Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Broke My Engagement Because My Parents Disapprove of My Boyfriend’s Class”

wedding proposal

I came across this column of yours when I searched on Google, verbatim: “Parents don’t like fiancé.” I read the woman’s story as well as your advice along with many of the readers’ comments, but I still don’t know what to do in my similar situation.

A week before Christmas my boyfriend of three years proposed. A couple days later I called to tell my mom about the engagement, and she spoke to me with great disappointment and then anger. This came out of left field for me. I’ve brought my boyfriend home a handful of times to meet my parents and not once have my parents ever expressed disliking him. In fact, every time they saw him they acted really nice to him. The most recent visit he and I made to my parents (they live in a different state) was this past Thanksgiving, which was when my boyfriend asked my dad for his blessing. According to my boyfriend, my dad didn’t outwardly say yes, but he also didn’t say no. He told my boyfriend to really discuss it with me, to ask me, and then to come to my parents together with me. Then, after my boyfriend headed home (before I did), my dad asked me if I saw myself marrying him, to which I said yes. My dad said that it’s something I should really think hard about before jumping into – but again, there was no direct disapproval.

Fast forward again to the engagement discussion with my mom. She explains to me that she and my dad never liked my boyfriend, that they were okay with us “just dating” (whatever that means), and that they don’t and won’t approve our engagement. She told me she didn’t like his personality, the way he was raised, how his parents choose to live, and ultimately that they come from a “different class.” My parents are immigrants with stubbornly strong beliefs about the “right” way to live a “successful” life in America. That being said, they think that while money doesn’t guarantee happiness, having no money can definitely bring unhappiness. Since my boyfriend’s family isn’t wealthy, and both my boyfriend and I have a great chunk of law school loans, they’re ultimately concerned about the struggles that may lie ahead if I choose this life with him. After my phone call with my mom, she went behind my back and called my boyfriend. She said some nasty things to him, was downright mean to him, and ordered him to break up with me.

I haven’t spoken to my parents in three weeks now, and my boyfriend and I ended up putting our engagement on hold. His parents still believe we are engaged because he didn’t want to tell them what’s been happening, and I feel terrible that we have to lie to them. The whole thing has me second-guessing everything. I’m worried about how this situation could potentially affect our marriage later on in life – will he start to resent me? Will he think I’ll become like my mom? What will this mean for family gatherings? Will his parents hate me because of my parents? I know I should talk to my parents, but is there anything else I can do to make this situation better–for everyone?

— Wishing For Affirmation From Mom and Dad

Wait, your parents said that they don’t approve of your engagement and so you put it on hold? Just like that? Because your parents don’t like the way your boyfriend was raised (i.e., he doesn’t come from enough money), you essentially broke your engagement? And you’re worried your boyfriend might resent you later on? Um, yeah, no shit he might resent you later on. The right way to respond to classist (and possibly racist?) parents who condemn your choice in a life partner because they don’t think he’s rich enough for you is to say, “Oh, too bad you feel that way. We plan on having a very happy life together. Please let me know when you’re ready to be part of it.” That you, instead, chose to break the engagement (I’m sorry — I mean put it on hold), validates their opinion and sends the message to your boyfriend that their concerns are valid, or, at the very least, that their opinion can and will affect your relationship, certainly now and most likely well into the future.

If I were your boyfriend, I would be VERY leery about continuing a relationship with someone who had so little faith in our union and who would let her parents’ classism steer the course of her life, even as an adult.

If you’re concerned about the long-lasting repercussions this whole situation will have on your relationship — whether your boyfriend will worry you’ll turn out like your mother, whether he’ll resent you, whether his parents will hate you — give him every reason NOW to believe that your top priority isn’t pleasing your parents but instead is the sanctity of your relationship and living life on your terms. Standing up to your parents and letting them — and your boyfriend — know that they can’t control you is the best way to do that. (And related to that: Why are people still asking women’s fathers for permission or their “blessing” to propose to their daughters? Seriously? It’s 2016. The only approval a person should be seeking when it comes to proposing marriage is the person he [or she] plans to ask!)

So, no, LW, aside from making your engagement re-official and telling your parents to mind their own business, there isn’t anything else you can do to “make this situation better.” If, however, you feel in your heart you simply aren’t ready for the commitment of marriage — and something tells me that might be the case — level with yourself and your boyfriend. Don’t blame your parents. Own up to it. If you’re still dependent on your parents for financial support, for example, and aren’t ready to let go of that support, or if you aren’t sure, for whatever reason, that your boyfriend and the life you envision with him is what you’re eager to sign on for, PLEASE do not agree to marry him. You sound young and there’s no reason you should rush this. Marriage is a huge, huge step. For someone who hasn’t yet even learned how to be independent from her parents, you may need to do some growing up first.

None of this means your boyfriend isn’t the right long-term match for you. But it may mean it’s too soon for you to determine whether he is and to commit to a life with him.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

31 comments… add one
  • LadyinPurpleNotRed

    LadyInPurpleNotRed January 11, 2016, 9:26 am

    If you’re not ready, own it. If you are going to end an engagement due to your parents’ unfounded worries, you are not ready. Think about what YOU want. If you have fears, talk to him about them, because you have them. Not because your parents worry that you won’t be wealthy. If you can’t stand up to your parents, you are not ready to enter a marriage.

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      Janer May 20, 2017, 6:46 pm

      People in their 60s can’t stand up to their parents. It does seem that her instincts are telling her something important.

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    artsygirl January 11, 2016, 9:29 am

    LW – It is hardly your BF’s ‘fault’ on how he was raised or how his parents live. Parents always want the best for their children, but your parents are WAY off base on this situation. If they could name specific reasons why they do not like your BF, he yells or hits you, he refuses to help around the house, he is lazy, etc; that would be one thing. But it sounds like your BF is an ambitious (you are both graduates of law school) and more important, you love him. It sounds like the only time you questioned this relationship is when your parents expressed their disgust at your engagement.

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    PumpkinSpice January 11, 2016, 9:56 am

    I’ve always believed that it’s your life and you are the one who had to live it. That means making decisions that are best for you, not anyone else. You need to own your decisions and stand up for them. Decide whether or not you are ready for marriage and then tell your parents this is your decision and they can either support you in it, or butt out of it. I don’t understand your parents way of thinking. Money doesn’t buy happiness, it may make life easier but it doesn’t buy happiness. If you are an adult, then start acting like one, and stop worrying about what other people think and do, and just do you.

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      Janer May 20, 2017, 6:50 pm

      It’s great that she respected her parent’s wisdom and experience enough to slow down. The mother calling her boyfriend was a bad deal, but I understand why she did it. Starting a law career is sufficient. No need to get a pet, either – or get pregnant.

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      • avatar

        Ron May 21, 2017, 4:49 pm

        Gee, you really are a materialistic ass. Yes, the LW’s parents are reacting based on class, possibly on caste. Yes, if she let’s her parents decide whom she marries, she is in for a sub-optimal life, possibly a very unhappy one.

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    laurahope January 11, 2016, 10:13 am

    You could ask your parents to arrange an “appropriate” marriage for you. Or….. whether or not you’re religious, you could consider the wisdom of a passage from Genesis (and the Wedding Song). You shall leave your father and mother and be joined to your spouse.

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  • avatar

    joanna January 11, 2016, 10:25 am

    I agree with doing away with the sentiment of asking a woman’s father if a man can marry her. It’s just sooooooooooooooooooooooooo hokey and ridiculous.
    I had a high school boyfriend tell me that when we were talking about our future. Barf!
    .
    For some reason, whenever I hear about anything related to that, it just gives me the heebie-jeebies.

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    • Kate B.

      Kate B. January 11, 2016, 10:42 am

      I think in this day and age, it’s a symbolic gesture more than anything else. However, in this situation it did reveal some interesting information, didn’t it?

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph January 11, 2016, 10:48 am

        My husband called my parents and let them know his plans, as you say it’s a symbolic gesture. Since he did both parents and it was more like a “hey I’m gonna do this, hope that’s cool” I am ok with it. Kinda gets the best of both where it respects that I’m an adult, but also respects that some fathers like that sort of thing and it’s best to get off on the right foot with them. (My FIL was not pleased that my husband’s sister was proposed to without any permission-asking, so I think my husband was hedging his bets)

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      • Lianne

        Lianne January 11, 2016, 11:35 am

        Agreed. My husband and I were both 34 when we got engaged so he certainly wasn’t asking my dad’s permission to marry me! But he did let me dad know he planned to propose, which was just a nice gesture. He also let his own parents know the same thing, so it went both ways.

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      • avatar

        A January 12, 2016, 12:48 am

        Yeah that her and her family are all gold diggers. She clearly isnt ready for marriage!

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    • Moneypenny

      Moneypenny January 11, 2016, 12:49 pm

      I like the idea of asking for a blessing, rather than asking for permission. In this day and age (and at my age!) I don’t want anyone asking my parents for their permission to marry me!

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    • avatar

      Janer May 20, 2017, 6:53 pm

      It is not a useless gesture – it is unsettling, however. Any man, or woman, who will not speak to the parents about his intentions is probably untrustworthy, and not much of an adult.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph January 11, 2016, 10:43 am

    Interesting that you are bringing as much debt to the relationship as he is, yet they are only concerned about his debt and his background, not yours.
    This is an old, outdated way of thinking that a man should “provide for” his wife. You have a law degree, you are presumably a professional capable of providing for yourself just as he is, so why is it all on him to provide for you and pay off your debts?
    You need to decide if you want to follow your parents’ old fashioned ways– get parents approval, man provides for woman, etc. or if you want to have a more modern relationship which is a partnership and which doesn’t require your father’s blessing. If you choose option a, then I think your bf isn’t right for you anyways.

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    • avatar

      Janer May 20, 2017, 6:55 pm

      I don’t think her parents are concerned for the reason you state. They are right in being concerned about differences in world view, experience – which she sums up as being from a different class.

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      • Cleopatra Jones

        Cleopatra Jones May 21, 2017, 7:51 pm

        Are you bychance the LW’s mother? Did you go snooping through her stuff and found the link in an email?
        Cause you are all over a year old thread with your comments. Either you’re her mom or your projecting your own stuff onto this letter and LW.

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    L.G.J January 11, 2016, 11:16 am

    I don’t think the LW is ready to be married if her parents are still dictating her life like this, I’m actually pretty impressed the boyfriend is sticking around after all the abuse he’s taken at this point, including as Wendy said, breaking off the engagement.
    I also thought that if the Boyfriend comes from a low income background and has worked his way into Law School, is he not basically living the American dream? using hard work to provide a better future for himself and his family. I would have thought that would count for more with the LW’s parents, especially if they are so down on his parents for the lifestyle they “chose”

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph January 11, 2016, 11:30 am

      I don’t think its that simple. If you come from a culture where parent blessing is important, then you are not just disobeying your parents but actually going against your family, culture, religion, country of origin, etc.
      Different cultures have different expectations of what a marriage is. If what’s important is breeding/class and the ability for a man to provide, then that’s what you look for and that’s the type of marriage you get. I don’t think it’s what the LW wants, but I don’t think we should discount how difficult it is as a (probably) first generation person in a modern western culture to go against the expectations and rules of her immigrant parents.

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      • avatar

        L.G.J January 11, 2016, 2:14 pm

        you’re right, there are a lot more elements in play here and I’ve never been in LW’s situation. I do think its important the LW establish some clear boundaries with her parents though, for the sake of her current and future relationships, especially if her mother thinks calling up her boyfriends and verbally abusing them is ok

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      • avatar

        em January 11, 2016, 5:06 pm

        thank you! as a first generation american with middle eastern parents (who, btw, love my “all-american” boyfriend) , it is not easy to discount your parents’ wishes and beliefs b/c for many cultures such as in the near-east, your parents and family are basically sacred. Not saying you should be their puppet (I’m not, very rebellious in fact), but it is much harder to not feel terrible when you know you’ve let them down or suspect you are.

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  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster January 11, 2016, 11:36 am

    I’m actually not certain LW’s actions are an indication of underlying doubt about her relationship. Several of my friends growing up came from very conservative, immigrant homes and their parents had a FAR heavier hand in their adult decisions than any American I know would find comfortable. Three of my younger brothers are actually dating women/girls from immigrant families -Vietnamese (of Chinese decent), Guyanese (of Indian decent) and Taiwanese, respectively- and their parents are incredibly involved in their lives and choices. It has often been a serious struggle for them to separate their decisions from the wishes of their parents.
    .
    That said, LW, ultimately it IS your life and they raised you here, and Wendy’s advice is sound. You are at serious risk of permanently damaging your relationship with your fiance if you don’t grow a backbone and stand up to your parents. Judging by how much of a shock your parents opinions have come to you as, you do not fully share their values even though you have respect for how those values were formed. Unfortunately there is no clean way to approach this. But if you can’t stand up to your parents now about something this huge, then when will this end? When they choose a rich man for you with an identical cultural background? Is that what you want? If it isn’t, it’s time to woman up and own your life choices.

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    • avatar

      Janer May 20, 2017, 6:58 pm

      Boy are you projecting a lot onto the parents. And the parents behaved with civility when they were just dating. It’s an entirely different story to get engaged.

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  • avatar

    for_cutie January 11, 2016, 12:18 pm

    I think Wendy’s advice and others is overly generous. Your parents were rude and condescending to your fiance and YOU broke off the engagement. If he were the LW, I suspect many of us would say MOA. You need to make your mind up quick. Invest time and emotion into convincing your fiancee that you made a mistake if you want any hope of continuing with this relationship. Based on your choices thus far, I think you may be better off single so you can examine what you want outside of the pressures of your family’s opinion and a marriage proposal.

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  • FireStar

    FIrestar January 11, 2016, 1:11 pm

    I get you want a happy ending (middle?) with everyone is getting along and smooth sailing down the aisle. Not the cards you were dealt my dear. Your mother put an end to that. That she called your boyfriend to insult him and to order him to do ANYTHING much less break up with you is beyond ridiculous. She is so far out of line – I’m not sure she can see the damn line anymore. You want a chance at happiness here? You need to tell your fiancé you are terribly sorry for any waffling on your part…you were shocked…now that you have had time to process what your mother did, you now understand that you have to limit her role in your life. Then limit the f–k out of her role. Tell her she crossed the line. That she owes your fiancé an apology. That you picked him and she doesn’t get any say in that. If she feels she can’t abide him and find some way to make amends then so be it. Have a nice life. If you told me your fiancé was a dead beat or out of jail or something objectionable I could understand a mother’s fear. But your mother objects to the lawyer because he wasn’t born wealthy? Seriously? This is who you picked for your life partner and you just let your mother unleash on him with no consequences? Hell no. If he wrote in I would have told him to high tail it for the hills. You aren’t worthy of him. So if you love him and you want a life with him then make yourself worthy and stand on your own two feet and stand up to your ridiculous mother.

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      Janer May 20, 2017, 7:01 pm

      Unbelievable. The objection was never stated as wealth or the lack of it. Knowing nothing of this man, you write that she isn’t worthy of him? Wow. And you write about the mother.

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  • Monkeysmommy

    Monkeysmommy January 11, 2016, 2:29 pm

    WWS x10000!! LW, you just suck. I’m sorry, but any man who allows a woman to treat him the way you have should MOA. So my advice is to him, not you: dump this pathetic, spineless shell of a woman and her snobby ass parents. Find a woman who is worthy of you.

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  • avatar

    Nico January 11, 2016, 2:49 pm

    Tell parents to MYOB. If she’s got massive student loans, then they can’t be well off themselves, soooo I can get not wanting their own child to struggle, but what did they think their daughter was doing the past three years! They could of spoken up like month three, not year three! Tell parents to MYOB and just sort things out with the on hold fiancee, if that’s what you really want.

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  • avatar

    saneinca January 11, 2016, 3:27 pm

    I think the parents probably thought the relationship will end soon enough and did not want to express their opinions and antagonize their daughter.

    And I think the engagement is on hold not because the LW, but because the boyfriend was insulted and he was (justifiably) mad.

    LW, ultimately you need to figure out not just the short term issues but whether or not you love your BF enough to stand up to your parents and fight with them to stay in the relationship in the long run. You need to feel secure enough in your relationship to make this fight worth the time and energy.

    But in any case, it will be good for you to start asserting your independence and boundaries with your parents.

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  • avatar

    wobster109 January 11, 2016, 3:47 pm

    One thing I’d like to add. LW, why does your mother think it’s ok to call your BF and say nasty things to him? No mother I know thinks it’s ok to do that to their adult child. Sounds like your parents are used to taking control of your major decisions, yes? Put a stop to that. Tell your mother that if she has anything nasty to say it goes to you, and then make your own decisions.

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  • avatar

    hazel January 13, 2016, 6:00 am

    I don’t see anywhere where the LW says it was she who broke it off, it sounds as if it was a mutual decision or even her fiance’s. I can understand why in the face of such a shift in their reality they might both want to take a step back, & reconvene after realising that what should have been a time for celebration turned into a nasty war. They were in shock! L.W, now you have had time I hope both of you are able to move forward into your future together, and that in time you will be able to forgive your parents for their horrible behaviour. Good luck.

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