Q: I’m twenty years old, I’m in school, I work, I pay my own bills, and I live with my parents, who are overly protective. My whole life I have always played the good girl, I’m an angel in my parents’ eyes. I met a guy who is twenty-nine years old and I’ve fallen in love with him. I know how my parents can be, so I tried to keep him a secret. To keep the story short, they found out about him. From that moment on I became miserable. My parents begged me to break up with him, they cried as if they lost me, and my dad told me if we stayed together I might as well consider him (my father) dead to me. After holding out for two weeks, I couldn’t take it. I lied to them and told them I broke up with him. After this, we secretly got married, and now I’m planning on moving out to go live with him. I want to tell my parents the truth, but I’m afraid of losing them in that process. It makes loving someone so difficult when your family is at odds with you for how you feel. My husband’s family is so supportive though. They’re happy with us being married. I guess what I’m asking is should I tell them the truth and risk losing my family, or should I shelter them from the truth until I feel like I’m ready for the confrontations involved?
A: Dear TA,
Oof. I just cringed at the lying. If your parents aren’t treating you like you’re an adult, lying and sneaking around like a teenager aren’t the best way to convince them they’re wrong. I get that it can be tough, especially when they’re taking such a hard-nosed stance and you just don’t want to hear their noise any more. But, there’s a big difference between just not involving them in your decisions (for example, choosing not to share the in-depth details of your relationship), and outright lying to them. No one likes making unpopular decisions, but that’s the nature of this adulthood beast. Not everyone is going to like everything you do, where you choose to live, how you spend your money, whether or not you have kids and how many and how you raise them. People (particularly parents) have opinions about these things, and starting now, it’s up to you to make your choices and stand firmly behind them.
The ideal situation here would have been that your parents got to know your partner and came to see all of the good qualities that you love so much. They would watch the two of you together, acting in maturity and care, and grow to respect you as an adult in a caring and thoughtful relationship with another adult. I mean there are no guarantees that this would happen, but that would be nice, wouldn’t it? By lying to them about him, you completely remove this from the realm of possibility. Maybe they’ll find out about your relationship and have a few dinners with him, and they still won’t like him, or like you together, or approve of this marriage. But you’re not even giving them the chance. You’re cutting them off at the knees. And the longer you wait to tell them, the more you’re inhibiting the possibility that they’ll ever like anything about all of this.
You guessed it—that means a conversation with your parents clearing up the lies and setting the record straight as soon as possible. Nope, they won’t be happy. But, honestly, they have good reason not to be happy. This is pretty bad, TA, but the only way to make it better is to start changing it now.
Tell them that you’ve lied, and not only have you not broken up with this guy, but you’ve actually made things more serious and official. When you have that chat, keep a few things in mind.
1. These people care about you. I guarantee it. Anything they say—no matter how forceful or angry or extreme—is most assuredly coming from a place of care for you and concern for your well-being (and okay, maybe some hurt at being deceived). Try to keep that in mind when things get really heated.
2. As a result of all that care and concern, what they say might have some value. Listen to them. Weigh what they’re telling you. I’d even ask them outright, “What are your concerns?” and “What can I do to make you feel more comfortable with the choices I’m making?” Maybe they just need to get to know the guy. Maybe they’re worried about something you aren’t even aware of.
3. You also care about them. Make sure that they know you respect them and value their opinion, and that you only lied because you hate to be at odds with them.
4. You are only responsible for your decisions and how you handle yourself. If they do something drastic, like stop speaking to you, that’s their decision. They’re making their own choices, you’re only responsible for your own.
5. But notice what I said there. That means you’re responsible for your own. Which means you need to make these big decisions with consideration and care, hearing the concerns of the folks around you who love you, and responding thoughtfully. Recognize, the decisions you’ve already made carry a lot of hurt. Lies always do. You may not be responsible for how they choose to respond, but you unfortunately carry responsibility for the hurt they need to process.
By sheltering your parents with dishonesty, you’re guilty of that same overprotection you accuse them of. You’re a grownup, you can handle yourself. They’re grownups, they can handle themselves. Don’t try to guard them from something, assuming that they can’t take it. Let them make that determination for themselves, the way you hope to make it for yourself. And in the same way that you hope they listen to what you have to say and consider it, listen to their thoughts and consider them. You guys all want what’s best for you. The only disagreement here is what that looks like.
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