The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Hiding plans to cohabitate from parents who don’t approve

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My significant other and I (late 20s) are planning on moving in together this summer, after two-plus years as a couple. We are both very excited for this, except for one source of anxiety: I haven’t told my parents.

Yes, I know we are adults, and this is the right decision for us. This is also the norm for our generation, and maybe we’re even taking it slower than most. But let’s just say my mother STILL, after 30 years of marriage, insists on making it clear that, although she moved into Dad’s house three weeks before the wedding, he was traveling at the time, so they never lived together pre-marriage.

I know I just need to bite the bullet and tell them, and I’m probably making too much of this. But I think this is the first (major) thing I’m doing that they won’t 100 percent approve or be proud of. Let’s just say I’m a pretty stereotypical Oldest Child and Nerd, so there wasn’t a lot of teenage angst. Maybe it would have been a good idea to get practice before this …

— Anxious

Anxious: This feels like it’s coming out of the pipeline really terse and snippy, but here it is: Wow, you need to get over this image of yourself. Immediately. You are either a fully fledged human who is ready to build a shared life with a fellow adult, or you are still performing for your parents. One or the other. You can’t have both.

I actually think it will feel good to rip off the high-performing-child Band-Aid, but I might be misjudging your pain tolerance. Let me know.

Carolyn: I don’t think I’m doing any performing for my parents; I just meant there hasn’t been any friction before, because it didn’t exist. I haven’t been avoiding issues; there just haven’t been any.

We’ve had disagreements before (a recent one was about transgender people in sports), but I’ve been proud of maintaining our relationship even though we’re on pretty opposite sides of the political spectrum. I was able to get them to back off the anti-science ledge during the pandemic.

This is just the first time something we don’t agree on directly affects my everyday life vs. the lives of other hypothetical people. I’m doing this, no matter what. I was more looking for any advice on how to maintain that dialogue I’ve been working on since college.

— Anxious again

Anxious again: That it’s your life is exactly why it can’t be part of “that dialogue.”

I can totally see the value in learning political-coexistence strategies. But balancing your beliefs against friction potential is still a kind of parent-pleasing performance.

And transgender athletes and science aren’t hypothetical. And this is your life. Live it. Share it. As-is, without trying to finesse it or your parents.

If your parents react to your news without finesse? Then give them a quick, calm, “I’m sorry to hear you feel that way,” and don’t engage in anything from them that qualifies as judging, meddling, guilt-tripping or hypocrisy. On anything. Just be utterly unmoved by their (or anyone’s) unsupportable opinions, and keep doing your thing. That’s how to maintain you, which, in turn, is how to maintain anything real with them.

Readers’ thoughts:

· When your parents married was 1991, not the Dark Ages. Let me promise you: People were having sex and cohabitating all. the. time. back then, and it wasn’t a big deal for most of us. So that is a cultural norm your parents would have been well aware of. Regardless of her own choices, your mom cannot possibly be surprised at your “revelation.”