Mom says dump the boyfriend or leave home!

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Cary’s classic column from THURSDAY, JUN 25, 2009

We got caught making out and now my mom’s all like you have to break up with him if you want to keep living here

Dear Cary,

My name is V and I’m 18 years old. I have a boyfriend and he’s 18 years old too, but the situation here is that my family has never liked my boyfriend. Me and my boyfriend have been going out for 10 months, and he has always been a good boyfriend to me. The reason my family doesn’t like him is because of the way he talks all ghetto like.

My mom says that he has me threatened and that I’m scared of him, but she is saying things without knowing that my boyfriend actually respects me. He has never hit me or yelled at me, and if he did, I would tell him to watch it, and he’d be like, I’m sorry, babe. Besides that, Friday was his graduation, and after his graduation I went to his house to celebrate. While at his house, I called my mom and let her know I was going to be at his house, and she said it’s OK, she’ll go pick me up.

After a while being at his house, he was getting hot and turned on, so we told everyone we were going to the store, and as we went out the door, he pulled me into the basement and we went in there. We were alone, and let me tell you, I already lost my virginity before that with him, but we weren’t really doing anything besides making out and I did a striptease for him. After a while we heard people looking for us, and his aunt saw when I was slipping my dress back on and started to yell at me and told me to get out of her house. By the way, my mom didn’t know anything about me not being a virgin. So as I was putting my heels on, his aunt told my mom how she found us. My mom was upset, very, very upset after that day.

She hadn’t said anything to me up until yesterday, when she told me to sit down in the living room and started talking, and her rules were:

Break up with your boyfriend and you can live at my house under my rules and keep your studies at the university, or
Leave the house. If you’re not willing to leave your boyfriend, then go live with him and lose your studies.

And honestly I don’t know what to do. I need help because I love my boyfriend to death and he’s willing to help me out if I go live with him. As a matter of fact, he’s been looking for jobs already, and he talked to his aunt, and she said it is all right with her if I go with them, but I’ll have to get a job, and that’s OK with me.

My problem in deciding between one or the other is that my family has always been everything, but for some reason I have felt like they have been turning their back on me and they don’t want to listen to me. My mom is mad at me. She says she’s disappointed in me, and I’m afraid that if I stay here at my house that she’s going to keep on bringing this situation up, because my mom tries to control my life all the time. She says if I live under her roof, I do what she tells me to do. I have no opinion and no say in anything, and I am tired of them deciding for me.

I have already made a decision to leave my house and learn to be an independent woman on my own, and go live with my boyfriend and just make my life already. I am conscious that it is not going to be easy, but I just want to be with my boyfriend. To tell you the truth, I want for my family to at least get along with my boyfriend. That way I won’t have to leave. I really do not want to leave my house because of my little sister. She told me last night crying that she doesn’t want me to leave because she can’t sleep without me being in the room with her. I know I did things wrong, but in my opinion my mom is taking things way too far.

All I’m looking for is for someone to tell me their opinion on my situation and to help me out. I am really seeking some help.




Dear Confused,

I think you should stay at home for now until things can get sorted out. Ask your mom for some time. Promise to stop seeing your boyfriend for two weeks or a month while you sort things out. That will give her time to cool down.

Then tell your boyfriend the only way you can still keep seeing him is if he will go, on his own, to talk to your mom. He’s got to apologize and impress her that he is a gentle and honest man. He’s got to humble himself before her. But he’s got to be honest with her, too. He can’t snow her. If she senses that he’s trying to deceive her, or charm her, or sweet-talk her, she will become hardened to him. It’s got to be genuine. He’s got to say that he likes you very much, enough that he is willing to make some sacrifices in order to continue seeing you.

Now, you can’t get this all done in one conversation with your mom. So just tell her that for now, you want to stay at home and you’re having a “moratorium” on the boyfriend.

Here is the important thing: You have to have some flexibility and patience. When families suddenly break apart over something like this, it hurts everyone. It hurts you, it hurts your mom, and it hurts your sister.

So you need to use conflict resolution. If you can slowly resolve the conflicts, maybe this can be worked out to everyone’s benefit.

There are a lot of emotions involved. Your mom is trying to protect you, and you are trying to grow and be your own person. That naturally creates conflict. You have to learn to do some negotiating with your mom.

In negotiating with your mom, you have to have some things to offer her. What do you have to offer? Make a list of all the things you have to offer her if you stay at home: You can help take care of your sister. Staying at home will make your sister happy. You can clean and cook at home. You can be with your mom and keep her company. And you can stay in school so you can get a good job.

Your mom doesn’t really want you to leave. She wants you to stay in school. She wants you to stay at home. But she is trying to be a good mom. And she is trying to feel like she has some power over what goes on. So give her some power. Give her what she wants. But do that in a way that gives you some rights, too.

Now, after your boyfriend talks to your mom, you will want to see what she says. If you want to keep seeing your boyfriend, you don’t want to have to do it in secret. So you’ll have to figure that one out. If he can’t be persuasive, maybe his aunt will have to come talk to your mom as well. And if you’re going to keep seeing him, there will have to be some limits. Your mom won’t want him going into your room, and she won’t want you sleeping at his house or spending the night somewhere. You can guarantee she won’t want that. But if he approaches her on his own, and apologizes for what happened, and impresses on her that he truly cares for you and wants what’s best for you, she might agree to let you keep seeing each other.

You have this on your side: She doesn’t really want you to leave. She wants to keep her family together, but she wants some control and some respect. So this situation can be worked out. It doesn’t have to end in bitterness.

And don’t forget your little sister. You can “lobby” your little sister: Tell her that you very much want to stay at home, and that you just have to work things out with your mom. Don’t necessarily try to get her to take sides, but just be honest with her. In a pinch, she can tell your mom that she, too, really wants you to stay.

The most important thing at this crucial point, whatever happens, is this: Stay close to your mom and to your sister. Stay in school until you have a useful skill and you know how to get a job and support yourself. And don’t count on your boyfriend. I’m sure he’s great, but things do change. At 18, a year is like a lifetime. Things could change.

So the best solution is for you to try to negotiate something with your mom where you can live at home. You’ll have to give up some things, but so will she. She’s angry right now and being overly rigid. Show her you can compromise, and maybe she will accept your solution.

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

Writing for money and writing as a cultural activity

I am not going to edit this. I am just going to write from the heart and the mind and the memory.

Writing for money and writing as a cultural activity are not the same thing and there is rarely a happy relationship between the two but  every once in a while they come together and when that happens a writer is wise to leap for joy.

It has happened for me only once or twice.

I have known since I was a teenager that writing was the cultural activity I wanted to pursue. Words were the route my soul would take; my soul was a word-soul; its deepest connection with humanity and history was triggered by language, particularly English, the language of my long forebears. It was through words that I felt my first connection with humanity at large, and sensed the grand, heroic and tragic story of humans in struggle against each other, against nature, against fate and the gods, and in struggle against themselves, their own nature, their own locked-in fates, their own limitations and vices. It was language and words. That was how I connected. This first occurred when I read Dylan Thomas’s poetry at the age of 14. I sensed there a world evoked that was my world, a world where colors were brighter and speech was richer; it was a world that mirrored the sense of my own soul, that within me was a world where colors were brighter and speech was richer than that around me. This began a romance with words as my primary cultural attachment; words were my vehicle.

The question of how to make a living, however,  how to make this soul connection work in a money-making way, was a terrible and vexing problem which I only now and then solved. Writing for a living I mean. It’s not a simple problem, for along with this romance of words I also had this vexing emptiness of spirit, this deep hole in my heart, this constant nagging emptiness and unease that led me to seek refuge in drugs and alcohol and wildness. I was an alcoholic from a young age, and alcoholics typically do not solve the problem of how to make a living in the most sensible way.

So in my 30-year romance with words  I learned much about how a living may be made writing words for others to read but how certain sacrifices must also be made, some of which will be so painful to the soul that they cannot be borne, and so one must choose, at times: to write for money or to save one’s soul.

It happened, however, that after years of struggle I found a job at in 1999 where I was able to practice word craft in a pleasurable way and also get paid a living wage.

This is  rare and when it happens a writer is wise to ride it as long and as hard as possible. So I did this for 12 years, which was an amazing thing.

But here is what happened as I was able to write to my heart’s content for 12 years for a living wage for I was able to overlook the fact that it was a  cultural activity and view it just as a thing I did for a living.

But it was a cultural activity. It was not something done in a vacuum. It was an act of connection.

When I lost that job in September 2013 I was thrown into a state of uncertainty. I had to unravel who I was and why I had been doing it. For most of a year I continued to write the column but I resented writing it. I resented Salon for ending the column and I resented the fact that I was now writing the column for free. I couldn’t quite make out what I was supposed to be doing. Was I now writing the column as a marketing activity to draw attention to my other, money-making, activities?

To write the column as a marketing activity seemed demeaning. It seemed wrong. Yet to write it simply for free, out of vanity, did not sit well either. Nor did writing it for a salary seem doable; all the major outlets had their advice columnists already, and I was not sure, frankly, for a while, if writing an advice column was the salaried work I wanted to pursue. I had a sense that what I had done at Salon was over.

Tomorrow: Coming to terms/Swinging for the fences