Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“It’s Been Three Years and My Boyfriend Hasn’t Told His Muslim Family About Me Yet”

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I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years, and our relationship is so easy and fun. He’s my best friend. Most importantly, we agree on all the big things and plan on getting married, but I’m not in a rush. We’re in our late twenties and are looking to move in together at the end of the year.

The issue is that his parents don’t know about me. My boyfriend wants to tell his parents, but he’s scared they won’t accept me and us as a couple. His family is Muslim and traditional, and they don’t know he doesn’t follow Islam strictly anymore. Telling them he’s seriously dating a white, non-Muslim woman isn’t exactly an easy topic for him to bring up. He wants to tell them, and knows it’s time, but I don’t know how to best support him in that and what he should say to his parents. He’s grown a lot in having his own beliefs and values, but it’s almost like he has a separate life when it comes to his family. I’m not ready to meet them and they live far away. I suggested easing into it, but I think he would rather spill it and rip the band-aid off. He’s scared they may never speak to him again, but the problem isn’t going to go away. Most of his boundaries with them involve appeasing them. How much should he say? What would you advise in this situation? — Not Muslim

You’re asking two questions here: what you should do in this situation and what your boyfriend should do. I’ll start with you, since you’re the LW. You should not move in with your boyfriend — not now, not at the end of the year, not next year or the year after — until or unless he has told his parents about you and he has reached some sort of resolution on the topic. That doesn’t mean they’re going to accept you or that he’s going to be happy or satisfied with their response. But it does mean that he won’t be hiding you, keeping you a secret, and worrying about when and how he’s going to break the news to them and how they’re going to react when they find out. These are huge burdens weighing on him and your relationship, and you don’t want to — and, really can’t — move forward with this weight holding you back. So my advice to you is to hold off on moving in with him and to encourage him to be open with his parents about his lifestyle and about you.

I would advise your boyfriend to first tell his parents that he does not strictly follow Islam anymore. Leading with you instead will unfairly point the blame for his rejection of Islam — which is probably how they’ll see it, as well as a rejection of them — on your relationship with him, rather than a decision he gradually came to before he met you. He should explain to them when he started feeling a disconnect from his religion, and what — if any — aspects of the religion or culture he still holds onto. Once he lets that news sink in, he should tell them that he’s in love with a woman who is his best friend and whom he hopes to marry eventually. He should share what he loves about you and how happy you make him. And then he should tell them that you are not Muslim.

This will be hard for him. You can support him by reminding him how much you love him, and how you want to spend you life with him, and how proud of him you are for being honest with his family despite his fears of losing them and being rejected by them. And they may reject him. They may be completely shocked by his admission. Or, they have have seen this coming and have been emotionally preparing for such news. You can’t know for sure. They may never accept you… or they may surprise you both and accept you right away. Or, it may take a long time but they might ultimately come around to accepting you in their lives. You and your boyfriend need to emotionally prepare for any of these scenarios and discuss how you’ll move forward together as a couple if your boyfriend is cut out from his family’s life.

Even with all the unknowns in this situation, there is one clear certainty: until all of this is out in the open, you and your boyfriend are stuck in a sort of limbo. To be a secret to his family for three years means there’s a part of your boyfriend — even a tiny part — that hasn’t completely opened himself to you. Once he opens up to his family, he’ll be able to totally open to you as well.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

23 comments… add one
  • avatar

    PumpkinSpice April 4, 2016, 8:46 am

    What kind and compassionate advice Wendy! ? when I read this letter, I honestly couldn’t think of a response. Religion in and out of relationships are a hard topic, and I think you hit the nail on the head!

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  • avatar

    keyblade April 4, 2016, 9:11 am

    I think this is great advice. If the family is dysfunctional and abusive I could understand the band aid approach. But if that were the case your boyfriend would still have to do individual work around those issues and get some personal closure with the way things stood with his family before I would enter the next life phase. Kudos to Wendy.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros April 4, 2016, 9:47 am

    Good advice. I think on a practical level, you’ll also have to consider what your plan is if he hasn’t told them within a certain period of time. What if a year passes and he hasn’t? Two year? Three years? There’s no right or wrong answer, but I think it’s something to be mindful of so that you’re prepared in case you get to that point.

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    • avatar

      RedRoverRedRover April 4, 2016, 1:07 pm

      Agree with this. My sister dated a Muslim guy for about the same amount of time. He ended up never telling his parents, and she finally realized it wasn’t going anywhere and left. He eventually married a Muslim woman. So, yeah. Don’t move further along in your plans until he tells his parents, and think about how much longer you’re willing to wait.

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  • avatar

    Juliet April 4, 2016, 10:04 am

    LW, I hope you and your boyfriend will remember that part of growing up and becoming oneself is separating from our family of origin and defining ourselves on our own terms. Sometimes that means that we develop a core set of values that don’t align exactly with what we grew up with. Some families have a very difficult time accepting it, especially if there is some element of “this new choice or value is better than yours.” Some people have a difficult time achieving their new personal self if they feel guilt for not living up to the unreasonable expectations set by their family.

    My guess is that your BF will retain most of the core values he learned from his folks even as he has decided not to continue to follow all of the rules of Islam. I suggest consciously looking at those values and focusing on them (reminding the parents directly if necessary) when going forward with a ton of kindness and self-respect.

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  • avatar

    Essie April 4, 2016, 10:33 am

    I’m sorry, this is difficult for both of you, and I honestly don’t know what I’d do in your situation. I would be very hesitant to push someone into a “outing” that may well cause him to be estranged from his family.

    I tend to default to practicality in tough emotional situations, so I’d be thinking things like this:

    1. When you move in together, will he tell his parents that he has a new address? How will he handle things when they want to come visit? Will he come up with some excuse as to why they can’t come over? How long can he keep that up? They’re going to know something’s up when the “bathrooms are being remodeled” for two years. Or, will he insist that you leave while they’re there, and hide any evidence that you live there? Since they live far away, it many never come up, but still?

    2. You’re thinking marriage. Will he be keeping that a secret from his parents, too? And any relatives/friends of the family? How about any kids that you have? Will they never meet their grandparents? How will you explain that to the kids?

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    • avatar

      Essie April 4, 2016, 10:35 am

      Hm, and that got me thinking about relatives and friends of the family. His parents may be far away, but does he have no one else here who talks to his parents? Aunts, uncles, cousins, old family friends. How long can he keep you hidden from those people, especially once you’re living together?

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  • Cassie

    Cassie April 4, 2016, 12:21 pm

    LW, one thing to note is that according to the tenets of Islam, it’s okay for your boyfriend to date and marry a women who is not Muslim. Of course every family is different in practice and so they might have personal wishes that his gf/spouse be a Muslim woman. But, if he’s nervous about how to start introducing you, he can at least have that to stand on if they voice concerns.

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  • avatar

    saneinca April 4, 2016, 12:47 pm

    Great deconstruction of the issue/question and excellent advice, Wendy!

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  • Dear Wendy

    Dear Wendy April 4, 2016, 2:08 pm

    From the LW:

    “Wow, thanks for the advice! Him telling his parents is definitely a condition of us moving in together. I didn’t think of it, but I think it will be really helpful if my boyfriend does begin with that he’s not a strict Muslim anymore. I don’t know if he will, as he has said his parents will stop talking to him if he drank alcohol (which he does). He’s still a believer in the spiritual sense, as am I with my religion, but he grew up in the Middle East before moving to the U.S., and his parents are very strict and traditional, as they haven’t fully embraced American culture. I still have lots to think about and discuss, but I think I have a better handle on this, and how best to support him; he plans on talking to his parents this week. Crossing my fingers that this won’t be as bad as we expect, and that we can have a deeper relationship as a result. Thanks again!”

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    • Addie Pray

      Addie Pray April 4, 2016, 2:33 pm

      This reminds me of “Meet the Patels.” Anyone seen this cute documentary? It’s about an Indian guy (born and raised in the USA, to parents from India) who was scared to tell his parents about his white American girlfriend. So he broke up with her and agreed to let find him a way through modern arranged-marriage dating (that’s more prevalent than I thought!). Without spoiling the doc, it has a happy ending.

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray April 4, 2016, 2:34 pm

        * agreed to let THEM find him a WIFE

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      • Portia

        Portia April 4, 2016, 2:55 pm

        Yes! I watched it after a friend (who’s Indian) recommended it, since the process of modern arranged marriage in the doc seemed pretty accurate to her. I had already liked the actor from Aziz Anzari’s show and I really enjoyed the documentary.

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      • avatar

        jlyfsh April 4, 2016, 3:01 pm

        And it’s on Netflix. Now I know what I’m going to do tonight!

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      • MaterialsGirl

        MaterialsGirl April 4, 2016, 3:29 pm

        Its such a good watch! So cute

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray April 4, 2016, 3:56 pm

        So cute! But * * * SPOILER ALERT * * *: I read since the documentary he and Audrey broke up and now he’s engaged to marry some super duper hawt Indian woman. I feel bad for Audrey. Fame kicks in and BAM, out with the normal girl and in with the super model. Maybe his issues ran deeper than just fear of disappointing his parents.

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      • MaterialsGirl

        MaterialsGirl April 4, 2016, 3:58 pm

        I did read up on that, but it sounded like they broke up and are still friends. It was more relationship stuff than the parents thing. Plus, I stalked her on instagram and she has a daughter and husband so I think she’s doing alright

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray April 4, 2016, 4:00 pm

        Shit balls, all that happened since filming the documentary?

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray April 4, 2016, 4:01 pm

        My deep take away: life happens fast.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark April 4, 2016, 3:31 pm

    I wouldn’t expect much from this relationship. As somebody who dated a closeted Muslim, I wouldn’t hold his breath on this one. As time when on — my Matt got even MORE conservative and is now married to some unsuspecting Muslim woman who has no idea about his late night salacious texts to me…

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    • juliecatharine

      juliecatharine April 4, 2016, 3:47 pm

      This was my take as well. While I think we can all empathize with the LW and her boyfriend’s predicament it really doesn’t bode well for them that he has kept her a secret for three years. That speaks to his parents exercising a level of control over him that won’t be going away over night and that will likely manifest itself in lots and lots of ways. Cautionary tale: my parent’s tenant lived with her boyfriend for two years. He went to visit family in India for three weeks and came back MARRIED. This stuff happens, believe it. LW, I would really hesitate to invest more of your prime years into this man.

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  • avatar

    Brise April 4, 2016, 4:22 pm

    This is a very good advice. Don’t project too much in this relationship, until he makes this move to speak to his family and to stand up for you, as for himself, for his own personal evolution. Three years, in your late twenties, is already quite late to inform his family of your existence. The “easy and fun” side of the relationship might change for something more difficult, for both of you.
    By the way, to break the new is only the beginning. Then there will be probably pressures by his family. How about yours? It requires a lot of energy, conviction, personal strength, to go through this. Do you want it? I guess so, and I understand you, I understand love. But it may be more difficult than you expect. Protect your feelings and think how far you are ready to go. In my experience, and in a friend’s experience, it didn’t end well.

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  • avatar

    Anon April 4, 2016, 8:38 pm

    I’m sorry to say that someone who has been hiding a serious relationship from his parents for three years isn’t ready for a serious relationship. That level of fear and kowtowing to his parents is not adult behavior, and does not bode well for this relationship. He needs to find his own ground and become his own person before he’s ready to make a commitment to someone else.

    Posters who say that this sort of hiding often ends in the fearful person breaking up with the not-the-right-ethnic-group partner and marrying someone the parents approve of are right to be worried about that happening here. That outcome is very, very common. It’s likely he’s right to be afraid of his parents’ reaction and likely he won’t be able to stand up to the pressure enough to have a healthy relationship with the LW if he’s been this much afraid of them for this long. Maybe he’s stronger than that, but ending the relationship with the LW in favor of someone his parents approve of is a high probability outcome.

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