Just read an interesting piece from Mirty. It touches on an issue I've been thinking about for some time. Should I "come out" and tell my family about how I've changed regarding my religious beliefs and level of observance? As it stands now, my family is well aware that I've changed quite a bit. If I had to speculate how they view me, I'd say that they think I'm still religious, still technically observant, but with very little sincere commitment, and probably relying on every possible leniency I can find. Kind of how they think most Modern-Orthodox people relate to Judaism. They might suspect that there's a lot more going on than just that but they prefer to maintain a "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy and stay in the dark on exactly how frum I may or may not be.
My hesitation in opening up to them is not because I'm afraid that they're going to be angry or upset at me. They probably will be to some extent, but that doesn't really bother me very much. My concern stems more from the fact that I'm pretty sure that they will feel it necessary to take some unilateral action against me. For example, cutting off contact to some degree. Or not allowing me to spend time with my nieces and nephews. Maybe I won't be allowed to stay with them when I come to visit. I have an aunt who stopped being religious and she was pretty much cut off from the rest of the family (even some of her own siblings stopped maintaining contact). While I can't be sure exactly how they'd react, what I expect would happen is that upon hearing the news, they would immediately seek out a Rav and ask a shaila about what to do, how to relate to me, etc. Judging from the increasingly extreme halachic positions that my family has been adopting the past few years, I can't rule out any possibilities, no matter how far-fetched they may seem.
Anyway, last week on Pesach, my mother was walking to the bus stop with me, and she mentioned that she had spoken to a distant aunt who told her that a certain cousin is no longer religious, and how his father was taking that development quite hard. Then she asked me,
"Why would someone become non-religious?"
Wow. How should I answer that?, I wondered. Should I use this opportunity to tell her my own feelings about why I was becoming less and less religious? No, I definitely couldn't do that. Although she might have been using that question to gauge my own feelings on the issue, I very seriously doubted she was prepared to hear me explain all the reasons why I was heading down the path I was. My mother is not able to handle arguments that go against dearly held beliefs very well. Well aware that she doesn't have the capability to effectively counter convincing intellectual arguments, she tends to just hunker down defensively, occasionally making a feeble attempt to fend off the assault on her beliefs, all the while trying desperately to block out the unpleasant implications these ideas are causing her to face. So I just gave her a vague answer, telling her that there are lots of different motives, depending on the person, and everyone has their own reasons.
But not wanting to drop the ball on this entirely, in case she really did want to face the cold hard facts of the direction her son's life was headed, I posed a question of my own.
"Do you think you know me?" I gently probed.
When she replied that she was pretty sure that she didn't, I told her that if she ever wanted to ask me anything about my life, about who I am, about how I feel about things, I was willing and ready to discuss it with her. I had only one condition: that it be asked out of a sincere desire to understand me and not as an attack demanding an explanation.
She thought about that for a few moments, and replied, "Well, I'm not sure I'd want to do that."
I was so not surprised. Let's stick with "Don't ask. Don't tell."
So I'm pretty sure how my family feels (well, at least my parents, but I think they're a fair representation of the rest of the bunch) about getting to know me better. This might work fine for them, but unfortunately, it doesn't work at all for me. I don't find such a relationship satisfying. I need depth in my relationships. Substance. Realness. Not superficial shallowness where we pretend to not see what's going on, and avoid all issues of any import whatsoever. I can't stand spending time with my relatives and not being able to express how I really feel about things. I hate having to hide from my family about who I really am. Just thinking about it makes me feel constricted and stifled. I want to stop pretending. Stop having to muzzle myself. Stop keeping all my views, thoughts, experiences, ideas, feelings, and my whole life bottled up inside of me when I'm around my family (or at the most, open up a tiny bit and be super careful not to step somewhere that I might break some eggshells). But I can't. I have to remain quiet. Because if I do open up and come out of the closet I risk losing any relationship I have with them at all.
So what should I do? Take the risk of being cut off and ostracized from my family, but possibly gaining a more fulfilling and meaningful relationship? Or play it safe and keep my mouth shut, ensuring that there will still be some sort of connection with them all, albeit not one of any great depth or significance?