Love, Lindsay

'Should I Tell My Socially Conservative Relatives I Live With My Boyfriend?'

All your relationship questions answered — right here, right now.

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Lindsay here, A Plus's resident relationship guru/columnist. While I may not know everything, I do know a lil something about love and our seemingly endless pursuit of it. Having written dozens of A Plus articles about dating, relationships, and sex, I'm ready and willing to investigate all of your romantically-inclined questions (submit here!) — because I've asked them myself. What I hope to bring to A Plus's readers is a sex-positive, body-positive, and most importantly, you-positive perspective on modern love. Consider Love, Lindsay your digital Cupid. 

Dear Lindsay,

My boyfriend and I have been dating for three years, and my whole family loves him. He's smart, kind, and funny in conversation, and sort of impressive on paper. The catch? My parents don't want me to tell any of our more conservative relatives that we're living together. It can get pretty awkward sometimes in conversations, making sure all the pronouns match up ("my apartment," not "our apartment"), and that I don't let slip any of the myriad of mundane routines cohabitators have. Talking about my home life with those I love — whether the topic is dinner plans or dishwashing— has become a minefield. 

I understand my parents' concern. I know my relatives might think of me differently if they knew. But I also hate lying.

What should I do?

Sincerely,

Jane

Dear Jane,

Even if everything in your romantic life is going great, sometimes your family life can intervene. In this case, it's a generational gap making you feel like you have to hide living with your boyfriend. According to Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, this is a common phenomenon rooted in children having different values than their parents or extended family, which may be due to religion, culture, education, social changes, etc.

"It is also very common that, in the face of this, parents reject their children altogether," she tells A Plus. "Or ask their children to hide details of their life from friends and family in order to protect their children from the extended family's rejection and to keep their standing in their community and with their family." So it is worthwhile to note that your parents' desire for discretion comes from a place of love, though you certainly don't have to agree with how that love manifests. 

What's interesting — and perhaps worth telling your parents — is that, in today's world, cohabitation before marriage isn't just normal, it's widely accepted. (Granted, this varies from culture to culture.) Did you know two-thirds of couples married in 2012 lived together for more than two years before their wedding? And a 2007 USA Today/Gallup poll found that just 27 percent of Americans disapproved of it. And that was more than ten years ago! So you and your boyfriend are in good company, even if it doesn't always feel like it. 

Still, all this doesn't change the fact that you know your living situation won't be welcomed by some relatives. While you have zero obligation to tell your extended family the inner workings of your personal life (especially since you already have your parents' support), if this issue continues to weigh on you to the point where it's affecting your actual relationship, then it may be time to let the boyfriend out of the bag ... er, I mean, the bedroom. 

"For some people, it is very important to be 'seen' as they are and they cannot tolerate representing themselves as being something other than themselves," Milrad notes. "Your dilemma is whether you are willing to put [your parents'] need to protect their reputation and standing with the family above your need to be honest about who you are and your values."

So if/when you decide to "live your truth," as they say, you don't have to make some grand proclamation in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner. 

Milrad recommends first having a conversation with your parents first so they aren't blindsided. "Give them an opportunity to process their feelings and prepare themselves for what lies ahead," she says. 

Once you and your parents are on the same page, the next time you see your family, try testing the waters with someone close who you trust not to gossip — perhaps an older cousin. All you have to do is mention your living situation in casual conversation and gauge their reaction. 

If they're surprisingly open to it, they may even be able to help you deliver the news to other relatives. If they're not, then at least you get a preview into what might happen if you tell the rest of your family. "... You need to prepare yourself for the fallout that may occur," Milrad advises. "You will have to tolerate your extended family's reaction and behavior to both you and your parents." 

Ultimately, it's important to remember that, you can't control your family's reaction to this news. You can only control your own. So even if they disapprove, if you think you're doing the right thing for your relationship, that's all that really matters. 

Love, Lindsay 

Cover image via Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

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