By Baila Sebrow
My son is dating a girl very seriously. She has a good job working for a lawyer. My husband works hard, but we are not rich people. We have a large family, baruch Hashem, and we always told our children that they would have to take care of themselves financially when they get married. My children all knew that, and they dated and married spouses who come from more comfortable families.
This girl my son is dating comes from a family that has no money, but because she does well, we agreed to the shidduch. Now, however, as they are getting closer to getting engaged, she decided that she likes law so much that she wants to go to law school to become a lawyer. Her parents can’t help her pay, so I guess she will take out loans. And then what? She won’t be able to work while she is in school, she already said that. After she is finished, she will have to pay back the loans, and who knows if she will even find a job.
My son is a professional, but he is still not making enough money to be the only one working. We discussed this with her parents, and they said they can’t pay for the wedding, which we were told about from the get-go. That part is true, but at the time, my son’s girlfriend was going to pay for her own wedding. She does have savings, but what about after the wedding?
Now that his girlfriend won’t be working, my son is putting a lot of pressure on us to find a way to help them out. He knows that we won’t let them down, even if it means that we will have to deprive ourselves of something. This is not fair, and we told our son that we don’t think he should continue dating her. We just don’t feel this is going well anymore. Are we wrong for pushing him to break up with his girlfriend?
I do know of cases where this all worked out somehow, but in those scenarios it was the boy going for a new career and starting school. What do you think?
I don’t think that you and your husband should advise your son to break up with his girlfriend. I am saying this even though this story is in poor taste, particularly the financial demands suddenly thrown at you. You say that you know of cases where families dealing with similar circumstances made it work out “somehow.” It’s not that they made it work out—more like they caved into pressure. Though everyone is smiling on the outside, I can assure you that there is much resentment all around. Nobody appreciates being taken advantage of; yet, oftentimes people give in to these types of situations for the sake of what they believe is their child’s happiness.
This is not about being able to afford to financially help your son and a future daughter-in-law. This is about their assurance that they can ride on your coattails. And since this young lady is only just starting law school, it sounds like their free ride is going to be a long one for everyone concerned.
It is possible that your son, his girlfriend, and her parents evaluated you and your husband as having a good heart and as being soft enough to be duped into giving in to whatever their children need, even though you do not have the financial means to do so. I get the feeling that you must have demonstrated that despite not having much money, your children were never deprived of anything they really needed.
Your son’s girlfriend likely has always aspired to be a lawyer, which is why she got a job working for a law firm. She must have realized she is good at legal work and is enjoying it as well, so she made the decision to apply to law school. In actuality, she did the right thing. Many young people in law school oftentimes discover when they have almost completed their coursework, or shortly thereafter, that this is not what they want to do long-term. This young lady made sure that law is her passion. She sounds like a level-headed person, and she is choosing a career that will hopefully provide her with financial independence for the future. However, that does not take away from the unfairness of the burden being imposed on you and your husband. Their expectation of living off you is thoughtless and selfish.
If you were to tell me that your son met his girlfriend while she had already started law school, and they like each other so much that they want to get married, I would certainly look at the situation differently. That does not mean that I would have suggested that you should take financial responsibility if you cannot do it. However, I would have been a bit more sympathetic to the couple’s dilemma. The way this is playing out, I suspect that the young lady might have been looking for a sensitive family to make her their financial obligation.
You and your husband are not the only ones to fall into such snares. I agree with you that these things are more common the other way around, where the young man decides to begin higher education at the brink of an engagement, with the assumption that the in-laws will find a way to make it workable. The fact is that there are young people who are encouraged by their parents to seek marriage into a family of means. Typically, they are not shy about their intentions. As a shadchan I am frequently requested to find shidduchim only with those families who have money. This does not happen only in frum circles. There are people in all societies that have no problem in indicating that money is the top priority for a match. But in most cases, the families with money know that they were chosen for that reason.
There is no question that you are all in a quandary. This is not a winning situation no matter how it all concludes. This young lady feels confident that you will come through, even though, unbeknownst to her, you are hoping that your son will break up with her. The main victim in all this is your son. Because even if you and your husband give in to everything, this might be a preview of future expectations of him if he marries her.
Here is what I recommend. Whatever was originally agreed upon with regard to the young lady paying for wedding expenditures should be honored. It is after the wedding that is of most concern. If you can all agree on having the young couple live with you or her parents for as long as it takes, that is not unusual nowadays. Many young couples opt to live with one set of parents until they get on their financial feet. It will tremendously cut down on bills. I would recommend that the young lady find a part-time job to help with food expenses if it becomes too much for the family, and for whatever else they might need that your son’s salary cannot cover.
If the couple or one of them is not amenable to that, you will have to put your foot down and say that they will need to figure it out themselves, because you cannot give them what you don’t have or don’t feel inclined to give.
I mentioned earlier in my response that you should not tell your son to break up with her, as that has the potential to backfire. If he listens to you, he will always hold it against you, and if he goes ahead with getting engaged, he might one day share with her that his parents told him to break up, and I can promise you such consequences end up being disastrous for in-law relations.
In conclusion, no one has the right to demand anything from anyone, and no one should feel inclined to negotiate with anyone on matters that make them feel used or misled in some way. Whatever promises are made from any party must be upheld, and if anyone threatens to leave the relationship, let them go in peace, lest it become a vicious cycle. Whatever you do needs to feel right for you.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Baila also hosts The Definitive Rap podcast for vinnews.com, Israel News Talk Radio, WVIP 93.5 FM HD2, and talklinenetwork.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles at 5TJT.com.