Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Morning Quickies: “Am I Being Emotionally Abusive to My Boyfriend?”

Three quickies today:

I’m a senior in high school (age 17) and my boyfriend is a sophomore in college (age 19). We’ve been dating fourteen months and are very much in love. At his college, like at most schools, there is a fair amount of underage drinking. I personally have a very strong conviction against drinking, so I have asked my boyfriend to promise he won’t drink with his friends. It would make me extremely uncomfortable if he were to drink, plus he is at school 2000 miles away and I’d be worried about his getting hurt. He says he’s happy to honor my request and he won’t drink; my question is, am I being emotionally abusive by forcing him to abstain from what his friends are doing? In my defense, he IS under 21, but I still wonder if I’m in the wrong. Please advise. — Abusive Girlfriend?

I don’t think “emotional abuse” means what you think it means (unless you’re threatening your boyfriend, calling him names, screaming at him, demeaning or humiliating him, etc.). That said, you are acting like a control freak, and you need to back off. Just because YOU have a very strong conviction against drinking doesn’t mean your boyfriend does or should, and if it’s so important to you to have a boyfriend who shares that value, the thing to do is find one who does, not try to force the one you have to your will.

As for your boyfriend being 2000 miles away and your worrying about his safety, are you telling me you’d be less worried about him if he lived 1000 miles away? Or 500 miles away? How does distance equate to safety? I suspect what this is really about is trust and that you feel it’s easier for someone to “get away” with something if there’s a great distance between him and the person whose trust he may be betraying. Do you trust your boyfriend? If so, let him be. If you don’t trust him, MOA. And if you need your boyfriend to share a value he may not intrinsically share, and it’s a deal-breaker for you if he doesn’t, you need to let him go and find someone who is a better match for you. (Or not–it’s ok to be single! I mean, you’re 17. Enjoy your freedom and stop fretting that someone 2000 miles might be drinking with his friends.)

I’m a 28-year-old woman with a masters degree in a stem field, but I recently quit my job to go to nursing school. I’m an only child so my parents are footing the bill and are also letting me live in their renovated garage house free of charge. As soon as I moved in, my mom added a door alarm “for safety,” but I get the distinct feeling it’s so she knows exactly when I get home at night. I’m not allowed to go out on weekdays (except to the gym or to run errands with my mother,) I’m only allowed to go out Fridays and Saturdays (but I can’t stay out past 12) and I’m not allowed to see a guy friend on account of his being a bartender and therefore “bad news.”

I understand that I’m in their home, using their resources to get through school (my previous job in a research field didn’t pay nearly enough to let me be independent), so I have to respect their authority to a certain degree … but I’m almost 30 and I’m afraid that, if I don’t say anything now, my life and my 20s will go right by and I’ll miss out. What do I do? How can I tell them, without being disrespectful or hurting my mother’s feelings, that I’m an adult and I’d like to live my own life? — Home-bound in Houston

 
Why do you think you only have to respect your parents’ authority “to a certain degree”? The degree to which they are financially supporting you is 100%, so the degree to which you are accountable to them is 100%. Don’t like it? Move out, get a part-time job, and take out loans like plenty of other people your age who value their independence do. And here’s a tip for the future: Any time your parents offer to financially help you, whether it be paying for your education, giving you a free place to live, buying you a car, or paying for your wedding, there will be strings attached. You will not have 100% independence and autonomy, so if that’s a problem for you, don’t accept their help. You have to decide what is a greater value to you — financial help or calling the shots. Your parents have made it clear you don’t get both.

I am stuck with a peculiar problem. My niece got married a year ago but did not notify anyone in the family about this event. I don’t know if she had any particular reason or if maybe she just wanted it done privately. She just put this information on Facebook this week. I will be seeing her this weekend for my brother’s birthday and I am wondering if a gift is appropriate or not. If yes, do you have suggestions as to what would be appropriate? — To Wedding Gift or Not

 
I’m sure your niece did have a particular reason for keeping her marriage under wraps, but now that she’s made the good news public, I think congratulating her is entirely appropriate. You can do so with a nice card, and if you feel inclined, an enclosed gift card to a nice restaurant in her area or a gift card to a store like Target or West Elm or Crate and Barrel where she might select something for the home she shares with her new husband. I’d probably not bring a wrapped gift to your brother’s home since the occasion for gathering is to celebrate his birthday and not your niece’s wedding, and you wouldn’t want your brother to feel upstaged or for anyone else to see a wrapped gift and feel bad about not also bringing something for your niece. But a card (and enclosed gift card) is innocuous enough not to attract much attention while still expressing well-wishes to the couple you wish to congratulate.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

32 comments… add one
  • avatar

    csp July 25, 2017, 9:00 am

    LW2 – Listen to Wendy. I was actually in your situation though I was younger. When I graduated college, I moved home. I met my now husband and my parents paid for my wedding. While I lived with them, they paid my insurance and cell phone and other little things and I lived rent free. There were big strings for that. During our dating, I was not “allowed” to sleep over, had a strict curfew, and we were not allowed to live together before we got married. (otherwise they wouldn’t pay). Honestly, it did not bother me that much but I do think we moved our relationship quickly because of those restrictions. My younger sister did not like those rules and struck out on her own. She didn’t get the lifestyle support but also had more autonomy. She travelled with her boyfriend and would stay at each other’s apartment. I don’t think she was someone who stayed out very late anyway, but it was her choice to make. Here is the thing, you get to build the life you want. If you want the financial support, then take it. Nursing School is not that long and you might even look at this extra time with your parents as a blessing. If you want to start building the life you want on your terms, then go build it. There is a whole world to see and it is easier to do when you have little responsibility like kids.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    K July 25, 2017, 9:11 am

    With LW2, I think that she could ask her parents for a bit more leeway, unless she’s already tried that and it hasn’t worked. The fact that she isn’t allowed to go out on weekdays (except with her mother) is super controlling.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      MissDre July 25, 2017, 9:29 am

      Agree. I understand what Wendy is saying and I don’t disagree overall, but I think it would have been more helpful to offer up some ideas or a script as to how she can communicate with her parents about this issue and perhaps find a compromise. I mean, aren’t all relationships about communicating? Don’t we all needs to voice our wants and needs? THEN, if parents refuse to budget, yeah she should move out and pay her own bills.

      Reply Link
      • Dear Wendy

        Dear Wendy July 25, 2017, 9:42 am

        There is no compromise to be had here unless the LW moves out and starts paying her own tuition! What other compromise exists? The LW is getting free tuition and housing in exchange for her personal freedom. A compromise means giving up a little of something to gain something else. The LW wants to gain more personal freedom, so as a compromise to get that, she has to be willing to give up the financial support. That’s already what I’ve suggested. That IS the compromise. What other compromise is there? To continue taking the financial support while asking for more personal freedom is not a compromise. It’s just entitlement. It’s literally the definition of entitlement. I’m not saying the parents aren’t super controlling. They totally are! Which is why I’d get the hell out of dodge if I were the LW.

        Link
      • Dear Wendy

        Dear Wendy July 25, 2017, 9:44 am

        The LW is 28! And she’s not allowed to go out on weekdays and she has a curfew on weekends. What is she doing? Why is she putting up with the bullshit? She’s asking how she can tell her mother she’s an adult and wants to live her own life. The answer is easy: move out and live your own life.

        Link
      • avatar

        MissDre July 25, 2017, 10:15 am

        Alright well, agree to disagree. I don’t really feel like typing out a paragraph to explain myself.

        Link
      • Lianne

        Lianne July 25, 2017, 10:34 am

        I have to agree with Wendy here. And if there were more “leeway” to be had (in all seriousness, wtf with needing permission to come and go as you please at 28), wouldn’t the LW just ask for it (or take it outright) rather than write into an advice columnist? The parents sound wackadoo and, frankly, so does the LW to even put up with this. I would rather take out loans than be subject to this type of controlling behavior.

        Link
      • avatar

        MissDre July 25, 2017, 10:52 am

        I just think the first step should have been “Have you talked to your parents about this? Have you told them how you feel? Have you expressed that you’re a 28 year old woman and would like freedom to come and go as you please? If mom and dad insist on a curfew while she’s living with them, what about a discussion regarding extending that curfew? ” and if the answer is yes, she’s talked to them and no they won’t budge, then I completely agree that she needs to move out and financially support herself. Because you’re absolutely right that with money comes strings.

        But just because her parents have the right to lay down the law and set the rules while she’s in their home, and still has the right to at least ASK for some flexibility.

        Link
      • Dear Wendy

        Dear Wendy July 25, 2017, 11:58 am

        The LW’s question was how she can show her parents that she’s an adult and can live her own life, and I gave what I believe is the best way to do that: move out and pay your own way. Now, can she ask for more flexibility before she does that? Sure! But she shouldn’t fool herself into thinking that’s how to show her parents she’s an adult. The adult-like approach would be to move out. But if she wants a script for asking for more flexibility, it would go something like this:

        “Mom, Dad, thank you so much for paying for my tuition and letting me stay in your home for free. I feel really grateful and I’m so appreciative of your continued support. But I’m starting to worry that my 20s will be over soon, and I will have missed out on experiencing them fully with the limitations I now have on going out. Would you consider giving me some more flexibility and lifting my curfew and the limitations on my weekday activities?”

        And then I guess if she wants some leverage in the argument, she can do what teenagers do and show how well she’s doing in school, what a great job she’s doing keeping up with her household chores, and, generally, what a loving daughter and person she is.

        But if I had a friend who came to me with the situation the LW has described I would not suggest talking to the parents and asking for more flexibility. I’d be seriously urging her to move out, because controlling parents like that don’t just magically change. And a dysfunctional dynamic like LW has with her parents doesn’t suddenly morph after a single conversation. This is an emotionally unhealthy environment, and I just don’t think it’s worth even trying to work out some way to stay in it. Like, what if, instead of parents, this were a boyfriend. The boyfriend pays the girlfriend’s bills and her nursing school tuition and he doesn’t let her go out on weekdays (even to see her friends or family), and on the weekends she’s allowed to go out but has a curfew. Oh, and he put an alarm on the door as soon as she moved in. Wouldn’t we all be like, “Girl, hell no! MOA! This is seriously fucked up and you need to get away from him!” Would any of us seriously be suggesting she just try talking to him? No! Because we’d recognize — hopefully! — that a dynamic like that is really unhealthy and she needs to establish boundaries, asap, and get far away from him. I just don’t see why it’s any different because these people are her parents. If anything, it seems the need for boundaries is even more prudent, if she cares to continue a life-long relationship with them and doesn’t want to continue this dynamic of owing them something (in this case, her personal freedom).

        Link
      • Copa

        Copa July 25, 2017, 11:27 am

        I agree with K and MissDre. I think it’d be stupid for LW NOT to talk to her parents first.

        Link
      • avatar

        ele4phant July 25, 2017, 11:50 am

        I agree with Wendy that specific tor LW2’s situation, she’s shit out of luck in negotiating with her parents, and that her only options are to accept the restrictions or move out.

        In the larger philosophical context though, I think the parents are wrong. Obviously, no one (least of all the LW) can make them change their minds and restrictions, but I think it is a violation of the adult child’s autonomy to have that many restrictions, and they are in the wrong.

        I think it’s fine to demand certain behaviors under their roof (so, no opposite sex guests allowed over, requirement of chores, stuff like that), but even if they are 100% financially supporting the adult child, it is wrong to try control their behavior outside of the home (i.e. curfews or control over who she can spend time with outside of the home). Its just objectively wrong to control what an adult does when they are not within the four walls of your house.

        But again, what are you going to do? It’s not like the LW2 can call the cops and they can force the parents to let up. It’s wrong, but not illegal.

        They’re wrong, but they still have all the power here. The LW’s options truly are deal with it or move out.

        Link
      • avatar

        Comma Lovr July 25, 2017, 12:08 pm

        I understand what you’re saying, Wendy, but I have to agree with Miss Dre on this one.

        I’m the mother of two young adults still living at least part time at home. It’s been my job since they were little to model good communications with them. That’s not to say that we debated everything, but in the LW’s case especially, I don’t think that sitting down with the mom and hashing out some reasonable ground rules should be off the table. It could be that the mom is an irrational lunatic and someone who can’t be reasoned with. Or, it could be that the two of them don’t have a good line of communication, and that can be fixed without upending anyone’s life.

        What I’m trying to say is that there is are more choices than moving out without resources or just rolling over because her paretns are paying for everything.

        Link
      • Dear Wendy

        Dear Wendy July 25, 2017, 12:17 pm

        Does a woman who imposes a curfew on her 28-year-old daughter, who doesn’t allow her to go out at all on weekdays, and who installs an alarm on the daughter’s door sound reasonable to you?

        And, is taking out a loan and getting a job when you’re 28 years old, really “upending” your life?

        Link
      • Lianne

        Lianne July 25, 2017, 12:53 pm

        Agree with Wendy even more strongly after her long post. I am honestly a little surprised so few of you don’t. LW is TWENTY-EIGHT, not 18. This is so fucked up on so many levels.

        Link
      • avatar

        SpaceySteph July 25, 2017, 1:14 pm

        I agree with you Lianne. 18 or even 22 might be a case of “mom is having trouble adjusting to daughter being an adult and falling into old roles.”
        But being this controlling with a 28 year old… I just don’t think reasoning with her will work.

        Link
      • avatar

        ele4phant July 25, 2017, 1:21 pm

        Wendy’s long explanation parallel’s my thinking exactly.

        It is f*cked up that parents be so controlling of an adult child, even one they support financially.

        That said, the right way to deal with it is not to try to reason it out. It’s probably best to remove oneself from that screwed up dynamic.

        Link
      • avatar

        dinoceros July 25, 2017, 6:19 pm

        I do think it’s disturbing how controlling the parents are. However, I think it’s unlikely the LW didn’t know her parents would act like this. If it were me, I would have paid my way or put off my education rather than agree to this arrangement, but that wasn’t something she’s interested in, it seems.

        Link
    • avatar

      K July 25, 2017, 2:06 pm

      I think she should just move out, sure. But if she HASN’T yet tried asking her mom for more leeway, maybe they will give it to her. Probably not, but you never know. I feel for her, as my mom is overprotective and I lived with her for a year after college and moved out after I had worked for a year. I still don’t have much money saved due to my low salary and student loans, but I have a life that is not scrutinized quite as much as if I were living with my mom. It’s worth it to me.

      Reply Link
  • Diablo

    Diablo July 25, 2017, 10:04 am

    LW!: Let you boyfriend do what he wants because he’s going to do it anyway. Then, he will either break his promise to you or lie to you about it. Either way, if you can’t deal with him doing ordinary things like drinking in college (and paying for his excesses like every other young adult), then move on.

    I’m going to differ somewhat from Wendy’s view, LW2. I think you are a grown woman, and your attitude toward things like curfews can be, “Yeah, I’m not gonna do that.” Don’t knuckle under to ridiculous demands (for example, I lived at home until i was 20, but none of those rules applied to me after I was about 16 or so). Let them say, “If you don’t follow our ridiculous rules, you can’t live here.” Make that their decision, since they are imposing unreasonably on the freedom of a fully grown adult with a master’s degree as a condition of their parental support. Then you can make your decision to leave if need be. But definitely don’t let anyone tell you how to live. PS – Bartenders definitely are bad news; you’d have more fun with a bass player, or possibly a professional snowboarder.

    Reply Link
    • Pheebers

      Phoebe July 25, 2017, 11:49 am

      I would never let someone tell me what to do, but then my parents have always been reasonable people (don’t tell them I said that). It must be intensely humiliating to tell your adult peers that you have to rush home to make curfew. Ick.

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        Ange July 25, 2017, 6:00 pm

        Yeah I’m the same, my parents would never have dreamed of it. Once I turned 18 and showed I was on my way they let me do what I pleased until I moved out a few months later. HOWEVER, my parents are rational. I had friends whose parents were like LWs and I was always surprised my friends went along with it until I remembered that was all they knew.

        Link
  • Pheebers

    Phoebe July 25, 2017, 11:47 am

    Agreed that the parents are control freaks, and that as long as the LW is under their roof she’s pretty much stuck. But they’re her parents, she should at least be able to have a conversation with them. And if they say “our house and money, our rules,” then she either deals with it or leaves.

    I also wonder if there isn’t more here than meets the eye. Why in the world would they not “let” her go out on weekdays? Do they think she isn’t responsible and won’t do her homework? Do they think she’ll — god forbid — have a relationship?

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Ron July 25, 2017, 12:01 pm

    Is LW2 spoiled? She has a masters degree in a STEM field and has a research job in her field, but doesn’t have enough income to be independent and wants to change careers. Given her job and educational background, she should have had ample income to support herself. How much income does she think she needs? The run back home to mom and dad and go for another degree, so she can play at another occupation, which she may or may not like, just seems a bit off to me. Like a young woman who doesn’t want to work and earn her own way in life and really, REALLY enjoys her life as a student on mom and dad’s dime, with no responsibilities to even take care of herself. Age 28 is a tad old not to have launched, given she has both the educational credentials to launch and had an actual job. No tears from me. If your parents’ house is like a convent, well that’s what you happily signed up for to escape the real world. If mom and dad are paying tuition for a nursing degree after she already has a masters, you can bet they’ve paid all her tuitions and she is debt free.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      Scarlet A July 25, 2017, 12:15 pm

      Research jobs in STEM fields are pretty notoriously poorly paid, and STEM doesn’t automatically mean you can transfer easily to the corporate world. (In fact, lots of STEM fields include things like genetic and disease research which are not money-makers.) So I easily believe that LW2 was probably making $10/hr or a bit more. Depending on where she lives, that may well not be enough to support herself independently.

      It’s not unusual for people to take even advanced degrees and then pivot. My two-year diploma in a community college was packed with people with BAs and other, less “useful” degrees who needed job training.

      She probably IS debt-free, and she’s very lucky. But she clearly knows she needs a living wage and good for her for going for it.

      Reply Link
    • avatar

      RedRoverRedRover July 25, 2017, 12:34 pm

      At a lot of companies, having a STEM degree is a qualifier in itself. My company is a tech company but will hire math majors, for example, for non-math jobs. They see value in the discipline that comes with learning that field. With a STEM degree, you can get a job in the corporate world even if you have no relevant experience. It’s possible that she’s not interested in those jobs, and if so, fine. But qualification is not her issue.

      Reply Link
    • avatar

      ele4phant July 25, 2017, 2:12 pm

      I mean, I don’t see it as spoiled to want to transition careers and not incur debt while getting retrained.

      Transitioning careers at any age isn’t a failure to launch. It happens all the time, and people of all ages regularly take a step back and get reeducated, either because they hate what they are doing or because well, market forces demand it. Their field goes away, and they have to get new training to do something else.

      I also don’t think she just wants to be a student and live on mom and dad’s dime. I mean, she’s getting a nursing degree, not a frivolous degree in basket weaving. That’s a serious degree with good earning potential, but it does take time and effort to finish it.

      I also disagree that getting financial help as an adult is a mark of immaturity. It’s expense to stop, or limit you’re working while you change careers, and while it shouldn’t be expected, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for accepting help from their parents. If she demand it, yeah sure that’s entitled. If her parents offered, that’s different.

      And while I think financial help certainly comes with strings, even if you are a grown-up, her parents are placing unreasonable restrictions on her, and the dynamic is unhealthy.

      Should she try to negotiate the situation to keep the financial help while getting more personal freedoms? No, I think her best option is to move out. But just because you control finances doesn’t make any demand you have reasonable. Her parents are unreasonable in their expectations.

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        Ashley July 25, 2017, 7:17 pm

        Nursing school is demanding, my friend did a second degree MSN and you can’t work that first year because you are getting licensed as a RN. Another thing is, if she isn’t doing something like that and just decided to do the associates, she’s not eligible for federal aid since she already has a masters. I wouldnt want to take our private student loans. This very well be her only option.

        Link
    • avatar

      Fyodor July 25, 2017, 3:09 pm

      Nursing school (like nursing itself) is from all accounts, pretty demanding. It’s not what I’d do if I wanted to slack for a few years. Maybe she just wants to be a nurse.

      Reply Link
    • avatar

      dinoceros July 25, 2017, 6:22 pm

      Yeah, my friend did a Chemistry doctorate, and is on his second post-doc because no one is hiring. He gets paid terribly. There are certain STEM fields that are well-paying, but they are more of the ones that apply science, like engineering. Not to mention that those are jobs you can get with a bachelor’s. Stuff in the pure sciences needs at least a master’s if not doctorate.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    Ashley July 25, 2017, 1:13 pm

    I moved in with my parents about a year ago to save money. I really feel I should be able to offer great advice, but I just kept living my life once I moved in. We didn’t have a discussion on rules, and it’s been fine. I understand the predicament you’re in, as I’ve had friends who have gone to nursing as a second degree. They couldn’t work, highly advised against that, and so you may need to just suck it up and live by their rules until you graduate. You may find that with the workload, this becomes a non-problem.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    dinoceros July 25, 2017, 6:16 pm

    LW1: What Wendy said. It’s not abusive, but I think you are setting yourselves up for failure. I had a lot of friends who decided not to drink until 21 or not to have sex until marriage, or whatever, and most of them changed their minds within a few years. There’s a very high likelihood that he’s going to decide that he does want to drink, and since you have made him “promise,” he will likely lie to you. Then you’ve got a dishonesty and resentment situation on your hands. You are setting the stage for him to hide things from you. One thing you’ll learn about adult relationships is that as adults, you both get to make your own decisions. It’s not really your place to forbid him from doing things.

    LW2: I don’t agree that if someone’s parents are supporting them 100%, they lose their autonomy as an individual. That said, I think this is an expected consequence of letting them pay your way. You can talk with them, but if they don’t agree with you, then I think you have to put up with it or fund yourself. (Also, I don’t really understand the assumption that being an only child means your parents pay for stuff — I am an only child and I paid for grad school, and it was never a question that I would.)

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Leslie Joan August 10, 2017, 4:29 pm

    Home in Houston, I’m betting your mother didn’t just put the door alarm in so that she’d know when YOU got home, and that you were keeping your curfew, but also so that she’d know if you had visitors coming and going.

    Certainly the reason your mom restricts your going out on weekdays is because she wants you focusing on your work, instead of messing around with friends. Does she have a reason for these concerns? Did you have a history of squandering your time and resources on fun and games to the point where it played havoc with your schooling previously? I’m not saying that your parents don’t come across as a lot controlling, but let me play devil’s advocate and don my fireproof suit: your parents probably are concerned about your direction in life and don’t want to be on the hook for supporting you at this late stage in life if you aren’t truly serious and applied to your work, which can be pretty consuming. Wendy is right, and I agree with her -but I also sense that there is way more to this story than you’ve explained so far, and if that’s the case, then as crazy as people may think your parents sound, it doesn’t come from nowhere, and they’d like to see you self sustaining and are sick of picking up the slack. This would be true no matter how many kids they had. You need to be able to support yourself, and you need to take the work seriously.

    Reply Link

Leave a Comment