I’m hoping you can help me figure out how to make everyone happy here. I’m 26 years old and have a great family, great boyfriend, and a job that I enjoy. I met my boyfriend in college, and we have been together for almost 6 years. We have both been out on our own and working (financially self-sufficient from our parents) since we graduated four years ago.
Here’s the issue: my boyfriend and I are getting more serious, and we would both like to be smarter with our money and buy something rather than renting. We are planning to move in together when my lease ends this fall, and the next goal is to buy a condo or starter house together. My parents are very traditional and this is not going to go over well with them at all. I know if they could choose, they would rather that we got married and then moved in together.
It’s not that we don’t want to get married, it’s just not something that either of us feel is all that urgent right now. We would like to get settled in a house, keep working hard at our jobs (we are both looking at promotions in the next year or so), and then, sometime in the next few years, get married and start a family. How do I approach my old-fashioned parents with this idea when, honestly, I just can’t understand what the big deal is?
I appreciate your writing to me with this question because it’s something I experienced myself. In fact, as a young woman of 26 I was so “non-traditional” that when my then-boyfriend (now husband of 35 years) and I decided to move in together, I called my parents and simply announced my plans: “I met this guy, Bob and I’m moving in with him.” The next morning, the day of the move, my parents were on the New Jersey Turnpike at the crack of dawn and showed up at my Manhattan apartment building to meet him for the first time as he was loading the car with my sweaters and books.
While a part of me wishes now that I’d been closer to my parents, more respectful of their feelings and concerns, and more open with them, I certainly can’t say I regret having chosen to move in with my boyfriend before we were married.
My advice for you is quite simple: In life, there will be times you simply can’t make everyone happy. Sometimes agreeing to disagree is the best you can hope for.
All of that said, I think it’s important for you to sit down with your parents and allow them to express their concerns. Listen to them and try to empathize. Try to determine what their reaction is going to be if you move forward with your plan despite their objections. Take into consideration how they have reacted in other matters where you’ve disagreed. There is a lot of grey area between merely disliking this living situation and cutting you off completely. Now I’m not suggesting that you change your decision based on their opinion, but if you know how they’re going to ultimately respond if you fail to heed their wishes, at least you, and your boyfriend, can be prepared.
Something worth asking them is whether their opposition is based purely on their traditional values, or whether it has something to do with you and your boyfriend specifically. If they have hesitations about your relationship with him, this may be the time to air those concerns. Again, not that you need to change your plans based on what they think about your guy, but it’s good to know how your loved ones feel about him.
During this sit-down with your folks, be open about your love for them and respect for their traditional values. Thank them for talking honestly with you and sharing their thoughts. And then explain to them why you are going to do what you think is best for you. Let them know that you hope you’ll have their support.
Another thought is that your parents may be concerned that you’ll get hurt, not only emotionally but legally. Marriage doesn’t protect against emotional hurt, of course, but reassure them you are taking smart steps to protect yourself legally, and then do so. Be sure both names are on the deed and be clear about how all of the household expenses will be taken care of. You can even get a legal agreement drawn up stating that one of you will have to either buy the other out or sell if things go south.
Honestly, if you and your boyfriend, a man you’re planning to spend the rest of your life with, have decided this is the way you want to go, I don’t really think you should allow anyone, including your parents, to stop you. It’s your decision. Allowing your parents, or anyone else, to be involved in decisions that affect you as a couple can be dangerous ground. Remember that when you and your boyfriend/to-be-husband disagree in the future. Decide everything and resolve any problems between you, and then present your joint decision to your parents and friends.
It sounds to me as if you’re a sensible young woman with a bright future and a beautiful marriage ahead of you, and I wish you all the best.