Here’s a joke I just made up: What makes a Jewish mother happier than seeing her child in a happy relationship? Ha ha! That’s the joke. Because the answer is obviously, nothing, and it is funny to even consider that there could be something equivalent. So, as your friendly neighborhood psychologist, I will answer your unspoken, yet urgent, question: “How do I deal with my mom and her excessive, bordering on pathological, emotional investment in my dating life?” Well, this requires superhuman ninja powers, which I will teach you in this column, so buckle up.
The first ninja power which I will teach you today is EMPATHY. Let’s understand why your mother is so extraordinarily interested in whether you have a second date with that nice guy who went to Boston University, and then NYU Law School, and is now an attorney with an office in midtown, and has a Golden Retriever and parents in Tenafly. (Does even one detail of a prospective soul mate escape your mother’s steel trap memory?) Because really, that guy isn’t even interesting, and actually was pretty arrogant, and you don’t even know if you want a second date with him anyway. So what is the big deal, Mom?
To see what the big deal is to your mom, we need to delve deep into her mind, like they do in science shows for children. We will quickly bypass the parts of her brain allotted to memories of you as the cutest baby in the world, how pretty you looked at your Bat Mitzvah, and how happy she was when you won the Geography Bee. Then, with appropriate fanfare and awe, we will approach the hot, red center of her psyche, the 50% or more of brain power reserved for something I call “The Omnipresent Anxiety That You Will Not Get Married.” Don’t get too close, you may get scorched by the heat of this molten lava core of worry.
Why, in this day and age, does your mom act like the mother on Fiddler on the Roof when the topic turns to your impending death alone (at 26)? Firstly, your mother wants you to be happy. She knows she is not going to live forever and she wants to be sure that before she exits stage left, there is someone on this earth who knows that you like crunchy – and not smooth – peanut butter on wheat, not white, toast. Otherwise she would have to live forever just to continue to purchase it for you, particularly when it is on sale at the store. Secondly, she is anxious that you will miss out on what was the best experience of her life, which was, of course, you (and your siblings, possibly). Where you see a hot date, your mother sees the parent of her grandchild. And what brings more naches than a grandchild? (Another joke.) Thirdly, your mother is anxious that you are not prioritizing relationships. She is proud of your career, of course, but she thinks that a career doesn’t keep you warm at night. What, you say, she has actually used these very words? How coincidental. So the third reason is actually the same as the first: she wants you to be happy.
But, even with the best of intentions, your mother’s continuous laser focus on your romantic adventures and misadventures can be stressful and intrusive. Particularly, when things are not going well romantically and she continues to inquire during every phone call about what happened to “that nice guy in finance” (who turned out to be not-so-nice). So how can you cope effectively with your mother’s interest in your dating life while maintaining some boundaries that allow you to live your own life? We need some more amazing ninja skills here. And the acronym for this set of techniques is, strangely enough, JDATE.
J: Joke around with your mom. Use humor, the Jewish standby, to inject some lightheartedness into the conversation. “What finance guy? Oh him, I told him he made too much money for me and I couldn’t respect someone who already had a 401K. I told him, live in the moment!” (Make sure your mother doesn’t have a heart condition if you use this line.)
D: Deflect. Change the topic. “Oh, him? He was really nice. We shall see. Hey, did I tell you my boss said I did a great job on that presentation?”
A: Assume she is coming from a good place. Say to yourself, she loves me and that’s why she is asking so many questions. Not because she wants to keep me up all night wondering if I am, in fact, going to be single forever.
T: Tell her how you feel directly, if the other techniques aren’t putting her off. “Mom, I love you, but you’ve really got to stop asking me about who I date. It makes me feel bad if it doesn’t work out with someone we’ve spent so much time talking about. And then, even if a relationship is working out, it makes me anxious when we talk about it too much, like we’re jinxing it. I would like our conversations so much more if I felt that I could keep my love life a little more private.”
E: Empathize, as we learned before. Say something like, “Mom, I totally get that you love me and you want me to be happy. As soon as I find Ms. Right, you’ll be the first to know, but right now, I’m just enjoying my life.”
Now that you have learned the one-two punch of empathy and concrete communication skills, you are much better equipped to handle your mother and her Favorite Topic. Remember, your mother isn’t trying to make you crazy, she is trying to express her love. But this isn’t Fiddler on the Roof either (although your mom does think you have a lovely singing voice), so don’t worry if you’re not married when she thinks you should be. Keep on dating and deflecting, and then one day you can surprise her with “The One!” And then she will plotz.
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