It never really occurred to me to be grateful for my parents’ leniency and open-mindedness until, well, now.
Okay, that might not be entirely true–the gratitude started creeping in when I got my first real tastes of Paul’s mom’s overbearing tendencies. My parents and my friends’ parents were pretty similar my whole life. They may have differed on some details and my parents were a little more steadfast when it came to their rules, and I’ve often said I had a “heathy fear” of them. I knew if I fucked up, there would be consequences, but I never felt like I had to lie or hide things. Until Paul, I never met anyone who truly had strict, difficult parents. My dad’s attitude was, “You’re over 18, you do what you want.” Paul’s 25 and his mom still coddles him. One of the other things I’ve often said is that my parents raised us with the knowledge we’d have to survive on our own day, but Paul’s raised him with the hope he’d never need to.
One of the things that came out of family catch-up sessions at the wedding last weekend is the fact that one of my cousins somewhat recently moved in with her boyfriend, who she’s been seeing for I guess close to two years now, maybe longer. My mom was actually the one who told me, and she told me my aunt’s not happy about it. From the rumblings on Twitter, I wasn’t the only cousin to find out from her mother–but my mother does seem to be the only one who’s not upset by her daughter livin’ in sin.
Like I said, I was never really grateful for that until now.
Paul and I expected blowback from his mom when he moved in with me, but by some miracle, it has yet to come. We still expect it to be thrown in our faces one day when she’s in a mood and yelling about something else, but for now, all we’ve heard is, “I’m not gonna say anything.” Which is admittedly still sort of a passive-aggressive way of expressing her disapproval of the situation, but I was just glad that was all we got, with the exception of statistics about higher divorce rates among couples who lived together first. Because nothing says, “I support you as a couple” quite like, “I’m afraid you’ll ultimately get a divorce if you live together first.”
My dad told me maybe once that he’s “not happy” about it, which I found to be hypocritical. I was conceived out of wedlock.
But this did make me a little nervous that my mom was displeased. But when I asked one night–with a little alcohol in me–she gave me some variation of “I don’t care.” She actually said she prefers it to me living alone. She didn’t say this outright, but the implication is that she worries about me less.
Apparently, this is an attitude unique to my mom in the family. As much as I’m grateful for it, I feel bad for my fellow cohabitating cousins. I don’t know if they’re hassled about it regularly, but I feel bad that they’ve had to hear the little bit they have. For one, it was “I give wedding gifts, I give shower gifts, but I don’t give shacking up gifts” when my cousin told her that her boyfriend’s mom bought them silverware. For another, when she said, “It is what is,” her mom replied, “And it ain’t what it ain’t.”
I get why they disapprove, especially with our Catholic upbringing and Catholic families. What I don’t get is why if one girl from each of the families–and in two of those families, the only girl–living together is such a scandalous thing. But there’s also a level of it that treads over into telling someone how to live their life. And even if it’s a parent telling their adult child, it’s still an adult child. And at this point, the three of us are in our mid-20s, working, supporting ourselves, and in long-term relationships. At least two of us have said outright we don’t feel like we need to get married to solidify the relationship, but I’ve admitted I’m open to doing it, mostly because I know Paul wants to, although the thought of actually planning a wedding sounds like a whole lot of shit I don’t want.
Of course, having been together for years at this point, people keep asking when we’re gonna get married or why we haven’t get married. And I never put much thought into this until one of the cousins pointed it out, but it’s kind of a rude question to ask. The way she put it, there isn’t a deadline. The way I see it, five years doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready for marriage, especially if you step back and look at where the couple was in their lives at various stages in that five-year relationship. For Paul and I, that’s meeting at 19 and 20, respectively–we both celebrated our birthdays the summer we started dating. I turned 21, he turned 20. That meant my senior year of college was the first year we dated. That meant that even after I graduated, he still had another year to go. That meant that I was going out into the workforce. And the way things worked out, it also meant two moves–one out of my parents’ house and into Pittsburgh, then out of Pittsburgh and into my current place. And then it was Paul’s turn to graduate and go out into the world, his turn to move out, which brings us to now. There may have been points where getting engaged would’ve been feasibly, but not actually planning or holding a wedding. Honestly, looking back on all of it, there’s not a single good point until now where both of our lives were in the same place, where we would’ve been able to focus on wedding planning. And I’m sure if you ask most married couples if they thought we ought to get married in the midst of any of that, they’d have said no. But suddenly, if you ignore all that and look solely at the amount of time we’ve been together, that’s all that matters.
And I know this hectic experience of not being ready isn’t unique to me, obviously. I may not know every detail of my cousins’ lives over these years, but I know they, too, have included school and job changes and moves.
But then there’s the fact that the question of marriage coming from others, at least in this specific situation as it relates to cohabitation, is a selfish one.
Sure, I have no doubt that our families want to see us happy and see marriage as a milestone, but there are absolutely underlying issues. When most people ask me or my cousins about when we’ll be getting married, they’re not asking because they’re anxious on our behalf because they want us to experience it, because they see marriage as a sacrament in the church or a gift or a union or whatever other positive things marriage can be–they’re asking because they want us to get married. And if you think that’s reading too much into the issue, spend five years with a person without even getting engaged and then pay attention to how often you get asked about it and why.
Paul’s mom brings it up more and more these days–at first it was subtle, and now it’s not. The last time it was a very blatant, “Let me see your hand. Do you have a ring yet?” For her, part of it might be the issue of cohabitation. I don’t know. But I know she wants it for her, and I know she’s anxious for grandkids already.
One of my cousins went so far as to say her parents want her to get married just to make themselves feel better so she’s not livin’ in sin anymore. And as harsh as that sounds, I do think there’s some truth to it. Obviously, my situation with my parents is different, but one can’t help but consider why their parents are pressuring them to get married when they’re pretty open about disapproving of cohabitation.
And the thing is, if and when we do start getting married, that’s probably not going to help–sure, my parents won’t say anything to me, but my poor cousins might get a fresh round of anger and pressure, assuming it doesn’t start with two weddings coming up next year.
When it comes to extended-family dynamics of love, cohabitation, and marriage, there are no winners.