Advice for Awkward People: On marriage and talking to relatives

Ruth Scherr, Apeksha Atal Apr 9, 2017

Dear Ruth,

Coming in to Carnegie Mellon, I was convinced that medicine was my destiny. It was the perfect path for me considering my love for helping people, cutting things up, and having a viable career. The plan was to be financially independent by my mid-twenties, and to be on the cover of all the cardiologist magazines by the age of 35. But alas, I took on the premed classes and found myself grasping at straws. I struggled to find value beyond the prospects of the future, and thus diverted myself to an alternative path: one of free expression, and independence.

Now, my goal is to take some time to find myself after I graduate, with a more indefinite career path, something that I would expect my relatives to be weary of, right? WRONG.

I went home to visit family a couple weeks ago, and found myself nervously explaining my situation to a relative of mine. I was prepared to defend myself with explanations of my hopes and dreams, and was instead met by a completely different monster: a sigh of relief. "Oh wonderful! We were worried sick. Now you have the flexibility to get married before you're 27."

How is one expected to respond to THAT? Do I want to get married? I have no idea right now. Do I think I'll be financially stable by the age of 27? There's really no way of knowing. I feel sick to my stomach. Right now, it seems like the only magazine I'll be on the cover of is Cosmo, as some sort of trophy wife. How do I tell my family that I don't really wanted to think about marriage?

Please help,

Super Into Not Getting Literally Engaged

Dear SINGLE,

When I started reading your question, I was honestly expecting the quandary to be "how do I explain to my relatives that I don't want to go to med school without them trying to push me toward being the typical hyper-successful perfect child." I'm actually a little blindsided that the problem is your family is okay with your "career" change.

Well. That's not really the problem, though. Because it's actually pretty great that your relatives are cool with your new plan to take time and find yourself — the problem is that they're trying to tell you what you should do with that time. Specifically, that you should get married. If it had been anything else, like "Now you have the flexibility to publish a book," or "climb a mountain," or even "sit on your parents' couch for five years," it'd still be frustrating — anyone telling you what you should or shouldn't do with your life always is — but the expectation that marriage is what should be in your plan has an extra added bonus of sexism to make it even worse. The fact that women are STILL fighting the expectation that their ultimate goal should be marriage frustrates me too no end.

I fully recognize that there are some people (yes, including women) out there who actively want to be married. They've wanted it for as long as they can remember, and having a fulfilling marriage is what they want from their life. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that — it's just not what you want.

So how do you tell your family, aka people you can't avoid, that marriage isn't what you're aiming for and that it frustrates you when they presume that it is and should be? Well, this is going to be annoyingly simple: you either tell them or you don't. Unless you have some special undisclosed circumstances, they can't force you to marry. It's possible they'll figure it out eventually even if you don't explain.

I think you should try telling them, though. It may take a couple tries, but you're an adult, you can explain your reasoning and thoughts. You'll probably have to do it a couple of times — and there's definitely a point where you should give it up as a hopeless case and just talk about the weather — but if it keeps coming up then that's the way to handle it. It doesn't have to be a 10 minute treatise with citations and evidence, just a comment. Think "Oh, I'm not really interested in marriage right now and I think it's a better use of my time to make plans for things I actually want."

Best of luck,
Ruth