DEAR KELLY: My boyfriend is planning on going into the military after high school. His family doesn’t have a lot of money and he thinks it’s a good way for him to get away when everyone else is going to college. He wants to do the GI Bill and still go to college, but he can’t go right after high school like me and most of my friends.
My family thinks that only people who go to college will do anything with their lives and that there is no future with my boyfriend if he wants to go into the military and I’m going to college. Kelly, I want to be a nurse and I’m planning on becoming one. I love my boyfriend and we think that if I get my nursing license, I can move wherever he’s stationed and find a job. So I’m not giving up my goals or life plans for him and I still plan on going to college and getting my degree while we stay together.
Neither of us have any plans to break up and we both see us staying together for a long time. I know it sounds silly but we really think we will get married one day – we are that serious about each other.
What makes me mad is that my parents seem to look down on him for wanting to serve our country instead of going to college. When he used to say he wanted to go to college, they loved him and agreed that we were like the perfect couple. It’s so frustrating and confusing, too.
What can I do to make my parents change their mind and see that it’s a good thing that he wants to do something so honorable like join the military when his family can’t afford college like mine can? My great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather both served in the military, and my dad acts like its such a good thing, like reminding us that they fought for our freedom, etc. ... but it’s a whole different story when it’s the guy I love.
Please help me with what to do. My boyfriend is a great guy and he’s done nothing but be good to my family. Before all of this they loved him, too, and now I swear they act differently. They deny it but it’s so obvious. What should I do?
– Frustrated With Parents
DEAR FRUSTRATED: You make great points and have a very solid platform to stand on if your parents suddenly don’t like your boyfriend simply because he is joining the military. I agree, it’s an honorable thing to do and I totally respect your boyfriend for signing up to serve his country. It’s definitely something to admire. If you are correct and your parents are frowning down on him for this reason only, then they need to re-think their opinions and re-evaluate the judgments they seem to be placing.
I’m cautious, though, to make that my final answer because like with almost all situations, there are two sides to every story.
Perhaps your parents are concerned that you will forgo your goals or career path to follow your boyfriend, or stop your life from moving forward, to just chase him and his dreams. Perhaps their response to pull back comes not based on his decision to join the military, but rather on their feelings that you are already talking about marriage and haven’t graduated from high school yet.
Maybe they see you getting so serious and they are afraid you will make decisions now that will change your life’s course completely. Maybe they are concerned about you when he is deployed or if he is shipped overseas.
You have based their reaction on your idea that they are upset because your boyfriend is going into the military, but have you taken the time to sit down and talk with them about what their concerns are?
Give them a chance to explain why they suddenly seem to be chilly about your relationship. If you are correct and it’s all based on his enlisting in the military, then remind them that both grandfathers served our country and you were raised to respect and admire this. Let them know he plans to do the GI Bill and still go to college, only it will be after he serves his time. Share that not everyone is lucky enough to have parents who can afford college and the military is a great option for him to figure out a way to have his college paid for.
Approach your parents trying to have a discussion, not trying to start an argument. Maybe they will have other reasons or concerns you didn’t even know about. Before you chastise and judge them, find out the real reasons they seem unsupportive. Base your response on fact, not just guessing.
Remember, you can’t change someone’s mind. You can tell them your feelings, your concerns, your position, your approach, your worries or your beliefs, but ultimately we can’t make someone believe something if they don’t want to. Regardless of whether or not they respect your boyfriend’s choices, you can still support him, encourage him and show your appreciation and gratitude to him for choosing to serve his country.
Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.