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Mom on Girlfriend Action

Mom on Girlfriend Action

When one reader started getting inappropriate comments from her boyfriend's mom, she wrote to the 4-way to find out how to handle the situation gracefully. The panel helps her lay down some serious boundaries.

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Dear 4-Way,

I think my boyfriend’s mom might be hitting on me. She’s single and modern, but not openly dating women. However, I notice that every time I’m in her company, she goes out of her way to give me a back rub, or say something cute about my breasts. I think it would horrify my boyfriend if I suggested such a preposterous idea, but it’s really getting to the point where I dread time that I have to be in her presence. I don’t want to assume wrongly, but I’m not sure how to be graceful about the situation, either.SV, San Francisco, CA

The gay woman’s perspective: Jody Fischer

Whether his mom is gay, straight, or somewhere in between seems beside the point. Her behavior is in appropriate and you should not put up with it. I can certainly understand why you’re uncomfortable around her and why it’s tricky to create change. Here are a few things to clarify before you go forward with a plan. Does his mom display this kind of behavior in front of her son, or just when the two of you are alone? In other words, has your boyfriend been a witness to his mother’s shenanigans? If so, and he hasn’t said anything, you have to wonder why.

Something else to consider is who to speak to about this, her or your boyfriend? If you’ve been dating this guy for a while, I’m sure you have a sense of how much he cares for you and what kind of relationship he has with his mom. Are they super close? Does he still live at home? Putting a son between his mom and his girlfriend is a delicate thing. I suggest that you start by talking to the boundary-less mom. Find a time when your guy is not right there and it’s just you and her. It would be even better if she made some inappropriate remark or tried the back rub thing again while it’s just the two of you. Then you could—and here’s the important part—calmly and directly say that you are uncomfortable with her comments about your body and with her giving you a back rub. Upon hearing your truth, she may back off immediately, make a joke, or act offended. However she reacts, you’ll have made yourself clear. If she persists, then it’s time to reach out to the boyfriend for some back-up.

The gay man’s perspective: Darren Maddox

I don’t think it’s odd that she gave you a back rub. I’d venture to say that she just wants to show you that she likes you and feels comfortable with you dating her son. But about the breast comment (clearly not something I’m skilled at tackling), does she say, “Nice rack, SV,” or is it a more casual “You have nice boobies but they’d be better accentuated by wearing this new holster I discovered at the mall”? Does she just come on to you, or is she affectionate toward all her gal pals? If you haven’t been around her with other women in the room, do so—that may tell you a lot.

When you say she’s modern and single, does that mean she has a white sofa and suede pillows or that she likes to walk around in flip flops and a thong while in your presence? My advice here is to do a little more homework on her before springing it on your boyfriend that she makes you uncomfortable. Remember, boys like their mammas no matter what they say. Maybe you can work something like, “I hate that your mom is single. She’s such a catch. What’s her type?” into a conversation with your boyfriend. Then ask about her love life, who she’s dated, etc. If she’s ever had a one on one with a lady he’ll likely say something like, “Good God, the last thing I need is two mommies again!” Then your mystery will be solved and you can safely respond with “I swear I thought I was getting a vibe from your mom” proceed from there. Case closed.

The straight woman’s perspective: Rebecca Brown

If there’d ever been an indie, San Francisco version of Meet the Parents, I think this would’ve been it. Be glad she’s only commenting on your breasts; she could’ve tried to milk them, Greg Focker-style.

Kidding aside, SV, these are treacherous waters you’re treading. Not only do you have to deal with the creepy flirty mom issue, you’ve also got to delicately navigate through the mother/son relationship, which I know from personal experience can be a complete nightmare. It took many years and a lot therapy for me to understand that when couples deal with family, they need to operate as a single unit with a united front. (This is assuming that you’re in a serious relationship with your boyfriend, and I’m assuming you are since you’re meeting his mom.) This means that you need to bring the issue up with your boyfriend first.

Rather than potentially alienating your boyfriend by telling him what his mother is doing, I suggest asking him if his mother has displayed the same behavior with previous girlfriends. This will allow you to gauge his awareness and/or defensiveness of her behavior. Whichever it is, you need to be clear on two things with him: 1) it makes you uncomfortable and you want it to stop and 2) you want his support—whether he agrees that she’s being inappropriate or not—when the questionable behavior happens again. You may have to invent a sign or something that lets him know when you feel uncomfortable. (Because maybe breast rubs were the norm in his house growing up—who knows?)

Fending off her advances needs to be a team effort. You can be gracefully vocal with her about her comments and actions, but the primary responsibility for keeping his mother under control falls on your boyfriend. Give him the agreed upon sign when you feel uncomfortable so that he can try and intervene first. If that fails, politely tell her that backrubs aren’t your thing, or talking about your breasts makes you feel weird. If she keeps it up, you and your boyfriend need to make a contingency plan for how to deal with her and how much time to spend with her. Oh, and if your boyfriend doesn’t believe you, or is unwilling to support you in fending off his mom, he’s not your guy. Shut him out of the circle of trust.

The straight man’s response: Chris Kennedy

Mama Mia, I got a problem with how this woman is acting. So, SV, does Ms. Robinson make it a point to say this stuff to you when her boy’s not around? Because if that’s the case, things are even worse. I hope you have a good enough relationship with your boyfriend to say something like, “Oh my gosh, your mom mentioned she liked my breasts. And the other day she gave me a back rub, what’s the deal? Is she usually like this or what?” You’re simply relaying her actions, not judging them. Let him judge them and decide the best action to take. He knows her better than you. Maybe this is her MMO: Mother’s Modus Operandi. 

Let’s be clear, you mentioning this to him is not what’s horrifying, his mother’s behavior is. Cut to the Good Will Hunting scene where Robin Williams’ character repeatedly says to Matt Damon’s character, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” Damon’s character weeps. (Didn’t we all?)

Anyway, you’re understandably uncomfortable, and your boyfriend’s mom needs to stop her inappropriate behavior. There’s an interesting gender thing going on here too. If it were your boyfriend’s dad, it would clearly be wrong because he’s a man commenting on your breasts and that’s creepy. You probably wouldn’t be as hesitant to say something about it. There’s something more forgivable in a woman saying it, right? Less threatening perhaps, but not really. It’s unacceptable for either gender and you gotta say something to your boyfriend. Mama Mia better change her ways before she becomes Mama See Ya.

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