriate and true thing is to say)

“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
posted by anastasiav at 9:56 AM on May 5, 2009


> Oh, dear. Forgive yourself. Forgive your parents for choosing to live their lives through the judgment of others. And, move on. At your next weekly phone call, take a deep breath and tell them how much you are in love with this girl and that she's the best thing that's happened to you. Tell them you can't wait to have them meet her. Tell her that you guys are taking a big step and moving in together. If your parents start to rant/rave, be strong and say that you knew they would disapprove but that you're in love and this is a decision you and your girlfriend have made together and you hope that they will like her. Then cut the conversation short. You may have many of these conversations with your parents if you want to keep them in your life. They may cut you off. Regardless, you need to turn your focus to YOUR life. Live it with love in your heart, for yourself and your girlfriend and all the other good people in your life. Make a good life that you can be proud of. You're 40, it's time.

Quoted for truth. Very well said, amanda, and you've also given the OP a nice example of a firm-yet-respectful tone.

Anonymous, you might want to check out some online resources for gay folks coming out of the closet to religious parents for more examples of how to calmly handle parents who are likely to earnestly fear for your soul if you disobey what they consider to be God's laws.
posted by desuetude at 10:00 AM on May 5, 2009


I love both my parents and don't want to hurt them unnecessarily.

Just wanted to add, you're giving them much more consideration than it seems they've ever given you - their disapproval has hurt you deeply. Moreover, it wasn't merely unnecessary, their hurting you; it was strictly uncalled for.
posted by notsnot at 10:10 AM on May 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


follow-up from the OP
Thanks for all the comments, even (especially) the tough ones. Those of you who said I need to man up are right that I know what I need to do, I just don't want to do it. Thanks also to those of you who empathized -- I hadn't realized anyone else was in this boat. A couple of you made points I hadn't considered, which is one of the reasons I posted this here, and I am extremely grateful for those.

Since I've made the decision to proceed with full disclosure, if anyone has any further suggestions on the best way to approach the topic with my parents (aside from what's already been posted), perhaps it would be best to focus on that now.

Thank you all again so much.
posted by jessamyn at 10:17 AM on May 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


You might find this question, in which a gay mefite comes out to his conservative Christian parents, helpful. There's follow-up and everything, so we got to find out what happened.
posted by rtha at 10:20 AM on May 5, 2009


What you've been doing is maintaining a Polite Fiction. Just about everyone will do this sometime in their life; I would be dubious of any claim by anyone that they had not. It's a workable (implicit) compromise that allows relationships to continue that might otherwise end catastrophically. There's a lot to be said in favor of stability; Polite Fictions have prevented wars, societal chaos, and painful estrangements.

On the other hand, honesty is generally healthier. The goal is to move from Polite Fiction towards honesty; this also happens among nations, societies, and individuals.

You don't say whether you're considering marriage in the sometime future, but it sounds like you consider this a dedicated partnership relationship, which is functionally a marriage, without Church & State support.

Assuming your awesome girlfriend isn't put off by it, you guys could refer to each other as "my fiance'", and later "my husband/wife" to your parents. You could assuage guilt feelings over "lying" by deciding that these are inside-joke terms of endearment (which, in fact, they could be -- it's not uncommon for close couples to refer to each other in these terms, even when they have no intention of marrying)

Or, you could get one of those Church & State supported marriages that everyone's been up in arms over the last few years -- I'm pretty sure you still qualify for them..
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 10:46 AM on May 5, 2009


I have been the girlfriend in just this sort of situation - we ended up living together for 6 years without him telling his parents, and it wasn't a big deal for him. He wasn't really close to his parents, though, so shutting them out of his life didn't really bug him. We jokingly referred to it as "Living the lie lifestyle". The problems happened when my parents figured out that he hadn't told his parents that we were a couple - they were so offended by this idea that they then refused to see or speak to my boyfriend, which was a royal pain in the ass for me. I'd be reluctant to outright tell you which is the best course of action, but just wanted to say that it's really hard to predict how these things will play out, and who will end up getting hurt.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:03 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's a hint, what's worse: telling them that you are shacking up or have shakced up with your girlfriend or letting them discover that you are shacking up a*and* that you hid it from them and lied to them ?

Btw I think shacking up means living together as a couple without being married, so if you marry your girlfriend the problem would go away, but this is a terribly wrong reason to marry anyone.

I guess you're on the best path by telling your mother first.
posted by izwalito at 11:37 AM on May 5, 2009


In light of your update, which was mature, honest, and insightful: I think the idea to write a letter is a good one, followed by a phone call a couple of days after you think they've read it. This gives your mom a chance to soften Dad up before you talk to him.

Make no apologies, but see if you can frame your decision to live with integrity as coming from a value they taught you; flattery is never amiss.* I don't know about quoting scripture to them, though, as a few have suggested; that might come off as taunting them -- "you think you're so Christian?"

* As in, "Susan and I have decided to move in together. I know this is something you wouldn't choose for me, but please know I am telling you this because you taught me so well never to tell a lie, even by omission. I love you both and will call soon."
posted by palliser at 11:44 AM on May 5, 2009


On preview, I see that the inside-joke thing is right off the table. So, disregard the last two paragraphs of my previous post. Instead:

Mom, I've got great news! My Totally Awesome girlfriend is really serious about us -- she's moving here! I'm looking at all the rental advertisements now, so we won't have to waste too much time looking for a place once she arrives. [ . . . ]

Well, we need to find a place that's big enough, and that's convenient to both of us... [ . . . ]

Well Mom, yes we will be living in the same apartment; that's why we're looking at so many places -- we both have to like it. [ . . . ]

[suppose an inappropriate question - this is your call]
Mom, you always told me that's personal & private information - you wouldn't have raised me right if I told you; I'm surprised you asked.

This may be more than one conversation; the main point is to deliver this as normal, standard adult behavior (which it is) -- in the same way that buying a car, or registering to vote is normal, standard adult behavior.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 12:08 PM on May 5, 2009


I thought my parents would freak out when I moved in with my (now ex) girlfriend. They didn't care at all. In fact, they once admitted that I was "doing the smart thing" by not getting married at an early age like they did. My parents are conservative Christians but have lightened up considerably as I've gotten older. Maybe yours have too and you just don't know it because you tip-toe around issues like this.

I say just straight up tell them. You're an adult, it's your life, and you don't need to ask for permission. I know a couple who is living together and her parents have no idea they're even dating because apparently that knowledge is too much for them (apparently it's a cultural thing, but I still think it's ridiculous). They are constantly jumping through hoops to make sure they stay in the dark, and this is a adult girl who has a PhD and has her shit together.

I have made plenty of decisions that I knew my parents wouldn't necessarily agree with, but I decided a long time ago to live my life how I wanted regardless of what other people thought. My parents may not have liked it but they at least respect me and treat me like an adult because of it.
posted by bradbane at 12:44 PM on May 5, 2009


You'll need to have a conversation with them (can you do this face-to-face?) about it in which you verbally accept the ongoing disconnect between you as your responsibility. Apologize for it, and let them know you're going to do better from here on out, about how sorry you are that your wonderful lady friend and they haven't been able to get to know each other for your fear of telling them (parents) about your relationship, and how unnecessary you now realize that fear was, etc., etc. The implied message is meant to be about how high your expectations are of them really are, and not what your behavior up to now might imply.

This might fly in the face of your present perceptions of them; you'll need to change those. The conversation will have to be real. Beforehand, you may need to imagine / visualize / affirm / role-play with your girlfriend / <whatever works for you>, to see them as more adult and accepting of you than you have been able to up to now (and more than they may have been able to be, but we're going for changing that!). This won't be a conversation about changing them but about where you have come to. Own it to the degree that, for you, it's a done deal before the conversation even starts and you're just filling them in on where you are.

They'll likely see it through your eyes if you're absolutely convincing (and convinced!), even if they need to process it for a while by themselves. And if it turns out that they still can't accept your life not being exactly how they might have envisioned it should be, you'll have at least have stopped hiding it from them and won't have to fear or avoid being straight with them from now on. Good for you for deciding to change your relationship with them, and best of luck.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 2:41 PM on May 5, 2009


PS: It might help if you start changing the words you use to describe your life. You probably would never say "shacking up" to your parents, but it might help you refocus if you use different words with yourself, too.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 2:44 PM on May 5, 2009


Here's a tip: don't worry about the best way to tell them. Just call them, blurt it out and get it over with. There is no best way. Trust me, they are more concerned about the content than the presentation.

Waiting until you've figured out "the best way" simply allows you to procrastinate further.

However, it might be nice to plan for YOUR reaction. Call them on a Friday night so you have the weekend to stew/celebrate/cry/go fishing as the mood takes you.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:44 PM on May 5, 2009


I'd avoid the "avoid dad/tell sympathetic mom" routine, because that smacks of cowardice also. I know (from experience) how enticing it is to try to alert the more-sane parent to something difficult in the hopes that it gets translated properly. It doesn't work. (Never did for me, at least.) If anything, it only permits more sneaky immature behavior. And it is also unfair to do to your more-sane parent.

Only mention it when you can speak to them both at the same time. As everyone has said, treat this as normal, positive, exciting news! It is! Congratulations!
posted by greekphilosophy at 2:46 PM on May 5, 2009


Congrats on deciding to tell the truth and live your truth... this is not easy with judgmental parents, but it is the only way you can be true to who you are and live authentically.

While I do agree with most people who said that it is very unlikely your parents will cut you off from them, it is a possibility you must consider. My parents have cut me off for for less (i.e. for wanting to go home for TG instead of Christmas or dating a man that was shorter than me...yes, I am being serious). I was told the same thing that my parents would come around, but I was cut out of their lives time and time again (9 years and counting for the last "transgression").

If this happens to you (I hope it does not), it will hurt and there will be temptations to accommodate their ideas of right and wrong just to get back in the parental fold. Don't let this happen to you...it isn't worth it. Being rejected for being yourself by the very people who are supposed to love you unconditionally is awful. Rejecting your authentic self by living a lie, however, is a far worse.
posted by murrey at 3:45 PM on May 5, 2009


not four days ago, my girlfriend and i moved in together. she's the one with the fundamentalist parents and i'm an atheist. she was petrified of their judgement, but i trusted in their capacity to accept her decision and wish us the best.

what she decided to do was simply tell them, in positive terms: "good news! we're moving in together!" rather than, "i'm sorry for letting you down, but we're moving in together." but it was really tough for her, in a way that i'll never be able to understand (my parents being liberal to the point of negligence).

all you can do, really is set up the situation and say your piece. we both feel like a big weight has come off and hopefully you will too.
posted by klanawa at 4:06 PM on May 5, 2009


When I told my conservative Christian (though apparently more tolerant than yours) parents that I was moving in with my SO, I framed it, as someone has already suggested, as a firm statement rather than a request for permission. However, I also made it clear that I understood that it was not something my parents would choose to do themselves, or that they would approve of my doing. I think I literally said, "We're moving in together, and I know that this isn't something you would have chosen to do, but it's the decision we've made and we're happy with it. I thought you should know since I'll be moving next month."

That's what worked for me. I think it's important to recognize what is or isn't a healthy response from parents regarding a decision their adult child makes that they disagree with. "That isn't the choice I would have made, and to be honest I think it's a mistake, but it's your decision and since you're not asking me for advice, I won't say any more on the matter," is a fine response. They don't need to celebrate something they find immoral, they just need to respect your right to live your own adult life. Don't expect them to celebrate, but do set boundaries if they can't politely drop the subject and instead yell or rage about how wrong it is.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:08 PM on May 5, 2009


I had this conversation with my folks, who are fundamentalist-ish ministers, several months ago. Here's how it went, FWIW.

My then-girlfriend (now fiancee) and I had been living together for a few months, but hadn't told my parents immediately. We live about an hour away, and when we get together, it's always at either their place or a restaurant - so like you, we weren't worried about hiding "the evidence" of our apartment - we didn't actively lie about not living together, we just didn't bring it up until we were I was ready. Also like you, I had issues of wanting to please them, not disappoint them, keep them happy, not hurt them, maintain the loving relationship we have. Ultimately, though, I knew that I needed to be myself - that the relationship had to survive me being an adult, making my own decisions, etc. Anything less than that wouldn't be a relationship worth keeping.

So I decided to tell them, and I decided to be brave and unapologetic about it. We did it face-to-face, to both parents at once; I did not ask for their approval or blessing or happiness or understanding; I did not ask them to change their mind or their morals - it was just an invitation for them to see me, to give them the opportunity to recognize the love that I had found.

I said something like this: "Mom, Dad, I want you to know that SO and I really love each other. We're committed to each other, and want to spend our lives together. We want to get married - but not quite yet. In the meantime, though, I wanted to let you know that we're living together. We realize that this wouldn't be your choice/recommendation, and that you may not understand, but this is what we feel to be the right thing for us right now."

Overall, it went pretty good, though I definitely emphasize with your mom asking you about losing your "moral compass" - my dad accused me of moral relativity, not believing in Absolute Truth, and rebelling against God/the Bible. I told them that the love that I share with SO - this committed, monogamous, self-giving, mutual relationship of love - is not fleeting or "immoral". (To which dad replied, "That's just what the gays say". It was all I could do at the time to keep myself from saying "Yeah, exactly!" One step at a time...)

But so we've come to a pretty decent place - my family loves SO and is happy for us. We don't often talk about morals, religion, or politics, but there's no tension of things unknown or things left unsaid. (To be honest, though, it did relieve the tension a bit when we got officially engaged.)

You've gotten a lot of great advice here, but feel free to MeMail if you want to talk more. Oh, and congrats! It's an awesome, beautiful step you're taking. Stay strong - you can do this. Remember, you have control over your actions, not over their reactions.
posted by puddleglum at 12:00 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


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