I love my boyfriend very much although his parents will never approve of me because I belong to a different religion. Because of this, he has not yet told his parents and has not allowed me to tell mine. He loves intimacy, although I will only be comfortable with it after getting my parents’ approval (that’s how my culture is and I’m still a virgin at 25). Other than these reasons, he definitely is a perfect boyfriend who is caring, loving, and most importantly, extremely supportive of my studies, career and future. What is your advice to me?
Should I or shouldn’t I?
Dear Should I or Shouldn’t I:
I’m not going to lie, there’s some language in your note that has my hackles up about both your man and the situation:
- He is not “allowing” you to tell your parents because he doesn’t want to tell his.
- He “loves intimacy” and, I’m assuming, is putting some pressure on you there.
- You believe that, despite these things, he’s a “perfect boyfriend” because he is loving and caring and supportive of your studies, career and future.
Now, this could just be how you’re framing things, although words have power and perception is reality. So, going on all of that—and not specifically knowing what you want from the relationship—I’m going to make some assumptions for the sake of this column. I’m going to assume that you WANT to tell your parents and that you WANT to have intimacy with this man (contingent upon their approval of your being together), and that you WANT to have a long-term relationship with this man potentially leading to commitment in the traditional sense (a.k.a. marriage). Please forgive me if I’m off base on any of these items, but this is what I get from your note and your question.
With that said, and frankly, even if you wanted something different, I’m concerned. There are some important red flags in your situation. Let’s look at each of the points I highlight above separately.
He’s not allowing you to tell your parents.
So, I don’t know if you read the welcome letter on my website but in it, I tell the story of an old boyfriend (we were together for five years) who wasn’t so nice to me. One of the things he did was not “allow” me to talk to certain people—like friends and family members who had influence over me, under the guise of doing what was best for me and for our relationship.
The reality was he wanted to be the boss. To call the shots. To set the rules and have me conform to them. Other people were a threat. In fact, he once said to me, “I’ll make you think you have a say in what we do and in any decisions we make about our life together, but you won’t. Ultimately, I’ll decide.” (And yes, this actually happened. And yes, I stayed with him, silly, self-hating me. And yes, I wince every time I think about it.) In the end, all of this would make me so dependent on him, that there would be little to no risk of my leaving him.
I didn’t realize back then that this is how some people control. How abusers, and cults, and insecure people with deep, unaddressed wounds, do their bidding.
Back then, at least in the first few years of our relationship, I was this boyfriend’s perfect subject. I would do whatever he wanted just to keep him, even if that meant I had to alienate the people, interests, and ideas that meant anything to me. Until one day, when epiphany happened (as it does, if we’re awake) that forced me to wise up just in the nick of time—a month or so ahead of our wedding. And, in true fashion, this epiphany came from the most unexpected of places: One of HIS family members sat me down and told me he didn’t like the way the guy treated me. And that he couldn’t sit by and watch silently anymore. While he loved us both, he wanted better for me and knew that staying would ultimately lead me to a life of misery. He essentially told me I deserved better, even if I didn’t know it myself…back then.
I don’t know how, but I managed to find the courage and self-respect–hidden under layers of bone and essential organs–to call off the wedding and end things for good. To say it was hard is an understatement. But it was also a relief, because deep in my gut I knew (we all do, you do too): That relationship was not my destiny. That if I stayed, I’d always come second and that I’d spend my life trying to please someone else at my own expense.
You’ve heard the saying “short-term pain for long-term gain”? That about summed it up for me–and what it felt like to let go back then (and even still, now, about all sorts of things, that’s kind of how letting go goes). And I suspect it be the same for you. Fortunately for me I was able to salvage the relationships—especially the one I’d lost with myself—I had sacrificed for this man. But I don’t want you to have to get that far. I want you to be able to see things before they go too far off the rails.
My point is: Anybody who doesn’t “allow” you to talk freely to the people closest to you about anything related to YOUR life (which is different from keeping secrets about other people’s lives that don’t affect you), does not have your best interests at heart. Oh sure, it may seem like they do, as they may come across as being very caring. But don’t be fooled. I suspect your boyfriend doesn’t want you to talk to your parents about him because they’ll likely encourage you to walk away. That’s one of the greatest fears of people who feel the need to control – abandonment and disapproval. I know. I watch a lot of Lifetime Television and Dr. Phil. 🙂
But seriously, I’ve been there. More than once.
As a result of my experiences, I’ve acquired some general rules of thumb about dating that I recommend for you and anybody else who’s reading:
- People who truly love you will never try to silence you; to the contrary, they’ll both welcome and value your voice.
- Turning to your parents and other trustworthy sources for guidance is reasonable and healthy, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
- If your gut tells you something, that’s truth knocking at the door. Open it and listen.
- Unless you and your significant other have both HEARTILY agreed to keeping something secret in a way that makes you both comfortable, who you talk to and about what is your business.
- Nobody has the right to silence you about matters that affect you and your life. And if they try, consider it red flag #1, #2, #3, and #4. And maybe #1,000.
He loves intimacy.
This made me smile. I have yet to meet a man over the age of 17 who doesn’t love intimacy. I suspect there may be some who would rather go fishing or watch an alien movie or have a beer and a burger, but I haven’t encountered them. The men I’ve known all want it. All the time. Any way they can get it (excluding non-consensual). And some will do anything to get it… even lie either by omission or making promises they have no intention of keeping. I’m not saying they’re all bad – I love men. What I am saying is that their biological needs and impulses are powerful, and very different from ours. And we should always have our eyes open.
It sounds like your boyfriend may want intimacy without strings or having to make the promises or commitments that are important for you. With that said, what I love most about your note and YOU, Should I, is your obvious dedication to honoring both your body and your boundaries. Brava! This is Radical Self-Love (RSL) in action—a choice based on healthy beliefs about who you are, what you want and deserve—and I applaud you for it!! Keep doing more of this! RSL will keep you safe, and lead you to the right answers every single time.
Because here’s the thing: if you give in without honoring who you are and what you need from him (e.g., openness, honesty, respect, a willingness to do what’s uncomfortable like talking to HIS parents or changing his perspective, to embrace your values and morals and voice, to give something to you in the spirit of love and respect that may be difficult for him, commitment if that’s on your list, etc.), you’ll regret being intimate. There won’t be enough tears or showers or guilt or self-blame to reverse it. So continue to hold out until you are 1,000 percent sure whoever you ultimately decide to sleep with gives you what you need to feel loved, cherished, and safe.
You believe he’s a perfect boyfriend.
Ok-aaay, let’s go with that–even though it’s like saying: “…except for gagging and tying me up, and denying me metaphorical food and water, he’s GREAT…” (I refer you back to my rules above…) Perfect boyfriends don’t silence their partners. They don’t put pressure on them to be intimate until the partner has what they need to be ready. They recognize that relationships are a two-way street and both parties set the ground rules, not just one. They don’t ask their partners to keep secrets, especially from the people who are closest and most important to them. And they’re not just “supportive”, but they’re champions. They’re cheerleaders who help you reach for your biggest and best self (that includes physically, mentally, emotionally, religiously, etc.)—sometimes a bigger and best self than you can even imagine for yourself. And to help you get some perspective when things get tough.
For example, when I applied to be a TEDx speaker, I had approximately 24 hours to do it. A friend had sent me a link to the application just one day before it was due. And on that particular day, we were headed out of town to see friends so I wouldn’t even be able to look at the invitation until maybe midnight, when the day’s festivities were over. I remember looking at the application, which required a lot from me that I didn’t have already (e.g., a video, answers to some very creative and thought-provoking questions I knew would take me time to pull together, etc.). And then, I looked at my husband and said, “There’s no way I can make this happen.” I was near tears, I wanted it so badly.
He said, “Uh, yeah there is, and I’ll help you. By the way, what did you do with my wife who can do anything she puts her mind to?” Now that’s not only love – it’s my man putting the fire under my ass. He knew I really wanted it. And he was going to do everything in his power to motivate me to do it. He even stayed up with me to get it done! He had everything but pompoms and a short skirt (which, okay, would have been weird). Should I, that’s the guy you want. Believe me, I waited a long time for him and kissed a lot of frogs in the process. Don’t settle for less.
Again, I don’t know what you want from this relationship. But I would ask you: Are you getting YOUR needs met holistically? And yes, I realize nobody is perfect, but you know when you’re getting what you need and when you’re not. And I suspect if you were getting what you need, you probably wouldn’t have written to me.
How does the relationship as it stands feel in your body? Good? Stressful? Unsettled? Confusing? Are you constantly asking yourself what you should do? Wondering if you should say something to him or someone else? Tell your parents anyway? Do you fear the consequences? Or what you stand to lose? That he may be your last best shot at love? (Not true, by the way, not even close.) These are all warning signs that he’s a lot of things, but a perfect boyfriend is not one of them.
Should I, if you want to move forward with this man, you have to do it honestly and in a way that works for you both. If he’s not willing to talk to his parents about you, admit how you feel about that. And ask yourself whether you like where things are going. Using the words “although his parents will never approve of me” feels pretty definitive.
If want more from the relationship, you may need to find it with someone else. Which means letting go—and when it comes to whether or not to do it, I say, if all the above is not resolved, you should.
If that’s your choice, know it will be one the best you’ll ever make in the name of RSL. Trust your gut. When you don’t, you can’t lose.
Rooting for you!
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Jill Sherer Murray is an award-winning writer and speaker who studies relationships and self-growth. She is also the founder of Let Go For It®, a lifestyle brand dedicated to helping individuals let go for a better life. Jill’s TEDx talk as well as her advice column, Big Wild Love: Let Go For It® were created in service to her loyal and growing fan base, who seek support in the act and the art of letting go for the love they desire and deserve. Follow Jill @letgoforit on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.