How do I ask my boyfriend if his mother knows about our relationship?
July 18, 2009 5:50 PM   Subscribe

How do I ask my boyfriend if his mother knows about our relationship?

My boyfriend and I have been dating for the better part of a year. Our relationship began as long distance, with us on opposite ends of the country, proceeding blindly without knowing if either of us would ever relocate. I wound up relocating due to to a dire post-grad school job market, and while we still live in different cities, we're now 2 hours apart and see each other as often as our schedules permit (usually every other weekend, if not more often). Our relationship definitely blossomed as the result of living closer together.

I do not doubt my boyfriend's feelings for me, as he was the first to refer to me as a significant other and say "I love you." I've met his closest friends as well as his colleagues. He's met my sister. We share many mutual friends. We talk about doing things in the future. He's very affectionate with me in public and in private, without regard of our friends' presence. He says he needs me and doesn't know what he would do without me. Similarly, I love him very much and am committed to making our relationship work.

He's taken his time in revealing his family's dynamics in the time we've been together. He's always been open about how his mother drives him crazy, though, which I believe is a more or less common issue among our peer group (we're in our mid-20s). However, I did not know for some time that his parents are divorced, and he hides personal information such as the fact that he drinks from his mother. I realize family dynamics are delicate; while I've been open with him about my family, I understand that he may feel more comfortable disclosing information about his over time.

None of this really bothered me until recently, when he mentioned his mother was sending something to my apartment for an upcoming trip. He made a point to mention that the envelope would be addressed to my roommate (whom his mother has met). Though this seems like a small issue, I feel strange about it because I wonder why his mom wouldn't just write my name on the envelope. I realize I may be jumping to conclusions, but this led me to think that his mom doesn't know about me or our relationship. I'm upset because I think of my boyfriend as someone with whom I'd like to spend time with indefinitely, and feeling like I may be a "secret" makes me feel foolish for thinking that way.

I do not want to overreact or attack my boyfriend in any way, but I would like to ask him in a non-threatening way if his family knows about us. I care about whether his family knows because, for me, it's impossible to have a serious, long-term relationship without everyone important to me knowing about it, family included. While this may be different for him, I do not want to remain in any relationship where I feel I'm being kept a "secret" from someone's family, though he hasn't kept me a secret from non-family members. Everyone who is important to me knows about him, so why wouldn't he tell his mother about us? How do I discuss this with him, if at all?

Thank you in advance for your input!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why, after a year with this guy, can't you say "hey, does your mother know that we're dating?" If he says yes, say "oh, good." If he says no, say "Do you mind if I ask why not?" If he DOES mind, he can tell you that, and you can decide what to do with that. But honestly if you can't even ask him the question you guys have way more issues than you possibly being a secret from his family... I know people who don't talk about things like their family unless they're asked -- it might not be that he's hiding his family dynamic, he might think you aren't interested.
posted by brainmouse at 5:58 PM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Does your mother know about our relationship?"
posted by Flunkie at 6:02 PM on July 18, 2009 [25 favorites]

This question is more "Am I right to be worried that his mother doesn't know about me?" rather than "How do I ask him?"

Because you ask him by asking him, I think you know that much already.
posted by fire&wings at 6:03 PM on July 18, 2009

I would first say, yeah, just ask him.

Those things that 'seem' like they aren't a big deal to you until they sit with you for a bit can grow far beyond their real significance if you let them fester.

He sounds very committed so give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it's not something hurtful like being kept a secret. By doing that the conversation isn't confrontational, just a normal one that would be very understandable given that you are the girlfriend.

I bet it has way more to do with his Mom being difficult and him wanting to avoid a 'discussion' about his 'relationship' with a parent that drives him nuts.

All the best!
posted by Weaslegirl at 6:47 PM on July 18, 2009

I care about whether his family knows because, for me, it's impossible to have a serious, long-term relationship without everyone important to me knowing about it, family included.

It's important to remember that he isn't you, doesn't have the same experiences as y ou and doesn't have the same thoughts on this issue as you do and that's ok. But by being so narrow minded on this issue, you risk driving him away and ruining a good thing and over what? His relationship with his mother, something that hasn't seemed to matter to your relationship in slightest form, until now and you're the one making an issue out of.

To me, the question here isn't "How do I ask my boyfriend if his mother knows about our relationship?" 'cause that's easy, as others have said, you just ask him. The real question is "How do I learn about and understand my boyfriend's relationship with his mother without judging him or our relationship?" Because that relationship, however weird or dysfunctional it may, is a part of him and shaped him into the man you love. You're certainly within your rights to set your own standards about what you will and won't tolerate in a relationship, but before you say "this is impossible" and decide you're going to break up with him, just ask and listen and try to understand. You can always still break up with, but you should hear his story before you make up your mind.

Good luck.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:00 PM on July 18, 2009 [9 favorites]

Does he keeps the fact that he drinks from his mother because she is a religious nut? If yes, it could explain him not wanting to disclose a serious relationship in order to prevent lectures on sex before marriage.
I would just ask, and go from whatever answer you get.
posted by francesca too at 7:12 PM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anyone else get the impression that the OP is male and this may be a bigger issue.
Oh, the joys of anonymous posting.
posted by nimsey lou at 7:51 PM on July 18, 2009

Ahhh! Didn't think of that nimsey. Now I'm thinking that may be the case.
posted by pdx87 at 8:20 PM on July 18, 2009

Just say "I thought it was weird that your mom was addressing something to my roommate and not to me. Why is that?"
posted by Ironmouth at 8:30 PM on July 18, 2009

It sounds like he has a fairly guarded relationship with his mother and that he might not value her judgment or opinions of his relationships. I don't think it's weird for you to just come out and ask directly if she knows about you, but given the impression you give of their relationship, I wouldn't worry if the answer was "no."
posted by girlstyle at 8:55 PM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I do not want to remain in any relationship where I feel I'm being kept a "secret" from someone's family, though he hasn't kept me a secret from non-family members.

I've been in that situation myself. I dated a girl whose mother was schizophrenic and was convinced I was giving her daughter brainwaves or something. This girl didn't seem to have any interest in standing up to the tyranny of her mother's mental illness, and so she told her mom that we broke up - even though we continued to date.

It made me pretty unhappy for a variety of reasons, partly because it put cramps on our relationship but mostly because I didn't like being some dirty little secret. And while I was young and didn't have things like marriage on my mind, I didn't like the fact that there was this almost inevitable end written into our relationship from the get-go, because, as I say, this girl wasn't ready to free herself from her mom. The relationship eventually ended not with a bang, but a whimper.

So, this is not an unreasonable wish on your part. Fortunately, you are in a very different situation. In my case, it was a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. You have the chance to ask your bf about this and discuss it in a respectful way. You should. It may take some time for him to become comfortable with the idea of introducing you to his family, given the apparent issues. But as long as he doesn't give you a flat "no," you have a chance to make it work.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:16 PM on July 18, 2009

My mother lives in the same area as I (within a half hour) and I see her a couple of times a month, we are not close and I wouldn't volunteer that I was seeing anyone. I've been with my boyfriend for about six months now and the only reason she's heard of him is because of another family member who told her.

I can see why there would be concern, but some people just aren't close with their mothers. My mother didn't know I got a new job until she asked how my old one was going. Some people think it is odd, but it is how it is.

You say you have been together the better part of a year, but you lived across the country without concrete plans to move closer. Maybe he didn't say anything before because he didn't know if there was much to say.

Ask, but not in an accusatory way. Maybe she knows. Maybe she doesn't because they aren't close or because he didn't know how things would be after you moved closer. Don't let this fester.
posted by Lullen at 9:34 PM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

In my family, to drop the drama level, I decided early only to only introduce my parents to man I was going to marry. Perhaps it says something about the fact that my parents never asked, and I never told them about guys - from about the age of 14 until 35. (I actually, got a dress, a date and limo to go to prom without them knowing. Still don't regret it).

But really, sometimes the secrecy is really just about the drama, and in dating several men before Mr Anitanita who had close relationships with their parents, truly appreciate how difficult it is to explain to someone you care about that you really aren't trying to tell your parents about them. Even if you say it's about avoiding drama, I often found that they were miffed that they 'weren't worth the drama'.

So yes, you can ask, simply: does your mom know about me?..and it isn't an unreasonable wish on your part. But if it's the case that the answer is no, please, please consider that it has nothing at all to do with you, and everything in the world to do with your boyfriend, and his relationship with his parents. There are many fine, upstanding men I dated that never met my parents. It wasn't a reflection on them at all. Also, I think it took something like three years before Mr Anitanita met my parents - and I pretty much knew I wanted to spend my life with him about one month into the relationship.
posted by anitanita at 9:46 PM on July 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Ask him in as neutral a way as possible, and wait until you hear his response before you decide how to respond. People's relationships with their parents vary greatly, and how someone treats a serious relationship can also vary quite a bit. When a relationship is serious, you tell your friends and a family, and a decision for you not to disclose a relationship would be a huge indicator of something. For him, this may not be the case, and from what little we know (they don't know he drinks, there is some conflict of the "my parents drive me crazy" nature which could be normal parent/child dynamics or could be something more), I largely suspect he does not have a close relationship with his family. In that case, non-disclosure is not a big deal in their dynamic because he doesn't disclose to them much regardless of what it is. There's also a big difference between being a "secret" and just not being mentioned.

I think it's very important to recognize, however, that he has introduced you to the people important to him, your relationship has grown and flourished since you moved closer, and he has contributed to the momentum of the relationship with "I love you"s and labeling you as his SO before you. It certainly sounds like he cares about you and is an active participant in the relationship. It doesn't sound like you're being treated as a secret. If everything else is great, then I would reevaluate how much weight to give this issue, or for that matter, if it's even an issue at all. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 5:23 AM on July 19, 2009

It's probably worth mentioning that the mother might not be a religious nut; she might be a micro-manageming helicopter smotherer who will react badly to the idea that anybody in her child's life (including even an ostensibly perfect mate) could possibly be as important as her.

Ask him and ask him now. There is no upside to letting it drag out. If there's going to be a big ol' scene it's better to get it out of the way before you invest any more into the relationship -- because I can promise you from harsh experience, parents like that will do all kinds of crazy hurtful things and you are depending on your boyfriend's strength to resist them, something he clearly may not feel very confident doing if he's still hiding your relationship, when the ultimatum is delivered.
posted by localroger at 8:00 AM on July 19, 2009

Like anitanita says, I have a very strong don't ask, don't tell policy with my family. If the boyfriend hides the fact that he drinks alcohol, this is a pretty clear sign that he doesn't not let his family know much about his adult private life.

To riff off Brandon Blatcher's answer: You say, "For me, it's impossible to have a serious, long-term relationship without everyone important to me knowing about it, family included." That's fine for you. For me, it's impossible to have a serious, long-term relationship with someone who can't tolerate pets. That's me. There are zillions of people in serious long-term relationships with no pets in sight on either side. There are zillions of people in mixed-marriages with no real arguments about the children's religious upbringing. There are zillions of almost-wedded couples who had to call it off over religion. You really need to understand that your boyfriend seems to have built his adult life with some pretty strict rules to keep his family at a distance. You need to understand that, instead of waiting for him to mirror your views.

And as far as that "parents drive me crazy" because we're in our 20s - have you read some of the Askmes from people dealing with truly difficult parents? Sometimes "drive me crazy" isn't just talk.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:30 AM on July 19, 2009

I know I'm responding to this a bit late, but I just thought I'd throw this in.

I have absolutely no problem with my parents, but I just don't WANT to sit there and talk to them about who I'm seeing. I can't really say why. They are the most non-judgmental parents anyone could ever hope for. Perhaps it's because I don't want to raise their expectations that I'm going to settle down and have 2.5 kids and all that. I guess I just feel like it's none of their business, and it would be kinda uncomfortable to talk about.

Things would probably be different if I was starting to think LOOONG term with someone, like marriage. But that hasn't happened, so I dunno.

Like others have said, parent/child relationships can vary greatly. Don't let this become a problem in your relationship. If it's troubling you, just ask the guy.
posted by Diag at 10:16 AM on July 21, 2009

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