Q. I’ve been in a relationship for the past four years and I’m completely in love with my boyfriend. I’m happy, and I can envision us getting married eventually.
He and I were raised very differently; I grew up in a city with both my parents, and he grew up in the country with divorced parents. When I met his mom years ago, she and my boyfriend weren’t in a great place in their relationship. I left with a negative impression of her.
Throughout our relationship, my boyfriend and I have had the same fight: His mom has expected him to go to their rural/farmland property an hour away to do manual labor as often as she asks him, and I get upset because I feel alone. I avoid going there because it is not feasible for me to perform the work that she asks of him. When he goes out there, she asks him where I am and essentially communicates that she expects me to be there. I’m also deeply uncomfortable with her radical politics and I don’t have much in common with her.
My boyfriend feels like he is stuck in the middle of us. I just want to feel like he and I are on the same team. I get along great with the rest of his family, but this fight seems to be a difference we can’t overcome. I don’t want this dynamic to be what keeps us from eventually getting married.
A. Boundaries are great. If you don’t want to do manual labor on his mother’s property, you don’t have to.
Would it help to be nice to his mom during a holiday dinner or two? Sure. There’s compromise here, and it doesn’t have to be yard work or a significant amount of quality time.
Here are a few questions for the two of you to consider:
1. Can he deal with the fact that his mom might not like you? She doesn’t approve of you skipping these visits. She doesn’t share your life philosophies. She might eventually say to him, “Why her?” It’ll help if he knows how to answer that kind of question.
2. What would change these obligations? Children? Projects at your own house? For now, he’s making time to do work on his mom’s farm, but will this last forever? Can he do less? If you’re going to grow your life together, there will be more to do for yourselves. Has he thought about who could help her if he can’t make it there?
3. Can you accept that this might be a great way for him to show love and get quality time with a parent, without having to talk politics — or about you? I’ve become closer to my dad over the past few years, after not talking to him very much for a long time. We reconnected in 2021 while he fixed my broken closet door and helped me deal with some heavy stuff in my basement. Then we watched “The Mandalorian” — a solid father-daughter thing to do. The housework gave us a way to bond without having to figure out what had complicated things for us. We had a great time. I will always be grateful for that broken closet. I don’t know your boyfriend, obviously, but maybe that’s one of the reasons he goes. If the work gives him a way to connect to his mom, it might be important to him, at least for now. Ask about that.
4. Is there something you can do on your own while he’s there, to feel less lonely? Does it feel as bad when he ditches you for someone you like? How do you want to spend this kind of time?
These questions might not be perfect, but please use them as a jumping off point for conversation. Hopefully you’ll figure out what the visits mean, and how they can feel better to both of you.
If he’s going there so much that you feel alone, that’s an issue with the relationship. But if you’re feeling alone no matter how often he goes, that’s your issue.
You don’t mention whether your boyfriend likes helping out his mother or resents the requests.
Does HE want/expect you to go? He should set the boundaries with her and you’re free to stay home. Can you go every once in a while as a compromise if it is important to him?
Mere: “Can he deal with the fact that his mom might not like you?” ... Can he deal with the fact his girlfriend strongly dislikes his mother?
Your boyfriend needs to set expectations with his mother AND with you. He knows that neither of you is happy. Ask him to make some compromises with his mother, and be prepared to do some compromising of your own.
Essentially the problem is that he and his mother fixed their relationship, and you are clinging to your original opinion of his mother from when they were not getting along. You are living in the past. If you want this to be a serious relationship, you need to find a space for her in your life. You don’t have to become best buddies, but you need to go with your boyfriend from time to time.
For perspective, a year after my marriage to my first wife, she left home for three summers, eight weeks at a time, for “professional development reasons.” I was left behind to take care of home and pets, pay the bills, and not complain. When I *did* complain — that I hadn’t signed up for a marriage where one spouse would go to “summer camp” for three summers, she told me to take it or leave it. I left it.
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