I’m dating a man whose father won’t cut the apron strings and to be quite honest, I don’t know how to deal with it. If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a man whose family is extremely close-knit (and that’s putting it lightly), my story might be all too familiar.
His dad calls constantly, even when he has nothing to say. It’s been three years, and I can count the number of times I’ve been with my boyfriend and we haven’t had a call from his father on one hand. The phone will sit there ominously looming over me because I know it’s going to happen. At some point, it’ll inevitably ring, and if my boyfriend doesn’t answer it, there will be another call five minutes later. Half the time, there’s nothing that needs to be said; it’s just a conversation about what he’s doing at that moment. Is it too much to ask to not have to share my boyfriend’s attention every time I see him?
He turns up unannounced and expects my boyfriend to meet him. I have a million examples of when I’ve been with my other half, only for him to get a phone call demanding his presence. It usually goes something like this: “I’m five minutes away, so I’ll see you in town for coffee.” The most frustrating part is that it isn’t even a question. It’s not an option that we might not go — he expects us to drop everything and go to see him. The thing is, we encourage this behavior because most of the time, we go along with it.
He’ll interrupt even when he knows we’re together. If you’ve ever dated someone who travels a lot, you’ll know how precious the time you get together can be. My boyfriend is frequently out of the country, so making time alone with him is so important for our relationship. Unfortunately, with all the phone calls, the sudden coffee dates and so on, it feels like our alone time is never truly ours. I’m always waiting for that moment when my boyfriend’s father will make is existence known, and it’s particularly frustrating when he’s aware that we’re together. The lack of respect for our quality time is frequently annoying, and sometimes overwhelming.
He invites himself on our dates. This behavior is so bad it’s almost funny. If we tell my boyfriend’s dad our plans, there’s a very good chance he’ll see it as an open invitation to join us. Whether it’s dinner or a film, it’s increasingly tempting to keep our plans secret in case the word gets out and suddenly two becomes three. There have even been occasions where we’ve explicitly mentioned that it’s a date just for us and he’s booked a separate table at the same restaurant for the rest of the family. No matter how politely this is handled, he gets snarky about not being wanted. It honestly baffles me.
He lives with my boyfriend. The millennial problem of not being able to move out until well into adulthood rears its ugly head here. For reasons I’m sure most twenty-somethings understand, my boyfriend still lives at home. I totally get it, and it wouldn’t be an issue if there was such a thing as personal space in his house. However, whenever I go over, I know that I’m destined for an evening with my boyfriend and his father — it’s a package deal.
He sits with us when we’re having a cozy night in. OK, I have to give credit where it’s due — he’ll sometimes walk in and ask whether we’d like to be left alone, but when someone asks that question, can you honestly say no? Especially in their own living room!? I feel too bad to deny him his own sofa, so our private time disappears and we end up sitting apart, with me feeling like I just can’t be myself whilst his dad is there. Frankly, nothing should get in the way of cuddles — girls, do you feel me on this?
He’ll talk to my boyfriend as if I’m not there. Oh boy, do I feel like a third wheel sometimes. We’ll be sitting in a group or even just the three of us and for the amount I get to say, I might as well not be there! My boyfriend’s dad will often start talking to him about things that I’m never going to be able to join in on. The conversation often gets turned to cars or business (did I mention that my boyfriend and his dad work together?), to which I have nothing to contribute. Inclusive conversation between all of us feels like a pipe dream, so instead I sit there feeling invisible.
They share everything — cars, a bank account, a business, a house. In a fairly long-term relationship, most people want to start sharing more big life things together, to start making those commitments to show that you’re a team. It’s really hard to make these moves when your boyfriend is already sharing them with someone else: his father. To put it in perspective, even other family members joke about them acting like a married couple. When my boyfriend talks about decisions that ‘we’ have made, things that ‘we’ have done, it often means him and his father. I can’t wait for the day when ‘we’ refers to just us.
He depends on my boyfriend for emotional support. I’ve painted a bleak picture, but I do feel compassion for my boyfriend’s dad. He’s had a hard life and ultimately is not a very happy person. I have to remind myself of this when he calls my boyfriend after a bad day and laments his troubles, strapping my boyfriend with a load of emotional responsibility that a child should never have to bear. As the only one who can ever seem to calm him down, of course my boyfriend is going to feel responsible for propping his father up — but he shouldn’t have to shape his life around his dad.
He pokes fun at me regularly. Perhaps the most hurtful habit of all is the subtle snarky comments that I’m constantly having to brush over. From the way I act to what I eat, there’s the odd remark thrown in here and there, and they all seem to be signaling that I’m not good enough. I think I could handle everything else if it weren’t for the fact that whenever I’m with him, I feel like I’m not allowed to be myself. I’m so over having my values belittled or ridiculed. It’s exhausting.
I feel like I have to compete with him. With all of these habits, all of these behaviors, and all of the struggles that they’ve provoked, of course I’ve asked: is it just me being too sensitive? Do I need to toughen up? Because I can’t help feeling like I’m in a tug of war with my boyfriend in the middle and his dad as my opponent. This endless battle isn’t healthy for any of us but I don’t want to quit. If I stop tugging, I’m afraid that I’ll lose.
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