Thursday, March 14, 2019

Why Doesn't He Marry Her?

Carolyn Hax is on vacation. So she has chosen a number of prior columns and reposted them to keep us company while she is away. Today’s column dates to 2004. This does not mean that it it’s dated, but it does suggest that Hax thinks highly of the response she offered to a woman whose boyfriend’s mother is hassling the young couple over why they are not married.

As it happens, the point of the letter is almost too obvious to belabor. Except that Hax, to our shock and awe, misses the point entirely.

Here, without further ado, is the letter:

Dear Carolyn: I have a great boyfriend whom I've been with for several years, and we just bought a house together. The problem: His mother thinks we're living in sin because we're not married. She tells her son this about once every three months. I have a major problem with people intruding on my personal life when they're not invited.

I can't say anything to his mom because she hasn't addressed me directly yet — although her last email came perilously close to calling me a woman of loose morals — but everything the boyfriend has tried so far hasn't worked. Of course, if we ever do marry and have kids, it will be, "Why don't you go to church?"

We have an extremely honest relationship, so he knows how I feel. He's willing to fight his mother over it, because he agrees with my concept of privacy. I'm at a total loss here — how do we get the woman to butt out?

— It's Still Salvageable, Right?

Hax suggests, fairly enough, that it is not their problem and it is not the letter writer’s problem. It is the boyfriend’s problem. He should deal with his mother firmly and directly, telling her to mind her own business. Hax even considers that “the woman” as the letter writer calls her is judgmental and obnoxious.

Of course, it isn’t the question. And it distorts the issue.

The first question is: why don’t they get married? Why are they rejecting the marital institution. If they have ideological issues with the institution of marriage, the young letter writer should know that marriage protects women.

Second, we do not know where they live or whether they live in the same community as his mother. Recent studies have shown that community standards impact relationships, no matter how much a couple is in love. But, one suspects that his mother is not the only person who thinks that the happy couple is “living in sin.” In other words, it’s not just about “the woman” but perhaps about the community entire. Most people nowadays would never insist that their children get married, but still, it is not obnoxiously judgmental to do so. Especially if the mother is merely expressing community values... and warning them of the consequences. In that case, dealing with the mother as an individual is hardly going to address the real issue.

Third, by many societal standards, the mother in question is merely trying to protect the young woman’s reputation. I know that that sounds quaint, but in the bad old days, before women were liberated to hook up and to indulge in serial divorces, a man would show his respect for a woman by marrying her. The mother is apparently appalled about the way her son is treating this woman. Apparently, the thought has not crossed the letter writer’s mind, so we worry about her moral compass.

Fourth, the living arrangement and the tenuous nature of their relationship does affect the mother directly. For all we know she is not worried about her son or even about his concubine. She is concerned about prospective grandchildren. Given that the couple is not married, their children, should they have children, might be brought up in circumstances that some communities might frown upon. In this situation, community standards matter. And people should not defy them without understanding that they do so at their peril.

So the real question is: why doesn’t he marry her? Or better, why doesn’t she care?


Sam L. said...

My question is, what does HER mother (and father) think about this?

Magic Mirror said...

LW wants to know "How to we get the woman to but out?"

LW's partner's mother is expressing her emotions and opinions, and may be doing so out of her interpretation of love for her son, and maybe even concern for the well-being of her future grandchildren and future daughter-in-law (or so Mom hopes!) I'm just brainstorming here, but what if LW's man asks his mother why it's so important that he and LW get married, he could begin to address his mother's concerns directly, rather than just reply with a flat "no", which hasn't, so far, deterred his mother's tireless insistence on matrimony.

As for asking, "How can I get a mother to stop expressing her opinions about how her grown son should be living his life?" Well, sister, when I find out, I'll let you know!