‘My mama don’t like you…’
A man contends with his mother’s disapproval of his relationship
I’ve been dating my girlfriend for the better part of two years. She has made me very happy, we are serious, and I have been planning to propose. This happiness comes with a giant “BUT” in the form of my mother. She seems to have a problem with my girlfriend’s background. While she has yet to make a comment to my girlfriend, she’s very direct with me in pointing out our different upbringings. My girlfriend was raised in a single-parent household in the city with several siblings. Growing up, she didn’t have much, but she has worked very hard to become a registered nurse. She is great at what she does. She also has a son from a previous relationship. She’s a wonderful mother—in fact, that’s one of the many qualities I love about her. My father doesn’t seem to have an issue, but I fear my mother’s angst about our relationship will eventually turn him against us. I love this woman very much and want to spend my life with her, but I don’t want to disappoint and anger my narrow-minded mother in the process. What can I do?
My apologies for the Jersey Shore reference—I couldn’t resist. Yes, you are in a predicament, but it’s hardly a no-win. It’s kind of fascinating when parents they think they can still exercise control over their adult children. They might make snide comments about how their kids look, what they do for a living, where they live, how they decorate, and yes—with whom they spend the majority of their time, and this could be for any number of reasons.
Your situation is hardly unique—in fact, studies have shown roughly sixty percent of women have trouble with their female in-laws (in your case, a potential in-law). In fact, my grandmother and mother not getting along plagued my own childhood. I will never forget an incident where I answered the phone and my grandmother asked, “Is the bitch going to talk to me today?” That’s just how she was, and my father is the kind of person who would prefer to avoid confrontation. He likes everyone to get along and be happy. However, life typically doesn’t work that way. You have to be able to roll with the punches—and hopefully they don’t escalate to literal fistfights.
On a positive note, your mother could be overly protective and is just looking out for your best interests. Sometimes a parent might notice a red flag that goes undetected. If you’ve made questionable dating decisions in the past, she could be worried about you. If your family is particularly well off, there might be concerns about whether or not your girlfriend is more interested in your social status than you as a person. However, from what you describe, it sounds like your mother believes that your girlfriend is not good enough for you. She could have control issues, fear being outranked or competing for your attention, or she may have heard the same kinds of things from her own parents when she was growing up. Whatever the reason, if you want to move forward with your life and propose to your girlfriend, you need to address this situation now. I hope you have a chiropractor, because that backbone of yours is about to be put into very good use.
I seem to talk a lot about communication and boundaries in this column, but both are necessary for having successful and healthy adult relationships. If you want to marry this woman, it’s very important that you sit down with your mother and discuss exactly what her concerns are so you can address them one by one. It’s also very important that you inform her of your intentions; and no—you are not doing this to ask for her permission. You are doing this because you are a grown-ass man who can make his own decisions about his life and his future; but she is your mother, so you’ll still need to use some finesse. Try to stay calm, don’t argue or raise your voice, and state the facts. This woman makes you happy and will eventually become your chosen family. Not only have you overlooked what your mother perceives as your girlfriend’s flaws, but also you’ve fully embraced them and love her for who she is.
The other part of the equation is your girlfriend. While you’ve stated your mother hasn’t made any direct insults, I have a hunch your girlfriend has picked up on her body language, tone, and the subtle shade being thrown at her. The natural inclination for both of you is likely to avoid the discussion to keep the peace for as long as possible. However, since you’re leaning toward marriage, a willingness to have open and honest dialogue about tough stuff is paramount.
These conversations will undoubtedly be hard, and initially they might not go well. Your mother or your girlfriend could become upset, and they may point things out to you that you don’t want to hear. It may take several conversations before any progress is made, but your future happiness depends on it. And of course, there’s certainly a possibility they will never actually see eye to eye, but their common denominator is their love for you. Hopefully it’s enough.
Stacey Rowe is a freelance writer based in Rochester. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @thestaceyrowe and at staceyrowe.com.