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.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].com.