How should I handle a controlling parent and potential relationship?
September 1, 2017 10:18 PM   Subscribe

Hi AskMe, I'd appreciate your thoughts. I’m male, in my late 20s, near Seattle, and totally blind since birth. I have a female friend with potential for more, who is older than I am and also blind, about an hour away. My mom, with whom I live, disapproves of my going to stay the night with her, and has threatened to kick me out of her house. How can I address this with the woman I’m interested in, and deal with my own feelings of anger towards mom?

I'm feeling distraught and outraged at the moment. My mom and I don't always see eye to eye, but ever since I've expressed potential interest in this woman things have gone downhill. The person in question is African American, and mom expressed some “casual racism," as soon as she found out; mom is Asian. My friend invited me to spend the weekend with her next week, and I anticipated a fun, maybe flirty time, but we're both clear on wanting to take things slowly. Mom has gone from expressing that it would be "awkward," for me to spend the night, to "inappropriate," and this morning escalated to the housing threat. I have not mentioned any of these concerns to the woman in question, because I honestly dread the conversation, given the fragility of my emotional state at the moment. Mom insists that she would say the same things if it was any unmarried “girl,” I wanted to spend a night with, and she claims to have friends who share her opinion.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You may need new living arrangements. You are old enough to decide whom you wish to date, and if you need a caretaker, that's still none of their business.

There are indeed plenty of people who will insist it is "awkward" or "inappropriate" to spend the night with someone of a gender you like - but taken to extremes, that means "you may not stay overnight with anyone until you are married," which is certainly not the norm for most of society these days.

Your mom has spent her entire life trying to shield you from dangers; it's hard for any parent to make the switch from that to "supportive advice-giver" instead of "director of all activities." It's extra-hard when the child has a disability and is going to need some assistance throughout life - but this sounds like Mom is, at best, unable to let go of your childhood and allow you to make adult decisions for yourself. (At worst, Mom has decided that she will get final approval on whom you can date, which is an "ugh no get out " situation.)

I don't know enough of either your living situation or the the girl in question to give specific advice. All I can say is, you may need to find living arrangements and a caretaker/assistant who doesn't have strong personal opinions about what you should be doing with your life.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:35 PM on September 1, 2017 [18 favorites]

Hi anonymous,

Is there any possibility you can move out? Do you have a job? I googled "Seattle blind resources" and found a lot of results. Are you in touch with any of those organizations?

If you can't move out right now then it sounds like you need to set some boundaries with your mom. First and formost can you set up your living situation so you have some privacy? Maybe a separate bathroom, separate entrance, or even something like ordering your own groceries online.

That said, you are absolutely old enough and grownup enough to set some boundaries with your mom. If she asks about your love life or where you're planning to spend the night you can refuse politely to answer. "Sorry, that's my business." or "I'm not going to discuss it with you."

If she asks you can choose your level of engagement.. "I'm not going to talk about this with you", "this is my decision, my choice", "it's none of your business", "I'm managing this on my own", "I'm figuring this out myself". If she protests be firm. Repeat your answer as many times as you need to. Don't back down.

I'm guessing (please correct me if I'm wrong) that you've grown up with your mom making a lot of decisions for you. It's time for you to make those decisions for yourself - how you live, who you love, where you work...etc.

There seem to be a ton of resources and people to meet in your city. If you haven't already, seek them out and find other perspectives on how blind folks live.

All the best to you fellow Mefite.
posted by bendy at 10:51 PM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

On the issue of telling the woman friend - tell her as much as you feel comfortable telling her and try not to worry that she will judge you or dismiss your feelings. I have a friend who recently went through something very similar to this and they, too, were afraid to confide in their friend about the ways that their parents were trying to keep them from being friends due to the parents' own fears about things. But even though your friend may not have the same situation or have ever been in the situation, she will most likely be able to empathize with your feelings. Sometimes getting perspective on a situation when one lives with one's family is important in these times. Especially since I agree with the folks who already posted replies that your mother is probably afraid of your independence (as well as whatever feelings she has about the "inappropriate" nature of your friendship and whatever values she has about visits you have with a woman). Good luck - making new friends is hard as an adult (I think) and I applaud your openness to the experience and hope it gets easier.
posted by Merinda at 11:09 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I read your intro and suspected that your mom must be Asian, and I was right. I'm Asian too, so I guess I can sense these things.

So my advice is coming from a place of knowing a bit about Asian parents: I would just lie to mom. Why even talk to her about your dating life? (Actually, this advice would go for anyone whose parents are hostile to their adult kids having relationships) Can you say that you're just visiting friends? Of course she'll ask who are these friends, how did you meet them, etc. and just lie. Seriously, it's a lot easier, and she's creating an environment in which it's not safe to be honest - i.e. she's threatening to kick you out. Obviously you can't now tell her that next weekend you're meeting friends when you've already told her you're meeting a woman you're interested in.

So I would just be honest with your lady friend. "I talked to my mom about you and she threatened to kick me out." If she really likes you, I hope she'll understand. One option is to postpone the weekend to another time, after your mom's anger has worn off, and when the next meet up arrives, tell mom that you're meeting friends or something else. Don't mention this woman.

I realize you can't keep this up forever and it may be taxing on you. So, any chance that you can move out soon? Otherwise, you'll have to figure out other ways to be sexy with your friend (talk on the phone/skype, write each other erotic stories, etc.), because it might be a "mom's house, mom's rules" kinda thing, unfortunately. Even if you are late 20s. Or, since lady friend lives only an hour away, why not spend the day with her? Leave in the morning, come back in the evening? I hope that won't make your mom suspicious?

From your mom's point of view, she thinks it's improper and inappropriate for you stay over, i.e. she's uncomfortable with the idea of you having sex with someone you're not married to. So that's where she's coming from, and you can't reason her out of that. While it's all well and good to be forthright and set boundaries etc. with parents, in this context, I doubt it will work and she could just make good on your threat to kick you out. Hence my suggestion to lie. It's not the most ideal, but you're not going to get her to respect you, and allow you to see your friend otherwise.
posted by foxjacket at 11:09 PM on September 1, 2017 [24 favorites]

Honestly, your mom may want you to lie. She may be ok with you having sex but think you should respect her sensibilities enough to try to hide it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:24 PM on September 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

It does sound like a bad situation - you've tagged the above emotional abuse. I don't know what the dynamics are, but it is very common to have a parent who has emotional issues and is dependent on their son/daughter to try to thwart and put them down when they try to make romantic connections. Much like how people in abusive relationships often make it inconvenient for their partner to see their family and friends. Do not raise this issue directly, if you feel this is the dynamic. It seems unusual for the first instance of an abusive dynamic to show up in your late twenties, not to invalidate you but rather, only your gut can tell you if you think this is more parental rebellion at your leaving the nest or a creepy attempt to cut you off at the knees. Especially if it's the second, I would tell your mom you have stopped seeing this person and then develop a non sex-or dating-based excuse to spend evenings away from home. Lying is fine and people often do not see what they do not want to. It does not sound like being suddenly evicted will help your situation. Though I do doubt that if the issue is parental dependency you are in any danger of being evicted.

It really depends on how you parse the situation. It does read to me actually that it's not about race totally. If your parent really is willing to throw you out of the house so you won't date, then don't negotiate, ever. Lie as extensively as you can, here is a free pass from me. You are not morally obligated to tell the truth or make anybody understand your position, you need to make space for yourself to have a life.

Many people go through this as a teenager, but you do not need to feel childish for being in this situation. This dynamic is not unusual at all in parents, but it is unhealthy and you are not wrong, that is all you need to contribute I think to that analysis. Presumably you have a disability that makes your mom's input more important to your life than if you didn't, but this could be a sticking point in figuring out how to manage that moving forward.

I think a good framework for understanding, because you asked, would be that a lot of people don't recognize this as abuse but a lot of people do, and I think it sort of is, though of course it depends ultimately what else is going on. If it's just mainly a cultural thing, which the last two people beat me to saying, then obviously date first and ask for permission later is a hallowed approach.

I think an interesting way to test the waters would be to date more people. This will allow you to see what your mother's attitude is to your romantic life in general, and will avoid it being a situation where you have to burn all your bridges in life too soon, before you know where this new relationship is going.
posted by benadryl at 11:25 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think it's possible that your mom is terrified, actually experiencing the kind of fear that makes people irrational, because she thinks she'll be left alone, really alone, if you fall in love and marry or move in with someone.

That kind of fear is not gentle on the people around it. You do need to take steps to protect yourself and your sanity.

If, after that, you find you have any patience or sympathy at all remaining for her, one thing you could do is try to find ways to connect her with other people.
posted by amtho at 4:02 AM on September 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

If you can't afford a place of your own, look into roommates and houseshares. Then move out, and tell your mother it is none of her business who your friends and lovers are. And every time she tries to interrogate you about them, refuse to even discuss it.
posted by easily confused at 4:05 AM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I hope you still spend the weekend with this friend, and do not change your plans. Whatever your mother's reasons for lashing out like this and treating you as less than an autonomous human, should not alter your nice-sounding chance at more happiness. Go have fun and then come back, 'grey rock,' and try to figure out whatever next steps are necessary to extricate yourself from this dynamic. Maybe your mom will have calmed down in your absence and you guys can start over in a way that respects your choices and autonomy. Maybe her racism and need for control will make that impossible, and you will need to start arranging your own accomodations and a separate life. But it's a sad, classic scenario to miss out on something nice to placate a narcissist in the moment, and then find that all you have left is the narcissist. Prioritize your happiness no matter what.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 4:30 AM on September 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

Another Asian in the US with controlling parents, voting for lying or "strategic truth telling" as my sister and I put it, to de-escalate drama, and then low key starting to take steps to move out.
posted by joyceanmachine at 4:45 AM on September 2, 2017 [10 favorites]

Just came in to point out that "moving out to your own place" and "living in Seattle" are pretty much mutually exclusive these days. Add dealing with roommates who know how to live with a blind person (there are some specifics) and/or getting financially supported housing (long waiting lists), makes trying to work it out with Mom a more sensible solution.

Seattle is indeed rich in resources for the blind. Use them. My suggestions:

1. Tell your friend. Ask for advice and help and support; not just to visit her, but to find resources to help you change your relationship with your mother.

2. I know the "just lie" advice is well-meant, but for God's sake, DON'T. Refuse to talk about things, but don't lie. You'll never be on solid ground, and that's what you want. So:

3. Insist you and your Mom talk to someone else together. It doesn't have to necessarily be someone specializing in emotional issues, at least at first. But you need to have some plan for your life, and that includes after Mom dies. If you need a Big Stick, that's a good one. "Mom, I need to think about my life After You Pass On (or whatever euphemism you use). We need to think about the future." One sort of talk can lead to another, but the talks should at least start with professionals who are familiar with sighted/blind issues.

I think it's wonderful you've found a friend "who might be more" and sincerely wish you the best of luck and happiest of outcomes.
posted by kestralwing at 5:53 AM on September 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

It does sound like the inevitable, eventual step is to move out and like there is only so far your mother is going to budge for whatever reason(s).

I don't think this will solve the dating issues, but have you explored family social services with Lighthouse or whatever equivalent organization you use? To be clear, again, I don't think there's a social worker in the world who can come in and fix your mother's problem, but I think one attempt at intervention in which you and your mother discuss your relationship with a professional might put things in a framework for you and also signal to her that you are not prepared to drift along with the current state of things. You'd be having problems with your mother in any case, but I think some family members really double down on the power thing if they are able to position themselves as caretakers and it might be good to bring in a professional who is familiar with that dynamic.
posted by BibiRose at 7:01 AM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's a lot to unpack here. I'm going to throw out several topics that need to be discussed between the two of you.

I agree that you need to have a general discussion with mom about what she expects your life to look like as an adult, and what role she expects to play in your day-to-day life. And of course what your expectations are.

Unless you've already dated in the past that she's aware of, it can be difficult for a parent to adjust to the idea of their child becoming a sexually mature adult. Unless she's been very progressive and has been helping you learn to live independently, she may have assumed that due to your disability that you would never live independent of her and that you would never have a romantic life or a sex life.

Your mom might be totally okay with the idea of you growing up and moving on in your life but she may have assumed that would happen with a sighted person. Maybe she objects to you dating a blind person because she's thinking that if it turns into a long term relationship she will become responsible for helping not one but two people navigate the world. Maybe she's starting to feel her age a bit and doesn't relish the idea of the additional responsibility.

As far as your friend is concerned, I'm not sure I would mention any of this just yet. It puts quite a bit of emotional labor on her and it doesn't sound like your relationship is at the point where that's okay yet. It might be better to beg off for the next weekend but suggest an alternative date (so she doesn't think you're totally uninterested) and then come up with a plausible back story for that visit for mom until you can get things sorted at home.
posted by vignettist at 8:46 AM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

FYI, your mom can't just lock the door and refuse to let you back in if you displease her. You have tenant's rights and that would be an illegal eviction. If that happens, you can call the police and they will back you up.
posted by bq at 9:28 AM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

It comes down to money and your ability to live on your own.

Any parent restricting their child's love life at your age is absolutely unacceptable and ridiculous. Like others have said, this is probably both a cultural/race thing and an empty nest or child with above average needs thing. Either way it is a dick move, putting it mildly, to issue a threat of homelessness yo your child over something like this.

I imagine it is very difficult to be fully independent as a blind person. But if you can make it work, I would suggest becoming totally independent as soon as possible. Your mother obviously has put her own prejudices and fears above your happiness, her behavior is disgusting.

To answer your questions directly, you can best address this by being open and honest with your potential girlfriend and telling her the situation. Also contact any and all resources for blind individuals that you can. If you don't have an income you need one ASAP, which is of course easier said than done. I imagine that having a sighted individual help you with gathering resources would be helpful. You could find a volunteer I'm sure, even I wouldn't mind googling/calling around for you a bit. PM me if you can't find someone.

Good luck.
posted by hypercomplexsimplicity at 4:51 PM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you are the person taking care of Mom? In that case I can imagine her being very reluctant to let you go emotionally and literally. Reiterating what kestralwing said above, beginning a discussion about how/where she'll live as she grows older could be helpful.
posted by Jesse the K at 5:54 PM on September 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

« Older Let's give this another try, or how can I forget...   |   Excruciating back pain - what to do next? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.