When my ex and I broke up, I took a vacation from dating, and even once that vacation was over, it took a while to find someone I wanted a serious relationship with (I'm picky, and I won't apologize). But while I was totally fine with my two-year relationship hiatus, my mom was not. She called me one day when I was casually dating someone who ended up ghosting me, and made it very clear that I was not moving fast enough for her. "You sure are taking your sweet time," she said in her southern drawl. I was 26.
I know that my mom's insistence that I get married asap has more to do with babies than it does marriage. She wants a grandkid and she wants one now. But that doesn't mean her words didn't sting. And she's definitely not the only mom out there pushing for her kids to settle down. So how do we deal with our marriage-obsessed parents? Talk to them, says Joy Harden Bradford, PhD, an Atlanta-based therapist who hosts the podcast Therapy for Black Girls.
"Most times those comments don't come from a malicious place. Parents just get really excited about the possibility of having grandkids," she says. But your parents' questions about marriage might be especially difficult to hear if you're frustrated by the dating process already. "Hearing your parent ask why you're not married yet can spark not-good-enough kinds of feelings and make you question what you're doing wrong or invoke a fear of failure," Dr. Bradford says. And they should be aware of how you feel, because when they realize that their marriage questions are hurting you, they'll likely stop. "For a lot of parents, one serious conversation about how it makes you feel is enough for them to put the squash on it," Dr. Bradford says.
Dr. Bradford suggests saying something like, "Hey Mom, I know that you don't mean any harm, but talking about marriage makes me uncomfortable and makes me feel pressured to find someone when I'm already stressed about dating." Then, reassure your parent(s) that when you find someone you really love, they'll be the first to know. But ask that, until then, they put an end to marriage talk.
You can use a similar template if you're already dating someone, but aren't sure when or if you'll get married. Explain that you and your partner are happy and maybe someday you will get married, but that choice is between you and your partner. And if you're not interested in marriage at all, whether or not you're in a relationship, add in a line about how you know marriage is their wish for you, but it's not something you see in your life plans, Dr. Bradford says. "You can go so far as to tell your parents that you don't look forward to your time together, because you feel like the conversation always goes to this uncomfortable place," she says.
Hopefully, having that conversation once will be enough for your parents to realize that they should stop bothering you about a future wedding. But if it doesn't, Dr. Bradford says you can simply refuse to talk to them about it. "Switch the subject immediately so they get the idea that it's not something that you want to talk about," she says. So next time your mom or dad or gender-neutral parent asks when you're finally going to settle down, say something like, "Hey, where are we going for Thanksgiving this year? Should I make pumpkin pie?" The point is to get them talking about something else, while dropping subtle hints that you're not interested in talking about your hypothetical wedding.
Eventually, your parents will realize that marriage is an off-limits topic, and they might even become your allies when your aunts and uncles start asking the same questions at family gatherings. But first, they have to adjust their expectations of your life. "Parents have all these expectations for what their children's lives will look like, without realizing that their children's lives will be their own," Dr. Bradford says. "Society has made us feel like our children are mini versions of us, and they're not. They're completely different little humans, and our job is to guide them and keep them safe, not to dictate what happens with their lives."
Having that conversation, instead of laughing your mom's comments off and telling her that she's so annoying, could help her start to see you as a separate person with a totally different life. Then maybe she'll understand that it's okay for you to be 26, single, and unsure if you'll ever get married, because your life will happen on your time, not hers.