How to not resent my future mother-in-law?
October 10, 2017 5:24 AM   Subscribe

Feeling resentful after being ostracized/judged by BF’s mom for the past 8 years and giving her little reason to dislike me. This starkly contrasts with how my family views my boyfriend, which bothers me. Marriage/moving closer to home are on the horizon and I want to have a better relationship with her, so my BF doesn’t feel like he has to choose between me and his family. Help me see the situation differently?

My boyfriend (25M) and I (23F) have been together since we were teenagers and have begun seriously discussing marriage; he has hinted at a proposal soon. He is the best and I have no worries about marrying him, but sometimes I wonder about marrying into his family. He is worth it to me, so I want to figure out how to make things work.

We have been together for 8 years and we are each other’s first/only significant other. His mother was/is a “helicopter mom” who just never seemed to be able to let go; when he was home for a break from college (so we’re talking 21 y/o, several years into dating), she would call him multiple times if it was “late” (i.e., 10 p.m.) and ask when he was coming home for his “safety,” even though she knew he was at my house, so at a safe place that was 5 minutes away. She’d take away his phone for the night (he was 17) if it seemed like he was talking to me too much. As a teenager, my BF would often have to stay home and clean the house for her. She was weird about sex (we’ve never been left alone at their house; as far as she knows, I’ve never seen his childhood bedroom), but then bought him a magazine with provocative pictures of a celebrity whom he used to like before we started dating? Just a few things that were happening early on and throughout our relationship. To give some more context about the family, his sister (27F) lives at home (has enough money/had multiple opportunities to move out), and stays out of preference. She and I are friendly, as are BF’s dad and I.

Throughout our time together, BF’s mom wanted to monopolize his time and would manipulate him into spending time with his family. For example, my BF would tell me how his mom would say his dad was disappointed that my BF wouldn’t go to some event, and then later find out his dad never said anything. I remember sometimes I’d ask how X event was (i.e., the reason he wasn’t “allowed” to see me), only to find out that they didn’t actually leave the house… and my BF was mad because we could’ve done something together instead. They/my BF invite me to some family gatherings (his extended family loves me), but there are clear “family times” (just the 4 of them) of which I would not be a part. That was high school/college, and I get it; I was perceived as a threat to her time with her son because he preferred to spend time with me. I understand my boyfriend’s involvement in this, and I also recognize that he had lived under their roof so it was difficult.

Last year, I was Girlfriend of the Year by deciding to go to grad school across the country. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. When it came down to it, the decision of whether or not BF would join me felt like them (family) vs. me. He came with me, and things have been even better now that we’re on our own. His mom has always bought him and his sister toys (yes, toys) for holidays, but I’m starting to view these items not as her trying to force my BF into being 7 y/o again, but instead as acts of love. Now the packages she sends with said gifts are addressed to both of us. So that’s something? I asked my BF if he’s talked to her about proposing to me, and he said that at first she was weird about it (wtf) but now she offers him ideas.

At the same time, she is passive aggressive about him being here. She was speaking with my mom’s friend, who said that my mom was sad because she missed me. BF’s mom said that I am “the reason that she’s sad.” BF said my mom’s friend was a gossip, but this is untrue and I think he’s just in denial about his mom. She would never say this to my face — she apparently grew up wealthy (and always talks about it although my BF’s family never had money), so she kind of pretends to have very proper etiquette (i.e., is super judgmental of others) about things, but from what my BF tells me, she’s a totally different person behind closed doors. His family is very private about their personal matters (as is mine!) I sometimes wondered if she felt insecure about a lack of money; my family was not rich by any means, but better off than theirs. She’s incredibly judgmental of others (e.g., her family members, strangers), so I know that she talks about me, too.

And, after all these years, I still don’t know how to address her! “Mrs. X” is probably most appropriate according to my BF (apparently she was offended when I jokingly referred to my parents by their first names years ago), but it bothers me that after almost a decade, we are still so awkward and formal. My parents have never requested to go by Mr. and Mrs. X. I’ve just felt uncomfortable around her for too long — it’s been 8 years! I felt weird and awkward as a teenager hanging out with them (sometimes that was the only way to see my BF), and I wonder if she holds that against me. But I’m an adult now, damn it, not a hormone-ridden adolescent.

My family loves him and has accepted him from the beginning. My BF told me that it’s not me, it’s her, and that she would have been this way with any woman he dated. He claims that she does in fact like me because she thinks we are similar (because I “care about school”?) I feel like it speaks volumes that my BF moved across the country just for me, but I still worry about us moving back close by to them. Despite her flaws, my BF loves his mom and I don’t want to be the spiteful daughter-in-law that rolls her eyes whenever her husband mentions his mother (my own mother was this way). However, we’ve had such a long, annoying history already that I find myself struggling to go beyond civility with her. I guess it makes me sad that, if these last 8 years are any indication, I will never feel like part of his family.

TL;DR: Feeling resentful after being ostracized/judged by BF’s mom for the past 8 years and giving her little reason to dislike me. She acts nice to my face. This starkly contrasts with how my family views my boyfriend, which bothers me. Marriage/moving closer to home are on the horizon and I want to have a better relationship with her, so my BF doesn’t feel like he has to choose them or me. Help me see the situation differently?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't matter how old I am (29 now) but whenever I'm staying at my parents they worry and even unintentionally stay up until I get home. They're parents, they want to know their kid is safe.

It's totally reasonable that they have family (just the 4 of them time) even if all they do is stay home.

You need to be kinder about this.
posted by raccoon409 at 5:56 AM on October 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think you're borrowing trouble too far from home, literally. You and your boyfriend are not living close to his parents, and probably don't have much daily interaction with him. Right now, your focus would be better placed on making your relationship with him as strong as it can be, rather than worrying about his faraway mom.

The bottom line is that your boyfriend is an adult, capable of making adult choices. You did not force him to move away with you, he decided to do so. Managing his mom's issues about that are his problem, not yours. One piece of concrete advice I'd have is to tell him that you don't want to hear details about his mom's opinion of you, conversations with other people about who is missing whom back home, etc.. Leave him to manage his relation ship with her, and only deal with the direct interaction between the two of you. If she has a problem that needs to be your problem, after eight years she can speak to you rather than using her son as an intermediary.

You definitely have my sympathy as this woman does sound like a bit of a drama queen and manipulator. However, you don't have to react to the things she does. (For example, try not to judge her for judging--her opinion of you or other people is just so much noise. The military has a great line about opinions: they're like a$$holes, everybody's got one) Focus on your own life and the things you can control instead.
posted by rpfields at 5:56 AM on October 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Some of this is on your boyfriend and some of this is on you.

It would be easy for your boyfriend, for example, to just tell him mom "Hey, mom, girlfriend is going to call you Judy, okay? Mrs. X just weirds me out." You're all adults, the forced deference is strange. He can also now work to include you in family affairs and to remind his mom that he's making adult choices like moving away that have nothing to do with her.

On you is to let go of everything that happened when you were teenagers. It's okay for parents to be awkward and protective of their teenage children and it really doesn't sound like she did anything egregious, just annoying. She is including you now, or starting to, and that's a positive thing. Once your relationship with her son is "formalized" (either by becoming engaged or marriage itself) she might automatically start treating you like close family.
posted by lydhre at 5:56 AM on October 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

So, when you started dating as teens, his mother treated you like teens - maybe not super fairly, buy understandably. Now you are adults and you and her need to re-establish the relationship. (If you had met as adults, I bet the dynamic would be different already.) I known it's hard, but I would try to put that past all under the bridge and approach her as two mutual adults. Maybe when you are in town, you can ask her out to coffee and get to know her better - as two people vs bf girlfriend and bf mom.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 6:01 AM on October 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

You need to talk to your boyfriend about this - maybe show him your post, above. He needs to take initiative and not just let his mom do weird passive-aggressive things at his partner. He needs to step up and insist that you be included, and he needs to make clear to his mom that you're his priority. The way you've written this he comes off as very passive and content to leave you feeling uncomfortable as long as he doesn't have to actually do anything.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:46 AM on October 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I married a guy I'd known since high school and came to say what hapax did. Everyone in my spouse's family did stuff they would not have done had they met me as an adult.

That said, I wish you wouldn't bother policing your feelings. In-law stuff is tough and you don't have to compound it by getting down on yourself for how you feel. It does seem hopeful with the gift packages addressed to both of you and so on. It is good of you to recognize those bright spots and make an effort to see things from her point of view. You don't have to be perfect.
posted by BibiRose at 7:18 AM on October 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

It would be easy for your boyfriend, for example, to just tell him mom "Hey, mom, girlfriend is going to call you Judy, okay? Mrs. X just weirds me out." You're all adults, the forced deference is strange.

oh my god, he cannot do that. all adults decide what their names are and how they wish to be addressed, other people don't decide that for them. OP can request to be called "Ms. Y" for parity if she doesn't want to imply any unfelt respect or recognize any distinction between generations, but that's it. I agree that getting married will be the occasion for the "call me Judy" conversation if it ever happens, but maybe it'll never happen. that's Judy's business.

also OP, don't be mean about weird family traditions, he will be far from the only person whose mom goes on filling a Christmas stocking or buying toy train sets for her kids well into their 30s. so what.

BF’s mom said that I am “the reason that she’s sad.” BF said my mom’s friend was a gossip, but this is untrue

it is necessarily true! if she weren't a gossip you would not know anything that was said to her! she might not be a liar, but that's a completely different issue.

the future MIL sounds like kind of a pill but not really all that bad. people like this usually have clear distinctions in their minds between the statuses of girlfriends, fiancees, and wives. if/when you guys get married you will ascend in her eyes. but her family traditions and relationships will never be or feel exactly like the ones you grew up with.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:21 AM on October 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

Ethnicity might play a role here- in some cultures it would be impolite to call your unmarried partner's parents by their first names. In that case Mrs.Lastname
or AuntieFirstname might be more proper. After marriage it's easier because you can call them Mum and Dad or some variation thereof.
If this is at play, ask other people you know who are dating into the same culture how you handled it. I dated a Filipino person and it felt SO RUDE to call their mom by her first name; I compromised with Auntie even though that felt weird to me.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:28 AM on October 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

the future MIL sounds like kind of a pill but not really all that bad.

This. All parents need managing in one form of another, and people don't change. My sister's (now ex-) boyfriend used to berate her and say, "I can't believe you put up with that [somewhat irritating] behavior from your mother! I would never put up with it, and I'm not going to!!" And she would reply: "1) I'm somewhat used to it and willing to put up with it in exchange for having a relationship with her, and 2) all parents need managing, and we all need to figure out how to manage our relationship with her, because she is in our lives."
posted by Melismata at 7:31 AM on October 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

I hear my younger self speaking in your post. Here's what I wish I had done sooner, but ultimately tried to do. First, realize that you are not in a competition with her. Seriously, once you can internalize that one concept, then so much of the other stuff will fall away. She has known you since you were a high school kid. Now it's time to show her the mature, confident young woman you have become. Stop listening to the gossip and talking about it to your BF. A wonderful gift you can give your BF is to stop putting him in the middle between you and his mom, framing it like a choice between you and her, and having him weigh in on all the gossip. Be secure enough in your relationship with BF so that you can send him off to do things with his family sometimes without acting hurt or threatened. When you're around her, be your best self. Start asking her about her day or her friends or her interests. Occasionally do a little something nice for her. Stay above the fray, trying your best to be kind and considerate. Let all the little things just roll on by -- right now you're holding on to them and letting them fester. You can't change her, but you can change your own actions regarding her. Then you'll never be the daughter-in-law you described, the one with rolling eyes that you don't want to be. Think of her as an ally you need to win over, and if you do, I'm betting that she will start treating you with more respect. Even with all her faults, down the road, she will be there for all your big happy moments as well as for the times of illness and sorrow. Getting her on your side is a great investment in good family times to come.
posted by MelissaSimon at 7:41 AM on October 10, 2017 [29 favorites]

Your post sounds... very young. You can call yourself an adult, but you're not coming off that way here.

It is bizarre that you are taking things like her buying her son a magazine about a celebrity he has been a fan of as some sort of affront to you. You accuse her of being judgy but are you hearing yourself, with the snark about the gifts she buys her own children? With the gossip about who might have said what in a private moment?

She has been his mother much longer than you have been his girlfriend. Stop trying to edge her out or convince yourself that her relationship with her son is a problem. She hasn't done anything offensive, to him or to you.

In-law relationships are usually somewhat awkward, but your discomfort here sounds like it's at the very mild and manageable end of the spectrum and you can alleviate much of it by adjusting your attitude. My advice to you would be to read some of the MIL questions in any advice column -- AskMeFi or Dear Abby or any other -- and get some perspective. I saw one in Dear Prudence the other day from a woman whose MIL had tried to poison her. Read a few of those, have some laughs and realize how fortunate you are.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:50 AM on October 10, 2017 [16 favorites]

As a teenager, my BF would often have to stay home and clean the house for her.

Bringing this up makes it sound like just thinking about this woman turns you into a whiny teenager. It is not a hardship to do chores around the house. Unless you mean he was treated like Cinderella, this is absolutely not a valid complaint that should ever even cross your mind, let alone make it into a considered description of your relationship with her. If you can't stop reacting to things she did when you were a child, you will never be able to feel like she is treating you as an adult.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:51 AM on October 10, 2017 [12 favorites]

Everything you say about his mom sounds like normal parenting to me. So much so that I have to wonder if your parents are the anomaly during your high-school years, and not his.

I too might initially be a little weirded out by my 25 year old son marrying his high school sweetheart. But I would get over it, much like she has.

I guess what I'm saying is, from the perspective of a parent, nothing you've said about his mom is alarming to me.

If you move back to your hometown, what exactly are you afraid of? Specifically? I would figure out what you think might happen, walk through those situations with your boyfriend, and decide what to do beforehand, together. Will you be expected to spend every Sunday over there? Will he have to stop in once a day? Will she be allowed over unannounced? That kind of thing. Talk about what will make you feel uncomfortable, in terms of his family.
posted by lyssabee at 8:26 AM on October 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

Honestly, I experienced much the same thing with my boyfriend while we were dating in college and I still find her annoying. She's a very closed off person, while my family is very open and welcoming. I have never really felt welcome in their home, and I know for a fact there is a class component (I'm the poor one, when my boyfriend told them about me they asked "what does she have to offer us?" !? Which is the kind of thing Some People will justify because they are also middle class and don't realize how horrendously embarrassing that is). Thus I resented my boyfriend for a long time for getting such a good deal with my family while we lived in the same city as his, who kind of didn't go out of their way to see us because he had betrayed them in some way by not acting 11 years old forever.

ANYWAY, I understand, it comes with a lot of baggage. Some of that is probably exacerbated by your age when you met, and your current age (youngish for marriage), and she probably is getting slightly better over time which is a great sign. But if you find her obnoxious... well, you're right. I think some people here are kind of ignoring your legitimate grievances, but you don't have to like the woman. It's her loss; she's missing out on a relationship with the woman who was attractive enough to her son for him to move across the country. You might be annoyed by how he caves to her at times but that's likely because he knows she's a bit weak-willed and sensitive and he doesn't want to hurt his weird mom. It doesn't mean he shouldn't respect you by telling her he can't do things that are a major inconvenience to you, but as long as it's mild like you've written, I would let it go. Don't be mean to her but I would t bother to beat myself up over not liking her enough. She's the one who needs to come around.

The advice to be high minded and kind to her is not bad but there are few things more degrading than constantly offering selfless kindness to someone who doesn't care a whit about your wellbeing. Pearls before swine and all that. Ignore her and think of his concessions to her as normal parent maintenance that just looks different from your own, if that helps. But don't make concessions about your own family expecting him to match them with his own, he probably won't.

I've heard the "mother's perspective" on this plenty of times, but I know enough normal, not overbearing/smothering mothers to know this kind of behavior is not an inevitability and I don't need to act like it's normal or somehow good. Frankly, after going through it, I do believe that sons that enable this sort of thing are lacking in spine and emotional intelligence, so don't worry about putting your "poor boyfriend" through this, he is creating the situation by not being prepared to either say no to one of you or explain his feelings/positions compellingly and make you feel safe. You're not a shrew, you're justly worried about where you stand in his life because he's not making it clear. You can tell him this with crystal clear honesty and see if he's capable of understanding that; a lot of men his age definitely aren't.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:34 AM on October 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

Oh, also, the manipulation is not normal or OK and I get the magazine thing. She wants to control his sexuality; he's not allowed to be with you but here's a smutty magazine for you to beat off to from your mother. I think that's very classic mother version of the father's "When my daughter gets tits, I'm buying a gun!" Women are at least forced to acknowledge that their sons have a sexuality, but they still want to control it. Some of them, that is.

You can feel sorry for her that she's losing control of her beloved son without thinking the bullshit she's pulling is normal and, dear god, trusting her. Be above it, and if her son keeps disappointing you when you tell him how you feel, let him go. You're young, there are emotionally mature fish in the sea.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:38 AM on October 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

The teenager stuff is generally a) well within the realm of normal parenting and b) no longer relevant. A teenager is still a child, their parents are entitled to give them a curfew, have qualms about their friends, make them clean the house, have rules about sex in their own home, take away their kid's phone, and insist they spend time with their family without outside friends.

In short, it sounds like you are resentful because your childhood relationship was not treated as an adult relationship. Get over it. The fact that you are more comfortable with your own family doesn't mean she's in the wrong.

It would be a little irritating to have your mom calling you to come home after 10 pm at 21 years old, I get that. But it's really hard for parents to get used to thinking of their kids as adults and plus, she probably missed him. The way to deal with this is to kindly set a clear boundary, not to take it as a personal affront.

It sounds like she takes you a bit more seriously now as his partner. So just be polite and friendly, try getting to know her as a person if possible, and set clear boundaries when you need to, but realise that she is his mother and its not unfair or bizarre for her to want an important place in his life.

Stop listening to second and third hand gossip. It doesn't help.
posted by windykites at 8:49 AM on October 10, 2017 [9 favorites]

I think you have to distinguish between "normal mom" and "ideal mom". She doesn't sound like she's "ideal mom", but you're seriously unlikely to ever actually wind up with someone who has that mom. What you get, in reality, is sometimes overbearing mom, sometimes annoying mom, sometimes treating you like a teenager even though you're totally not mom. By that measure, it sounds like you're largely on track. Some people have better moms than this, but many people have way worse moms than this. Don't sweat the small stuff.
posted by Sequence at 9:17 AM on October 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just give it time to evolve. You started dating when you were young and depending on where you are, many would still consider you young for marriage. IT's very possible that with your boyfriend living with you, his mom will start to see that he's a man and not a child when he goes home for visits and she realizes he's got a whole life and house to keep that she's not privy too (in other words, that he's actually independent). That's assuming he actually is independent and not like getting money from his parents.

Also toys for Christmas are awesome. NEver met anyone of any age who would prefer socks or whatever lame adult gifts are.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:28 AM on October 10, 2017

She sounds over-controlling and drama-prone - which are both traits you can deal with as long as you're not living with her. Do be careful not to fall on hard times enough that you consider living under her roof. Find ANY option rather than that.

As long as she's within the range of formally polite, accept that and deal with it. If she wants to be Mrs. X, let her. (Does her husband want to be addressed by his first name?) If you want to challenge her on the Mrs. X thing, wait until you're married and have a few people address you as Mrs. X in her presence. (If he's on your side, father-in-law is best for this: "welcome to the family, Young Mrs. X." But don't seek to drive a wedge between them; if his attitude is "dammit wife, this is our new daughter; cope" then you might get his help; if it's "look, new daughter, this is my wife and her household," then you try to minimize tensions instead of pushing for changes.)

Treat her as you would a co-worker with more seniority but in a different department from you. Be polite, but hold your ground - as others have said, she's likely treating you exactly as she did when you were a teenager, and she won't change that easily. Discuss future plans with her as if she's part of your-and-boyfriend's extended family, rather than you-and-boyfriend being part of hers. If she's miffed but polite about it (even if that falls into "chilly formality"), things should be fine; if she starts doing things to undermine your relationship, you'll need to have a serious talk with your boyfriend about that.

So far, it sounds like she hasn't been supportive but hasn't actively tried to ruin the relationship, just hoped that it would fall apart on its own. And it seems she's decided to accept that it's not.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:00 AM on October 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

The manipulation is not nice, I get that. Now you and your boyfriend can just communicate directly and discover any discrepancies.

As a teenager, my BF would often have to stay home and clean the house for her. - this reads like you think it is her responsibility to clean the house and he shouldn't have to clean for her . This belief might come to bite you when you are the wife/mother. Perhaps she thought he should stay home and clean because he's part of the family and doing his part to take care of shared responsibilities.
posted by meijusa at 11:01 AM on October 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

It sounds like many of these grievances are total normal teen-parent stuff -- I'm sure your boyfriend was annoyed to have his phone taken away or have to stay home and clean the house when he wanted to be out with friends when he was a teenager, but it's not like this is a bizarre way to parent! Similarly, my in laws and I have a great relationship, but they never let us sleep in the same room/bed until after we were married -- some people are just old fashioned about this stuff, and it has literally nothing to do with you -- it is just their view on what happens "under their roof."

I would try to focus on stuff that is currently happening in the here-and-now and let the past go. Whatever rules your inlaws had for their son when he was 17 are complete bygones (unless they were abusive, but I see no indication of that here). It sounds like currently your future MIL is actually pretty supportive of you guys (joint gifts, making positive suggestions about the proposal, etc.), absent one very gossipy comment which is factually true (you are the reason your boyfriend moved away, and she's sad he lives far away just like your parents are sad!) -- I don't know who this woman was who passed along the comment, but that was fairly uncool!

Something you guys should consider as a couple is whether it makes sense to move "back home." I love my parents (and my inlaws, who are in a different city), and we all have great relationships, but I would still probably be driven insane to live really close to them in the same small town where I grew up. Leaving the nest and making our lives elsewhere has been great for my husband and I as a couple. Even if you move back to the area, you could still choose a city 2-3 hours away rather than right down the block.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:31 AM on October 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

This sounds very much like my MIL and honestly our relationship is strained. She is closed off, judgmental and has engendered a competition between us in strange little ways over the years. But, she also raised my husband who I love very much and has had struggles in her life and I can feel deep empathy toward her because of that.

The key in everything has been being on the same page and on the same team with my husband. There are no go things; talking poorly of her ex-husband, mentioning weight or eating habits especially around our kids (history of very disordered eating in the family), not respecting our rules as parents, that we've both agreed to and that we don't let pass. Other things, I've learned to just let go. We have made clear that we do not keep secrets from one another, so things said to one of us are shared and having that team keeps down the drama. We also model direct communication and invite her to be part of it.

This woman is my children's grandmother and that is an important relationship. She is my husband's mother, and that is an important relationship. She may get on my nerves, but only when I really let her. She may not approve of me in many ways, but I live far away from her and only have to see her occasionally. I also have a rich life with lots of other people who care about me, most importantly my spouse, so ultimately her opinion is not of that much consequence. I have great relationships with his sister and his father, so I am part of that family. In her own way, she has accepted me and I'm part of her family too, even though it may not be the way I would like.

It sounds like your SO is looking to form that kind of team with you. That is fantastic. Talk about your boundaries early and often, and wherever you can leave him to handle the drama with his family. It's hard, but try to be grateful that she and her husband gave you an awesome partner. Keep the rest of your life full, so this one relationship doesn't have outsized influence and love your partner.
posted by goggie at 1:05 PM on October 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

This was my situation, too. I met my now husband when he was 17 and I was 16, and I found it hard to deal with his family, particularly his mother. I think it's easy to see the thought patterns that lead to problems. I mean, if a 25-year old man who's been living independently for years shows up to a family dinner with a new girlfriend, his parents are probably going to wonder if this is a future daughter in-law, and act accordingly. But because of the usual transience of teenage relationships, I don't think I was seen as a possible daughter-in-law -- I was someone who was probably going to split up with their son before we graduated from college. I don't feel like they've ever seen me as a good addition to their son's life. Rather, I was someone who would distract him from his family, friends and studies, break his heart for the first time, maybe put him through a pregnancy scare. They were always nice and polite to me, but in an impersonal way, as if they were waiting until the inevitable happened. They were quick to blame me when he changed in ways they didn't like -- although these changes had much more to do with his growing up and becoming an independent adult than with my influence. What was, to me, the beginning of an intense and loving relationship, was, to them, an immature puppy love that wasn't good for their son and probably wouldn't last. I can't really say I blame them, because I was just sixteen when I met my husband, and now at thirty-five I understand much better how rare it is to find the love of one's life at that age. But I spent the first few years of the relationship feeling like, by thinking of me as "generic teenage girl" and not as an individual or as someone who loved their son, they were devaluing our relationship. To then have to turn around and think of the people who produced these painful feelings as family was a hard thing to ask of me.

I may be off base, but I get the sense that's how you feel too. You've been criticized for feeling resentful over some of their parenting choices, but I feel like if you got the sense that the relationship itself was respected and treated as a positive force in your boyfriend's life, that the things that got under your skin wouldn't register as insults. When I was a teenager my mom wouldn't let the two of us be in my room with the door closed, among other rules, and I didn't resent things like that one little bit because from the beginning she treated him with complete respect and warmth and took my relationship with him seriously. The rules you mention, such as your boyfriend's mom calling him several times at your place after 10 PM, give me the sense that you feel like she saw you as a threat to him, as something dangerous he had to be protected from.

If you'd got together as adults after having other relationships, then this awkward period where everyone deals with some really complicated feelings, expectations and new roles would already be over, and the residual feelings from it wouldn't be affecting your adult relationship. Going from "probably fleeting teenage relationship" to "respected adult relationship" is a different thing. Now here you are, considering marriage to someone whose mother makes you feel belittled and anxious. I think it's not an easy thing to let go of the feelings that's produced in you, and I think that assuming that marriage will produce respect for the relationship and make you feel more secure is a questionable proposition. It might, certainly, but in my case, things got worse after we were married.

Some thoughts:

I am certain that your boyfriend is right, that none of this has to do with you personally and that there would have been similar troubles with any other woman. That was absolutely the case in my situation, and I did not realize it until I was much older. I wish I had been able to feel the truth of that much earlier -- I was a shy, insecure 16 year old, I took it all very personally, and I felt so miserable about it for such a long time. Doing cognitive behavioral therapy exercises has helped me depersonalize things, but I didn't know about that until I was in my 30s. I would have been so much better off if I had been doing therapy with CBT techniques in my 20s, and I hope you'll consider it.

I also think you should consider couples' counseling. This is a really common dynamic, and I know you don't want to put your boyfriend in the position of having to choose between you and his family but you should both be aware that that may happen anyway. Should it get to that point (which of course I hope it doesn't), I think the natural inclination for a lot of people is to try not to take sides, to keep the peace, to just get along, but this only makes things worse. Ultimately, I'm of the opinion that this is his problem: if he's aware enough to understand that this is about his mom more than it's about you, he should put effort into figuring out how to relate to his mother without making you feel devalued and hurt. An outside perspective will help both of you find strategies that work for you.

We don't live near his family, although it's not so much that we moved away from them as that we moved for our own reasons. With space between us, I can miss them and better appreciate the good things about them. I even wish it was easier to visit them!

I'm a mother myself now. For years when I was with my in-laws I felt like I was still the same awkward 16-year old that I was when they met me, but that feeling vanished when I had a baby. Of course, having a baby just for this reason would have been an awful idea! I'm just offering it as a data point: that's what it took for me to get over the barrier in my own head of feeling like a kid around them.

In our case, things got a lot worse before they got better, but I like to think that if you stay with your boyfriend, and the two of you deal with this instead of letting it get worse, you can come to terms with the feelings of being devalued and create a better relationship with his family.

If you want to talk to someone who understands why the magazine, the toys, the constant insinuation that you're bad for the person you love gets under your skin, you can always MeFi Mail me.
posted by shirobara at 3:10 PM on October 10, 2017 [10 favorites]

Followup from the OP:
@stoneandstar Thank you! You captured exactly how I felt about the magazine thing (I was hesitant to include it) and cracked me up describing it.

By shortening some experiences into a sentence, some things in the post didn’t read as I intended, but I’m glad that some people understood what I was trying to convey. A lot of this felt like the kind of angry ranting one can only do anonymously, so I appreciate having a space for this, as well as hearing constructive responses from people removed from the situation. Thank you very much for your answers.

Reading the responses and even writing out this question, some questions have emerged that I would like to include in case someone finds themselves in a similar situation in the future:

- Will my relationship with BF's mom be different because I am an adult? What do I want that to look like (i.e., be involved or keep my distance)?
- When we move back home, what are the expectations for how often my boyfriend and I will see each other’s/our own families, together or separately? Do we agree on this frequency?
- Will future MIL try to make the same demands on BF’s time as she has done in the past, or will she treat us differently because we are more of a unit now? More importantly, how will BF respond to this?

I’m realizing that there are no “right” answers to these questions, and however I feel is valid.

A lot of this post is anxiety about this upcoming proposal, which means committing to my BF without exploring the last frontier: what it’s like to live together AND live near his family (although this will happen fairly soon.) It’s like, we *finally* have this coveted independence and have created an awesome, incredibly fun life together and I fear relinquishing that. I don’t know how much of it is great precisely because we are so far away and don’t have to deal with these issues.

I know that our lives won’t necessarily go back to how they were, as it falls on my BF to set boundaries (if this is even necessary… future MIL might surprise us.) I fear that he won’t be able to set boundaries, and, deep down, I am probably here seeking validation that some of his mom’s behaviors are manipulative, as if this would be evidence that I’m *right* (I already know this is ridiculous :) ) This led to me bring up the laundry list of things that once bothered me, but that I haven’t actually thought about in a while. It’s also, of course, easier to blame BF’s mom when BF is the one who will need to take action.

For my part, I have to be OK with the fact that her accepting me won’t look exactly like my parents accepting him. In addition, I’m not at a loss of control here — I am in control of how I respond to future MIL and how much I care about her opinion of me; if we don’t ever have a relationship that’s more than cordial, then that’s fine, too. And, finally, I must accept that at the end of the day, whether internet strangers validate my feelings about BF’s mom or not, it’s ultimately up to me to decide whether I want to marry this guy and all that might (or might not) come with it.

Thanks so much again, everyone!
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:16 PM on October 10, 2017

1. Probably not. People in general are pretty self-absorbed; she probably isn't thinking "OP is adult! I should change things." You'll have to figure out what your boundaries are and how to communicate them to your boyfriend, and discuss how to react if they're not respected.

2. That's for you and your boyfriend to decide. As long as you're in the same page, what his mother does is irrelevant.

3. See above. How much does your boyfriend want to "help?" Get on the same page.

See a theme? Figure out what you needs. Communicate those needs to your boyfriend and get on the same page. Decide together on a plan for what to do next. Focus on the primary relationship, and be a team. Premarital counseling would be really useful here, both for these issues and all the other ones that will inevitably crop up.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:51 PM on October 10, 2017

Regarding your update: Have you talked to your boyfriend about all this? What does he want his relationship with his mother to look like? What does he want your relationship with his mother to look like? What does he envision your new family's relationship to his family of origin's relationship to look like?

You're right that much of this is on him, but also on you as a couple, and it's something worth talking about, not just trying to solve on your own. Because he gets to have input here, too. Differentiating from families of origin -- both as individuals and as a couple -- is a major developmental step, and it's worth doing consciously, with intention, and with a lot of communication.
posted by lazuli at 9:33 AM on October 12, 2017

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