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Carolyn Hax: Couple couldn’t withstand his parents’ strong disapproval

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Hi Carolyn: My ex-boyfriend and I were in a very healthy, supportive and growing relationship. We both have great careers ahead of us and had plans set out for our future.

Then his parents found out that I have to support my parents financially in their later years because they don’t have a lot of savings. I have a full-ride scholarship for a master’s degree and my career field is set to grow, so I had no worries about being able to support my parents — especially since they are very frugal people. Yet his parents adamantly rejected me and used their declining health as a threat every single time he tried to talk to them about me.

Somewhere between these arguments, he gave up and broke up with me.

I’m honestly broken. This is the man I envisioned my life with and really deeply loved. I have no idea how to move on or if I should wait for him to come to his senses. It’s so hard to give up on something we’ve worked so hard to build.

— Broken

Broken: It is. It’s awful. I’m sorry.

One thing even more awful, though, over time, is trying to share a life with someone who still genuflects to someone else.

It doesn’t matter who the “someone else” is. It can be parents, an ex, a child from a prior relationship, an influential old friend, a religious leader, an employer even. Anyone outside the self. No one with divided priorities or lines of authority can be fully present in a life partnership.

This all assumes his parents pushed him to his decision, though. He could also have decided for himself that he didn’t want a life partnership that came with your financial responsibilities. It’s easy to vilify the parents here, but think about it: Would they have been as effective at swinging his decision if he weren’t open to leaning that way?

The commitment you have to your parents is many things — significant, honorable, your prerogative, unrelated to any emotional dependency. It is not, however, a place for lukewarm support. You want any partner you choose to be 100 percent behind your pledge. And behind you.

“You’re better off” is a hard pill when you’re grieving a breakup. But it’s axiomatic: Someone who doesn’t want you as-is isn’t the person you want.

It might be a long time before you’re able to envision a future without your ex-boyfriend in it. That’s normal. And again, it’s pretty gut-punchingly bad for a while. But with your boyfriend not fully committed, it was destined to break — either now, or in a few years, or when your parents’ savings ran out. “Now” is the least invested, least painful of those bad outcomes.

And while that break might prove to be what brings your ex to his senses, that’s neither a guarantee nor your only good outcome. The right answer by adults to their parents’ “adamantly reject[ing]” their partners is, “This is my life, not yours.” You will meet plenty of people so empowered.

Every breakup is an education. This one will teach you, if you let it, that adults still arguing about their life choices with their parents aren’t ready to stand on their own — and are, therefore, unable to stand up for you.