Feb. 6, 2000

The Other Side of the Mirror

My 18 year old son and his girlfriend passed the six month mark of their relationship in January.

A few days later he tried to break it off.

He told me she was too attached to him and since he didn't see a long term future for them, what was the point of continuing?

He said he didn't want to spend all his time on the phone with her or going out with her. He doesn't like her any less but he's not ready for a "relationship".

She told him he "doesn't have a clue" and she's absolutely right. In fact he's probably more clueless than most boys his age but at 18 he has a right to be, and it's not like he was the instigator of the romance and then dumped her.. she chased him from the beginning.

After a couple of days of sturm und drang, they emerged still together but not unscarred. He says they're not as "strong" as they were, which is fine with him. It's obvious to me, an observer (not impartial but an observer nonetheless) that he's not in love with her. He probably got swept away by the idea of someone loving him but when it became too real, with real responsibilities, he backed off.

Responsibilities? Yes.. she has made him responsible for her happiness and emotional well-being. He goes to see her because she's "depressed". He agonizes over her problems with her coworkers and her parents. They both want me to become closer to her but I can't and I won't.

The girl needs a mother figure. For her own reasons (I don't know the details and don't really want to) she refuses to confide in her own mother. Normally I would be happy to step in and be a confidante.. perhaps a bit too happy. When I see teens that I feel are emotionally neglected I have a tendency to want to meddle. (My kids usually stop me, though.) In this case, it would be wrong. My feelings for this girl are ambivalent but the bottom line is, her boyfriend is MY son. I can't give her the kind of impartial advice she needs.

There's something else, too. When I hear about her and how she relates to my son, I see myself and my romantic past as if in a mirror. I was the girlfriend from Hell. I didn't demand expensive gifts or expensive dates but I demanded time and attention, and lots of it. I couldn't understand how someone who professed to love me would willingly choose to spend a moment apart from me. As I type this I see how wrong and misled that is but I feel the remembered emotions closely enough to understand all too well. It doesn't help that at their exact age I was involved with someone under similar circumstances, and saw myself only through his eyes.

I hear myself telling my son that she has to learn to stand on her own feet, that he's not responsible for solving her problems or for her state of mind. It rings somewhat empty, coming from me.

Why on earth was I like that? Why is Girlfriend like that today? Why the lack of self-esteem? In my case, I grew up in the fifties when women weren't yet liberated (hah!) but it can't be only that. Don't laugh but until I think of a better reason, I blame our mothers.

I too, never confided in mine. Nor did I seek out another older woman, because my generation was told to "never trust anyone over 30." (Glad those days are gone!) I relied on people my age who were at least as lost as I was. Perhaps motherly advice would have helped, perhaps not.. words are meaningless without experience anyway. What was really missing was a sense of my worth, my value, perhaps even my place in the world. Having never told my parents anything of import, I could never be judged and found worthy.

It's strange and rather uncomfortable, viewing yourself through this mirror. It's as close as I'd ever care to come to an out-of-body experience.

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