I’m a 26 year old woman in graduate school. I’ve been dating Tom for two years. He has a good job and makes a good living. I found out I’m pregnant and we’re both excited about having a baby. Here’s the problem. Tom proposed when he found out I was pregnant. I thought I wanted to marry him but I am seeing some troubling signs. For example, he never finished college and sometimes makes comments about how I have so much education and all I have to show for it is debt. Or the last few times we’ve gone out to dinner he’s made comments about how I never offer to pay. He knows I’m doing all I can between going to school and holding a part time job. Lately I’ve been very tired because of the pregnancy and it seems he’s picking fights and I’m too exhausted to argue. Now I’m having second thoughts about marrying him, and even having the baby. I’m so confused and I don’t know where to turn. I don’t have any close friends here and my parents aren’t very supportive of anything I do. In fact, like Tom, they think I’m wasting my money by taking on more debt for grad school and not getting a “real job.” Help!
Dr. Chalmer answers:
Terri, I think the first thing you can do is sort out your various worries in terms of how urgent they are, because worrying about all of them at once can seem overwhelming. The most time-sensitive issue you have is whether to continue the pregnancy. You didn’t say how far along you are, or if you view terminating the pregnancy as an acceptable option, but you did express doubt about having the baby. So for starters, you need to make a decision about that (if you haven’t already), and soon.
Of course, as a man I have no direct personal experience of that decision, and I invite women readers to offer their insights, especially if you’ve been there. From my conversations with a lot of women, the one thing I would emphasize is that you need to be clear that it’s your decision. Others, including Tom, can have their opinions and may express them, but you’re the one who is deciding what to do. Moreover, mixed feelings are the norm—you’re not likely to be perfectly comfortable with your choice either way. So make a decision, commit to it, and whatever you decide, expect to have some second thoughts. Good people have to make hard choices sometimes. Second thoughts happen because life is rarely black-and-white.
The other issues aren’t so urgent in terms of time, unless you’ve put a deposit on a wedding venue. Are you clear in your own mind about the value of your education? From your description of Tom’s comments, it sounds like his main worry is about your debt—not a surprising worry given that he’s looking to marry you. If it seemed that he disrespected education itself—if, for example, he was mocking you for caring about what you’re learning—that would indicate a difference in basic values that could be hard to overcome in a marriage. But if what he’s saying is that he’s worried about how the two of you will handle a large debt load, that’s a question you’d better be prepared to discuss. The fact that it’s coming up indirectly—his making comments about your not offering to pay for dinner, for example—is a sign that this is a topic that has been too scary to handle directly. So the solution for that one will be to address it directly: “Tom, you seem worried about the debt I’m taking on for my education. I worry about it too, but I think it’s worth it. Can we talk about it?” When you can handle a topic that’s felt too hot to handle, you’ll be much better equipped to know if you want to go ahead with the marriage.
With your parents it’s a different issue, since (presumably) they’re not responsible for your debt. If you find their comments about your education choices hurtful, you can tell them, “Mom and Dad, I appreciate your concern, but I’ve thought about it carefully and feel that what I’m doing makes sense for me.” Repeat as necessary. Part of the work of the twenties (and thirties and forties, for that matter, if you’re fortunate enough to have parents well into your own adulthood) is to find your voice with your parents, as you learn that you don’t need to rebel anymore—you actually have adult power to make your own decisions.