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Penelope Is In

Dear Penelope,

I recently got back in touch with an old college friend. We’ve lived far apart for years and now both have teenaged children. We were very close in college: we roomed together, had the same major and joined the same sorority, so we were pretty much inseparable.

Somehow once we got married and moved far apart (2,000 miles), our relationship fell apart. We sent each other the occasional email, maybe one or two a year, but that was about it. As far as I know this didn’t cause any grief to her, and it didn’t really to me either. Our lives kind of got swept in opposite directions and are so separate now that our kids haven’t even met. 

Well, I just got a very strange email from her and I don’t know how to respond. She is doing a major life overhaul — really major. She has divorced her husband, changed jobs, and — this is the part I’m really having trouble wrapping my head around — she’s changed her name. It’s not back to her maiden name. It’s a brand new name. She’s doing some kind of total personality reinvention.

This creates all kinds of questions in my mind — what kind of trauma could have caused her to do all this? What about her two teenagers? Are they okay with the things Mom is doing? What about the Dad, where is he now? And what on earth is up with the new name? 

She seems to want us to go back in time to our old status, when we would confide everything to each other.  She didn’t give me many explanatory details in her mail but is clearly eager to spill everything. I am very curious to understand what’s happened to her but feel a strong reluctance to enter into any kind of exchange with her. It sounds as though she’s flipped out a bit, and I find myself going into a sort of defensive crouch when I think about her — that if she’s this unstable I don’t want her showing up on my doorstep and hanging out with my kids, for instance. I also have zero desire to spill my guts about my own life to her, and she clearly wants me to. Is this selfish? Am I being a bad friend? Is there some way I can respond politely but keep her at arm’s length?

– Konfused Kappa

Dear Konfused,

I sympathize with your reluctance to walk back into your friend’s life at a time of such upheaval, but you might be overworrying the consequences of a response. Judging from the ages of your children, I’m pegging you both as somewhere in your early forties. It sounds as though she’s experiencing an old-school mid-life crisis. You might want to try to encourage whatever compassion you still feel for her as an old friend and ease up a little on the summary judgment. With two thousand miles between you, the odds are probably slim that she’s going to plant herself in your kitchen, especially since she’s got kids of her own to take care of.

It might take the edge off the weirdness to just talk with her. Email can be a deceiving medium because it creates an aura of intimacy where little really exists. Try picking up the phone and calling her. You will probably feel more at ease as soon as you hear her voice — and its familiarity might bring back some of the warm feelings you once had for her, which will make your compassion easier to summon and to express. Give her a chance to explain the dramatic choices she’s made recently. Her explanations might be more rational than you expect. If she does start making unreasonable demands of you, and it’s by no means a certainty that she will, you can set boundaries and ground rules at that stage. 

Dear Penelope,

I am a 22-year-old man. I’m three weeks away from my wedding to my high school (and college) girlfriend and am totally ecstatic. We can’t wait to get married, even though we are not exactly financially stable (we both have huge student loans to pay off and although we are lucky to have jobs, it will take a long time until we can set up a really comfortable life together). 

I’m writing to you because all four of our parents are against our getting married right now. They insist that if we love each other now we’ll still love each other in a few years when we’re both more financially secure, especially since we’ve stayed together since we were fifteen. Her parents love me and my parents love her, but they’re all afraid we’re going to be starting our married life together on the wrong foot and it’ll ruin it for us. At least I think that’s what they’re thinking. I actually think they feel some guilt that they can’t help us out more financially, although I’d never say that to them.

Anyway, we’re getting married in three weeks no matter what, but I’m sad that our parents can’t seem to be happy about it. It puts a dark cloud over this wonderful thing that my fiancee and I have been looking forward to for years. Is there anything we can do?

– Get Me To The Church On Time

Dear Get,

First of all, congratulations! What a lucky man you are to have found your mate so early in life. The best ally you can have, particularly when times are hard, is a helpmeet who truly knows you and loves you. Frankly, it sounds as though you and your fiancee are getting off to a much better start than many more financially secure couples.

Unfortunately, I must tell you that there is little you can do to ease your parents’ apprehensions. You say that the four of them approve of you as a couple (no small thing!), so you will have to be satisfied with that, and trust that they will come around after you have been happily married for a while. I suspect that they might be remembering the early days of their own marriages, when financial straits might have made things very difficult. They might also — who knows? — have been influenced by the wider culture, which tends to raise an eyebrow at marriage at 22.

Stick to your guns, cleave unto your beloved and show the folks what a happy marriage is all about. You’ll have plenty of challenges to face — all couples do — but your ability to withstand them will ultimately have little to do with the bank balance on the wedding day. When things improve, think what a special joy it will be to remember the old days, when you and she had to make do on a shoestring budget. Managing the tough times is good for the character and great for a relationship, if you’re both truly committed. Best of luck to you, and enjoy your wedding.

Got a question for Penelope? Write to AskPenelope@ricochet.com.

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. Neither Ricochet nor the writer of this column accepts any liability for the outcome or results of following the advice in this column. Ricochet reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity.

  1. Israel P.

    Remind the parents that by getting married, they’ll save housing costs.

  2. CandE

    How utterly sad that all 4 parents give that advice!  How would it be better to marry after obtaining “financial security”?  The best way to start off marriage is in poverty; it was the happiest and most care-free time for my wife and I.  You’re both young and without obligations, so you can live on a shoestring, and it will allow you to focus on each other.  

    What’s even sadder than the missed opportunity by delaying marriage is the not-so-subtle implication that you’re leaving yourself a way out.  That’s gotta be tough on a relationship.  If that’s the person that you love and want to commit to for all your life, then do it!  Don’t allow an opening for circumstances to provide pretext for abandonment.

    -E

  3. Fake John Galt

    Why get married at all? It is so passé.

  4. Nick Stuart

    The alternatives to “early” marriage (when did 22 become “early”) are:  1. celibacy, 2. serial hook-ups.

  5. Fricosis Guy

    And again, it is the younger generation that’s deluded?

  6. Percival

    Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and eats a lot of macaroni and cheese at the beginning.

  7. Spin

    Dear Get:

    Here is some financial advice, in the form of a prioritized list.  

    1 – Figure out how much you spend every month.  This means writing everything down.  If you put $.50 in a candy machine, write it down.

    2 – Get in agreement with Mrs. Get on the budgetary priorities.  If you aren’t you’ll go down in flames.

    3 – Based on #12, establish a budget.  I recommend you budget in Excel from the top down.  Income at the top, next comes tithe (or charity if you aren’t religious), next savings, next debt reduction, next expenses.  It’s a simple formula Income – savings – tithe – bill reduction – bills&utilities = what you can spend on stuff.

    Now I put savings above debt reduction and some would argue “why save money when you are paying on money you owe?”  Here’s why:  it helps avoid future debt.  If you have no money in savings, how will you pay for new tires when you need them?  How will you pay to replace the dishwasher?  With savings.  Start an emergency fund first and get it up to at least $1,000.  

  8. Spin

    Spin’s Financial Advice Part 2 - 

    After you have an emergency fund, then start saving in some vehicle that gives you reasonable access to the funds.  Even if you only put by $20 a paycheck, DO IT!!!!!!!  The biggest mistake you can make is to tell yourself you don’t earn enough to put away savings.  You do, I guarantee it.  

    Next get honest about where your money is going that it shouldn’t.  Eating out, lattes, cable TV, movie rentals.  This is a huge area in my family, and one we still haven’t managed to tame.  But this is about deciding your priorities.  Prove your parents and in-laws wrong.  

    Last point:  always live below your means.  Live at about 70% of your means, and sock the rest away into charities, savings, and debt reduction.  Do this, and you’ll never have a problem financially.  

  9. BrentB67

    Get – have at it Brother, get married.

    I am so tired of hearing all this wait until the time is right talk. If you listen to everyone they will tell you to work like a slave until you have $500k in the bank, then get married, of course by then you will be exhausted.

    Then they will all tell you to wait until you have a $1M in the bank to have kids, but by then you won’t be able.

    Don’t cave into the pressure to accumulate a house full of junk ASAP. Start small, but do it  together. You have a great story, high school, college, commitment. Honor you wife and commitment through good times and bad,  you will be fine.

  10. John Murdoch

    Mr. and soon-to-be-Mrs. Get,

    Generations of American families have been deceived–cruelly, deliberately, maliciously deceived–by the Wedding Industry. You do not need the zillion-dollar event, the zillion-dollar reception, or the zillion-dollar honeymoon. You do not even need your parents, or hers, to be at the wedding.

    Read this, which appeared recently in Slate:

    I Married Young. What Are You Waiting For?

    I agree with this writer wholeheartedly–particularly her point about becoming soul mates because you’re married, rather than avoiding marriage till you have become soul mates.

    Look in the eyes of your beloved, and say to yourself, “this is the woman who I will hold in my arms when, at the end of her days, surrounded by her grandchildren, she breathes her last.” That is the commitment you are making. Not to the nubile young lovely before you–but to the grandmother or great-grandmother she will become.

    If you can make that commitment–and honor that commitment every day of your life–get married. In front of God, your families, and your community if at all possible; in front of a magistrate if necessary.

  11. M.D. Wenzel
    Fake John Galt: Why get married at all? It is so passé. · 1 hour ago

    What do you mean?  Nothing is more in vogue than getting married.

    Oh, wait do you mean a man and a woman, never mind.

  12. Amy Schley

    I wonder too, if some of the parental opposition is part of Baby Boomers’ desire to deny their own age.  As my mother-in-law put it, “I didn’t feel old when I turned 50.  I felt old when my son turned 30.”  The notion of children dating or being afianced might be less terrifying to their sense of their own mortality than being parents of a married couple.

  13. Foxfier
    Israel P.: Remind the parents that by getting married, they’ll save housing costs. · 2 hours ago

    These days?  Probably not….  :(

  14. Margaret Sarah

    Some family advice to “Get”:

    Invite both sets of parents over frequently (not at the same time) for modest little dinners.

    Think of areas where you would take your parents’ advice, and ask them for it.

    Don’t borrow anything from your parents.

    Be friendly with your in-laws; treat them like people.

  15. Fake John Galt
    Amy Schley: I wonder too, if some of the parental opposition is part of Baby Boomers’ desire to deny their own age.  As my mother-in-law put it, “I didn’t feel old when I turned 50.  I felt old when my son turned 30.”  The notion of children dating or being afianced might be less terrifying to their sense of their own mortality than being parents of a married couple. · 23 minutes ago

    My mother always told people she was 29.  She got mad at me when I passed her up. 

  16. RadiantRecluse
    Percival: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and eats a lot of macaroni and cheese at the beginning. · 57 minutes ago

    Alternating with ramen noodles, on sale 6 for a dollar. Well, there had to be some variety.

  17. EJHill

    After exploding Joan of Ark La Tex’s relationship with her son, I, the nuclear-tipped Ann Landers, respectfully declines to opine at this time. Thank you.

  18. Fricosis Guy

    I will say that this is one benefit of starting a family late. 

    By the time my son is 30 I’ll be old enough not to care…whether I’m above or below dirt.

    Amy Schley: I wonder too, if some of the parental opposition is part of Baby Boomers’ desire to deny their own age.  As my mother-in-law put it, “I didn’t feel old when I turned 50.  I felt old when my son turned 30.”  The notion of children dating or being afianced might be less terrifying to their sense of their own mortality than being parents of a married couple. · 1 hour ago

  19. Fricosis Guy

    Good advice, though Dave Ramsey is demanding his royalty check ;-)

    Spin: Dear Get:

    Here is some financial advice, in the form of a prioritized list.  

    1 – Figure out how much you spend every month.  This means writing everything down.  If you put $.50 in a candy machine, write it down.

    2 – Get in agreement with Mrs. Get on the budgetary priorities.  If you aren’t you’ll go down in flames.

    3 – Based on #12, establish a budget.  I recommend you budget in Excel from the top down.  Income at the top, next comes tithe (or charity if you aren’t religious), next savings, next debt reduction, next expenses.  It’s a simple formula Income – savings – tithe – bill reduction – bills&utilities = what you can spend on stuff.

    Now I put savings above debt reduction and some would argue “why save money when you are paying on money you owe?”  Here’s why:  it helps avoid future debt.  If you have no money in savings, how will you pay for new tires when you need them?  How will you pay to replace the dishwasher?  With savings.  Start an emergency fund first and get it up to at least $1,000. 

  20. CandE

    This article, written by a woman who married at 23, lists reasons why young marriage is so much better than waiting years to get married. Great read.

    —-C