Dear Carolyn: I am a white atheist (raised Catholic), long-term dating a Pakistani American agnostic (raised Muslim). In general, there is cultural pressure for Pakistani people to marry other Pakistanis, or at least within the faith, with no American-style dating allowed. Many mixed-faith relationships take place in secret. From the start, I told my man I’d be happy to date him as long as our relationship would be 100 percent out in the open. He promised he’d proclaim his love from the rooftops, so I was all in.
His siblings and parents – who have become relatively liberal over the 40 years they’ve been in the U.S. – have welcomed me into their homes, even to religious celebrations, with open arms. I have grown to care deeply for them. They have even accepted that my boyfriend and I are moving in together, unmarried, and have offered to assist with costs.
I was shocked, then, when my boyfriend casually told me about meeting a member of his mother’s Muslim community. He laughed about how he told the woman he was moving in with a “roommate” and his mother happily thanked him for the obfuscation. I immediately felt as if my being a part of the family’s life was shameful to them. Shameful enough to lie about.
My boyfriend intended this as a lighthearted anecdote and did not understand why I was hurt. I understand there is social pressure involved when one goes against any widely accepted cultural beliefs. I am still very upset.
He discussed my concerns with his family, who stated they would continue to obfuscate. I want to resolve this hurt, but I don’t want to seem ungrateful for their warmer-than-expected in-home acceptance and generosity. I love this man very much. I care for his family, but their decision about hiding me in public is hurtful. I just don’t know what to do. – Not My Name
How about not being hurt?
Annoyed, sure. Or angry, or disgusted – but not hurt.
Because this is not personal.
If this family were hiding you, just you, then it would be. But everything you say here suggests they’d downplay anyone he was dating who wasn’t from their culture. As in, anyone who came from a culture of openly doing things their culture deems shameful.
So what this looks like to me is a busted deal – thus the license to be annoyed or angry. You dated your boyfriend with the understanding that you wouldn’t be a secret, and you equate “roommate” with secrecy, so feel free be as annoyed as you would with anyone who appears to have baited-and-switched you.
There is zero need for you to internalize this into a belief that you are personally being called shameful.
Nor does it make sense to be “shocked.” There are steep cultural pressures you knew about going in, you’ve been embraced beyond expectations by his core people, and you’re undone by a sidewalk fib?
If you’re going to achieve emotional escape velocity any time someone takes a shortcut to navigate differing cultural values, then you’re going to spend a lot of your life in outrage-orbit.
This is not to say you should just brush this off. Your boyfriend either promised something he never meant to deliver; promised something he misjudged his ability to deliver; promised something he believes he’s delivering in full because his promise applied only to openness with his family; or promised something only for himself and never intended to speak for his family.
You do need to sort out whether this is a misunderstanding, a privacy-vs.-secrecy quibble, or proof of an irreconcilable difference in your definitions of rooftops. And whether it will reconcile itself if you marry.
But that sorting-out will go a whole lot better if you acknowledge your wounded feelings, search them for any bigger messages – and then park them where they won’t cripple your ability to think clearly about what’s really going on:
“We had a deal. I took it to mean I wouldn’t be called a ‘roommate.’ Did you see it differently?” Listen, then decide where you stand.
Dear Carolyn: A friend just changed her own birthday party to suit our mom friend who didn’t want to get a baby sitter. So now the party is in someone’s living room with kids instead of a fun restaurant.
This group routinely changes plans to cater to this mom, who I do actually like and with whose kids I spend loads of time. I still prefer adult activities.
If I RSVP to Event X that suddenly becomes Event Y, is it rude to back out? Or should I just suck it up for yet another night in with kids? – It’s Her Party, Right?
How I define “rude” doesn’t count. This is about consequences, not manners: You have to anticipate what it would cost you socially to bow out on these friends, then decide whether the price is worth paying.
For the record, I’d be annoyed by this bait-and-switch, too.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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