Normal wedding jitters, or a sign of bad things to come?
August 16, 2010 4:27 PM   Subscribe

I’m engaged. Wedding date is set, I have my dress and all our vendors are booked. But, thinking about life with my fiancé is scaring me. Is this normal pre-wedding jitters, my own anxiety, or a sign that we aren’t right for each other?

My fiancé and I got engaged 3 months ago, and our wedding is in 7 months. We’ve been dating for 2 yrs and live in my condo. We are in our late 30s. I have a Master’s degree and am working on a PhD. I work full time, make a decent salary and enjoy my career. I have no debt other than school loans and my mortgage. I have a retirement fund and 12-months worth of emergency savings.

My fiancé changed schools 3-4 times, dropping and failing classes along the way. After 10yrs, he eventually got his degree from the University of Phoenix. He started an online Master’s program in January, but he’s already dropped 2 classes and failed 1. He works full-time (help desk), makes very little and doesn’t like his job. He has a LOT of debt, most in collections, and had a car repossessed several years ago. He has no retirement or savings.

What am I scared of? His lack of education, our money and his ability to help support a family.

I don’t believe people with advanced degrees are better or smarter– but I do believe it opens more doors for job opportunities. I’m scared my fiancé won’t be able to finish his online Master’s degree (Instructional Technology) to qualify for better jobs. When he “studies” he sprawls out on the bed and spends most of his time on Facebook, Twitter or Lolcats. He’s 39 but hasn’t kept a job for more than 3 years. His job skills are help desk support – answering phones, installing programs, etc. Most jobs in Instructional Technology require a Master’s degree or training experience. He doesn’t have any training experience, and isn’t interested in getting any. I even tried to find quick, one-time volunteer training opportunities so he can get experience for his resume. So without training experience, this Master’s degree is his best way into the field. He also wants to do web design, but isn’t interested in learning PHP or other languages often listed as job requirements. He was one assignment away from a Certificate in Health Informatics, but gave up and never turned it in. So basically I’m scared that he is not capable of getting through this program.

Why am I so focused on education? My Asian immigrant parents drilled into me that you have to work hard in life to get the things you want. As minorities, they said, nothing is handed to us easily or free. They also stressed education, education, education – if you study hard and get a degree, then you can get a job to take care of your family. My fiancé, who is white, is completely the opposite.

As for money, I don’t need to be rich. I just want to afford a mortgage and a good life for my future children - a clean house, clothes, room to grow, books, educational opportunities, trips, music lessons, etc. I am grateful for the opportunities my parents gave me, and I want the same for my own children. But, I’m scared we can’t afford this. I’m scared that my fiancé will never get a job that pays more than he makes now. I’m scared I’ll end up supporting the kids AND my husband. Right now, I pay the bills so that my fiancé can pay down his debt and pay tuition. Previously, he had trouble supporting himself– late on rent, phone disconnected, etc. I’m ok with supporting him for now, as long as he works towards his goals, but he gives up so easily and I’m worried he’s relying on my money. He’s also not honest about his finances – this AskMe really sums it up. I even showed him that AskMe but it hasn’t had any long term affect.

I’m scared that we can’t qualify for a mortgage with his credit scores….that he’ll rely on me to pay for everything….that he has no savings in case he loses his job or some other emergency….that if we did have children, he wouldn’t be able to help me support them… that our kids won’t learn good work ethic or money skills. His dad doesn’t work, and his mom supports them, so I’m scared that he thinks that dynamic is OK. I’m scared of sharing a bank account with him.

I do have a history of anxiety and depression. The anxiety has been bad lately, so I’ve started to take Wellbutrin. I’m trying cognitive behavioral therapy (Feeling Good, Mood Gym) and I’m seeing a therapist. My anxiety in general is related to many of the cognitive distortions like overgeneralization, jumping to conclusions, all or nothing thinking, etc. I also made an appointment for couples counseling, but I don’t know if he’ll go.

So, my question: How do I know that I’m making the right decision? How can I tell if my fears stem from my anxiety, pre-wedding jitters or true problems? How do I know if my anxiety is influencing my perspectives?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (60 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
You made a pretty good case against marrying him. So tell us, why are you?
posted by artdrectr at 4:41 PM on August 16, 2010 [29 favorites]

I'm putting in a vote for "true problems".

Dude needs to man up.

If he's not willing to share his financial circumstances with you, and not showing genuine progress along a path toward resolving his financial issues, then you need to stop supporting him financially. Just cut him off cold. He wants to run separate finances? Run separate finances.

Seven months is nowhere near enough to find out whether the two of you can maintain your relationship with that rule in place; that will take at least a year. So you'll need to postpone the wedding. You'll also need a pre-nup that says that all your financial arrangements will remain separate while married, and especially that title to property bought in your name will not be considered joint title, so it's time you found a lawyer you can work with as well.

All of which truly sucks, but it sucks less than spending your whole life crippled by sexually transmitted debt.
posted by flabdablet at 4:43 PM on August 16, 2010 [34 favorites]

It sounds to me like your approach to life is completely at odds with that of your fiancé. It is sometimes said that opposite attracts ... which may be true on the short term but can potentially be a recipe for disaster for long term relationships. If I were you I would call off the wedding and have serious discussions over the course of a few weeks/months as to what you both want out of life.

And ... if he does not want to go to counseling with you, I would do more than simply call off the wedding.
posted by aroberge at 4:44 PM on August 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

I wouldn't call this normal pre-wedding jitters. What you have here are rational, well thought out concerns that could cause serious long-term problems for your life together if they aren't addressed. Good for you for being honest with yourself about the way you feel - but have you been honest with him, too? I really think some serious premarital counseling is probably a good idea before you commit to spending your life together.
posted by something something at 4:45 PM on August 16, 2010 [12 favorites]

Once you get married, your credits get mingled, so all your hard work up until this point will be for nothing. Do you love him enough to throw away your good credit?

If yes, proceed with the wedding. If no, my advice is: 'Living in sin' beats the hell outta a bad credit score. Nothing in the universe says you have to be married.
posted by From the Fortress at 4:45 PM on August 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Have you talked about this with him? Have you talked about what you expect in the future; kids, finances, where you're going to live, goals and all that?

You expect this to get better with marriage? Marriage is hard. Just wait until you have kids, then the anxiety really hits the fan.
posted by rryan at 4:46 PM on August 16, 2010

38 years old, doesn't take care of his finances, is making no effort to learn to take care of his finances. He's not going to change. If you get him out of the debt that he's in, the bad habits that got him there in the first place are still going to be there, and it will happen again. Do you want to be married to that?
posted by MsMolly at 4:48 PM on August 16, 2010 [18 favorites]

Are you taking any sort of pre-marital counseling? You might look into it. Our program goes over the big issues like this- money, work, family, etc. It might be a nice springboard to get the two of you talking.

I think the big thing you need to ask yourself right now is- are you ready to be married to this guy, just as he is? You have plans and ideas for your future, which is great, but life is a roller coaster and it's possible things won't go exactly as you planned. Particularly since a marriage is not about what you want, it's about what works for the two of you, and that will take some compromise from both parties. People get sick, people lose jobs, people freak out. Are you ready to be married to this guy anyway?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:49 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Honestly... I don't think you should marry him. And I'm speaking as someone who has had credit problems, is under-employed and under-educated and depends too much on my husband for financial support. I also know that I am a good person and a good wife in lots of other ways, and probably your fiance has some terrific qualities too, so don't think I'm not sympathetic to his worth as a person.

But... in my case, my husband is not overly concerned about these particular shortcomings. He'd certainly prefer for me to get my shit together but he's not losing sleep over this stuff. Not because he's a more tolerant person than you, but because the money stuff is just not a deal-breaker for him. He knows he's going to be carrying most of the financial load and as long as I'm contributing he's ok with that.

You, on the other hand, sound like a complete wreck over your fiance's slacker ways. And he sounds relatively unmotivated and unconcerned about it. If you marry this guy it is almost guaranteed that you are going to spend the rest of your life worrying, nagging, crying, cajoling, arguing and "mothering" him while he grows to resent more and more your trying to "control" him and your (understandably) ever-tightening grip on the purse strings.

I really don't see how this is could work out... financial security is crucial to your emotional well-being, and he is pretty much the antithesis of that.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:52 PM on August 16, 2010 [26 favorites]

Absolutely, 100%, talk to him about all of this. Use this really well-thought-out and well-written post as your outline. I think that if you make an earnest effort to talk to him about this, and he can't or won't talk about it with you and listen to you, then it is a sign that you shouldn't get married.

If you guys can't have this conversation and address these issues to your satisfaction, this will all come up in couples' counseling (which yes you should definitely go to with him), and it will get discussed and worked out there.

That would be my last effort. If couples counseling doesn't work out, then I would not marry him.
posted by rio at 4:53 PM on August 16, 2010

The good thing about long engagements is that in your case you have time to call it off. I'll bet more people will be happy about it than unhappy. So please don't add "what will people think?" to your list of worries.
posted by snowjoe at 5:14 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would hold off on the wedding--not cancel it per se--until these issues get worked out. People seldom get better after marriage so if you don't like what you are getting now, you certainly won't be happy after you are married.
posted by MsKim at 5:15 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm worried for you -- I'm sorry to say that I don't think this will turn out well unless he gets his act together.

I would go further and say that you shouldn't be paying his bills unless he agrees to seek training for more lucrative and desirable employment. I mean, how will things get better in the future unless he gets additional training to improve his employment prospects. He's a job loss away from having not a lot of options for the future, especially at his age.

But, as a first step, definitely go to counseling.
posted by metametababe at 5:16 PM on August 16, 2010

This is a sign... if not a sign of bad things to come, it's definitely a sign that you're not ready to marry him.

You've told us all about your hopes, dreams, and fears about the future. What are his? Have you ever asked him what it is that he wants out of life? Are his goals compatible with yours? Has he given any serious thought to how he plans on achieving these goals? Or is he simply along for the ride with you? I will refrain from passing judgment on your fiance but to put it mildly, the two of you seem to have very different priorities, and his priorities (or lack thereof) have created a number of ugly obstacles. These are the kinds of obstacles that have ended many a marriage, which doesn't bode well for starting one.

Please don't write off your concerns as merely symptoms of your depression or anxiety, or "pre-wedding jitters." Your concerns are completely valid and yes, you deserve to enjoy the stability and security that you've worked so hard for. If you marry this man the way he is now, resign yourself to the fact that he may never, ever pull his weight. It's most likely that he never will. Your words are already brimming with resentment. in my opinion, it's absolutely appropriate that you're questioning your future with him.
posted by keep it under cover at 5:16 PM on August 16, 2010

Sorry, on reading it again, I meant -- don't pay his bills unless he does well in school. Yes, I know this makes you into his mom, but it's better than nothing.
posted by metametababe at 5:18 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don’t believe people with advanced degrees are better or smarter– but I do believe it opens more doors for job opportunities.

Work or live, which do you choose?

Why am I so focused on education? My Asian immigrant parents drilled into me that you have to work hard in life to get the things you want.

What is it you want? A loving partner or material things, safety and security for your potential children, or to live life in all it's rawness?

Do you want your memories filled with associates from work or family and someone who, presumably, loves you and wants to be a part of your life, your memories?

Only one future is certain, how would you like to remember things in your last days?
posted by Max Power at 5:40 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Finances are a huge cause for divorces. Like, the most common one, I think.

So even if you do get married, and these problems persist, how long do you think you could put up with them? How happy would it make you to have this burden for the rest of your life?
posted by elder18 at 5:42 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are not willing to spend the rest of your life with this man exactly as he is today - mediocre job, low pay, limited career prospects, and a lot of debt - do not get married.

His dad doesn’t work, and his mom supports them, so I’m scared that he thinks that dynamic is OK.

But it is OK, it just may not be OK with you. If it isn't OK with you, don't marry him.

I’m scared of sharing a bank account with him.

And you bloody well should be. In fact, don't. Open a new account, so you have a His Hers and Household system, determine what he will pay into that monthly to help towards his end of the bills, and leave it at that. Additionally, double your retirement investments because you are now saving for both of your retirements.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:42 PM on August 16, 2010 [20 favorites]

I don't think these are irrational jitters at all. I think you're being very very rational and these are concerns that would have me personally quaking in my boots at the thought of being married to someone who seems totally unable to pull his weight money-wise. I would advise you to try to seek joint financial counselling and lay it all out, and also maybe you should avoid joining bank accounts and credit cards, and create some kind of pre-nup in case things don't work out. I think in your shoes I might even go as far as to delay the wedding if the finances aren't clear and the pre-nup isn't in place. Good luck, this sounds like a tough situation to be in. And FWIW, you don't sound materialistic at all- you sound reasonable and mature to me. You also sound like you genuinely love this guy, which is great. But a marriage is a love-match AND a business partnership, and I don't really think marriages can really work unless both sides are functional.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:46 PM on August 16, 2010

The more committed the relationship (like marriage) the more that money = security, power, & freedom - pretty much core issues that often go deep into each partner's personal history and sense of identity, as you well describe. So, no, don't count on him changing, even after talking it over, which you should definitely do asap anyway.

FWIW, there are a lot of guys out there who would share you values/priorities, so you certainly have options.
posted by 5Q7 at 5:49 PM on August 16, 2010

You see the train coming down the tracks and you have time to avoid the trainwreck.

Avoid the trainwreck.

It's a lot easier to cancel an engagement than to get a divorce. And there are very few things rougher on a marriage than financial issues.

It's not so much the financial issues, it's the character issues that are causing the financial issues. People don't change when they marry. If this is problematic now it's going to be fracking hideous down the road.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:51 PM on August 16, 2010 [10 favorites]

I remember the night before I married my ex-husband, lying awake beside him filled with creeping horror, imagining going downstairs, slipping the keys off the counter, and driving far, far, away.

I couldn't. The house was full of guests who had traveled to the wedding. I didn't have the nerve.

I strongly recommend not putting yourself in that position.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:57 PM on August 16, 2010 [25 favorites]

I have a lot of money anxiety, for various reasons. Ironically, because of that anxiety I've made poorer choices with my finances than I suspect I would have without it. (Avoidance solves nothing. All regular AskMe readers learn that few aspects of life improve over the long-term by the strategy 'I will avoid dealing with X problem until X goes away on its own.')

Here is what inspired me to step up and commit to changing: it was not worry about consequences for my own life that got me to the point where I said 'Okay. I need a plan and I need to face the difficult decisions and to figure out what I want and how I am going to get out of this pattern before I wreck a lot of things. Right now this is fixable, and soon it will get to the 'unfixable' point.' I made the choice to improve at this particular skillset because I do not want someone I love to write this AskMe about me.

I want to make life with me as easy and enjoyable as it can be. There will be plenty of other surprise challenges: I don't need to create more just in case there won't be enough out there already. Avoiding my finances and avoiding long-term planning and how to get where I'd like to be is an unnecessary and extremely large challenge for someone else.

I should clarify that I'm not making changes to please/appease someone or get my partner off my back: it is something I am choosing to do as part of what I want for my future, because my partner's happiness is an extremely important part of my future. If, at thirty-eight, someone isn't willing to take similar steps, s/he may not be ready for the responsibilities involved in marriage.

FTR, though, I agree with DarlingBri that it's fine in an objective sense for a husband not to work outside of the home. I'm looking at the part where he needs to deal with his debt. He may also have problems with avoidance and feeling as if he's failed or fearing what will happen if he succeeds. He gives up easily? He was one assignment away from his certificate? One assignment? I tell you what, I know some sincerely lazy, unmotivated people who could churn out one last assignment to get that certificate, even if the assignment turned out half-assed. That sounds like a bit of self-sabotage. Counseling is good--both yours, joint, and he might be in need of some as well.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 5:58 PM on August 16, 2010

Don't do it! Don't be his personal bank, rescuer, organizer, motivator etc. You will be miserable and regret not being with a person who shares your values.
posted by meepmeow at 6:00 PM on August 16, 2010

I have a master's degree and work full time at a professional job to support our family. (I also, until very recently, worked a second job.) My husband had a high-school diploma and works in a warehouse. If he lived alone, he'd make just slightly more than the federal poverty level.

In our house, I support all of us - me, my husband, our son. I pay the mortgage and all the household bills. He contributes a specific budgeted amount to the household account each week, and (by agreement) the rest of the money he earns is his to do with as he pleases. He pays his own credit card bills and his own cell phone bill, and our internet bill, and I pay the rest. If I were male and he were female, no one would think twice about this arrangement. As things stand, it only seems a little strange because the gender roles are reversed.

On the other hand, he's a terrific man. He's a great cook, and does all our cooking. He's brave and gentle and an absolutely wonderful father to our amazing son. He reads voraciously, is creative, and has a terrific singing voice. We met almost sixteen years ago through a shared hobby, and it was pretty much love at first sight for me. About two years ago I broke my leg in an auto accident and he took over running our entire house - cleaning and laundry and childcare and cooking and driving me to and from work and doctor's appointments - with nary a complaint or a grumble.

Sometimes, I am envious of the material things others have. If he made anything approaching the same salary I make our lives would be unbelievably different. But he doesn't. And we don't really need those things. We own a nice house, and our cars run, and we want for nothing.

I don't think your concerns are irrational, but there is a balance. Many a woman has married a "good provider" only to find out five or ten years later that he's not a good man. I would much rather marry a good man than a good provider. You don't talk much in the question about his personal qualities, so I can't really speak to that.

You need to talk with him about how your household finances are handled, and perhaps even make a written agreement about it. I find myself wondering if he's only going to school because you expect him to, and not because its something he, himself, wants. If that's true, then its no wonder he's not doing well.

The truth is, you can't know what the future holds. There are hints, but you can't know for sure. So, think about the other side. You've told us the bad stuff, but what is it you love about him? What makes him special? Is that enough to counterbalance the stuff that freaks you out?
posted by anastasiav at 6:07 PM on August 16, 2010 [43 favorites]

This sounds like a potential trainwreck. It's one thing to be underemployed. It's another to have debts actively in collection/repossession. Some people have good reasons for a string of debt/dropouts (eg illness, caregiving) but it's not the case here. Your fiance has shown that he cannot commit successfully to debt repayment or to school. What makes you think he can commit to you permanently?

If you do get married - do it with no illusions that he will change. As others have pointed out, there are plenty of families that have a primary earner, and there's no problem with that. But your fiance sounds like he has the potential to actively undermine your family's financial wellbeing.

If you do get married, don't mingle finances and DO NOT co-sign anything. If this guy bails on you like he's bailed on his education and his debts, then you'll be left with ruined credit and a lot of bitterness.
posted by media_itoku at 6:31 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

He doesn't want to pursue a Masters degree or other graduate education.

Can you accept that? If not, don't marry him. He is an adult in his late 30s who has had opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to get a Masters or other graduate degree. Instead of completing any of those, he spends time on Twitter and Facebook and flunks classes. These are choices he has made. Whatever he may say he wants, his actions and choices show that he does not actually want or value a Masters degree or other career-advancing education. Can you live with them? If not, don't marry him. Don't justify these shortcomings as, "He just needs me to push him" or "He just needs my help." He's learned, over the past 39 years, how to be the adult he is. He has made a series of (foolish) choices, and will probably continue to make similar choices. Can you live with that?

Moreover, it doesn't sound like you respect him very much. I'm not saying you don't love him, but you don't sound impressed by him or admiring of him--your post is all about his (serious) failures in life: complaining about his job but not actually doing anything about it, his debt, his dishonesty about money. Marry someone you admire--not in the sense of thinking, "Here is a person who matches exactly what my culture values in terms of education," but in terms of thinking, "This is a person I can rely on, who is honorable and good." Honorable, good people see the mistakes they've made and take steps to fix them: therapy or medication if the mistakes are due to depression/mental illness, hard work and commitment to dig themselves out of whatever hole they're in (debt or otherwise), honesty with their partner about the issues they struggle with. Hold out for someone like that, not someone perfect but someone who faces his mistakes in a mature, honorable way.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:42 PM on August 16, 2010 [10 favorites]

Like you, I make a decent income, and like you, I live below my income. Consequently, like you, I have nearly all debts paid off, except the lifetime ones (those damn student loans!), and I am actively planning a financially secure future.

I am not particularly happy in my career; I envy that you enjoy yours. But practicing law is not something tons of people love to do, and there worse careers. /midpost derail

Like you, my love is a into computer, works "help desk", makes not a huge amount of money, and doesn't particularly like his job. Unlike your love, my love never graduated high school, never went to college, and never attended any training/certification/education. He bought into a webhosting biz with two of his friends a few years ago. If he didn't have that, I don't know what he would have.

I married my love in March this year. Despite his utter lack of conventional earning potential, I love him, find him stimulating, think him talented, regard him beautiful, and cannot imagine my life without him. More than that, I believe in him. I believe that he is talented enough, smart enough, savvy enough, perceptive enough, sociable enough, and resourceful enough to find a way to do whatever it takes to financially contribute to -or carry, if need be - our little household.

You don't sound as confident in your guy. Or, perhaps, you're not in the throes of crazylove like I am. But really, one of the two, or postpone this wedding.
posted by Jezebella at 6:45 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think your fear and anxiety are appropriate reactions to signs that you aren't right for each other. I think you need to trust your instincts. These aren't "wedding jitters," these are big red flags. His lack of career motivation? The past debt in collections? The fact that he's ok with you financially supporting him (like father, like son) and the dynamic of you researching career opportunities for him while he's on Lolcats? I'm anxious just reading your post.

I was in my late 30s when I married my version of your fiancé. We tried 6 different therapists. 2 trial separations before our final separation. He never changed much. He still has the same file clerk job, still racking up credit card debt buying guitars and concert tickets, still working on his music. I didn't change much either. I'm in full time law school working 3 part time jobs to pay for my 2 mortgages. And you know what? That's ok. He's not a deadbeat loser and I'm not a money-hungry shrew. We just have very different priorities in life and we're not meant to be married to each other.

It's horrible being married to someone who disappoints you. That cuts both ways. For me, it's been a lesson in knowing my must-haves and deal-breakers. You don't have to settle for a husband whose values, capabilities and priorities are so different from yours that they cause you to be afraid. And he doesn't have to settle for a wife who is not happy with who he is right now.
posted by Majorita at 6:56 PM on August 16, 2010 [10 favorites]

It's one thing for someone to have not a lot of education or earning potential, and another for someone to be downright irresponsible with money. OP's fiance might well be a wonderful person, but he has a lot to learn about money management and living within one's means. Learning how to combine finances as a couple requires even more restraint and accountability. There are some legitimate red flags here, such as huge amounts of debt in collections, a car repossessed not long ago, and the most worrisome, dishonesty about finances.

I think it would be rather unfair to paint OP as materialistic and shallow for wanting her future husband to pull his weight. I am speaking as an educated, professional woman who has been the sole financial provider in my own relationship for the past six months.
posted by keep it under cover at 6:59 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

*And by "pull his weight" I don't mean that he must necessarily earn an equivalent salary. Just that she shouldn't be the only one worrying about whether there will be enough for the kids to go to college, or for them to retire on someday. If he's not contributing monetarily, he should be contributing by helping her plan and budget, and then doing his part by sticking to it. This should not all fall on her shoulders while he's toodling around in LOLCats and financial LaLaland.*
posted by keep it under cover at 7:08 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Listen to your gut feeling. You know the answer to this!
posted by xm at 7:10 PM on August 16, 2010


I think if you have to take pills to be "OK" with marrying this guy - it's not worth it.


This guy isn't exactly demonstrating what it takes to be a good father who provides/contributes to the care and nurturing of future children.

Based on the date of your cited AskMe + this post, it doesn't look like he's been maturing much since your engagement. I fear you can expect a similar lack of improvement in the future.

There may be some compromise (house husband, anyone?) but you'll have to, you know, compromise.

So far you are doing most of the work towards your joint future. In my judgement, this is not a recipe for a strong lifelong partnership.
posted by jbenben at 7:13 PM on August 16, 2010

Reading this a few times, it occurs to me that you are very self-aware and nervous. It's often the case in very intelligent and driven people.

I'm willing to bet that the pressure you have from your parents to always achieve is more than the reason why you focus on school and have your finances together. I'd bet your wanting to do the right thing is often the cause of your anxiety. Here, you're torn between getting married and starting a family, and making a more reasonable financial decision and facing what we all fear: growing old and dying alone.

It's known to be tough for women as intelligent as yourself to find good guys, and I'd bet that you are so disciplined with yourself and your affairs that men may find you and what you represent to be a bit intimidating. Unfortunate, as you obviously are very patient, thoughtful and considerate... qualities so many of us guys really need.

Sadly, the reflective questions I can offer you: you have to balance the fear of being alone or seeing what else is out there with all of the issues that come with this guy: An approach to life that is not consistent with yours or your families. Worst case scenario (which I'd say is accurate as you're showing him signs of your frustration and he's not changing) he stays exactly as he is. EVEN IF he found another better job, and EVEN IF he could pay for things, are you going to be happy with this man telling your kids school doesn't matter? Are you going to be OK with him helping them out in front of the TV? Are you going to be OK knowing your parents don't approve of this decision and will probably pressure you about it now or down the road?

I think it's better to endure the pressure of being single, and I put to you that if you put both pressures beside each other, keeping up your search for somebody great will be easier than living with yourself knowing the probabilities your going to be both financing and raising your family in a manner not consistent with your upbringing.

Another way to look at it: you and your family have worked hard to get you where you are. Respect their effort and your own, and find somebody that will also.
posted by at 7:26 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

In High School, the Family Studies nun put it pretty succinctly.

"Your husband will understand if you're shy. He'll understand if you're not a good cook. He will not understand if you cannot balance a checkbook."

I should have taken that more seriously than I did. Money problems are one of the biggest drivers of divorce. If this is what's on your mind before the wedding, it's not going to go away afterwards.
posted by lysdexic at 7:33 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, this was just posted on Salon: Financially Dependent Men Cheat More.
posted by kidelo at 7:35 PM on August 16, 2010

Do you respect this man?

Respect is really, really important in a partnership.
posted by hansbrough at 7:53 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don’t believe people with advanced degrees are better or smarter

This is absolutely true. One of the smartest people I know didn't finish his college degree until he was well into his 30s. You can never judge someone's character or intelligence based on whether they have a college degree. However, you can make a judgment about an individual's character and intelligence based on their behavior and actions. Do I really have to fill in the blanks for you, here?

I don’t need to be rich. I just want to afford a mortgage and a good life for my future children - a clean house, clothes, room to grow, books, educational opportunities, trips, music lessons, etc.

Just some advice: do the math on how much you think this will cost, specifically adjusting for the amount of money it will cost 10-15 years down the road when your children will be taking advantage of it along with how large you think your mortgage will be. Be honest with yourself about the amount of money you need to support the lifestyle you envision for yourself and your family.
posted by deanc at 7:58 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention a single thing about whether or not you love him, as a person. Everything you did mention had to do with money.

Before you ask us to pass judgement on a man we have never met, you need to ask yourself: 'What do I want from this relationship?'
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 7:59 PM on August 16, 2010

In the four months before my wedding, I lost my job due to a crippling depression. My law school loans came due, along with my undergrad loans. We maxed out our credit cards to pay for the wedding. Every monetary wedding gift went to rent. We had debts in collections, and no idea when I would be able to start earning money again, or when I'd find a job. My husband was two years from graduating undergrad, and working ten hours a week at $8.50.

The one thing I was certain about during this period was my choice to get married -- I may have questioned the money spent on the wedding, but even though both our credit scores were horrifying (slowly getting better . . .), I wanted to be married to my husband. My wedding was the redeeming feature of that horrible period, because of the man I married.

You are not there.
posted by freshwater at 8:05 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

This is not pre-wedding jitters.

Concerning the likelihood that he will change, he almost certainly will change and for the worse. He will be more like whatever traits he now shows. We all get more so as we get older. If he has told you lies about anything, that is a huge red flag, btw.

That debt will become your debt and, like all people who are careful with money, you will have many anxious moments about that and probably about his future spending as well. I think he probably does think it is perfectly fine for you to support the whole family simply because we tend to think whatever our family does is normal.

As others have said, you should ask yourself if you can respect him and admire him if he never does any better than he is doing right now. Especially as he doesn't really have good plans for doing much better. If you can't admire and respect him ten years from now (when you have children growing up) and he is no more responsible than he is now, you really shouldn't cast your lot with him. If you think he is fine just the way he is now with no future improvements, then make your plans to carry the entire load yourself. And don't mingle your finances.

By the way, he sounds like a guy I know who has ADD, just enough so that he finds it nearly impossible to finish things or even to study. Wonderful man with many good qualities but not a candidate for real responsibility.
posted by Anitanola at 8:17 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

You sound like you're doing a lot of work to get yourself to a place where you'll be more aware of your own reactions and more able to manage them, so that you'll be a better person and a better partner.

If he won't do the same kind of work, there's not much point. How he reacts to couples counseling seems pretty crucial before you guys move forward, no matter which way you decide.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:19 PM on August 16, 2010

I'm grateful as all hell that I didn't marry my version of this guy. I'm never going to make enough money with my skills to be able to 100% financially support two people, and even if I did make that much money I wouldn't be comfortable with his lack of ability to take care of himself and/or me if something happened to me. Also, I shudder to think of just how badly my ex would have hosed me financially had we had mutual accounts the way that he wanted to. This guy doesn't really want to work or go to school or take care of himself. If you don't want to be 100% responsible for him like he was one of your kids, for the love of god, don't marry him.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:24 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

These worries will likely never dissipate because he will very likely never change. Do you want to be in complete charge of all your finances and hope that he doesn't screw something up? Do you want to fight him tooth and nail to get off his ass to DO something with himself? This is not, not, not, not jitters. If you are not comfortable with his finances and his life's goals, for goodness sake, do not marry him and compound the problem.
posted by CwgrlUp at 8:28 PM on August 16, 2010

do not mistake you fears about him for fears about you. it is ok to be the type of person your fiance is.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:51 PM on August 16, 2010

The big mystery inherent in your question is just what is it, exactly, you see in this guy?

What is it you love about him? Do you respect him, in spite of his financial inabilities? Are there some other areas in which he blows you away? Does he have some sort of passion, ambition or talent in some non-money-making arena, and are you willing to essentially be his patron and support him in this pursuit? What does he think of himself? Is he depressed? Is he generally a happy guy? What does he want out of life?

Basically, since you've listed only the negatives, it's hard for anyone to say "oh, yeah, sure, totally marry this guy." But I can imagine ways in which the negative qualities you mention are more than made up for by his positives, and what you have is a beautiful loser, someone with very real qualities of intelligence, talents, skills, passion and dreams, but all of which are in some way stuck in the abstract, and unable to be applied to real life. And maybe you find this other, impractical side of him so compelling, that you'd actually be happy being the breadwinner in a family with him and being his sole tether to the world of practical adult responsibilities.

Of course, these abstract, non-marketable talents and dreams of his would have to be seriously effing special and compelling. I mean, this guy would have to be a pretty rare and amazing specimen for you to have such a clear view of his many deficiencies, and still enjoy the prospect of being Mrs.-guy-who-will-never-have-his-sh**-together.

And I'm not saying he's not.

But if it's anything less than that, I really have to wonder just what you see in him in the first place, and in the second, why you've decided the two of you are ready to take the big step of getting married?

Are you really that scared of not being able to find someone whose financial future doesn't scare you? Is being single that terrible a prospect to you? Outside of your worries about your fiance, are you generally a fairly confident, optimistic person? All things considered, are you happy?
posted by patnasty at 10:44 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

As St. Alia said, it comes across as not so much the money as the approach to life. Scads of people don't make much money and they're living (financially) responsible lives, being serious in their efforts to improve their skills and education if that's what they want.

This guy comes across as irresponsible and immature and marriage to him sounds like a formula for disaster.
posted by ambient2 at 10:48 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you considered the possibility of you being the breadwinner and him being the stay-at-home parent?
posted by Jacqueline at 12:44 AM on August 17, 2010

No, this is not normal pre-wedding jitters. If you aren't sure about it, please don't go through with it. I know you have your dress, everyone knows about the wedding and expects it, and so on, but not getting married now will be so much better than living a frustrating life with him and possibly getting divorced later. He isn't going to change unless he has a strong reason to; marrying him is maintaining the status quo and you will be in for a life of more of the same. If you dump him, he very well might straighten up and be great for the next woman he gets with--fine. He isn't likely to do that now, though, because this is how he's been with you and this is what he's gotten away with.

(I had the most horrible second-thoughts about getting married and was very nervous and scared about a life with my then-fiance, but the reception hall was booked, I had my dress, payments had been made, invitations had been sent and so on and so on and I brushed it off as pre-wedding jitters, convinced myself everyone was nervous like this and that it would all work out fine. I really wish I'd listened to myself and not worried about my parents and everything tied up in the wedding and just not gone through with it; I was divorced two years later and the whole thing was much more of a mess than if I'd cancelled wedding plans in the first place).
posted by Polychrome at 1:45 AM on August 17, 2010

There are two issues here: his debt/financial IQ, and his education/career value.

1. Career: If you want a man who is your "career equal" then this is not the man for you. It seems that studying does not come naturally to him and pushing this issue will only make you both unhappy. You seem to perceive him as "under-employed", does it really matter? Is his career not worth marrying him over, is loving someone really related to how much you value their work? If you love this man what does it matter if he is, by your standards, under-employed?

2. Finances: Unless you can both agree on how to finance your lives together you will have a lifetime of money related stress. As a partnership you should both contribute what you can to your life together and no-one is worth less for having earned less. Together you can pay off his debt, but he needs to learn to budget. If he cannot, with your help, spend according a budget you have both agreed on then you are not financially compatible.

Imagine you have resolved your personal issues regarding his under-employment, and together you have paid off his debt and he now spends according to what you have both budgeted for, would you love him and be happy? If your fiancé/husband had a stable job, spent according to a budget, had no debt and loved you would you be happy?

I have but one final point to raise - you say you are in your late thirties, you may find that infertility may be an issue. If conceiving is problematic then your options are IVF or adoption and both are very expensive, I wonder whether you could afford to pay off his debt and have children if you could not conceive naturally.
posted by lilyflower at 2:43 AM on August 17, 2010

If you need to postpone, or even cancel your wedding, people will not think the worst of you. Realising that you aren't ready to make that commitment yet, and taking the steps to prevent further heartbreak down the line is absolutely the right thing to do thing to do. I admire your self-awareness and applaud your bravery and strength in asking these difficult questions.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:56 AM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

A few years ago, I was in over my head in credit card debt, ignoring a barrage of angry phone calls, and refusing to talk to anyone about it. Getting married at that point - to anyone - would have been a terrible idea for me. I was uncomfortable talking about my debt, and if a hypothetical partner had pried it would have started a kind of nagging parent/reluctant teenager dynamic, and if I had gotten married at that point it probably would have just locked that in.

He is probably anxious and unhappy about his finances too, and you're really not doing him any favors. It's not something you can solve for him or make him confront, but you can decide not to get married unless you see him make a commitment to getting himself out of his hole.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:27 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was you - advanced degree, primary income earner in the family, under-employed husband. I ended up doing things with finances that I would never have done on my own. We borrowed a LARGE sum of money from family, ended up declaring bankruptcy, and basically had to start over again. He ended up leaving me for someone he found on the internet and now, because of his much lower income at the time of the divorce, I pay him $1,000 a month in spousal support.

I never had an issue with the difference in education levels but the difference in values - working to get ahead vs. working because he had to & controlling finances vs. slacking on finances - were unbalanced and prevented us from ever having a healthy relationship.

If you were my sister or my friend, I would advise you to cancel the wedding - sorry.
posted by eleslie at 4:30 AM on August 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

I am a big advocate for marriage, but I'd advise you to put off (not necessarily cancel) the wedding. You two have some work to do.

The fact that your query expresses so much dread without balancing with the good side of things leaves me thinking that maybe you already have built up some considerable resentment. Unmet, unexpressed expectations are the source of resentment. Resentment is the "plaque" of marriage and it will eat your love away.

You both need to work through your concerns and expectations. He needs a chance to hear them and respond to you. And then you need to do the same with him. Only then can you come up with a plan that accepts him for who he is yet offers the assurance you need.

Research shows every married couple has a half dozen or so ongoing conflict issues that will NEVER be fully resolved. This is true of even the happiest of long-married couples. The difference is that happy couples have the skills for open communication and conflict management, sense of humor and perspective, and foundation of love and respect to negotiate those problems.

So you two could make this work. Differences in ambition and commitment to financial security are very common marital challenges. I can think of about six great couples I personally know whose marriages have these types of difficulties, but are quite happy in spite of them.

But here are some keys to look for -- Can you express what you want in a way that will not make him defensive? And will he allow your input to truly influence his habits and behavior for your sake?

Do NOT get married if you are not ready. Just have the right checklist of what "ready" means. Finances are way down the list below open communication, conflict skills, sense of humor, admiration, respect, fun, friendship, and how much each of you want to grow for the other.
posted by cross_impact at 7:22 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Run, girl. This man is not partner material based on what you've said. Do not let being in your late thirties or any biological clock-ticking keep you from getting out of this relationship. It sounds as if you are fulfilling a parental role, but this extensive level of caretaking of a partner (who is otherwise healthy and fairly able) is not what IMO a grown woman should want for herself.

A couple of things to think about:

- Everyone will walk away from that wedding but you. Family and friends can say whatever they want, they can talk him up to put him in a better light or tell you you're too old (whatev!) to find another guy -- but *they all go home at the end of that day to their own lives. You don't.*

- Let's say you have kids - you endure a pregnancy or two or more, give birth and start to take care of the children. Given what I read, you will not have the option of staying at home with them (and you may be surprised how that will strike you, once babies arrive). When the kids get a little older, what will they see when they look at him? At you? What example does he provide for them? And then, what if something terrible happens to you, the only financial support? What if you are incapacitated or die?

I think your steps are clear, blazingly so: break up, and move him out. And I mean this in the nicest possible way, but you are too old/educated to settle for someone who seems fit only to move back in with his parents. I strongly suggest counseling or therapy that delves into seeing why you would think someone so obviously unfit would be a good partner. I don't mean that cruelly, lots of us have been in your situation. But changing it and knowing yourself will help you find the person you really should be with.
posted by mdiskin at 8:03 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Based on what you have written, this sounds like a disaster. I think when some is almost 40 they should have their shit together. Your fiancé doesn't sound like he does. (He also doesn't sound like he's really trying to get his shit together.) So yes, I would say these are 'true problems'. Finances are definitely going to be a big part of any marriage. Like children, and religion, and things of that nature, you want someone who is of a similar mind set to you when it comes to stuff like that.
posted by chunking express at 8:55 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

And if you haven't spoke to your fiancé about all this stuff you really should. Being able to talk to one another about serious (and awkward) issues is an important part of any successful relationship. Hopefully what you've articulated here are all concerns you've also told your fiancé.
posted by chunking express at 8:57 AM on August 17, 2010

Ignoring all the rest about finances and anxiety, which has amply been covered in previous comments, I focused on this:

I also made an appointment for couples counseling, but I don’t know if he’ll go.

If he won't go, then in my opinion that alone is sufficient reason not to marry him.
posted by desjardins at 9:46 AM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Please, for the sake of the rest of your life, un-set that wedding date.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 9:55 AM on August 17, 2010

I think you need to assume that he's never going to get a Master's, he's never going to make much money, he's never going to be responsible with the money you have, and on top of that he's going to be dishonest about it. Would you still want to marry him?

If yes, go ahead. If not, don't.
posted by callmejay at 11:22 AM on August 17, 2010

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