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Dating Advice #208 - The Irreconcilable Difference

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Everything looks like a match -- except for their view of materialism.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I just broke up with a man, but I feel like I might have lost my intended, and I'm just not sure that the reason I ended it is valid. He is genuinely nice and honest, plus he has the biggest heart I've ever known. There is no doubt that we connected on a true and mature level. We basically share the same values and goals, except for one thing:

He grew up in a very simple home, and I didn't. I was actually quite spoiled. My parents showed their love by giving us things, and always outdid themselves for us. Looking back, I would say it wasn't to our benefit, but the past is something I can't change.

This man adamantly wants to live a very simple life. He doesn't have ambition to earn a large income, and if he ever earns a lot of money, he wouldn't want anyone to know. He doesn't want his wife to wear jewelry or drive a nice car.

Is this something that I can come to resent, even if I have full respect for him in all other areas? My parents are horrified and call him cheap. They were the main reason I broke things off. Was I right?


Dear Valerie,

The second thoughts you are having is a normal reaction to what has happened. Here was a guy you liked, admired and respected - and to whom you felt emotionally connected. It seemed that you had just about all the ingredients for a lasting relationship, except for one difference. And because these positive feelings remain even after the break-up, it is only natural for you to have lingering questions about whether or not you did the right thing.

Another reason why you question your decision is doubt over whether this is even a valid reason to end a courtship. We expect that one reason for your ambivalence is the fact that part of you feels guilty for having been overindulged by your parents when you were growing up, and you may think that your materialism is getting in the way of your good judgment.

In our opinion, two people who discover they have significant, irreconcilable differences in their lifestyle expectations are not well-suited for each other.

A dating couple that is moving in the direction of marriage needs a foundation on which to build their relationship. One corner of that foundation is a common value system, and another corner is compatible goals and expectations for the future. Your differences involve both values and expectations - you valuing ambition and a certain amount of material comfort, and wanting a lifestyle in which these values play a role, and he eschewing all of this.

It appears to us that neither of you will be comfortable adopting the other's point of view or reaching some sort of compromise, and we don't feel that either of you should try to force yourselves to do so. If you do, we can practically guarantee that what you fear the most will come true - you will come to resent each other, you will lose respect for him, and you will regret your choice to remain involved.

We also don't see any place for guilt in this equation. In our view, materialism isn't a bad thing unless it is carried to an extreme. The fact that your parents may have indulged you doesn't make you a spoiled woman who values wealth and possessions above anything else. Women have enjoyed wearing jewelry since biblical times. The Torah describes how Eliezer, our ancestor Abraham's servant, gave Rebecca jewelry when she agreed to marry Isaac. Rebecca was the epitome of caring and giving, and certainly not spoiled.

For you, there is nothing wrong with wanting a nice car, a comfortable home, or financial security. And there is nothing wrong with him wanting a simple life with minimal material comforts.

But financial issues can be very straining for a marriage, and it is important that you both be heading in the same direction. You do not want to be in an position where either of you is being judgmental or forcing your values on the other person.

The bottom line is that in our view, you made the correct choice. The two of you weren't right for each other, even though so many aspects of your relationship seemed to be in your favor. There's an important lesson in this experience: If dating partners cannot find a way to bridge major differences - in values, goals or lifestyle choices - at an early point in their courtship, it is a red flag that they may never be able to resolve the issue - no matter how long they try.

We hope that our answer has reassured you, and we hope that you soon meet the one who is right for you.

Rosie & Sherry

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