After I graduated college, I went to serve in the Peace Corps. In one of the villages I lived in, I met the most wonderful guy ever. He is truly a gift from above and just the most kind, remarkable person. I could go on and on, but our relationship isn’t really the point. The point is, he isn’t white and my parents are racist. Self-proclaimed, use the n-word unapologetically, that kind of thing.
I’ve told my parents about him, and they’ve said the most cruel things to me—one thing that sticks out is that my peers would make fun of me and lose respect for me because of him. They tell me things like they regret letting me go to college at such a young age (I graduated when I was 18), and they regret letting me do the Peace Corps. When I tried to talk to my siblings about my issues, they would just relay the info back to my parents and the cycle would go all over again. I eventually told my family we broke up, so they’d leave me alone.
We haven’t broken up, however. I actually just filed paperwork for a fiancé visa, so he can immigrate here and we can get married. That’s how serious we are. Now, my parents are moving across the country, I’m in law school, and my siblings are off doing their own thing, but I don’t know how to tell them about this. I don’t want to, actually, until he’s here and we’re married, so they can just shut up. I feel so guilty for lying to them about my relationship, but I also felt so terrible when I told them the truth, and they responded so cruelly. And, like, I’m not going to break up with the love of my life and destroy all of the plans we’ve made for our lives just because my parents are racist, you know?
I just don’t really know what to do, I guess.
Oh, but I do! Because Sparkler, if you’re truly serious about this, then here are the boxes you need to check ASAP:
1. Tell your family that you plan to get married.
Not because you need their permission—you don’t!—but because anyone who’s grown up enough to be legally and permanently committing to another person should be prepared to admit as much and deal with whatever comes next (and by that same token, should definitely not be pretending the love of their live doesn’t exist just to get Mom and Dad off their back). So sit your parents down, and tell the truth: “I love this guy, and I intend to spend my life with him. I hope you can find a way to be happy for me, or if not, to at least be respectful.” This isn’t about your parents’ reaction; it’s about starting your marriage off bravely and honestly, and not with a big, stupid lie. And on that note…
2. Tell your fiancé the whole truth about your toxic family situation.
And, uh, about that—have you told him any of it? Not just that your family are racists who think this relationship will socially ruin you, but also that you’re so conflict-averse that you chose to fake a breakup rather than handle the situation like a grownup? Because he needs to know that! Particularly, he needs to know it before he moves continents to be with you. Not just because he deserves to understand the full extent of the mess he’ll be walking into, but also so that you can work together, as a couple, to decide how you intend to handle that mess moving forward. Which brings me to our third and final checklist item:
3. Decide on a plan, with your fiancé’s input, for dealing with your family.
Obviously, this will depend in part on your parents’ reaction when you tell them that you intend to get married (and this is the part where we all cross our fingers and pray that they find a way to stop being awful). If they’re willing to make an effort, then great. But if not, then it’s going to be on you to step up and shield your guy from your parents’ racism, which means that your present policy of wimpy conflict-dodging ends now.
You’ll be responsible for setting and enforcing boundaries with your family, and you’ll have to make some tough decisions about where to draw that line. Will you attend events as a couple, with advance plans to pack up and leave immediately at the first sign of ugliness? If they can’t be respectful to your partner, do you intend to visit them by yourself, or initiate an estrangement? Are you prepared to make a decision between fiancé and family, if it comes to that, and give up any hope of earning your parents’ approval? Have you considered how you’ll handle this in the event that you have children? And remember, this isn’t just about you: what does your fiancé think of the prospect of marrying into a family where his presence will be a continuous source of conflict? How does he feel? What does he want?
These are the things you need to reckon with, honestly and immediately, because while they aren’t fun things to deal with, they’re vitally important. Right now, even as you consider taking the very grownup step of getting married, you’re still thinking about and engaging with your folks like a rebellious teenager—and that won’t do. Negotiating this conflict with maturity and confidence is your first step over the threshold into adulthood, and that’s a step you have to take before you can share that adult life with another person. So before you get swept up in the excitement of happily-ever-after with the love of your life, make sure you’re laying the right foundation, and preparing yourself for all the responsibility and challenges that lie ahead.
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