Jay’s mum moved in with Jay when he first bought his house many years ago, leaving her husband behind in their old house. After that, his sister (let’s call her Lu) also moved in with Jay.
My issue is with his mother. Whilst she is capable of being nice at times, she’s also emotionally manipulative, controlling and paranoid. For instance, when Jay and I first got together, she would often tell his sister Lu that I was “taking Jay away from her” and she felt she “had no purpose” in her life anymore. I felt horrible when I heard this, because it’s absolutely not my intention! She constantly tells me that she hates my being vegetarian, and she doesn’t like my piercings or tattoos (to each their own I guess).
She’ll get angry if I stay too long at Jay’s house because it ruins her routine, which is weird because she doesn’t have a strict regime. No one can invite anyone over to the house because she hates people invading her privacy (we don’t go anywhere near her room or touch her belongings). If Jay and I invite a friend over for a drink or something she’ll get angry and say that we don’t care about her and want her to die, so we’ll feel guilty. She’s also predominately deaf but refuses to get any hearing aids, which means everyone has to talk loudly for her to hear us, but if we talk too loudly she’ll get angry and say we’re “yelling at her.”
Lu and I organised a birthday party for Jay, and when she found out we were going to have a party, she started yelling and saying it was a “stupid idea” and that she “never had a party when she was his age,” and that she was going to move out and told Jay to never contact her ever again and made Lu cry.
If we’re all having a conversation and we don’t make enough eye contact with her, she’ll get angry and bitch about it to someone in the household. If the dog pays more attention to anyone else in the house than to her, she’ll get upset and call the dog over to her until he eventually comes, and if he doesn’t, she’ll say “oh well, he doesn’t love me anymore,” so we make the dog go sit with her to make her feel better.
She’s very nosy, she always wants to know what we’re talking about, what we’re doing, where we’re going and who with. She’ll constantly come to the bedroom door wanting to talk to Jay about something frivolous, interrupting what little possible intimacy we actually have in the house. She’s also very unapologetically racist, which makes me, as well as other family members, super uncomfortable, but nothing we say will actually change or alter her perspective. It wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t always bring it up.
This is an ongoing dilemma. I’ve spoken to Jay about it so many times, but he always says that she’ll never change and that’s how it is. It’s gotten to the point where a part of me dreads going over to his house because my anxiety levels go through the roof when I’m around her. I would love for him to stay at my place, but unfortunately it’s not wheelchair accessible. We do try to go out as often as possible, which is always really nice when we do, but we don’t always have the money. Sometimes we’ll go for drives to different places, just to get out of the house, but we can’t do that all the time. I suppose I just really need some coping skills. It’s sad that he isn’t allowed the freedom to do what he wants, but the biggest problem is that she spoils him so much that I think he’s dependent on her; even before his accident I was told she would do everything for him.
I don’t hate her, and I’m not suggesting she leave, but I don’t know how to deal with this problem. I love Jay so much and I’d never leave him. I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong — I mean, I always help out around the house with cleaning, dishes, with their technology issues, whatever they want me to do. I’ve offered to pay board on numerous occasions and they always say no. Advice? — Fed Up with Meddling Mom
I could give you some tips for dealing with this issue in the immediate future, but I’m wondering what your long-term plans are with Jay. You’ve been together for 2 1/2 years now. Have you discussed a long-term commitment, like marriage or living together? What is the next step for you two? At some point, it would seem Jay will need to decide whether he will continue living with his mother (and sister) forever, or whether he opts instead to live alone or with a committed partner (like you). And it would seem that after 2 1/2 years together, you should have some idea where he stands on this, and he should be considering your desires as well as he thinks about his living situation moving forward. Do you ever talk about this? And if not, why not? And if you do, what’s the plan? Are you going to move into the house Jay owns, along with his mother you can’t stand being around and his sister? Are you going to take over in any care Jay needs in regards to his physical disability? Would Jay ever consider hiring an aid or nurse to help with his physical needs rather than depending on his mother? If not, this is obviously something you need to know as you think about and plan your future. (And you SHOULD be thinking about and planning your future).
As for shorter-term solutions: I still say spending more time out of Jay’s house can only help matters. You don’t need money to hang out at a park or go for walks or sit in a coffee shop or meander through a book store or flea market or mall. And if your relationship is serious enough — 2 1/2 years now and you say you are “very much in love” — maybe it’s time for you tp find a home that’s wheelchair accessible so that you have another place to be together. But, again, a move like that requires some discussion and decisions about your future — discussions it sounds like maybe you have not had. And, really, THAT seems to be the biggest issue here. Where’s your communication?
Finally, as much as you say your age difference is a non-issue, I don’t believe your youth and naiveté aren’t part of the problem here. You are putting up with behavior that someone with more life experience wouldn’t be as likely to tolerate. Your boyfriend’s dependence on his mother to the detriment of your relationship is just the tip of the iceberg. His reluctance to create boundaries in his own home so that his girlfriend of 2 1/2 years is comfortable and your seeming acceptance of all that (or, at the very least, lack of “coping skills” in this situation) points to a power imbalance that isn’t surprising in an age difference like yours (particularly considering that you were, what, 22 or 23 when you started dating?). Frankly, it’s almost a little alarming that your family hasn’t shown some concern for you in regards to this relationship, but maybe they aren’t privy to the details you’ve shared in this letter.
The bottom line here is that the mother sounds like a fucking head case and your boyfriend doesn’t sound like he’s in any rush at all to change his living situation or create any kind of boundaries with this woman. That he was super-dependent on her even before he became physically disabled is telling, and that she seems to think her life would basically be over if she didn’t have him to take care of is really disturbing. Theirs sounds like a truly dysfunctional relationship — one that even with some physical distance (i.e. separate living arrangements) will probably continue being an enormous part of his life–and, as long as you are part of it, your life, too. You ask how you can “cope” with that, but my question to you is: Why would you want to?
If you decide that this isn’t a deal-breaker for you and you’re willing to commit yourself to a life that includes this kind of dysfunction, I think that YOU need to be the one to set very clear boundaries. Maintain a space for yourself that is just yours (where the mother isn’t welcome). Maintain friendships and activities away from this dysfunction where you can re-charge and disengage from the madness. And practice communicating your needs with your boyfriend so that together you can reach some solutions and compromises that work for both of you. But, above all else, go forward with your eyes wide open here. This IS dysfunctional. Neither party seems interested in changing. And it WILL be a big part of your life as long as you remain with your boyfriend. Only you can decide if that’s a deal-breaker or not.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at email@example.com.