Question

My daughter is semi-engaged. The boy didn’t officially propose to her, but we have a wedding date and we are discussing who is paying for what before the official l’chayim.

This story is one for the books! The boy’s parents are rich; we are not. My husband and I work hard to make a comfortable living to support our large family, baruch Hashem. The boy’s parents have three children, and he is their youngest. They decided to have a big fancy wedding on our shoulders!

There is no way we could afford their tastes, so the boy’s father had the chutzpah to suggest that we take out a second mortgage on our home. What he doesn’t know (and what we won’t tell him) is that we already did that to help make ends meet.

The unfairness of it is that they have lots of people to invite and we don’t. Why should we have to pay for that?

We are also fighting about support for the kids after they get married. The boy is still studying in school and my daughter works. At first they agreed to divide the expenses that my daughter’s salary won’t cover. Now, they changed their minds and will only agree to pay for utilities, but they expect us to pay for all other living expenses.

Then there are the petty things–the boy’s mother wants a bunch of little kids running down the aisle, and other things which are too ridiculous to even bring up.

The way my husband and I see it is either we go into debt, or my daughter breaks up with this boy. They are an adorable couple! Is there a way to solve this crisis?

Response

By Baila Sebrow

Although they are not officially engaged, it sounds like this couple could use the berachos of mazal tov just to get through this period of feuding future in-laws. I see these self-created problems time and again. And who eventually ends up being the casualty of such battles? Sadly, it’s the couple. Even when you think that matters are solved before marriage, the future shalom bayis could ultimately be affected if the fighting goes on for too long.

Before I offer any advice, I need to say that you all are very lucky to have reached this point in life. That both sets of parents are here to enjoy this nachas that is wished for from the moment their children are born is a blessing you should be eternally grateful for. Moreover, your daughter and her soon-to-be chassan were fortunate to find each other. That is huge!

I hope you will appreciate how kind Hashem is being to both families. It’s a crying shame that any of you is even contemplating breaking up a shidduch–this “adorable couple”–because of money and ego.

If it were either your daughter or the young man writing to me about this fiasco, I would tell them to find themselves a rav to help them put a wedding together, and to go ahead and get married while the rest of the gang foolishly fights it out. But, giving all parties the benefit of the doubt, I will say that when emotions run high, even clever people are capable of blunder.

If they expect you to spend money that you don’t have, that is definitely a problem. Why is the other side expecting that? I wonder if the guy’s parents are aware of your financial standing. Has anyone given them the impression that you are better off than you really are?

Sometimes one side demands more than what was originally agreed upon if they feel that the other side is holding out on them (not that such an attitude should be condoned, but it is something to be aware of).

There have always been families fighting over who pays for what with regard to the wedding and living expenses of the couple. I wish people would realize that a wedding lasts just a few hours, and that the focus should be more on setting up the couple’s home than the thousands upon thousands of dollars for an extravagant wedding that by the next day is forgotten by the guests. The wedding needs to be about the chassan and kallah and what is best for them.

The money aspect can be simple enough to take care of. You need to sit down with the boy’s parents and tell them what you are prepared to spend for this wedding. Do not go into any defensive mode if they imply that you can afford more. Articulate that you are contributing such and such, and that is it. If they want to invite more people or add more luxury to the affair, then they are more than welcome to pay for it.

It does not matter if they are rich people or not. If they don’t want to spend more money for what they think society expects of them, they too have the right not to, in the same way you and your husband should not feel obligated. The wedding can still be beautiful. Reducing a particular extravagance they have in mind, inviting fewer people, or ordering less-expensive choices from the caterer are all doable options.

It is important that all parties understand that you have no responsibility to satisfy anyone’s desire for community appearances. Leave no room for arguments, and do not even respond to the ridiculous request that you take out another mortgage on your home. What you can likely expect from your new assertive approach is perhaps coldness and avoidance as they collect their bruised egos.

The topic of monetary support for the couple after they are married is a big one. Regardless of how frugally a couple decides to live, daily living is still expensive. I don’t like to hear that the boy’s parents are reneging on the equal financial support they initially agreed upon. That will be a problem. I understand that your daughter is working, but it sounds like she is not earning enough for two people. If you and your husband are unable to provide money for food and other expenses, their marriage may chas v’shalom suffer the consequences.

At the same time, you cannot go into debt either. This is a matter that needs to be brought out into the open with an objective third party, such as a rav. I wonder if the couple is aware of how much is truly going on. You and your husband need to explain to them the entire situation. It might be that they will then decide to handle their own finances after they are married. Even if the young man is going to school, he might be willing to get a job between or after classes. If he does not offer to do so, you can gently suggest it.

Years ago, young couples studying for a profession still managed to work part-time to help pay the bills. And even today, there are many successful marriages where the husband and wife work and go to school. It is not easy, but it is feasible. But I feel that the third party should be involved to help guide them, as frustration can build up when people are stressed.

Which also brings me to your complaint about the “petty things” the other side is expecting. You do not go into detail about it, but I will strongly advise you to let that go. Whatever triviality the other side wants–as long as it’s not coming out of your pocket–will make no difference in the grand scheme of things. Please avoid arguing about it, and you will be rewarded with respect for that gesture.

With your reference to kids running down the aisle, I assume you are referring to the wedding procession. Some families think it’s cute when the grandchildren or other close relatives march down the aisle. Others find that obtrusive. When it comes to such an issue, I always defer to the kallah. If the kallah is OK with it, then everyone else should accept it. And if she feels it will somehow take away from what she has envisioned, that, too, should be respected.

If the kallah does not want that but the boy’s parents do, then a third party will again need to get involved. From what you are describing, it appears the other side might have a tendency to be controlling. That could be a concern in the long run. The person you choose to be the couple’s guide will hopefully be there for them to settle any other differences that could arise.

Discussing major monetary issues before officially announcing the engagement is a good thing, and you are fortunate to have the opportunity to iron them out. You will hopefully reach an amicable agreement. More important is that you come to appreciate that this couple will be the continuity of your legacy. v

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com.

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