Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at email@example.com.)
Q. Milking the Cow?: I have been dating a wonderful, handsome, caring man for almost three years. The first two years we enjoyed a wonderful life, but lived separately. About three months ago we decided to move in with each other, and two weeks after we moved in together, his son's mother fell into a near coma due to drinking. My boyfriend’s son (who is 8) is now with us permanently and will probably be for a long time. My issue here is that I am now a mom and wife without the badge. My boyfriend has said he's "just not there yet" when it comes to marriage and that he would only marry me at this point to make me happy. I feel kinda duped and stuck now that I am living with him and his child and he doesn't see us getting married. Meanwhile, I am very successful professionally, still quite young (30), and a complete catch! How can he not want to marry me!? What should I do?
A: Your situation raises general and (heartbreakingly) specific issues. On the general front, I know that living together has become an almost standard precursor for marriage, but my concern about it is reflected in the many letters I get such as yours. That is, women (yes, it's almost always a woman) write in that it just seemed like the right time to move in together—living apart was time consuming and expensive—but then the years go by and the young woman is wondering when the question will be popped and the ring proffered. She reluctantly brings up questions of the future, which get deflected with an "I'm not ready." "Stop pressuring me." "You'll ruin the surprise." It's discouraging to see young women who are world-beaters finding their personal lives stuck in some 1950s dynamic where all the power goes to the guy. Situations such as yours are why I advise that couples have very clear, agreed-upon mutual goals and timelines before moving in. That way neither person feels that they are in some kind of permanent probation.
As for your specific situation, you are in love with a man with a young child, and it couldn't have been a secret that this boy's mother had a serious drinking problem. So you two needed to have some serious talks about your expectations for your involvement in this child's life. I can understand that your boyfriend feels burned by marriage, but his reluctance has huge implications for your future. I would hate to see more disruption in a vulnerable child's life. But you are only a few months into the role of sort of stepmother in his life. You sound ambivalent about it. Additionally, if you want marriage and children of your own, and your boyfriend just doesn't see that, better to get out now, than years down the road as your fertility becomes an ever bigger issue. This child needs love, security, consistency, and special handling. He doesn't need a pissed-off pseudo-mother in his life. You don't necessarily have to break up with your boyfriend, but get some distance on the situation by re-establishing your own domicile.
Dear Prudence: Lesbian on the Brink
Q. Jealous of Boyfriend and Best Friend: Lately my boyfriend has taken to texting and calling my best friend for advice about me when we get in arguments. I know there is nothing suspicious going on, and their conversations are mostly brief, but I can't help but be hurt by the idea of them talking about me in such a context. I love both of them but am jealous that he feels so comfortable talking to her when we have so many communication issues ourselves. We have a son together and lots of financial stressors, so communicating is not always easy. I'm especially upset because now the person that I vent to is coming back at me with her own opinion, when it used to be nice to just have someone who'd listen. I told my boyfriend how I felt and he took it badly, saying that he had no one else to talk to who understands me. He basically threw his hands up and said, "Fine! I'll keep everything inside then. I won't talk to her since it's obviously a problem." This just made me feel worse. I'm happy that my boyfriend and best friend get along so well, but I wish he'd find his own friends to talk to. Am I right or should I just be grateful that he is seeking out advice about how to better our relationship?
A: You need a couple of professionals in your life. First a gynecologist who can get you on a very reliable form of birth control, because you don't want to be bringing any more children into such a volatile situation. Next, you need short-term couple's counseling. I know you've got financial stress, but I'm hoping one of you has insurance that might cover say four sessions with a counselor. Someone with a master’s in social work often charges less than a psychologist and can be just as helpful. Think of it as investment in your future together as a family. You two need ways to talk things out together and to respect each other's boundaries. I agree he is violating yours and playing with some pretty volatile substances here. You also need to tell your friend that for the sake of your friendship she needs to stop being referee for your relationship because it's hurting everyone's trust.
Q. Fiancé and Fanatical Giving: My boyfriend of three years and I are getting married in December. I am so excited! He is perfect many in many ways. There is one thing; however, that bothers me to the point of tears the times we have discussed it. He gives 10 percent of his income to his church. Yes, it is a good church, hardly a cult. And, we have agreed on a "mine, yours, ours" method of family financing. So, his 10 percent to his church, over $8,000 a year, will come out of his sole funds. This seems so foolish to me! When I ask him about it, he simply explains it as his way of thanking God. God is for free, right? I don't get it. And I really need to get some advice on how to get him to tone down his giving to a more sensible donation.
A: This is more than a financial question. It goes to his deepest feelings and essential values. As you say, he is not giving $8,000 to a cult or spending it on pornography. He makes a good income and tithing is one of the things that is, to him, a necessary expense in order to be a decent person. Let's say his hobby was motorcycles and he spent $8,000 on maintenance, travel, etc. You might be sobbing over the waste or you might say, "Hey, it makes him happy." It's important for couples to talk over financial issues, and good that you two are doing it. But his contribution is not putting him in debt or threatening your financial stability. Your harping on and crying about it is emotionally manipulative. He surely thinks that you are perfect in many ways, but not in one big one: You want to interfere with his relationship with God. Tread lightly lest you bring down unwanted wrath.
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