Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: A couple of months ago, my boyfriend moved into my apartment for a number of reasons, and, financially, it is so much better. We have been dating for three years now.
My parents are very strict Christians, and I was dreading telling them about it. Our pastor found out and went behind my back and told them. This, of course, only made matters worse, as they did not hear it from me.
They are now upset with me and have told me I have three options: I can have him move out, I can continue "living in sin" and be put under church discipline, or I can continue living with him and leave the church.
I don't want to leave the church, as I have grown up there, but this isn't the first time the pastor has disrespected me as an adult, and I have thought about leaving the church in the past. I also know that continuing to live with my boyfriend will hurt my parents, and I don't want them to have such a negative view of him. We plan on getting married, and I want my parents to like him and support us.
However, I do not plan on having him move out. Is there anything I can do or say to make this situation better? Does my boyfriend need to speak with them? Do I leave the church ojr attempt to make it work?
Answer: The best thing you can do is figure out what you actually want.
Wanting to have your cake and eat it, too, and not have to pay for it is not the same thing as knowing what you want. Wanting it all is a child's set of priorities.
If you are going to make the choices of an adult, like living with a partner, you also have to accept the consequences. If you want to live with your boyfriend outside the bounds of marriage, you have to accept that your parents and pastor will reject your choice. If you want to please your parents and stay in your church, you have to accept this means no shacking up. If you want to make decisions on your living arrangements based on financial advantage, you have to accept that believers in moral and spiritual foundations will not be impressed by your choice.
Right now, you don't sound as though you really know who you are. You're just a collection of things you wish would happen or people you wish you could please - and so your actions aren't coherent or aligned with any unifying principle.
Start to identify and own who you are by determining your priorities: your finances? living arrangements? church tenets? church familiarity? parental approval? control of your own life? List them, for real, on paper, and number them. Then revisit your decisions through the lens of those priorities.
You can't make people like what you do. You can only make thoughtful decisions, live them with conviction, hope the people you love (eventually) respect you for who you are - and carry on without that if you must.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.