Valentine’s Day sucks! I hate the pressure to buy my girlfriend something so she knows I love her. I give in every year but get pissed off, too.
Valentine’s Day is a marketer’s concept of romance, which has nothing to do with love. You can romance someone without loving—or even knowing—him or her. Romance is an intense feeling of being swept away by adventure, excitement and possibilities, including sexual pleasure. It’s the sophisticated stepsister of infatuation and a distant cousin (several times removed) of lust. Romance usually depends on a lack of real knowledge of the other person, and that’s why it dies out in long-term commitments. Reviving romance requires spontaneity and unexpected gestures of affectionate appreciation of the other as other. You can’t market that.
After my parents divorced, my mom got a huge boob job, face-lift, tummy tuck and hired a trainer. Her face looks weird, and she always asks my brother and me how she looks (skeezy, but we can’t say that). My mom also tries to get us to hang out at her house with our friends. We grew up with our dad, but the few times we stayed with her and had friends over, she basically flirted with them and offered us beer. It’s embarrassing that she is so desperate to be liked. Now she wants to take my brother and me on vacation to Mexico this summer. There is no way I’m going. She flirts with every guy she meets. She is my mom, I love her and she’s a really nice person, but how do I tell her that she embarrasses us?
Reveal your feelings directly and honestly by saying something like this to your mom: “I feel really uncomfortable watching my mom flirt. I don’t feel safe around it.” She may discount your feelings by insisting that her behavior is harmless. Stand your ground. By flirting with your teenage friends and inviting you to drink with her, she has already proved she lacks healthy boundaries.
Communicating about difficult situations is an essential life skill. The journey from adolescence to adulthood is the perfect time to practice. But speak from your personal experience. This is called an “I” message. Avoid saying “you,” because it puts people on the defense. In the sample response I provided, I used “my mom” instead of “you” because your mother needs prompting to think of herself as the maternal figure in your life.
If you feel nervous or even afraid at the thought of confronting your mom, don’t worry. It’s normal. Adults experience those emotions, too, when faced with a challenging conversation. It often feels like you’re onstage telling the world what is most important to you. You have no control over anyone’s response, and that can be scary. But the primary reason to speak up is self-care. You are teaching yourself that it is worth taking an emotional risk in order to protect yourself. You are also directing others to notice your boundaries and requesting respect for those boundaries.
If your mom (or anyone else) continues to encroach on your personal safety, you must take further action. Tell your father or another trusted adult about your mom’s behavior. (Actually, when your mom offered alcohol to you and your friends, you should have notified your father. If you didn’t, please do tell him now.) Your mom needs help so she can grow up. The divorce probably triggered unhealed wounds from her adolescence, like a fear that she is invisible. Rather than tackling those demons through therapy, she tried plastic surgery to get attention. If your father deals with the situation compassionately, your mom will see a therapist and wake up from her confusion.