Dear John: Mom’s Friend Is His, Too
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
What’s your problem? Write to John at email@example.com.
I’m a 31-year-old guy, single, normal dating history. A few months ago, a friend of my mom’s called me and asked if I’d like to get together for coffee. I had met her at my mom’s house a couple of weeks prior and we had a nice talk. I thought she wanted to talk about my mom or something, but when we got together she said she knew it was a little awkward but she really enjoyed our conversation and she would like to get to know me better. I was surprised but after I thought about it, I figured, why not? I’d never dated anyone close to her age (early fifties), but I found her attractive, incredibly smart and funny (she’s a college professor), and really sexy in a way that I wasn’t used to. Fast forward to today and we are having a lot of fun together. It’s no pressure at all and we haven’t agonized over what this means, where it’s going, etc. We’re just letting it happen and enjoying it while it lasts without making a lot of demands on each other.
My question, though, involves my mom. For a lot of reasons, I haven’t told her about this. Our relationship is not super close and I don’t think she’d rend her garments over this, but I don’t think she’d be too thrilled about it either. Mom disapproves of a lot of things without getting too worked up over them, and I think this would fall into that category. Our “mutual friend,” though, is feeling like we should tell her because she feels like we’re being dishonest with my mom somehow (although she also agrees it’s none of her business). They have been friends for an awfully long time and she values my mother’s friendship. She’s also worried that we’ll be seen out together (which is not unlikely) and when my mother finds out from someone else, things will be much worse than if we just told her ourselves.
I must admit, I don’t know what to do with this one. There’s a lot of mother-son baggage that is clouding my ability to think clearly about this, so I would like to know what you think.
Dear Uncertain Son,
You’re an adult, so you certainly don’t need to justify your actions to your mother, nor do you need her permission to date whomever you want to date. So no, you’re under no obligation to let her know you’re dating her friend.
Having said that, I can see your…what are we calling her? Girlfriend? I can see your girlfriend’s point of view. It just seems weird not to tell her. But here's the most important thing - how your mother will react, whether you owe her an explanation…these are red herrings. The most important fact here is that your girlfriend wants to tell her, so for that reason and for that reason alone, I think you should tell her unless there’s a compelling reason not to do so.
You and she (girlfriend, not Mom) have to talk about this before you do anything, though, because there’s a major element I’m a little unclear on: why are you telling her? If it’s just because it seems like the right thing to do or you don’t want her to find out second-hand, that’s fine. But if it’s an attempt to win her blessing or to make sure she’s okay with it, that’s not remotely fine. You’re two adults enjoying each other’s company. Mom’s approval is not required.
Every year for quite a few years now, my husband and I have hosted Thanksgiving dinner. I come from a large family, they all live nearby, and it has become an expectation that they will all be coming to our house for Thanksgiving. (One of my sisters has the same arrangement for Christmas.)
My husband, who has very little family and none nearby, has gone along with this, but I know it’s not his ideal way to spend the holiday. Well, this year, he’s said he wants one year where this day is about what HE wants, and I can’t disagree he deserves it. Except that what he wants is to spend Thanksgiving alone with just me, him, and our two boys. I thought it was about the hosting aspect, so I proposed going to someone else’s house so we’re not doing all the work, and he said no, he just wants us to have that day all to ourselves. Just taking it easy and “enjoying the day for a change.” I don’t completely agree with him – I DO enjoy having my family over – but I see the appeal of this and like I said, he has certainly earned a holiday more on his terms. The problem is, I know how this is going to go over. My family won’t understand and they won’t just accept it but instead will come up with one alternate plan after another that will have us all getting together. And I’ll be stuck in the middle, having to fend off suggestion after suggestion looking more and more like I’m just being stubborn and antisocial. I thought maybe going away for the holiday would solve everything, but nope, he wants to enjoy the day in his own house. (This was the first time in this whole thing I thought he was being unreasonable.) Do you see a way I can make everyone happy this Thanksgiving – because I sure can’t!
Thanks But No Thanksgiving
If someone is unhappy without good reason, I wouldn’t waste too much energy trying to please them. You’ve hosted Thanksgiving for years, but this year your husband wants time alone with his immediate family. What’s the big deal? I suspect a lot of readers would like this kind of break every once in a while.
I think what he’s asking is reasonable, and I think your openness to it, even thought it’s not what you want to do, is commendable. The problem, then, becomes your extended family’s refusal to accept that not everyone shares their enthusiasm for a boisterous family get-together. The best thing you can do is to kindly let them know that this is how it’s going to be and further discussion will be a waste of time. The more you entertain various scenarios and say you’ll talk to your husband about them, the more you’ll end up disappointing your relatives (bad) or your husband (worse) in the end. If they’re peeved they have to make other plans this Thanksgiving, oh well.
Attempting to make everyone happy is a fool’s pursuit. It’s not your job to make your inflexible relatives happy, so don’t try.
Our daughter is engaged to be married to a great guy. His parents live on the West Coast, and we haven’t met them yet – haven’t exchanged so much as a phone call. They are coming east for a visit in a few weeks and the six of us (the four parents plus our two engaged kids) have made plans to spend a day together to show them around and get to know each other.
Our future son-in-law has taken the extraordinary step of warning us that his father has some, shall we say, extreme political views and he seems to take a perverse pleasure in provoking people with them and badgering them under the guise of a lively discussion about politics. Frankly, the way he was described, he sounds like a major jerk. My husband and I are both dreading what should have been a fun, pleasant day getting to know the parents of the man our daughter is madly in love with. We have been assured that he has been warned to be on his best behavior, but I wonder if you have any thoughts or suggestions as to how we might ensure this day will be memorable for good reasons rather than terrible ones!
I think it was thoughtful for your daughter’s fiancé to give you a heads-up about his father so you wouldn’t be completely blindsided if he’s in “provoke” mode, but now you should try to forget about it. Just let the day play out and form your own opinion of this man based on your first-hand experiences, not what you’ve heard about him. As for ways to make the day enjoyable, do what you’d do for any guest: find out what he and his wife are interested in, what kind of food they like, what activities they enjoy, and plan a nice day for your out-of-town guests.
If it ends up being a worst-case scenario and he lives up (or down) to all you’ve heard about him, don’t engage if you don’t want to. People like him are looking to rile or fluster you, and nothing will thwart his plans more than a polite, “How interesting” in response to whatever he comes up with. (Assuming he doesn’t say something truly offensive or bigoted, in which case I would let him know you find his comments offensive. You still don’t have to take the bait and pursue it further, though.)
But for now, give this guy a chance and see how it goes. And remember, your paths will likely continue to cross in the years ahead, but he’s a continent away, and the occasional painful day with the in-laws is something many people brought together by marriage can relate to.
Follow-up from last week: In response to last week’s letter from a single dad facing his daughter’s impending puberty without a woman in her life to guide her, a thoughtful reader suggested this girl might be a great candidate for the Big Sisters program. That father (as well as anyone else who’s interested) can learn more at the Big Brothers Big Sisters Web site: www.bbbs.org. Thanks for that excellent advice!
John is a middle-aged family man from Providence, Rhode Island. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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