Woe Is Me! “My Family Refuses to Accept the Age Gap in My Relationship. What Do I Do?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I am 26, and in love with a woman who is five years older than me. I feel she is right for me and we want the same things. When I told my parents I love this girl, they rejected the idea outright. I tried to explain to them this decision is not a spur-of-the-moment thing; that I have given this much a lot of thought, but they are not ready to accept the age gap. Being a single child, it really is difficult for me to go against them. My girlfriend is also pressuring me to marry her by the end of this year. But unless my parents accept her, I can’t. I won’t go against their will, but I won’t marry someone else either. I feel cornered and tired on all fronts. What should I do?”
— Can’t mind the gap
RN: Whew, this is tough! I’m assuming you’ve tried reasoning with your parents that age gaps are extremely common in heterosexual partnerships when the man is older than the woman? I also wonder if they’ve met your girlfriend — often, as cliché as it sounds, meeting the people you have preconceived notions about is a powerful way to challenge stereotypes and social conditioning, because it puts a real face and voice to the name. If none of this has worked, my first instinct is to tell you to marry her anyway. You’re an adult; you can go to the courthouse tomorrow and get it done. Your parents may eventually come around to it — especially if you’re their only son. But I know this is far easier said than done, especially if you want to maintain a good relationship with them. But then I would urge you to think about how “good” this relationship can be if it’s going to be marred forever by their refusal to let you live your life with the person you love? Will you ever be able to forgive them or see them the same way again? Is letting go of this marriage worth a broken relationship with your parents, where you are likely to build and hold on to resentment? Instead, it’s better to be the adult you are and do the thing that feels right, even if your family doesn’t like it. That way you’ll at least have one good relationship — with your girlfriend — and one faulty one; as opposed to losing your girlfriend and having a flawed dynamic with your parents. This is, of course, an option after you’ve tried everything else to convince them. Good luck, and may love triumph!
AS: If the situation were like the pyaar vs. parivaar plotlines in Hindi films, I would be advising you to just screw what your parents are saying, and go marry the hell out of your girlfriend. But it looks like the question of marriage is arising only because you’re being pressured into it with a strict deadline, which I think is unfair. For starters, it might help to take some time out for yourself and figure out what you really want. Do you want to get married this year, or at all? Marriage is a big decision, and no one should be pushed into it if they are not emotionally, mentally, or financially ready. Once you figure this out, you should talk to your girlfriend and be open with her about how you’re feeling.
I can also understand that no matter how independent you are, defying what your parents are saying or feeling like a disappointment to them, is not easy. But it is your life. You are the one who will be impacted by this. Why should you let them make such a big decision for you, especially when it’s based on such a superficial reason? Only you can decide what to do from here, so I don’t have any solutions to offer.
But if you’re saying that you won’t marry your girlfriend to make your parents happy, while also saying that you won’t be with anyone else to take a stand, it seems like you’re making a martyr of yourself — and that is the only thing I will advise you against.
PB: Oh. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. My heart goes out to you, it’s never easy when your family disapproves, especially when it’s as big of a deal as this. I’d suggest giving them some time to get used to the idea, but they seem stubborn about their stance. And I can see why.
Age differences and their impact is relative, but do you think a 26-year-old and a 31-year-old in general have the same priorities and schedule for their future? If your girlfriend is pressuring you to get married right now, when it’s clear that you and your family need time to adjust to something that needs time to sink in, it seems to me the priorities are quite different. Marriage is well and good for love, but it’s a cultural and societal contract — and compatibility does matter. An ultimatum such as that is understandable on her end, of course — she wants to begin the next phase of her life. The question remains whether you’re prepared to jump five years ahead in yours.
I’d suggest sitting down and having an honest conversation with your parents about their worries, which could be valid. If you’re adamant about your future — then you need to make that decision yourself, with or without your family’s approval. For a life-changing decision such as this one, the power must lie with you. And if you refuse to go ahead without your family’s backing, then perhaps marriage must wait- before you have the independence to do it securely. Love isn’t always enough. I wish you good luck.
DR: Well, the solution I want to offer you is going to be a little harsh — sorry about that. As a single child myself, I’d advise you to set some boundaries with your parents: let them know they don’t have a say in how you want to live your life; they can either be okay with it or deal with the prospect of not being involved in your future at all. Having said that, if you think going against them might threaten your life or your girlfriend’s, I’d suggest you try to make your way out of your parents’ lives safely without being open about the fact that you’re going to do what you want to — so as to prevent tipping them off.
The reason I’m telling you to set — and enforce — boundaries with them is because I don’t see why they should have the right to control your life decisions. You’re 26. If you don’t set boundaries now, they are probably going to continue enforcing their values and world-views on you and tell you how to live your life while you believe “obeying” them is your moral obligation. What’s next then? Are you okay with the idea that they may want to veto your choices to relocate to other cities, or even countries, with your partner if you get married to a woman of their choice? Are you willing to let them decide when, if at all, you want to reproduce? Do you think your partner would be okay being married to someone who lets their parents have a binding opinion on all their decisions? And, lastly, are you okay with living your life on someone else’s terms, and probably, grow resentful towards them in the process — perhaps, blaming them for any bad decision they make for you, while constantly wondering whether your life would’ve been better if you had made your own decisions?
I think you should spend some time asking yourself these questions — perhaps, even independent of how letting them make choices for you will impact your current relationship with your girlfriend. Irrespective of whether or not this relationship works out, I feel you need to re-think your dynamic with your parents. And, who knows, maybe the prospect of losing contact with you will get them to come around and stay within their limits in the future too. I mean, you are their only child after all, right?