My girlfriend is pressuring me to get married, and I don’t know what to do. We’re both 28 and have been dating exclusively for five years. She is the love of my life, but I just don’t see the need to get married, at least not yet. Both her parents and mine are divorced—less than amiably—and I always promised myself I wouldn’t get into that situation. My girlfriend and I each have our own places but spend most nights together. I think moving between houses is kind of fun, but she hates it. We have all the commitments of a married couple—holidays, vacations, friends in common—but without the messy issues of combining households and finances (which she’s not so good at, by the way). I don’t want to ruin a good thing by forcing myself down the aisle. How can I explain this without sounding like a commitment-phobic jerk? So far, I’ve avoided the issue as much as I can.
I’m curious why you find nightly sleepovers to be so fun. Are you a camping nut, or is it just easier to commit on a part-time basis? If you’ve both been together for five years and this drop-in arrangement hasn’t started to wear thin, I’d guess that more is going on here than you’re letting on, maybe even to yourself.
You offer a few clues: two children of divorce, lingering conflicts between both sets of parents, concerns about Girlfriend’s financial savvy. At the same time, thinking that you are fulfilling the most important commitments of a married couple, yet not living together, suggests that your expectations about marriage are off. If you didn’t have a great model for marriage growing up, that certainly might help explain things. But if you want a healthy marriage—whether in name or in spirit—it means agreeing to a life that embraces it all: moving under one roof, communicating even when you don’t want to, making money decisions together and helping each other with common goals.
This kind of commitment comes with big risks but promises big rewards as well. You might feel uncertain whether you’re ready to invest the kind of emotional capital it takes to build a healthy marriage, but it sounds like Girlfriend wants to try. Admitting that you’re worried is admirable, but protecting yourself by avoiding the issue is downright cruel. Talking with your partner is the next step you need to take — to share your worries over sharing the same fridge, your fear of repeating your parents’ divorce, and the anxiety you feel about her shopping sprees. Whatever you do, you need to stop playing possum. It’s disrespectful to you both and prevents you from hearing her vision of a happy marriage. You might be surprised to find out that it’s not far from your own.
I’m a newlywed. My husband and I dated for three years before we were married last spring, and I get along great with his family. His sister is several years younger than we are and lives in the area. Up until the wedding, she and I had no issues, but ever since my bachelorette party, I haven’t been able to shake her. She has friended all of my bridesmaids on Facebook and has insinuated herself into my circle of girlfriends. She shows up for our ladies’ nights and is constantly asking questions about how my marriage is going. She’s really a nice person, just so much younger and clueless about what’s appropriate and what is not. I want my friends to be my friends and my family to be my family. How do I disinvite her without being disowned?
–Crowded in Clarendon
Defriending a family member sounds like a topic for Oprah to address. But I sympathize with your situation. Breaking up with a friend can be treacherous; breaking up with family can require a lawyer. Hopefully we can come up with something a little less dramatic.
It sounds like Sister-in-Law (SIL) looks up to you and your friends, admires your marriage, and generally wants to be close to you. This is not unusual Little Sis behavior when you’re in grade school, so I’m going to prescribe a grade school-type intervention: boundary-setting. Kids need limits so they know what to expect and won’t launch into worry-based over-functioning. It sounds like SIL may be a little anxious and trying to figure out what’s appropriate SIL behavior. Tell her. Show her. Help her. I don’t mean that you block her from your life. Just be gentle and firm about who is invited to ladies’ night and who is not.
Also, show an interest in how she’s relating to people her own age. She may really be after your wisdom and advice but just doesn’t know how to ask for it and has opted to try osmosis instead. With some sisterly guidance and some time, you may not need to delete your Facebook account entirely.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist, practicing at the Imago Center of DC in Georgetown. Her website is www.therapygeorgetown.com This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Please send your relationship questions to firstname.lastname@example.org