Dear Rosie & Sherry,

Six months ago, I began dating the most wonderful young woman. We had an instant click that I have never experienced before. On our first date, we just sat at a coffee shop and spoke for over three hours. There were sparks in the air and since then I couldn't be happier.

The friendship between us is stronger than ever, and we've discussed our intentions of moving forward. However, recently I have noticed slight hesitations on her part regarding our future together. Last week, she confided in me about what was holding her back in our relationship, and I was hit with an unexpected bombshell:

The issue is with her father. I come from a middle class family, while she comes from a much wealthier family. She told me: "I believe you will be successful and provide, but my father strongly objects to my marrying someone who is not well off."

Although she is able to make her own decisions, she of course does not want to bring friction in the relationship with her parents. She also told me that she'd like to maintain her standard of living when she is married.

My career situation is good. I've been out of college just two years and I own several businesses. I'm ambitious and hard-working, but it takes time to build up a business. She suggested that I spend more time with her parents, so that can get a better feeling for what type of person I am. Then, in a year or so, my businesses will hopefully have been built up and we will get engaged.

There is no doubt in my mind that this woman and I would be absolutely wonderful together, and I believe that I can really fit in with her family. My worry is that I will be left "on ice" for a whole year, and then things still may not work out. I cannot guarantee that I will be "rich" enough for her father.

What should I do?

Benji

Dear Benji,

Your letter highlights a common predicament -- two people get along well from the start of their dating and gradually develop an emotional connection. However, as time goes on they discover that their expectations, plans for the future, or value systems may not be compatible. Because they're already "hooked" emotionally, they may try to overlook the differences or rationalize them away. Often, these differences become a sore point in the relationship and are difficult to resolve.

You seem to be speaking "around" this key issue.

The cornerstone of an enduring relationship is compatible goals and common values. That includes having lifestyle expectations that are similar, including the path each person plans to take to where s/he wants to be in life. The only way two people can know if their goals and values are compatible is by talking about them in depth. It seems that you and this woman haven't sufficiently done that. You seem to be speaking "around" the issue.

We suggest that you sit down and ask each other where you see yourselves in six months, in a year, and in five years -- in terms of the following:

  • careers and incomes
  • financial assets
  • where you'll be living
  • the type of lifestyle you aspire to
  • whether and how you are prepared to wait until you can achieve your ultimate lifestyle goals
  • how each of you will view your life together if your timetable isn't realistic or if you don't achieve those goals at all

We've focused on financial and lifestyle issues because this is the focus of your letter, but you should also be talking about other subjects. These include how you view the roles of each spouse in a marriage; the kind of home life you envision; how you see your life developing spiritually; your expected degree of involvement in your community; the role you each want to play in raising your children. It's also important to talk about your relationships with your parents, and the role you see them playing in your married life.

As difficult as if is for you to learn that this woman's lifestyle expectations don't match up with your current position in life, it's fortunate that this issue is now out in the open. Now, you need to have a serious discussion to determine the extent of your differences, and how flexible the two of you can be about adjusting your expectations or plans to accommodate the greater goal of building a mutually satisfying and enduring marriage.

It is also crucial for you to determine how this young woman feels about her father's expectations for her, how strongly she identifies with them, and what she really wants for herself. Is she willing to live a less grand lifestyle than she's used to in order to build a home with you? Ask her to imagine that you continued to date but waited a year to become engaged, but at that time your income wasn't high enough to please him. Where would the two of you be then? Would she be willing to marry someone she felt was right for her even if her father disapproved of his economic condition?

Can he accept someone who is ambitious but not wealthy?

Further, you need to understand what her father actually means when he says he wants a son-in-law who is "really well off." Does he mean the man his daughter marries must come from a wealthy family, or is it all right if he earns a high income on his own? Can he accept someone who is ambitious but may never achieve his level of wealth? Is he worried that someone from a middle class family may want his daughter primarily because her parents are wealthy? Is financial status the primary criteria he uses to decide if someone is "good enough" for his daughter? Or, perhaps he believes his daughter shouldn't be required to give up the lifestyle that he worked hard to provide for her.

Finally, ask yourself if you truly aspire to the kind of wealth and lifestyle that this man wants for his daughter, or that she may want for herself. You do not want to be 10 years down the road, feeling enormous pressure to build income, when you'd rather be spending more time with your children or pursuing outside enrichment or leisure activities.

These are serious questions, and they have to be addressed before you and this young woman can make any decisions about the future of your relationship. If you decide that you can share a similar vision and are comfortable with the route you hope to take to get there, then we suggest meeting her parents and seeing how things progress from there. But the first step is that you have this important discussion.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze.

Rosie & Sherry