Dear Captain Awkward,
My boyfriend and I have been dating for about four years, and have known each other for about ten. We’ve known for awhile that we want to marry each other but extenuating circumstances, etc. have delayed it from happening. We’ve recently decided that we want to move in together, and soon, even if we don’t get married quite yet, both because we want to be together and live together and also because it would be a relief financially.
The problem is that both of our parents are traditionally religious, even though mine are not necessarily part of a denomination anymore (and lived together before they were married and before they were religious). Considering the “don’t have sex” talks I’ve gotten from my parents/family, I’m a little nervous about breaking the news to them that we’re moving in together.
I think his parents will be quieter about it, but mine will be pretty vocal. What are some talking points that I can use to break it as easily as possible and maybe soften the disappointment?
I’m honestly not sure what the reaction will be at this point, because they’ve asked whether we’d move in together if we were to move to another area to save money, and I think that they might be more open to it now, but I am still a bit worried about their reaction. Help?
– Moving In Nerves
Dear Moving In Nerves:
You “break the news” as a happy announcement of a happy thing that is making you happy, without any apologies and without over-justifying it. If it is more comfortable for you to do this at a distance/remove, do it in the form of an email or a short card. “Good news, boyfriend and I found a place, and this is our new address as of date: [[Address]]” You save your parents the trouble of maintaining a neutral face when they read the news and give them time to formulate something appropriate to say when they react to the news.
I predict that most reactions you get will come in the form of inquiries about a wedding, i.e. “Oh, does this mean you’re finally tying the knot?” to which you say “We’d sure like to, someday!” or “Ha, maybe!” or “Probably so!” or “Thanks for asking!” or “This is what works for us right now!” or “I’m very excited about this step!” or “One step at a time!” or “You’ll be the first to know if that is the case” or whatever stock response you’ve been using all this time to deflect that question.
I don’t want to minimize your worries, in that it is a big deal to go against your parents – a big thing culturally, a big thing within your family (you’re groomed to not do it from birth) – and I’m sure you have reason to anticipate their displeasure and feel anxious. But it is a huge step in growing up to realize that you can do a thing, and someone else can have feelings about that thing, and their feelings can affect what you do not one tiny bit. “Oh, you are disappointed in me? Well, I am disappointed in you. Pass the gravy?” It gets easier with practice.
If they express disappointment directly, you can say “Thanks for your concern, but this is right for me” or “I wasn’t looking for feedback or advice, actually” or “Welp, that makes me sad to hear, because I am happy with this choice, but you do what you feel”, cut the conversation short, and then process the uncomfortable feelings on your own/with your friends/with your partner (the way you wish they would process theirs).
If they want an adult relationship with you (an adult, who is separate from them), I predict they will get used to it. You don’t need their permission or their approval, and sometimes showing that and setting an example for how you’d like to be treated is enough to change the dynamic a bit. Sometimes, with really manipulative or overbearing people, it is not enough, but in those cases you living together is not the crux of the issue and they’d be disapproving and meddlesome no matter what you did. Only you know which kind of parents you are dealing with and whether tight-lipped attempts to remain neutral or an all-out tantrum are more likely. Even if a tantrum happens, is it going to change your mind about your plans? Well, welcome to role reversal with your parents, where someone throws a big tantrum and you don’t really give them attention for it, the way they probably sat you in a corner to cry it out when you were three. “Huh, well, you’re obviously upset, let’s talk another time then, byeeeeee!”
Your Fellow Child of Tight-Lipped Disapproval,