Monday, December 21, 2009
(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved.)
Dear Aunt Messy,
I have been reading your column for a long time and now find myself in need of your unbiased advice. My boyfriend and I have been together for a year and a half and are seriously contemplating marriage (the ring has been purchased).
We are both graduate students. He is in California, where he grew up and his parents still live, and I'm in Chicago. Before he returned to California, he had been away from his parents for six years. He went to boarding school for part of his high school, then moved on to university to get his bachelor's degree. His sister left home for college when he left for boarding school and has not returned.
The problem is his mother. After he returned to California, she has become increasingly clingy and needy. He used to call her "helicopter Mom", now he's started calling her "psycho mom". She demands that he show up for dinner regularly and starts a huge argument if he has other plans. A large part of her problem is that he spends weekends in Chicago with me. Every weekend she asks him what he's doing, and gets the same answer - he's coming to see me. This always starts another huge argument where she accuses him of "slipping away" and "abandoning" her. It's also causing problems between his parents. His father knows his mother is being unreasonable, but has little influence on her.
Two things have happened recently that are particularly annoying. First, he agreed to spend part of the Christmas holidays at his parents' second home in New England. The plan was that he would leave there for Chicago on the 28th and join me in a drive to California for New Year's Eve. As soon as he told his mother this, she informed him that he was not permitted to leave until the 29th. Since his parents purchased the plane tickets, he felt he had no choice but to agree.
Second, it seems that his mother finally realizes that my boyfriend will be leaving soon, and has stepped up her campaign to make him stay with her. She accuses him of "leading a double life" because of his visits with me and is being even more controlling and needy. This is easier for her because she and his father are supporting him financially, including paying his rent while he's in grad school. Since he only has one semester to go before he leaves California for good, he's inclined to let this situation continue until he leaves home for good. He won't be applying to any schools in his home state, so he won't be in this position much longer.
I hate to see him miserable, but I have a hard time sympathizing with someone's situation when they just let it continue. If he continues to allow his mother to do these things to him, my sympathy is going to run out.
I want us to have a nice New Year's Eve out on the town. I am afraid that this is going to turn into a me vs. her thing and I do not want that to happen. Other than all this, she is a lovely woman and I would like for us to have a good relationship. But I want my boyfriend and I to live our own life together and not be constrained by what we are expected to do down to the last detail. At times like this, it's nice to be reminded ho grateful I am for my own mother!
Thank you for reading my letter, Aunt Messy. What do you recommend?
(This letter has been edited for length and the locations changed to protect both the writer's privacy and that of her boyfriend and his family. While it is unlikely that anyone will connect this specific situation to those specific people, I feel that I should exercise at least some caution to prevent it and avoid hurt feelings on any side.)
I am So Glad you could Be Here! Your timing is Excellent too, because my Dear Brother Osgood is just putting the Finishing Touches on the Lights and Decorations. It's going to be Beautiful this Year. So Handy to have a Decorator in the Family, don't you Think? Well come in. It's chilly outside and I could Certainly Use a Glass of Brandy right now! Would you Care to Join me? Delightful!
I did Read your Letter, Of course! It Seems that you are in the Middle of Something that your Young Man will have to Contend with on his own. Why ever did he Choose to go to Graduate School near his Parents in the first Place? Was it the money? No Matter, dear, what's Done is Done for the moment.
Sadly, the way his Mother is Acting is Far Too Common. I do not Understand how it is that a Woman with all of her Wits about her would Think that it is Acceptable Behavior to Cling to her Adult Children like the Proverbial Limpet. She Should be Enjoying her Freedom right now instead of trying to Curtail that of Others!
She is Not the Only One to blame, though. By Accepting his parents Money and Continuing to Accept it, your Boyfriend is at least Somewhat Complicit in his own Troubles. You were Quite Correct in that assessment. It's Not a Comfortable Place to be, to realize that One's Freedom is Curtailed under the Threat (even if it is vague) of Losing one's Livelihood, especially when it is a Parent doing the Constraining! There's nothing to be Done Now, though.
(Another brandy? Oh look! Cook has Left Us some Sugar Cookies! Do Have some Dear. They are Delicious.)
You say that your Young Man's sister left home at the Same Time that he left for Boarding School. I find it Interesting that she has Never Returned. She may have Known Something that he did not Realize at the Time. Remember that he was Very Young when he left, only fifteen or sixteen years old. Since Teenagers are not Known for their Subtlety or Ability in Reading Adult Situations, it's possible that his Sister deliberately Escaped the kind of Behavior from their Mother that he is Experiencing right Now. You also Mention that your Young Man's Father is well aware that his Wife is Being Unreasonable. It seems that he is also Incapable of Influencing her.
It's not only Possible, but Probable that your potential mother-in-law has had Serious Emotional Issues for a Long Time. She has become Accustomed to Controlling the People around her, and that could Only have Happened if Those around her have Consistently Indulged her Whims to avoid Argument, rather than saying No to her. Your Young Man has also Fallen into this Habit, but Not Entirely.
You are Correct that he will One Day have to Stand up to Her. However, you are Incorrect that the Time is Now. If you Demand this of him, You will Only be Adding to the Pressure that he is Already contending with. I Understand that your Christmas Plans are Important to You and that you Feel that your Young Man should have Refused his Mother's Demands, but he is in a Very Difficult Situation. He is Dependent on his Parents for Money, with only One Semester to go before he can Leave them Permanently. His Impulse is Discretion, and I think that he is Correct in this. I suggest Forgoing the Long Drive and Arranging to have a Quiet New Year's Eve in Your Arms.
In Four Short Months, he will be in a Position to Escape his Mother's Control permanently. He will be in a Program far from his Home and will be able to Act as His Own conscience dictates. Be warned, though. For him to be Truly Independent, he MUST stop Taking Money from his Parents altogether. I Know that this will mean some Lifestyle Changes in the Short Term, but this is Something that he Must Bear. Remember that Most Students are Not Wealthy, but they all manage to Survive on their Own.
So dear, you must Be Patient for now. He Knows that you Don't Want to Hear his Complaints about his Mother. He Knows that you are Getting Impatient with this Situation. However, he Also Knows that it is Temporary and that in a Few Short Months it will be Over for Good. Do not Lose Patience with him Now. He doesn't Necessarily want Sympathy from You, just an Ear to Air his Frustrations.
As for Having a Good Relationship with his mother....I doubt Very Much that it will Ever be Possible for you to Be Friends with the Woman. I know that you Say she is a "Lovely Woman", but Her Behavior indicates Otherwise. Since a Large Part of her Problem at the Moment seems to be that her son travels to See You every Weekend, I am Forced to Conclude that she Sees You as a Threat - Someone who is, in her mind, Taking Her Son from her. If you Truly want to Have a Life that does not include Indulging your potential Mother-in-Law's whims, then that is Up to your Young Man. He is the one that will have to Steer that Relationship.
I Know it Chafes Dear, but this is a Situation where Patience is Called for. You are Sensible to Realize that it's too Early to Get Married. Now you must Exercise some Restraint until your Young Man is Independent, which is Not Far Off now. Let him Build a Separate Relationship with His Parents that does Not Involve obeying his Mother at Every Turn. He has an Ally in His Father. Give this some Time before you Leap to any Conclusions or Say Something in Haste that you May Regret.
After all, in the End, You are the one he will be Spending his Life with, Not his Mother.
Oh my it is Getting Late, isn't it? Today is the Shortest Day of the Year, though. After this, things will Improve Rapidly! Oh look, I Knew I forgot Something. Cook has Left You a box of her Famous Sugar Cookies. You Make Sure and Share them with Your Young Man, now.
Monday, November 30, 2009
(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)
Dear Aunt Messy,
I am a 41-year-old college professor married with two children; a son 13 and a daughter 12. My husband is an information technology professional. He's a smart, dynamic and witty man who happily refers to himself as a "regular guy". Before I met him, I dated several intellectual types, but they never really appealed to me. I certainly could never see myself married to one of them. It wasn't until I met my husband that I realized how wrong these individuals would have been for me.
Initially, my family was very unhappy with my choice. The could not understand why I didn't marry one of the intellectual types that I had dated in the past. They would call my husband a "regular guy", meaning it as an insult and I was furious about it. My husband shrugged it off, declaring that he IS a regular guy. Thankfully, he's very laid back and easy-going. It's almost impossible to offend the man.
I have a sister who is 18 months older than me. She did marry an intellectual guy, even though when she was younger, that is the last type of man that would have attracted her. Her husband is very smart, brilliant in fact, in an Einstein kind of way. They have two girls, aged 13 and 10 and live three hours away from us. At least once a year we've gone to stay with them for a couple of days. The girls really enjoy each other's company and it was a relaxed time for all of us.
My husband and son naturally feel left out at these gatherings. My brother-in-law is a workaholic who we virtually never see when we're all together, and my regular guys are just not interested in the girly things that the other kids are. Usually when we're there, they will go play a round or two of golf together at the course near my sister's house. This does not interfere with anything we all do together, like go to plays, have dinner or go to the park.
Not long ago, my sister called to tell me that my husband and son are no longer welcome if they're going to play golf during the visit. She sats that her husband's and children's feelings have been hurt by this. At the same time, she's been referring to my husband as a "regular guy" in a derisive tone and had been claiming that she doesn't understand him because they're so different from she and her husband. Lately she's been including my son in her talk, claiming that she just cannot relate to my husband and son.
I was so angry at this that I decided then and there to just never visit her again. She keeps pushing the issue, inviting us and implying that we are somehow rude and selfish for not coming and following her "rules".
Aunt Messy, are we rude to think that someone should be able to go golfing during a family visit? Should I plan a visit under her rules? Will I regret cutting her off at some future date as she has made it clear that there can be no relationship between us until I have given in and decided to do things her way?
A (Stupid) Intellectual
(Note: This Letter has been Edited for Length. Every bit of the information the writer has sent me is here.)
Oh, my Dear Girl! I am so Glad to have Heard from you! Please do Come In. Leave your Coat here and We'll go to the Small Parlour for tea.
I Must Apologize for my Tardiness in Answering your Letter. It has been a Most Confusing Time for me. I have Decided to Divide my Time between my Beloved Farm and my delightful Pied a Terre in Paris and Organizing everything has been terribly Time Consuming. Why, if it weren't for my Dear Brother Osgood and my Beloved Niece, I would Never have Managed!
(Ah, here's the Tea! Oh and Look, there are some of the Delicious Ginger Cookies that Cook Makes for me. Thank You. Now, it's Very Cold outside, would you Care for a Splash of Brandy in your Cup? Wonderful. I'll Join You.)
Now to Business.
You Husband sounds like a Lovely Man. You really should Bring Him along the Next time you Visit, dear, I'm sure that there are Plenty of Things for your Children to do Together and he would Enjoy them as Well. I Must Congratulate you on your Choice. You are Positively Glowing with Happiness. I am So Glad that your Family (or at least your Parents) have Come to Accept him.
As to your First Question, it's Merely a Matter of Precedent. Has anyone Objected to Your Husband and Son Golfing in the Past, or Has it been Accepted the they will Do So? It Sounds as if Your Husband is Happy to Entertain himself and your Son and that they Find the Company of Teen-Aged (and Nearly teen-aged) Girls rather Tedious. One cannot Blame them for Absenting Themselves for Part of the Day. As you Say in your Letter, their Activities do not Interfere in Any Way with the Visit. Had there been Activities Planned by the Hostess that Included them Specifically, then it would be Another Matter and you would All have been Expected to Attend.
(Will you have Another? Help yourself to the Cookies, I quite Adore them!)
I am More Concerned about her Recent Attitude towards your Husband and Son, though. This seems to me to be a Symptom of a Larger Problem. How Close are you two? Would she Tell You if she was having Problems with her Marriage? I must say that it Seems that Your Husband and Hers are Polar Opposites. Is it Possible that she now Envies your Choice? Her Husband may well be a Very Good Man, but if he is as Uninvolved in the Daily Life of his Family as you Describe, then Perhaps she is Lonely. Seeing you and your Happy Family may well Fill her with Envy and cause some of the Spite that she has Recently Aimed at you.
I Suspect that There was a Time when Your Parents' Opinion was far more Important to your Sister than it was to You. She may have Consciously or Unconsciously Chosen a Man like the one that your Parents had Envisioned for You after Seeing the Dreadful Way they Treated You and Your Husband early in Your Marriage. For a Long Time, she No Doubt felt somewhat Superior to you because she Made your Parents Happy in a Way that you did Not. This has Nothing to do with You. You demonstrated a Backbone and Determination that She was Incapable of at the Time, she may be Envious of that, too.
Naturally you Cannot Grant her Demand that you Abandon half your Family just for the Privilege of Seeing her! It is an Absurd Request and You Mustn't even Consider it. Let her Know that You and Your Family are an Inseparable Unit that that if They are Not Included in any Visit you Make, then You will Not be Able to Make the Trip Again. Whatever you do, you Must Not permit Your Son to Hear any of her Cruel Nonsense.
There May Indeed come a Time when you Must Cut her Off. This is Very Unfair to your Daughter, but if Seeing her Cousins must Also Come with the Exclusion of her Brother, then there is No Help for it. Your Sister cannot be Permitted to Set the Rules for Your Family and I think you are Quite Correct in Not Permitting her to do so.
I Know that you are Very Angry with her, but Try the Following: Next Time you Talk to your Sister, propose that She and her Family come and Visit You for a change. Ignore (for the moment) All of her Nonsense about the Men in Your Family, and just Invite them All. If she Won't even Consider it, then you have your Answer. I Suspect that this One-Sided Relationship has been Very Comfortable for her. She has Always been the One in Control, but Now that you have Put Your Foot Down, she Sees her Influence on you Slipping, and that May Be one of the Causes of her Anger at You right now.
If you Decide that your Only Contact with her will be on the Telephone, then when she Starts Talking Nonsense, Tell her that you will Hang Up and then Do It. Never apologize for This. Her Anger is Her Choice, and if she won't Tell You the Real Source of her Problem, then that is Nothing to do with You.
Did any of This Help? You have a Long History of Not Allowing People to make choices For You and it has worked Splendidly so far. Trust your Instincts, they are Excellent. And my Dear? Never Call yourself "Stupid" Again. I shall be Most Annoyed if you Do, you're one of the Smartest People I've Met in Years.
(Oh look! Cook has Sent You a Bag of Cookies to Take Home! Isn't she a Dear Lady?)
Monday, October 26, 2009
(Photo copyright 2009, all rights reserved.)
Hello my Dears! I have a Special Treat for you Today! Someone has Sent me a Letter asking for my Advice. This is Very Exciting - my very First Letter. Of course, Anyone can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be Happy to Respond here.
Dear Aunt Messy,
I have been divorced for just over a year and started dating a few months ago. My job is very demanding and the I have a three-year-old daughter who keeps me very busy, so I've been using a couple of dating websites to meet people. So far I've gone out with three gentlemen that I've met at these sites. None of these have resulted in a long term relationship as yet, but I've had some fun and met some interesting people, but only in the short term.
The latest man I dated has me flummoxed, though. We dated for two months. He's somewhat older than me (early 50s, I'm in my mid-30s), but seemed to be a fun-loving, relaxed person. He is very well-off and has been divorced for 20 years. He has an adult daughter that I only met once. At first, he seemed very interesting. He travels, has adventures and generally has a good time. He's considering winding down his career and retiring soon. In short, he is much like the other two people I met online.
I made it clear from the beginning that I have a daughter and that any long term relationship would only happen if he keeps that in mind. He told me that was fine, that he loves children and would like a family again. There was one incident where he snapped at my daughter (he told her to shut her mouth when she was eating), and she never really warmed to him. This was something that concerned me, because she's a very social child, but I was willing to see where this would go. After all, we had only been dating for a matter of weeks. I thought we might have a chance at a real relationship.
Then last week he invited me out for dinner to one of my favorite restaurants. He was half an hour late picking me up, but apologized when he arrived and we still made it to the restaurant on time. Everything seemed normal and the food was wonderful, but halfway through the entree he started with the "It's not you, it's me" speech. I sat there in shock for a moment because this appeared to come out of the blue. Then I got up, walked out of the restaurant and home. We have not spoken since, and I wouldn't talk to him even if he did call.
This has let me to wonder what's wrong with me? I'm told that I'm attractive, I'm not overweight, I'm well-educated (Ph.D.) and well spoken. My wardrobe and comportment are good. I can't see that I did anything to offend this man, but I must have done or said something that put him off.
What's wrong with me, Aunt Messy? Will I ever date again? Will I ever find happiness? I'm in no hurry, but I'm beginning to wonder why I can't seem to find someone who just wants to spend time with me. What is it about me that these men find so revolting?
Oh, my dear Child, do Come in. We'll have a nice Glass of this Delightful Shiraz while we have our Appetizers. The Salon, if you Please, cook!
Now you were Wondering what is Wrong with You? Nothing, my Dear. Nothing at All. In fact, any man Should be Proud to have you at his Side. You have done Nothing Wrong, except perhaps to Expect More of these men than They are Capable of Comprehending. How, after all, could anyone but a Rank Fool give up a Chance to be with Someone like You?
(Have a glass of wine, dear. I'll join you.)
The Problem is Entirely Theirs, and the Man that you were Seeing most Recently is the Worst type of Fool!
You may know that I have Somewhat of a Chequered Past, dear. You wouldn't Know it to Look at me Now, but I was considered Quite the Beauty in my Time! It's Life on the Stage, you Know. It Attracts so many of the Wrong People. See that Photograph behind the Chaise Lounge? That's me when I was a Dancer. Yes, dear, that's the Whole Costume. It was de rigeur at the time, of Course. No one Thought it too Shocking to see me Attired in a Diamond Necklace, high heeled Shoes and a Pair of Ostrich Feather Fans.
Nonetheless. I did Learn a few things about Men such as Those you are Describing.
(Another Glass, dear? My goodness, these Cheese Puffs are Delicious!)
Many well-off Older Men (for so they were to me, and they are for you, too) are Accustomed to Purchasing whatever it is they Want. This includes People. I'm not referring just to Women, dear. This is a Pattern of Behavior that they've Followed all their Lives. If you Delve into their Business and Personal histories, you will Usually Find that they Firmly Believe that Money should Take Care of Everything and Everyone they have to deal with. They go to the Same Schools their Fathers did, join the Same Fraternities and Never have to Make an Effort to make a Friend or Meet Women. They surround themselves with People who are happy to be Bought and Never Worry about Consequences because they have Enough Money to Smooth Over most Problems.
It's Absurd and Wrong-Headed, but that's what they Think.
When you Add to that the Fact that the Fellows you've seen that Have been Divorced for a Long period of Time, you'll find that its even Worse. You see Dear, these Men are Single for a Reason. In some cases No one will Have them once they've gotten to Know them. After all, Having Money does not necessarily make men Less Boorish than their less well-heeled compatriots. In Some Cases, these People are Simply Nasty Cads who are Best Avoided.
Most of them, though, have Enough Money that they would have No Trouble at all finding a Woman who would Tolerate their Excesses and Bad Behavior for the sake of a Comfortable Life. They Remain Single for One Simple Reason, dear. They want to Live like Children, running after their Every Whim in the Vain Hope that they can Fool other into thinking they have a Full and Interesting Life. They don't. All they Accomplish is to Fill their Time with Trivial Nonsense.
Responsibility is something they Cannot Tolerate. It takes Effort, and they've Avoided anything Requiring true Effort for their Entire Lives. They aren't Interested in Bright, Accomplished young Ladies, they want Temporary Companionship that will make No Demands on them. All they Require is Someone to be Decorative on the Right Occasions and fade into the Woodwork unless Summoned.
You mention that this...Person you went out with Went Fishing, Hunting and Hiking all within the Short Time you Knew him. He didn't Invite you to Join Him, did he? I thought not. He went with Male Friends who Live just as He Does, whether they're Married or Not.
(Oh good. Dinner is Ready! I'm Famished. I hope you enjoy Leg of Lamb, dear. Yes? Oh Lovely. Let's have another Bottle of Wine, too.)
This is Why it's impossible for you to have a Good Relationship with People like That, dear. You are Beautiful (And don't Demur! Millions of Women would Envy your Looks. There is No Need for Modesty in this!), and they are Attracted to you, but Soon they Understand that you will Not be Treated like an Armband or a Convenience to Any Man. You Frighten Them. They see in you Someone that they Could have aspired to Be Like as well as a Beautiful Woman. They Know that they can Never live up to your Standards and it Makes them Feel Inferior.
Make no Mistake. They Do feel Inferior to You. You have Everything that they Never bothered to Attain themselves. Your Accomplishments, your Natural Dignity, your Honesty, your Integrity - These are all Things that They will Never have, and you make them Feel as Small and Insignificant as they are in Truth. This is Not a Mirror that Any Man can Bear to Look into.
(A Hairy Back?! Oh Dear how Dreadful! What a Revolting..... Would you Care for a glass of Port or Madeira with Dessert? ... Not Inventive either? Well, Selfish People never make Good Lovers, do they? And you Didn't Notice when he... Oh dear. Just as Well then...)
Cast your Net wider, dear! You will Find Someone who will Make you Happy, that you will Love with all your Heart. A Rule that I made for Myself a Long Time ago is that if a Man can't make me Laugh within Hours of Meeting, he is Not the Right Person for me. That Rule has made me Very Happy in the Past. I think it's a Good One. I Predict that you will Meet Someone when you Least Expect to. He will be Someone that will Make you Laugh, who will Dedicate himself to Your Happiness, and that you can Trust with your Heart and maybe even your Money.
Oh, what a Lovely Dinner! Cook has Outdone herself this time! No, of Course you Can't Drive home. Thomas will take you, or if you Prefer, you could Spend the Night and go Riding with me in the Morning? Lovely. Maryanne will Show You to the Green Suite. Tomorrow, I Must to Introduce you to Someone...
Friday, October 23, 2009
(Photo copyright 2009, all rights reserved)
Oh my Dears, How I have Missed You! It Seems so Long since I've Spoken to any of You and I Feel I've been Dreadfully Neglectful! I have been Terribly Busy, but that is No Excuse for Treating my friends so Shabbily! Please accept my Apologies as I try to Make Amends.
Those of You who have Read my Letters before no doubt Know that I have been in the Throes of Renovating a Darling Flat in Paris. I Believe that my Last Missive describes a Room which had been Walled Over. For those of You who Don't Recall this, I will Merely tell you that there was a Discrepancy in the Size of Two Rooms along a Hallway, and the Length of the Hallway. My Dear Brother Osgood noted this and Removed the Wallboard one Evening, discovering a Small Study that had been Inexplicably Hidden.
It was a Delightful Mystery, of Course, and I Much Enjoyed Solving it! I will Tell you More about it at a Later Date, though. This is just a Short Note to Let you Know that I have moved with the rest of my Dear Friends from Slate to this Lovely new Home and am Looking Forward to Dispensing advice and Relaxing Beverages as I Always Have.
If you Wish to Contact me, send an E-Mail to: email@example.com. My Darling Niece will Forward it to Me. We will have Such Fun, I know it!