Her mom despises her blue-collar boyfriend

Columnist

Dear Carolyn:

My mom basically despises my boyfriend, “Tom,” because he didn’t graduate college and works a blue-collar job. She is so rude to him we can’t even be around her. She defends this by saying that looking at us together makes her feel disgusted, she can’t help how she feels, and she’s being as nice as she can given the intensity of her feelings. Tom actually cried after our last dinner with my parents.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Tom and I are 24, independently financially stable, and have lived together for six months — another source of my mother’s angst, but I suspect if I were “shacking up” with a more “eligible” bachelor, she would deal just fine.

Although I am beyond furious at her treatment of Tom, I don’t want to lose her. Our relationship no longer resembles the mother-daughter bond we used to have. I’m also scared about what this is doing to my parents’ marriage. My dad is saying things to her in a tone I’ve never heard before — telling her that her behavior is unacceptable, that she needs to stop. She just gets defensive and yells at him. I don’t want my relationship to be their undoing.

I love Tom and could see us getting engaged in a year or two. However, I’m actually thinking about breaking up with him over this, although I know evil shouldn’t triumph.

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

But I feel like he’s on one side, and on the other side is my relationship with my mom AND my parents’ relationship AND the potential to have it all if I meet a college-educated suitor. (I feel like a horrible person saying this.)

Mom vs. boyfriend

Wow. You just made countless adult children grateful for their parents’ passive aggression and subterfuge.

I’ll start with the (relatively) easy part: You’re not responsible for your parents’ marriage. You didn’t cause their rift; you’re merely the topic. The cause is the difference between their beliefs that this topic laid bare. It was there before Tom and it will remain if Tom goes away.

As for your bond with Mom, you can no more go back to the “before” picture than your dad can. You can’t break up with knowledge, and your family bonds hereafter will reflect what this situation has taught you, about yourselves and about each other.

So don’t leave Tom to solve your family problems; leave only if it solves your Tom problems.

In that little throwaway line at the end, you admit you’ve toyed with the idea that you can do better than Tom. As difficult as it will be, you need to decide whether that’s your voice or your mother’s — somehow tuning out her vacation from her senses.

Specifically, you need to stop thinking in terms of whether “evil” should or shouldn’t “triumph.” In this case, “good” shouldn’t triumph, either: Resisting Mom’s pressure on principle would be just as much of a mistake as caving in to it. Principle makes this about your mom, and she’s nothing but a terrible distraction from the important process of figuring out whether you and Tom really fit.

Principle also won’t keep your conversations with Tom going 20 years from now; compatibility will, and commonality, and affection, respect and trust. Be patient, please, and see if that’s what you have in Tom.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com.

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