Dear Carolyn: My sister and I have a close relationship and talk often. Her son (who was born just after her 19th birthday) turned 18 last summer and graduated from high school a semester early to join the military. He will likely be posted overseas after his training is complete.
Before he left, he proposed to his girlfriend of two years. This was in December; he left for boot camp in January, and they plan to be married in May. I get the sense that both my sister and my nephew are comforted by the idea that this marriage is a piece of home that he will have wherever he goes.
I think a marriage-as-safety-net is a mistake (especially for a couple of teenagers) and I’m having trouble mustering up support, let alone enthusiasm. I’m keeping my mouth shut and dealing with my misgivings, but how should I handle my sister’s desire to talk about the wedding she is planning? I have been commenting in a kind but neutral way and changing the subject, but she seems hurt that I don’t respond more enthusiastically. Am I being a jerk?
A: Jerk, no – you obviously care for your nephew and want what’s best for him.
You’re just not in a position to know what that is, at least not with the confidence you seem to have. Yes, marrying so young and so long-distance adds challenges to the already difficult business of sharing a life with someone – and yes, magical thinking about this couple’s chances is not a valid strategy for making it work.
But neither of these truths makes the outcome of this marriage your responsibility, and neither means the marriage will fail. If they love each other, are well-matched in temperament and have a deep, mutual investment in making it work, then there’s no reason they can’t have an enduring, rewarding marriage. Heck, if they’re a hot mess x 2 and have no idea what they’re getting into, they can still trip and stumble their way toward bliss – or at least get closer to it than two reasonable 38-year-olds who think they’ve figured things out. Life is like that.
So my advice to you is to imagine this couple decades down the road and still together, loving each other and making it work. Or don’t even reach that far, and just imagine him in harm’s way, which is in his immediate future.
Now imagine how you’ll wish you had handled their wedding. You’ll want to have been a good sport at least, right? One of the people rooting for them, and not the one off to the side with a “told you so” in the chamber?
So be that good sport. Root for them. Welcome talk of the details just for the joy it brings to your sister, and see it for what it likely is – a welcome distraction from the fear of his deployment. Offer your help. Take this chance to embrace love.
Even if that love is fleeting, even if it turns out to be pain in love’s clothing, you’ll have erred on the side of life, enthusiasm and hope – which, for someone who is neither the parent nor confidante of the groom, is a fitting choice, one I doubt you’ll regret.
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