Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I've been dating a woman for quite some time. I really like her and we share the same values and are committed to building a Jewish home. We've spoken about marriage numerous times and would like to get married in the near future.
We're both in our mid-twenties, and both currently in graduate school. We live in different cities, but I have already told her I would move for her. We've worked out the practical details, including the fact that she plans to work for a year or two to support us while I finish school, me parents are giving me a hard time. We know it will be tough for us economically at first, but we're prepared to meet the challenge.
The problem is my parents. They don't approve of our plans because they want me to finish grad school and get started in life before I get married.
We don't want to continue to date for an extended period of time, because we are both ready for marriage and eager to begin a life together. I'm afraid I might lose her if I don't make the move.
I want my parents to support me on this, but they're not. Is there anything I can do to help win them over to my way of thinking?
We understand the pressure that a couple can feel when they are ready to move their relationship to the next level and start building a home together. When they're faced with an artificial barrier such as the time it takes to complete graduate studies, their relationship can suffer and eventually deteriorate. We think it is a mistake for two mature, stable people to let a relationship potentially stagnate because they are waiting to complete graduate school, get established in a career, or build financial security.
And there is additional pressure when the man and woman are committed to delaying physical intimacy until marriage. While this in itself isn't a good reason to set an early wedding date, it's an important consideration in a couple's decision about when to marry.
Without knowing you personally or understanding the relationship you have with your parents, we believe that you should feel confident about your decision to marry the woman you feel is right for you, without waiting until you are finished with your studies. You're both mature adults who believe you are right for each other and have given a lot of thought to how you will complete your graduate studies and manage financially. We can't think of any compelling reason why you can't accomplish this, as many other young couples have done the same.
Now let's try to see your parents' side of the picture. Many parents view marriage as a transition to total independence and firmly believe that a child shouldn't get married until they are completely finished with their education and are prepared to be completely financially independent. Remember that a generation or two ago, most people completed their educations at 22 (or younger) and launched into independence at earlier ages than this generation. In today's more complicated and demanding world, many well-paying careers require a graduate degree, and graduate schools are filled with adults in their mid- to late-twenties, and beyond. These "students" are also at a point in their lives in which they are ready to make a commitment to another person and in most cases they're quite capable of doing both at the same time.
Your parents may have other concerns; they may worry that marriage will distract you from completing your degree, or they may be afraid that you won't be able to pay your tuition if they no longer support you. Then, there's also the possibility that it's hard for them to "allow" you to separate from them. The idea of you building your own life, moving to another city, or making a choice they don't agree with, may be very difficult for them to deal with.
To us, however, the bottom line is that if you are a responsible adult in your mid-twenties, your parents should respect your decision to marry in the near future and to build your own life. We hope that in time they will be able to accept your decision and provide you with their emotional support.
So what can you do to help your parents through this?
One key point that you can stress to your parents is how difficult it is for young people today to find someone they'd like to share their life with. Express that you are afraid of losing this woman if the two of you have to delay what should be the natural progression of your relationship. You can also point out how many people you see who are 10 or 20 years down the road from where you are now, bemoan the fact that they waited to get married, and now feel they've missed the boat.
Also, you should point out the degree of responsibility you've shown in the past -- with jobs, education, relationships, etc. Your parents may be worried that you'll get into debt and they'll have to bail you out. So do what you can to assure them that you have a solid plan in place, even if things will be difficult financially in the first few years. (By the way, a little struggle is not a bad way to start a marriage; by meeting challenges together, you build a strong foundation. And years later, you'll be able to look back fondly at your shared success in having "managed" during those lean times.)
We suggest that you enlist the help of a third party to help your parents consider your perspective. Because parents and children, even adult children, can become entrenched in unproductive communication patterns that developed over time, it's often a good idea to ask a third party to intercede when it comes to an issue as serious as this one. It usually isn't necessary to turn to a professional such as a family therapist or mediator. Rather, we suggest that you first approach someone whom both you and your parents respect, such as your congregational rabbi, close friend, or family member.
The intermediary should explain some of the points we've raised, and express to your parents how important it is to you that they support your choice. He should let your parents see that you love them and respect their opinion, but have chosen to make the decision you feel is right for you. The intermediary may also be able to help facilitate a dialogue between you.
If your parents don't change their minds, you and this woman may have to plan a wedding without their support. Unfortunately, this sometimes happens. If that is the case -- and we hope it isn't -- you will need more emotional support from your future wife's family, other members of your own family, and your friends. We wish you all the best,
Rosie & Sherry