DEAR CAROLYN: I just finished high school and am going off to college this fall, and my father just retired from a long career in the Marines. I recently got a boyfriend, and we have become very serious (marriage has come up).
He and his mom had a falling out, and his father was abusive and is out of the picture. He has been staying with his sister, but they are now not getting along. I am working on it, but not getting very far.
My parents also don’t completely approve of him. He always has me pick him up at a general location, and my parents find it to be “extremely bothersome” that he doesn’t have us pick him up at his house. They also don’t like us kissing in front of them.
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I am close to my parents, but also truly love this young man with all my heart. I don’t know what to do.
– Pulled in Two Directions
DEAR PULLED IN TWO DIRECTIONS: Stop sucking face in front of your parents, then go to college.
That’s it, really, but I’ll explain anyway.
– Public smooching: It makes bystanders wish they were elsewhere. The better the bystanders know the smoochers, the more self-conscious they get, even when they are happy for you, which apparently your parents aren’t.
– Parental disapproval: They may be wrong about your boyfriend, and the “general location” could have an innocent explanation, but there’s also a grain of “hmmm” to a situation where people avoid showing you their home. It’s not grounds to jump to conclusions, but it’s grounds to seek a lot more information.
– Oh, the drama: My biggest concern. I get how good it can feel not only to be in new love, but also to feel needed and relevant to important things, like providing a sense of family to someone whose own family harmed him. Stepping in both to repair and compensate for his family brings attention, intrigue and a sense of purpose.
But someone who comes from abuse and is talking marriage early in a relationship is red-flag material. He might be lovely and both of you just young and impulsive, but don’t assume that. Be skeptical, patient, sure. “The Gift of Fear,” by Gavin de Becker, is your homework.
Meanwhile, heroism is often some seriously boring stuff. It’s not about getting sucked into someone’s family soap opera, for example, or eloping to give an abuse victim the only love he’s known, but instead staying gently and firmly out of it while he works things out. It’s not in going 10 rounds with parents who don’t understand you, but instead in listening to them, especially to stuff you don’t want to hear. It’s in weighing their concerns honestly, choosing what makes sense to you, and accepting the consequences of that choice.
Heroism often is not in rescuing or crusading or executing grand gestures, but in remaining a consistent force of decency and integrity through waves of emotional temptation.
That’s hard to do at any age, but particularly so amid the new freedoms of young adulthood. And that’s why your greatest ally is your long-term plan: College provides a clear, productive path as you get to know yourself a whole lot better — and knowing your own direction is the best way not to get pulled in anyone else’s.