My husband of three years (5 years together) is an only child and he currently has no contact with either of his biological parents. His father walked out on the family when he was a baby, but his estrangement from his mother is more recent, although it pre-dates our relationship. She is a drug addict who refuses to get help and who drained my husband of money and assets. She also fraudulently used his SSN and ruined his credit for some time, although he has been able to straighten that out. At a certain point, my husband decided that it was healthiest for him to cease contact with her. Aside from a couple of phone calls over the years, initiated by her, and the fact that he has not blocked her on social media (although he doesn’t respond to her, either), he hasn’t engaged with her at all since then.
I, however, have a very good and close relationship with my family, and my husband worried at the beginning that I might think it strange or wrong that he chose to cut his mother out of his life. A lot of people have reacted negatively to his decision. But, although I’ve never done it, I understand completely that often the best thing to do is to no longer allow toxic people in your life.
So, I have never met her. She reaches out to my husband sometimes, and he often feels like he should re-establish limited contact, especially now that we live across the country from her rather than within easy driving distance, as we used to. She almost came to our wedding (we were going to pay for her hotel since she couldn’t afford it and she turned down our offer to pay for a plane ticket, saying she would drive), but then flaked out the day before.
Recently, she has redoubled her efforts to reconnect with my husband. This Christmas, we’ll be in the area where she lives visiting other family (it’s a complicated story involving remarriages and step-relatives, but suffice it to say that she’s not related or speaks to anyone we’ll be with). She’s been particularly insistent with the text messages and social media contact lately. My husband has been floating around the idea of seeing her. He has been thinking that maintaining a minimal but cordial relationship might be better than the current state of things. I support him whatever his choice.
I have a couple of questions. First, if he does decide to see her, should I be present? He’s of two minds about it because he thinks my presence would keep things from getting too heated, but she also has been supremely mean and bitchy to women he dated in the past, and he wants to protect me from any potential ugliness. And, if I do meet her (this year or in the future), what do I even say? I get along swimmingly with his other family members (to whom he’s mostly not blood-related, but who are his real family) and I’ve always been good at meeting the parents of friends and former boyfriends. But my usual lines and conversation-starters seem to ring false or hollow in this situation: “So nice to meet you, I’ve heard so much about you” (when most of what I’ve heard is terrible), or “You’ve raised a wonderful man” (when a lot of the raising was done by people other than her), etc.
Any thoughts from you and your readers? — Meeting MIL
First of all, absolutely go with your husband if he decides to see his mother while in her town. Your supporting presence will not only be of comfort to him, but it will also provide a buffer between him and his mom and give the two of them something else to focus on besides their dysfunctional relationship/ sad history. Unless your husband is saying that he definitely doesn’t want you there, GO. He may feel awkward at first having you there and maybe a little sad, but mostly what he will feel is relief and gratitude.
Really, having you there will make a huge difference. And even if she IS mean to you, so what? You can handle it. This woman is nothing to you. If meeting her doesn’t go well, you don’t have to see her again for a long time, if ever. She has no bearing on your day-to-day life and, after you spend an hour or two with her, you will go on your way and continue your life as you would if you hadn’t met her. Whether she’s mean or not, nothing is really going to change.
As for what to say to her, you certainly don’t have to say anything that rings hollow or feels insincere to you. If saying, “Nice to meet you” even feels too forced, you could just go with, “We finally meet!” That’s not a lie. And as for conversation, let your husband and his mother lead the way, but if there are gaps or you feel the need to say something, either to lighten the mood or to keep the conversation going, focus on neutral topics like the weather where you are (versus where you live), the food you’re eating (if you’re eating), a story in the news, travel plans, your jobs, and any pets you might have. If you feel like you want to acknowledge her connection to your husband but you aren’t sure how, stick to the biological connection and comment on physical similarities (“Wow, you two have the exact same nose!”). If even that feels inappropriate, skip it and mention it to your husband later, when you’re alone if you want to.
You sound like a wonderful, loving wife and I’m sure your husband will be happy just to have your support. Don’t worry too much about saying the right or wrong thing. I’m sure you will be the least nervous person among the three of you and your presence alone will help in neutralizing the anxiety of the other two. Be as warm as you feel comfortable being and remind yourself that your MIL is someone to be pitied and not necessarily hated (especially by you).
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.