It’s February 2008. My then husband and I are sleeping in his parents’ basement, he on one couch, I on another. Things aren’t great between us… separation has been brought up several times, divorce a few others. For the time being, because of where we are, a truce has been implemented. We visited his parents a LOT. He was very close to his mother – calling her just to chat, calling her when he needed home repairs done, calling her when he got a flat tire and needed someone to fix it (she lived two hours away and told him to call a tow truck – same as I did, but he listened to her while he never listened to me). I had gotten tired of it… her nagging, her telling me that I was not taking care of her “baby” correctly. Who was I to feed him food with condiments on it? Who was I to paint the walls green?
But I put up with it. For his sake. And because doing otherwise would cause an argument – a screaming, fit-throwing, object flinging, wall punching argument. I’d had enough but for the time being had no other options, nowhere else to go. So I stayed put. And anyway we were in counseling. We were “working on it”. Right? Uh. Yeah. She’d gone to work that night, to the post office, she wouldn’t be home until 3 a.m. And when that time came, I could hear the garage door above me open. I tried to go to sleep as the floor creaked above my head, sleep didn’t come. He wasn’t asleep either, I knew, half laying, half sitting on the other sofa, listening for her. I made no movement. I didn’t want him to know I was awake. The door to the basement creaked open, the dog ran downstairs followed by his mother who was whispering loudly for her to come back upstairs.
I didn’t say anything. I just continued to remain still, my eyes closed. The dog jumped on me, licked my face, I didn’t budge, and I could hear his mother walking down the stairs after her. My ex, recognizing his mother, whispered something to her… I opened my eyes a crack to see what was going on and I could barely believe what I saw. It was sickening. There they were, the dog jumping between the couch and her legs, chatting amiably, as if it were the middle of the day, and he’s lying there, completely uncovered, wearing nothing but his tighty-whities and with his morning wood just hanging out there, making no move to cover it, not acknowledging it. And what’s worse, even, was that she was standing there continuing the conversation as if there was nothing out of the ordinary.
But it WAS out of the ordinary. This was not ordinary at all! This was… this was… beyond anything I’d seen before – this was… Norman Bates creepy. I can’t say that this is what made me decide to leave him… many factors played into that. But I think I realized that night that there was something more abnormal about this degree of closeness that I’d failed to see. And I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
I can laugh about it now… now that it’s all well behind me, but after the divorce was final and when I decided to start dating again, I remembered that. I remembered the years of disapproval I’d been through, I remembered the explaining I’d had to do to tell her why I wanted to go back to college (that was a fighting point too), I remembered the mommy-boner, I remembered how she’d get upset if I told her I wanted to go to dinner with my own husband and she was not invited, and I vowed that that would never happen again. I was extreme about it, making a list of all the things I wanted (and didn’t want) in another human being. A good family relationship was important… but not so good that you wanted to fuck your mother. Jeez that’s awful to even think about.
I was optimistic at first. I mean how many men out there, in their late twenties and early thirties can honestly say they let their mothers dictate their lives? You’d be surprised. More of them than ever, it seemed. The dates I went on were more than once interrupted by mothers calling their sons, even if their sons didn’t live at home anymore (and even when they did – seriously, you’re thirty-two… grow a pair), to ask when they were going to be home and if they were alright. Because, you know. All 115 pounds of me can be so very intimidating. Needless to say, I didn’t answer my phone when they called for a second date. It was all I could do to ask if they were going to get grounded if they stayed out past curfew. It was entertaining for a second to feel like I was sixteen again… but then I remembered all the bad things about being sixteen and I decided.. yeah… I was going to pass.
Then I met 3.0. He seemed to have it together: his place, his job, his own life. Sure he admitted that his condo, which was immaculately decorated, had been done by his mother but I let that one go. A lot of bachelors have no taste and his place was aesthetically pleasing. She didn’t have her own bedroom there, at any rate, and if that’s as far as the interference went, I was okay with that. I didn’t say much either when he would chat with her or spend time with her when she needed something. All of those things are normal. She wasn’t intruding on our relationship, she never said much, and she tried to be friendly, which I appreciated. And anyway, my standards are low then… as Buttface so eloquently put it, this was a step up no matter how I looked at it. 3.0 wasn’t walking around in front of his mother with a boner.
It was just that, as things got more serious and as our talks turned to the future, I began to realize just how much 3.0 really did idolize his mother. And if that wasn’t enough, I began to understand too how much he really looked up to his twin brother. If you’ve never dated a twin it’s an eye-opening experience. You expect them to be close. But I don’t think you can really understand HOW close. I never could. I managed to mitigate it for the most part. His brother lived somewhere else, and we never saw him. But when his brother decided that he didn’t like me, fuck, that put the whole relationship in jeopardy. When his brother decided he wanted to go on a trip with 3.0, and it happened to be a holiday, I was left in the cold. That was hard… it was annoying… it was frustrating… and it was worse to have none of it acknowledged when I voiced it, but I dealt with it. I don’t argue anymore. Not since the divorce, it’s not worth it. I just take as much as I can take and when I can’t take anymore, I leave. I hadn’t reached my breaking point yet. I soon would, but hadn’t yet.
I reached it, though, on the balcony one evening, as we sat, talking. Our talks turned to marriage and I remember hearing 3.0 tell me that no matter who he married, she would always come third in his life. His mother came first, then his twin. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do with that. A normal person would have left. I SHOULD have left. That’s not how a marriage works, and if marriage was what I wanted and if this was going to be all wrong, I was wasting my time. My marriage had failed, but I knew enough to know that for a marriage to work, you have to have your priorities straight… when you marry, your spouse comes first. That’s the rule. That’s how it works. And it cannot be one-sided.
I tried hard to ignore what he said… I couldn’t. I mitigated the thought of living in a loveless marriage with the fact that I wouldn’t have to work anymore, I could have the kids I wanted, I could live in this posh condo, and I could be free to work on my projects as I liked. It was a business contract, I reasoned. I’d give him what he wanted, he’d give me what I wanted, I didn’t need love in the middle of all that. It was just a paper we’d sign, everything would be fine, I’d live happily ever after with my white picket fence and my cookie business. What did I need with some silly emotion, anyway? And yet that nagging voice in the back of my head knew that this is NOT how that is supposed to work. And even if he ever did manage to bring himself to love me, did I want to be loved by someone that would always place me third in the hierarchy? Waiting for his mother to die so I could be Number Two? Always bested by his brother? Having to compete for his affection? The answer, despite all the perks, was and is still absolutely not.
As I’ve said before, I am jaded. I have been through a lot, I have seen a lot, and it seems like it’s never been easy on me. I don’t expect it to be. That said, I don’t know what’s wrong with this generation of men. I’ve either met all of the wrong ones that have all of the mommy issues, or it’s a widespread problem with this generation. And if it’s not a mommy issue, or at least not directly a mommy issue, it’s an inappropriate closeness with one or more siblings – if your girlfriend, fiancé, wife, etc. has to wonder if she is always going to have to compete with one or more of your family members for your affection, it’s not a good sign. Period.
Family is important. No matter where you are, you’re always going to feel some loyalty to them. As a teacher once said many years ago, home is where they always have to take you in, no matter what you’ve done. I believe that. And while I don’t always agree with everything my family says and everything they do, I love them dearly. And in the beginning of my relationships, the priorities don’t change. But when the degree of seriousness shifts, the priorities shift as well. As they should. Because, I’m beginning to realize, if they don’t, then that person isn’t ready. Maybe he has his own place, maybe he has a job, maybe he has his shit together, but for all that’s worth, he may as well still be living in his parents’ basement, waiting for the impending family dinner bell to ring, comforted by the familiar and afraid to branch out into something new.
And I don’t have time for that.