Dear Breakup Girl,
My live-in boyfriend of nearly two years dumped two days ago. To add to the joy and pleasure, I am studying for a semester a 20-hour drive away from my home and from anyone I can set up a coffee date with to b*tch and moan. Yesterday, I told my mom that we were “reassessing our relationship.” You know what her response was? “Whose idea was it?” I told her, “I don’t think I need to share that information.”
Let me also point out that the woman has a history of giving me love advice with the basic theme of “If only you (were more assertive, plucked your eyebrows, took a step aerobics class), you wouldn’t be having these problems, you would be having the time of your life on your honeymoon and then you’d provide me with some grandchildren already!” I once went out with a guy who drank *while he was driving*, and you know what her response was? Not, “I’m so glad that you were so smart and take such good care of yourself that you realize you don’t need an addict in your life,” but “Why aren’t you still going out with Al?”
I can see what’s going to happen — I’m going to cut off communications on the subject, and she’s going to get all hurt and ask me why I don’t confide in her anymore. (Or — and this shows you what a marvelously healthy family *I* come from — she’ll ask my sister why I’m not willing to confide in her.) What to do?
P.S. I’m 33 and this is the first long-term relationship I’ve had, which means there was mucho pressure from her to formalize and get started on the next generation. Her sister, with whom she is intensely competitive, has 4 lovely granddaughters already. And a son-in-law who’s an investment banker.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A Harvard guy, a Princeton guy, and a Yale guy are walking in the desert. All of a sudden my mom shows up and gives each of them my phone number.
Oh no wait, that was a nightmare.
My point: is your mom being annoying? Yep. Is she actually meddling, cramping your style? No. Appreciate this. The stuff about your recent breakup — ow! sorry about that! — and your drinking/driving buddy, that’s just Mom Autopilot. You are created in her image, SC; you, not those guys, are her job — and though she’s not necessarily being particularly helpful or supportive, just be glad she’s asking you those questions, not calling up and asking those guys. I’m serious. It could happen.
So try try try, SC, to act like the outdoor woodstain on those commercials. Instead of letting them sink in — and making you all defensive and “here we go again” — let those Momilies bead up and roll off. Which might be easier if you look at it this way: yes, she is being Mom to the max — but she is also being <gasp> human. Moms have feelings. She’s a little hurt, the way any “friend” would be, that you leave her out of important stuff; she wants grandchildren for herself; she’s really annoyed that her sister is “ahead” This is her business and her problem, but it may give you some perspective.
Speaking of “reassessing the relationship,” then, how about setting up a b*tch and moan date with … mom? If you want to set a few boundaries, tell her you’re not really in fixit mode and would love to just dish. Betcha she would too. Maybe that’s where she was going when she asked whose idea the breakup was. She’s trying, SC. But you aren’t giving her much to go on (”I don’t think I need to share that information”). Give her a chance to see you and your relationships as complex and human, too. Mother/daughter “friendships” are not that simple, and I’m not promising that you’re going to have some sort of Lifetime/Taster’s Choice moment, but still. Just changing the dynamic here is an end in itself. And bonus, now that you’re listening, maybe you will happen to hear a nugget of really great advice. You don’t have to tell anyone you’re taking it.
PS Full disclosure. I mean everything I say here, but Thanksgiving is almost upon us, and there’s something to be said for banking good will. Let’s just say that this response will go over better at home than BG ’s current hair color.
This advice was originally published on November 16, 1998.