Friend wants to meet my mom but my mom doesn't like her. How to handle?
August 5, 2017 3:13 AM   Subscribe

I live in a studio apartment, across the country from where I grew up. My mom is visits me in my apartment every year, and stays with me for 2 weeks. I've lived out here in CA for 6 years, and have met really nice friends and built a social life all on my own (for the first time in my 34 years). One of the first friends I met out here, let's just call her J, she is a bit older than my mom (J is in her mid-60s and my mom is in her early 60s). J was my first friend out here and we met through a mutual love of taking long walks and we enjoy each other's company.

J had invited my mom and me to her house for lunch the first time my mom visited, about 5 years ago. I thought it went well. Ever since then, J has been wanting to meet up with my mom again, but we've never been able to do so due to timing. Also, my mom is very sensitive and has a hard time with people who are more outspoken (like J) and have a different communication style than her.

Just the other day my mom told me about how she doesn't like J, how she wouldn't seek her out as a friend, doesn't really want to hang out with her, and doesn't think J would like her. My mom is into this personality typing system called dressing your truth, and has typed J as one of the four types. My mom says J is a type "X" (not the actual type name, but I'm just using X as a placeholder). My mom doesn't like people who are type X, because she says she feels uncomfortable around people of that type and says she knows they wouldn't like her. She is fine with me being friends with her, but just notes that SHE personally wouldn't seek out someone like J.

I told my mom that J is very nice, that she's said lots of nice things about her, that while J may be more outgoing and outspoken, she is overall a sensitive person still and there's no reason to think she wouldn't ultimately like my mom. I feel like my mom's assessment of her is based only on assumptions and pre-assumptions from her own insecurities and interpretation of the personality test (e.g. she lumps people together who she thinks have a particular personality type that claims to not like because of people she's met in the past who have that type).

Today, when I was hanging out with J, she said she'd really like to see my mom while she's in town. Since we were around our other friend at the time, I had no idea what to say except, "Sure, I'll check with my mom and our schedule, and we can figure something out." I thought that my mom would reconsider, knowing that J wanted to see her. But I was wrong. My mom essentially said she ONLY wants to see me while she's here, and no one else. She feels like the two of us spending time with someone I consider a good friend is taking time away from her time with me. I respect that, and I don't want to force her to do something she doesn't want to. We only see each other twice a year (this time and also at Christmas time). My mom said I'm the only one she feels comfortable with and the only person she can be herself with (the reverse is not really true; she feels comfortable around me because I hold back and refrain from sharing my opinions and agree with her on everything because we'll just end up having a fight if I don't).

I feel that my mom is being unfair in her judgement of J. She only met her one time. There's no evidence that J wouldn't like her. I wouldn't even hang out with her if she was a mean person. J has been nothing but a good friend to me. She and I clicked really well and while she has her quirks (who doesn't have quirk?), she's ultimately a good person. I tell this to my mom and she just says, "yes, I'm glad you are friends with her, but I just personally don't feel comfortable around her."

I know I can't force my mom to spend time with her so that's why I'm not going to fight this. It would be very stressful if we DID meet with J, because I'd constantly be monitoring the communication between the two of them, and J could unknowingly say something that unintentionally rubs my mom in the wrong way, and then my mom talk about it with me for hours afterward. I'm always on high alert when my mom meets any of my friends because I worry that someone will unknowingly/unintentionally say something that offends her. She is very sensitive and that's one of her best qualities but it also makes social interactions difficult. I have no idea/can't anticipate what my friends will say, and I never know what will and won't offend my mom or rub her in the wrong way. It's almost like I've become my mom's parent. Also I understand/feel guilty that maybe my mom is threatened by J since I see J more often these days than I see her.

My question is, J wants to see my mom, but my mom doesn't want to see her. What's the best way to tell J why I can't arrange for my mom and I to hang out with her? I can't tell her the real reason. I know that would really hurt her feelings if she knew that my mom doesn't like her. My mom thinks J is this harsh woman but J's only crime is that she is simply different personality-wise than my mom. I know that not every personality is compatible, but it's hurtful to me also that my mom would say negative things like that about my friend.

I thought about waiting til close to the end of my mom's stay here, and saying that she came down with a bug and decided to stay close to home. Does that sound reasonable? It won't work forever though. What about in future years? I feel like I'm in an uncomfortable position. I don't want to hurt J/make her suspicious about never getting to meet my mom, but I also don't want to force my mom to do things she doesn't want to do.

Or am I making a big deal out of nothing and being too selfish?
posted by starpoint to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just say your mom wants some mom-daughter time and leave it at that. It's a reasonable explanation.

Or just tell J it won't work out. Don't make a big thing out of it.
posted by mpbx at 3:35 AM on August 5, 2017 [27 favorites]

"I think we're just doing mother-daughter time this go-round. Thanks for the invite, though." Repeat, repeat.

If she really pushes, "My mom's a bit of an odd duck and she likes to keep our visits mother-daughter time. Thanks for the invite, though." Repeat, repeat.
posted by whitewall at 3:46 AM on August 5, 2017 [30 favorites]

I think you need to tell J that this is about your mom having difficulties, and it's not a reflection of J. You can tell J your mom gets really uncomfortable around the majority of people, or she's anxious about non-family members, or something - but J sounds lovely, and you want to make sure she doesn't feel that she's at fault.
posted by umwhat at 4:04 AM on August 5, 2017 [13 favorites]

Tell her your mother has social anxiety and is really only comfortable with a mother daughter thing, which is actually true. It's not personal. If your mum is coming up with justifications why someone she doesn't even know won't like her, so she doesn't have to meet them, that's exactly what it is.
posted by Jubey at 4:09 AM on August 5, 2017 [27 favorites]

Yeah, you don't have to lie about your mom being sick (that sounds really hard to maintain, and very stressful). You can say anything from "my mom would rather this be mother-daughter time" to "my mom is socially anxious, and would rather not see other people when she's here." Both are true, and neither should be hurtful to J because they are not personal.

It sounds like your mom's anxiety puts a lot of pressure on you when you're together! I agree with DarlingBri that she should suck it up for your sake, but if you only see each other twice a year it may not be worth making an issue out of it. But do make sure you get some time for yourself during this visit.
posted by lunasol at 4:25 AM on August 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your mom is a human being who gets to decide who she will be friends with. I think it's perfectly reasonable that if she only sees you twice a year that she wants to spend time with you. For whatever reason, she didn't click with J.

If you anticipate this to be a recurring issue than you should be honest with J who is also a grown woman and presumably has experience with not everyone wanting to be friends with her. "I'm sorry J, but my mom just isn't feeling a connection between you two. These things happen sometimes. But hey, wanna go for a long walk the day after she leaves? I am sure I'll need to decompress."
posted by donut_princess at 4:32 AM on August 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

prYour mother doesn't have an obligation to be BFF with your BFF. As nice as it is when the people we care about also care about each other, that doesn't always happen, and that's ok! I'm not sure what to make of the personality types thing, but it sounds like your mom has met J and isn't just writing her off on the basis of, like, numerology or something. And it sounds like she isn't trying to break up your friendship with J out of jealousy or anything; you and your mom are just different adults with different preferences in terms of who to hang out with. It also sounds like any interaction between your mom and J is going to be exhausting even for you.

Think of it this way: if your mom had a younger friend with whom she shares a few interests, and she was really angling for you and YoungFriend to hang out, and you didn't really have anything in common with them except your age bracket? Same thing, really.

As for what to tell J, keep it simple and don't make medical excuses for your mom (including social anxiety, even if that seems true). Just say, "Hey, I don't think it's going to work out when my mom's visiting. Too bad. Let's make plans for the week after, yeah?" If J keeps pushing, she's being rude and you can fall back on the old standby, "I'm sorry, that won't be possible."
posted by basalganglia at 4:57 AM on August 5, 2017 [8 favorites]

Their respective ages and relationships with you are irrelevant here, the only thing that is relevant is that one person (your mom, in this case) does not want to spend time with a specific other person (your friend J), and has clearly stated that fact.

True, your mother could suck it up and spend time with J, but why? Because it would make J --- but not your mom --- happy? That's all well and good for J, but why should making J happy take precedence over making your mom happy? Forcing your mom into meeting with J risks damaging both your friendship with J and your relationship with your mother.

Don't lie, just tell J that her meeting up with your mom won't be possible: a simple "Sorry, no: mom doesn't want to", with no further explanation, is all you need. Repeat as often as needed.
posted by easily confused at 5:46 AM on August 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

I might be wrong, since my take is different from the others posted here, but I think that if your friendship with J is close, and it seems that it is, that you don't want to have a big lie hanging over it. That could create a sense of distance between you and J because you will know that you are not being completely truthful with her.

I would consider telling J the truth, which, from your description, is not that your mother doesn't like J but that your mother has some pretty significant quirks of her own, one of which is a slightly batty theory that people fall into certain personality categories and those categories determine who will like or dislike each other.

You don't have to bad-mouth your mother in order to explain this. You can say, "I love my mother and she means everything to me, but this is one of her quirks. I'm so sorry that because of it the two of you can't enjoy each other's friendship. And that because of it, a get-together would be very awkward and potentially uncomfortable."

Again, I may be off and may be misreading the situation.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 5:57 AM on August 5, 2017 [15 favorites]

I'm with Vispa Teresa on this one. If J is truly your friend, be honest. Because you know what? This will happen again next year, and the year after that, and so on. And each year you'll dread trying to figure out what to say to J. Just make it not personal towards J and more that it is your mother's anxiety and her problem.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:39 AM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm... kind of saddened that you're taking this opportunity to judge your mom so hard (but I've done worse. So I get it. We daughters can be very uncharitable.) Your mom doesn't enjoy J and she doesn't want to spend her precious visiting time with her. If she did enjoy her, she wouldn't have invented the ex post facto justification about personality types.

That's all there is to it and all you need to tell J is "mom prefers to keep it just family time when she comes out here" and that's all. That's it. Really. J will not push back on that if she's as great as you say, because there's nothing at all weird about it. Don't take the opportunity to hurt J with involved explanations of just how unlikable your mom found her. That's mean. Just "she prefers to keep it just us."
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:45 AM on August 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I agree with the advice you have been given above about being honest with J - whether the milder "My mom is a little quirky and just wants to hang with me only" to "My mom has such quirks that she really finds it very very hard to be around anybody she doesn't know very well" to beyond.

But also you are free to consider the possibility that one thing that is stressing you is the idea of so much alone time with your mom for TWO WEEKS (!). Maybe that's not stressing you. But that much alone time with any house guest would stress a lot of people. If you need to say "Mom I know you don't want to see J or other people while you're here, but I can't go for two weeks without seeing my friends, so you are totally welcome to come with me or to be by yourself some evenings," that's a totally reasonable thing to say and do.
posted by sheldman at 6:54 AM on August 5, 2017 [28 favorites]

I can't state enough how much I am with Vispa Teresa here. And from J's point of view, she may be like, Starpoint and I are such good friends, I want to get along with her family too. Some super close friends, I'm also friends with their family, and some I'm not, but that is a thing for some folks. And you have the perfect opportunity to say "look, it's really not you, it's my mom" and settle it so you won't have to deal with this issue again next year. You don't have to be cruel about your mom, just matter of fact, but explaining how she sizes up people and that that is just how she deals with the world and it's really not J at all, would go ahead and clear the air and save you a lot of stress.
posted by joycehealy at 6:58 AM on August 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think it is completely reasonable of your mom just to want to hang out with you, not your friends. J was probably just being nice, but it would be a bit odd if she were to push it after you let her know that your mom has limited time on her visit and just wants to spend it with her daughter.

I'd be honest with J, and agree with fingersandtoes about easing up on the mom judgment,
posted by mulcahy at 7:00 AM on August 5, 2017

I think it's perfectly understandable to feel hurt or disappointed by your mom's decision about J. Two weeks is a long visit so you'll have plenty of time together. I live far away and when my mom visits she like a to do something with my friends here- so she gets to meet them and know more about my life. Friends are a big part of my life and I like sharing that with her. Anyhow, I agree that you should respect your mom's wishes about J because forcing a meeting would just be stressful and awkward. I don't think you should tell J all of the details as it would probably be hurtful. Just say something like "Oh my mom's got some quirks and only wants mother-daughter time during her trip."
posted by emd3737 at 7:11 AM on August 5, 2017

I don't want to hurt J/make her suspicious about never getting to meet my mom, but I also don't want to force my mom to do things she doesn't want to do.

Your mom sounds like mine was. Has a lot of feelings but also expects you to be an extension of her and manage those feelings FOR her. So I have a bunch of thoughts about this based on interactions with my own mom.

1. Two weeks is a long time and if you see J more frequently than that you might want to arrange a time where your mom can do her own thing and you and J hang out. So J comes by, says hello, you all hang out for 15 minutes and then you and J go do your thing and your mom can do her own thing. They get to briefly interact, there's not a long drawn out social thing, you don't have to put your entire life on hold for your mom.

2. It's not your job to make your mom comfortable with the world. Your mom can manage her emotions, or should. You can be compassionate without having to "own" her feelings. That is, if you have a good friend and that friend says something that makes your mom feel bad (but not something that you think was inappropriate, but just hey your mom is sensitive) you can sympathize with your mom but not feel bad yourself because your mom isn't managing her own emotions. She sounds anxious. Maybe you are too?

3. You shouldn't lie. You can let J know loosely what the deal is ("My mom is sort of private and doesn't really want to meet new people, this is her not you") and if J makes a thing about it, then you've sort of ... replicated your relationship with your mom with your new friend?

As much as it's nice of you to try to make your mom's visit a nice one, it's also good to have an idea of normative expectations of grown-up interactions. A two week visit will necessarily include some alone time for your mom (or her own things/projects/touring) and if you want to see your friends and live your life, that is a great thing to do. If your mom thinks it's on you to make sure she is not offended, that is a misapprehension on her part and it's okay to just have boundaries. Not argue with her but just be compassionate but not take responsibility for keeping her un-offended. Things got a lot better when I stopped arguing with my mom about my responsbility for her very sensitive feelings.
posted by jessamyn at 7:15 AM on August 5, 2017 [18 favorites]

I have a mother like this, and she doesn't like to spend time with other people because that would require work on her part. She'd rather I do all the emotional labor. Having someone else there outside this dynamic would put a damper on this--good for me, not for her.

I hope I'm reading this situation wrong for the OP's sake, but perhaps this friend is a threat because of her age. Someone younger may naturally defer to Mom as an elder and let her "get away with" more, but the friend being older changes things further. And there's nothing you can do to change how she feels about J. And as you see, it's not about J at all but about you and her.

Jessamyn, above, brings up some great points. It's taken me decades to get to this point, but I deal with my mother's unbending quirks by limiting our time to what I can reasonably manage and by asserting my needs (instead of twisting myself into making her every request happen, which includes limiting our alone time together).
posted by bioubiou at 7:31 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

You may not see J as any kind of surrogate mother figure just because of her age, and you don't write about her that way, which is great of you. but an oversensitive mother will be extra oversensitive to some other woman of her generation 'taking over' her daughter, especially if the other woman is bossier/louder/stronger-willed/more direct than she is. in fact I think a mother of just normal sensitivity would feel that way. I think it would be strange for a friend your own age (assuming you're in the 20-40 range somewhere) to try to get in on twice-yearly mother-daughter visits past maybe one brief friendly meeting; I wouldn't give special deference to J just because she's older and there is no reason for her to be hurt.

this is all just to say that you may be so used to having to excuse or apologize for your mom's weird behavior that you have the reflex to do it even when she's being normal. "My mom just wants to see me, not anybody else" is a thing millions of daughters have said - roll your eyes and laugh about it, sure, but it doesn't need any apologies.

Also I understand/feel guilty that maybe my mom is threatened by J since I see J more often these days than I see her.

"maybe," like she hasn't talked your ear off about her feelings of jealousy and resentment or even come right out and said she has them?

that sounds like she is better at emotional labor than you give her credit for. the invisible self-suppression kind that nobody ever does get credit for.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:54 AM on August 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

I like the idea of you making time to hang out with J and have her see your mother in passing. Or could you have a lunch, tea or drinks party and have J be one of the guests or throw it with you jointly? It may be that your mother is not up to that though.

But also, J is kind of expecting too much if she expects to be friends with people just because they are related to her friends. Even with couples, that is usually not a given, much less with someone's mother.
posted by BibiRose at 7:57 AM on August 5, 2017

a) It is perfectly reasonable for your mum not to want to spend time with your friend; AND

b) it is perfectly reasonable for you to want to see your friend(s) at least once by yourself during your mum's 2 week visit. 2 weeks is a long time!
posted by Murderbot at 8:58 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I find it a less unusual expectation than many seem to here that very close friends would want to meet your immediate family, at least the ones who are still important in your life. I think your mom is really missing out, and it sounds like she's built herself a little cage of anxiety and preconceptions that's only going to shrink as she gets older.

But it's still her right to decide who she does and doesn't socialize with. To the extent you can present this to J as being a matter of her anxieties and rigidity, it will be much better. However, if I were J, considering they've already met once, I would certainly conclude that I had done something to offend or put off your mom during our one meeting. I'm not sure you can expect to completely escape hurt feelings on J's part.
posted by praemunire at 10:13 AM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

(also I'm projecting in the opposite direction from most people because your mom is nothing like my mom -- my mom was, instead, a J. so much so that if she weren't dead I would say, oh god, she's doing it again. that's even her first initial.

I may therefore be totally wrong about the personality types. but if J is the kind of person I am thinking of, it doesn't really cross her mind that someone might not like her, and she doesn't really understand why, for your own mother, adding a third person to a group is undesirable because it requires putting on her public face. because to some extroverts, their public face is just their face, and three people isn't a "group" as they understand it.

and likewise, someone like your mom might immediately assume that if someone she'd met once didn't want to see her again, it meant they hated her. I am that kind of person. but this might never enter J's head. there are people for whom it just doesn't.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:47 AM on August 5, 2017

Your question is all about how your Mom feels and how J feels and how to accommodate them. I would be partly honest. J, Mom just wants to hang out with me. Sometimes she really doesn't want to spend time with new(to her) people. J doesn't need any further explanation.

Two weeks is a long visit and a long time to be with just your Mom. I could not do it with my Mom; probably not with my son. So do make a few plans of your own if you like. Mom, J's stopping by to pick me up; we're getting coffee and taking a walk. She'd love to say hello to you. Being polite to the friend's of one's host/ child should not be an issue. If Mom chooses to come along for coffee and walk, great. If not, also fine.
posted by theora55 at 11:52 AM on August 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was raised by a totally different type of parents than your mom. Growing up, we often had new people in our home that we enjoyed meeting and getting to know. Mom and Dad traveled worldwide in their later years, and they met and made friends with many new people in their travels. They always enjoyed meeting my friends when they visited, and I made a point of having at least one get-together with one or more of my friends when they were here because Mom and Dad looked forward to it. My husband and I do the same with our grown kids - meeting their friends is something we enjoy.

It makes me sad to know that your mom doesn't want to learn more about who you are by meeting and getting to know some of your friends. And it makes me sad that she's limiting her own personal growth by missing opportunities to experience new people.

I think I'd be a bit hurt if my parent insisted on spending two full weeks with me and wanted me all to themselves for that whole time - two days, maybe, but two weeks? Honestly, it would make me consider limiting how long they stayed with me.
posted by summerstorm at 2:18 PM on August 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

Take care of yourself, take care of yourself, take care of yourself. For me, that would mean seeing J while leaving my mom at home if I wanted to see J and doing whatever else I needed to do with my mom, by myself, and with other people in order to have a good two weeks.

Some of the most miserable times in my life have been when I attempted to be the go-between between friends and family members. It almost never worked. I know you are disappointed, but you can't gift your mom's time to J; only your mom can do that. She's saying no. And even if her reasons are dumb, that's not a battle you can win. Please don't make your mother meeting J the hill you die on.

Instead, decide what you need for yourself (as described above) and then make a plan that ensures you get it. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 5:38 PM on August 5, 2017

Your question pinged me as somehow familiar such that I read some of your past q's that also seem to revolve around your mom's anxiety and your role in appeasing that. This in particular:

My mom said I'm the only one she feels comfortable with and the only person she can be herself with (the reverse is not really true; she feels comfortable around me because I hold back and refrain from sharing my opinions and agree with her on everything because we'll just end up having a fight if I don't).
..... really isn't a healthy workable relationship for adults, IMO. I'm an internet stranger, but this post highlights that you spend a lot of effort making your mom 100% comfortable on these trips instead of sharing any of your adult life, including your closest friends, with her. If any of that rings true to you, you may want to think more about this being a pattern of problems in your relationship with Mom, rather than (primarily) a problem of how to politely explain it to J. I guess what I"m getting at is... your whole post is about how to juggle your mom and J and what each of them want/need and there is nothing about what YOU want or need! And I, internet stranger, am giving you permission to want and need things even during the only two weeks your mom visits.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:50 PM on August 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

You don't mention it, so let me ask: has your mother clearly said that in addition to her seeing you & only you, she also wants you to see only her during these visits?

Because yeah, Mom forbidding you seeing friends during her two-week visit would definitely be an out-of-boundary, unreasonable demand. On the other hand, if all your mom said was that she herself would not welcome meeting with J (you're free to hang out with any of your friends, just don't expect Mom to always join you) that's a whole 'nother situation, and in that case I think acceding to Mom's wishes is entirely reasonable.
posted by easily confused at 8:20 AM on August 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

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