My fiancé and I have known each other since college. He is 29 and I am 26 and we have been dating the past few years. He is a true genius (National Merit Scholar, perfect GRE score) and is currently on his way to a successful business career. The problem is that he has been prone to do extremely impulsive things -- for example, in his last year of college he dropped out without warning and worked odd jobs for two years. He also has tried out ideas such as sleeping cycles other than 24 hours, and has flirted with being a professional criminal (he never committed any crimes, but went as far as trying to get jobs at security companies in sensitive positions). He once tried to build a plane out of parts he could pull together from a junkyard and wound up in the hospital when some engine parts went haywire (he still has scars from this incident). Everyone could tell that he was unbalanced, and we (along with his family) had numerous interventions to try to get him to get professional help, but he steadfastly refused.
After a couple years of working odd jobs, he finally decided to pull himself together. He never got professional help, but he came back to school and applied himself. The fantasies of building planes and a life of crime were replaced by the concept of a normal life in the business world. It was at that point we began dating. A master's degree in math from a prestigious university later, he started out his career. Some people would probably think of him as a bit eccentric, but only after thinking of him as sharp as hell, hardworking and a good guy to be around.
All was going well, and a year ago we got engaged, and he helped me find a job at his company. But then a few months ago, he began revisiting old ideas that were troubling. He also started showing up to work late and leaving early, and a few times when I would stop by his work area he was surfing the Internet. I was a little concerned, but didn't voice the concerns to anyone -- if you didn't know him back in college there would be no reason to be worried. But then a few days ago he dropped the bombshell: He went and signed up for OCS (officer training) in the Marine Corps. He says he did so in order to give himself one chance to fight in a war, which he is now billing as the adventure of his generation. At work he is being lionized as an American hero, but I don't know what to do. He gave me no indication he was going to do this, and I really think he has reverted to his mental state in college.
Aside from serious practical considerations, such as with the severe cut in pay he isn't going to be able to afford his mortgage, I don't think he told anyone what he was going to do and is probably the least militant person you would expect to meet (and very much against the war). He has also started showing signs he is reverting back to his old unstable self, talking about trying to build a plane again and some other odd ideas.
My fiancé is the sweetest person in the world, but I'd like to be able to have a stable family life and children. He is going to be about 35 when he gets out of the Marines, and I've really lost hope he is going to be stable from there. Maybe he will work a good job for a few years, but eventually he will be seized by some other crazy idea. How can we raise a family if he is going to keep doing that? But on the other hand, how can I ethically break up with a guy that I do love for joining the Marines? I doubt even joining al-Qaida would seem more un-American than that.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit scared about how I am going to look coming out of this. Would it be fair to give this relationship one more chance, based on an ultimatum to seek out professional mental health? Or would that just be delaying the inevitable?
As a courtesy, if you're getting married, you generally let your intended know if you won't be available for lunch for the next six years.
It's the kind of common courtesy you really look for in a husband.
But here's the other thing. You say he's 29. I dropped in at my local Marine recruiters and the first thing the young man at the desk told me was that the maximum age for non-prior-service Marine enlistment is 28.
"Tell him to try the Army," he said. "They'll take anybody."
Now this was hardly journalism. I just talked to a pair of biceps. But something is wrong here. What your fiancé has done, in my opinion, is demonstrate that he's not serious about marriage.
So I think you ought to break off this engagement. The patriotism angle is a red herring. The issue is his fitness for marriage. If you're planning to get married, and you're serious, you make plans together. If you're thinking about a six-year commitment, you talk it over first. And you disclose potential difficulties that would profoundly affect both parties. Plus it would be crazy to marry somebody who may have a serious psychiatric illness but refuses to be evaluated. If he knew he had a mental illness and was struggling under a doctor's care to manage it, that would be one thing. Marrying him would be a manageable risk. But he is not putting his cards on the table. He is asking you to take an incalculable risk.
Don't get me wrong. I like this guy. He wants to find out where the edge is. I can relate. I can see how a restless guy who once tried to build an airplane out of junkyard parts might, around age 28 or 29, get a sudden urge to join his generation's great Iraq adventure. I mean, it makes me sick to think that America's great foreign policy blunder is viewed by some as their generation's great adventure. But I understand the anarchic, amoral and apolitical lure of big toys, guns and sand. Put patriotic feelings together with tattooed biceps, big toys, lots of sand and the opportunity to shoot live humans and you've really got something that will appeal to a certain portion of the population. I'm not so sane or such an ex-hippie pacifist that I don't get the lure of war. Frankly, after yesterday's column I'm not sure I could pass the psych eval, but I can see the allure. I can understand the wish to be in on the war, and the need for a rite of passage. (And I'm not anti-military, as some who read the recent column about the friend in the hotel room full of Marines seemed to think. I did not think that merely because they were Marines they were likely rapists. What I meant was that, from the woman's perspective, the fact that they were trained warriors would have been both a lure and a source of deep fear.)
I also understand your sensitivity to the disapproval of others. I just think that anybody who thought less of you for breaking off this marriage would be flat wrong. It's about his fitness for marriage. It's not about patriotism. It's about his brilliant manipulation of other people's patriotic feelings, pitting patriotism against reason, pitting our best instincts against our best instincts, putting his genius at the service of madness.
"Since You Asked," on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.
What? You want more advice?