Q: I am in my 20s and, for eight months, have been seeing a girl who might very well be “the one.” The problem is she wants to meet my mother, who is beyond controlling. She plays a game with girls I date, which I call “the 20 questions of doom.” Her questions start out normal, but by question 10, she’ll ask stuff like “Have you ever seen my son in the nude, and if not, do you have plans to?” She’ll also say very negative things about me. Also, I’m a dark-skinned black person, and my girlfriend is biracial, and my mother doesn’t want me dating a light-skinned girl because she wants grandkids who resemble her. I want to keep this girl, but she is growing impatient with my not letting her meet my mom, and is beginning to think I’m ashamed of her.
A: Moms say the darndest things: “So, dear…how much do you owe in student loans and have you seen my son’s winkie?”
Any girl meeting her boyfriend’s mother for the first time expects a few uncomfortable questions — but on her politics and reproductive plans, not whether she’s had the chance to probe that mole under Sonnyboy’s scrotum. People who don’t have saboteurs for parents can find it hard to understand that somebody’s mother could be their relationship’s worst enemy. You, on the other hand, are already dreading your mother’s hospitality: “Son, shall we have coffee and dessert now and push your little friend into the woodchipper later?”
Talk to your girlfriend, but not about meeting the middle-aged mean girl also known as your mother. Open up to her about the painful relationship you have with your mother and how hurtful it’s been that she has tried to drive away every woman in your life. (Some animals eat their young. Some eat their young’s girlfriends.) Evoking your girlfriend’s sympathy is the first step in shrinking her hurt feelings. (For best results, avoid mentioning that Mom’ll think she’s from the wrong side of the Crayola box.)
You can’t control your mother’s behavior, but you can control who she gets to meet. This would be a good time to reconsider the definition of family. Maybe family means people who act like family whether they’re blood relatives or not, and maybe you should bring your girlfriend around to meet those people — your dearest friends and maybe an aunt and uncle who are fond of you. Chances are, what ultimately matters to her is not meeting your mother but believing you think she’s important enough to introduce. Show her (and keep showing her) that you’re proud of her and that she’s loved and appreciated, and she should stop sulking. In fact, she might even start joking about what it would be like, being invited over for a nice quiet dinner of sacrificial lamb — or, as your mother might put it to her: “Let me just show my son to his chair, dear, and then I’ll show you to your spit.”
Q: After I got a new boyfriend, a friend started making frequent passive-aggressive jabs at me. Lamenting her datelessness, she sniffed, “At least I’m not one of those people who need to jump from relationship to relationship,” knowing full well that I got into my current relationship a month after ending my previous one. There are reasons I can’t just boot her from my life, so is there a way to get her to stop? If I called her out, she’d just deny it.
A: Close friends tend to leave stuff lying around in each other’s life — but stuff leading to questions like “Hey, did you forget your phone on my coffee table?” not “Hey, did you leave your knife between my T4 and T5 vertabrae?” You probably can’t change her way of seeing all you have through the prism of all she doesn’t. (Really, she couldn’t be happier for you — that is, unless you fell down the stairs.) Where you went wrong is in letting that first nasty comment wriggle past you, which was like making it a little bed out of shredded newspaper so it could give birth to a whole litter of them. Since the direct approach would likely lead to snarly denials and ill will, shut her down by consistently jabbing back, but in a jokey tone — “Oh, you mean like my relationship…” — and she should get all sputtery…no, that’s not…no…she didn’t, blah, blah, blah. By calling her out indirectly, you two can maintain the polite fiction that she hasn’t been going all mean drunk on you and maybe get back to some semblance of friendship as it’s supposed to be: that when a friend alerts you that you have something in your teeth, it’s because she wants you to look good, not because her shoelace is caught.