Dear Captain Awkward,
My boyfriend and I have been dating for about four years, and have known each other for about ten. We’ve known for awhile that we want to marry each other but extenuating circumstances, etc. have delayed it from happening. We’ve recently decided that we want to move in together, and soon, even if we don’t get married quite yet, both because we want to be together and live together and also because it would be a relief financially.
The problem is that both of our parents are traditionally religious, even though mine are not necessarily part of a denomination anymore (and lived together before they were married and before they were religious). Considering the “don’t have sex” talks I’ve gotten from my parents/family, I’m a little nervous about breaking the news to them that we’re moving in together.
I think his parents will be quieter about it, but mine will be pretty vocal. What are some talking points that I can use to break it as easily as possible and maybe soften the disappointment?
I’m honestly not sure what the reaction will be at this point, because they’ve asked whether we’d move in together if we were to move to another area to save money, and I think that they might be more open to it now, but I am still a bit worried about their reaction. Help?
– Moving In Nerves
Dear Moving In Nerves:
You “break the news” as a happy announcement of a happy thing that is making you happy, without any apologies and without over-justifying it. If it is more comfortable for you to do this at a distance/remove, do it in the form of an email or a short card. “Good news, boyfriend and I found a place, and this is our new address as of date: [[Address]]” You save your parents the trouble of maintaining a neutral face when they read the news and give them time to formulate something appropriate to say when they react to the news.
I predict that most reactions you get will come in the form of inquiries about a wedding, i.e. “Oh, does this mean you’re finally tying the knot?” to which you say “We’d sure like to, someday!” or “Ha, maybe!” or “Probably so!” or “Thanks for asking!” or “This is what works for us right now!” or “I’m very excited about this step!” or “One step at a time!” or “You’ll be the first to know if that is the case” or whatever stock response you’ve been using all this time to deflect that question.
I don’t want to minimize your worries, in that it is a big deal to go against your parents – a big thing culturally, a big thing within your family (you’re groomed to not do it from birth) – and I’m sure you have reason to anticipate their displeasure and feel anxious. But it is a huge step in growing up to realize that you can do a thing, and someone else can have feelings about that thing, and their feelings can affect what you do not one tiny bit. “Oh, you are disappointed in me? Well, I am disappointed in you. Pass the gravy?” It gets easier with practice.
If they express disappointment directly, you can say “Thanks for your concern, but this is right for me” or “I wasn’t looking for feedback or advice, actually” or “Welp, that makes me sad to hear, because I am happy with this choice, but you do what you feel”, cut the conversation short, and then process the uncomfortable feelings on your own/with your friends/with your partner (the way you wish they would process theirs).
If they want an adult relationship with you (an adult, who is separate from them), I predict they will get used to it. You don’t need their permission or their approval, and sometimes showing that and setting an example for how you’d like to be treated is enough to change the dynamic a bit. Sometimes, with really manipulative or overbearing people, it is not enough, but in those cases you living together is not the crux of the issue and they’d be disapproving and meddlesome no matter what you did. Only you know which kind of parents you are dealing with and whether tight-lipped attempts to remain neutral or an all-out tantrum are more likely. Even if a tantrum happens, is it going to change your mind about your plans? Well, welcome to role reversal with your parents, where someone throws a big tantrum and you don’t really give them attention for it, the way they probably sat you in a corner to cry it out when you were three. “Huh, well, you’re obviously upset, let’s talk another time then, byeeeeee!”
Your Fellow Child of Tight-Lipped Disapproval,
81 thoughts on “#631: How do I break the news that I’m moving in with my boyfriend to my conservative family?”
This letter and the Captain’s response was really helpful to me, but I have a related question and I hope it’s ok to piggyback. (I have not submitted my own letter for Reasons that will probably be clear.) What if the news you are sharing is NOT something you are happy about or proud of?
I have concerns about news a loved one is getting ready to share with conservative parents. I want to help this person figure out the best way to break the news and then to deal with the feelings of disappointment coming from both the parents and from themself. I firmly believe this person needs to tell, but I am so worried about the fallout. I also think they should not be feeling the level of guilt they are, but everyone gets to have their own feelings.
Sorry for the vagueness! Since it’s not my story I don’t want to go into any detail. And sorry for asking a question in this space if I shouldn’t have.
Still use letter or email. It gives both parties a little time to shape a response.
Maybe “I’m not feeling great about this, but I want you to know what’s going on in my life” as a preface? Without knowing what it is I don’t want to go into more detail.
My approach, when I had to tell my parents I had been fired from a job less than three months after starting, and consequently was going to have to move very far away and take a job I was dreading even as I took it (I was totally right, that fucking job made me nearly suicidal after six months and I got fired in eight), was to say up-front that I was upset about this but I really needed them to support me in these specific ways (help me pack, help me sort through real estate shit) and not to do a post-mortem on what had gone wrong. It worked.
I think Penelope hit on something pretty important – it helps if you have your course of action decided on. When you know you’re doing the right thing, it is easier to not care what anyone thinks.
When you need something from people, if you can ask directly for what that thing is you help them and yourself. Awkward Parents Who Don’t Know What To Say are a thing, conservative or no.
I’m guessing it’s something that would potentially estrange certain parts of Other Mouse’s family. There are two unfortunate truths in this life: (1) that you must live your life being true to yourself; otherwise you will grow to despise living lies, and (2) everyone around you accepts only a subset of those character traits, and assumes other traits based on how they want you to be seen through their eyes.
The only thing that should ever be done is to tell the truth. It might hurt others, it might cause a rift in your relationships, it might be cause for embarrassment for other people involved. But consider this, too… how much do you want to associate yourself with someone who won’t accept you for *you*?
To the LW, I just want you to know that my best friend and her now husband had this same worry with his very conservative mom when they first moved in together. She had a lot of questions, but she took it better than they thought she would. So this may turn out better than you think it will!
When Mr Hypotenuse and I moved in together, that first week, I got a phone call from my SUPER DUPER CATHOLIC grandma.
Grandma: I heard you moved in with that boy.
Me: [bracing] Yes….
Grandma: Oh, I think that’s super. I think living together before you get married makes so much sense. We couldn’t do that in my day — what a scandal it would’ve been.
What I’m saying is, sometimes people surprise the heck out of you.
The exact same thing happened with my Catholic grandma when I moved in with Fiance. Only she called my mother, not be directly – my mother who GOT HELL from grandma when she moved in with my father pre-marriage 30something years ago.
Damn, people, both of my grandmothers were pregnant when they got married and one already had a “bastard” child by another man to boot.
I am very lucky in that all my super super conservative, Southern Baptist family had my older cousins and my nine-years-younger brother to pave the way for me with the behavior that would send them straight to hell – unintended pregnancies, prison time, drugs, multiple marriages. By the time I moved in with my boyfriend of nearly two years at the age of twenty-nine, it seemed almost cute to them. I thanked my predecessors-in-sin profusely.
Yeah, I had this exact reaction, from very conservative family members.
That was my highly conservative grandfather’s reaction when I said I was moving in with fiance six months before the wedding. He actually suggested that we might want to make it a year “Just to be sure you’re really compatible.” I about fell over.
When my cousin moved in with her then-boyfriend (the first of our generation to do so in the family), her parents flipped. Our grandemother was like, “No pregnant weddings, please. So, what color are you painting the living room?” and that became the official word, and no one could say anything more about it. It really cleared the way for the rest of us, too. Go awesome grandparents.
I don’t actually know if my grandmother approved of my cohabitation or not – she never said anything to me about it. But it did trigger this lovely bit of family conversation:
Grandma, talking to my mom: X (mom’s brother) really liked hagdirt’s boyfriend when they came over for Thanksgiving. He says they’re a smart couple and there’s no fornicating going on there.
Mom: ….um, what?
Grandma: Well, you know X isn’t very smart.
When my ex and I were in university, I lived with my parents and he with his mother, father, grandmother, grandfather and older brother. We batted around the idea of getting a place together for a summer before he went a short distance away for a co-op term, and apparently news of this got to his grandfather. Who said, “I just don’t understand young people today. If they want to sleep in the same bed, why doesn’t Laughing Giraffe just move in here for those four months? Save everyone the bother.” Gotta love those Depression-era grandparents – who cares about sex, you’re wasting time and money!
I had this conversation with my conservative-ish parents recently and my dad, about whom there should be no “ish” on conservative, was like LET US HELP YOU MOVE OUT OF YOUR CURRENT SITUATION HE SEEMS LIKE SUCH A NICE BOY. (He’s 33, so that sort of made me giggle. He is a very nice man though.)
I had this conversation with my dad a few years ago; just for some context, the man uses the phrase “living in sin” in a not-at-all-sarcastic way. it went something like this “Dad, I want to let you know X and I are moving in together. I know you do not approve, but this is what works for us.” “…OK.” *moves on to next topic* I made it clear that it was not open for debate or even conversation. I didn’t owe it to him to explain or justify or rationalize my decision and it was one of the first times in my life I asserted myself in this way to my dad (I was 22). I knew he would continue to not approve and he may even express his disapproval (although not to me because he does not normally express disapproval directly) and it wasn’t up to me to change his opinion or seek his approval. He was entitled to feel whatever kind of feels he wanted about the situation, but I was (and am) also entitled to live my life in a way that was consistent with my wants and needs and values. As the captain says, it gets easier with practice! So put it out there like good news, but don’t feel like you have to “sell’ it or explain it or manage their feels about it. Good luck!
Is your dad mine? Because mine had about the same reaction when I moved in with my now-husband. He didn’t *say* anything, but being a native speaker of Passive-Aggressive, he didn’t have to.
Non-answers are also very useful, if pushed. When my now-husband-then-boyfriend and I moved in together, his Very Catholic Parents Very Much Disapproved, Let Us Tell You the Ways.
Parents: You’re going to burn in Hell!
Parents: The Bible says you shouldn’t live in sin!
BF: That’s probably true.
Parents: You’re going to be living in sin, against the beliefs we gave you!
It helps if you react as though someone just said, “Looks like rain today”, or “Isn’t the sky an interesting color”, or “Blueberry muffins are nice”.
I have had some success with short-circuiting parental disapproval (on a smaller scale, like: I am getting a tattoo) by being honest about the fact that I’m worried.
Mom: It’s really important you have rituals to grieve for your friend. Is there anything in particular you’re thinking of doing? I can give you this book! About grief rituals!
Felicity: Well, I’m a little worried about your reaction to this, but I’m planning to get a tattoo. [background on tattoo idea and how it related to my friend and our relationship.]
Mom: … Well, I’m going to have to work hard to be all right with that.
It was not at all sarcastic, she did work hard, and she loves my tattoo now. (Probably helped that a friend of hers got a tattoo for her granddaughter with cancer. Tattoos now okay, if they are for people with cancer!) It’s weird, because I can see the potential for this approach to backfire, if one were too oppositional — “DON’T FREAK OUT MOM” or “DON’T DO WHAT YOU ALWAYS DO” — but it can be really good if you’re gentle, because you are saying their reaction, their opinion, does matter to you emotionally.
I think it’s easy for parents to confuse “she won’t do what I tell her to do” with “she doesn’t care what I think at all”, and they just aren’t the same. The first is a natural part of being an adult. But you can be independent and still care, and if you remind them of that, it can help!
“I think it’s easy for parents to confuse “she won’t do what I tell her to do” with “she doesn’t care what I think at all”
AAAH this is it exactly! This is the problem right here! It’s like every action I take is some sort of referendum on her worth as parent. Do what she says= good parent, respectful child. Do anything else= worthless parent, child hates her. (child in question now in her 30’s)
I’ve had some improvement on this by validating and then disagreeing and explaining my choice. I demonstrate that I’ve heard and understood the advice or the parent’s point of view, but assert that I’m going to be doing this other thing for this reason.
Probably won’t be a good choice with abusive or manipulative parents, but with those that just think you’re not listening or they failed if you don’t listen, it might help.
boutet, my parents are like this, too. I lost a lot of tears and sleep during adolescence and early adulthood over how to disagree with them, while making it clear I still honored and loved them.
I’m now in my late 30s and have only discovered in the last year or so how useful the statement “I register your concern” is when talking with my parents about stuff I don’t really want to argue about. In fact, I use that same script with both my Reasonable Parent and my Intermittently Emotionally Abusive Parent.
When Reasonable Parent and I disagree, I *do* know generally where zie is coming from, because we understand each other pretty well, and we’re both happier if I make it clear I’m not being thoughtless or dismissive.
IEAP has always been an enigma to me, but zie seems to be more mollified by “I register your concern,” followed by an abrupt subject change on my part, than by any other thing I said during or since childhood. Sometimes I have to broken-record a little bit with IEAP, but the message eventually gets through– “Yes, IEAP, I do hear what you’re saying. But it is not going to change what I will do, and I am not going to fight with you about it.”
Are we siblings?
Are you sure we weren’t separated a birth? My mother has this exactly outlook on life. Had a drink or two at a party (with a responsible designated driver on hand) and apparently somehow it’s due to her having a *sip* of beer at a football game once. Got a tattoo, this is likely punishment for doing something “rebellious” in college. When I finally told her I was moving in with my fiance, she might’ve responded better if I told her I was going to boil live puppies. And when the relationship collapsed, she couldn’t help but gloat that it was because we had lived together. I finally had to ask if she would’ve preferred me being a divorce and shut her up right quick.
Parents yo. They spend the first half of your life telling you to “use your brain” then they spend the chastising you for actually doing so.
Part of my brain says that an easy solution would be to tell your parents that moving in together will make getting married easier because of the finances – but the problem with that of course is that it presents it as “I have a problem that needs solving” and opens you up to Attempts To Solve It Other Ways. My father is big on Solving Things Other Ways and just… it does not work. It really doesn’t. It can seem more oppositional or defiant or whatever to say “I’m doing this, because it’s what I’m doing” but sometimes it’s the only way.
My parents and his parents are fairly conservative and religious. But mine are also somewhat pragmatic. (I was told that they felt sex was for marriage, but they knew that might be unreasonable these days and really did not want me having sex before I was a legal adult, for example.) We were engaged when we moved in together, and we just presented it as Fait accompli. I might have also couched it as “Hey, you know how y’all worry about my paychecks covering my rent? Well now it’s half as much as it was!”
But, I was 26 and my parents were kinda like “You know, we were married for years by your age, so we can’t even imagine what it would be like. Good luck!” I ended up getting more grief about my decision two years prior to move into an apartment on my own without roommates. That was a thing they couldn’t wrap their heads around. An adult committed couple living together in their mid-20s was a thing they got.
One side note: please don’t get “engaged” (if you aren’t already?) simply to please family. Other people do not get to dictate the rhythm of your relationship!
My boyfriend (now husband) and I went through this: we moved in together despite knowing it would appall both our conservative religious families. I’m sure it DID appall them. But we just DID it, and it’s interesting how quickly a family who loves you can adjust the situation in their minds to deal with it. Like, BEFORE you do it, it’s “OMG LIVING IN SIN IS THE SINNIEST.” And then when their beloved daughter/son does it, they HAVE to restructure it in order to cope with it. So you drop the bomb (I did it by postcard: “Paul and I have found a great apartment at this address…!”) and then you give them time to process it, as the Captain says. After awhile (during which I was happy/lucky they didn’t share their feelings/”concerns” with me), they adjusted to it and it seemed normal. Even better, I think it made them feel differently about Living in Sin OVERALL: they had to make the adjustment for ME, which meant they kind of had to do it for everyone. (I do think they were quite relieved when we got married, though.)
And then when their beloved daughter/son does it, they HAVE to restructure it in order to cope with it.
I think this is a really key point.
Non-abusive parents who love their kids will generally come around to being able to deal with the choices their kids make, because they love them and they want them to be happy. They don’t want drama, they don’t want to cut their kids off and stop speaking to them, they don’t want people to be miserable. The coming around might take a while, but in the end they’ll probably get there.
Abusive parents are going to find ways to be abusive about the choices their kids make, whatever those choices are, because that’s the way they roll. Drama and misery are their sweet, sweet nectar.
So, all in all, the answer is still to go for it and do what you want to do.
“Abusive parents are going to find ways to be abusive about the choices their kids make, whatever those choices are, because that’s the way they roll. Drama and misery are their sweet, sweet nectar.”
You are wise, and you have clearly met my mother. She has never, ever approved of my romantic partners, my career choices or any of my other life choices. She had a Life Plan laid out for me by the time I was thirteen, and she’s never forgiven me for choosing a different path. I don’t think good parents are supposed to be like that.
They’re not, and my heart hurts for you. I hope you are living life on your own terms, now, despite it.
Jedi hugs to you. My mother is the same way.
I will add my voice to the chorus of agreement with the Captain.
Please remember that your conservative families love you and may be more generous than you think. They may well be happy to accept any positive slant you put on things
You may want to revisit your reasons for not getting married. I mention this only because somebody I know recently got engaged and then married in a courthouse ceremony within the week. I bring this up because you don’t say marriage is something you both want that you’ve delayed because of various circumstances.
I assume that in this case “extenuating circumstances” refer to financial/non-criminal legal/professional/other entirely aboveboard but fairly substantial complications(e.g. neither of you are at an income threshold where marriage makes sense financially or one of you has a substantial but temporary financial obligation, you want to wait until you’ve got more job security or finish school, one of you is named executor of a will with highly eccentric provisions or whatever other complication might arise) not delaying because you’re not really sure yet.
I’m curious about this point of view. Why would a person want to be above a certain income threshold, or have job security, or finish school, before marrying? Is it about wanting to spend a lot of money on the wedding? If it’s about wanting to keep assets and liabilities separate, a prenup would be an option. Because, apart from the wedding issue, marriage itself is not going to make a person poorer. Two can live more cheaply than one.
Er, in the USA, income taxes for a married couple are more substantial than for two single people, even if those two single people are living together. There are other financial issues as well–if you combine insurance, for example, both of your past records are now applied to your bills, and you might be waiting for an accident or a ticket to drop off the record before doing that. Two people can live more cheaply than one, but that’s true whether or not you’re married.
The point really isn’t to argue the ins and outs of finances and marriage law in various constituencies. The point is that lots of people move in together before getting married for a number of reasons, and delay marriage for a number of reasons, and it’s really not up to us to dowse the particular wells of delay happening here. The question is how to break the moving-in-before-marriage news, not how to upend schedules to make moving in before marriage a nonissue.
You have that tax thing backward. There are numerous tax breaks for married couples that singles do not have access to, and income tax withholding is higher for singles. This is a well-known fact.
Season – it actually depends on what your tax bracket is, and whether the two partners earn equal(ish) salaries or if one outearns the other significantly. Some couples would owe less in taxes if they married, and some (mostly high earners with roughly equal incomes) would owe more. I won’t explain the specifics here, but if you want to read more, the term you’d be searching for is “marriage penalty.”
“The point really isn’t to argue the ins and outs of finances and marriage law in various constituencies. The point is that lots of people move in together before getting married for a number of reasons, and delay marriage for a number of reasons, and it’s really not up to us to dowse the particular wells of delay happening here. The question is how to break the moving-in-before-marriage news, not how to upend schedules to make moving in before marriage a nonissue.”
THIS. I don’t understand why people are getting so judgmental about the LW’s relationship choices. Everyone relationships a little differently, and that’s great. LW shouldn’t have to justify their financial/social/career/educational/medical circumstances. Whether it’s because they want to try out living together to see if they’re compatible, or because they’re waiting for Uncle Bob’s chemotherapy to end so he can make it to the wedding, or because they want to settle their careers/finances before making lifelong commitments, or because the marriage penalty would mean losing critical disability benefits, they get to set their own priorities. Right now their stated priority is living together. If they wanted to get married now, LW wouldn’t have written this letter in the first place.
“Apart from the wedding issue” – there’s also the possibility that getting married is a big deal for the couple and the LW/LW’s bf wants to have the kind of wedding where all friends/family can come celebrate (esp. if they’ve got lifestyles that either a) make big get-togethers hard to justify without a special occasion or b) there’s a lot of internal/external expectation of a particular type of wedding.
No harm in waiting to be able to afford the wedding you want, just like there’s no harm in going to the courthouse and doing it for under $100 if that’s your druthers. Marriage, with its social and legal conferments of privilege, is a big deal and I am a fan of figuring out what “doing it right” means to any particular couple and then they taking the steps they feel necessary to achieve that. 🙂
I know for us, we needed the mortgage for our house to be unaffected by a particular member’s credit (not even a bad score, just that my wife had a mortgage that is technically in her name, but her brother lives at the address and is paying the mortgage.) There’s no way we would have qualified for a “second” mortgage. We had our civil ceremony shortly after we closed on the house, but yeah. Also, if one person is on Medicaid/SSI/etc., getting married can affect those benefits.
We delayed getting married until we’d bought our house because I received subsidies due to my low income. I even quit my job a few weeks early in order to keep my income below the threshold.
And to Aris Merquoni: having paid taxes as a single, and taxes as a married person, they are MUCH less now that we are married.
Fair ’nuff–all of my friends who are both working have taken hits when they’ve gotten married, but as others have pointed out that’s not always the case. But I reiterate–the particulars of the LW’s finances are not the point. The LW is moving in with Boyfriend, and they are not getting married yet, and the solution to this problem is not for someone to point out “Wait, you could just get married first!” That is not the solution to a problem that the LW is having.
There are more things in heaven and earth, etc., etc. There can be a million very, very good reasons for delaying a wedding. For example, the “postnuptial” agreement I had in place with my ex-spouse would have required me to recalculate, to my financial disadvantage, my alimony upon re-marrying. Additionally, the home I moved into with my child after the split is simply not large enough to add a second adult to; my new partner’s house is too far away from my child’s school and my work; and we don’t have the wherewithal at the moment to find a place for us together. And finally, I think my child’s had a better time of it growing up with a single mom rather than a re-married mom.
I also think it can be a very good idea to finish up a goal or get through a stressful time of life — get the diploma, get hired at a permanent job, secure a decent salary — without adding in the challenge of “learn how to share your life with another adult” to the mix at the same time.
I second the idea that most families will learn to cope with it if you just do it.
I actually have a story where everything is sort of reversed. My family is not conservative at all and most of us aren’t religious either. I have a cousin who decided that she wanted to move in with her boyfriend but that they needed to be married first. This raised a LOT of eyebrows and she was the subject of much gossiping and private concern trolling for a while. She went through with it anyway and most of the family shut up about it. As far as I know it all seems to have worked out but even if it hadn’t I seriously doubt anyone would have gloated about what a bad idea they knew it was all along.
My now-fiancé and I had to deal with this. We moved in together when we moved across the country together, after having been long-distance prior to that. After dating for all of 3 months. I did this by “breaking things” to my parents in stages: first I said he was going to come with me on the road trip and help ME move, then about a month and more information later my mom just asked me outright “wait, is he MOVING there WITH you?” while we were on an airplane, so I had no way of ducking that. But she took it well. And told my dad for me.
My dad still makes jokes about “living in sin,” but honestly he seems fine with it. As do all of my other relatives, even the nonagenarians.
My parents are pretty conservative, by the way, but…I think they’re fairly realistic about these things.
Would like to know more about the mysterious “circumstances” that prevent them getting married. Is he already married? Or just saving up for a big wedding?
I’ve never understood the “we can live together but can’t afford to get married” argument. Marriage license (or banns or the non-Christian equivalent of banns) + officiant will be, I don’t know, a couple hundred dollars at the very most? There’s no reason you can’t have a big wedding later, I’ve seen it done. Lack of money isn’t an extenuating circumstance so I for one am taking LW’s word for it that’s not what she meant.
Yeah, a marriage license in my state and getting a judge to officiate was around $120, which is feasible for most. (Don’t think there is a requirement for banns anymore.) But if you do have your heart set on a big wedding, then you might think it wouldn’t be the same if you were already legally married.
I also can’t think of other “circumstances” that would prevent marriage short of one of them already being married. Or they might be cousins? Or immigration issues? Any of which would partly justify the parents’ disapproval. Anyway, letter writers, please be specific to satisfy my curiosity.
I can think of lots of reasons:
– illnesses or recent deaths in the family
– another big family wedding in the near future (can cause lots of rifts in families, re “stealing thunder” etc)
– not being able to isolate a day due to mismatching schedules
– family feud within extended family (meaning that a big family occasion would be awkward and a smaller occasion could fuel the feud)
– financial/tax reasons – e.g. college aid / disability payments can be dependent on your spouse’s income if you’re married
– in some churches (in my country anyway) you have to do a “marriage course” to get married there and making time for that can be difficult, it also costs money
– saving up: nothing wrong with wanting a wedding in the way that you’d prefer to do it.
I’m not the letter writer, but here are reasons myself and my friends delayed marriage to committed partners we were living with.
1) Bad credit. I had terrible credit due to being hospitalized while uninsured. Before marrying Spouse, who has excellent credit, we spent two years living together. He paid most of the bills, and I paid off my creditors. If I had come into the marriage with all those debts it would have tanked his credit, and we could not have bought a home.
2) Student loans. Two friends delayed marriage until they both completed their education (one got a PhD) because student loans, grants, and payment deferments are based off of the family’s income. Being married would have meant paying significantly more out of pocket for school expenses, and they would have become ineligible for state-sponsored programs they needed to have food.
3) Health issues. A friend has been living with their partner for years, and will probably never marry. They have health issues that Medicaid will fully cover, but private insurance will not. Medicaid is income-based. Marrying their partner would mean paying hundreds of dollars a month in medications alone. Add in doctor co-pays, regular testing, and occasional hospital visits, and it would devastate them financially to marry.
I’m very glad you pointed this out. Especially in the US, even being able to marry is sort of a sign of income privilege.
Jeez, how sad and gross is it that in two of your examples, health concerns (and the resulting financial consequences) are part of the reason for not marrying when you want to. Ugg. (But good for you and happy marriage!)
One possible reason would be health insurance – in the US young adults can usually stay on their parent’s insurance until 26 years old if they are unmarried. If neither of the couple have reasonably priced health insurance through their work getting married could result in either having to purchase insurance at a high cost or risk going uninsured.
Why is everyone assuming LW is in the United States?
Because we are speculating on the reasons the LW may not be in the position to get married at the moment (for some reason I admittedly don’t understand, seeing as the LW didn’t ask us for our opinions on whether or not they really COULD get married right now if they wanted) and as most of the responders thus far are from the US, that’s the only perspective they have to offer possible reasons from?
Well, just a grab bag of things that I’ve heard of in my extended social circle
*Divorces can take years. Years after you’ve decided the marriage is over and moved on and found a new person… you’re still legally married because you can’t agree about some stupid cleaning bill from when you moved out.
*Religious divorces/annulments can also take years (if you can even get them) after you’ve got a civil divorce and moved on in your life.
*Same-sex marriage is not legal in all jurisdictions. Same-sex couples are obviously prevented from marrying there, different-sex couples may be waiting in sympathy
*Cousin marriage is not legal in all jurisdictions
*Depending on your jurisdiction and your personal financial circumstance marriage can have serious ongoing costs of various kinds, costs you may not be able to pay (or it might have ongoing benefit) Without intimate knowledge of a couple’s financial situation and the relevant jurisdiction it’s impossible to say what benefits/penalties might exist.
*Weddings cost money, some people don’t have that money (even the small fee for a civil wedding)
*Weddings often involve inviting families, there might be personal reasons why A Big Family Celebration is not a good idea right now, and also personal reasons why “going to Vegas and getting married without telling anyone” isn’t the Wedding that the couple want.
*The Wedding might require (legally or religiously) one person to obtain a change-of-status of some kind in order to go ahead – for instance a legal recognition of change-of-gender, a conversion to a religion, immigration status… all of these things require some or all of time, money, and effort.
Besides lots of people want to live together before making the commitment of marriage. Personally I’m not interested in marrying, ever; but I might tell more conservative family members “some day” rather than “never” to avoid an argument. In practice my conservative parents didn’t much care when I announced I was shacked up. They cared a great deal more when I announced that I was *going to the outlaws for Christmas* (the horror!) but were mollified when I said we’d alternate (one of these years I will get Christmas in MY HOUSE and not have to trog half way across the country to see relatives).
All of those make perfect sense.
I also most likely would be getting married sooner were it not for “circumstances,” the circumstance in this case being that I have been in grad school for the last 2 years and had no desire to plan a wedding while dealing with all of that stuff. Were this not the case, we’d’ve still started living together before marriage at some point, but our wedding would have probably been a few days ago instead of several months from now.
My brother and his fiance aren’t getting married even though they were engaged when they found out she was pregnant. It blew my dad’s mind that they weren’t going to immediately get married.
Here’s the thing though. If she had married him before the baby was born, she would’ve lost all of her low-income benefits that did things like keep the medical costs low.
When my partner and I were both working, it cost us over $1000/year to be married rather than living together unmarried, because of how income tax works in the U.S. and in New York State. Yes, the marriage license and a city employee officiating were cheap; they’re also one-off expenses.
Please, everyone who is saying “we can’t afford to get married”: bite your tongue unless you’re prepared, when someone does the calculations and says “actually, not being married saved us $1700 last year,” to sign a binding contract that if they get married, you will give them the difference in taxes every year between what they pay as married and what they’d pay as two single people. You probably don’t know more about your relatives’ financial situations than they do; you almost certainly don’t know more about your friends’ and acquaintances’ finances than they do.
We decided it was worth it, but “it’s worth it” is a much less likely conclusion when you’re deciding between marriage and paying the electric bill, rather than between marriage and being able to go away on vacation this year. And even if it’s about going away on vacation, it’s not a third person’s business to tell a couple that they should give up those few days in the sunshine in February because someone else is in favor of marriage.
One wonders if the government is trying to DISCOURAGE people from getting married! In my country there’s no difference in income tax between married and common-law couples.
I wonder that quite often. Despite all the pro-family rhetoric from US politicians they consistently back policies that penalize lower income people who marry.
Social marriage is becoming a thing in my part of the US. A committed couple privately exchanges wedding rings, tell people they are “saving up for the wedding”, and are treated as married. They lack the legal protection of marriage, but access the social advantages. The rings come off when they have to re-certify with the state to keep their benefits.
Politicians often cite the high numbers of unmarried couples raising children together among lower-income and minority groups as a sign of falling morals and lack of commitment among younger generations.
Many of those couples are socially married, and treated as stable family units by their community.
+1. The year my ex and I got married, we ended up owing $2 grand in taxes when every year previous we’d each gotten a refund. This might as well have been $2 million; we just plain did not have it and I didn’t realize that the hit for getting married would be that huge. (we also ran numbers for married filing separately and that was even worse!)
Boyfriend and I are in similar financial circumstances, and I don’t dare risk this happening again.
Oddly enough, the only person who objected to my partner and I moving in together (and we were engaged) was one of his sisters. After she met me in person (long distance relationship + family scattered everywhere) I must have passed muster, because she stopped bugging him about it, and she and I are decent friends now.
Of course, this was not the first time I had moved in with someone, and the first time it happened my folks had already disowned me so it’s not like I could possibly make things worse. They still insisted on us sleeping in different rooms until my brother’s girlfriend had his kid (they got married later, wasn’t high on their priority list) and then I think they sort of figured out “Oh, sex is happening, we have a grandkid because of it and we want grandkids, shutting up now”.
They also never batted an eye at my girlfriend and I sleeping in the same bed together but I’m pretty sure that was because they were in full-out denial, hah.
This is… weirdly appropriate at this moment.
In my case it’s not something nearly as drastic as moving in with him. I just want to stay the night at his parents’ house with him when he comes back for a doctor’s appointment next weekend. I know living with my parents complicates matters a little bit, and the fact that I’m not quite 20 makes me sound like a bit of a whiny brat, but honestly. We’ve been together going on five years and I just want to snuggle and make pancakes. We won’t be having sex (but good luck convincing my parents of that). It’s just the best possible plan for cuddling and chatting about our lives, so it’s what we want to do.
So I’ve written out a little speech to give them on Wednesday that basically consists of, “Hey, this is the plan we’ve made and this is how it fits into our current plans for the weekend. What questions can I answer?” and then I’ve tried to anticipate their objections/questions/responses/demands so I have answers prepared for those too. Most of the answers are polite forms of either “Wow, that’s a really irrelevant argument and here is why” or “I understand your concerns, but I’m still following through with my plans. What other information would you like?”
I’m absolutely terrified of doing this, because after almost 20 years of conditioning I’ve just started to break free of the bullshit equation respect = obedience, but I’m not going to show it. I’m totally, totally done being afraid of them. Since my obedience was based on fear, without fear there’s no reason to be obedient. Respectful, sure. But I can respect them and still sleep in someone else’s house for a night.
When I was 18 and in college, my 20 year old Boyfriend From Back Home and I planned for him to come to my school and spend the weekend with me. We did not tell my parents about this. So bright and early on that Friday morning, I got a phone call from my mom telling me to pack my things, I was coming home for the weekend, and my dad would be there to get me as soon as my last class ended. I very firmly and politely told her that I already had plans and they did not involve going home for the weekend. Then she proceeded to tell me that fine, I didn’t have to go home, but that BFBH was absolutely not coming up to see me unchaperoned. So I asked her what she thought would be happening (it was sex) and explained to her that that particular thing would have been happening whether I saw him at my school or in my home town and since I was legally an adult and not financially dependent on her and my dad for my education (I was lucky–I had a full scholarship), that I would be proceeding as planned and she could be happy about it or not. She chose not and didn’t actually speak to me for a couple of months, but she eventually got over it and now she goes on and on about how he was her favorite person I ever dated, even after I’ve been married to someone else for 16 years. And after that, our relationship was so, so much better.
So it can be done, and it’ll be scary and uncomfortable, and they may have a bit of a tantrum, but it can also work out to be so great for your relationship with them in the end.
The summer after I graduated high school, my mom put our house on the market and moved back to her hometown. I was dating someone long-distance, and I wanted to have him come visit for a few days. My mom was going to be gone for part of the proposed visit. At first, she seemed to be flipping out about the idea of use being alone together at all, but it turns out that she was really worried about the gossip from her neighbors (who were parents of people she had gone to high school with.) She had no problem with me going to visit him or with him coming to visit when she would be in town, but she knew that it would be a tempest in a teapot if the neighbors knew I had a boyfriend there when my mom was out of town.
I had to give my mom a speech like that before I started college. My boyfriend at the time (the asshole ex I’ve written about in comments before) had just gotten his first apartment, and I went with him to check it out, but she had Issues with us being somewhere without supervision, so when she found out where we had been, I literally had to sit her down and say “in a week, I Will Not Be Living Here. I will be in many different places, with many different boys and girls, with no ‘adult’ supervision. That is just going to be part of life from now on.” It helped…I still had to work around the Plausible Deniability of Sex stuff, and a few months later I had to do another “hey, stop that” Stern Talk about her weird comments about boyfriend-related stuff, but after that, things were smooth enough. (Until things with said boyfriend started going waaaaaaaaay south.)
Best of luck to you! You can do this.
Several winters ago, I said to my mother, “The Partner and I are a package deal. I understand that you are uncomfortable with us sharing a room. But he is important to me. If he is not welcome to stay with you, I do not feel welcome, either. Can you please find a way to be hospitable to him?”
That one visit was pretty uncomfortable. TP slept on my old bed, which didn’t really fit him, and I slept on a cot next to it. He asked gingerly in the morning if the weeping Jesus drawing over the bed was something I’d picked out in childhood (um, no) or if it had been supplied for the occasion. But it has been the only fuss we’ve ever had about sleeping arrangements.
Since my brother’s kids were born, my parents have come to be very glad that TP’s family, who lives close by, has space for me. I can still come over for some meals with my parents when visiting, without taking up a scarce bed and a share of the bathroom.
Mr. Crow and I were part of a coop house in grad school, where we each had a room. As he said after his parents toured the house with us “I’m sure they’re putting two and two together…. but possibly not as often as we are”
It seemed kind to give them a polite fiction to believe in. Or course this was in the early 1980s when things were just beginning to loosen up. Now I have a 20 year old daughter with a boyfriend who sleeps at our house, or she at his, most weekends.
LW, you said you’ve been together for 10 years. If I make a calculation, let’s say you can’t have been younger than 15 when you started dating (probably older). Now you are at least 25. Old enough to have children of your own. I think I would deflect any accusations about “sex before marriage” with “Mom, Dad, I think it is not really appropriate for me to talk about my sex life with you” or something along those lines. Because it really isn’t. It isn’t appropriate of *them* actually to think they still get a say in any of your life choices.
Oh, and, if you are still living with your parents, make sure you have either the new flat ready to move in immediately or an alternative place to stay until you can. Living for months with people giving you the stink eye isn’t fun.
Good luck!!! You are doing the right thing.
My now-husband and I went through this with my parents many years ago, when we moved in together. They came out to visit us in the home that we had just bought and threw a giant, horrible tantrum. I had honestly thought they were pretty OK with the situation beforehand, in spite of the fact that they’re conservative, I had been making announcements since my teens that I planned on living with a boyfriend before tying the knot.
I would add to the excellent advice that the Captain has given by saying – if you do think your parents (or his) are the types to throw tantrums, plan the next couple visits with them in a very strategic way. Make sure you have a way to leave, if things get heated. Maybe have an agreed-upon signal between the two of you that means It’s Time To Go. Don’t do something like fly to visit them and let them talk you into not renting a car. My parents came to visit me, and so it was awful to have them staying in our house hurling character insults, and us feeling like we couldn’t ask them to leave without permanently damaging our relationship. (Spoiler: it was permanently damaged anyway.)
If things start getting weird and parents start having Opinions about your choices, just cut the visit short. They will need to learn to respect your decisions as an adult sometime, it might as well be now.
Hopefully this will not be the case with your families, but if it is, that really sucks, but it is survivable. The important thing is that you are living your life for YOU, and not for them.
They came out to visit us in the home that we had just bought and threw a giant, horrible tantrum.
Can I just say, it is beyond ballsy to agree to be someone’s houseguest and then pitch a fit about the circumstances? It’s not like they didn’t know how things would be before they got there.
I know, right? I thought it was going to be a nice family visit…little did I know, it was an evidence gathering expedition. They made an itemized list of everything about my life that they hated, starting with the handles on the drawers and finishing with my partner’s procrastination tendencies. And then there were the lectures about “sin.” I really, sincerely hope that the LW does not have a similar experience.
How To Be Old And Alone With No One To Visit You: A Primer For Parents
Killer Advice. simply sizzling.
some killer comments, too; at least pre-tax session.
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