Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: A couple of months ago my boyfriend moved into my apartment for a number of reasons, and financially it is so much better. We have been dating for three years now.
My parents are very strict Christians and I was dreading telling them about it. Our pastor found out and went behind my back and told them. This of course only made matters worse, as they did not hear it from me.
They are now upset with me and have told me that I have three options: I can have him move out, I can continue “living in sin” and be put under church discipline, or I can continue living with him and leave the church.
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I don’t want to leave the church as I have grown up there, but this isn’t the first time the pastor has disrespected me as an adult, and I have thought about leaving the church in the past. I also know that continuing to live with my boyfriend will hurt my parents, and I don’t want them to have such a negative view of him. We plan on getting married and I want my parents to like him and support us.
However, I do not plan on having him move out. Is there anything I can do or say to make this situation better? Does my boyfriend need to speak with them? Do I leave the church or attempt to make it work?
Boyfriend vs. Parents
The best thing you can do is figure out what you actually want.
Wanting to have your cake and eat it too and not have to pay for it is not the same thing as knowing what you want. Wanting it all is a child’s set of priorities.
If you are going to make the choices of an adult, like living with a partner, then you also have to accept the fact of consequences. If you want to live with your boyfriend outside of the bounds of marriage, then you have to accept that your parents and pastor will reject your choice. If you want to please your parents and stay in your church, then you have to accept this means no shacking up. If you want to make decisions on your living arrangements based on financial advantage, then you have to accept that believers in moral and spiritual foundations will not be impressed by your choice.
Right now you don’t sound as if you really know who you are. You’re just a collection of things you wish would happen or people you wish you could please — and so your actions aren’t coherent or aligned with any unifying principle. You’ve even framed this as “Boyfriend vs. Parents,” as if you don’t even exist.
Please start to identify and own who you are by determining your priorities: your finances? living arrangements? church tenets? church familiarity? parental approval? control of your own life? List them, for real, on paper, and number them. Then revisit your decisions through the lens of those priorities.
You can’t make people like what you do. You can only make thoughtful decisions, live them with conviction, hope the people you love (eventually) respect you for who you are – and carry on without that if you must.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.