Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Her Parents Disapprove

Should she or shouldn’t she? Should she go away for a weekend with her boyfriend of five years or should she call it off because her parents strongly disapprove?

It seems like an easy question, because she is a 19 year old college student. Thus, she is sufficiently adult to make an independent decision. And yet, by the terms of the letter she sent to Carolyn Hax, we do not know why her parents disapprove. Do they disapprove of the young man for reasons they do not want to share? Do they see something wrong in him that other people are willing to overlook? Are they very orthodox Jews who disapprove of premarital sexual relationships? In short, we do not know why the parents have taken a hard line, but they have.

Surely, it sounds quaint. But, we also do not know who is paying for the trip. And we do not know anything about the young man, his family background, his future prospects, etc.

For your edification, here’s the letter:

My boyfriend and I are both 19, and we'll be having our five-year anniversary this summer. We've dated long-distance the entire time. To celebrate this milestone, we are going on an overnight trip.

My parents strongly disapprove of this. I told them about the trip immediately after I booked it and have been honest throughout the process, but this seems to cross a line for them. They've always been very protective of me and my sisters, but I don't know why this in particular is so hard, because I've traveled on my own internationally and my boyfriend stayed with me for a weekend at college.

I feel my boyfriend and I have proved ourselves to be in a mature and healthy relationship, but my parents still don't like that I'm dating someone on principle.

Recently, my mother told me that if we go on this trip, we will be jeopardizing my boyfriend's relationship with her and my dad for the long term. Every adult I trust besides my parents (rabbi, therapist) has told me it's okay for us to take this trip, and I don't like that my mom threatened my boyfriend, but at the same time I love my parents and I don't want to make things difficult — life is tough as it is. Should I go on this trip, or keep the peace?

— Trouble With Travel

As for Hax, she takes the side that most everyone else will take, though with a bit of nuance:

And I think 19 is a good age to take on a tough, adult decision, one between two things that each will cost you something you value. The only thing you can do is figure out your values and priorities, rest your decision on them, and accept the consequences.

Whatever you decide, it’s generally good policy not to cave to emotional threats.

The letter writer is a dependent child. We consider her an adult at age 19, but she is not independent of parental influence. Surely, she is on the parental dole. I suspect that she is not self-sufficient. And I suspect that her boyfriend is not supporting her.

Hax wants her to be independent and autonomous, and thus, not to cave to emotional threats. And yet, we do not know enough about why the parents are so upset about this trip. I would suggest that her parents, being adults, have better judgment than the average 19 year old.

If we assume that they have a reason, it would seem better for her not to court their disapproval and not to undermine their relationship with her boyfriend… irrevocably. Besides, if she has told her boyfriend what her parents think, shouldn’t he do the gentlemanly thing and call off the trip? If he does not do so, what does it say about him? Does it suggest that he wants to detach her from her family in order to exercise more control over her?

My view: she should call off the trip. By the laws of filial piety, which laws everyone now seems to ignore, she has too much to lose and very little to gain by taking the trip.

What will happen if she eventually wants to marry this young man and her parents say No? It’s true that she can do what she pleases, but we do not know how important her family and community are to her emotional well being. Sacrificing your family and community for love has rarely been a winning wager.


art.the.nerd said...

> Are [the parents] very orthodox Jews who disapprove of premarital sexual relationships?

> Every adult I trust besides my parents (rabbi, therapist) has told me it's okay for us to take this trip

This is not an Orthodox rabbi.

Sam L. said...

If she's 19, I presume she's still in college with three years to go. I'm guessing her parents are paying for it. I wonder where and how she met her boyfriend, and where he lives and how far away that is from her college and her parents. Has he ever met her parents?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Fair point, Art. If it's not an Orthodox rabbi, I suspect that the parents have other reasons for disapproving of her boyfriend... but that they cannot mention them.