DEAR CAROLYN: My smart, successful, and never-been-married 41-year-old daughter has recently become engaged to a twice-divorced man whom she has nothing in common with except a desire to not be alone anymore. I am worried she is his “retirement plan,” as he can’t wait to retire early from his job and live the expat lifestyle with her overseas. They have only known each other for a year, and six months of that have been long-distance. My daughter complains he won’t stop seeing his “ex-girlfriend/best friend” who lives in the same apartment complex as him — on a different continent — and it is making her insecure.
How do I support my daughter? They have a 13-year age gap, and I just want her to slow down and think carefully about what she is getting herself into. Wanting to “check the marriage box” off your to-do list is not a reason to rush into this.
Just Want Her to Slow Down
DEAR JUST WANT: You say: “I love you and worry about your safety.”
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She will hear: “My mother thinks I can’t take care of myself.”
You say: “You barely know this man and are rushing into marriage for the sake of it.”
She will hear: “My mother thinks ‘single and 41’ = desperate and pathetic.”
You say: “He can’t wait to use you to retire early.”
She will hear: “My own mother thinks a man can’t like me for anything but my money.”
You say: “He’s obviously still seeing his ex, right under your nose.”
She will hear: “My mother thinks I’m an idiot.”
You have a message problem, one that stems from the even bigger problem of trying to be a parent to someone who is 20 years into being an adult.
You don’t have to be silent, but, if you want to avoid alienating your daughter (in most cases, straight to the altar of the person you’re trying to red-flag), you do have to be mindful of your daughter’s strength and autonomy.
That limits you to reflecting what she’s saying — which actually isn’t the worst thing. “If I’m hearing you correctly, you sound unsure.” Or, “You’re worried he still has feelings for this ex.”
Then you give her a chance to respond. Either she will disagree and clarify what she’s saying (and you will reflect that accordingly), or she will confirm. If it’s the latter, then you say, “It’s normal to be unsure/worry.” Then, a tacit statement of confidence in her ability to handle it: “Have you thought about how you’ll deal with that?” Then at the end, an overt statement: “You’re a strong and capable person, and you’ll figure this out. I’m happy to be your sounding board when you want one.”
Isn’t that what would you want your mom to say, if you were in this spot? A welcome reminder that, “Hey, you’ve got this?” With a side of, “ … but I’m here if you need me?”
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.