When 30-something David K. from Toronto attended his cousin’s wedding this past year, his mom was focused less on the bride and groom — and more on David. The woman marrying his cousin was a family friend his mom had tried to set him up with that David had rejected. “This could have been you,” his mother said. “Do you really think that someone who’d fall in love with my cousin would fall in love with me?” David responded. His mom took David’s point and has since backed off — but the annoyance he feels with his parents pressuring him to marry lingers. “At first it’s comical, but it definitely has an impact on your relationship with your family,” says David, whose dad used to harass him about all the girlfriends he’d let slip away.
Tip #1: Realize that they want to see you happy and successful... and marriage is part of that equation
David’s hardly the only bachelor out there fielding everything from subtle hints to overt comments from a set of mostly well-meaning parents who want to see their sons happy — and just so happen to think marriage is the best way to get there. “When parents first encounter a child, it’s a helpless little baby and they shepherd it through life. Then, they sometimes have a problem letting go of that enormous responsibility,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of Lovestyles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. “They worry about your success. Also, parents often feel that their children’s success, however they define it, reflects on them. They may also be longing for grandchildren.”
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Matthew J., a 30-year-old magician living in Ohio, learned his craft as a kid from his mom — and she wishes he would listen as closely to her dating advice as he did to her magic lessons. “I know she wants me to be happy, and she tells me to not rush into things, but that doesn’t stop her from frequently dropping hints, like: ‘Hey, she seems nice’ or ‘You two seem to have a lot in common,’” Matthew says. “The greatest was when my mom semi-seriously suggested that I try to approach Fergie, the married female vocalist from the Black Eyed Peas. Don’t get me wrong, I’d happily date Fergie given the opportunity, but I think her successful actor husband would probably kick my rear.”
While living single’s not uncommon these days, since people are getting married later (or not at all), there’s still a large percentage of society that focuses on marriage as something that should happen in early adulthood, says Karin Anderson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Concordia University Chicago and author of It Just Hasn’t Happened Yet. “Despite the modern era, in the new millennium — when we have a lot of freedom for various types of lifestyles — we still have a pretty strong marriage mandate,” Anderson says. “Our culture is catered to couples and families; we don’t really know what to do with single people. It makes people uncomfortable to a degree… especially if someone remains single past the time when someone would expect that person to settle down and just marry already.”
Tip #2: Try to bridge the generation gap between their expectations and yours when it comes to settling down
Part of parents’ longing for their kids to get married young might stem from the fact that it’s what they grew up with and did themselves. In the same way that today’s high school graduates are expected to either go to college or get a job, young adults in previous years were expected to find that special someone and settle down. Of his own parents, David says: “We’re from different generations; by the time my mom was my age, she had five kids. They think you grow up, go to school, graduate, get married, have kids, retire and die, but our paths don’t run that straight anymore. My life path isn’t the same one they used to go through.”
Reid K., a 28-year-old grad student living in Denver, CO, has two older sisters who were married by his age. His mother walked down the aisle at 19 and would love it if he completed the sibling trifecta of wedded bliss. “My mom always says she just wants me to have someone to come home to,” Reid says. “She values companionship so highly in her life.”
Tip #3: When all else fails, deflect and redirect the conversation
If you have to fend off pushy parents, first try to understand why they care — realizing that they’re likely dropping little comments out of concern (rather than condescension) can help you tolerate it. “I don’t take offense,” Reid says. “I know I was annoyed by it a little bit before, [especially with the implication that] you need this because you’re missing something and you’re not complete without this, but now I think I know where it’s coming from.” Second, explain that you have things under control — and when you’re ready to get married (if you indeed want to get married), you will. Anderson recommends saying something like this: “I know that you’re coming from a place of love and you want me to be happy and settle down and have a partner, but right now, there’s no one around that I’m crazy about.”
Finally, realize that this is a subject on which you might never agree — so if your parents keep trying to engage you in a discussion about your love life that you don’t want to have, deflect and redirect the conversation. “I would do something cheeky almost, like saying, ‘Mom, come on, you know you don’t want a daughter-in-law; daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law fight all the time,’” Anderson says. Then, change the subject to avoid spinning your wheels. Above all, remember that it’s your choice when and if to marry — and to whom. As Anderson says, “You need to be living your life for yourself, and you don’t need to be dating women who you’re not excited about just so that your mom can sleep at night.”
Haley Shapley is a freelance writer based in Seattle. Read more of her work at www.haleyshapley.com.