Hello! This is a question that is hopefully less fraught than a few of the other Holiday Questions and I hope will be an easy question for you all to answer.
My partner and I have been living together for over a year and together for much longer than that; it is a thoughtful, committed relationship and I’m very happy. My parents took some time to warm up to him but now like him very much (him wading in (yes, literally) to help at last Thanksgiving’s Sewer Explosion in the Parents’ basement went a long way towards them recognizing how good of a man he really is).
The problem: my family is deeply Catholic (not me) (and in the liberation theology, Nuns on the Bus, Vatican 2 kind of way, which helps). Until my partner and I marry, my parents will not allow us to stay in the same bed. We have no plans of getting married unless there is some extenuating circumstance, and then certainly not in the church.
I haven’t brought it up in the last year or so because 1) I want to respect their beliefs and 2) most of the times we’ve been home, I’ve been sleeping on a couch or with my sister anyway since it’s been for other family events where there’s a full house. But now it’s gone on for a long time, and aforementioned sister yesterday got in a fight with my parents about creating a “boys dorm” and a “girls dorm” for our next family vacation (this also will impact my brother and his girlfriend, who have been together since they were sixteen but also are unmarried). They told her that it’s clearly not an issue since I haven’t brought it up and she’s overreacting. She is not.
Look, I’m not trying to have wild kinky sex under my parents’ roof. I would like for my partner to not have to sleep on the floor (or as happened on other vacations, in a tent outside), and I would like to feel like my parents respect our relationship. How do I broach this topic and make it clear that this does, in fact, bother me, but I’ve thus far respected their wishes — but it is a problem that they don’t seem to respect me or my relationship as responsible, adult, or mature without the parameters of Catholic marriage? Do I even bother? Is this a passive aggressive nightmare waiting to blow up ten years down the road if I don’t say something now?
Help me, Captain Awkward! You’re my only hope!
Grandma’s sleeping in my bed this year anyway so it doesn’t even matter right now
Dear Grandma’s Sleeping In My Bed,
At the holidays when there is a full house and lots of people are giving up their beds for older relatives and/or sleeping on couches, etc., I don’t think it’s necessary that big a deal for couples to split up for a few days especially when it’s as much about logistics and making sure everyone gets a comfortable sleeping spot than anything else. I know my Catholic mom has some feelings about unmarried couples sharing beds under her roof, but my old room where I sleep also has only a twin bed, so lobbying hard for “sharesies!” when I visit would both make her uncomfortable AND defy the laws of physics.
Just because I don’t feel like rocking my particular boat/brick hard four-poster bed, I do have a problem when houseguest sleeping arrangements are all about status and proving a point, for example, when straight, married couples are accommodated with a master suite and queer folks and singles are left to fight it out for recliner vs. floor vs. futon that the Great Dane sleeps on. If being unmarried meant my dude didn’t get a comfortable place to sleep it would mean a) not visiting at all, because, why put up with that? or b) hotel/motel time for us. Maybe this is a good year for you and your siblings to show solidarity with one another by finding an alternate place to stay over the holiday visit, like, splitting a hotel suite for a few nights. Your parents can work out how they prioritize acting in accordance with their principles vs. the pleasure/hassle having all of their family members under the same roof at the holidays, and you can enjoy giant comfy beds while everyone works it out.
On the future family vacation you’ll be staying in a hotel or cabin or at a campground, etc. right? Not your parents’ house? Try this as a script:
“[Sister] mentioned that you’re thinking about how to make sure all the men & women sleep separately for our vacation again next year. You’re not really planning on doing that, are you?”
If so, what happens if you say “Boyfriend and I would prefer to share a room on vacation. Last time it really stunk when he had to sleep in the tent”?
Right now your partner and your brother’s girlfriend exist in this strange limbo where they receive all of the disadvantages of being family (expected to go along with less-than-ideal circumstances for the sake of the group without complaint) but none of the advantages of being guests (to be made as comfortable & welcome as possible). It’s great that you want to respect your parents, but religious values aren’t the only values, and once you’re like “Welcome to our celebration, Guest! That’s your sleeping spot…outside…on the ground” just delete the words “welcome,” “celebration,” and “guest” from that thing you’re doing. It would be a gesture toward recognizing your relationship if your parents stopped the girls’ dorm/boys’ dorm thing on visits and vacations, but you can also give that respect to your relationship yourselves by saying, “We’d prefer to sleep together if possible” or “Ok we’ll be at the other hotel down the street then” or “Huh, sorry you feel that way. Sounds like we should skip the trip this year.”