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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