Am I dating a Peter Pan?
November 24, 2012 5:50 AM   Subscribe

Holidays always seem to bring relationship issues to the surface. My 46 year old boyfriend of five months isn't ready to cut the apron strings from his family - should I stick around and hope this changes or learn to accept it or move on? How do you accept something so annoying? Snowflake details inside.

I'm dating a 46 year old man (I'm 37) who has never been married and very close to his family. We live in the same neighborhood, and are pretty much inseparable and have been that way from the beginning - we've been together for 5 going on 6 months now. We have the same group of friends, participate in the same activities (a lot of running, hiking, etc.) and generally really enjoy eachother's company. But here's the catch - he's so close to his family that he was really reluctant to bring me home - but he did last month. He comes from a very conservative family, he's the only boy, and his sister lives with her family in the same small town. He's I guess what you'd call a moma's boy and he has a father that I believe asks a lot of annoying questions so he tries to share as little as possible. When we take trips together, he cannot tell his mother that we've traveled together for fear that she'll realize that we've actually spent the night together. In reality we spend like almost every other night of every week together. They're the Billy Graham watching, fundamentalist type (no offense to those who are and I'd love your perspective as well) When I went home with him, I discovered his family, esp the dad knew almost nothing about me, in fact he said he only found out that i existed the day before I arrived. My BF became like a different person that weekend we went "home" to his parents. He was not at all affectionate, became distant and while he was in no way unkind or disrespectful, did nothing to indicate we were a couple. When his sister went to take a picture, he did not put his arm around me or even touch me. At one point when we were getting ready to go to church with his parents and his parents were in the car, he held my hand but as soon as we rounded the corner towards the car he pulled his hand away - he could not let his parents see him hold my hand. I pretty much lost it then and when his parents were out of earshot let him know I didn't appreciate that. I think he understood where I was coming from - but the issue still remains. I feel like he's a child, and not ready to be a grown adult and this annoys the living crap out of me. I've been ready to be in an adult relationship since I turned 18 it seems. He seems like Peter Pan a lot of the time and I just can't figure out if this is something he'll grow out of or it will never change.

The holidays roll around - he expresses no interest at all in spending them together as a couple. Over the course of these months, he's indicated to me he wants to get married (although he said he had never wanted to get married until he was about late 30s) and that he wants children. I do too. Is it too much to expect that we spend the holidays as a couple? Is it too soon? Are his mommy issues/closeness to his family always going to be in the way? Should I break up with him, and go back to being single trying to find a man who has no problems showing his family that he is in a relationship and is a fully grown adult?

I do love him and he has told me he loves me too - the other night he said he loved me soo much, and I just can't reciprocate the "soo much" part, his family/mommy issues really get to me. Have you been in this situation and have you overcome them? Are these deal breakers? I really don't want to make a big stink out of them and then have him take me home for christmas begrudgingly (I'll also mention that his parents house is very small and cramped and uncomfortable which is another reason he may not be eager to take me home), or spend christmas away from his family with mine begrudgingly. He does spend more time with my family which is local.

My last relationship question - is finding a compromise always a good thing? If one person always has to give up something in a situation, is that really a solution to a problem? Meaning, if he comes to christmas with me but spends the day sad about missing his family, is it really worth it - does this mean we just can't spend the holidays as a couple? Or if this is just a bad fit should I stop trying to make it work and move on?

Mefites, your advice and insight is always so helpful. Thanks.
posted by BlueMartini7 to Human Relations (43 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
At forty-six this has everything to do with him and nothing to do with his family anymore. He isn't going to cut the strings because he doesn't want to. And he will never want to.

I say let him go gently and look for someone who isn't psychically Velcro'ed to his families brains.
posted by tsaraczar at 6:02 AM on November 24, 2012 [21 favorites]

Holidays are a terrible time to deal with family issues. It's a time of stress for everybody. On top of all this, there is the concept of "enmeshment", which is pretty common - getting trapped in repetitious, emotionally regressive cycles.

Oftentimes, people regress and travel back to an earlier emotional time the longer they spend with family, such as during holidays.

So there's that.

However, your boyfriend is pretty old now, at 46, and the enmeshment he experiences with his mother (and perhaps his father) is never going to change, at least not in 5 or 6 months. Decoupling from them is going to take years, and it makes sense - since he hasn't been married, and presumably hasn't had many successful long-term relationships, the closest emotional bond he has, out of necessity, will be with his parents.

So you can either be patient, and wait out a full cycle of 12 months (life changes, such as a new baby, getting married, or adjusting a death take a year to process) to see if your life together changes his relationship with his parents, or you can jump ship now.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:04 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

You should be talking with him about these issues a lot more than you evidently are. He's the one who can shed light on why he's acting this way and whether/when/how/under what circumstances it might change. You're obviously irritated, but this isn't the time to open up a can of whoop-ass. If you can't listen to understand what's going on for him, and respect him for who he is now, then it's probably not a good match.
posted by jon1270 at 6:06 AM on November 24, 2012

You're 37. If you want to give birth to biological children, you are up against a short deadline.

Honestly, I would end things with this dude just because of the disrespect of him having holidays with his parents to which you are not invited, but that's me.

This man isn't ready to be a father, because he's still so invested in being his parents' child. Do you feel like you have the time to wait for that to change?

I would also suggest, quite coldheartedly, that if you did hang in there and he did, over the course of a few years, get it together and decide to have children with you, that you'd be facing the double whammy of advanced maternal age AND advanced paternal age--the latter of which wouldn't be a factor with a guy your age or younger.<
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:06 AM on November 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

He gets weird around his family. His family's values aren't his, I'm assuming? He isn't the Christian fundamentalist type, I mean. It sounds like this visit was the only time his family really effected you, and it sounds more like he knows they are off. The not mentioning you being on vacation -could that be him trying to protect you from being judged by them, rather than being ashamed?

I think you need to sit and have a long discussion about how this past holiday went down -how the picture, the hand holding, the everything made you feel, and he has to engage in this discussion. He can't do the hangdog "oh, I'm sorry" Eeyore act. I don't think this is completely doomed by a long shot, you both just need to talk it out.
posted by kellyblah at 6:09 AM on November 24, 2012 [10 favorites]

He seems like Peter Pan a lot of the time and I just can't figure out if this is something he'll grow out of or it will never change.

When I think "Peter Pan", I think of someone who lives very close to his family, talks to his mother on the phone every day, insists on always having dinner on Sunday at his parents house, and in a worst-case scenario still brings over his laundry for mom to do it and brings home leftovers with him to serve as his meals for the week.

Now as far as I can tell, this guy just doesn't talk to his parents about you and doesn't display physical affection in front of his parents.

I'm not saying you shouldn't be careful and shouldn't be looking out for yourself-- make sure this guy is serious (not just mouthing words about how he wants to marry you and have children), but he actually seems like a guy who has made an effort to separate himself from his parents and create his own life, and part of that includes not having his parents participate in the details of his love life.
posted by deanc at 6:17 AM on November 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

Wow, this is a tough situation. My husband is also a Mama's Boy. And now I have Grandma and Grandpa's Preshus Angel and Only Reason for Living as well (their only grandchild). There were warning signs of all of this in the beginning, but I didn't recognize them, and by the time I did, I was so in love I figured I could deal with anything.

It's not gotten any better after almost 25 years together. Other areas of our life are fine and sometimes even great, and make it worth putting up with his family crap. And despite his weird family (not only is he a Mama's Boy, he's an Only Child), he's a pretty good dad, and a good person.

If there are other areas of your relationship that make this crappy area worth dealing with, go for it.

And that kind of leads me into my advice on your other question: "If one person always has to give up something in a situation, is that really a solution to a problem?"

It's as much a solution to a problem as any other. It just depends on the couple. There's no right way to resolve differences. The way my folks solved differences between them (always defer to dad so as not to make him mad) would not work for me and my husband now (because we have a different kind of relationship than my parents did.)

Look at compromise not so much as always finding a middle ground on each individual situation, but overall, in the context of the whole relationship. You compromise on something that's important to him, and he compromises on the next thing that's important to you. Compromise can be just trading off on who "wins", as much as it can be about finding some tolerable middle ground that doesn't really please anybody.

But internet people cannot tell you if you should stay or you should go. You know the answer in your heart already, I suspect. Listen to yourself.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:28 AM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

You say he's "super close" to his internets, and yet, they don't know anything about you, the woman he spends a ton of time with, or any of the stuff you all do together. So "close" probably isn't the word to describe them. Can you talk with him about how being around his family makes you feel? I'm hesitant to use the word "ultimatum", but you definitely need to convey that you are looking for a serious relationship, with marriage & children, and you're not going to let him drag his feet because he's scared of what his family might think. If anything, you'd think getting married would solve some of his problems- no more hiding vacations and PDA when you're his wife!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:39 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

How is he when you are in your own town/environment? Does he treat you the way you want to be treated then? Also, how was his family with each other - were they affectionate toward each other in that way? Because I actually don't see much wrong here. Some people (myself included) just aren't openly affectionate people, either around their family or in general. Just thinking about it is making me a little squirmy! Talk to him about your feelings and see if he's willing to change - that's what is important, his willingness to compromise and adapt to your relationship.

Also I might be in the minority here but five months isn't all that long - if it were me, I would not expect to be spending the holidays together. I would arrange for something fun/romantic/sweet/whathaveyou for New Year's Eve.
posted by lyssabee at 6:42 AM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

This drives me nuts in a person too, and I say that as someone who has (successfully) navigated coming out as an atheist and co-habitater to his Billy Graham-loving parents. If he's 46, he's pretty much established a pattern of behavior, so I'd assume you're in it for the long haul as far as his family goes. Only you can decide if he's worth it, but I tell ya, the difference between having a family-in-law that's a pain in the ass (been there) and one that's really cool (which I have now) is night and day, and very relevant to your personal happiness.
posted by Rykey at 6:45 AM on November 24, 2012

This sounds much less like "man-child" or "Mama's Boy" and a lot more like "guy who enjoys sleeping with and hanging out with you but doesn't want to marry you." Whether that's because he fears his family not approving of you or whether he just doesn't want to marry you generally, I don't see an end in sight. He's not what you're looking for, and he won't be any time soon.
posted by Etrigan at 6:48 AM on November 24, 2012 [17 favorites]

Look at all the questions that are about real serious issues they women have with their SO (abuse, lack of love, cheating, fear of commitment, hateful in-laws, etc. etc.).

Your issue is relatively minor - pales in comparison to those issues.

He loves you, you have a great time, he lives close by, good sex life, common social activities, he's older - All plus points that offer enjoyment of partnership.

Many, many individuals have family related issues - far from guaranteed that a future BF will be free from a negative family dynamic (but more likely he will not have the other plus points you currently have in him).
posted by Kruger5 at 6:53 AM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seconding Etrigan. I don't think this is about his family. I think it's about how he feels about you. This may change as your relationship grows, or it may not.
posted by 3491again at 6:54 AM on November 24, 2012

It's not about his family. It's him.
posted by discopolo at 7:06 AM on November 24, 2012

I feel like degree to which you are "close" to people in your life has to mirror the extent to which you can be yourself with them (shared values or at least loving acceptance of your real lifestyle).

I wouldn't take it as an automatic red flag if he simply didn't want to introduce you to his family yet at 5 months because they weren't so accepting of his dating lifestyle. But in that case, I would expect him to have cultivated some circle of friends who were on the same page as him, and hopefully he'd be incorporating you into that life.

If at 47 his bio-family is #1 in his life, but he's keeping secrets (the reality of your relationship) from them, he would seem to be lacking a sense of agency and/or social skills.
posted by ecsh at 7:26 AM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

At age 46, a person is pretty well set in his ways, and is extremely unlikely to change --- he'll always be a mama's boy, he'll always treat you (or any other signifigant other) this way.

I find it a major red flag that after half a year together, including various trips, he hasn't told his family about you, or even that he is actually dating someone: not that you're sleeping together or go on those trips together, just merely THAT YOU EXIST..... because fundamentalist Christian or not, it's reasonable to expect a healthy 46-year-old man has a social life, and has dated actual live women. (After all, how else would there BE any fundamentalist religious types if no one ever touched?!?) So denying your existance says to me that either he has extra hidden problems you haven't yet seen, or his family does, and either one would be a dealbreaker for me.

And finally, children. As a guess, and as an absolute minimum, I'd have to say there is zero chance of children in the next two years: certainly not before marriage, so give it AT LEAST a year minimum until he'd get around to that (but in reality, probably much longer), plus a minimum of another year after that marriage until a child is born (but again, probably much longer). So AT BEST you would be 39-40, and he would be 48-49..... advanced maternal age drastically drops the mere possibility of pregnancy, plus drastically increases the possibility of birth defects. Advanced paternal age is connected to the increased likelihood of autism spectrum disorders. And frankly, this dude doesn't sound like good 'daddy' material.
posted by easily confused at 7:35 AM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The holidays roll around - he expresses no interest at all in spending them together as a couple.

Are you saying you suggested spending time together over the holidays and he said "no I'm spending them with my parents without you"? Or are you saying he just hasn't mentioned it. Because absent you speaking up about what you want, you can't expect him to know what you want.

Over the course of these months, he's indicated to me he wants to get married (although he said he had never wanted to get married until he was about late 30s) and that he wants children. I do too.

5-6 months isn't that long, and the fact that you want to get married and have children may be tweaking your sense of time. Has he said he wants to marry you? Do you want to marry him? Because it sounds from what you've written that you just, in general, want to be married at some point. You don't sound over the moon about this guy.

Is it too much to expect that we spend the holidays as a couple? Is it too soon?

You need to have a straightforward discussion with your boyfriend about what you want and what he wants. Until then, you are guessing and expecting him to guess.

Are his mommy issues/closeness to his family always going to be in the way? Should I break up with him, and go back to being single trying to find a man who has no problems showing his family that he is in a relationship and is a fully grown adult?

Ouch, that sounds really harsh. He's 46 and been with you less than half a year. That's a really short time! And he brought you to meet his parents last month (so 4 months in, pretty normal). And he respected their conservative values in their home by not being physical with his new girlfriend. And now you're navigating the first holiday season in a still-new relationship with someone who's old enough to have a lot of longstanding family traditions.

These just don't sound like mommy issues between your boyfriend and his mother. They sound more like communication issues between you and your boyfriend.
posted by headnsouth at 7:38 AM on November 24, 2012 [38 favorites]

Okay: I've been in this situation. So many similarities it's eerie, actually. He was in his forties, only male child, small town, really close-knit, conservative family, significant age difference between the two of us.

In my case, I gradually -- much too gradually -- realised that, presented with any conflict between our relationship and his relationship with his family, the guy would always choose his family. They had been his priority for virtually his entire life; he was in his early forties at the time, and his value system was set. It was not going to change just because he loved me sooo much. And I finally decided that I was unwilling to compromise my own values in order to honor his intense devotion to his family, and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life two doors down from his parents in his small, depressed Midwestern town.

I wasted way too much time with this guy. He was essentially a good person and mostly a good partner while we were together, but you can't change a person's core values. So many women, I find, compromise under the assumption that their partner will change over time. Seriously: don't bet on that.

This is a big deal and it won't go away. If you want to be generous, have a straightforward talk with him about it, and if that talk goes well, give it a little time and see if he follows up with some concrete actions. If the talk doesn't go well, or if you don't see a major shift in his behaviour right away, it's time to move on.
posted by Spinneret at 7:47 AM on November 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I would end things with this dude just because of the disrespect of him having holidays with his parents to which you are not invited

These people have been dating for five months. He just introduced her to them last month. They do not live together and are barely an established couple in the wider social context. Plenty of people are together for years and/or are married and still do not spend Christmas together. In addition, it's not like he's hosting the holiday at his house and not inviting her; the holiday is at a different family member's and it is down to them to invite or not invite her. For a lot of families, holidays are intimate family things and you don't score an invite until you are engaged at the earliest - they just don't want to share the time with transitory romantic interests.

If he's 46 his parents are likely 65 or 75 or older they may be very entrenched in their way of doing and seeing things. There may also be perfectly legit reasons why he protects his personal information from his parents, like Crazy Judging Dad or Crazy Prying Mom. Additionally, he may not want to deal with their conservative viewpoints about his personal life. (My grandparents equated holding hands in public with having sex on the lawn, for example.)

I feel like he's a child, and not ready to be a grown adult... He seems like Peter Pan a lot of the time

OP, is this just in relation to his family, or is this a bigger issue?

If you're ready to bail I'd just put your cards on the table and ask him: "If we got married and had our own family, would you be prepared to make that your priority and do the whole swapping-visits holidays thing and having our own at-home traditions?"

I have no idea if this guy is Peter Pan or if you're just being unrealistic in your expectations or both or whatever, but the replies in this thread seem super-harsh to me because I don't think anyone else can know either.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:49 AM on November 24, 2012 [25 favorites]

I find it a major red flag that after half a year together, including various trips, he hasn't told his family about you, or even that he is actually dating someone: not that you're sleeping together or go on those trips together, just merely THAT YOU EXIST..... because fundamentalist Christian or not, it's reasonable to expect a healthy 46-year-old man has a social life, and has dated actual live women. (After all, how else would there BE any fundamentalist religious types if no one ever touched?!?) So denying your existance says to me that either he has extra hidden problems you haven't yet seen, or his family does, and either one would be a dealbreaker for me.

This is what sticks out for me, as well. It's one thing to not spend the holidays together when you've only been dating for a few months, but it's another thing for his family not to know he's dating someone at all, and that you basically don't exist to them, even as "I'm going to have coffee with my friend, BlueMartini7."

If your BF can't even tell his parents that he has platonic friends (even if you're not really platonic!) of the opposite sex, one of two things is going on:

1) 3491again is right and he considers you a casual fling. Is this what you want?

2) He still acts like a child around his parents even at his age. Lying and sneaking around are things kids do when they don't want to be Found Out And Punished. Do his parents treat him like a child? Use gifts of money with strings attached to manipulate him (this is surprisingly common!). Do they have any respect for him as an adult? If this is true, will he ever be able to be an adult in your relationship? Will he be able to put your couple relationship first? If you have kids, will he allow his parents to be authority figures and have input into how you raise your child?

These are two scenarios to consider, and neither of them sound particularly palatable to me, but YMMV.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:57 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

This isn't a great situation for a whole lot of reasons, but you seem really determined to make this about you, up to and including pitching a fit because your boyfriend won't engage in intimate displays with you in his parents' home. You actually scolded him for respecting his parents wishes (or what he thinks are his parents' wishes) over yours?

This is not a "mama's boy" issue, in the classic sense. This is a dude who's got difficult family and has chosen to wall them off to avoid their bullshit. He does seem to be pretty cowed by them, and that's not going to stop, so if you want to be with him you are going to have to accept him as he is and his family as they are and the relationship that they have as the relationship they are always going to have.

I come from a family who is meddlesome and drama-mongering and just not worth the argument. I tell them nothing until the last possible moment. I do not seek their counsel because it is crap. These are the people who wouldn't let my fiance and I (we were both in our early 30s at the time, and lived together) sleep in the same room when we went to visit before we got married, even though they are not religious and I basically went without sleep for three days because I got stuck sleeping somewhere miserably uncomfortable.

These sort of families don't tend to produce the most relationship-healthy people; I certainly had to do some work in my life - and it doesn't sound like your boyfriend has done any of that work. So you do need to think about whether you want to deal with all that. I think you can break up with him and go be with someone more backboney without calling him horrible names; it's just not a good fit. You run the risk here of becoming his next mother, which is probably reason enough to sit down and have a hard think about what you want in your life.

You talk about "finding compromise" but it seems like what you really want is for him and his family to be something other than they are. That's not compromise.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:14 AM on November 24, 2012 [10 favorites]

We have a friend like this. For twenty years, he's periodically come over to talk about how much he wants to be married and looking for advice about how to "unhook" from his family. TWENTY YEARS. We tell him the same thing each time - go to university (he works in the family business), make a separate life (he lives in their basement), start to date (never been out on an official "date"), but he never does. I think he's afraid of the risk. He'd have to risk "upsetting" his family with any of those activities. So while he "hates" being bound to his parents, he's slowly becoming them. As nice as he may be, I don't think the odds are good here. I'd keep looking.
posted by summerstorm at 8:19 AM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am not religious nor traditional, but I come from a family (both immediate and extended) that is very much these things. So, strictly based on what you've said here, I would assume that this family isn't going to be welcoming towards you until you and your boyfriend (their son and brother) have spent much longer than five months together, are married, or at the very least engaged.

So, until then yes it's too much to expect to spend the holidays alone (as in just the two of you). It would even be surprising if you two spent holidays alone after getting married. His family will always be there and choosing to pursue this relationship further means that you are going to be committing to the family as well. You may not like them. They may not like you. But, you'll both have to deal with each other one way or another, assuming that you choose to remain in this relationship for more time. In terms of breaking up with him or not--that really depends on whether or not you can handle the family's expectations. I think more time and open communication are required in order to truly figure that out.

I have not been in this situation, but my mother and father have dealt with this over the years. To give a bit of humourous context, my dad has many sisters and we jokingly call some of them the sister-mafia just because of how close they are and the lengths they are willing to go to for their family. Yet, there's a lot of baggage with that family (just like most families), my mother's had to deal with a lot of things over the years like family gossip, two-faced comments, people taking advantage of her, and a whole lot more, but, with time she has realized so much about the people on my dad's side of the family so she knows what to expect, which people she should avoid, and which people to cultivate relationships with. My parents are still together despite many negative things that have occurred over thirty something years.

One thing I've learned is that couples need to make constant compromises both big and small. In order for these compromises to feel successful, both you and your SO need to feel like you've gotten something out of the negotiation/renegotiation. It's important for both you and your SO to vocalize your needs. Sharing similar values can make compromises easier as well. You need to balance these compromises so that both you and your SO are satisfied with the renegotiation/negotiation. If it's always one person giving up something then that person needs to once again, vocalize their needs (after all, the other person isn't a mind reader!) and not cave in each time. You would say "sorry, that doesn't work for me and I think we need to come up with something that works for both of us" instead. Otherwise, consistently feeling like you've lost something after a negotiation will lead to unhealthy relationship dynamics and a power imbalance which will contribute to further conflict.
posted by livinglearning at 8:26 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think this honestly sounds like a problem. His parents are probably just uncomfortable with displays of affection and/or the idea that you two are sleeping together without being married. Whatever it is, is this something you're prepared to deal with long term if it never changes? If it's not, move on from him. But make sure you talk to him first - it doesn't sound like he's planning to exclude you from family holidays and things of that sort. Maybe he noticed you were uncomfortable when you met them and he doesn't think you'd want to go. Express to him what you want, see how he responds and proceed from there.
posted by Autumn at 8:39 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I'm understanding it all correctly, I wouldn't necessarily jump to the worst conclusions at this point. Maybe he doesn't want to expose himself and you to some inevitable weirdness from his family yet. Maybe he's taking that slow because he doesn't want his family to get all in your business and scare you away. But he needs to be discussing this with you fairly soon if that is the case.

It seems from what I understand from the question that he doesn't live in the same town as his folks, so it's not like he's living with them, or nearly so because he's there so much, or that he has seemed overly dependent on them, but that these doubts were raised as a result of the trip. It sounds like he's been pretty happy spending tons of time with you and that the issues with his family, whatever they may be, haven't intruded on your day-to-day lives (in other words, you're not finding him frequently unavailable because he has to go do family stuff, or anything similar to that). Maybe he's scared about "crossing the streams" because he worries it will affect your relationship. Maybe he's afraid that once you come within the influence of his possibly weird family, the love bubble will burst – from your side – and he's delaying.

If you have serious doubts from this, and nagging feelings that something just isn't right, then it probably is a real red flag and you are totally on the right track, but if you have been very happy with him and feeling pretty secure and positive in all other ways before the awkward visit, I think it would be worthwhile to try to make very sure you're understanding the situation correctly. So you guys have to talk about it. You can bring it up, not in an angry way, but in a "I kind of need to understand this dynamic, because I'm confused and a little worried about what it might mean about how you feel about us" way... and then see if that conversation makes any sense or resolves some of those questions. If it were me, I don't think I'd do this just now, but wait until after Christmas when emotions and expectations are less on edge. New Year's is a great time for getting things on the table and clearing away confusion.
posted by taz at 8:46 AM on November 24, 2012

Is this the same man that you asked about previously, with the really dirty apartment and the problems finishing projects? If so, he's not right for you, as much as you like him. Two AskMe questions like this about the same person indicate that there is a wide gulf between you two that may not be able to be bridged, especially if he doesn't see it. Your partner should not "annoy the living crap out of [you]" for months on end with one issue. You either put the problem aside and tell yourself "This guy is a Peter Pan, and I will have to deal with that and all of the attendant issues," or you leave the relationship.

I think that you might want to find another man that is less of a Peter Pan and is more self-sufficient, or less tied to his family; someone that doesn't call you a princess when you ask about buying new towels; a guy who will be able to hold your hand when he's with his family and who wants to bring you to the holiday dinner with him. If that's something you need to get from your romantic relationships, you've seen that you won't get it with this guy. If it's a dealbreaker, it's a dealbreaker. Only you know, but it kind of sounds like it's a dealbreaker for you, based on this question and your last question about (I assume) this man.
posted by k8lin at 8:50 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

At six months the major differences in values shows up; so it is normal to have these fractures appear. And I think the big difference in values you are sensing is priorities. You feel he will prioritise his family of origin over any family he chooses to be with. The fact that he acted so different around his family certainly gave me pause; unless be rarely sees/communicates with his family the two "sides" of himself are going to keep butting up against each other. Do you feel he will be more like the person you know when the two of you are around his family or will he be more like the person he was around his family when he is with you? You discussed his lack of physical affection within their eyesight - did he change his behaviour?

You had an earlier question about him which brought up the different values you have. One of the commentators asked if you felt he was looking for you to be his mother. Sadly, there is a group of (older) men that are looking for a new mother to "fire" their birth mother rather, than attempt to be their authentic self and live their own values. I worry that he is putting you in a one-down position that any changes to himself or his values will be perceived by his family as coming at your instigation; he will then shift the blame for things his family disapproves of onto you while telling you to your face he is happy with the choices he has made.

As to your compromise question, were you being hyperbolic in describing a situation where he would choose to be with you and your family over the holidays but feeling sad? Because making a choice but then also making sure your partner is super aware of what a heavy burden the choice is (in effect, blaming the partner) is not healthy at all. It is actually something a child would do to his mother.
posted by saucysault at 8:53 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could you marry this guy and be happy with him just as he is now? You can't go into a marriage expecting him to change- at least change in ways that you want him to. You marry this dude and you're married to his family. You have children with this guy and they are going to be a part of your kids' lives. They're going to affect your life and a lot more than just on holidays.

If you can accept him as he is and love him, then stay. If you look at the prospect of years with him and the only way it's tolerable is if he fundamentally changes his personality and habits... that's your answer.
posted by lemniskate at 9:10 AM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

The issue here is your timeline.

You're 37 and want kids. This man is nowhere near ready to marry you, apparently. If he were, he would be moving in that direction, since it is the only direction which reconciles the desire to be with you with the desire to respect his parents' values. It would solve some problems for him. And to be fair, 5 months is a very accelerated timeline for discussing marriage. But you're 37; you don't have unlimited dithering time.

So IF you do want to marry this guy (realize that he will always be embedded with his family if you do; it has ramifications even when you are married, but it can be useful to have grandparents around when you have kids) then there are two conversations to have. 1st, why are you being cold to me around your parents? And if the reason is "because we're not married," then the 2nd question has to be "do you want to marry me? Because if not, this is a waste of precious time."
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:37 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a conservative Christian. He's acting that way around his family because he doesn't want to get into arguments with them. I assume they would only approve of a Christian girlfriend or at the very least he is leading them to believe he is not sleeping with you. Different types of folks have different boundaries around expressing personal affection, and if theirs are particularly strict (as in first kiss being at the wedding ceremony strict) well, there you have it.

What you need to determine is this: either his parents are batcrap crazy and he's trying not to set off any trip wires or he himself is too wimpy to stand up for himself around them. Might be a bit of a combo.

You need to talk to him and find out what is going on but I can tell you that if he is enmeshed with them at his age this probably will not go well. There's a reason he is single at his age and you may have just met them.

Full disclosure: my parents are in their seventies and I don't necessarily act totally around myself around them plus I am careful who I bring around them. They are not too nice to my husband, and it could be your friend is trying to protect you from similar static. My parents aren't practicing Christians, but the principles hold.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:45 AM on November 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

Etrigan's got it. He's not commited to you for the long haul, not yet anyways.
posted by windykites at 9:51 AM on November 24, 2012

Different families react differently when it comes to introducing newcomers. There are some families that treat "hi, this is my girlfriend" more casually, and there are some families who think that "inviting the girlfriend to spend the holidays with us" is really really serious, like "this is it, he's gonna propose to her" serious. It's possible that him not wanting to bring you along is more because he knows his mother will assume that you're joining the family for good right that minute, but he's not sure about that yet because it's only been five months, and it would just turn into a whole big thing.....

It's also possible that THIS is why he didn't bring you home sooner - especially since you say they're conservative and fundamentalist, and that he didn't tell them about you; maybe he knew that they were gonna be on his case about you and just didn't want to get into it.

In fact, it actually looks like he's been acting the opposite of enmeshed from them - it looks more like he's been keeping you from them because he wants to work out and enjoy his feelings about you with out THEM breathing down his neck about them. Maybe he loves you as much as he says he does, he just wants to enjoy that love on his own timetable rather than his family's timetable. He wants to work out his feelings about you on his own terms rather than wondering if they're Biblically sound or anything. That to me looks like someone trying to UN-mesh himself, rather than someone who is EN-meshed.

So in a sense, it looks to me like his not sharing the holidays with you yet (and you will note I said "yet", there) is not a case of "I am so in love with my family and you need to stay out," it sounds more like a case of "it's too late for me to get out of spending time with these nuts, at least I can spare you that though".

And yeah, it's only been five months. Let him go be with his family, text him occasional messages and make plans to catch up with him after so you can hear about all the crazy shit his sisters said or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't know many Christian evangelicals, but those I do know tend to have parents who want their children with people who are from "their community" or who are, at least, churchgoers. Therefore, children who rebel against this have to walk a delicate line when trying to bring someone into the fold. It can often be easier when the child is old like your bf. reason? By then, the parents are desperate for grandchildren and willing to make more concessions. However, one of my friend's parents still drilled her bf incessantly about whether he was willing to go to church once a week and raise their future kids in the faith. Oh and because my friend knew this would happen, she didn't introduce her bf until they were near engagement (had been dating for 3 years). She did it to protect him and not add pressure to the relationship.

This also reminds me of my friends who come from Asian families though. I have exactly zero friends from Asian families (where they were first generation American kids) who married outside of their culture and introduced their significant others before they were near engagement. Why? Because culturally, you don't bring people home unless you are serious about them. So, i had friends who were hiding boyfriends for 3-4 years before their parents even knew they exisited. Any previous sig others who didn't understand this were considered unfit by my friends because they would never understand or respect the culture they were marrying into.

So, I would consider what is motivating your boyfriend's actions here. I'm not saying you have to agree with them, but are there some cultural factors influencing what he's dong? Also, was this meeting of your parents actually a bigger deal than you may think because he's making a very bold statement to his conservative parents about how serious he is about you, even without the hand holding? Are you prepared to be respectful of his culture even if his actions would be disrespectful to you within your own culture?

I would be asking him to talk to you about why these events happened the way they did and whether there are other factors driving his behavior. Although seemingly disrespectful,I would consider whether this is a real sign of problems in your relationship or an opportunity for you to learn more about the family/culture you could be walking into if things get serious.

P.S. I don't think 5 months is that long to be in a relationship, so I don't find it strange that you aren't spending the holidays together, even in an average American relationship, but YMMV. Next year would be a different story though...
posted by superfille at 10:21 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

He has a weird way of acting around his family and bending his personality to fit-in, which is entirely consistent with being 46 and single, but entirely inconsistent with the possibility of suddenly finding marital happiness with you.

I married at 38. Our son is now 19 months. Just prior to meeting my wonderful husband, I had to dump the guy I had been pining for and waiting on. I could not have what I do today if I had waited on the impossible a moment longer or settled in any way.

You "best answered" the wrong points of view.

BTW, I dated more than a few men in this age range in my 30's before marrying my husband. All except ONE of them are still single today. And the one who got married? I think he very much wanted children, but also, I strongly suspected he was closeted. So of the eight long-term single and never married men I dated in their mid-40's, all are still alone and single except for the one guy I suspected was closeted for professional reasons (he is very successful in his field) yet also very much wanted children and was ready for children when I met him. And that guy DEF had mommy issues in spades, beyond any questions I had about his sexuality!!

It's not that the odds are against you, it's that the underlying reasons behind this guy's single hood are actively against you.

He's single because that's what he wants, for whatever reason. The fact that he shows little chatacter and self-respect by folding in the face of his family's group-think? Very bad. Especially without acknowledging or discussing his weirdo family situation with you beforehand? I'm sorry to let you know, but he's not hip to how square his own behavior is towards an intimate partner, something you wish to be with him, and that's very very bad for you at any age or stage of the relationship.

Walk away. This is not what you want if you want to be happily married with children in a stable family.

It IS out there, tho. Just not in this situation. Go find it!!
posted by jbenben at 10:26 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

You say you two are "pretty much inseparable," as if that's a good thing. It's not. The fundamental issue you're raising is that this guy isn't "separable," whether from you or from his family. It looks like he's only ever learned to live in a state of extreme emotional dependency. Do you want to sign up for that?
posted by Corvid at 12:44 PM on November 24, 2012

Agreeing with jbenben, the problem is that he didn't talk to you about it first. That is maybe a bigger problem than what happened at his house. Either he didn't realize his behavior was wacky, which is a problem because he is out of touch with reality. Or, he knew it was wacky and didn't choose to bring it up, which is a hugeee problem.

In the future, for a lifetime, being around someone who doesn't have the courage to bring up things that are relevant to you both? That is hell on wheels. That is exactly the sort of guy who is going to let your house go into foreclosure before you even have a conversation about it because he failed to mention it. The guy who will be so emotionally unfulfilled that he's getting close to cheating, without bothering to bring it up. "I am going to act weird at my parent's house and completely ignore you, because they are fundamentalist Christians," is completely relevant to your relationship and you. And you were surprised.

That sort of thing scares the bejesus out of me, how about you?
posted by kellybird at 2:05 PM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

"These people have been dating for five months"

Five months at 37 and 46 is serious. Maybe this is a difference between my social circles and those of other posters, but in my social circle, if two people of those ages didn't even discuss holiday plans as a couple after five months, that would be a sign that something not great was up with the relationship.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:38 PM on November 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Relationships are not measured on fear.

What you feel is what you said in your own words: you are "inseparable."

That's a pretty powerful testament. You know him better than I or any other poster here. One should not ruin a good thing by applying his family dynamic across the rest of his good points, which at the very least, would be wholly unfair to both you and him.
posted by Kruger5 at 2:51 PM on November 24, 2012

I've been "inseperable" in my 30's with men who were both older than me and never intended on marrying me.

The OP needs a convo with her man.

But ultimately, this is going no where based on his behavior with his family.

Problems, Problems, Problems.
posted by jbenben at 8:59 PM on November 24, 2012

I'd just like to point out that ultra-conservative, Billy Graham-type fans have no problem with hugging, holding hands, etc etc.

You had one bad weekend which raised lots of red flags. It could be a fluke, or it could be indicative of major road-blocks ahead. I would highly recommend talking to him about your not appreciating his lack of affection in front of his parents, since it may or may not be a sign of his not taking you as seriously as you would wish. Then wait to see how it goes during the next family visit.
posted by Neekee at 11:21 AM on November 25, 2012

I feel like he's a child, and not ready to be a grown adult and this annoys the living crap out of me. I've been ready to be in an adult relationship since I turned 18 it seems. He seems like Peter Pan a lot of the time and I just can't figure out if this is something he'll grow out of or it will never change.

I just wanted to comment to say that this is a common problem for many women with their boyfriends of all ages. It's classic "momma's boy" syndrome, and it's maddening. I've been through it once and it took years to get to a place where I could feel secure, and honestly, I still feel frustration about it, and the only way to force the situation to a crisis was basically me offering an ultimatum, which took a long time for me to recover from (new trust issues). He probably doesn't want to expose you to any "weirdness," but the fact that he hasn't managed to sort out his relationship to his parents to any degree of satisfaction (at least the degree where he is able to show rather chaste affection to a woman of his choosing in front of them) means he's really on some level incapable of individuating or standing up for himself. It would be annoying and cold if you only saw them once a year, but he's EXTREMELY close with them and you're going to have to put up with this all the time. It's normal to be close with one's parents; it's not normal to be close with them to the exclusion of a personal life. This is some really deep, difficult stuff, and you're probably not going to trust or respect him much by the time it's all sorted out.

I'd just like to point out that ultra-conservative, Billy Graham-type fans have no problem with hugging, holding hands, etc etc.

Exactly, this isn't about scandalizing his conservative, elderly parents, and it's NOT about him being uncommitted (though he probably is, to the extent that it's going to be a herculean effort for him to take the necessary steps toward marriage). He's emotionally immature when it comes to his family. Holding hands in front of parents is not a marriage proposal. He's unable to act in ways that signal he's an adult in front of his parents because their codependent relationship depends on him being an obedient, pre-sexual child.

Should I break up with him, and go back to being single trying to find a man who has no problems showing his family that he is in a relationship and is a fully grown adult?

Yes, probably. Find someone willing to commit and who you can respect because he isn't so compromised to his mommy (and daddy, I guess) issues.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:03 AM on November 26, 2012

Actually I think it's really important to carefully define the words "serious" or "committed." Chances are that in his head he's 100% in love and committed to you-- but he's also deeply involved with his parents (in potentially narcissistic, manipulative ways) and there's no way for these two relationships to coexist without great strife. Chances are he'll just coast until you give up on him. You'll think "well, he does really love me, he spends so much time with me and seems committed" but that doesn't translate into action, as I'm sure you know. Having no interest in sharing holidays is a huge red flag for 'not ready to start his own family' in my opinion. His family is Christian, they should know the Old Testament mandate: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."

To some extent it makes sense that without a history of serious relationships, his strongest emotional bond would be with his parents. It's still a bit strange-- people develop strong relationships with friends and siblings and younger relatives, usually-- but it's not completely unthinkable. But in the situation like this that I saw close-up there was a lot of manipulation between one parent and the child, to the extent that the parent was almost constantly acting out of fear that the child would leave them and putting guilt-laden emotional pressure on them as a result. I see it as a sign of emotional health that a person is able to identify these kinds of guilt dynamics and disentangle themselves from them rather than draining all their energies on a person who will never be satisfied (and thereby end up neglecting others), and I think it's a quality you would want in a life partner and the father of your children.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:11 AM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am in the same situation that stoneandstar describes. I can tell you from the other side that he's already married. To his parents.

Here's the logic behind this: his parents have been there for him forever. Relationships with grown ladies have not been and he never learned to replace his parents with a wife. Why should he put a girlfriend of five months first over his parents who have been there for life? He's an asshole if he does that, right? His parents will make him feel like shit if he does. He knows that if he brings home a rival/girlfriend for Christmas, there will be tons of ugly drama. There will be lots of ugly drama if they know how committed you are (i.e. you have sex), there will be a colossal amount of drama if you get engaged/married. You will not be welcome into the family because you're the one stealing the precious baby away from his loving parents. He keeps you away from his parents because much like Hades vs. Demeter, he can't have parents and a girlfriend at the same time. The only way it works in his life are if the two sides never mix and mingle.

Seriously, just break up now. He's been conditioned his whole life to put his parents first and suffer massive hell if he doesn't. He can't pick you and it wouldn't go well if he tried.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:25 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

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