Chivalrous to a fault

He is too much of a man to ask for my hand while he's out of work.


Cary Tennis
November 22, 2003 1:25AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

After years of searching, I've found the man of my dreams. I'm 27, he's 35. We've been together for two and a half years and lived together for a year. He's affectionate, caring and smart. He does everything right. And then it all got blown to hell by a layoff. Since his company filed for bankruptcy a year ago, it's my paycheck that's supporting us. He works part time and brings in a small amount each week, all the while pining away about what he could have been had he not been ejected from his college.

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My dear sweetie has some primal urge to provide for me and has let the monetary blues grab him by the balls. We make love regularly, we have a loving home together, we make regular little outings (called "No Money Fun") to still feel part of the scene, but he won't make that great big ol' commitment called marriage because he's afraid he can't take care of me properly. I've always been capable of taking care of myself, and feel all gushy inside that he'd want to do that but now I feel it's the one stopping block between us and eternal bliss.

He says he wants to marry me. We discuss children's names and if our kid will get my honey's unfortunate nose; but when it comes down to it, he feels inadequate and has said so. He said, "What if I ask your dad for your hand in marriage and he asks me how I'm gonna take care of his daughter? I don't know what to tell him because I can't take care of myself, let alone you!"

But he does take care of me. He washes my clothes, he cooks me dinner, he scratches my back, and listens to me ponder about black pants making me look thinner. How do I make my honey understand that he is not inadequate and is highly qualified to marry me? His being a "man" about things is amusing and yet a little old-fashioned. His chivalry is getting the best of him and he's not a macho man. How do I convince him that a ring of tin foil would mean more to me than a diamond when he's convinced he needs to have money to "do things properly?"

In Love With Too Much of a Man

Dear In Love,

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What's truly manly, it seems to me, is not so much the ability to follow a code of conduct as the ability to face obstacles and take risks in the service of an admirable goal. It doesn't take much courage to simply follow the rules. What takes courage is breaking them in a principled way and being forthright about what you're doing.

So if you two want to get married, I think you should find a way to do it. I'm not saying be reckless. But to simply say you cannot get married now because he's unemployed is sort of boring and by the book. Frankly, it sounds a little like a copout. This is America. You do whatever the hell you want. You don't hide behind a chivalric code. If your goals are admirable and true, you find a way to make it work. That's how we operate here. We're a practical people. That old European system, that was for families that had to live next to each other in villages for 500 years. And the father had a bigger stake because the son really did have to take care of the wife and the father really did need help around the peat bog.

It's totally different now. We have instant messaging. We have metrosexuals and Camille Paglia.

So if he wants to be a hero to you, what he needs to do is face the risks and obstacles before him. Get to it. Here's what you do:

First, you and he set a date for your wedding. Make it, say, two years from now. Far enough away so that it is a goal to work toward, not a deadline to panic about. Then set a goal for your boyfriend to be employed. Say one year.

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And then your boyfriend should arrange to meet with your father and explain the plan. He should tell him that you and he want to get married but that he wants to be more secure financially first, and that if everything works out, you want to get married in two years. He should ask the father if he can count on his support. Whatever else he wants to add is fine.

But before he goes to meet your father, you should rent the movie "Meet the Parents," with Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro, and have a good laugh. That'll either put you in the mood, or scare you away from the whole idea.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked directory.


Cary Tennis

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