October 1, 2022

Caroline Hacks: Mom 'Can't Be Silent' About Daughter's Ex-boyfriend

Caroline Hacks: Mom ‘Can’t Be Silent’ About Daughter’s Ex-boyfriend


Dear Caroline: Mom can’t be silent about my ex-boyfriend at family gatherings. She broke up with Andrew nearly four years ago. We’ve been together for over a decade since I was 21. Even though we are friends now, it can be a little too rough at times. I am deeply sorry for spending the best years of my life in that relationship.

Every time there was a family gathering, my mother would wait until she had the largest audience and then ask me at the top of her voice, “What was Andrew going to do?” I really hate it when you do this. It gives people the impression that we’re back together, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t really want to explain my reasons for staying on friendly terms with him either.

I repeatedly asked her to stop asking me about my ex in front of others. I told her she was free to ask me privately if she was interested to know, but I didn’t want her to do so in front of an audience that I only see twice a year. Whenever I make this request, the conversation ends in a bang. Send her a message before family gatherings to repeat this request. However, it does so without fail. My sister also told her to stop it.

It’s really frustrating because the relationship drained me of every ounce of energy I had for so long. Since I finished it, I’ve accomplished things in my career that I didn’t think were possible.

But my mom is someone who can’t stand alone. I think she sees it as a failure to be a single woman in my late thirties who has never married or had children.

How do I make my mom respect my boundaries? Or if I can’t, how can I avoid giving her whatever reaction she’s clearly looking for?

Really frustrating: If I read this correctly, only you and your sister know Andrew’s seemingly innocent questions frequently, ritual defiance – and disdain – explicit requests to her not to.

Why protect her from the consequences of her actions?

What you’re doing is weird and rude. It’s okay to respond accordingly.

This risks giving her “whatever reaction she is clearly looking for”, and with it a chance to win the sympathy of relatives who appear. Specifically, if you treat this as a maneuver to shut down your mother, you open yourself up to becoming the other half of the bargain that obviously gives her some satisfaction — a sense that she’s doing her job as your mother, perhaps. They know better than you do what is good for you.

So it is important to view any actions you take as just shutting down by yourself Sign up permanently and leave the transaction incomplete. If you can regulate your feelings and get the message across gently and calmly, say, “Oh, mom, you know I don’t like this question.” Convenient, that’s right, it’s your own right, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. She’s also very cute in the moment, but it gains strength and influence with repetition – literally, every time you ask.

You: good, calm and firm.

Mom: I keep asking the same question.

In front of everyone. Time after time after time.

It’s not her best side, and she’ll be the one she chooses to show. A quick ignore and change of subject can also send attempts to follow up on you to prove the “problem” to you, if it goes that route.

If you don’t have enough of that kind of exchange, respond instead with five syllables of nothing: “It’s…well, I suppose?” The question form does all the work of asking questions out loud – without any actual question – why mom still thinks you can talk about an ex-boyfriend from four years ago. Leave center stage open for the complete absurdity of her quest.

Now, these are all just strategies for your self-control, so don’t complete the transaction and overexplain everything/make it deceptively nice/get emotional. This means that you will not address the underlying issue between you and your mother that is driving her to pay.

It may also be that you can’t handle it, because it won’t let you. Fair enough, losing it.

But you have a powerful tool to solve this problem, not yet used: “Why?” You are on Says She repeatedly has what she wants (a natural impulse) but you’re not Asks What you want so badly that you push your limits in order to get it. She clearly wanted her voice to be heard and couldn’t find a way besides this dysfunctional path.

So while you don’t owe her another word for this, it’s a viable option just to hear it. Do not indulge, do not obey, do not even respect – just listen. Mom: You are constantly asking about Andrew, despite my wishes. Why?” Point out the career path, and see if she can walk it in. If she still “can’t shut up,” stop there to hear her.