When your parent is seeing a Bad Person, do you have to try to accept that person into the family?
October 3, 2011 12:44 PM   Subscribe

I've lost objectivity. It seems clear that my mother's 'boyfriend' is a giant loser, but she wants him to be accepted by us and included in family events. What do we do?

I’m going to try to make this as brief as possible. My problem is that my mother wants her ‘sort-of-boyfriend’ to be accepted into our family. This is a bad relationship, but I’ll elaborate on that below. I just refused to allow him to come over to my home for our family Thanksgiving dinner and she cried over it. I’ve never met him, but from the things my mother has told me about him, I do not like this person. My husband, my sister and her husband feel the same way.

They’ve been involved for two years. They were in a (sexual) relationship briefly, had a tumultuous on-again off-again middle period during which he was seeing another woman, and have been just friends for the past few months (although she sometimes hints that there might be more to it than that. I think she sees it as more, while he just lets her think what she wants so the gravy train keeps on chugging). You could say that they’re in a kind of asexual, semi-cohabitating marriage, as she stays there 3-4 nights a week, contributes financially and does the bulk (if not all) of the housework. There has been a lot of drama surrounding this relationship (tearful conversations, details a daughter doesn’t need to hear about her mother’s sex life, and once we had to pick her up from his house after they had a fight). After a while I reached my limit in listening to her talk about it, and even posted this question about how to deal with that. My mom does not respect boundaries well. To her credit, though, she did tone it down. However, while she denies it, she is constantly trying to evoke sympathy from me for him about his poor relationship with his family, the fact that he hasn’t gotten to fulfill his dream of having children, that he can’t keep or find a job, that he has no money and might lose his house... When I say things in response like “Sorry, but I don’t care”, she tells me that I’m cruel and that I should be ashamed of myself.
Here are some bullet points on why do not like him, nor do we like my mom’s behaviour connected with him:

  • At the beginning, he explained he was into S&M roles and wanted her to be his slave (as his ex-wife had been) and do all of his cooking and housework, etc. I am fine with alternative lifestyles, truly, but my mom was not cool with this. She felt like she had to go along with it at least with regards to the non-sexual stuff to keep him interested. While she holds her own more now, she still does most of the cleaning and cooking, laundry, gardening and mending of clothes.
  • He has not been able to keep a job in the last two years. He’s been fired from three jobs. He has extreme difficulty getting hired (and the economy really isn’t that bad here). We suspect that he’s lying about the reasons he’s being fired (never his fault). For example, he claims he was fired from his past position as an accountant because he uncovered some shady practices and that the employer said they were going to come after him if he reported their activities.
  • He may be an alcoholic and he definitely has a gambling problem. He fulfills these needs over paying his mortgage and utility bills. He is on the verge of losing his house. He owns some expensive things he could sell to make payments, but he won’t do this. He also won’t take on a lower-paying job in a different field temporarily, just to make ends meet.
  • My mom gives him money. She is on a very limited income. I worry that someday my husband and I might have to bail her out – say, if she moves in with him and then he meets another woman and she decides to leave.
  • He was seeing another woman while asking my mom to have sex with him at the same time. (I’m pissed at my mom for even telling me this). He was lying to the other woman about how much time he spent with my mom.
  • His own family doesn’t spend time with him and won’t help him financially. His mother recently fell and broke her hip and some ribs and he didn’t go to see her in the hospital. My mom says this is because his family is mean; I think it's more likely that they’ve had it with him.
  • He’s often suggested to my mom that if my husband and I have something we don’t need, we should give it to him. If he wants my mom (who doesn’t drive) to come over, he’ll often ask why my husband can’t drive her over there instead of coming to get her himself. It’s more than a half hour drive.

    Apparently, he wants to be closer to us (my sister and I and our husbands and children) because he wishes he had a big close family. My mom says that he is a huge part of her life and wants us to accept him. I feel like I might be huge jerk, but I don’t want anything to do with him. The idea of having to interact with him nicely is making me feel really squicked out. My husband doesn’t want him anywhere near our one-year-old daughter. I'm afraid my husband will tell him off and cause a huge scene. The thing is, what if they got married? What if they do move in together? We would have to try to have a relationship with him - wouldn’t we? I just can’t figure this out: who is being unreasonable – me or my mother?

  • posted by kitcat to Human Relations (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
    This is like "my parents hate my boyfriend and they've never even met him!" but in reverse. How'd that work out when you were 16?

    I could write an essay about this but basically, you cannot make your mother's choices for her. Excluding your mother's partner from Thanksgiving sight unseen is rude. You do not need to invite him into your home at this juncture, but you do need to meet him and give him a chance. Geeze, go have a big family breakfast at iHop and invite the two of them.
    posted by DarlingBri at 12:58 PM on October 3, 2011 [7 favorites]

    The negatives you're describing here sound to me like a lot of smoke, and you're wary about the fire. His bad relationship with his own family, his spotty job history and financial problems, his uneven romance with your mom--those are all red flags that make you worry for her. It's good that you're being cautious, but unless you think he's actually abusive or destructive or dangerous, rather than just suspicious that he might become that, I don't think it's enough for you to unilaterally exclude this guy from your life.

    Whether or not you want him at your family Thanksgiving celebration depends on the tone you guys normally strike. Some families have very intimate holidays, others have a more open attitude where new romantic interests, wayward cousins, the kids' friends from college and Dad's barber are all welcome to drop by. If it were me, I'd probably let him come, and if he caused trouble I'd let that be a concrete reason to disallow him in the future.

    Your doubts about this guy may turn out to be well-founded, but I think you're going to need to meet him to find out. He's important to your mother, and she's important to you, so though you're right to want to proceed with caution, I really think you should at least attempt to get to know him.
    posted by milk white peacock at 1:04 PM on October 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

    My experience varies wildly on this kind of situation, but is it possible it would have a positive effect for your mother to see how poorly he blends with the rest of your family? I am not advocating that you invite him in your home or that you spend time with him alone, but being civil to him and not indulging his negative behavior by reacting in anger may help your mom to see that he is not the greatest influence.

    It's really, really hard to stay quiet when someone is making a fool of himself in your presence, and doubly so when he's involved with someone like your mother, but it might help in a small way if she can see how poorly he reacts in the presence of people she loves. If you make it a situation where it is you against him, and you refuse to even meet him while he wants to be involved, then you're giving him power.

    On the other hand, your mother is treating you like her friend and confidant. Can you try to react as a friend might? You're allowed to say "whoa, Mom, that's too much information," but at the same time it sounds like she may lack a sounding board for her feelings on this.
    posted by mikeh at 1:05 PM on October 3, 2011

    I don't think it's unreasonable for you to not want to have anything to do with a guy you think is trouble, BUT I don't think it is unreasonable of your mom to want her children to meet the man she's dating. And I think it is unfair for you to make all kinds of sweeping judgements and assumptions about the man when you haven't ever met him (maybe his family IS mean. You literally can not know this.). Meeting him seems like the least you could do for your mom, and then you'll be able to make a more educated decision about how much you need to include him in your life. Also: if you meet him, you will have more of a leg to stand on when you tell your mother you don't want to have anything to do with him.

    I agree that maybe you should get this out of the way prior to Thanksgiving, though.
    posted by Countess Sandwich at 1:05 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

    I was initially inclined towards you were being too hard on this guy, but after reading your question fully he pretty clearly sounds like a loser, and you are well within your rights to not want in him in your home or around your family.

    If he shows he can commit to your mom then your probably ought to meet him, but I don't think you deserve any flac for wanting to keep him at a good distance from you and yours.
    posted by BobbyDigital at 1:17 PM on October 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

    Yeah, I don't think in life we get to refuse to even meet our loved ones' significant others. Your mom has told you an awful lot of stuff about this guy (maybe that's the mistake?). But that doesn't mean you shouldn't meet him. Be the bigger person here.

    By refusing to welcome this guy in your house, you may be pushing your mom closer to him. Thanksgiving is a tough time, so get together with them sometime beforehand.

    For all you know, he might be a super warm and friendly guy. So get a babysitter, and go meet him in a somewhat low-pressure environment, and get this out of the way.
    posted by bluedaisy at 1:19 PM on October 3, 2011

    I think he sounds godawful and I wouldn't want him at Thanksgiving or around my kid or around ME either. Unfortunately your mom sound crazy/crazy with love and uh... unless he dumps her or a miracle happens, you're stuck dealing with him.

    I do think you will be forced one way or another to meet the jerk, but you could always institute a "nobody's invited to Thanksgiving unless he's an actual relative, no boyfriends allowed" policy. (Assuming you aren't a family that welcomes random people to Thanksgiving. If you are, this may be harder.) That way you don't have to make him "family" unless they get married. Which he isn't until he puts a ring on it anyway. In all good conscience I would not invite this man to Thanksgiving unless I was legally forced to call him my (jackass) stepfather. Since this guy doesn't sound like he'd marry your mom unless she came into a lot of money, that may get you off the hook.

    Agree to do one dinner with the creep in a restaurant, NOT around Thanksgiving, and then make your determinations from there. I can't imagine that actually meeting the guy (who really sounds like he's treating your mom like a slave already) is going to change your opinion any, given his lovely track record, but at least "But you've never met him! Give him a chaaaance!" can't be hung over your head if you cave in that far.
    posted by jenfullmoon at 1:42 PM on October 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

    You're completely on solid ground by making Thanksgiving at your home a family only affair. Hell, you're the host, set whatever limits you want. Similarly it's completely reasonable to say you're not ready for him to spend time with your very young child.

    But refusing to meet him and being borderline abusive (When I say things in response like “Sorry, but I don’t care”) is much harder to justify. Honestly, if some other friend of yours was telling you a story about someone they knew who you had never met, would you say something like that? You seem to have every rational reason to feel that way, but vocalizing it about someone who has never done you a bad turn directly would certainly make Ms Manners blush.

    You should accept that he's a part of your mother's life and do your bare minimum meet & socialize. I think you'll find that doing so will make it easier to exclude him from family-only events and get your mother to stop sharing inappropriate stories.
    posted by phearlez at 1:42 PM on October 3, 2011

    Oh, and since the guy sounds like a mooch...watch out for that. He may want to be part of a "family" so he can get more out of you. Hence why I say "don't have him to the house."
    posted by jenfullmoon at 1:43 PM on October 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

    If you haven't met him and all of the drama described above is from what your mom is telling you, then, yeah, I wouldn't want to meet him either. If even *she* can't paint him in a good light, I can't imagine he's any better in person.
    But I have my own drama that colors my opinion, so YMMV.
    posted by dogmom at 1:43 PM on October 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

    His own family rejected him?

    I can see why just from the anecdotes you've written here.

    You can't tell your mother what to do; that won't end well.

    But, as regarding the distance you keep between this guy and YOUR immediate family? You have to do what is comfortable for you and your husband and your child.....not what will make your mother feel right. Just because he "wants" a closer relationship with you doesn't mean it can and will happen. The only one he "has to" have a close relationship with is your mother.

    You have some pretty honest objections based on what your mother told you. If he was any kind of a real human being and was interested in having a relationship with you, he would attempt to address those objections with you.

    If they were to get married, I would wait and observe if his treatment of her is different than what you know already (FWIW, I would suggest your mom has a terrible time setting boundaries not only with this guy, but with you.....did you NEED to know all that sexual stuff about your mom? I wouldn't want that data about my mom, now or ever). I would cross that bridge should things ever come to that. Good Luck!
    posted by PsuDab93 at 1:58 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

    I'm hearing that meeting him, however unpleasant, is the Right Thing To Do. And so I will.

    I think what I'm most afraid of is that, rather than this putting an end to my mom's inappropriate stories, meeting him will only encourage her to talk about him even more, to enfold me even more fully into the drama, to make me into even more of a confidante, to ask me to provide more opinions about him, to have more sympathy requested of me.......what am I going to do about that?
    posted by kitcat at 1:58 PM on October 3, 2011

    I think what I'm most afraid of is that, rather than this putting an end to my mom's inappropriate stories, meeting him will only encourage her to talk about him even more, to enfold me even more fully into the drama, to make me into even more of a confidante, to ask me to provide more opinions about him, to have more sympathy requested of me.......what am I going to do about that?

    "Sorry, mom, I really can't help you with that. Have you seen the latest Brad Pitt movie?"

    Repeat as necessary. If that doesn't work, not meeting him won't work either.
    posted by lydhre at 2:02 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

    She's already shared too much TMI with you. I can't imagine that you knowing him personally would make this worse. She's already not holding back with you on these topics that frankly, no child needs to hear out of their month. Now you'll just be able to argue with more details of how awful he is, because you've met him and can verify it.

    (And honestly, I'm always amazed that the people who tell you all this horrible stuff their SO did are then genuinely shocked, shocked! that you don't like the SO from what you hear.)
    posted by jenfullmoon at 2:07 PM on October 3, 2011

    Er, mother, not month.
    posted by jenfullmoon at 2:07 PM on October 3, 2011

    Go ahead and meet him, but do it on your terms, i.e.:

    1. Not at a family-oriented holiday like Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.
    2. Not at your house - at your mom's or at a restaurant, so you can leave if you want to without having to get people out of your house.
    3. Not around your 1 year old child.

    If she launches into her most recent issues, you don't have to wait for a pause before changing the subject or ending the conversation.
    posted by bookdragoness at 2:12 PM on October 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

    "Mom, I love you. It's clear this man treats you poorly. Because I love you, I can not be cordial towards anyone that hurts you. I can not be supportive of a relationship that hurts you a majority of the time. You are an adult and I won't tell you what to do, but I can not participate in this situation - sorry."

    Every time she brings him up in conversation, tell her that this relationship is "none of my business" and cheerfully change the subject.

    I didn't click on your link, but I am pretty sure I remember your previous Ask regarding this situation.

    Create some firm boundaries and stay as far far away from the drama as possible.

    Stop letting your mom talk to you about him at all. You're feeding the situation when you let your mom triangulate you into their weirdo dynamic. Specifically, your mom does a lot for this man and in return he treats your mom like shit. Your mom then looks to you for the emotional validation and payoff she's not getting from him. Stop letting her use you, because that is directly helping him use her.

    Stay as far away from this as possible. My hope is that without an audience on the drama, this destructive relationship will lose its appeal and she'll move on.
    posted by jbenben at 2:15 PM on October 3, 2011 [9 favorites]

    It is not entirely clear to me if your objective is to keep this guy out of your lives, regardless of what his relatioship with your mum is, or to protect your mum for dubious company, or both. I'll comment assuming that you are trying to achieve both.

    It seems to me that virtually everything you know about this man comes from your mum, plus some of your own interpretations of what she said. And now she wants you to discount everything she told you about the ways in which this man showed his general ineptitude, his unreliability and his contempt towards her, and welcome him into the bossom of your family. To my mind, it is your mum who is being unreasonable here. She has completely mismanaged your expectations and your attitude, and is now hurt at the inevitable result. If the tables were turned on a 16 year old you, I would imagine your mum would have been very reticent about a boyfriend who, according to your own stories, hurts you and is clearly a bad egg.

    Still, DarlingBri said upthread: This is like "my parents hate my boyfriend and they've never even met him!" but in reverse. How'd that work out when you were 16?, and I think she raises a good point. You are antagonising your mother by rejecting him wholesale, almost pushing her to take his side, since 1. he is her choice, for whatever (misguided) reasons, and by rejecting him you are rejecting/hurting her, 2. he is the victim, and your mum, who sounds soft-hearted, will see herself obliged to defend him, if only out of chivalry, as it were, 3. she is now caught between you and him and has to now concentrate on this tension, rather than focusing on his behaviour towards her, and 4. you are rejecting him without even having met him (she probably forgets just how much your attitude is based on what she told you) so she can easily categorise you as unjustly prejudiced, just like all the other people in this guy's life who make a point of bullying him (a story she clearly buys, at least occasionally).

    Saying this, I think there are a few steps you can take. As Countess Sandwich and others have suggested, you (one of you/some of you/all of you) could try to meet the guy beforehand. Tell your mum that she is to not say anything to him yet, that you are a bit on the fence about inviting him, given everything she has told you about him, and that you would like to meet him first over a cup of coffee, or, in any case, in a neutral and easy-to-get-out-of environment. This will either show him to be a pleasant-enough conversationalist (so it will be OK to have a truce for the day and have him over for a couple of hours) or else it will allow you to refuse him the invite on a different and more solid basis (he was offensive to you personally, he wouldn't really fit into the particular atmosphere of the day because of such-and-such, etc).

    Secondly, maybe you could try to segment the dinner, so to speak - maybe invite him to deserts? Or to Thank-giving drinks? Explain to your mum that, if the guy is here to stay, you'd like this to be your last dinner as "the family", and keep a non-family gathering for later on (maybe also invite a neighbour or work-colleague etc, to difuse the guy's presence).

    Thirdly, and quite importantly, since this is not only about one dinner, but really about your mum screwing up her life (at least this is the way you see things), try to see him a few times without being openly antagonistic to him. If he does turn out to be as much of a catastrophy as he sounds from your mum's descriptions, try to figure out a way in which she will ditch him - it has to come from her, otherwise you risk souring your relationship with her and/or pushing her deeper into this relationship. Someone upthread said that maybe she will realise he deosn't really fit into your family/have the same values/even have adequate manners/comes off as whiney and passive-aggressive when interacting with others etc. But if she feels like Don Quixote defending the aggrieved and mistreated maiden, she will probably take much longer to drop him, or stick with him altogether.

    Lastly, you cannot control what your mum does with her life/who she hangs out with, but you can set boundaries on her behaviour towards you (as you are trying to do by not inviting the guy). I'd say let the guy come along (at least for part of the night), but at the same time make it clear to her that your unanimous resistance towards him is due to the way that she has described him and his treatment of her. Explain to her that her complaints leave behind nothing but negative feelings and that, if she wants him introduced to you at all she has to stop offloading about him. Ask her if she would have welcomed your own school-bully into the home. Would she have been happy to accept someone who mistreated you on a regular basis, only because this person had a tough time at some point in their life? Finally, tell her that you don't know the guy enough to make pronouncements, nor can you/do you want to become her confidant for the above-mentioned reasons, and tell her to go read up on pity as the basis for a relationship, on having standards in a relationship, being valued, happiness and relationship-killers. Given that she is on the inside of the relationship, she will know how worth-while it is from these points of view, and you trust her considered judgement on her own happiness etc, etc, etc. There is a chance she will se the light if not pushed.

    If your aim is to keep you mum out of the danger-zone this relationship presents, I think it is very important that she does not come to assimilate you to this guy's (real or imagined) denigrators/bullies etc - that will quite possibly only push her more into his arms. There is also the faint possibility that your mum misrepresented him to some extent when whe felt in need of solace from you. People frequently highlight and even slightly distort the failings of someone they feel aggrieved with, especially if they are on a sympathy-trip or seeking validation. Then you have to deal with your own emotions about the described/denigrated person, whilst the friend/relative/acquaintance who did the complaining already forgot all about it an is currently enamoured again. This see-saw can leave you, the confidant, reeling - and with some terribly unkind thoughts towards the respective person. Sometimes whatever has been confided in this manner is not entirely just. In your case, I imagine the guy is suspect, just from the sheer amount of negative stuff, but I assume he will not be too destructive a presence for one dinner, or even several meet-ups.
    posted by miorita at 2:17 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

    This guy is not the problem. Your relationship with your mom is the problem. You still aren't effectively setting boundaries where you want them, or she's not listening. Next time she starts talking about him, gently let her know that you don't want to hear it or you can't talk. Then follow through by getting off the phone.

    Saying you don't care gives her what she wants, feedback/a reaction to put into her narrative where no one loves this guy.

    So I suggest banning discussing men in general. I am sorry you're going through this and that your mom has you playing this stupid game.
    posted by the young rope-rider at 2:18 PM on October 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

    Just saw your update - NO!

    Do not meet. I think folks don't remember your first question about this when they talk about the "right" thing to do. This isn't an etiquette question at all. Don't feel pressured by social norms.

    This isn't a healthy person for your mom to be involved with based on her background, which people here might not be taking into account.

    Actively support the good stuff in your mom's life. Set boundaries around the rest and stay firm.

    Good luck!
    posted by jbenben at 2:21 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

    Your mom then looks to you for the emotional validation and payoff she's not getting from him. Stop letting her use you, because that is directly helping him use her.

    Thank you so much. This is exactly the disturbing thing that is making me feel used and that I haven't been able to put my finger on.
    posted by kitcat at 2:24 PM on October 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

    I think what I'm most afraid of is that, rather than this putting an end to my mom's inappropriate stories, meeting him will only encourage her to talk about him even more, to enfold me even more fully into the drama, to make me into even more of a confidante, to ask me to provide more opinions about him, to have more sympathy requested of me.......what am I going to do about that?

    You're doing it wrong. Putting a social gloss on the relationship in polite company for public appearances is what most people do to keep families running along. My cousin's husband is a dick. My uncle is an actual certified thief. Someone else is a clepto and someone else is so tranquilized you could use her for lawn bowling. That's not even starting with the alcoholics and gamblers. Whatever; none of that impacts me directly so we carve the turkey and chat about gardening.

    The real issue here is not the guy but your mother and her inappropriate boundaries. Your mother is not your girlfriend. You really, really need to be comfortable drawing them for her, since she cannot draw them for herself. Go back to your previous thread.

    "Mom, boundaries. Not appropriate."

    "Mom, again, not discussing this. Change the topic."

    "Mom, I don't want to hear it and I don't care if you're not OK with that. Take it or leave it."

    Assertiveness training. A book. Role playing with a therapist. Something to give you better skills to deal with reality as it is, not as you would like it to be.
    posted by DarlingBri at 2:29 PM on October 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

    meeting him will only encourage her to talk about him even more, to enfold me even more fully into the drama, to make me into even more of a confidante, to ask me to provide more opinions about him, to have more sympathy requested of me.

    These are two separate problems, and part of why I think stopping the complete refusal to meet him will help rather than hinder.

    This person, for better or worse, is a big part of your mom's life. You should try to tolerate his presence and be cordial for as long as he'll do the same.

    But that DOESN'T mean you need to listen to mom talk about him when he's not around. You can simply say "Mom, he's in your life and I'm willing to be polite to him when he's around as long as he behaves well. But I can't know what I know about how he treats you and feel any sort of sympathy for him or help you deal with what I think is not good treatment."

    By allowing your mother to make her own choices and supporting them as far as is reasonable - polite behavior in person, but refusing to be involved in details - you give yourself a better leg to stand on when you draw that line.
    posted by phearlez at 2:49 PM on October 3, 2011

    Sorry to come back after an overlong reply, but, in light of what others, especially jbenben have said whilst I was crafting my reply, I wanted to add something re. this:

    I think what I'm most afraid of is that, rather than this putting an end to my mom's inappropriate stories, meeting him will only encourage her to talk about him even more, to enfold me even more fully into the drama, to make me into even more of a confidante, to ask me to provide more opinions about him, to have more sympathy requested of me.......what am I going to do about that?

    I was in an over-confiding situation with friends – basically, I was asked to think more often (daily or several times a day), about their relationships than I have ever done with mine, really. Very unwillingly, I came to know way too much, and in graphic detail, about their sex lives, their fights, the ways in which they were disrespected, etc. Initially (meaning a couple of years) I listened, until I could just not cope any more. There was only stress, and drama, and leeching away of my energy. At some point I actually said so. I told them I couldn’t cope any more hearing only drama from them, I couldn’t cope any more with having every piece of advice, every opinion, disregarded, I couldn’t cope any more with them being on the edge all the time, I couldn’t cope with knowing that they are systematically mistreated and not doing anything about this, and I certainly couldn’t cope with having to be civil to someone who was so contemptuous towards my friends. So – if they wanted our relationship to continue, in the same warm and loving fashion we knew of old, they had to stop. If they didn’t want me to withdraw out of an instinct for self-preservation, they had to stop unloading on me. If they wanted me to ever be able to even greet their partner in a civil manner, they had to stop.

    The first time was pretty awful. I was very forceful, and it was clear I meant it (I was having insomnia and border-line depression by proxy at this point). The tension between us – you could have cut it with a knife. But I sat there bearing it, and they sat there, and began asking very concrete questions about what they could say (“Can I tell you when…?” – “No”, “No, cause when you do, I have to take two days off”, “No, cause if you tell me stuff like that, I can’t stand your partner”, “No, cause then I wonder why you prefer offloading on me rather than doing something about it” etc). The only yes they got was with regard to practicalities – “if I can’t take care of x because of drama with him, can you take care of it for me”, and, on the whole, I can – but they also don’t abuse it. It was a harrowing conversation, but totally worth it.

    Every time after that when they tried to re-introduce that dynamic in which guy mistreats and I endlessly listen I just refer them back to that initial conversation. I remind them that I cannot add anything to what I have said for years, that, as long as their circumstances do not change, my opinion won’t either, that the relationship between us cannot be reduced to that between therapist and patient only, etc.

    This might be easier to do with friends than with your mum. I wish you good luck though, it is a terrible place to be in.
    posted by miorita at 2:59 PM on October 3, 2011

    Having dealt with some similar issues, I can say from my experience that you should just starting thinking of them as a collective entity and use that to redefine your relationship, since it is really unlikely that your mom will ever "come around" to understand your point of view. So just take it for granted that if she is around he likely will be around too and use that assumption to make decisions about the intensity of the relationship that you want. If you value the relationship with your mother enough, you will invariably have to grit your teeth and be around her significant other. The alternative is to sever or limit your interactions with her. My experience says there really isn't a realistic in between and trying to create one will probably just introduce anger/resentment/etc. that will serve no purpose and drag you down. I've dealt with a related situation and while my decision to limit my "face time" with my parent makes me sad sometimes since our relationship has suffered as a result. However, it is what is necessary for us to have a relationship that I feel comfortable with.
    posted by jtfowl0 at 3:14 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

    meeting him will only encourage her to talk about him even more ... what am I going to do about that?

    You're a daughter, not a friend. Set boundaries and live by them, even if it means moving on.

    This guy is not the problem. Your relationship with your mom is the problem.

    posted by coolguymichael at 3:44 PM on October 3, 2011

    Having had a similar experience in the past, I'd say there's plenty of good advice above. Nthing the need to spell out boundaries for your mother in general, not just in terms of what she shares about this relationship.

    I've learned to just interrupt (or tune out) people who start dishing out such TMI, followed with a generic placation: "I really don't think I'm the best person to talk about this with / I'm sorry, but I know nothing about this / wouldn't your friend ____ be good to ask about this?" Which is pretty passive-aggressive, I admit. Be more direct if that's your style, but the point is to repeat yourself and stand firm as soon as the subject comes up.

    The thing is, what if they got married? What if they do move in together? We would have to try to have a relationship with him - wouldn’t we?
    Don't worry about this right now!

    In retrospect, the saddest thing about having seeing my mother in a similar situation was the realization that she didn't have any friends with whom she could confide in about these things. That helped give me the empathy I needed to try and help her in other ways. Your mom might think that she just needs a friendly ear, but that could be like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg. Good luck.
    posted by blazingunicorn at 4:58 PM on October 3, 2011

    Jbenben is right that in allowing her to talk to you about this drama you're emotionally subsidizing it against your will. But I think that refusing to meet him allows your mom to imagine that if you'd only meet him, you'd like him -- so I think there might be some value in meeting him somewhere neutral and then saying "sorry mom, still think he's bad news, and I don't want to hear about it anymore."

    Don't have him to Thanksgiving, though. Gross.
    posted by fingersandtoes at 5:30 PM on October 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

    I've been watching this thread and I've been seriously considering suggestions that you at least meet the guy so you don't play into the victim-y narrative they've got going.

    You know what?

    While I think it's a valid route, should you take it, I think (a) you might not be able to execute that move safely at this time without getting even more sucked into the drama because you don't have enough practice setting boundaries with your mom yet, and (b) from everything you say about your mom in these two questions, it seems clear she will twist the gesture into whatever she wants anyway, finally (c) the relationship is already a trainwreck and you will never ever like or trust this man, I don't know how you could possibly pull off this meet-n-greet with even a shred of genuine positive intention towards this guy - A/K/A - see point "b".

    Right now you, your sister, and your husbands have presented a united front. I feel like if you agree to meet this man, you'll be opening the door for more argument down the road. You will be giving your mom the false hope she might might might be validated (finally!)for being involved with this manipulative user..... And then you folks will wound her emotionally by officially withdrawing any possibility of approval upon meeting him, because let's face it, this guy was unnapprovable to begin with. But your mom won't see him as he really is once the entire scenario has fully played out, will she? Nope. Instead, she'll embrace the victim narrative even more strongly, tying her more tightly to this awful man.

    I turned the possibilities over in my head more than a few times. I strongly believe that if what I just laid out has a greater than 60% chance of happening (you and your sister can judge this) than you, your sister, and your husbands should remain consistent in your message to your mom. If you are true to your values, and you stay firm, I can't see how you can go wrong.

    I definitely believe depriving this drama of oxygen is the way to go, especially since your mom has previously been using you to fuel it.
    posted by jbenben at 7:13 PM on October 3, 2011

    This thread has been really helpful to me. I couldn't see at first that the boundary issues with my mom are my real problem here. I think I will meet him eventually, but that will be down the road. I have to work on my relationship with my mom first, as so many of you have pointed out. Thank you for your very thoughtful answers.
    posted by kitcat at 8:26 PM on October 3, 2011

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