Dear Rabbi Bernath,
I’ve been in a stable relationship with the perfect girl for two years now. She’s recently started pushing for a commitment. I’m still in grad school and have loans to pay back. When I’m done, I want to travel and save up a bit of money. Getting married would prevent me from doing a few things that I’ll never get the chance to do again. She knows this about me, but says I’m being selfish. Am I?
Thank you for your honest question. I say “honest,” because you’re putting the responsibility for your actions on yourself – and not on your girlfriend, or anyone else. That is really refreshing.
Let’s start with the short answer to your question. Are you being selfish? Yes, absolutely. But not for the reason you may think.
I don’t think it’s selfish to want to finish school, pay for it, travel and save, as you say you want to do.
But if I understand your “bucket list” correctly, it sounds like it could easily take three to four years, am I right?
That qualifies for what we call “dating to death.” Let me explain.
Before marriage, relationships have a bit of a story arc – a beginning, middle and end.
It starts with a (sometimes) awkward meeting, some courtship and getting to know each other on a really basic level. It develops, just like a story does, through conflict. These conflicts will hopefully test the relationship, to see if you’re really “perfect” for each other.
If you can find the solutions to those basic conflicts, the relationship survives. If you can’t, then it doesn’t – or, at least, shouldn’t.
If it’s been two years and you’re confident that she’s “perfect” – and she feels the same way – well, I hate to break it to you, but you’re at the end. And the end usually comes with a ring.
Have you ever watched a movie, seen a play or read a book that felt like it was supposed to end, but just kept going? How does it feel when that happens? Kind of frustrating, right?
I was at a performance where that happened recently. I walked out. The lack of an ending ruined an otherwise great show.
Sometimes, the story takes two years; sometimes it takes two weeks. But if you’re both emotionally mature, have solved conflicts together and still enjoy each other’s company, then the story will start to drag on and the other partner will begin to feel frustrated, and may eventually feel the need to walk out. This is what I call “dating to death.”
If you were to put someone you love through that frustration for two, three or four years, wouldn’t that be kind of selfish?
But I think that there is more to this story. I believe that you have a misconception about what’s coming next.
You see, “the end” isn’t really the end – it’s just the beginning.
Life doesn’t end when you get engaged. You can go to grad school, work, travel and save. As a matter of fact, finances are not usually a good reason to delay engagement, or even marriage.
Married couples increase their wealth at a faster rate than singles do. You don’t know this yet, but there are a tonne of financial benefits to marriage.
It being 2017, it’s likely that your girlfriend works. If you’re in grad school, she’s probably educated, too. With two people working, sharing living expenses and tax deductions, you’re going to pay off your debt and save money faster.
As far as travel and related experiences, unless you’re planning on going somewhere dangerous or lewd (which are not a good idea for single you, either), then why not have that experience together? Shared experiences with your life partner are infinitely more bonding and meaningful than going alone, or with friends. And if you do need to do something alone for a short time, marriage does not necessarily preclude that, either.
Happily ever after is not a fairy tale, it’s a choice.
Have a question for Rabbi Bernath? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org