Where do I draw the line with my mom?
October 2, 2010 2:02 PM   Subscribe

How can I begin to disengage myself from my parents (read: mother) so that I no longer feel anxiety and guilt when I handle or approach a situation my way, particularly when it comes to dating?

I just graduated from college and had moved across the country to live in NYC but had to move back in with the parents to save money and what not. I am female, an only child, and my parents and I are very close in some ways but not close at all in others. Lately I have been feeling very, very anxious and distraught over the fact that I created a profile on OkCupid and met some wonderful guys there because my parents, and my mother in particular, do not approve of these sorts of things. I had a very distressing fight with my mother two nights ago over my desire to meet at least one of the guys for coffee with some of my friends, and despite the fact that I did background checks on all of these dudes, she is convinced that I was going to meet with them and do bad things without her approval or her knowledge.

Now, look. I'm a bright kid. I've had my share of bad experiences with boys I don't know. I'm not about to go to some dude's house when I've never met him and put myself in danger. However, now that the above convo has happened, I feel tremendous guilt and anxiety whenever I talk to these wonderful new friends because I believe that my mother will be perpetually standing in the way of me branching out into the social sphere because she believes I am "desperate" and subsequently "not thinking right". She has always felt that I am "desperate" when it comes to dating, which, after years of therapy, is something I've decided is not true.

How can I soothe myself when I begin to feel panicky about doing something for ME when I know I've taken all the possible steps to ensure that these guys are legit, despite my mother's valid, though over the top, response? Am I being unreasonable or naive? I feel like the world is fraught with danger in all areas, but if I live my life completely as though I'm a victim I'll never feel like I'm growing.
posted by patronuscharms to Human Relations (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was in almost your same situation - and I am now married to one of those boys that I met on Match.com.

First things first: this is your life, not your mothers. Parents will always worry about their children, but you are an adult now and can (and should) make these decisions without worrying about what they might think. That being said, a little discretion might go a long way. Why not wait to tell her about a good prospect until after you've met him and gotten a good idea of what he's like? That may be easier said than done if you're living at home with them.

You are a smart girl, you will be able to take care of yourself, and frankly, at this age, you should learn how to do that, if you haven't already. So, be careful but don't let your anxiety about your mom get in the way of your life.

Best of luck.
posted by Leezie at 2:08 PM on October 2, 2010

That's hard. Your mom's out of the loop and she thinks that only creeps try to meet women on the internet and why are you so desperate that you're trying to date creeps? You know that's not at all true, but it's still hurtful to hear. Part of becoming an adult is managing your relationship with your parents, and it's hard to strike that balance between wanting to be close, and protecting them and yourself from unnecessary anxiety. It's really hard work, and everyone messes up sometimes - but I think it's important and worth the effort, for your happiness and theirs. So, now you know she doesn't get online dating, so, the lady gets cut off from information about that part of your life. Her loss, really. You're a grown up and you don't need her approval to date.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:16 PM on October 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

I had to move continents and I'm probably old enough to be your mother. I moved back in with my parents for two very long years for a variety of circumstantial reasons (I was in between continents) and reading your story resonates with my situation. These things hadn't mattered when I was younger and dating because I was away at college at the time and simply adjusted during vacations. But it was facing up to them a couple of years ago in my forties that I realized that if I didn't deal with the issues with my mother now then when would I? Meaning that it won't go away when you get older and the issues have less to do with how old you are and what stage of life you are in. Or at least that is what I have just realized as I read this thread and write this comment.

So what am I saying here?

You will have to decide how you want to make the (painful, could take months of angsty silence and hostility etc) point clear that you are a responsible adult individual in your own right.

There will always be an imbalance of power as long as you are in her house with her rules. So moving out is your first step.

In high school, my counsellor insightfully pointed out to me that my mother and I spoke "different languages" and the challenge would remain as long as I was financially dependent on her/them. I made that my goal from age 17 and since age 23 have never taken a penny from them (in terms of being supported or pocket money, not gifts etc ;p) but I think that I magically imagined that I would solve all my problems once this happened i.e. taking my HS counselor's words literally. Then geographical distance solved my problems until I moved back in and realized that she still didn't treat me as a responsible adult to be respected in my own right although ironically she gave that respect to my much younger cousin and even my married younger sister.

We had to have an ugly bitter fight over something which still hurts me with a pang when reminded of it (which happened recently in fact as she blithely told me how cousin XYZ's parents had flown over to support him during his seperation/divorce - something she NEVER did for me only to say it was too far away to fly etc whatever, I digress)

I don't know if this older version of your current story will help guide you in your decision making in any way but reading your story right now sure has helped me.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 2:30 PM on October 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's natural for a back-and-forth argument to happen in a situation like this. But you don't have to let it keep going. You just politely and calmly say, "I really believe I'm taking good precautions. I'm sorry you're worried."

Try to say things that show you empathize with her feelings (not her thoughts). "You love me and you want me to be safe." "Anxiety is a terrible feeling and I'm sorry you feel that way." Keep your voice in a calm range; this takes practice.

It sounds like your mother feels very free to say critical things. You can't change that. All you can do is change your own reaction, and move out when you're able.
posted by wryly at 2:34 PM on October 2, 2010 [7 favorites]

Don't tell her wher you are going and who you are dating. She's not your friend.
posted by k8t at 2:43 PM on October 2, 2010 [7 favorites]

You reduce those feelings of guilt by realizing that when you are an adult, if you make a choice that your parents disagree with, you're not betraying them or sneaking behind their backs or otherwise doing something wrong: you're making an adult choice for yourself. Your mother might as well be arguing with you about what you eat for dinner. Here's what you do. She says, "You're eating that? I can't believe it! That's awful and disgusting and I don't like it!" and you say something like, "Thanks for the input, Mom, but I'm happy with my choice" (while you think to yourself, "Does she really think she gets a say in what I eat for dinner?"). More specifically, she says, "You're meeting men from the Internet? I can't believe you'd be so foolish! It's because you're just too desperate..." and you say, "Thanks for the input, Mom, but I'm happy with my choice."

Living with them complicates things because it's easy to feel like you're back in parent and child roles. Move out if you can, but in any case learn to relate to your parents as an adult.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:49 PM on October 2, 2010

It's a classic case of a generation gap. Like moxiedoll said, your mother thinks that internet dating is only for the desperate, and (a) doesn't want to think that you are desperate, and (b) doesn't want you to go out with guys who are desperate and may be creeps.

Is there any way you can have a more general conversation with her about the whole internet dating thing, pointing out things like the fact that it's not just for people looking to hook up, and that it's a very common way for single people nowdays to meet people that they wouldn't otherwise have met, hence making it more likely that you'll meet someone you want to be in a relationship with.

It may also be worth talking to her about her concerns. If she's scared that you're going to get drugged, raped and sold into slavery in Azerbaijan (or wherever), then ask her what would make her feel safer? Promise to tell her where you're going, and that you'll text her by X o'clock to let her know that you're okay. And then do that.

And remind her that she brought you up to be someone who thinks for herself and isn't a pushover and will stand up for herself, so she needs to trust that her work raising you made you someone who is much less likely to put herself in a dangerous position, and that if danger arises, you're in a good place to be able to handle it sensibly and get out.

I can't guarantee that this will make her feel better, but stick with it. Meet up with guys if you want to. The more you do this and come home okay afterwards, the more comfortable she'll feel with it.

Going back a generation, my mother used to think that nightclubs were a cross between a brothel and a bar brawl. And while I don't think she ever changed her opinion on this, she did learn that I always came home by the time we'd arranged (or called to say I'd be late), so it became less of an issue. She still disapproved, but she learnt to live with it. And that was enough for me - it may be enough for you too.
posted by finding.perdita at 2:58 PM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

What Meg_Murry said, plus this: your mother sees you as a child, not an adult, hence why she worries. Prove to her that that is not the case by making good decisions.

And not to sound like your mother, but thinking that what you know about someone over the Internet is enough to deem them as "wonderful" and that does kinda hint as desperation, so maybe a teeny tiny bit of yourself agrees with her.

Not that it's a horrible idea to meet up in person at a safe location. I recommend somewhere you don't usually go to; bc in case they turn out to be idiots/jerks/freaks/creeps then you avoid running into them "randomly" (even though they live and work 20+ miles away from the Starbucks that is a few blocks away from your work).
posted by Neekee at 3:02 PM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

How does she know your dating routine, anyway? Why are you telling her about your love life when this is the reaction you get? Keep it to yourself, she's not your BFF.
posted by tristeza at 3:16 PM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am here to tell you that when I went to my first meet up with online peoples in the US, and stay at their house, my mother went bananas. I was 33 and I was going with my husband.

My entire family, spread across three continents, called me up to tell me that "you don't know americans, they can pretend to be friendly but they are dangerous!"
My cousins told my mother about some case they had read about where someone met someone else from the internet and died from some unrecalled but surely terrible death.

I knew the guy we were staying with for two years already, and I felt I knew him very well. But for my mother, with no experience and only a handful of alarmist newspaper articles to back her up, I did not know him at all. She would have felt totally relieved if this were some guy I'd met backpacking on the eurotrain. Online makes no sense to her.

So at 33 I had a stroppy teenage moment on the telephone with her (moms are moms, daughters will be daughters), but I made sure to call her as soon as we had arrived and made the guy talk to her, and called her every few days to let her know it was ok and so on.

After I came back, she apologised for letting herself get swept up in the hysteria. She let me explain stuff and showed an interest. And she's never complained about it ever since.

Maybe some things just take getting used to, and once you've been on non-alarming dates and told her about it she'll calm down.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:22 PM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Short answer: lie. Does she let you go out with your friends? Are your friends okay with you inviting a boy you met online when you go out with them? If so, go out with your friends and just don't tell your mother that a guy you met online will also be there. Then if things go well, you can introduce him to your mother as someone you met through a friend.

My parents and family have always described me as sneaky. I prefer to say that I feel comfortable with selective omission. Has this gone south once or twice? Sure. Does the benefit outweigh the cost? Absolutely.

And do whatever you have to do to get out of your house as soon as possible. I know, I know, the economy, money, etc. but it doesn't matter, just do it. Move into a group house or an "up and coming!" neighborhood, whatever, but just get out. You can move out and still be close with your family but you'll feel better about your relationship which means eventually they will too.
posted by kat518 at 3:43 PM on October 2, 2010

I think it's funny that you felt the need to qualify to us that you have a good head on your shoulders in terms of internet dating... as if we've not all had profiles up on dating sites ourselves!

You are an Adult now. Welcome to the club.

Go forth and have fun!!
posted by jbenben at 4:03 PM on October 2, 2010

There's a book called If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Parents and Take Your Place in the World that you might want to look into (although most of the examples in it are pretty extreme, nonetheless...).

I also agree that if a parent is going to be unreasonable about perfectly reasonable behavior on your part, then it is reasonable for you to not tell that person what you're doing.

But I also agree that you will likely be happier when you're not living with your parents. I'm guessing this is probably the tip of the iceberg when it comes to your mom's controlling behavior. (It's possible it really is just an internet generation gap thing such as with Omnomnom's mom--say that 10 times fast!--but I'm guessing not.) If I'm right, then actually dating any of the men you meet (they aren't boys, after all, and you aren't actually a kid) will probably also result in even more controlling behavior by your mom.

Good luck!
posted by wintersweet at 4:16 PM on October 2, 2010

I don't remember who David Gruber is, or where I got this off the internet, but I think his definition of boundaries is useful: "any limit I need to honor so I can love or work with you without resentment and with integrity.”

I'm no expert, but I think what you should strive for is a way to say to her something like, "Mom, when you start veering in the crazy-making direction about my dating life, I can't talk to you about it, so from now on, when you do, I'm going to leave the conversation," and then try and stick to your guns.

Someone here recommended to me Harriet Lerner's book, The Dance of Intimacy, and it's been really useful to me, so I thought I'd pass that along too.
posted by colfax at 4:42 PM on October 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

Does your anxiety stem from rebelling against her? Or would it be the same if (for example) your friend had said driving alone at night was "dangerous," and therefore you knew that if your car did break down, you'd get an "I told you so" instead of sympathy?

Ditto Lerner. Good book.
posted by salvia at 6:16 PM on October 2, 2010

patronuscharms: I had a very distressing fight with my mother two nights ago over my desire to meet at least one of the guys for coffee with some of my friends.

Why? You're 22. Why are you discussing your dating life with your mother???

Seriously, just make plans with Mr OK Cupid and go do your thing. You do not need your mother's approval or permission to have coffee or go to the movies or hell, to get naked and fuck the rugby team if that's how you'd like to spend your Saturday afternoon.

You're an adult and you're entitled to privacy. You decide who gets what information because that's one of the joys of being a grownup. If you want to make a date, make one and go.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:52 PM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is generational, I think. My mother was not, is not my friend. She was my mother. Therefore I did not share inappropriately with her, and she did not share inappropriately with me. I did not tell her the things about my dates that I told my closest friends and confidantes. This eliminated many, many problems. I get the sense that "kids these days" tell their parents a lot more than my generation ever did. I would suggest taking a page from us and NOT TELLING YOUR MOM YOU ARE DATING GUYS FROM OKCUPID. Tell a friend, be safe, but you don't have to tell mom.
posted by micawber at 7:19 PM on October 2, 2010

Some old people still think the Internet is where stalkers go to kill women. You might have to explain to her that these days, dating sites is the only place where anyone meets anyone. Also, ask her where she expects you to find dates: church? a bar? work? Dating online is pretty much the default these days.

Beyond that with regards to the controllingness... well, you're gonna have to put up with that as long as you live with parents.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:35 PM on October 2, 2010

Response by poster: OP Here.

I am all over the moving out suggestion -- just waiting to hear back to see if I got the job I just had a great interview for, so fingers crossed and I'll be out by January at least.

One thing I thought I might mention is that my mother isn't controlling -- she just has very particular views on dating that do not match my own because my father was her first and last boyfriend. She never dated, and to her, all the guys I've ever gone out with are losers because I ended up having problems with them. Were a lot of them losers? Sure, all exes have the potential to be viewed as losers if they didn't have anything remotely worth seeing as positive to begin with. All of my exes - with one exception - were good guys who were too immature to handle an adult relationship. I look at them as experiments, great lessons learned, and I have many fond memories of the good times I had with each guy while our orbits aligned.

And my mother is, in many ways, one of my best friends. I value her input greatly and always have. It's just now I see that we have diametrically different views on relationships and I am struggling to find a middle ground that will allow me to pursue guys that I like and give her the peace of mind to know that I am doing the best that I can with the tools I have, so to speak. I mean, I'm still trying to get her to let go of the fact that I dated this one guy in high school whose politics were so radical that he was viewed kind of poorly by the rest of our classmates. She believes this is the key example of my "desperation to be with someone" and my bad taste. I have a total phobia of doing things behind her back because I'm a rotten liar when I'm doing more than just telling a little white lie -- and I just get this feeling sometimes that she sometimes she invokes self-fulfilling prophecies.

At what point were you all able to distinguish between your "voice" and that of your parents', so to speak? How do you not second-guess yourself if you truly feel strongly about something but your parents think you're insane?
posted by patronuscharms at 10:49 PM on October 2, 2010

Would you be able to do two things: First, tell your mother you are going to do this; that the world of social interaction these days definitely includes online introductions and you're not going to lie to her. When you go to meet a new person tell her where you are going and name the other people you already know who will be there; if you're all meeting for the first time, tell her that you will phone her (after a specified time or when you are on your way home). Secondly, tell her that when she says or intimates that you are desperate, you feel insulted and belittled and ask her not to do this anymore. Tell her it is not nice and she shouldn't be saying hurtful things to you.

To you, I'd like to assure you this is easy but it is not easy and one's early twenties is way too soon to expect that you have separated those voices in your head. You will do very well indeed if you can even identify which is which at this stage of life. It will come but, for now, concentrate on saying some of the things you're afraid to say and do it because you love your mother and don't want to alienate her or to allow her to alienate you.

As damaging as bad parents can be, I am sometimes struck by how much harder it is to emotionally separate ones own identity from that of good parents. Something that feels like a terrible risk is sometimes the very thing you have to say or do.

For women to grow up, it sometimes seems this struggle with the mother is inevitable; fathers are easier for girls to deal with, all things being equal. For boys, it's the father who must be convinced that his son is an adult; mothers won't fight sons about it, usually.

I'd say, go ahead and state your terms and get on with it. You're not as likely to damage your relationship as it probably feels.
posted by Anitanola at 11:32 PM on October 2, 2010

Best answer: Discretion. Yes.

Just don't talk about things you know you'll get reamed for.

Mom can't criticize choices she does not know you are making. You simply do not tell her....anything. You chat, you prattle, you keep conversations in terrain that you know is safe. If she pries, which of course she will, you keep things very general in a really happy and upbeat next-door neighbor sort of way. She will be angry, she will likely turn the heat up full force when she senses that the flow of information about your life has slowed to a drip. You do not yield. You build a wall around the personal, the none of her business - your sex life, your relationships, your friends, your feelings about her, your inner worlds that are no one's concern but your own - and you guard that wall like sentry. It's just that this sentry looks like a freckle-faced Girl Scout in pig-tails. She guards that wall with pleasantries and distractions and endless prattling on about Mom Safe Topics. Filler. All Filler.

I say this because I don't get the sense that you're quite ready for a full on battle of "mom, that's none of your business." That's okay. There are other ways to set boundaries.

Mom Safe Topics are things that don't make you walk away feeling guilty, ashamed, insecure, invaded, and controlled. You have a right to guard this wall because she makes you feel all of these things. If she can't respect you, she's not allowed in.

You have to do this - you have to find some way to buffer yourself from the blunt force of her low opinion of you, an opinion that I suspect is grounded in compliance to her wishes. Telling you you're desperate is mean, just plain mean and so very demeaning. You have to find a way to stop this nonsense from piling on further.

You're right. You won't grow much as long as you see yourself as a victim. People who know how to protect themselves usually don't make very good victims. Knowing who is harming you and how is the first step away from being a one. If your mom is harming you, protect yourself.

Build the wall. Guard it. It will take time for the All Surveilling Mom in you head to disappear, but the more you can become your own woman without her as an ever-present witness, the less power she will have over you.
posted by space_cookie at 11:55 PM on October 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

I found Nancy Friday's Mothers and Daughters an enlightening read in the early eighties - I don't know its relevance in today's world but the issues are still there and I am reading/hearing them in the comments that have followed.

At what point were you all able to distinguish between your "voice" and that of your parents', so to speak? How do you not second-guess yourself if you truly feel strongly about something but your parents think you're insane?

At the point when you realize, through life experience and your own validated footsteps in the world that your critical estimation of a situation or circumstance is far more relevant and valid than hers. She has been "All Knowing, Always right and guiding Mom" for so long that if you must find a middle path that isn't "blind rejection through rebellion" then you almost consciously have to keep a script running in your head "that's mom talking to me, not ME talking to me" to maintain conscious awareness.

And as has been said, Filler works wonderfully to keep the chit chat going (over the phone in my case)
posted by The Lady is a designer at 1:48 AM on October 3, 2010

I actually read this at not having much at all to do with your mother believing everyone on the internet is potentially dangerous as it is trying to find the right kind of distance between your and your parents lives/ worldviews. You don't mention in your post, but are you in a cultural minority of some kind? This doesn't sound all that different from what I (and people I know) have experienced with asian parents (especially first generation kids).

For the long term, I think the best course of action is to find a balance between respecting your parents (not their we-believe-we-know-what's-best-for-you stuff, just their seniority) and you, doing whatever it is that leads to you that life that you want. It certainly won't be easy doing so, as (our loving) overly-involved parents tend to confrontational and incredulous that their children want anything other than the life that they have lived. Be prepared to stand your ground on your choices (assertively) and don't let them guilt or persuade you in to 'admitting you were wrong' or that 'they were right all along.'

For the short term, try and figure out what you want (ie. the ability to have your judgement trusted on potential dangers, freedom to make your own decisions, and so on) and the reasoning behind it so that you can explain when asked. Answer any questions about your personal affairs as matter-of-factly as possible. (Being flustered or emotional will make them think they were right to doubt whatever you say.) Hold off on any big or contentious life changes until you don't have to live under their roof anymore.

Now that you're graduated from college and hopefully soon to have a place of your own, you are 100% officially an adult. What that means exactly is up to you, but it's time to reevaluate your relationship with your parents - how they treated you as a child just isn't appropriate anymore since you are no longer one.

Best of luck.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 3:58 AM on October 3, 2010

My mom is also overly worried AND controlling. I met my current SO on OkCupid. Right off, mommy dearest didn't like him, or even what I described about him (she's never met him!). I was initially worried about her not liking him, but he has met all of my close.friends and some of their parents too. He is roundly approved of in my circle. My dad is dead but I know he would have liked this guy. This relationship has pushed me to end 25 years of worrying about what mother thinks. If you're worried about internet guy stuff, filter it through your friends and start trusting yourself more. It's a total work in progress for me.
posted by ShadePlant at 8:17 AM on October 3, 2010

Best answer: I was (am?) in the same exact situation.

I have two extremely paranoid parents, although for each of them it manifests itself in different ways. I don't really have any interaction with my father, but I do speak to my mother. And then walk away from the conversation feeling anxious and guilty. I feel immense guilt almost daily, always over something perfectly normal. I also feel like I'm "betraying" them because I'm at Target and it's 9 pm at night and someone could easily kidnap me, and I'm causing my parents to worry, etc. etc. etc.

The first thing you have to do is move. I promise living in a roach-infested townhouse with four stoner roommates and no A/C will result in less anxiety. I know this because I did that. By living away from your mother, you are naturally going to speak to her less. Which means less anxiety and guilt for you. Additionally, the less enmeshed you become with her, the easier it becomes to enforce your boundaries, hang up the phone if the convo is getting ridiculous, etc.

Until then, stop telling her things. Lie if it makes things easier. I know it's easier said than done. I still catch myself wanting to tell my mother xyz just because, even though I know what will result. Your mother isn't going to change, so really the decision is yours. Are you in the mood for an anxiety-inducing conversation or not? I also suggest consistently asking yourself why you want to share xyz with your mother. That can help you get to a point where you're more cognizant of the fact that you're about to tell her info she doesn't need to know, and ultimately get you away from the sharing that's currently second-nature to you.

Also (& forgive me if this is inappropriate), I don't know what the overall nature of your relationship with your mom is like, but you're allowed to cut off all contact with her if that's what's best for you. IME, a lot of people have the belief that because they're you're parents, you are forever indebted to them, even at the expense of your well-being. That's not true.
posted by overyourhead at 4:07 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to all of you for your input. I am going to tread slowly and try to incorporate your suggestions into the way I approach my relationship with my mom. :) Hope to report back with positive news on all fronts. I feel much less guilty now when I talk to the guy I am most interested in... Could be the start of a beautiful new connection.
posted by patronuscharms at 8:48 PM on October 3, 2010

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