Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I am concerned about my 27-year-old son. The only serious courtship he had was in college. Since then, he has succeeded professionally and personally. He has his "dream job" and owns his own property. The only thing lacking is a stable relationship. My daughter has had many discussions with him about being more mature with his dating habits, but he continues to have "a good time." My daughter and I scratch our heads at how many young women date him.
Just last week we were at the dentist who thought he had an "amazing" smile and was "so good looking." She said, "You must have a girlfriend." "Many!" he replied. This answer alarms me. He's not promiscuous, but he is in contact with a very long list of women. Could you please explain to me how to get this young man to be more "selective"? Does he need to go out with "many" young women?
Yesterday I took him for a routine check-up and our physician noted that he's gained a considerable amount of weight. The physician made it quite clear to him that his weekend partying was not a healthy thing to be doing.
I know you often hear from people who have difficulty meeting just "one" person, so this situation might seem like it's something to rejoice about. Instead, I'm extremely worried about him. Any ideas for how to move this young man toward marriage? Many of his friends are beginning to settle down and marry, and he's still behaving like he just joined a frat. Thanks for your help.
You can't imagine how much we appreciate receiving a letter from a mother who is concerned that her adult children find the right people to marry. Many parents don't realize that they can play a valuable role in helping their children find marriage partners, even when they are doing so from the sidelines. You seem to have found a way that works for you and your children -- encouraging them that marriage is an important goal in life, and offering helpful insight, such as encouraging your marriage-minded daughter to only date a man who is also interested in getting married. At the same time, you give your children the space and independence they need to make their own decisions about their relationships. It sounds as though you've achieved a balance that works well for your family.
We can identify with your concern that your 27-year-old son doesn't have any inclination to "settle down." It seems to you that at this age, he should be thinking about finding one woman to share his life with, settling down, and starting a family. But he hasn't even begun to think about entering this stage of life. Instead, he's having fun with a succession of adoring dating partners, and focusing exclusively on himself -- developing his career, accumulating assets, and having a good time.
Young adults tend to settle down much later than they did a generation or two ago. They're emerging from graduate school, or from a period of exploring their options, and only now beginning the first steps toward becoming "what they want to be when they grow up." It may take him a few more years to decide that he's ready to think of sharing his life with one person, becoming more giving of himself, and building a family.
But we share your concern that this might not happen. Why? For a few reasons. One is that some segments of our culture continually reinforce that frat boy image. While many people believe that the mid- to late-20s is a time to wind down one's diverse social life and think of becoming committed to one other person and building a family, many others push these thoughts off until their 30s, and still others don't ever feel it's something they need to do. Since there are no clear societal messages as to when or if "settling down" should occur, each person develops his own timetable.
The other reasons for our concern are tied to the fact that many people think about settling down after they have been on their own for a number of years. Delaying marriage for 5, 10, 15 or 20 years of adulthood creates a whole set of challenges. We've observed that the longer someone stays single, the more self-absorbed he or she becomes, simply because they have to take care of their own job, home, health, finances, family ties and social life. They rely only on themselves, and expend most of their emotional and physical energy on themselves. As a result, the harder it is to let someone into their life, engage in the give-and-take that a long-term relationship requires, and feel like a member of a partnership.
In addition, someone who has been accustomed to a succession of enjoyable, short-term relationships may have difficulty changing the nature of the way they date once they start dating for marriage. They'll have to infuse more purpose into the structure of their dates by developing good communication skills, so that they can discuss deep topics and learn about each other's view of such things as life, family, their direction in life, their future, how they want to relate to their spouse, how to deal with challenges or frustration, and what religious and moral qualities they value. They need to be able to anticipate that the joy of building a history with a partner, and sharing a life with someone they care about and trust, is more intense and enduring than the rush of feelings that accompanies each new but ultimately transitory relationship.
So what can you do, as a mother, to encourage your son to orient himself toward marriage and to help him acquire the tools he can use to develop an enduring relationship, and at the same time not overstepping the boundaries between parent and mature child? We suggest sitting down with him to tell him that you're proud of what he has accomplished in life, and to explain that you look forward to the time that he decides to settle down with one woman and build a home. Ask him if he's given some thought to when he would like to do this.
You may learn that your son has a timetable and plans to begin dating for marriage within the next few years. Ask him what he feels he needs to accomplish before he starts to do this. We've worked with a number of men and women who found it very helpful to list what they wanted to do before they married, and then give themselves a timeframe for accomplishing these goals. It helped them stay focused and kept them from continually putting off serious dating because they hadn't yet finished crossing everything off their list. See if your son is amenable to this idea. And if your son tells you that he would like to get married in the future but never gave much thought about when that would be, encourage him to do this exercise, too.
It's also a good idea to suggest incorporating a community service activity into his life. We find that individuals who take time from their busy lives to give to others become more sensitive, responsible to others, and generous of spirit -- all qualities that will help enhance the quality of his future marriage.
What if your son doesn't express any interest in marriage? You're not going to be able to persuade him to change his outlook by lecturing about how it is an ultimately richer and more satisfying life experience than dating. You can, however, plant seeds that might help him change his perspective at some time in the future.
One last thought: Does your son live at home or on his own? That may make a big difference in how he sees himself. He may still be playing the role of son rather than independent adult. For example, if he lives at home and you do his laundry and his errands, cook his meals, pay his bills, and don't expect him to have his own responsibilities, how can he see himself as anything more than an immature adult?
In addition, a 27-year-old man should be taking responsibility for his own medical care -- making his own appointments, driving himself to the doctor or dentist, paying his own doctor's bill. If you see yourself taking charge of this and other areas of his life, we suggest that you wean him away from his dependence on you. As he starts doing more for himself, he'll start to see himself as a more mature, independent adult and that will have an impact on his attitude toward dating.
We hope that our suggestions are helpful, and we wish you success in navigating the dating maze,
Rosie & Sherry