DEAR CAROLYN: I’m going to my boyfriend’s parents’ house for Christmas. We are 27 and have been together close to five years. We are self-sustaining adults and while we don’t live together (although we have in transition periods in the past), we spend almost every night at each other’s apartments.
His parents are very conservative Christians, and the standard is for us to sleep in different rooms. I want my boyfriend to ask if we can stay in the same room, not because I can’t bear to be apart for three nights, but because I think it’s important that we don’t pretend to be something we are not. If they say no I will respect that and we will sleep separately or get a hotel, but I want him to ask.
He’s reluctant to because he doesn’t want to talk to his parents about anything that comes within a 10-foot radius of sex. His brother is younger than us and just got married, and they will of course be allowed to stay in the same room because a clergy person said the magic words to them while she wore a white dress. I was not raised to think of virginity or purity as a “value,” so this just makes me crazy.
Am I being unreasonable? I feel like if we stay together for the long haul there are going to be a lot of “stand up for who we are” moments that are more difficult than this, and we should get in the habit.
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Dealing With “Not Under My Roof”
DEAR DEALING WITH: Yes, I agree, approach this as a matter of forming good habits. Start by asking yourself beforehand what you hope to accomplish with each prospective battle. In this case, is it to get his parents’ approval somehow? Or is it just to live unapologetically by your own values, thereby establishing how you expect to be treated as a couple?
If it’s the former, then, good luck. I don’t see how forcing his parents to say out loud what everyone already knows would put you on the side of the angels.
If it’s the latter, then just book the hotel and be done with it.
And – this part is important – if and when you ever do get married, keep staying in the hotel. To meet your standard of not pretending to be people you’re not, you need to decline to stay with them as long as you object to their conditional hospitality, period, whether you’re on the “right” or “wrong” side of their terms.
Just as you will encounter a lot of “stand up for who we are” moments, you also will have a lot of opportunities to decline to get on your soapbox, most of which I suggest you take. The secret to a peaceful long haul: Unless someone really forces your hand, be yourselves without explaining yourselves.
This goes for your boyfriend, too; even though I agree with his preferred outcome, his path there doesn’t impress. This is not about sex; it’s about treating adults like kids. You want the grown man in him to say he has no interest in justifying himself to his parents, vs. the child in him running away.