How do I handle my mother's crush on my boyfriend's (much younger) brother?
May 17, 2012 5:45 AM   Subscribe

My mother, who has borderline personality disorder, has thrown a tremendous wrench into my relationship. I am so overwhelmed by this right now. Help?

I'm 25 and my mom is in her mid-fifties. She has (undiagnosed) borderline personality disorder. I have been dating a man for five months now and things are fantastic; definitely the healthiest relationship I've ever been in and I can see this being very long-term.

Recently, my mom met my boyfriend's family: his mother, father, and brother, who is in his early thirties. We went to two family events with them in the span of a few days. Before the second event, my mother called me to tell me that she was romantically interested in my boyfriend's brother. She has done next to no dating for ten years and has never dated someone more than a few years younger than her.

Mom is overwhelmed and upset. She hasn't had a crush in ages and is doing all of the typical stuff - she sent him an e-mail and he hasn't responded, so she was crying; she asks me if I think he's interested. She seems to be very interested in actually pursuing this, as long as she gets interest from my boyfriend's brother. The brother is very charismatic and engaging, so I could see where my mom might think he is romantically interested. But given when (fairly little) I know about him, I doubt that he wants to take things any further.

For my part, I can absolutely not talk to her about this. This is so ridiculously weird. More to the point, I now have a pretty major secret that I'm keeping from my boyfriend and I feel awful about it. I know that if he found out about this, it would very much change the dynamic of our relationship and certainly the awesome dynamic that I have with his brother and his family.

I've suggested to my mom that at the very least she speak to someone other than me about this. I have no clue what to do or where to turn. I feel like once again my BPD mother has overstepped boundaries in my life and turned something really positive for me into something upsetting and overwhelming. Please tell me how to handle this.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Will threats work? Can you calmly look her in the eye and tell her that if she doesn't see a doctor immediately then she will no longer be included in social outings with you? It would help if you find the doctor and set up the appt. first. Maybe even go with her so that you can explain to the doctor what is going on.

I'm so sorry that you are going through this. Don't go through it alone. Tell your boyfriend that your mom is having some sort of nervous breakdown. Ask for his support. I don't think this is about his brother so much as it is about your mom wanting to be you.
posted by myselfasme at 5:51 AM on May 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Perhaps you could talk to your boyfriend about it? This is a chance to see how he deals with tough situations. You probably should, too, before he hears about it from his brother.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:53 AM on May 17, 2012 [48 favorites]

First thing, take a deep breath right now.

Now - I think you're handling things well with your mother already, by asking her to please not confide in you about this too much. It's overstepping the parent/child bounds pretty broadly, so reminding her of that boundary is protecting yourself in a healthy way. She may ignore it, or try to get mad at you for pushing back on it, but that sounds to me like her illness talking, and not her.

As for keeping this from your boyfriend - may I ask why? This is something bothering you, it has to do with his family as well as yours, and he loves you. I imagine that he knows your mother has a mental illness, so he'd probably "get" that this is a manifestation of her illness. I also agree that his brother wouldn't do anything with your mother - and that actually may be all the more reason to not hide this from your boyfriend (meaning, how do you know that your boyfriend hasn't heard about this FROM his brother already?). If you're still uncomfortable talking to your boyfriend about this, would you consider reaching out to his brother directly, just to have a sort of "uh, yeah, so I heard my mother may have been acting kinda odd towards you, do you want to talk about it?"

But while I sense that this is upsetting for you, you're doing all the right things insofar as confirming your boundary with her, and I would re-think hiding it from your boyfriend because he could be a source of support for you. And this may be uncomfortable, but it's still a small issue now (she hasn't started stalking the brother, I mean) and things are still somewhat under control. good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:53 AM on May 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

You know what? Eventually you are going to get married to someone, and dealing with your crazy mom will be a joint responsibility. This is actually a good opportunity to let your boyfriend into this part of your life.
posted by yarly at 6:06 AM on May 17, 2012 [26 favorites]

Maybe reframing this would help. The chances that the early-thirties brother is actually going to pursue a relationship with your mid-fifties mother is pretty small. So she may be interested in pursuing it, but that doesn't mean that it will go anywhere.

If you can't talk to her about it, don't. Just redirect when it comes up. Further, this isn't a "major secret" or a "tremendous wrench." She's being all swoony over someone more than 20 years younger than her after meeting him one time. That's not a major issue; that's somewhere between mildly amusing and mildly annoying. This is a situation that exists only in her mind that she is trying to draw you into to make it more real. She's being frankly pretty silly, and you can just ignore it until it blows over.

If you think it won't blow over, or she will escalate to draw the attention of the brother, it would be better to be open about it with your boyfriend now, or at least have some discussions about the challenges you've had with your mother in the past.

I'm guessing you may feel like you can't talk to the boyfriend about it because it is your mother's secret, or she's asked you not to tell. My take is that she's being such a ridiculous, boundary-crossing pain in the ass, that loyalty is not required - YMMV. If you have already had some "my mom has issues" conversations with your boyfriend, it will be easier to bring this up.
posted by jeoc at 6:07 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think your boyfriend will be quite understanding if you tell him what's going and send him signals that you love your mother but recognize her craziness and know how to NOT get sucked in by it. It's only really when I see people making excuses, pretending everything's okay, making unreasonable accommodations, and otherwise not setting boundaries that the presence of a dramatic person in someone's life starts raising red flags for me.

You're already setting boundaries, which is awesome. Set more boundaries by bringing out into the open that which your mother is trying to keep secret, and you'll take away her power to disrupt your life and/or monopolize your attention, which I suspect are her real goals here.

You may wish to talk to the brother, too.
posted by alphanerd at 6:11 AM on May 17, 2012 [8 favorites]

First suggestion: don't invite your mom to outings with your boyfriend's family any more. It's not required.

Second: nthing talk to your boyfriend. If something like this messes up his feelings for you, trust me, he's not worth it.

Third: you're absolutely right to refuse to talk to her about this. It's stepping waaaaay out of line to burden you with her (imaginary) love life. And yes, it is drama.
posted by purplesludge at 6:13 AM on May 17, 2012 [20 favorites]

One of the toughest things about trying to interact with a parent who behaves this way [whether because of BPD or not] is the feeling that people will feel that you are somehow linked to or responsible for their behavior. It can feel deeply shameful and it can be hard to get perspective. I have a mother who occasionally does similar things and it was very helpful for me to realize that not only wasn't this true but that I could find strength through knowing that other people saw it too and saw it as something completely distinct from me.

So my advice it to explain this to your boyfriend not as something that has anything to do with his brother specifically [i.e. the problem isn't that your mom has a crush on his brother so much as your mom is behaving inappropriately about a crush that she has on anyone] and apologize once ["sorry this may be a pain to deal with, but you can I can deal with it as a team"] and draw appropriate boundaries with your mom about this--no more interacting with the bf's family for her, no more talking to you about this crush--and stick to them even if she gets weird or angry about that (and she likely will).

This is not your fault. Your responsibilities as I see them are to be decent but boundary-setting with your mom and, I'd suggest, honest and non-dramatic about this with your boyfriend. Your mom has a mental illness that is causing her to act in inappropriate ways. That is not your fault and doesn't have to expand to take over your life, and you can make sure that it doesn't.
posted by jessamyn at 6:17 AM on May 17, 2012 [27 favorites]

Adding my vote to the tell your boyfriend pile. If it's been five months, you're serious about him, and the families are meeting he knows enough about your mother to understand. I also don't think this is a hugely serious conversation in the grand scheme of things: "This is so weird, I'm sorry, but my mom has a crush on your brother, I just didn't want to keep that from you, etc." is a perfectly reasonable conversation for a serious couple to have, and if he can't react decently (maybe a little weirded out but able to deal) that's going to be a bit of a red flag anyway. Plus, if your mother does continue to email his brother or get out of hand he'll know about it anyway, and running inter-family interference on his side is part of his responsibilities within the LTR.

This is super weird and annoying and crosses some boundaries if she's emailing him, but it's not a relationship killer by any means. You may be a little punch drunk from dealing with her previously, making it hard to see the luck you've had in catching this early and being able to form an attack plan. So I would say: tell your boyfriend in a relaxed manner, tell your mother this crosses a boundary, even if you don't think it will help, redirect the conversation when it comes up, and absolutely limit mother/brother exposure unless absolutely socially necessary at least for a while.
posted by itsonreserve at 6:22 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

One thing you absolutely HAVE TO do is - talk to your boyfriend.
You say you want a healthy realtionship - well, keeping secrets is poison.

And why would you keep this secret? To protect your crazy mother.
If you bear the burden of this secret, and allow it to poison your relationship,
then you are a co-dependent enabler of your mother's behavior.

Frankly, if I were you, I would talk to the boy-friend,
then see if you and the boy-friend together could talk to his brother -
and make it perfectly clear to the brother: mom is crazy, for your own sake, stay away.
posted by Flood at 6:28 AM on May 17, 2012 [8 favorites]

Don't keep this secret from your boyfriend. Telling him sets you apart from the crazy. By contrast, not telling him could make you appear complicit in the crazy.

Your mom has a crush and is acting inappropriately. This is really not a big deal. No one will think it is.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:33 AM on May 17, 2012 [18 favorites]

How likely is it that the boyfriend knows already? By that I mean what makes you think that the brother hasn't clued him in via "Hey, I got this email from your girlfriend's mom... Come look, wtf...".

Sounds like you need to address this with him, pronto, to avoid this spiraling deeper into crazy world.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:35 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hope this doesn't sound cold, but have you ever considered simply disowning your mother? I cut off contact with my dad because he had sociopathic tendencies and even though it was emotionally difficult, it was one of the best decisions of my life. There's a line between acceptable and unacceptable mental illness and if it gets to the point where your mom's instability threatens your long-term relationships, it might be time to cut her loose and focus on your own well-being.

If that's not on the table, I recommend talking to your boyfriend about it. It's far better that he hears about it from you - along with an explanation of your mom's behavior - rather than for him to hear it from his brother without any explanation, and start thinking up the worst possible things, like you and your mom being into partner-swapping with each other or something disgusting like that. Make it clear that your mom's actions are the result of mental illness and not reasonable in your eyes. Make it clear that you prioritize the relationship and are willing to take steps to make sure your mother's illness doesn't affect the the relationship (for example, offer to leave her home at future joint family outings), etc.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:45 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Talk to your boyfriend! He'll understand. He might even be flattered. He'll definitely help to give your mother the gentle letdown she needs. Maybe he's got an uncle!
posted by parmanparman at 6:56 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

You must speak to your boyfriend about it. Explain that you know that it's inappropriate and that it's made interacting with Mom and his family awkward. If he's a keeper, he'll understand.

As for your Mom, I hear you. My Mom is a narcissist and trust me, they can be a handful. First of all, be blunt with your Mom. "Mom, first of all, your even talking to me about this is inappropriate and it makes me uncomfortable. Secondly, I don't think X is interested in you romantically. Please stop trying to contact him. Have you thought of getting counseling?" Then leave it alone.

If she continues to make a pest of herself, set boundaries. "Mom, I love you, but your inapproprieate behavior is negatively affecting my life in the following ways (list them), until you seek counseling and stop doing X, I'm going to limit my visits with you."

It's hard, and sometimes you just have to take people as they are, but at least you've made your statement and explanation. After that, the ball is in her court. You can't make her change, but you can change how you react. Don't feed into her inappropriate behavior. Be firm. Love her no matter what.

Props to Intervention for the language.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:58 AM on May 17, 2012

Keep reminding yourself that you are responsible for maintaining your boundaries with her. So, when she brings up her crush, say "It's inappropriate for you to be discussing that with me. If you keep talking about it, I'll hang up the phone." And do it. Because it is inappropriate, no matter who she has a crush on -- you are her daughter, not a peer/confidant. Don't feel guilty for protecting yourself.
posted by chowflap at 7:00 AM on May 17, 2012

I'm sorry that your mother has put you into an awkward situation. I don't see that there is all that much you can do about her behavior if she really does have BPD. Ignore, ignore, ignore.

I don't understand why you would assume that your mother having a crush on your boyfriend's brother would change the dynamic of your otherwise fantastic relationship with your adult boyfriend? I would argue that any romantic relationship worth maintaining is one that is based on honesty and the mutual understanding that, man, sometimes our families are really fucked up. This may very well be more of an issue for you than him.

Also, it may be in everyone's best interest if you tell your boyfriend so he can let his brother know. I think that if this whole situation is to be nipped in the bud it may have to become from a very pointed lack of interest from boyfriend's brother in response to your mother.
posted by teamnap at 7:04 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the hardest things about having mentally ill family members is the shame. I wish I could help you with that in a deep and lasting way, but it's not something I've ever gotten over completely. For example, I never let my parents meet my in-laws, with whom I am very close. It's difficult and confusing.

Any long-term partner you have will need to know about your mother, and how her illness has affected you (and continues to affect you). There are a lot of different ways to go about this. It will really help build trust and help you to feel more secure (and better about yourself) if you let other people know about what you're dealing with.

This is not your fault. People will love you and be friends with you even if they know about your mother's inappropriate behavior because they realize that you don't get to pick your parents, and that we're all just fumbling along the best we can.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:21 AM on May 17, 2012 [10 favorites]

Why does she think there's even a possibility that your boyfriend's brother could be interested in her? Would it be okay to lie to her, tell her that he's in love with someone who can be described as her exact opposite or say something like "He's got a million young and hot girlfriends" or something that would nudge her towards believing she doesn't fit the bill?

(It could be the wrong thing to do but if I were in your position, I'd be too self-centered in my reaction and demand my mother, BPD or whatever, see that the guy couldn't possibly want her. So good for you for taking a breath before deciding what to do.)
posted by discopolo at 7:24 AM on May 17, 2012

If she does have BPD as you suspect, or even if she has a history of behaving as if she does, you need to bear in mind one critical fact:

It's almost certain that your mother's behavior is not actually about any actual feelings she may or may not have about your boyfriend's brother.

Your mother is clearly trying to keep you entangled in her life and destroy any power you have to develop a life separate from her own.

She may not even be consciously aware of it, but she is actively sabatoging your life. You must refuse to cooperate. Ignore the drama, work with your boyfriend to innoculate his brother and the rest of the family against her craziness, and move on. Keep her in a compartment in your life separate from your love life and stop rewarding her bizzare decisions by allowing them to change your course.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 7:26 AM on May 17, 2012 [25 favorites]

Also, you say she's there a way to get her to a psychiatrist or counselor? Spin it to her in a "take charge of your life" Oprah-esque sort of way? (Assuming she's as susceptible to Oprah-esque influence as much as I am---in that I pretend I'm not but I sort of am.)
posted by discopolo at 7:28 AM on May 17, 2012

Your mom has a crush and is acting inappropriately. This is really not a big deal. No one will think it is.

I agree with this. I do think that a lot of it is how you handle it. I couldn't really tell if you've actually explicitly stated to your mother that this makes you uncomfortable, you feel it's inappropriate, and that you don't want to discuss this with her, but do so.

Is your boyfriend/his brother unaware that your mother has an undiagnosed mental illness or that she sometimes oversteps boundaries? And.. If he and his brother are close, your boyfriend may already know and actually think that you don't.
posted by sm1tten at 7:46 AM on May 17, 2012

Mom is overwhelmed and upset. She hasn't had a crush in ages and is doing all of the typical stuff - she sent him an e-mail and he hasn't responded, so she was crying; she asks me if I think he's interested.

"I have no idea, Mom, and I don't propose to find out."

She seems to be very interested in actually pursuing this, as long as she gets interest from my boyfriend's brother. The brother is very charismatic and engaging, so I could see where my mom might think he is romantically interested. But given when (fairly little) I know about him, I doubt that he wants to take things any further.

This is something your mother and your boyfriend's brother need to sort out for themselves. It has nothing to do with anybody other than those two people. You need not get involved in any way whatsoever.

For my part, I can absolutely not talk to her about this.

I doubt that any reasonable person would believe you're required to.

This is so ridiculously weird. More to the point, I now have a pretty major secret that I'm keeping from my boyfriend and I feel awful about it.

It only feels major because you're used to dealings with your mom resulting in drama all round. Really, all that's happened is that somebody you know has met somebody else you know and formed a crush. It doesn't have to be a big thing for you unless you choose to make it one. Live and let live; after all, isn't that what you'd rather your mother did instead of roping you in?

The key to avoiding drama is leaving it alone and refusing to become a part of it. That's all you need to do. You are not an automatic player in any drama simply by virtue of your relationships with those involved.

I know that if he found out about this, it would very much change the dynamic of our relationship and certainly the awesome dynamic that I have with his brother and his family.

You're sure about that why? If I were your boyfriend's brother, and I found out that your mother had a crush on me, I would certainly not consider that this was anything at all to do with you.

This has "molehill" written all over it, as far as I can see. Don't bother getting out the ropes and crampons.
posted by flabdablet at 8:01 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can imagine how awful this must feel right now, but I agree with everyone above who's said that once you bring it into the open, it won't be such a big deal.

"Hey BF, something weird happened the other night after we all had dinner. My mom - you know how she's a drama llama - is apparently all crushed out on Brother! It sounds like she even sent him a crushy email. If you see him, tell him not to worry about responding, and we can all just try to forget about it. She'll be embarrassed once this manic episode is over but hopefully it won't last long."
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:03 AM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

First, ensure bf has met and gotten to know all the sane members of your nuclear family--dad, siblings, dog, fish, etc--before surprising him with this information about your mother. Once that's out of the way, explain to your bf that you've distanced yourself from her and her misbehavior for a while and that, should things with bf blossom into marriage and children, your mother will be banned from all non-wedding family events and children visits. Moving forward...

Short-term damage control: I encourage the two of you to explain to your mother in clear terms that she has absolutely no chance with your boyfriend's brother and needs to leave him alone. Bring along a letter pledging disinterest from the brother.

Long-term damage control: Explain to your mother that her misbehavior will not be tolerated by your bf's family and by you two as a couple. Get her into therapy, on medication, and tell her that she may not contact any members of your bf's family without asking your permission first. If her condition improves in 5-6 years, tell her she may be invited to holiday gatherings and family reunions; otherwise, she will remain blacklisted.
posted by lotusmish at 8:35 AM on May 17, 2012

From the OP:
Mom has been in therapy multiple times over the years, but never for more than a few months at a time. Her most recent therapist, who she had the best relationship with, diagnosed her with PTSD and severe grief. No one's really sure if he did so based upon fact or just because he thought she had BPD and didn't want to tell her otherwise. Either way, mom now strongly believes that all of her issues are related to this supposed PTSD and is no longer interested in pursuing therapy.

My boyfriend does know that my mom is borderline. We haven't had a hugely serious discussion about it, but he does know, and he's heard about some of the inappropriate things that she's done over the years. This does seem like a good time to bring it up in a more serious way.

The reason I haven't told him is because my mom is mortified about this and has asked me multiple times not to tell anyone. I did tell two close girlfriends, but they just laughed it off and said something about how crazy my mother is. My friends all know about her illness and at this point their general response is to just laugh about it. I have a hard time getting anyone to talk to me seriously about her behavior because I'm sure it makes people uncomfortable and they can't really identify with it. She also explicitly asked me several times to not tell my boyfriend. It puts me in an extraordinarily tough position because as my mother, I don't want to upset her and lie to her and tell her that I didn't pass this information on. But as others have said, given her behavior, I have to. I also tried to tell her as nicely as possible last night that the brother probably was not interested, which just led to more crying.

I agree that this is very likely a subconscious manifestation of my mom's illness and her need to have control over me. To compound this, I'm moving in a few weeks and will be a lot further away from her than I am now, as well as closer to my boyfriend. She sobs every time I talk about moving and has continually tried to sabotage the move.
posted by jessamyn at 9:08 AM on May 17, 2012

As much as I think setting boundaries with your mom is super important, and her behavior is totally unreasonable, I would seriously consider not reacting in such a way as to make yourself seem unreasonable.

A lot of how people react to what you have so say depends on how you present yourself and the issue to them. If you take this to your boyfriend, who you love and who loves you, as a deep dark secret that you can barely believe he can forgive then its going to make it a much more seriously thing than it needs to be.

You need to work on acting calm and reasonable in the face of someone who is otherwise not. For example if she tries to talk about it say "Ew Mom you know that's really inappropriate, did you want to bake those cookies now?" type of thing. Otherwise you feed into her drama and give her the attention she is seeking.

I would also bet money that if you present this in a way to your boyfriend that makes it out to be something you can handle he might even find it funny.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:13 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

First off, this is not a secret you are keeping. Don't keep this a secret. You are giving this way too much power over you. Your mom is responsible for her relationships. However, I can totally understand why this is making you nuts but you need to step way back from it. She is not you and you are not her. If she wants to push people away with her crazy that is her choice.

I think you need to open way up about this because that is a more healthy way to deal with family drama. Families are weird little entities and secrecy is one of the weird things that can become insidious in a family. Don't do it. Tell your boyfriend that you are mortified. Laugh about it. It's kind of funny if it's not your mom, right? Let your boyfriend communicate with his brother about this if he wants. And do tell your mom, gently, that you don't think it's a good idea.
posted by amanda at 9:22 AM on May 17, 2012

You did not ask for this information or to be a part of a secret. If your mother didn't want your boyfriend to know about her drama, she should not have shared this drama with his significant other. Don't let her take away your support system! Tell your boyfriend what's going on, and continue to maintain your boundaries with your mother.
posted by freshwater at 9:26 AM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Oh, boyfriend, my mom has just done another thing that has really embarrassed me, and I hope it won't seem too odd to your family. She asked your brother out on a date*. Yes, I know, it's weird that she has no sense of boundaries. Anyway, I hope this won't be too uncomfortable for anyone; Mom has a lot of issues, as you know, but {she means well/she's harmless/she has a good heart/we don't have to see her often/whatever the most positive aspect of this is}."

*I don't know if that's what she did, but I would encourage you to be general and as benign as possible about what she actually did when opening the conversation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:31 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

The best known treatment for borderline is dialectical behavior therapy. happily, DBT is very effective for survivors of trauma!

If you can find her a therapist who specializes in dbt, clue them in to what you've noticed and get her in to fill out the MMPwhatever, they can find a way to treat her that helps her be better at setting and maintaining boundaries, etc.

As for keeping his a secret, I agree with everyone who says doing so will damage your relationship with the boyfriend. And if telling him damages the relationship then it wasn't so solid to begin with.

However, do not present this as a joke, or something you find even mildly humorous. Not yet, at least. I understand that a little chuckle about a difficult topic helps
break the ice. But seriously, don't joke about this yet, because it will set the tone for how the two of you discuss your mother.

Next, read some books about mother daughter relationships. I like

My Mother, Myself
Deborah Tannen's book "you're goig to wear that?"
And Motherless Daughters (and in some ways you have lost your mother, so approach I with an open heart of you can. Feel free to grieve the mother/daughter relationship that you don't have.)
posted by bilabial at 9:32 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your mom hasn't thrown a wrench in your relationship. You are not responsible for her actions, nor are you responsible for keeping her secrets for her. One thing I know about messed up mothers is that they can suck you into their drama almost instantly. I think you need to step back and look at this from a wider perspective and see how enmeshed you are getting in her little soap opera. You also should feel comfortable talking with your boyfriend about this. Step back and clear your head - you are NOT responsible for what your mother does!!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:37 AM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

OP, I totally hear you. I also have a mom who (while not BPD) is very secretive and neurotic and for YEARS would dump her issues on me and demand that I keep them secret. If I didn't, she'd call me and cry about how I'd humiliated and betrayed her.

You know what though? F that. It's not your job to be her crazy dumping ground and it DEFINITELY is not your job to sacrifice your relationships and mental health on the altar of her "secrets." (Which, you do realize, since she went ahead and emailed Brother, your BF is going to be hearing about it sooner or later - there is no secret to keep, only damage to control?)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:51 AM on May 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

She told you to keep it a secret that she's been sending affectionate e-mails to your boyfriend's brother? Doesn't matter what she wants or what she asks you to do, your boyfriend is going to find out, assuming he communicates with his brother. You might as well tell him yourself and work out a game plan. Should it come up later, you have plausible deniability.

Also, I don't think a secret is a sacred trust unless you really consent to keep someone's secrets -- that is, they first request your confidence, figure out what level of secrecy you're comfortable with, and _then_ tell you their secret. You can't just confide in people out of the blue and lay an obligation of secrecy on them. You might try to make this boundary a more well-defined one for your mother in the future -- you're allowed to be uncomfortable with serving as someone's confidant.
posted by jackbishop at 10:02 AM on May 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

The reason I haven't told him is because my mom is mortified about this and has asked me multiple times not to tell anyone.

Given that her behavior is abusive and affects you negatively, this is not something that she has a right to ask.

Think of this as physical abuse. If your mom was beating you up regularly (but mortified about it and asked you not to tell anyone) would that be OK? Would you keep it a secret? Because that's pretty much what she's doing emotionally. In fact what she's doing is even worse - she's sabotaging your prospects for long-term happiness.

Your problem is that you're playing by her rules. You need to make up a new set of rules - your rules - and enforce them. Here's a template for that.

"Mom, your bipolar disorder causes me a lot of stress and this latest crap where you have a schoolgirl crush on my boyfriend's brother is just ridiculous. I've told my boyfriend and her family about your disorder so that this latest weirdness doesn't destroy my relationship. I know you're ashamed of it but you should have thought about that before you started meddling in my relationships."

"Furthermore, I'm not spending any more time with you until you learn to control your emotions better. Nor are you welcome to any family gatherings with my boyfriend's family. I'll check back in with you in a month or two to see if you've learnt to act like a grown-up. If you can prove to me that you've learnt about impulse control, I'll start spending more time with you. Otherwise, I'll just check back in with you another month after that."

Remember, you have all the power in this relationship dynamic - you just have to use it.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:07 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

You're 25 years old, you're entitled to your own life and your own happiness and you're not responsible for your mother's condition. It's good that you're moving away from her and close to your boyfriend; don't let your mom make you feel guilty about it. It's good that you have a really positive romantic relationship; don't let your mom make it get all complicated. You don't owe her absolute fealty here, and that includes not letting her burden you with unwanted secrets. You can talk to your boyfriend about whatever you choose. If it's necessary to keep things going okay with your mom then don't tell her you're talking about it. In my opinion, you need to keep your personal life and your relationship with your boyfriend open and honest, and your relationship with your mom compartmentalized and, perhaps, smoothed over with a white lie every now and then. Your mom is trying to make it the other way around, and that is not good for you.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:14 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The reason I haven't told him is because my mom is mortified about this and has asked me multiple times not to tell anyone.

You don't have to say "yes" to everything she asks you to do, you know. That might sound simplistic, but it took me until my mid-30s before I realized I didn't have to say "yes" to everything my father asked me to do.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:16 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

As others have said, if she has sent a crushy email to your boyfriend's brother, the cat is out of the bag as far as secrecy goes. Her demands that you not tell your boyfriend are a power play over you and nothing else. I suspect that your upcoming move is playing a very large part in this, the drama may likely escalate before it calms down, so you really ought to clue your boyfriend in to what is going on so that you can both batten down the hatches.
posted by ambrosia at 10:17 AM on May 17, 2012 [8 favorites]

"Mom, I do not keep secrets from my significant other. Anything you tell me, I will confide to 'Brian' because he is my partner, and partners do not keep secrets from one another. If you don't want Brian to know about something, then don't tell me. Oh, and his brother has probably told him about your emails anyway." Then tell your boyfriend. He's on your side - that's what "partners" means.

If she bawws and boo-hoos, then say, "Mom, I don't want to talk about it and if you persist I will hang up." If that means not speaking to her for a time, then do it.

Use this move - getting away from her and closer to your BF - to distance yourself from her. It sounds like you don't need that crazy in your life. You have your own life, and your mother is the only one responsible for hers. If she won't get help - well, that's just too bad, and you're not obliged to rescue her or buy into her drama. And yes, this will probably get worse before it gets better because you are moving and (rightfully) detaching from her. Do be prepared for an extinction burst when she ratchets her drama way up because you've set your boundaries, you and your BF are a united front, and she doesn't have the hold over you that she did.

Good luck!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:21 AM on May 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

This is something your mother and your boyfriend's brother need to sort out for themselves.

If she's meddling in your life in this way, then insisting you keep her craziness a secret isn't reasonable. Disregard her wishes.

You should also tell the brother that whatever he decides is okay, and won't affect you. Your feelings will not be hurt when he tells her "Aw, HELL no!" for instance. It will not cause you to hate him and you won't drag your boyfriend into some sort of middleman role. If I were him, I'd be worried about causing my brother problems with his new awesome girlfriend. Relieve him of that worry.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:29 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The reason I haven't told him is because my mom is mortified about this and has asked me multiple times not to tell anyone.

So then, you are a co-dependent enabler of your mother's behavior.
For you to deal with this - you need to recognize the truth not only about her, but also about your relationship with her.

Only a co-dependent enabler would take this type of poisonous secret seriously.
posted by Flood at 1:39 PM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

It seems that several things might be true at the same time, here. Your mother might well be trying to sabotage your relationship, might be jealous of you, might have BPD, might be manipulating you to enable her to continue this drama AND she can also be a 50-something women with out of whack hormones who is shocked and distressed at finding herself with a huge and totally inappropriate crush on a much younger man who is also your boyfriend's brother.

You can feel some sympathy for her distress but you absolutely must not let her cross your boundaries. Part of that is being sure you do not agree to keep her secret. It will be difficult to talk to your boyfriend about this with the courage and matter-of-fact acceptance of her illness that is going to be required of you from now on. Unless your mother takes responsibility and goes back into therapy, she will act out and impose unnecessary hardships on you in the future to the extent you will allow it. It is very hard to love someone with a disorder of this kind and still not be taken advantage of. It shouldn't have to be but it is your responsibility to craft your strategy for dealing with her.

Take the opportunity to practice 1) accepting her illness and the need to simply inform persons who are or might be affected by it that you know about this and will keep your boundaries and (or, in order to be able to) still love your mother, and 2) speaking very strongly to your mother about getting help with the difficulties her emotions are causing in her life right now; tell her it's allowed to need help for a difficulty in life without admitting you have some pre-determined species of mental disorder. It is sad at 25 (or at any age) to have to be the adult to your childish parent, but it doesn't have to be a disaster or ruin your relationships.

Secrets are seldom a good idea. A little discretion, on the other hand, is good. Asking you to keep secrets so someone else can be indiscreet is just wrong, even if she is your mother!
posted by Anitanola at 3:50 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm going to be blunt, likely harsh. I feel for you deeply, because I had your mom, too.

If you want to have nice things in life, you need to keep your mother far far away from them.

For now, do not introduce your mom to people, communities, or institutions you enjoy or wish to be involved with. That means you can't talk about these people or places with her, either.

Be strong. Yes, talk to your BF about this.

In the future, be mindful and resist the temptation to pretend that your mom is well and sane. It's not reality. Don't be ashamed, and stop hiding her condition. When your mom is involved with anything concerning you, innocent people get hurt, your mom hurts herself, and you get hurt, too. You MUST manage how your mom interacts with your life strictly from now on.

For example, it's likely your BF's brother is pretty freaked out by your mom and finds himself in an awkward and unpleasant position right now. I'm going to be as gentle as I can, but I must tell you, it was absolutely unfair of you to introduce your BF's family to your mom without cluing them in on her illness. Ideally, you should never have attended events jointly with them, and any meeting between families should have been pleasant and brief, only.

I'm not sure I'm communicating well here. Sorry if I sound a bit blame-y. It's just - damn girl! You KNOW what your mom is like. Stop giving her opportunities to hurt herself, others, or you. Truly, I plead with you to understand that it is not helpful or kind to allow her free access to people and things which her illness will demand that she destroys.

Do y'know what I mean? I don't know what it is about BPD, but that disease is incapable of allowing Nice and Good Things to exist in its presence.

- This latest incident is water under the bridge. Talk to your BF. Find out if the brother has contacted your BF about this. If so, let the brother know he's free to ignore your mom's overtures, and in fact, that might be his wisest choice considering her illness.

From now on, look always to avoid or mitigate potential damage. You and everything you care about are irresistible targets of your mother's illness. Irresistible. Proceed accordingly.
posted by jbenben at 6:25 PM on May 17, 2012 [8 favorites]

Dixiecupdrinking said all the nice stuff I wanted to say to you, but didn't, because I'm so damn concerned for your future.

Yes. Master the Art of White Lies. That technique will serve you well.

I hope your mom gets help some day. I'm sorry you are all going through this. It's super tough. I'm sorry.

Please don't forget what I said about keeping your mom from opportunities to harm herself or others. It's an honorable code to live by.

posted by jbenben at 6:37 PM on May 17, 2012

Whomever mentioned upthread that she is trying to entangle you in her drama is 100% correct. My mother is a borderline and bipolar, and from personal experience I offer the following:

Entanglement is absolutely what she is looking for - she means to bring the drama to your boyfriend's family because she sees them as a completely fresh, new set of people to manipulate that have NO IDEA what sort of chaos they are about to experience. To a borderline, unsuspecting people caught completely broadside by a big ol' train wreck of drama is like the strongest booze to an alcoholic. Borderlines are attracted to unsuspecting people because between the pathological charm and the element of surprise, they are able to exploit just about anyone but the professionally trained.

Consider also that she may be demonstrating her need to compete with you on the "boyfriend" issue. If you have something she wants, perceives her hold over you is reducing or you are getting more attention than she is from others, she will (as someone else said upthread) attempt to sabotage you or your relationship with these people in some permanent way.

I wont go into the details of what sort of inappropriate crap my own mother got up to when I was younger - suffice it to say that I feel your pain and the advice to ignore and divert is just about the best you can do.

Best of luck to you and Be Well. :)
posted by Cookbooks and Chaos at 9:16 PM on May 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

Or what jbenben said.
posted by Cookbooks and Chaos at 9:16 PM on May 17, 2012

I think you want to have a relationship with your Mom. To do that, you have to develop really good boundaries. Don't get her involved in things early on. Don't tell her everything. Above all, don't participate in crazy.

Tell your sweetie that you believe your mother has untreated bipolar disease. She's emotionally volatile, and has poor boundaries, but you love her and want to maintain the healthiest possible relationship with her. Is there any chance Brother might reciprocate? Ask BF. Ya never know. You don't have to 'out' her, you can just say to Brother, "Hey, my Mom said she emailed you." If it seemed weird, inappropriate to him, etc., you'll know.

She has developed a crush on someone who has zero interest, and who may feel uncomfortable, if not now, certainly if she persists. Tell her the truth. Brother does not have any interest in a romantic relationship. And, she's interfering in your relationship with BF and his family in a way that distresses you. Tell her to stop it.

When she overshares, tell her "Mom, that's really too much intimate detail." If she persists, get off the phone/leave the room/house, etc.
When she asks you to keep secrets you don't want to know, "Mom, I didn't want to hear it, and I don't want any part of this."
Keep a list of topics to distract her, "Mom, I don't want any part of your crush on Brother. Hey, did I tell you about the giant cow sign the market just put up?"
Be a good friend to her. Help her find healthy ways to get what she wants. "Mom, I think you'd really like meeting people on" or "Mom, I think you might get a lot out of seeing a therapist."
Bipolar disease is an illness, not a choice. Continue to be compassionate, but start enforcing boundaries to protect yourself.

My Mom was likely bipolar, and used alcohol to medicate. It took a long time for us to have a relationship that wasn't horribly unhealthy. It took me moving 1000 miles away, and not having a phone for a year. It wasn't the mother-daughter relationship I wanted, but it was reasonably healthy, and the best relationship possible.
posted by theora55 at 7:36 AM on May 19, 2012

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