What do you do when values clash? I know it’s up to my husband and me to set the standards in our house, and we always have, but we now have a problem. Our teenage son (17) has started going out with his first girlfriend. He badgers us to let her stay overnight in our house, but we’ve said no and explained that as long as he is in high school, we don’t approve of having him bring home girlfriends overnight. There were a few tantrums in which we were accused of “living in the 19th century” and then a long period of the silent treatment. Meanwhile, he has found a way around the problem. His girlfriend’s parents offer to let him stay with them overnight, anytime. We feel they are encouraging our son to disregard the values in our family—something he is very happy to do—and are very upset about their interference. I think we should approach the girlfriend’s family about it, but my husband is against that.
Some parents feel that as long as behavior they don’t entirely approve of is taking place under their roof—underage drinking, taping sessions of Girls Gone Wild—they are in control of it. But these two teenagers are minors, and you have an obligation to set the standards for your son’s behavior. He makes quite a case for his maturity: He throws a tantrum, then pouts. As for you, what’s the point of having old-fashioned values if you’re not going to enforce them? You need to have a talk with the girl’s parents. Don’t be either defensive or self-righteous; just say your son is not allowed to sleep at their house. Yes, your son will be angry, but what you are doing is not just for now, but for when he is a parent and can draw on the lessons you taught him about standing firm. However, since it is obvious your son has become sexually active, you must have a blunt discussion with him about the necessity of always using birth control. You certainly don’t want him to start using your valuable parenting lessons in his senior year of high school.
I am a 27-year-old graduate student who has been dating my boyfriend for about five years. Last year, he took a job across the country and asked me to move with him. Fast forward to a year later, we now live together in a beautiful area on the West Coast and everything is perfect, right? I never thought I’d become a cliché, but I want to get married! He says the timing’s not right, he doesn’t have enough money saved (which is true), and the list goes on and on. I brought up marriage again at dinner last night and he again listed his reasons why not. He says he wants to get married one day, but not until he’s settled down and stable in his career (he just graduated last year). I say life is never going to be “settled down,” so why wait? Should I push the issue or just shut up about it?
—Signed, Not Marriage Material?
Living together can be the dress rehearsal a couple needs to decide whether to continue on to marriage, but it can also be a humiliating limbo if one of you is ready to commit and the other one likes keeping things uncertain. You hate the fact that you’ve become a cliché, but here you are, the longtime girlfriend in a pseudo-marriage who can’t get to the real thing. Just how you envisioned the immediate future is something you two should have been clearer about before you moved across the country and set up housekeeping; you each make a fine case for why marriage does and doesn’t make sense right now. The question is not should you keep nagging or should you silently seethe? It’s: How do you regain control of your own life? I don’t think you need to break up, but I do think you need to move out. Don’t do it as punishment and don’t do it as a tactic to provoke a proposal. Do it so you can get this relationship back to a place where you feel like equals and not someone who is constantly hoping this is the day your boyfriend pops the question. Tell him that you don’t want to be the kind of person who is browbeating the man she loves into marrying her. Explain you want to take the relationship back a step in order to see if you both will ever want together to take it to the next step.
My husband and I have been married 50 years. We get along very well, except for his habit of putting me down with bad remarks when we’re with family or friends. I have told him many times that I will not tolerate this, but it still persists. He never does this when it’s just the two of us. I have suggested counseling, but neither of us wants to because we are of the “handle it yourself” generation. I usually say something back when he makes these degrading remarks, which may be part of the problem. He thinks that it’s just joking, but when a family member tells me to “tell him to treat you better,” I feel it’s not my imagination. Both of us value marriage, but this is very troubling.
—Sick of Put-Downs
Since you’ve been telling him for half a century you won’t tolerate his insults, he’s probably gotten the idea that you’ll tolerate his insults. As objectionable as his behavior is, it’s very good news that he’s nice to you in private. As for his “jokes,” “Take my wife, please” is funny (RIP Henny Youngman). “My wife’s such an idiot,” is not. Before you go to a therapist, try some therapy of your own. After your husband makes one of his remarks, don’t shoot back an insult at him. Instead, don’t do anything. Don’t even grimace. Act as if you never heard him. Just let him feel the awkward, embarrassed silence he creates. It won’t be easy to break a nasty habit of 50 years’ duration, but perhaps when he finally hears his stupidity echoing back at him, he will start treating you in public the way he treats you in private.
My first marriage was to a man who is a mechanic. He said he wouldn’t wear his wedding ring (I found out right after our wedding) because back in high school his shop teacher cut his finger off during shop class when his wedding ring got caught in the saw, or something of that sort. This marriage ended in divorce because, as I found out later, he was sleeping around. Now I am in my second marriage and my husband is an engineer. Shortly after the wedding, he tells me the same thing, he can’t wear his wedding ring because his shop teacher in high school had his finger cut off due to his wedding ring getting caught in the saw. I did not think this could happen twice. I have no reason to suspect my current husband, and because of my first marriage I do watch for any red flags. But how many men really don’t wear wedding rings because their shop teachers damaged their appendages with one?
We’ll never have a poll that answers your question, but men who don’t want to wear wedding rings should expand their repertoire of citations. After he came back from the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong almost lost his finger when his wedding ring got caught on farm machinery. (That marriage ended and I don’t know if he wears a ring in his current one.) Soccer player Paolo Diogo lost his finger when he was jumping to celebrate a goal and caught his wedding ring on a fence (fortunately soccer is a game of foot skill). I asked a married contractor I know why he doesn’t wear a ring, and he said he took it off for good the day he almost lost his finger on a construction site. I now feel it’s a miracle any married person gets through the day with all their digits intact. It’s true that a wedding ring instantly announces, “I’m married.” And since it has become more common for men to wear them, a man who doesn’t leaves his marital status ambiguous. But since you feel confident in your second husband, you also know a ring is not a prerequisite for fidelity. After all, Bill Clinton has worn one all his married life.