Dear Monica, My boyfriend and I are close to getting engaged, but we have never discussed how we view our future together. What do you see as the most essential topics to clear up? —S.L., Bryn Mawr
Just because June is here does not mean that you need to step up your pace toward becoming a bride. If the spirit of the season has left you and your mate itching to tie the knot, I suggest you take a quick step back and look around. Don’t kid yourself by thinking that just because you have picked out the perfect ring, dress, venue and band that you are ready to go. Reality tells us that there is a more than 50 percent divorce rate. All those couples were madly in love when they planned their wedding day. Before you hear Wagner on the organ, do your relationship a favor and read through these must-discuss topics prior to taking the plunge.
Money: No one wants to realize downstream that neither of you has a nest egg or that you don’t know the meaning of money and how to define spending it. What type of saver are you and is he? Does he take chances with money? Are you more comfortable knowing exactly where your money is and how much you actually have? Will the two of you agree on a budget? “High-maintenance spender” doesn’t do well with “conservative Joe.”
Lifestyle: Have you compared your daily lifestyle expectations? If you only buy organic foods, expect 1,200-thread-count sheets, spend the majority of your money on designer labels, and refuse to buy generic, and he’s a penny-pincher who keeps close tabs on coupons and sales and would prefer buying in bulk from Costco over Whole Foods, you’re going to hit a wall. Be clear about your expectations early on. Remember the view looking down is a lot further than the view looking up.
Children: He’s from a large family and his brothers and sisters just happen to be his best friends. He’s always planned on having a family just like the one he came from. You, on the other hand, see a boy and a girl in your future and that’s it. A four-legged addition is as much of a compromise as you’re willing to discuss. Don’t end up barefoot, pregnant and miserable. Not fun!
Family: Make sure you have clear expectations on how much involvement your in-laws will have in your life. Does his mother pull his strings or is he his own man? Is Sunday night dinner a must? Too much extended family togetherness is usually not welcome especially in the newlywed stage.
Where to Live: What are each of your ideal goals in terms of where you see yourselves settling down? Is it a white picket fence and a swing on the 100-year-old oak tree somewhere in the burbs, or is your ideal residence a loft downtown? How many years do you envision living in the city? Figure out where you want to spend your life together, both short- and long-term.
Work/Job: He might work in finance now, but is he planning on becoming a stay-at-home dad a few years down the road? Are you planning on taking time off to raise the family? Is he considering a job that will send him jetsetting across the country each week? Do you want the hands-on approach or a nanny for the kids? Put these questions out there for discussion. The days of women just playing tennis and shopping are long gone. Nowadays, many women are 50-50 contributors with income. Many more men are taking on the child-rearing duties as well.
Relationship Maintenance: After you are married, what will be the precedent? Is he expecting a domestic diva or will he be home every night helping to cook dinner? How often will you set aside time for “date night?” Now would also be an ideal time to express your thoughts if he is currently spending too much time with the guys. Conversely, are you with the girls all the time? Lay it all on the table and make sure you both agree that the other’s expectations for relationship maintenance are reasonable.
Life Priorities: Do you both have an understanding of what the other hopes to accomplish in life? What gives him a sense of fulfillment? Is he all about family, while you are career-focused? Does living close to your family and friends mean more to you than taking a fancy job across the country? Are you comfortable moving if he gets a huge promotion?
While a sit-down session to discuss the most important questions before merging your lives has the potential to be intense, you will both find it rewarding to clear the air. Knowing that you have communicated and are working as a united front is the beginning of the process of shaping your lives’ together. When the older generation tells you that the ring and dress mean nothing they are correct. Real life has nothing to do with Vera Wang and oval-shaped diamonds. It has to do with maturity and compromise. Make sure you and your mate are in it together at the ground level.