This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Dea Bala started meeting people via a Craigslist ad in 2014 and has been documenting their lives ever since. By listening to their stories — anonymously and for free — she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. In sharing them with you, she wants to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. To share your story with Helena, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read prior Confessions here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
“A year into this constant brainwashing, she broke up with me.”
I didn’t see the breakup coming. We’d been together for four years. Two years into the relationship, we started living together. Most couples will tell you that it takes some adjustment, but it wasn’t like that for us. We were immediately happy, immediately compatible. We talked about marriage, kids, and the future. This last year, we’d started looking around for engagement rings. I had been saving for over a year — I put a little bit aside from each paycheck and have well over $10,000. The plan was to ask her before we rang in the new year.
Part of what came between us was, I think, her parents. They’re deeply religious people and care very much about their culture and customs. My family isn’t religious and we’re as American as it gets — we don’t have to worry about safeguarding our culture because our culture is everywhere we look. When her parents found out that we were dating, it was because her mother had looked through my ex’s phone. My ex hadn’t told them anything about us, probably because she knew that her parents would have objections. So during her snooping, her mother found texts between us going back years, and the haranguing and strong-arming began.
Initially, I think it made my ex even more determined for us to be together. She was ultra sensitive to how her parents’ objections would make me feel and we often spoke about “us” and the future. Whenever something happened, she always took my side. I think that’s really important in situations where parents are pitted against significant others: which side the son or daughter takes. But she made me feel that we were safe and that I was her priority. She was always really honest about her parents and what they said about me — and it hurt my feelings, of course, but I’d rather know.
Then, her cousin divorced her husband. Theirs was a situation similar to ours — different cultures, different socioeconomic backgrounds. The husband (“the American,” as her family calls him) cheated on the cousin with a woman who also happens to be American. And that’s when the “them” and “us” language started — the division between cultures and languages that seemed as much imposed by them as by the American culture that they feared and (I think, at the same time) tried to assimilate into.
Over the next year, I often heard her mother on the phone telling her that the same would happen to her if she married me, that I would eventually find someone else who was more like me. Because “birds of a feather” and all that. She’d say things like, “the rich only marry the rich,” to convince her daughter that she wasn’t good enough for me because her family didn’t have money. It was so insidious. Her mother told her, too, that my parents probably didn’t approve of her. And that’s absolutely untrue — my parents loved her.
A year into this constant brainwashing, she broke up with me. I can’t say it was out of the blue. She’d started objecting less and less to her parents injecting themselves in her life. She confessed, one time, that she went on a date with some guy they’d tried to set her up with. Whenever I overheard her mother saying something hurtful or untrue about me and confronted my ex about it, her defense of me was weaker, less vociferous. And then, one night, bam. Done.
“I can’t keep feeling that I have to choose between you and my family.”
The thing is, I thought that we were strong enough to weather it. I thought that, because I loved and respected their daughter — because I treated her well and made her happy — that I would win them over. That they would “come around.” But if anything, as she wore down, they got more and more audacious. Ultimately, her family’s fear of me was stronger than our love for one another.