Why won’t my girlfriend’s dad give me permission to marry her?

Question

I am a California Christian currently attending a college in the lands of East Texas. The highly conservative culture here has been a shock, but at the same time a breath of fresh air versus the liberal culture of Southern California. About a year and a half ago, I met the woman who I now call my girlfriend (she is 24, a Christian and comes from a Christian family). Before her, I had never dated, as I had never met anyone who had interested me. I should probably note I am 24 also. So here I am, about to graduate in a semester.

From the beginning of our relationship, I have been straightforward in my intentions, in that I was looking for a spouse (she agreed with me). Trying to maintain a level of respect, I even asked her dad for his permission to date his daughter, to which he said yes. In doing this, I had hoped it would be easier when asking for his permission to marry her; I have been sorely wrong.

This past November, I went to him and asked him for permission to marry, he looked at me and said to wait, and that he had no peace over our marrying. Five months later, he still remains in the same mindset as he did that day.

Her father says he would like to see me figure out what I am doing with my life and what my future career or job may be. My problem with this, John, is that I have been searching for over six years into what the future holds. To this date, I am no closer to figuring out what is to happen after school. I know I will get a job, and I know I will probably move back to Southern California. That is about it. Every time I try to move toward something, it isn’t it; it’s as if God just hasn’t revealed it yet, and I’m OK with that … but no one else is.

My relationship with her seems to have reached a point to where it is do or die, live or let go. Right now it just seems like we are floating aimlessly. My girlfriend agrees with her dad and so do my parents (but she does want to marry, just not without her parents’ blessing).

How am I supposed to keep a relationship going when it threatens to break apart due to lack of commitment? I’m not saying that either of us is pushing for it, but it just seems like the natural path. I’ve never forced anything in our relationship; it has always naturally progressed. In fact, we didn’t even kiss for the first year we were together. I feel like God is telling me one thing, and both of our parents the other. I am 24 years old; why can’t I make my own decisions? Is it wrong to want more of a commitment? Any thoughts you might have would be much appreciated.

Answer

First let me commend you for how well, at least by your
description, you’ve handled your relationship. By all accounts
you’ve done right by setting good physical standards, by
honoring the authority under which your girlfriend now lives, by
being straightforward about your intentions from the very
beginning and by being active in pursuing marriage. And, yes,
after dating/courting for a year and a half, it’s definitely time to
move toward engagement, which is why it strikes me as strange
that there would be this sudden hiccup in the journey.

To be honest, my first thought was about the story of
Laban, Jacob, Rachel and Leah in Genesis 29. Remember? Jacob
loved Rachel from the moment he saw her. He asked her father
Laban for her hand in marriage, and his father said, sure,
in seven years!

The Bible says that Jacob was so in love with Rachel,
though, that the seven years seemed “but days.” Then, to add
insult to injury, after the seven years were up, Laban tricked
Jacob into marrying first his oldest daughter, Leah, and
then Jacob finally got to marry Rachel (and had to
pledge to work for Laban another seven years!).

I was going to compare you to Jacob and say if you love her,
what’s waiting a little while longer? I thought, Maybe your
girlfriend’s father is more like Laban, the bad guy in the story.
I
thought, Maybe he has some issues about appropriately letting
go of his daughter
(which could be true; I don’t know). But when
I read that not only is he concerned about your
future plans (or lack thereof), but that his daughter agrees and
your parents agree, I began to wonder if there is
something to their concerns. It’s starting to sound not like a
misunderstanding, but more like an intervention.

Could it be that your girlfriend’s father (and your girlfriend
and your parents) is (are) hoping to light a little fire under you?
Your girlfriend’s father doesn’t seem to have any current
problem with your dating/courting his daughter — he
sounds like the type who would let you know if he did. If he
didn’t like you, you would have known it by now. That being the
case, I doubt he has any problem with a future of the two of you
together in marriage. What does seem to have everyone
concerned, though, is the question of, what are your personal
goals, how do you plan to support a family? Now, you might not
be able to answer with specific detail, but it’s not unfair for them
to want at least some general ideas about how you intend to
lead and provide for a family.

Might they be putting a finger on an area of your life that
needs some attention? Fall will be here in a few months. If you’re
not starting to pursue employment, sending out résumés, doing
interviews and praying your guts out, then I’m concerned as
well. You don’t have to have your whole life’s work figured out
right now — I’ve changed jobs so many times since
college I’ve almost lost count — but you do need to figure
out what step one after college will be. That not only brings
comfort to a father whose daughter will (likely) be with you, but
it also communicates to her that you respect and value her
enough to show her that, yes, you can and will lead and provide
for your family. If you want to lead, and want her to follow you,
you need to have some idea of where you’re going next.

Another thing at work could be a slight clash of cultures,
the laid back SoCal approach to life versus the highly organized
“dayplanner” approach. Each has its pros and cons, but neither
to an extreme is good. There should be some balance between
the two, of complete trust in God’s plans combined with steps of
faith to move toward those plans.

This doesn’t sound like a situation of “all the old people just
don’t understand, and they’re being close-minded.” In this case,
it might be that the old people have some wisdom they want to
pass along and encourage you with, to save you (and her) some
hard times in the future. Now, none of us ever completely
pleases or meets the expectations of our in-laws. Please don’t
think I’m saying that. But what I am saying is that you might be
getting some very significant wisdom here and should embrace
it. It’s quite possible that your girlfriend’s father is not your
Laban. He might, however, be your Solomon.

Blessings,

JOHN THOMAS

Copyright 2006 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

About the Author

John Thomas

John Thomas has been a Boundless contributor since its beginning in 1998. He and his wife, Alfie, have three children and live in Arkansas, where he serves as executive director of Ozark Camp and Conference Center, a youth camp and retreat center.