Ask Amy: Debt burden delays possible proposal

Amy Dickinson
Tribune Content Agency

Dear Amy: I am in my first long-term relationship as an adult (I am 31).

My boyfriend of two years told me that he will not propose to me until I pay off my debt.

I had acquired medical bills and a few credit card debts before we met. I owe $14,000 to creditors.

He said he doesn’t want to go into marriage in debt.

I understand that, but he is acting like he will not propose until all of my debts are settled.

That is going to take about another year.

How would you take this?

I appreciate any honesty that comes my way. — Only the Girlfriend?

Dear Girlfriend: Debt, spending, and money management problems are very high on the list of stressors that break up relationships.

More important even than the debt you carry, is how you each respond to it.

Is your guy angry, judgmental, and controlling about your money choices? Or is he trying to approach this honestly, calmly, and as a team?

If he is angry and controlling, then this is a very bright red flag. If he is calm, supportive, and nonjudgmental, then I want to marry him.

So, wake up. Your adulthood is calling.

You two have already taken an extremely important step, by communicating honestly about this.

If you can retire $14,000 worth of debt in a year, I’d say that you are being impressively proactive, and that you are lucky to have a high enough income (and low enough expenses) to lose this burden relatively quickly.

After you’ve paid off your debt, you can then take the extra money that has been going toward payments each month and become an aggressive and responsible saver.

I appreciate money manager Suze Orman’s advocacy for financial literacy. You might benefit from reading her book, “The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke (2007, Riverhead).

Dear Amy: My ex-husband and I were married for over 20 years. We have two wonderful sons. Our youngest son is 16.

Throughout our marriage, is was obvious that my ex never got over his high school sweetheart. We met several months after she had broken up with him.

He remained in touch with her throughout our marriage and had an affair with her.

Now, I find out, my ex insisted on naming our youngest son “Brandon,” after this woman’s brother! (This brother is alive and well, so it wasn’t to honor his memory.)

My ex had always told me that she was an only child, and until a recent social media post mentioning this brother, I believed him.

Now I feel hurt and betrayed. His family and this woman were aware of our son Brandon’s name and why my ex chose it.

My ex told me that I “just don’t have a sense of humor.”

Am I missing something here? — Misled in PA

Dear Misled: I agree that this is strange and will require a major adjustment on your part. You obviously love your son, and I assume that you also love his name, so you should remind yourself that he shares his name with a bunch of other people, including this particular man. (Aside from the high school girlfriend, were he and your husband close personal friends?)

Your adjustment should include a determination to “own” this, accept it, and not surrender the high ground. I assume that this episode is one more reason why you are happier without your ex.

Sharing this with your son while you’re still angry about it would place undue pressure on him.

In terms of your sense of humor, you might respond: “Well, if you tell me something funny, I’ll see if I can laugh.”

Dear Amy: “Three Daughters” were feeling estranged from Dad after Mom died and he was dating someone new. In their eyes, this person was creating a wedge in the family.

Your response was to be supportive of Dad and to let him make his own choices.

My wife and her sister are in a similar position, with one glaring twist.

Their dad is 75 years of age, and she is 29.

Is your same advice applicable? — Dan

Dear Dan: Yes. It is vital that family members do everything possible in order to stay close to their elder so that he does not become isolated from them.

Your father-in-law has the right to engage in an inappropriate, unhealthy relationship.

Family members have few options. Questions about their father’s mental capacity and estate should be taken to an attorney.