Should I put off getting married?

I'm only 19 but I'm ready ... it's just my parents, and my scholarship, and a lot of practical things


Cary Tennis
January 18, 2011 6:30AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

My fiancé and I are in art school, and both our families are of modest financial means (although that's about all they have in common). We have been together over a year and are deeply in love. Neither of us has any doubts or qualms about marriage, and all our friends and my former therapist have affirmed that we have a great relationship. If nothing stood in our way, we'd be happy to tie the knot this weekend. But life, displaying its characteristic unpredictability, has thrown a few substantial obstacles in the way.

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I was born into a conservative, strongly religious family. My parents have very traditional views about relationships and sex. A few months back, my dad found my birth control, and after an ugly episode I ended up promising my parents that I wouldn't have sex with "Danny" anymore (a promise I have not kept, and never intended to keep; and I feel no guilt, as the choice was between deceit and estrangement from my parents). Still, they believe that I have redeclared my purity or whatever, and keeping up this facade has taken its toll: Danny and I naturally spend more time at his place than at mine (we both live with our parents for financial reasons), and my parents wonder why I'm hardly ever around. They never allow me to spend the night with him, so Danny and I share the cost of gas incurred by the frequent drives back and forth, which is hard when we're trying to scrape together wedding money.

And it just really sucks that I love Danny, and I love my parents, but they don't love each other. Just because my parents have chosen a particular worldview and consider it the supreme one, doesn't mean that they aren't wonderful people. I admire so much of both my parents' character and personality, and I wouldn't want a relatively insignificant difference to drive us apart. I don't think they'd disown me if they learned the truth, but it would break their heart and shake their trust in me. Why is it that I have to lie to keep them happy? I'm usually a proponent of brutal honesty, but I can't stand to disappoint my parents. Mom and Dad like Danny, but they have told me in no uncertain terms that they don't think he's "husband material" due to his liberal, agnostic bent. It's also hard to make an argument when, after I refute all other points, I'm invariably met with, "You're only 19, you don't know anything about life." I don't think most young marriages are a good idea, and I never would have seen myself in this situation two years ago, but when you know you've found the person you want to spend your life with, why wait?

The whole thing with my disapproving parents is a mess, and it extends to other areas of my life. My full-tuition scholarship requires that I be a dependent of my parents, and if I get married before graduation I'll have to be sure that I'll have sufficient financial aid, because I really don't want to incur debt. My school requires that for the next three semesters I live either with my parents, with a spouse, or in the dorms. I can't afford to live in the dorms, and I can't afford to get married (unless it's a bare-bones courthouse wedding, which is starting to look more and more appealing). And the nice thing about my full-tuition scholarship is that I get some grants and scholarships on top of tuition, presumably for living expenses, but I work part-time to cover those, and I live frugally and save as much as I can for the future. Losing the scholarship could also mean losing these grants, as they would likely become part of the financial aid package toward tuition. Also, if we married in college, we would not have insurance, and we would most likely live in poverty until we graduate and find careers in advertising. We are willing to take these risks. I just want to avoid two things that seem inevitable: debt and my parents' heartbreak. In principle, I'd do anything to be with Danny, but I would struggle long and hard with a decision to cause either of those.

Danny is more willing than I am to sacrifice these things, although he does respect my opinions. My sense of family loyalty is stronger than his, and he figures pretty much everyone our age is in debt. I admit, I've always been cheap, since I'm one of 10 children and there has never been much to go around. I don't know if I'm being too stingy. I just don't want to take out loans. It makes me uncomfortable to spend money I don't have. Still, I can see how tempting loans could be. It's so crippling not to have money. I know there are millions of people whose financial circumstances are worse than ours, and I try not to complain, but it leaves me at a loss. Neither of us owns a car. We both go to school full-time. I work part-time, but Danny's unpaid internship leaves him without time for a paying job. Our parents are in no position to aid us financially. It's nice to dream about being with the one you love and only doing what makes you happy and fulfilled, but money and family are getting in the way. How am I supposed to reconcile the ideal and the practical?

Thanks!

Art School Girl

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Dear Art School Girl.

The ideal is a beautiful thing but it lacks tangible force in our world. Money, family, physical space, commitments: These are the heavy bags we carry on our arduous journey toward the ideal. They weigh us down but we must carry them because the food is in there. The money is in there. Our shoes are in there.

We cannot reach the ideal without the cooperation of the practical. That is the lesson of maturity. How do you reconcile the ideal and the practical?

You delay the ideal out of respect to the power of the practical.

It can be a dull and infuriating lesson. It certainly has been for me. I was not as smart as you are: I did not have the sense to ask anyone what I should do. I just set off into the world without a clue how to prioritize, how to operate. I just banged around senselessly for over a decade, reaching for an illusory ideal.

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I totally did not get it: The world we live in is right here. The barriers to the ideal are also the water we drink and the air that we breathe.

You are in a fortunate situation. You have many practical elements in your favor right now. But each one seems to argue for postponing the marriage. So listen to the situation. It is telling you to take your time.

It's been this way for ages. Young men and women delay marriage until the practical circumstances make sense.

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You can still have sex. You don't have to tell your parents. They don't want to know.

You can perhaps still spend the night with each other from time to time. But it seems like delaying the marriage, and letting your parents live with the illusion that you have remained chaste, is a worthwhile alternative.

Is it ethical? Well, ideally perhaps you could tell your parents the truth and not harm them, and not harm your relationship, and not harm their view of your fiancé. But practical reality does not line up with our ideals in this case. First, do no harm, that's my advice.

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You ask, quite reasonably, "... when you know you've found the person you want to spend your life with, why wait?" But, again, I would say there are many reasons to wait.

I find it perfectly acceptable to delay marriage for practical reasons. It's done all the time. And in your case it seems to make sense.



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Cary Tennis

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