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#238: If I tell my parents I am an atheist, they will disown me (or worse).

Dear Captain Awkward:

I’ve been a closet atheist for almost five years, and it’s getting kind of stuffy in here.

Here’s some background: I’m a Dawoodi Bohra Muslim, which is sort of like the Muslim equivalent of the Catholic Church, only smaller. We have organized clergy, a pope-like figure, etc, etc. My parents are devout. Most of immediate relatives are devout, with the exception of my dad’s family, whom I am no longer close to thanks to a lot of drama. My closest friend is devout.

There are a long list of reasons why I’m afraid to tell the truth to anyone:

1) I’m a freshman in college and dependent financially on my parents. If I tell them, they could do anything from disowning me to forcing me to live at home to sending me to India to attend some sort of religious camp.

2) I might lose people I love — my friends, my family.

3) My relationship with my parents would be ruined. My mom and I have always had a rocky relationship. She’s been pushing me for the past two summers to attend a Muslim-aimed speed dating camp, and urges me to try and get engaged before I turn twenty-two. She’s obsessed with me getting my face waxed, something I hate (I honestly am unbothered by my mustache.) She thinks I dress poorly — things are too tight or too loose, my breasts (which are prominent) are too showy and I need to think about not shaming myself. She’s pretty sure I have some kind of hormone problem (my mom is a physician) but has never made any effort to get me treatment. And her response to anything I do that reveals my rather liberal social views: “Are you a lesbian?” She’d freak if I tried to date, but she’s forever trying to get me to confirm I like boys.

On the other hand…

1) I have a history of depression which manifests in ways that affect my performance academically and socially and included suicidal ideations. My parents are aware of this, but they ruined my first attempts at therapy and they’ve never been able to support me. My mom talks to me about it once every few months, which ends in a crying declaration of support, but the rest of the time it only comes up when she’s warning me not to take any antidepressants. (Sidenote: reading your blog inspired me to start seeing a therapist while at school again. Thank you.) My father honestly believes that once I achieve some sort of spiritual realization all my problems will vanish. My therapist thinks that my depression currently might be linked to the stress of lying.

2) I stop actually practicing my religion a long time ago. Now I’m only faking it. Is it morally wrong to keep pretending?

3) The longer I keep this up, the more pressures are going to appear: my parents are already planning our pilgrimage to Iraq this summer and pushing me to go to speed dating camp this summer. I want to have my own life, and it’ll be hard to have the life I want if I have to pretend to be a good Muslim.

What do I do?

- Godless

Dear Godless,

I am so sorry you are going through this. And very glad you have a therapist at school to help you. You cannot live truthfully with the people who should love and support you the most: No wonder you are depressed!

I do not think it is morally wrong for you to go through the motions of your religion while you are dependent on your parents. Many, many young people (including 18-year-old me who was confirmed in the Catholic Church while silently thinking to myself “soon you will not have to pretend you believe this” on the actual altar during the actual ceremony) have to pay lip service to their parents’ religion on their way out of the house and into independent living.

However we all feel about religion, can we agree that it is almost always a total accident of birth? You were born where you were born to these particular parents, so your religion is X, but if you had been born in a different place to different parents your religion would have been Y. People who are willing to coerce you  - emotionally, economically – around matters of the eternal soul (or, er, whatever) are asking to be lied to because they don’t offer you any safe alternatives. So a lot of what I have to say about your situation is 1) keep your head down until you are done with college 2) make a plan for how you will support yourself financially after college and if your parents withdraw their support, 3) find friends and safe spaces where you can be authentically yourself. And when you are supposed to be praying, try…praying. “Help me to be strong and brave and to find a way to be truly who I am” is a good think to ask for from life – it doesn’t have to be directed at a God you don’t believe in to give you comfort and courage.

I also think your relationship with your mom would be rocky even if religion weren’t involved. Since she is a doctor, she must know that you should be seen by a doctor who is not her to diagnose any hormonal problems (and possibly prescribe antidepressants), and it is controlling and medically ill-advised to think she can solve your  possible medical issues by what…waving her hands and ignoring them?

Put into place a worst-case scenario plan. Worst case scenario: One day you can’t take it anymore and blurt out “I’m an atheist, Mom and Dad” and they decide they are going to ship you somewhere to marry you off or pull you out of school or something else dramatic – whatever your worst fear is. Work with your therapist and your school and your friends (not the really devout one) to put into place things like financial aid, a place to stay, and a short-term plan that keeps you safe and where you want to be. Having the plan in place might help keep you sane while you go through the motions.

Where I think you should fight (FIGHT!) is on the question of getting married. Don’t let them marry you to anyone. ESPECIALLY don’t let them marry you to anyone “back home.” Consider all suitors (if you must go through the motions for now), but find a reason to reject all of them.

I have two other pieces of advice for you that may seem counter-intuitive but may help you out:

1) If you can, reach out to your father’s family. And/or your extended family. Somewhere in there you might have the aunt-who-rebelled or the awesome cousins who can be allies for you if you need them. Look for mentors outside of your family as well.

2) Consider speed-dating camp! Several reasons:

  • Think of it as a spy mission! You can write about it later. “The atheist’s survival guide to religious speed-dating camp!”
  • Statistically, somewhere at that camp are other young people who feel as you do. I think you might find allies there, both men and women, who do NOT want to be engaged by the time they are 22, who are being forced their by their parents just as you are.
  • It does not take place at your house, which means you get some time out of your house this summer, yes?
  • It looks like you are trying to make your parents happy, which you can use later. “I tried speed dating camp like you said, but I didn’t meet anyone. I don’t want to get married right now, can we agree to back off this question until I’ve graduated school?”

3) Look out for your safety. Be very careful about covering your tracks on any shared computer (use “Private Browsing” and “Clear History” liberally, etc.) Delete your text messages and voice mails regularly. Where is your passport and birth certificate? Make sure that you have access to and control of your documents. Squirrel away as much money as you can in accounts your parents do not have access to.

I’m sorry, I don’t think there is a magic awesome way that this will all work out for the best. I think having the life you want will come at the expense of your parents’ approval and support, and with some hardships that you would not have had otherwise, both financial and emotional.

I can tell you, however, that it is possible to live without your parents’ approval. You leave home, you get a job, you support yourself, and you find other people to be your “chosen family.” And it is possible perhaps to make some kind of peace down the road, once some time has gone by and you’ve had a chance to totally reset the relationship. Sometimes things have to break all the way in order to heal clean.

Where are my “Grew Up in Conservative Religious Households” readers at? Today’s Letter Writer could sure use your stories, lessons, and courage until I get the funding I need to build that Home for Wayward Girls I’ve been meaning to open.

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About JenniferP

Chicago filmmaker, teacher, and blogger.

98 comments on “#238: If I tell my parents I am an atheist, they will disown me (or worse).

  1. Where are my “Grew Up in Conservative Religious Households” readers at?

    That’s me. Bisexual liberal atheist, raised in Georgia by conservative Southern Baptists. Fun times, I tell you what.

    Things I have to lie to my mom about include:
    1) My religious opinions
    2) My political opinions, including who I vote for
    3) My sex life (fortunately this one is pretty easy to avoid; it’s not like I’d be calling her and saying “Hey I just got laid!” even if she were liberal)
    4) My sexuality
    5) The fact that I watch R-rated movies
    6) The fact that I think skirts look just FABULOUS on me

    Also I have to be careful not to let a “fuck” slip out in her presence (I’ve actually had dreams where this happens and I have to deal with the aftermath, funny enough), but that one’s more an annoyance than a source of oppression.

    I wish I had more specific advice to give you, but honestly, I’m pretty comfortable keeping up the lie myself. As Captain Awkward said, people who coerce you into believing something are asking to be lied to. It’s not your fault for lying; it’s their fault for not letting you be yourself, even if yourself is different from them.

    But I understand why that situation is less comfortable for you, for reasons both emotional and financial, so I’m not saying “Hey, just chill!” because that would be insensitive of me. But the Captain’s already told you pretty much everything I might say – find a safe space, friends around whom you can be yourself. Be careful with things like your cell phone that your parents might be able to snoop into. And stay in therapy. It’s done wonders for me.

    If you and your therapist decide you need antidepressants, don’t be ashamed to take them. They don’t brainwash you and they don’t make you feel fake-happy or anything silly like that. They just help remove/reduce the barriers that your brain puts up between itself and feeling happy. They’re also not for everyone, so I’m not endorsing them as a one-size-fits-all solution.

    But like I said, the Captain’s already said anything I could say. Just want you to know that you’re not alone. There are lots of us wayward sons and daughters out there.

    • Also, funny thing that your mom’s refrain of “Are you a lesbian?” reminded me of: Whenever I showed signs of depression when I was a kid, my mom would ask, “Are you on drugs?” Sigh.

    • One thing I’ve always found very helpful in viscerally understanding that antidepressants aren’t happy pills is the fact that there is no secondary market in antidepressants. It’s impossible to use them to get high, or even to get happy, and so people without prescriptions don’t buy them. Thus, it’s actually pretty clearly just for treating depression.

      • The best way I can describe my experience with antidepressants is that they shut my brain up long enough for me to sort out all the stuff I had in there. Er, if that makes sense. It was something I desperately needed, even if I didn’t know at the time.

      • That is such a good point! I tend to think of them like birth control pills (which I originally started taking for disruptive periods rather than sexytimes)–when I’m not on them, my body is making certain amounts of its normal chemicals that don’t let me feel my best. When I am on them, I get to be much more sure of how well I’ll feel each day, rather than the psychological equivalent of crossing my fingers and hoping my period won’t start in gym class.

      • Although then you have to contend with the “antidepressants don’t do anything, it’s just a placebo” crowd. However, they do seem to do something for people who need it, just not to people who are not depressed.

        • Hey, the “effect” part of the term “placebo effect” is there for a reason. For subjective conditions–depression, pain, etc.–placebos can be incredibly effective treatment; that the effect is subjective and/or psychosomatic doesn’t make them any less so.

      • I’ve never though about it that way before, but that is an absolutely genius insight. If you don’t mind I am going to steal it and use it whenever I talk to people about antidepressants from now on.

  2. Pretend you’re deep undercover and are filming a documentary? I’m not even being facetious, at the worst times in our crazy conservative Independent Baptist church, I would look around and pretend I had an invisible camera and was making some kind of look-at-these-backwards-folk documentary, or gathering research for a novel, or something. Anything that let me have some distance from the situation.

    I’m not even comparing my situation to yours, because although my parents made me go to church thrice weekly for like EIGHTEEN YEARS, I never got the feeling that they really believed in a lot of the crapola that the preacher was espousing (like, don’t send yer daughters to college because then they won’t be content poppin’ out those babies, yet at the same time my parents were all, better get good grades so you can go to college), and they definitely weren’t, like, trying to shove me off into dating camp or an arranged marriage.

    I think Captain is spot on, in terms of making an escape plan, getting your own bank account, getting access to all of your important documents (if your parents are controlling them, say you need them for your school office or something, and at least make copies, or “lose” them and get a duplicate set if you can). Under no circumstances should you travel overseas with your parents without your passport IN YOUR HANDS at all times. Seriously, and this is worst case scenario, you don’t want to end up SURPRISE MARRIED in a country where you can’t leave or are under someone else’s physical control.

    I may get crucified (haha, see what I did there) for suggesting this, but if you can make SOME concessions, maybe that will buy you some breathing space? Like, if she’s nitpicking your clothes, invite her to choose some for you and make a point of wearing them when you’re around her? Eventually I stopped going to my parents’ nutty church but their rule was that I had to go to SOME church when I living at home, so I found a nondenominational one and went to that one once a week and got them off my back. Although, in a moment of supreme irony, that supposedly super liberal and inviting church booted me out.

    Meanwhile, assemble Team You. I think it’s a good idea to find a physician you feel comfortable with now, and to continue with the therapy, and maybe try to reach out to friends, etc., that you can trust. Maybe see if your school offers any resources – can you wrangle a way into staying there over the summer (take on a job as an RA, library, etc., something that lets you stay in the dorms)? Can you find some super involved research project that requires OMG ALL YOUR TIME? Incidentally, I really wish universities had some kind of mechanism in place to help students in your situation.

    • Assemble team you and assemble a chosen family. I’m pretty much in the same boat, and waiting for the other shoe to drop, but what I know I can depend on, when I lose my parents completely, are my friends. Go meet people, hang out with other atheists and people who have had arguments with their parents over religion, sexuality, whatever. They’ll be able to give tips, and commiserate with you when the sh*t hits the fan, and be the people in your life that your family can’t be. Also, you may want to warn your friends, talk to the people on Team You about all this stuff before it actually happens, because then it’ll, a) bring you closer (plotting with friends is the best) and b) eliminate any mistakes that might reveal things to you parents before you’re ready and c) make you more comfortable with the idea that this change in your life is going to happen: like the prayer, sometimes you need to reserve space to think about the good things.

      Hope this helps.

    • + many on all these suggestions.

      Especially about laying hands on ALL your documents and storing them somewhere safe. It’s super scary, but if worse comes to worst and your parents freak out on you all the sudden, you can start over without money, without a place to stay, etc – but you absolutely have to have your identity papers and (if out of the country) passport. A you-only bank account and a mail drop/PO box help, too.

      There are not too many people out there in your exact situation, but there are an awful lot of us who became self-supporting at an early age because of religious differences with our parents.

      That said, if you get independent of them and stand up for yourself (in that order) you might find it’s not as bad forever as you worry about. My partner’s still in the atheist closet – but it’s not a big point of contention. His parents pretend not to notice, and he manages to not outright tell them.

  3. I stopped believing sometime around 6th grade, but continued to go to (Lutheran) church until I went away to college. I went through confirmation. I think the hardest part was actually teaching Vacation Bible School one summer. My mother knows that I don’t attend church and we don’t discuss it beyond that.

    Keep your head down and don’t make waves until you’re safely out. I would probably resist being sent to camp, though, particularly one in another country.

    Since you’re not living at home, I’d say go ahead and date if you want. Make it clear to anyone who’s into you that your family doesn’t approve (that should spice things up!) of you dating at all, and that you’re not going to be telling them at this point.

    • I see there’s a big downside to going to GET MARRIED camp far far away from non-get-married friends and acquaintances (and therapist), but the upside is that it makes a good excuse for getting her own hands on her own documents for copymaking and replacement-ordering purposes. Plus, as the Captain said, looking like she’s going along while actually doing underground rebel-penpal-finding.

  4. I wouldn’t say my family is necessarily conservative, but they are certainly religious. I stopped believing in Christianity toward the end of high school after about seven years of devoutness. I told my dad out of the blue, with no preparation, after he asked me if my relationship with my new atheist boyfriend was affecting my faith. To which I said, “I…don’t exactly have a faith anymore? Per se?”

    So I’ve never actually told my mom that I’m not religious, but my dad told her, and…nothing changed. On the face of it, at least. But I still receive what I call “come-to-Jesus” text messages and emails from her periodically, usually during times of stress in my life, usually telling me that all my stress would go away if I would “just accept Jesus”. I have also received emails from her saying that she “just can’t stand the idea of me going to Hell”, usually for the sin of cohabiting with my boyfriend. To me, these are irritating but logical – in Protestant Christianity, if you don’t believe in God you’re going to hell and that’s it. Her saying that I’m going to hell isn’t an insult from her, it’s a statement of fact in her belief system. Of course I didn’t even realize how fucked up this was until I told other atheists as a humorous anecdote and every one of them said, “Wow, that’s fucked up!”

    So basically, my parents thought it was more important to have a daughter in their lives than a religiously homogeneous family, but that doesn’t keep them from passive-aggressively pestering me about it. Writer, your mileage may vary. You sound pretty sure that your parents would cut you off completely, and you are the authority on your relationship with your parents. But don’t discount how much they might still want to keep you in their lives.

  5. Excellent advice. Team You might also include other secular people, both online and off? Does your campus have Secular Student Alliance group?

    There are tons of other coming-out stories out there. Maybe the “coming-out” tag at Friendly Atheist is one place to look at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/category/coming-out/.

  6. Ah, LW this sucks. I haven’t really got anything useful to say, except that maybe you could talk to your school about finances? There might be a way they can help so you can get out of your parents’ house. It’s probably worth seeing if there is more help you could use.

    I wish you all the good luck and happy things, LW. *Jedi hugs*

  7. OK, LW, listen to the Captain. I’ve got some additional advice for you, as well. Before I get into it (it’s a novel), I will say this: it’s not immoral to play along until you can support yourself. Your parents might well pleasantly surprise you but they haven’t given you signs of this, so I suggest you do what you’re doing and remain cautious and circumspect about your beliefs (or lack thereof). They actually may come around or be more open once you’re out of the house and you have a relationship based on a more equal footing (but only you have a good idea about that; you have spent your whole life with them, not me). You are a good person. Let me repeat that: YOU ARE A GOOD PERSON.

    Being at school gives you a good excuse to brush off the matchmaking attempts: “I really want to do well at school and want to use this time to study.” Spend lots of time at the library. At the library, study (yes!), write your papers or whatever, and do some research on the job market for when you graduate.

    First–for your health: Yay for you for getting therapy! I think that is great! Do you have your own primary care physician? (Or is it your mother?) If not, get one through your university health services. I’m serious, here.

    Second–support network. Your family members you have a relationship with and your closest friend are very devout. Now, that’s fine but unfortunately it sounds as if they won’t be okay with your lack of belief or reluctance to get married. Do you have close friends who are outside of this group–either non-Muslim friends, or atheist friends, or Muslims who are okay with people who aren’t believers (or who are apostates) and who may want to wait awhile before getting engaged? Start branching out if you can–make new friends. Join clubs that look interesting to you, get to know other people, build up a support network. You need to have people in your life who make you feel accepted.

    Do you have a job? Can you stash that money away in your own bank account (that has only your name on it)? If you can do that, you will have a cushion if the worst case happens (or if it doesn’t and you graduate and you want to move into your own place, like, yesterday).

    I will second the bits about being careful about cyber privacy, etc. In fact, if the only computer you have access to at home is a communal one, do not use it. Use ones at school, the library, etc. If you have a laptop, keep it under lock and key.

    You are a good person. It’s okay to not believe in God. It’s okay to not be upfront about it, given that you don’t feel particularly safe doing so. It’s okay to take care of yourself.

    Please check in and let us know how you’re doing, LW.

  8. LW, what’s going on for you is horrible and I am so sorry you have to go through it. Know now that it will end! I think the Captain is spot on about making plans and establishing escape routes so that you feel comfortable and can use them, if it comes to it. And about building your own “chosen family” during this time and in the future.

    One thing I would suggest as well is consider using your school address to apply for a second passport if at all possible. I have three because I am an anchor baby. If you get your parents’ Indian passport numbers you may be able to apply for Indian passport of your own if you qualify for citizenship. This secret passport would allow you some sense of security. If you do the whole process while at school it’s very possible they will never find out. The process is usually confidential and you can call an embassy to confirm that and explain your situation if need be (just say they want to control your travel). If you can’t do this, consider timing “renewing” your passport(s) before travel you don’t want to take, or timing it so the passport has to arrive at school for you. Fill out the paperwork yourself and make sure it goes to your school address.

    Also, check out 750 words.com as a place where you can put down all your thoughts in *total* security. If you are able to express your feelings somewhere, in full, knowing no one else will ever read them, then perhaps it will be easier to make those superficial concessions that will result in more breathing room for you.

    The main thing I think you need to do is keep your head down and get through school. In order to do that, you need to make a list of things that need to be in place for you to feel safe and comfortable doing that and figure out how you want your relationship with your parents to be over the next few years. Make that list, and then implement it. If you want money to fall back on, get a part-time job in the library and stick it in your own account. Dog-sit and house-sit so you get paid in cash if you want. If you want to be able to travel, look into a second passport or just hold on to yours yourself. If you need to be with like-minded people, find them at school or on the internet. Figure out what you need and then pursue it and make it happen.

    When you’re ready, you will be able to come out to your parents and I think if you follow the Captain’s advice, you’ll do so from a position of self-assurance and independence.

  9. Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness by (surprise!) extremely controlling parents here. Made the mistake of marrying one and officially left at age 30, never looking back. It’s a hard enough thing to have to contend with an oppressive religion, but an oppressive religion and excessively controlling parents/spouse together is really tough. There’s been a lot of good practical advice given (especially the passport/birth certificate thing! and the stashing of money where your parents can’t get at it), and I’m sure there will be lots more. It’s so hard to play along, but this is necessary until you can get free of your parent’s and the churches grasp. I am sorry to hear that you have been depressed (cognitive dissonance of the magnitude that you’re dealing with, and then possible hormonal issues will DEFINITELY cause this; please see about your thyroid health when you do get to a non-related doctor). *But* playing the depression-card may enable you to avoid church-related activities–I did a slow fade away from the JW’s, and my (legitimate) depression was a solid-gold alibi for doing it. My advice is to try to find some corner of your life and your mind that they cannot access in any way, shape, or form. Stake it out and defend it vigorously by any means necessary. This is almost sort of a hostage-situation, so envisioning yourself in the future where you aren’t being made to do things will bring you some peace of mind now. Keep that vision alive, protect yourself, do NOT under any circumstances marry a believer, and get out of the financial/physical control of your folks as soon as humanly possible. So much love to you, LW. You can do this.

  10. I grew up in rural Indiana in a very conservative and (Christian) religious family. My dad was a pastor. I’m liberal, bisexual and my religious views are agnostic? humanist? something decidedly not Christian. I spent a lot of my high school and college years hiding things from my parents. I also didn’t want to come out in college for fear they would cut me off. One thing I learned quickly: when your parents want to believe you’re a good kid, following their religious tenets, they’ll buy some pretty flimsy excuses if they fit the desired worldview.

    In college and for several years after I was interested in Wicca and Paganism. I found a Pagan campus group at my school that met twice a month for discussion groups and just to hang out. Having that group where I could authentically be myself and having the friends I made through that group helped immensely. If your campus has an atheist group, I’d strongly suggest joining it, or if it doesn’t find a group active in some liberal political issue you’re interested in. Make some friends that share your views.

    A year or so after I graduated I came out to my parents as Pagan. (I ended up falling for and marrying a woman, so I never did come out to them as bisexual.) The conversation went fairly poorly. They asked questions like “Does this mean you worship Satan?” There was a lot of crying and praying. It definitely helped that I had the conversation at a time when I could leave afterward. But over time they came to accept it was my choice (even if they still don’t agree with it) and a few years later they came to my daughter’s Wiccaning. Over the years since then, we have an awkward conversation where they tell me they pray for me to find Jesus about 3-4 times a year, but mostly it doesn’t come up.

    A few other random bits of advice:
    If you can find a way to not go back to your parents’ over the summers, do it. I joined a co-op program that had me working in my field every summer. Or find internships in cities where your parents don’t live.

    If you think you’ll eventually come out to your parents as liberal and athiest, it might help to ease into it a bit. Find some issue(s) that you can take a liberal view on that doesn’t contradict the teachings of your church and be open about that to your parents. It sets the stage a bit, without tipping your hand too much.

    It might be useful to see if there’s another word for what you believe other than “athiest” and use that when you come out to your parents. (Something like secular humanist, perhaps?) Athiest is such a charged word; another word with a similar meaning (assuming it does describe your beliefs) might get a better reaction.

    • Just “humanist” is a great cover, especially if you can back it up with a quite from your family’s main religious text. My mother is abusively Christian, where she likes it because it makes her feel like she has power over people. (True fact: Despite Lutherans not believing in exorcism, she still researched a ritual, then literally ambushed me as I came home from school, beat me up, and tried to exorcise the demons from me. Yeah. It was alternately surreal, terrifying, and hilarious.)

      Anyway, if you can claim something like “I’ve been thinking on [verse] and [verse], and I really feel they have meaning in the modern day. I’m not sure that I’m so much of a [parental denomination] as I am a humanist, heavily influenced by the teachings of [religious figure].” It’s not a lie (You ARE influenced… just not how they think it means.) and it helps to remember that most religious figures count as philosophers. So you can have religious discussions about a text, but treat it as the academic application of philosophy. If you have a few things you can bring up and/or debate, most people won’t realise you’re an atheist.

      (Standard disclaimer that what work/s/ed for me may not work for all people.)

  11. I’ll come at this from a slightly different perspective– as someone who was raised in a religious household, and is now even MORE religious, allow me to say: this is some serious bullshit! I am really sorry that you are in this situation, and I think the Captain’s advice is excellent.

    Have you tried finding discussion boards of this issue online at all? Obviously, a lot of the readers here can identify with your situation to some extent, but I wonder if there are places more specifically about your own religion/culture. I agree that finding some real world allies would be awesome, but I also know that it can feel risky to try and find a sympathetic person, only to discover that they are sympathetic in order to tell everyone the things you say (this also happens outside of religious struggles, and it sucks). It doesn’t mean you won’t find anyone or that you shouldn’t try, but finding some online allies who really get where you’re coming from can help, and it has helped me before in all kinds of situations. I once found a bible study based on the unstated premise of “Bible: yay! Church: so fucked up!” I never would have found those folks without the wonder of the internet– and it showed me that it might be hard to find people who identified with my beliefs but technology meant it was never impossible.

    Therapy and thinking for yourself are two amazing things, and I’m so sorry that your family disapproves of both.

  12. Are you sure that you closest friend is truly devout? Or perhaps they’re putting on a show of being devout because their parents and best friend are devout? You may have an ally closer than you think…

    • Oooh, this. There is nothing more bonding than that “I can’t take it anymore!” “OMG me too!” moment.

      • But be careful, because if they *are* devout, it could go wrong.

        • Do be careful — but I think there’s a way to do it. I found when I was grappling with Christianity and feeling out who within the church might be on the same page as I was, what worked well for me was taking a similar tack as saythisword described above — framing my doubt in religious terms and seeing what the response was.

          I don’t know if your Dawoodi Bohra Islam has anything like the same kind of glorifying-confessional-confiding/”witnessing” that evangelicalism does, but for me, I could get a sense of where people were by beginning conversations with something like, “So, I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes/Job/the Gospel of John and I’m surprised at how nihilistic/agnostic/humanist some of the verses seem,” or “Lately I’ve really been struggling with feeling disconnected from God when I pray,” or “I’m troubled by the ways Calvinism seems to diverge from some of the Biblical doctrines that mean the most to me,” then letting them talk. In my experience, people tended to respond in two general ways — either preaching about why my concern was invalid and congratulating themselves on their own piety/superior understanding, or showing that they understood and might have similar/even deeper concerns. Either way, you’re not outed, but may be able to find people who are sympathetic.

          Again, I have no idea if this is even possible for you — it may be a peculiar feature of evangelical Protestantism, which glorifies confessing sins and struggles to each other.

          One more thing — hopefully I’m totally overreacting and your parents will be unpleasant but you’ll never be in real danger. BUT, I think it’s always a good idea to have at least one contact in your area who no one you know suspects you know. Just in case you need somewhere to go for a day or week or whatever where you KNOW that your parents can’t possibly show up at your door. I know I’m an Internet Stranger, but if you’re in Boston holler and I’m happy to be Team You and try to hook you up with some resources that are completely outside the circle of anyone who knows you, just in case.

          Good luck, and so many hugs.

  13. Lying to your parents about who you are is part of having certain types of parents. Sometimes it’s big lies like “No mom, I’m not into girls.” “Yes mom, I pray 5 times a day.” And sometimes it’s smaller lies like cleaning the CRAP out of your dorm room before they show up because you know if they see the way you actually live they will nag you incessantly.

    Lying happens a lot when your parents have a certain vision of who they expect you to be that is not necessarily related to who you are. I had a very sad conversation with my sister not long ago. She wanted to come out and tell our parents that she is bisexual. (We both are.) And I think that is a very nice thought, and it was very hard for me to discourage her. But since she’s engaged to a man, I just didn’t see the point in telling our parents. Her response was “But I feel like they don’t really know me if I don’t tell them.”

    The sad truth is, I don’t think our parents really want to know us. They want us to be the version of us that is in their heads. Any deviation from that results in fights and tears and yelling and lectures. Why bother? They would be upset for years over something that wont affect our lives at all, just a piece of personal trivia.

    That doesn’t mean they don’t love us, they are just very… i don’t know… republican? I would describe them as very loving, very giving, but not very accepting.

    It sounds like you might be in an even worse boat, and I think the Captain’s advice is spot on. It feels horrible like your parents don’t know you and you want to tell them who you really are, but that’s not going to really solve anything.

    Eventually you’ll be independent, and then you can tell them that you’re not getting married, being religious, whatever and hopefully they will find a way to be happy that you are happy. If not, then really it is their loss as much as yours. They are losing not only the dream of the fictional you, but more importantly the chance to get to know the real you and be part of your happiness.

    The captain’s advice is spot on. I also would encourage you to pick your battles. Short term things like getting your face waxed, as painful as that sounds, will probably not result in serious long term damage. However trips abroad to countries where women have minimal rights, could. I’m not saying to give in because I think you should do things to make your parents happy, I’m saying do it for you. It is DRAINING to be nagged about every single thing,. (And I was just reading an article about how experiments indicate that things like self-control and executive function are a limited resource. ) Having to fight on all these fronts takes its toll psychologically. So, If there are things that you can just go along with without too much strain, even if they aren’t your favorite, you might have a little more mental energy for yourself, and for the bigger fights.

    Also, I agree with school keeping you busy. Summer job? Internship? Does your school have any kind of summer programs for kids or high school students? Sometimes they need counselors. If you like kids you could also look for for nearby, or far away, sleep away camps. (Even religious ones, my christian camp had counselors of widely varying devotion.) See if they need counselors! These are solid summer jobs that require you to be away from your family all the time, and don’t really provide enough time off to go overseas.

    • Seconded, with absolute enthusiasm. The scars my mother has left on my soul are all because I am not the version of myself that she thinks I should be. LW, make your peace with yourself and don’t let the bastards grind you down. You deserve and ARE, so much better than all that jazz.

  14. LW,

    Please, oh please, oh, please, find a way to get out of going overseas to a country where you could be forced to marry and stay there!!! There has to be some way!!

    Summer research assistant job? Some form of student aid work? Something! Because personally, I would be very concerned about leaving the country to go somewhere women are seen as lesser beings at this point. Very, very seriously.

    Grey Jedi hugs,

    Badger

    • Delurking a little!

      This thread’s been awesomely respectful of Islam and other countries. This comment rubbed me the wrong way, though. The US and assorted countries lumped under the heading of “The West” also see women as lesser beings, as this USian lady can attest.

      • Yeah, I’d say neither the US nor our own dominant religion have done a particularly convincing job of showing me they do not see women as lesser beings.

        But I still agree with the not leaving the country thing, because while women may be seen as lesser beings in the US too, at least here you have much less risk to your person when you stand up and say, “I am damn well not lesser and am not going to be subservient for your convenience”.

        • The LW doesn’t want to go on these trips and travel plans would be out of her hands. That is reason enough. Also, there is an additional layer of unpredictability in traveling as a woman in a country whose gender politics are different than gender politics in the U.S., especially if her family is making the travel plans and she is worried about their reaction to her beliefs. I think those things are what actually matter here, and I think generalizations about the Muslim world or discussions of how one country’s politics compare to ours are unlikely to be helfpul to the LW.

      • Oh, wow.
        I am so sorry. I didn’t mean it to be disrespectful, and I did not use my words properly.
        I actually meant more what Gadfly said.
        I apologize.

  15. Hi there, Godless. I’m probably punching way above my weight here, and I think the Cap and company are all 100% correct: You don’t have to believe the actions you take to placate your parents. You will eventually be free of them. They may disapprove of you. You will be okay.

    I just want to provide a little perspective from a semi-religious person. I don’t consider myself an atheist, but also I don’t believe at all in what I call the Strokey Beard Deity that seems to be what most self-styled devout Judeo-Christian-Muslims seem to mean when they talk about “God.” So, to your family and mine, I’m pretty much an atheist.

    I believe in a God so much bigger than a beardy guy who is super involved in my personal business. God is way, way beyond that. God is beyond gender, physical being, time, and morality. God is the infinity of all things.

    And if someone is trying to tell me that THAT God gives two shits about my clothes, my choices, or me getting married by some arbitrary sell-by date, I can tell that person exactly where to stick it. I mean, really? In a universe containing trillions of planets around trillions of stars containing untold septillions of particle interactions, the God of all that gives a damn about my banging a dude before marriage? Really?

    BUT, people in general have a hard time coping with the infinite, so we box the infinite into manageable chunks and try to control it. “If I do X then Strokey Beard Deity will bless me!” “If I do Y then nothing bad will happen. And if it does, it’s the will of the SBD.” “If I pray really really hard, SBD will answer my prayer.”

    Religion is a way of dealing with the fact that we really have very little control over most events in our lives, so when I meet up with the very devout people in my family, I try to remember that this is their coping mechanism.
    They say: “I’m going to pray about that.”
    I rearrange it to: “I’m going to think deeply about that.”
    They say: “Lord watch over me.”
    I think: “I hope nothing bad happens.”
    They say: “I felt the presence of the Lord.”
    I think: “I felt really connected to other people and the universe.”

    As long as the person I’m talking to is a Love and Compassion favoring religious person, we’re going to get along great. But if the person tries to fit me into a box, we’re gonna have problems.

    When I read your letter, I got the feeling that your parents are trying very hard to control you in such a way that you will match their understanding of “Happy.” There’s a comfort to them in following the rules, and it works for them and a lot of people. You are not one of those people.

    Your parents (probably!) want you to be happy, but they don’t understand that your version of happy is different from theirs. Or they do understand it, and don’t like your Happy because it is “Wrong” which doesn’t jive with maintaining their own Happy. Ugh. It’s a big mess.

    But while you’re waiting out the end of your dependence on them, keep in mind that all their picking comes from a place of love that has been warped horribly by fear.
    They say “Go to speed dating camp”
    I hear “We’re afraid you won’t be loved as you should.”
    They say “Are you a lesbian?”
    I hear “I’m afraid you will leave us.”
    They say “Don’t take antidepressants.”
    I hear “I’m afraid you’ll change and hate us.”

    You absolutely DO NOT have to do anything at odds with your comfort – seriously, passport and documents on your own person at ALL TIMES – but for that future time when you’re living out in the world and want to have a relationship with your parents, try to hear the love behind the fear, if you can.

    • Okay, brilliant, that is my whole relationship with my parents described in one comment. So much easier to think about it this way.

      • Thanks! I mean, it’s in some ways easier to think of parents as obstructionist jerks? But most parents are just people trying to do the right thing, just like the rest of us.

    • May I just say that I very much agree with your version of Deity?

      • Thanks! I thought for a minute about getting into my thoughts on Jesus and why I consider myself a Christian, even if I wouldn’t pass most creed-based smell tests, but it’s totally irrelevant to the topic at hand, so we’ll call that a ‘someday’ post.

    • Or, instead of passports and documents on your person at all times- you sleep sometimes, right?- get a safety deposit box when you start the bank account, and leave them there, where only you can access them.

      • Also, if you travel abroad (with or without your family), take photo copies of your passport and birth certificate and any other documents relevant to proving your identity and nationality, and keep those copies somewhere other than where you keep the actual original documents. I got that tip when I was young, and it was a great help the time I got my purse snatched when aboroad- without those copies, it would have been a lot more hassle getting the documentation I needed to be able to board the flight back home.

    • All hail SBD!

      That’s a hilarious way of looking at the Judeo/Christian/Muslim God. And as an ex-follower of the Christian church, he’s so damn hard to get away from! I’ve considered myself to be a non-believer (of SBD anyway) since I was about 15…but I’d still have conversations with him in my head for another 10 years or so.

  16. I just want to commend Godless on her bravery and conviction.

    I also want to recommend to her Irshad Manji’s books and website. Manji is a liberal lesbian Muslim who is a major voice in reformist Islam and in the larger interfaith community. I think she will probably have some advice for Godless, or at least be able to connect her to someone who can help.

    • As a fellow atheist (sisteren to the LW, not IN, whose beliefs I’m not making assumptions about), I absolutely second this recommendation. “The Trouble with Islam” was an amazing and interesting book. Her thoughts on identity and religion really made me think, in a good way, and come to the conclusions I have as an adult, which included the rejection of my religion of origin (Catholicism in my case). Perspective is always good.

      I played along with my mother’s very devout beliefs and hopes for me until I was about 25, mostly by not challenging her. I didn’t lie so much as allow her to believe what she wanted to think was true for me. At some point, I decided I was not lying to my mother about anything anymore, except by sheer omission, and told her that she could ask me anything she wanted about my life but be prepared for the actual truth.

      LW, you can lead a fulfilling and happy life as an atheist. It is even possible to have rich and meaningful relationships with the devout — not all of them, but some of them. I love all the advice about how to protect yourself, things I hadn’t thought of myself, but all I can offer is a secure belief that when you get out of this stage of being hostage to a lie, you can and will be okay.

  17. LW, I wish you the best, and you’ve been getting good advice here.

    You’re probably familiar with her, but in case you’re not, you might want to look into what Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote in her book The Caged Virgin. She gives tips to Muslim women who need to break away from their families, often putting their lives at risk (she herself escaped from her family after being betrothed against her consent, and she became an advocate of women’s rights and an atheist. Because of her public position she’s needed bodyguards for years); I don’t remember whether or not she reconnected with her family at some point, but I think she wrote about that too.

    I don’t know how much her advice applies to your family situation, but I think it’s worth looking into anyway.

    Oh here – I found a video of the ten tips being read aloud here on Youtube by a guy (don’t mind the comments on the video…). There’s overlap for sure with the advice given by the captain (take control of your passport, set up a network of friends outside of your religious community, find sources of income, etc.):

    And as advised earlier, it’s best not to let your family know that you’re looking into this kind of thing, so try to mask the internet activities or books you get from the library.

    • I dunno, I found Ali pretty bigoted and hair-raising.

      I mean, according to Wikipedia, she said this in 2007: “Just like Nazism started with Hitler’s vision, the Islamic vision is a caliphate — a society ruled by Sharia law — in which women who have sex before marriage are stoned to death, homosexuals are beaten, and apostates like me are killed. Sharia law is as inimical to liberal democracy as Nazism.” In this interview, she also made it clear that in her opinion it is not “a fringe group of radical Muslims who’ve hijacked Islam and that the majority of Muslims are moderate. [...] Violence is inherent in Islam — it’s a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder.”

      She also works for the American Enterprise Institute

      The LW isn’t talking about how she’s super oppressed because Islam, she’s talking about being atheist with devout parents in general.

  18. Hang in there LW!

    In the meantime, I really love the ideas people are throwing around about imagining yourself as a documentary film-maker, or even a secret spy in hostile territory.

    You have to play the game to fit in, while still taking care of “Secret Real Plan Get Out And Stay Safe.”

    It seems like your situation has crossed the line from one where given years and years of gentle pushing, you can get them to where they will understand and accept your authentic self. From what you’ve said, they are set in their ways and have a solid support networking that will keep their religious wall up. You may not be able to chip away at that wall with your teaspoon.

    So maybe beating them at their own game is an option. Find opportunities (that don’t hurt you or others who may be allies!) to show how Loudly and Proudly devout you are. Maybe those will get more attention and be more convincing than being passive and hoping things don’t come up.

    I’d try things like complaining about someone I saw at “church” who made some minor infraction, or leaving web pages open to the most vitriolic sites I could find. If I were “caught” reading Dawkins or something, I would quote scripture about knowing your enemy.

    When it comes to suitors, they could all be not devout enough for you. And if you’re not perfectly uber-pure and religious all the time, then you could “break down” and tell your parents how hard you’re trying.

    Out-religious the religious folks. Give them a few opportunities to have things stick in their minds- argue their own arguments harder than they argue them. Find some shirt that your mother doesn’t like, and loudly proclaim how terrible it is and how you can’t believe you ever wore it, and then throw it out in front of her, keeping the really cute outfits in the back of the closet, haha.

    With stuff like the waxing? She wants to wax your face? Fine, how about paying to wax all of you, and you asking to go every other week? It may be worth it if it ends up being not “worth it” to her.

    As for your depression, *jedi hugs.* You are a brilliant young woman and you’re going to be fine because you know how to get the help you need even if the people who are supposed to be your support network are getting in the way.

    Take care of your body- exercise could help with the stress as well, and give you an excuse to be out of the house. If you start working out a lot (maybe under the guise of “glorifying your body for god” or “preparing yourself for a future husband” or whatever religious reason you can tweak to fit) it could be a way to help with stress and depression, besides getting you out of the house and around new people whether you’re actually going to the gym every time you say so or not.

    Keep staying safe and finding friends in enemy territory. All the great advice about taking care of yourself when it comes to money and documentation is so important! Good luck girlfriend.

    • YMMV, but this sounds like /way/ too much effort to me. I’d worry too much about burning it out and just not being able to cope any more.

      • Still, this is a form of active fighting instead of drawing inward and hoping not to be attacked. Depression is anger turned inward when we can’t direct it where it belongs.

        I’m of the opinion that an active stance could be more energizing and less depressing than just keeping still and hoping nothing bad happens.

        • “I’m of the opinion that an active stance could be more energizing and less depressing than just keeping still and hoping nothing bad happens.”

          True, but the LW already feels bad about being insincere. I doubt being more insincere would make her feel better. By following the Captain’s advice, she *would* be taking an active stance – just not a very visible one.

  19. Hey, LW, your letter really resonated with me. I come from a conservative Mediterranean family…my parents are not super religious but they are very socially conservative. There has always been a cultural undercurrent in my family (and my culture) that boys can grow up to be autonomous beings – until their “evil, controlling wives turn them against their mothers”. But girls? Girls owe it to their parents to be dutiful and respectful, and this means never disagreeing with them, letting the parents make all of their big life decisions because “they know best” and “nobody loves you like they do”, letting them dress you and control your appearance and never allowing you to move away or ever rock the boat because who will take care of your parents when they are old? If you are a girl, that will be you.

    And as a fellow big-breasted, moustache-rocking woman, that part about your mother and the waxing made me laugh, for me it was the electrolysis chair as soon as I was 11. Shit is painful, and it didn’t even work! I am 40 years old and my mom still tries to safety-pin my tops closed if I wear a V-neck.

    So here is what I did. I went to a college where my folks thought I would learn to be a Super Dutiful Achieving Good Girl. I kept my grades high and when no one was looking, I partied like a motherfucker. I basically learned to live two versions of my life: the one I enjoyed, and the one that looked good to them on paper. (I was also asked all the time if I was a lesbian and repeatedly set up with someone’s cousin’s nephew from church. I brought my potty mouth and frat house basement drinking games on those dates.)

    Two weeks after I graduated from college, I got in my car with a bunch of friends and moved 3,000 miles away. I got a job, rented a house, and have supported myself ever since. Eventually I figured out what I wanted to do for a career, and today I am doing that. I am married to someone I picked out all by myself, I own my own home and I have a great life. It took my parents a long time to accept that I wasn’t who they wanted me to be, and they still mourn that and try to lay guilt trips on me. But they’ve mellowed out a lot too with age, and I think at least my dad is willing to admit now that they were too hard on me, too inflexible, and that it basically caused me to run away from home to live the life I wanted. (My mom has never stopped lobbing the criticism bombs, but now, sometimes, my dad has my back.)

    So, consider it. 5-hour plane rides and long-distance phone bills can effectively create a speed bump for a large part of the negativity that your parents will want to lob at you. This is not to say that we never fought after I moved away. For years I was considered the “black sheep”, and when I met my husband and dared to move in with him before we were married, there was hell to pay. But it was still a less expensive price to pay than letting them live my life for me. For you, I think the key is to STAY IN SCHOOL for the short-term. Because, once you graduate, you will have your own social network of friends, the help of your school’s resources and alumni organization, skills and a degree, all of which will help you to go out and make that life that you want, wherever you want it.

    With that said, I think the Captain’s advice is excellent and spot-on! Best of luck to you!!!

    • “…nobody loves you like they do”

      Damn. Yeah. That was always painful. Like, “If you’re the people who love me best…I’m screwed.” And I believed it.

      It actually is kind of true…”nobody loves you like they do” because when you’re a grownup you don’t have to let people like that into your life.

      • It has always been a mindfuck for me too. In my case, I took away: “we love you best, and you kinda suck, so really, you’re just unloveable.”

        It’s taken me years to unlearn that, and to not take the bait when I get their carefully qualified compliements, etc.

    • “But it was still a less expensive price to pay than letting them live my life for me.”

      Or, to paraphrase Granny Weatherwax, letting them live your life for THEM.

  20. If LW’s a freshman in college, she’s presumably 18 or only a few months away, so I think it’s important for her to remember that actually, her family can’t make her do anything. They can’t make her go to Iraq or India, they can’t make her live at home, they can’t make her go to camp, and they sure as hell can’t make her get married.

    All they can do is threaten to cut off support if she doesn’t do these things. I realize that’s a pretty big “if,” but ultimately, it’s not a life-destroying one. She can get loans, she can work, she can couch-surf, she can take a leave of absence from school, it’s going to suck and it’s not right that she’d have to, but it’s possible.

    Right now, I feel like they’re holding more and more of the LW’s life hostage contingent on that money–go to camp or maybe we’ll cut you off! Go to Iraq or maybe we’ll cut you off! Act religious or maybe we’ll cut you off!–and the most powerful thing the LW can do is say “go ahead and cut me off then.”

    Some parents do the “imperfect child… or no child at all” math when they’re faced with that ultimatum and decide they’re okay with their imperfect child after all. Some unfortunately don’t. Either way, at least the threat that they’ll take over her entire life and make her into a perfect child has lost its teeth.

    • <3 Holly

      I'm 32, only came out to my Christian parents as an atheist last year, and it took me until almost 30 (and therapy along the way) to shake the fear that they would be able to make me do…something. Leave the life I had made for myself and move back home to follow their rules instead, I guess? But Holly here is right, as soon as you are legally an adult, your parents can’t make any of those decisions for you. The only decision they can make is to hold off their financial support. THAT is really scary and stressful and awful, but your school and your therapist should have resources to help you make it through. And if nothing else, a lot of us here who read Captain’s blog are willing to help in the ways we can!

    • Thanks for this, as always, Holly.

      What I also want to say to the LW:

      If eventually, you choose to separate from your parents and from the Islam you were raised with, and they choose to disown or punish you for it, that is THEIR CHOICE. You didn’t stop loving them when you stopped believing in religion. If your parents decide “We will take a perfect theoretical daughter over our actual daughter,” that is a painful decision that they are making, not something you caused.

      You always have choices. They do, too.

    • I wanted to say something like this, but I wasn’t sure how to phrase it. Luckily, it sounds like the LW is in college, which means she has resources, and that the resources she has will probably have dealt with similar situations before. Good luck, LW. I know your “closest” friend is very devout, but I’m sure there are other friends you have who would be willing and able to help you out — my mom and dad’s house growing up was an unofficial crash pad for a lot of my friends, even ones I wasn’t like totes BFFs with. Take the sandwich of love where it is offered :)

      • The LW might also have luck at the women’s center at her college — they may have dealt with similar situations with other women students in the past.

        • Also: It would be a good idea for the LW to go to her school’s financial aid office and say “my parents might cut me off, can we make a plan so I can stay in school/return to school if that happens?” before throwing down any gauntlets.

          • Yep. The LW might also find some good advice in resources for college kids coming out as gay to their families. The situations aren’t exactly the same, but some of the logistical concerns are similar.

    • This. So much this.

      My parents were conservative and controlling and I had to toe their line while I live at home. Which I did. Butter would not melt in my mouth. But then when I was a freshman in college, I outgrew the box and wouldn’t live there any more. I actually dropped out of college and lived a hand to mouth existence for years, so that I could take control of my own life.

      And you know what? My parents did the math Holly describes. A kid they don’t control, but still get to see, is more kid than none at all.

      Stay while you can still bear it, and make progress towards the best independent future you. But there may come a point when it is better to be a college dropout with no money, who can set appropriate boundaries, than to live in the box. This is not a tragedy. This is the beginning of your life, the life you are in charge of, and it is an awesome life. You can survive this, and it is not impossible to get your parents back, with new rules about their behavior, down the road somewhere.

  21. Oh LW, I have been there.

    There is a lot of great advice above to how to manage life until you are finished school and no longer dependent on them. What I’m going to talk about is life after.

    If your family is like mine, you may have to give them up. Yes, you love them and you may even be able to have reasonably regular contact with them, but they may not always be in your life. I deliberately moved over 1,000 miles a way. I do not see them every year and I do not even speak to them on the phone very often. There are certain family members that I do keep in touch with regularly, and they keep in the know for most family stuff. I even send money home to help pay bills and contribute to education funds for the little ones. But I very rarely visit. We’ve mended fences enough that the younger ones are permitted to visit me for a week or so when school is out, but I didn’t see my younger siblings for years while they were small.

    The rule is that mom and I don’t stay in each others homes. If we go to their community to visit on our once-every-few-years-or-so trips, we stay in a hotel. When my mom does her annual trip to visit her parents (who live a few hundred miles from me), I may visit her there. (My father is dead.) We do not discuss religion or morality. It may not stop us from having arguments (so many things in the world are related to ethics! (Mom, I disagree with how you favour your grandsons over your granddaughters. Mom, I will not accept your religious text uncritically!)) but distance brings peace.

    The most important thing I did (besides working to be independent in the first place) was to create my own family. Not by getting married and spawning mini-mes (although that is certainly an option!). But by making close friends and building a community where I belonged.

  22. LW, everyone else has given such great advice. And I want to send you Internet hugs.

    I just want to say something about your relationship with your parents.

    I was brought up religious – Quaker, in fact. A religion that places a high value on total honesty. This can be appallingly uncomfortable. Quakers are extremely tolerant as a sect. Individual Quakers… not necessarily.

    I realised before I was 18 that I am an atheist. I tried discussing this with my mother and she told me I wasn’t. (I am not kidding. Just flat “No, you aren’t an atheist, I may allow you to be agnostic, but you can’t possibly be an atheist.”)

    I had much more major problems with both my parents over being a lesbian, and then I left home, and became financially independent, and things got better. My parents cannot do a thing about my being a lesbian or an atheist, and they like my partner, and we’re good.

    Except my mother still can’t accept I’m an atheist. And I had a real moment of insight when I realised I didn’t have to care whether she accepted it or not. I don’t go to Quaker Meeting, except for things like weddings and funerals,, and I don’t need to discuss my non-religion with her, and when my parents have silent grace before meals I am perfectly happy to join them. There is no God and I love my parents: I share their ritual as a matter of courtesy, not belief.

    It will upset and distress your parents if and when you come out to them as an atheist. You will not be able to properly comfort them if you yourself are in fear. The best thing for all concerned, therefore, is to go along with their ritual as a matter of courtesy and not to tell them you are an atheist until you can do so from a position of independence from which you will have the emotional resources to comfort them in their distress.

    They deserve this from you. It’s not insincere or morally wrong to decide you will keep upsetting news from your parents until the best time to tell them. The best time to tell them may at this point be years off, but you can use the time valuably – especially after you go to college – in working out how to tell them, figurng out strategies for responding positively and reassuringly to their concerns – and thus (hopefully) having a much better chance of keeping your relationship with your parents.

    I wish I’d waited to come out to my parents until I was independent of them: understood that I would need to be the strong one for their sake when I told them, and I couldn’t be the strong one when I was financially dependent on them.

    A lot of what you say about your relationship with your mother sounds a lot like mine – I never even told her I was going into therapy, because she had been repeatedly outspoken against therapy. On the other hand, it sounds like you were a lot more strong-minded about going for therapy, so good for you – I didn’t figure out my mother was just wrong about this til my last year at university.

    And it took me a longer time still to realise that my mother’s criticisms of how I looked were never about me, but about her. She doesn’t like how I dress, how I cut my hair, my weight (no matter what it is). She can be appallingly hurtful – or just appalling. I nod. I smile. I remind myself I have the moral high ground because she’s being terribly rude in criticising my appearance. And I nod and smile some more. Nodding and smiling does not constitute agreement: it’s a polite pro forma wordless “we’re not going to fight about this”.

    And that, ultimately, more than twenty years after I left home, has become the norm; I haven’t tried to change my mother, and I don’t worry if she thinks she can change me. It gets better. To coin a phrase.

  23. Hey Godless. I have a similarish history to you–raised by dogmatic parents (catholic), depression issues, father thinking a spiritual revelation will cure me, even down to the maternal obsession with facial hair and a sexualized body part! (In my case it was my ass. For years I was pretty much only allowed to wear Levi 501′s, which are great on some people but not on me, and then I went through a rebellious phase of incredibly tight pants. Now I only wear skirts, which makes some people think I’m religious.) And I had the same question about whether it was morally wrong to “fake it”–I honestly think it’s a sign of respect for your parents and their religion that that question is even in your head!

    The main difference between us seems to be that your parents will do what they can to believe you’re “good,” while mine would do what they could to find me out.

    And I will give you some advice: DO NOT COME OUT TO YOUR PARENTS OR TO ANYONE FROM WHOM YOUR PARENTS MIGHT FIND OUT. Look forward to the time when you are supporting yourself, when you will come out to them.

    You deserve a good and comfortable life more than their religion deserves the respect of you not blaspheming it.

    Now I’mma give you some tripartite practical advice about the interim between “I am an atheist right now” and “It is safe and sane for me to tell my parents I’m.

    Practical advice for being safe in the interim: if your parents are mainstream enough, could you reject the dating camp in favor of a summer job or internship away from home?

    If not, or if it’s too late for a job to pan out, is there any way you can use the idea of zakat to your advantage? There are similar Christian ideas which I used to my advantage–instead of spending time at church or in religious settings, I would use all of Jesus’ “help the poor” stuff to spend my summers volunteering with non-catholic-based groups. I know that some Muslims believe that part of zakat can be paid in good deeds/helping others, if I understand right, and that volunteery type stuff can be part of that. I don’t know if that’s part of your parents’ beliefs, but if that works out it has the several advantages of 1) getting you out of the house, 2) helping people out, 3) making you look beyond devout for the moment, and 4) when you do come out, your parents will have all this cognitive dissonance of you being a good person and they won’t be able to dismiss you.

    And make plans. Make a lot of plans. Make plans that they can’t morally object to. Make so many plans so far in advance that you legitimately cannot go out of the country with them. For safety’s sake.

    Practical advice about shortening the interim: This is probably going to end up being an important consideration for you.

    First off, is there any way you can make your college career shorter? By judicious use of AP credit, the occasional extra class in a semester (not often, depression makes that difficult), cheap summer courses at community colleges, picking one major and no minor (Cal Newport, whose blog is lovely, says that this is best anyway), and REALLY engineering your courseload, you may be able to get out of college in ~2-3 years, give or take a semester. And it will be worth it. College is great, but it is not “the best time of your life,” as some people suggest, not realizing they sound just as stupid as those who believe that high school is “the best time of your life.” You might even be able to get your parents to help you out with this stuff, if you can make it seem like this scheme is to help you get a college education before you get married? I don’t know.

    Second off, save you up some money in a savings account that they can’t access. Get a job if you can (can meaning both “if the economy allows” and “if your depression allows”) even if it’s just occasional babysitting. Do your parents give you an allowance? Then save half of your discretionary money. You might even get sneaky: pawn jewelry they won’t miss or that you can claim to have lost, send clothes to a consignment store. If you are a total bitch, you can ask your parents for money for professional demustaching, and put into your savings account everything you don’t spend on Sally Hansen. Just get you some cash.

    Practical advice for enjoying the interim: your mom might not be wrong about the antidepressants. I don’t know what she’s saying about them, but there are studies that show they’re pretty much not better than placebo. And whether they work on chemical depression or not, if you’re anything like me your depression is in your bones in a physical way but it’s the religious/parental issues that are bringing it out. But there are some things that are definitely shown to reduce depression. Working out, getting enough sleep, and being around people who know and care about the real you (and the “real thems” of whom you know and care about!) are all shown–there are studies!–to ease depression. I would also recommend reading as many books and studies on depression as you can, to help you work out an attack method.

    Also, and this isn’t exactly advice because it’s not something you can totally control, but can you find people to be totally real with? Really real. Like, “You’re saving my life but I still can’t hang out with you too much in public lest I smirch my devout image” real–you’d be surprised how many people would be totally down with that, if only for the romance of being a secret friend/lover to the poor martyred atheist. Is that, like, possible at your college/in your situation? If there’s a skeptics club or a GSA on campus, or possibly a mental-health peer support group, at least some of the members have gone through/are going through what you’re going through. If you’re not comfortable going to the meetings, like if you think people might report you to your parents, send the groups an e-mail. Hell, even an anonymous e-mail. I’m pretty sure most of the members will be salivating to help you out. You would be, like, a righteous cause. Hell, I’m itching to offer you a spot on my couch, but I think college is better for you right now.

    Basically, all that stuff is what helped me in your situation. Maybe it will work for you.

    • Oh man I totally want to submit my resume to be her secret evil friend.

      Objective: To pick you up two blocks from your house so you can change in the back of my car on the way to the devil’s concert.

      Qualifications: Down for crazy schemes or just hanging out.
      Extensive experience in pretending to attend church functions,
      As well as pretending to spend the night at Katie’s house when you’re actually at a Rave.
      Seems totally normal and harmless if you don’t know any better.

      Man that takes me back. I almost miss the lying and sneaking around.

    • “there are studies that show they’re pretty much not better than placebo.”

      Cite please?

      • Yes. Not to harsh on the commenter, but they saved my life and enabled me to actually deal with the issues that were fueling my depression when I was in therapy, instead of going to therapy to treat the symptoms. They didn’t make the depression go away, but I was functional enough to work on the stuff I needed to work on. YMMV–but it was hardly a placebo for me.

        • They didn’t make the depression go away, but I was functional enough to work on the stuff I needed to work on.

          This, this, a hundred times this. My depression wasn’t created by my brain chemistry, but my brain chemistry made it so I got locked into it and couldn’t do what I needed to do to get better. I did a lot of heavy lifting in therapy and meditation, but I will tell you right now that it is impossible to do metaphorical heavy lifting when you are pinned down by a metaphorical house, Wizard of Oz-style.

        • Likewise — my psychiatrist and I had to go through an awful lot of experimenting with different drugs until we found a combination that works for me. It seems like placebo effects would have kicked in way sooner than that. The current winning combination is two antidepressants, a mood stabilizer, a low-dose atypical antipsychotic, a low-dose thyroid supplement, and methylfolate, since folate is part of the serotonin synthesis pathway but can’t cross the blood-brain barrier unless it’s been methylated, and I appear to have a suboptimal variant of the enzyme responsible for doing that.

        • Yeah. There is absolutely no amount of therapy that helps me if I’m not on antidepressants. My depression is chemical. I could be in thrice-weekly therapy, finding $1000 a day under my pillow from the Money Fairy, and waking up to headlines about the US implementing national healthcare and a free pony for all residents, and I still wouldn’t be able to get out of bed half the time if I didn’t have Better Living Through Chemistry. A blanket statement like “pretty much not better than placebo” is guaranteed to get hackles up.

          As for the LW, I’ve never been in anything remotely approaching your situation, but it sounds like a particularly bumpy coming of age. LW, I wish you all the best, and the other commenters have given good advice. Once you’re 18, your parents can’t make you do anything. Independence can be scary, but it’s also amazing. You’re the expert on your own life, and I’m sure you’ll find the path that works best for you, even if it ends up being rocky in places.

          A lot of the time we already know what we have to do, and asking around is just a way of seeking encouragement. I hope you’ve found some here.

      • I replied to this once already, but the blog software seems to have eaten my comment :( I have struggled with depression and had to consider whether to use antidepressants or not, so have read quite a lot of the literature. I concluded that with the relatively mild form of depression I had (though it was enough to make me feel terrible) the side-effects from antidepressant medication wouldn’t make it worth while. I found that regular friend-dates to get me out of the house, meditation and taking omega-3 supplements was enough to help me. (Of course, I didn’t run a controlled trial, so I have no idea what part of that mix actually benefited me).

        Various studies have indeed cast doubt on the effectiveness of antidepressants versus placebos: certainly the effect does not seem to be as strong as people had previously thought. Eg:

        http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa065779#t=articleBackground
        http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/1522-3736.5.1.523a

        Clinical authorities, eg NICE clinical guidlines for the UK, 2009, suggest that “for mild depression, antidepressants are not appropriate because the risk of side effects outweighs the benefits. Suggested treatments include watchful waiting – a recognition of the fact that depression often goes away without treatment – guided self-help, short-term talking treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), behavioural activation, and exercise programmes.” source: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/diagnoses_and_conditions/depression#treatments

        Of course antidepressants aren’t evil, and I’m sure that for some people, especially with more severe and long-lasting depression, they are indeed a life-saver. All I think Whoever is arguing is that they shouldn’t be the first resort, and that they should be combined with other methods to help the underlying issues in the person’s life. Sometimes doctors are guilty (particularly in the UK, where I live) of prescribing antidepressants first, as a general ‘fix’ and only adding in therapy or other things if the person comes back and badgers them for it.

        Good luck, LW, I hope the comments from people here have given you some ideas and hope. Lots of us have been in a similar situation to you, and it does get better.

        • You did in fact get caught in the spam filter – “a lot of links” is one reason that happens. So sorry.

  24. Yes to everything the Captain and commentors here have said. I was raised fundamentalist Mormon (i’m a liberal atheist now) and left the religion in college. But I had moved out and was nearly financially independent at the time.

    I tried to show some independence (like, staying out past 11 pm) while I still lived with my parents and it would backfire, they would end up just taking away keys to the car or anything else they could do to stop me. My parents were dicks about it too. My dad would intimidate me to the point I thought he would be violent, and my mom was the expert at guilt trips. It was miserable for the 9 months I tried to show any independence.

    Now – long story short, I didn’t get married in the temple but had a secular
    wedding instead, and i’m openly childfree. I had to accept that they might disown me. It isn’t a pleasant realization so Jedi hugs to you LW. But they never disowned me. I only see them once a year (i only live 40 miles away) but it is so much better now, it is on MY terms.
    I worry about your parentheticals: (or worse). Only you know what that means so I would encourage you to make a back up plan. I sincerely hope it doesn’t mean anything of the violent sort.
    It will get better. Good luck to you.

  25. Wow, lots of great advice. I had a somewhat similar situation growing up and in college. My solution was to become financially independent as soon as possible, via grants, scholarships, and part-time jobs. I eventually decided to stop speaking to all of my parents altogether and have had no financial support from them since I was 21 – and I’m doing great. :)

    The part of your post I hear the most is “I’m afraid I’ll commit suicide if I keep faking being someone I’m not.” If it comes down to that – choosing between suicide and losing your parents’ financial support – choose loosing the money. That being said, the advice you’re getting on this page is how to fake it in such a way that you’re reasonably happy, don’t endanger your future, and keep your parents’ financial support through college. I just want to say that if this balancing act gets too hard, choose anything other than suicide or ruining your life long-term via abusive marriage. Lots of people have quite happy lives without their parents paying for all of college.

    Stuff that helped me get through the last years of financial dependence on my wacky religion-obsessed parents without committing suicide:

    Knowing when it would be over: Actually, age 18 was the first big milestone for me. It meant I could leave home when it got too abusive and my mother couldn’t call the police on me. That’s a huge advantage – your parents can no longer invoke law enforcement to help control you. Revel in that! Now they can only withhold money, and money comes from lots of places. But the date you should focus on is graduation and your first full-time job. That’s when you get to live the life you want and your parents can’t do anything about it. I still remember my first week of my job, with my new apartment and new car and new clothes and FREEEEEE!! Look forward to that! It’s worth it!

    Treating religion as an intellectual exercise: I memorized all sorts of mythical information: the characteristics of a Unicorn, the names of the horses in Tolkien, the doctrine of transubstantiation. Actually, religious texts are fascinating and weird documents which can be quite fun to read. And there’s nothing more fun than being an atheist who can quote more scripture than the religious person you’re arguing with.

    Exploiting my parents’ weaknesses: For my mother, science trumped religion. So I could get out of church if they started showing faked-up “Noah’s Ark Discovered” documentaries. My parents always let me stay home if I was sick, so I got out of a lot of church and other activities by either being sick or faking it. Migraines are really good for this (and often develop in your teens or 20s). It sounds like your mother has a big thing for you performing femininity – can you create conflicts between that and activities you hate more? Like, instead of speed dating camp, make-up camp instead. Think of all the things that your parents value that could conflict with the pilgrimage to Iraq: an internship in a field they admire (medicine-related?), putting the money for your trip into a savings account for a down payment on a house (which you will never take because you’ll be financially independent), some kind of charitable work, fashion school, etc.

    Working part-time jobs: If you’ve never done it before, consider getting a part-time job even if you don’t need the money right now. It gives you confidence in your abilities as an independent adult. It helps you make friends with people who support you and agree with you. It helps you get a full-time job later. Also, money! Your GPA might suffer a little but unless you’re planning on getting into a top grad school, that’s totally unimportant.

    Making friends who agreed with me: You’re not living at home, hurray! Start hanging out with people who are also atheists and believe in women’s rights. It will hurt at first, but consider spending less time with your devout friends. People tend to be like their friends, pick friends that you want to be like, not people you disagree with fundamentally.

    You’re going to make it. Keep going to your therapist, that’s one place you can be completely and totally authentic, and keep your eye on the calendar, and be as wily and tricksy and devious as you need to in order to get out of college safe and happy. Once you’re free, you can be as honest and straightforward as you want.

    • “…there’s nothing more fun than being an atheist who can quote more scripture than the religious person you’re arguing with.”

      I have walked in thy truth!
      -Psalms 26:3

    • On getting a part-time job: this doesn’t have to be slinging coffee or burgers, either. I worked part-time throughout most of my undergrad years in the various labs in my program. Find a professor you have a good rapport with in your major, and ask hir if zie has any need for help over the summer/during the semester, or if zie knows someone who does. That way, you’re gaining experience AND making money, and if it comes to it, it could transition into a full-time gig with remitted tuition benefits should you get cut off entirely.

  26. Good luck! Everyone has given you some good advice, so I will be brief.

    * Take summer classes. It’ll help you graduate faster, and you have a convenient excuse to stay behind while the rest of the family goes to Iraq (getting an internship is also good). If your parents give you grief, just say something about how you’re sad you’ll have to miss Iraq, too, but this is just a temporary sacrifice and you’ll be able to again after you graduate.

    * Work on Plan B. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) to yourself for the time being. But operate on the assumption that your parents may one day find out before you’re ready for them to do so. Work on a plan where you can go from college to supporting yourself in just a few weeks.

    * After you’ve graduated, come out as atheist. I know some people here don’t like Dan Savage, but he has some good advice for gay kids coming out that I think his applicable here. The advice is to give your parents a year to have whatever tantrums they want and get over the ‘shock’ of having a child who is different than they are.

  27. One thing that I don’t think I’ve seen anyone here mention is that most colleges have strict confidentiality rules about what campus employees can report to your parents even if your parents are paying for your education. Certainly grades are off limits per federal law, unless you’ve explicitly waived that right, and I believe there are a lot of other conversations with student support and development offices that are also supposed to remain confidential. This means that you may be able to go to officials at your school and start talking through potential solutions to a situation where your parents cut you off financially, without your parents finding out. They may be able to walk you through financial aid options, ways to prove that you’re suddenly a not a dependent and don’t have access to your parents’ money, emergency grants, job opportunities on campus, if there are support groups you can turn to, and so on. If your plan to stay in school in the event that your parents cut you off will necessitate transferring to somewhere cheaper, they should be able to make that clear to you, and you can have some cheaper options lined up and applications ready as part of your plan for the worst case scenario.

    If your therapist is employed through the school she may know something about if those conversations stay confidential or be able to find out for you, and also be able to refer you to the best people to talk to.

    In the event that you get suddenly married off in a foreign country and don’t have access to your passport, it might also be a good thing to have adults in the US with access to lawyers who know that a forced marriage is a possibility and can ask questions about your whereabouts. I don’t know how much leverage someone from your college would have in the event that that happened, but if you’re being kept out of the US against your will it can’t hurt to have adults over here who know that if you suddenly don’t return to school it may not be voluntary.

    I don’t know anything firsthand about women’s shelters in Iraq or India, but I do know that such groups in the US are excellent about confidentiality, and (maybe other commenters who know more can confirm or deny that this is a good idea) I think it might be a good idea to get in touch with a shelter in any foreign locations that you travel to with your parents before you go. Ask them if they have any advice and what kind of help they would be able to provide in the event that your parents try to make you stay abroad. Definitely keep your documents, and if possible access to enough money to buy a plane ticket back to the US, on your person at all times if you think there’s any risk that your parents will try to stop you from coming back here.

    You are absolutely not a terrible person for lying to your parents in this situation, and I really hope that everything comes out alright.

    • I wouldn’t count on that confidentiality. Even though it’s law (FERPA).

      Among other things, it’s easily gotten around by a person who is willing to pretend to be you on the phone, or who knows/can guess your passwords.

  28. This is a minor point, but there are a number of arguments against doctors treating their own immediate family members: not just confidentiality (which only works if your mother already buys it, because otherwise she might say “but what would she tell a stranger that she can’t tell me”) but that a bit of emotional distance can be useful on both sides. If you have free or low-cost access to student health services, it’s probably worth talking to someone there.

  29. So, I was not raised by religious or conservative parents, but I was raised by controlling parents. (Not as controlling as this, though. I’m so sorry.) I have no good advice for the religious aspect, but I just wanted to add my voice to the “you are not a bad person for pretending!” choir. You are working to preserve your mental/emotional well-being until you can get out, and it can be really, really painful to nod and go along with things you know are Not You, because you feel like a traitor to yourself AND to the people who are in control.

    But you are absolutely not betraying yourself — you are doing what you need to do to keep yourself going. And your parents aren’t really working in your best interests right now, so even though technically you are not being true to them, they have wronged you terribly. They have made it impossible for you to be yourself around them. This situation is one they made, and you are absolutely not a bad person just because you are trying to survive.

    I also agree with everyone who is telling you to make/keep friends who you can be yourself around. Getting away from my parents was surprisingly easy, but adjusting to life away from them is still really, really hard for me; I have had to learn to socialize as an adult, and it’s hard. If you have people you can talk to without worrying about provoking them, even if you don’t share absolutely everything with them, you will be more prepared for life when you do get out, AND you will hopefully be under less stress as long as you’re still dealing with your parents.

  30. Expanding on the “using depression as a reason not to go to religious services” — you can totally use your depression &/or any hormonal condition you may or may not have as a reason not to do the dating/betrothal/marriage scene. “I need to fix X first, because it would be wrong to burden my future husband with blah blah blah”. You’ll know how best to spin that for your parents’ ears so that it sounds like the Voice Of Dutifulness. You’re allowed to mislead them, or even outright lie to them, if that’s what it takes to keep you safe.

  31. Diamond tips! Your article is the motivation for my life :)

  32. I think the LW is American, but in case she is at risk of forced marriage to someone “at home” I wanted to leave this link to the only organisation I know of that has done a lot of work on this issue and helps women in this situation.

    http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/campaigns/forced-marriage-campaign/

    Maybe they would be able to direct her to an organisation in the States that does similar work.

    Also, I’m not the person who brought up the discussion on the effectiveness of antidepressants, but for those who wanted more info: Ben Goldacre in Bad Science has a whole chapter on antidepressant studies IIRC. If it’s not a whole chapter it’s a very extensive discussion. Antidepressants are hardly better than placebo but he’s not against them: the thing about “no better than placebo” is that placebos are very effective on depression, particularly milder depression. A lot of that book is devoted to explaining exactly how powerful the placebo effect is; it’s really interesting.

  33. I definitely agree with all of the comments posted. I grew up in a Catholic family in Alaska (not the most liberal part of the world). I did the full blown Catholic thing, being confirmed and everything. However, I always knew I was gay. The atheist thing didn’t come until way later. (Science education, getting a PhD. Understanding that evolution is really how everything came into being.)

    That being said, I couldn’t wait to get out of Alaska. So I went to University in New Mexico. Talk about a change. But it was nice. I was on my own, and while I wasn’t financially independent, my family didn’t know what I was doing 24-7, so I could go out and do my own thing and be my own person. I joined a lot of campus organizations, and even became president of our campus GLBT group for almost two years. I didn’t want to tell my parents I was gay because I was afraid of being disowned and I was somewhat financially dependent on them.

    That being said, as soon as I got my first real job, and I was able to not rely on them for money, I really felt the need to let them know. Luckily, I had set up myself up not only financially, but emotionally, by developing a lot of close friends in the GLBT community in college. I always knew that if my parents freaked out and disowned me, that I could rely on them. Luckily, my mother is a smart cookie, and she had kind of figured things out on her own, and she had been grooming my dad (as he’s the super religious one) in preparation for coming out.

    Luckily, it all went well. It could have been worse. I read horror stories now about parents disowning their children or trying repairative therapy on them, or any multitude of horror stories. My parents have been very warm and welcoming to my partners, and even stayed with us last year in London.

    I can only echo the suggestions of people above:

    Try to become financially independent as soon as possible.

    Try to find ways to avoid the trips and things by focusing on college and your education.

    Come up with ways to placate them that are along the lines of what they want, but not necessarily the specific things.

    Find a good support group at your university. There are probably a lot of on campus organizations you can join which will open up your social network immensely. It can really help to join them and find out. A lot of them are also anonymous, so you don’t have to worry about people sharing with other people that you were there. Make your support group your family. One of the best ideas I’d heard coming out was that with gay people you aren’t born into your family, you create one. To be honest, I think that’s great advice for anyone. Just because you’re related by blood doesn’t mean that your blood relatives have to be your family. Create your own family with friends and people who love you and support you unconditionally. It can be difficult to realize that your blood relative support network might disappear out from under you, but often the support network you create is far more beneficial to you.

    Try to enjoy your life. I know it’s difficult right now, but try to enjoy the positive things that you have, because if you can focus on them, then the less positive things can be come easier to deal with.

    Look into your options. Always look into them. Financially, emotionally. It’s always a relief to realize that your life doesn’t have to be fit into one tiny little box, and that there are so many opportunities in the world. I’m 36 now, and if you had asked me when I was 18 and just starting college that I would have a PhD and be in a wonderful relationship with support from my family and friends living in London, I would have laughed in your face. I would have thought you were crazy. You don’t know where the world will take you, but try to enjoy it whatever happens because you’ll only have one time to enjoy it so be incredibly grateful for everything good that happens to you. I know that when I was younger it was so much easier to focus on the negative aspects of life.

  34. Godless, you have my best, best wishes and hopes. And my prayers (that you will have a wonderful, awesome life as a free person. Always.) It is tremendously hard to be dependant on your parents while facing evidence that you cannot be honest with them. It is horrible, painful and terrifying to realize that they could hurt you or destroy your ambitions for not following the path they demmand you pursue, morally, religiously profesisonally: whatever. I have not been there for the reasons you are there, but I have gone through similar misery, with my parents. My mother was, at one time, intensely conservative and my family in general are conservative catholics. (I’m a Unitarian Druid, go figure). My struggle was not faith linked but it was very real; that’s all I can say.

    I can’t add much to the excellent advice here but I UTTERLY concur with the Captain and the saftey deposit box advisor: Get control of your documents. Get them in a secure location–bank deposit box, for instance that you alone have access to. Also, while you are networking to find your allies, when you do, establish a sort of ‘buddy system.’ If designated people don’t hear from you on a regular basis, at an assigned time–text, facebook, email, call etc–then they go into defcon 1, they FIND you and they alert professionals–health care, immigration, law enforcement etc if they CAN’T. I hate to suggest something so paranoid, I hope in a few years you can look back on all this and say “Phew, that was SO overkill.”.

  35. I relate so strongly to this letter; it takes me back ten years. I come from a very religious Christian family. Even when I was still a teen living at home, I had lots of disagreements with my parents, especially about the proper roles of women. They reacted so strongly when I expressed any disagreement about these matters that I learned to keep my opinions to myself while home, at least sometimes. I resolved just to excel in school and get myself in a position where I did not need their financial support as soon as possible. Eventually, I was sure that I would be in some position where I might be disowned for having the intellectual integrity to say what I thought. I was also terrified of being sent to some kind of fundamentalist Christian re-education camp.

    At some point during college, I became an atheist. I waited three years to tell my family about this; afterall, I already knew they thought my too-liberal interpretation of Christianity was bad enough. Like you, I was afraid to lose my safety net, and also afraid of being totally emotionally cut-off, creating drama for the members of my family who I could count on for unconditional support, etc. I came out while we were planning my marriage. My husband and I wanted, as much as possible, a simple, non-religious wedding. We would have opted to go the justice of the peace and then have a picnic with cake. My family wanted the big church ordeal. During these negotiations, my husband and I decided to tell the minister about our atheism, both so that he would know what he was getting into and to see whether we could agree on a comprise ceremony. The minister decided not to marry us, which I had to explain somehow to my parents. I decided just to tell the truth.

    They were distraught, but there was no disowning. The still wanted to celebrate my marriage (they even convinced the minister to do it after all), we remain in contact and see each other regularly, despite not living in the same area. But more than 10 years later, this situation remains extremely painful. On the one hand, I was able to build the life I want, which I’m deeply satisfied with. On the other, my family remains totally bewildered and concerned by my unbelief. Every so often, we have an uncomfortable conversation about it, in which all their fears for my eternal soul come out, and I see how desperate this makes them. It is also clear to me now, as shinobi42 said, that our parents don’t want to really know us. They have a mental model of our personalities, and it doesn’t matter at all (well, at least to my parents) that this model is totally unsupported by evidence, that is contradicted every time we interact by my actions, opinions, and choices. My parents feel like I’ve cheated them out of this fake relationship, whereas I think that by being open, I’ve given us an opportunity to have a much more fulfilling kind of relationship. But we’re definitely not there yet, and possibly never will be.

    I would have been miserable had I decided to continue faking it or avoiding the issue forever; I don’t regret acknowledging my atheism. As virtually every commenter said, definitely postpone though until you have enough independence from your family to deal the aftermath. However functional or dysfunctional your experience turns out to be, I’m sure it will be emotionally overwhelming for everyone involved.

  36. I was raised in a fairly open home. However, my extended family on my mum’s side were all Christian. To the point of extremism. y’know “if you don’t believe what I believe even if you convert you’re going straight to hell” kinds of extremism. My dad’s family was the same way only Roman Catholic. Oh my word was growing up interesting. I was raised in a non denominational Christian church. I started exploring religions in middle school. My mum confiscated anything to do with Pagan religions. That was apparently the line she drew. Otherwise my parents encouraged (you could say) my study and exploration of religions. I even took a world religions class and have wound up with quite a few different religious texts since. Few years ago I met a guy who convinced me to become LDS. (One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made.) Mind you I was baptised as Catholic as a baby. Did my first communion. Then I converted my religion was baptised LDS. Now that he is out of my life and not influencing me I see how stupid that was. The thing that my family didn’t like was more my choice of lifestyles. I am fairly involved in BDSM and thus when I introduced my family to my “boyfriend” and explained our relationship it almost ended all communications between my family and I. We still don’t see eye to eye on it but I’ve come to realise that it wasn’t necessarily my lifestyle choice but more my partner that they so highly objected to. But essentially I was kicked out of my house for 9 months in which I lived with the boy that I was with. That was 5 years ago. We’ve since made up and I’m living at home whilst job hunting. It took a lot of communication between my family and I to get to where we are now which is a comfortable enough place that my parents are supporting my decisions. At the time I was 22. Oh and the religion came into effect of my grandparents would babysit us because both my parents worked. Eventually my mum opened a daycare out of our home when I was 6 so she got to work at home but for a while our grandparents would watch us.

    • I don’t care what religion you were raised, I can’t think of any parent who would be like “Yay, tell me all about BDSM and how you love it!” Do parents ever want to know that much about their kids’ sex lives? Maybe go with “This is my new friend/boyfriend” and leave out the details next time.

      • considering the fact I don’t have a door that locks on my bedroom it is something they need to be aware of in case they walk in on something. Especially since I’ve been living with them for the past 4 years. And my mum

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