Flesh and bleh
I started dating someone who is super close to his family (talks to his mom and/or dad daily, sometimes multiple times). I have a perfectly good relationship with my family, but we talk a few times a month, not a few times a day! I’m uneasy that being in a relationship with him will mean being in an intense relationship with his family, too. Should I be worried about dating someone so tied to his mom as an adult?
There’s being close with your parents and then there’s being close like one of those kids on a leash at the mall.
Starting in the late ’80s, childhood became like jail, with children no longer being allowed out to explore and instead incarcerated in fenced-in play dates. This came out of “helicopter parenting,” named for parents overprotectively hovering over their kids, supervising every aspect of their lives. Helicopter parents remain in constant communication with their kids (including their adult kids), making their decisions for them, clearing obstacles out of their path and trying to micromanage their children into Harvard and the “right” career, spouse, house and all the rest.
When you have constant adult supervision, and your mistakes are magically mopped up by Mom (like by calling your boss for you – which, yes, really happens), you get shorted on the normal developmental challenges that create a psychologically healthy, independent adult. Not surprisingly, research by interpersonal communications researcher Kelly Odenweller and her colleagues suggests helicopter parenting leads to adult children with “neurotic tendencies, dependency on others and ineffective coping skills.”
Look at how your boyfriend responds to conflict, and assess whether you’ve got a psychologically handicapped adult baby on your hands or merely a guy who really likes and enjoys his parents. That said, even if it’s the latter, it might not work for you. Talk to him to suss out what sort of role his family would have in your lives. For example: What would be expected of you? Would you need to go to every single event with his family? If you got a job across the country, would moving be out of the question?
Upon investigation, figure out what you’d be comfortable with. You may decide his level of involvement with his family doesn’t work for you, and that doesn’t make you a bad person or “wrong.” It just makes you the wrong person for him. However, talking this out now could help you see whether there are compromises you two could live with (same as you might do if he were intensely into a hobby that you find intensely tedious). Maybe you’ll always be a little “Disturbed” about his level of engagement with his family, but maybe you can work things out so his parents are involved in your life together … but not on the level of intestinal polyps.
It’s not you. It’s meh.
In the first few weeks of seeing this new guy, I was really into him and wanted to spend all my time with him. We’ve now been together for three months. For the first time for me in a relationship, I’m OK with being apart from a boyfriend. (Normally, I get insecure and upset.) Maybe this is good, but it worries me. If you don’t really miss someone when you aren’t together, does that mean you don’t love them?
There’s an old Billy Joel love song, “I need you in my house because you’re my home” – not, “I could take you or leave you because you’re the shed out back.”
It’s possible you mistook the initial excitement of the relationship for having the hots for this guy, in bed and as a person. Elevated dopamine plays a role in this. It’s a neurotransmitter – a chemical messenger – that drives wanting and seeking. Neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz found that “unpredictable rewards” – seemingly rewarding things we have yet to experience – may be even three or four times as exciting (that is, dopamine-elevating) as those we’re used to. However, expecting something to be exciting and having it fall short, failing to match our prediction, causes dopamine levels to sag. We experience less wanting and have diminished motivation to pursue it – in other words, the neurochemical expression of “meh.”
Give a hard look at whether this guy hits the marks for you. At the same time, consider whether you missed past boyfriends more because there was something missing in you. (When you develop emotional security, you’re able to be alone without feeling alone.) If you decide he’s worth keeping, remember that romantic partners need to feel loved, even if you don’t need them desperately.
Amy Alkon is the author of the nationally syndicated, science-based “Advice Goddess” column. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @amyalkon on Twitter.