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Meddling Mama

Meddling Mama

You can't choose your partner's family, but you can choose your partner. Our panel of relationship experts dish advice on how to deal with disapproving parents.

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Dear 4-Way,
I recently ended a relationship with a man I had been involved with on and off since high school. (I’m now thirty.) We had great chemistry and shared many good times together. However, the one thing we didn’t share was an understanding of how to deal with his parents, who openly disapproved of his dating me. His mother in particular was never supportive of our relationship, because she felt she should have the right to choose the woman her son should marry, and she did not approve of me for him. While I feel I did everything I could to reach out to her and prove I was the right person, I left him because I felt the situation was never going to change and he was not going to stand up for our relationship. Did I do the right thing?—JK, Atlanta, Georgia 

The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
I’m sorry to hear that such an important, long-term relationship has ended. I’m sure the decision to end it was a very difficult one. Now, with that out of the way, I can’t help but wonder who the hell his mother thinks she is to have the right to choose who her son marries. Her right to voice her opinion on who her son does or does not hang around with ended the day he graduated kindergarten. Since you’re thirty, and you say you dated in high school, I’ll guess he’s about your age. That puts her way behind on getting out of his business, according to my watch. 

It sounds to me as if his mother’s parents chose the person she married, and so she believes that now gives her the right to bestow that same misery upon her son. Everyone should have the freedom to let nature take its course regarding marriage, no matter what a parent says and no matter what a state votes for and repeals. For your former boyfriend to not recognize his own rights in this day and age leads me to believe that yes, you did do the right thing by dumping him. Pat yourself on the back! Imagine a life married to him: His mother would always rule holiday schedules. Your children would always be named what she believed was best. You would never win because it would always be an ongoing battle to try to please the mother and not offend your husband. Go get Mr. Right! The ex may have been a good time-passer, but I think you deserve much more than what you’ve gotten so far in this life. 

The Gay Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
Wow, does Mommy feel that she has a right to choose when her son goes to the bathroom, too? This type of thinking is so strange to me. If a grown man is consciously letting his parents choose his partner, then you have to wonder what else he’d let them control once the wedding was over. Will they choose the names of your children and where you’ll live, too?

It’s mighty challenging to come between a son and his mom, and if this guy wasn’t able to man up and tell his mom that he wants you, then I have to agree that he’s not the guy for you. I also hear you longing to find the kind of connection you had with this man. Remember, there are many factors that go into a lifetime partnership. Sure, chemistry and good times are essential. But when a guy lets his folks run the show, that puts a damper on the other good-quality parts of your connection. Yes, you made the right decision, JK. Go and search for someone who has more to offer and less parental baggage.

The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
Back in the day, there was a cliché prison tattoo that read: “My mama didn’t love me.” Yours could read: “His mama didn’t love me.” So you have that going for you—that and my support that you did the right thing. Way to go, JK. On again, off again is fine … if you’re a faucet. Seriously, if you’re in one of these topsy-turvy, together-one-day, apart-the-next type of relationships, just stop it. End the relationship. Move on. It’s not going to work, or change, or get better. It’s going to stay like that as long as you two continue together. 

As for his mama’s not lovin’ you, well, so be it. Mamas have the right to give their opinions to their sons, and the sons have the right to take or leave those opinions. For your part, you tried to change her mind, but you couldn’t. The real issue, though, is that her grown-up son can’t stand up for what he believes in. Or he may just not have believed in your relationship. Which is the conclusion that you came to—rightly—and the reason you left. Let’s listen to another mama here—not your ex’s, but Smokey Robinson’s, who once told him, “… you better shop around.” To quote another Smokey song, I second that emotion. Get to shoppin’ around, JK. 

The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
As a person who has a firsthand understanding of a partner’s parents who didn’t approve of me, I want to tell you how sorry I am that you had to go through this. It’s hard enough to make relationships work between two people, but when you add an extended family into the mix, it’s damn near impossible. 

I don’t think you should ever have to prove to anyone else that you’re “right.” The person you’re dating either feels it for you or doesn’t, and if your partner likes you, then that’s it. End of story. It’s everyone else’s job to get with the program. Unless your ex suffered from some sort of head trauma that made it impossible for him to make sound decisions, no one else should’ve been weighing in on whether or not you were “right.” The fact that you even know his family didn’t think you were acceptable is inappropriate. Yes, family and friends will always have opinions, but your ex should’ve managed how freely those opinions were distributed. 

There are probably a lot of people who’d say that you made a mistake by leaving him over this, but I think you made the right choice. How we manage our family when we’re in a relationship is, in my opinion, as critical an issue as the other biggies: money, sex, and children. If your ex couldn’t stand up to his family about your relationship when you were dating, imagine what your life would’ve been like if you’d gotten married—his mother would’ve felt she had the right to involve herself in every decision, and your ex would’ve let her. Maybe your breaking up with him will knock some sense into him; maybe not. If not, I wish you the best of luck in meeting someone who will put you first. Your most important relationship is with the man, after all … not with his mother. 

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