Thursday, July 23, 2009

Guys' Mothers

Whenever you find yourself talking to a woman you don't know well and have little in common with, there is one failproof way to get her to open up to you and become your best buddy instantaneously: ask her about her mother-in-law and offer to tell her about yours. I have yet to meet one heterosexual woman who doesn't have a list of horror stories about her partners' mommies. This is one experience that transcends ethnic, cultural and class boundaries. We have all been there and we can all relate.
I've been asking myself for a while why this happens. Why is it that the best thing a woman can hope for in a relationship with her mother-in-law is that maybe one day she will accept your existence and not hate you too much? Why is it so difficult for mothers of grown men to avoid hating the women in their sons' lives? Why do so many mothers behave as if they were their sons' romantic partners rather than mothers?

Many mothers of today's adult men do not have a rich and fulfilling professional and social lives. They also belong to the generations that did not encourage women to pursue sexual realization as an important goal. They are unaccustomed to the idea that they can leave a relationship "just because" it doesn't fulfill them sexually. They don't have a professional sphere where they could sublimate some of these perennially repressed feelings. As a result, the affection and the energy that they could have spread between their sexual partners and their jobs is showered upon their sons. A relationship between a son and his unsatisfied mother often acquires sexual undertones. This type of mother-in-law feels deep jealousy towards the "ther women" in her son's life.


Natalee said...

You are so right. I could tell you some horror stories about monsters-in-law...

Clarissa said...

I hear you, my friend. :-)

Anonymous said...

---Why do so many mothers behave as if they were their sons' romantic partners rather than mothers.

Because this type of a relationship is actually ideal for many women: she can be much more confident that the son will not abandon her no matter what her shortcomings are, she can get her share of unconditional love, she gets a male friend, but she does not have to invest so much effort into building the relationship, and she does not need to have sex, because who needs it anyway, it is just the source of many different anxieties. :) :( So having a son is the ideal of safe sex. :) Sorry if it sounds misogynist, it was not meant to be. Men have all those problems too but in different combinations.

---he affection and the energy that they could have spread between their sexual partners and their jobs is showered upon their sons.

I do not think the sublimation has that absolute quality to it... One can sublimate one sphere of life through another only so far.

In relation to previous point about sublimation, I also believe there is a lot of truth in the following idea: human females used to have 10 children, half of whom would die. Having 1-2-3, of whom 99.9% survive, is a very novel thing, which is not yet wired into human subconsciousness. As a result, women these days get emotionally over-invested into children in general.


Nadine said...

"...she does not have to invest so much effort into building the relationship..."

What? I don't know about you, but I would never spend 18+ years taking care of a man just to earn the right to his love. I wouldn't give up my job to change his diapers, wipe his butt and feed him. Wouldn't clean up his pee-soaked sheets after a bad dream or let him come between me and my current lover b/c he had a nightmare and doesn't want to sleep alone. I wouldn't regularly spend my time fundraising (always without him) so that he could go on fun outings with his friends (always without me). IMO any man who expected these things, or most anything else that so many mothers do for their sons, would be an emotionally-abusive loser. Raising a child requires SO much more effort than a romantic relationship. And I say this not as a mother, because I'm not one and don't want to be one, but as someone who's tired of society discrediting the effort required to be a mother simply because it is woman's work.

Anonymous said...

Nadine, I do not see a contradiction between your viewpoint and mine. She indeed does not have to [invest much effort]. The child will love her anyway. But that does not mean most mothers do not invest much effort. And of course they deserve respect for what they do. I am far from suggesting that whatever imperfections one has automatically cancel out whatever is good in one. But how much time they spend at PTO meetings, or cooking, or driving the child to soccer practice is not always correlated with emotional contact or with respect to child's personality.

My point is, I guess, that by virtue of being extremely dependent on his mother, the child has no choice but to accept the mother as she is, even if she is emotionally distant or abusive or whatever. In ways which romantic partner would not tolerate.
I am talking about situations when mothers think that if they did all those things you listed above, they get to own their child's soul. Of course most mothers are not that abusive. But being that abusive and being possessive about the grown-up child and negative about child's romantic choices is on the same continuum, they are different degrees of the same phenomenon. The latter is just more socially acceptable. And can easily be rationalized - "I love my child so much, everything I did, see the list, proves it, and I just wish the very best partner for my child, not the **** he has now"... (Unconscious message - who can better know what my child needs than me?)

In other words, the mother who's main concern is with the child and his nightmares, not with his pissed sheets is more likely to respect her child and his choices when he is grown up. And to have fulfilling life of her own, which will reduce her need to emotionally cling to her son. (Of course pissed sheets have to be changed. But remembering it forever and bringing it up in discussions with unknown bloggers? I have a daughter, I had my share of contact with pee, but it does not occur to me to elevate it to the status of the manifestation of some superior fatherly qualities.)

Clarissa said...

People often forget that parenting cannot be limited to "to changing his diapers, wiping his butt and feeding him." I often see parents who drag their children back and forth to all kinds of activities, and all in complete silence. Since this is time and energy-consuming, they think they are ddoing more than enough to create a relationship. Later on, they are always very surprised to discover that all this effort and sacrifice failed to produce an even minimal degree of emotional closeness and understanding. And then they start giving out speeches in the style of "I wasted my best years wiping your butt, you ungrateful creature, and yyou won't even call me once a week."