« Still more on t-shirts, professional responsibility, and ways of seeing | Main | More soon... »

November 07, 2005


Amanda Marcotte

Boy, this post gives me a lot to think about.


Rereading it gave ME a lot to think about. I'll take it as a compliment, Amanda.


This is why I keep coming back to your blog, despite how much some of the other commenters annoy me. I respect your ability to be honest with yourself.
I should send my husband over here some time, I think you two would have a lot to talk about. He's Asian and often makes the comment that he considers many other Asian men to be "babies", so spoiled by their mothers that they refuse to take any responsiblity in their relationships and expect their wives to be their mommies. Personally I'm inclined to be a bit less harshly judgemental than he is, but I can see the point he's making. For my own part, I see a lot of women in our culture who prolong their adolesence far beyond what is reasonable and display behavious that is, quite frankly, infantile. I know a 38 year old woman who has Hello Kitty everything, and still literally pouts and stomps her feet when she doesn't get her way. It's embarrasing.
It's amazing how easy it is for people to fall into parent-child patterns in their romantic relationships. I'm glad for you that you were able to see the pattern and move beyond it. Seeing the pattern that you're stuck in, like a hamster on a wheel, is often to first step towards breaking away from it.


I'm just still trying to grock the fact that you've been married 4 times. I had no idea. I've been reading your blog for a while but I totally missed that. I'm having trouble reconciling it somehow with my image of you.

I was in a relationship with a guy once who had "mommy" issues. It was a new experience for me. He'd been in a marriage with an immature, dependent woman and was used to being "Daddy." Then he got together with me, a strong independent woman, and suddenly felt like I was "mommy"! Frankly I was appalled. Lover, partner, equal -- that I can be. Your mommy? Um, no. I wanted to be supportive but it was difficult. I quickly realized that he was "working through issues" and that he wasn't really in a relationship with ME at all. He was in a relationship with A Woman, a sort of fungible cardboard silhouette for him to project on. He would discuss me, his ex-wife, and his mother every week with his therapist! Lordy. (And this wasn't a feminist issue at all, just a question of his psyche.) I felt pretty sure we were doomed, and we were.

The Countess

Hugo: "I was very good at avoiding conflict. When conflict did arise, I had two tactics in my arsenal:

1.  Get very indignant and threaten to leave the relationship.

2.  Act like a small child, launch into a pathetic list of self-recriminations (what Robert Bly calls the "I've always been shit" speech), and get wife or girlfriend to feel sorry for me, start soothing me, and get off my case about whatever it was that I was doing that was driving her up the wall."

Hugo, I'm curious. I hope you don't mind my asking how these old habits are cropping up in your current marriage. I asked because you said you've been married four times. That's a lot of times. It seems to me that you like delegating the most important decisions to your wives, and later resenting them for making decisions you've delegated to them. I believe it reflects on your stated pro-feminist views. That's not the kind of thing that successful couples engage in. They keep the lines of communication open, and don't act like small children or threaten to leave their relationships.


Hey Hugo,
Wow! I, too, have to compliment you on your honesty; that's very brave of you. It's also reassuring and inspiring and makes me want to write more on my own blog. I worried a bit when I was writing that post about whether talking about psychological issues on my blog was too personal for the web, but I think part of figuring out the human mind (the most complicated machine in the universe) is at least being able to talk about these things and if that requires some vulnerability, so be it. Anyway it's cheaper than a therapist!

So as to your post, it's amazing how much what you describe, also describes my partner, especially the part about leaving all the decisions up to the woman. I am always "gifted" with making the decisions about what we do on a night out, where we go, who we do it with etc. It's very hard to get him to understand that I don't want to always be in charge. It makes me feel like a spoiled brat, or a dictator.

You have given me lots to think about as always but before this comment gets too long I'll save it for my own blog and link back to you. Thanks for writing this. Your posts are always so insightful.


A startlingly honest post. Women get together all the time and talk about the behavior of their boyfriends and husbands, and they say EXACTLY WHAT YOU SAID -- it just never occurred to me that men might be capable of actually detecting it in themselves.

And of course, I had relationships like that for a long time, and finally figured out I didn't want to be anyone's mom, and I was tired of being blamed for all the decisions, just because I was the only one willing to make decisions and nag until they were enacted. It was horrible. It was exhausting. And as lonely as I imagine Lucky White Girl feels every time she thinks about the fact that her partner just isn't that interested in her blog.

But I haven't come up with a better way to be. My best answer has been -- just not to engage. If a man pulls a little boy act, I just walk away. I don't engage any more. Not a really good strategy, because of course it means I just don't have that many relationships. I wonder what it is I need to detect in *myself* in order to come up with a strategy that keeps me from being a mom and a nagger, but also lets me actually have a relationship, instead of always just walking away.


I have a similar problem, but with different genders.

Guys would become attracted to me initially because I was a strong female, oppiniated self and all.

Then I'd get in a relationship, and slowly I'd start turning into the unsure, quiet, subservient wife stereotype. I'd start hating my bf for "forcing me" into that kind of behavior, and hating myself for doing it. (NOTE to MRA's: "forcing me" is in scare quotes because I'm very much aware that they were not forcing me to do a damn thing).

I'd start getting mad at the bf, so I'd quit doing the "girl things" like doing the housework, to, I don't know, rebel or something.

Quite frankly, at 21 I think I've come to the conclusion that I am not mature enough to have a cohabitating relationship: my role models for significant others are pathetic (my parents and tv).


Some of your commentators, however, seem to have some screws loose. :-(


Thanks, all; keep sharing your stories and thoughts. It's helpful and fascinating.

Countess, let me assure you I have worked damned hard to change the patterns. I would not blog about them if I were still trapped within them.

Thanks for starting all this, Barb!


Reading everyone's comments: do you all agree that when a man behaves immaturely in a relationship, he's putting the woman in the "mommy" role? That's what I'm getting from this, but I see those things as distinct.

In the relationship I mentioned above, the guy was definitely casting me as Mom in his own personal home movie. But I've had other boyfriends who were definitely immature -- extremely so, sometimes! -- but I sure didn't feel that they were casting me as "mommy."


Good question, Sassafras! I don't know. I'll have to think some more about it.


My husband and I are also doing some hard work understanding our dynamics and working to improve them. It is so easy to slip back into the parent-child kind of interactions, but terribly exhausting for whoever gets to be the parent (usually me). We are trying to learn better ways of communicating to avoid these patterns, like if he calls me from work and asks what we are doing for dinner, I now get sort of playful and coy and say, "are you trying to ask me out for dinner? where did you have in mind?" This prevents me deciding where to eat over and over and over again. I also got him to pick out a lamp for our living room by taking a well-timed trip to the restroom to give him time to look without me and my input around . I probably wouldn't have picked the one he did, but once I got it home, I have to admit, he had a good eye. It looks great. So we are getting there, slowly but surely. I am so glad to know others are working on these same issues


do you all agree that when a man behaves immaturely in a relationship, he's putting the woman in the "mommy" role?

Not necessarily. Hugo's talking about expecting the woman to set the limits--that's different from an immature partner who simply doesn't want limits.


I think we *all* sometimes want someone to take over and to parent us. The healthier we are, the easier it is for us to see ourselves doing this and to pull ourselves out of it. (Not that it's ever easy.)


that's different from an immature partner who simply doesn't want limits.

Yes, exactly -- that's the distinction! Thanks for phrasing it so neatly.

La Lubu

When a person plays the role of a "child" in the relationship, I can't help but think it's because they want the rewards of a relationship (companionship, sex, place to stay, etc.) without the responsibilities of a relationship. And if the relationship sours (as it inevitably will), that person can then avoid taking any of the responsibility for that too. I also think it may be that they don't really want a relationship to begin with. If they have a pattern of being uncomfortable making any decision, it could be that they don't care enough to---a distinct lack of interest. I don't think it's a problem that the "adult" role-playing person can solve. I kinda take the Al-Anon view....that just like you can't "cure" a partner of alcoholism, you're not going to "raise" your partner to be mature, either. This is something that person has to decide to work on. You can only decide if you want to continue to live with it.

With that said, midwestmind, you are on the right track. Don't engage! If it means you have fewer relationships, so what? Fewer relationships is much better than several bad ones. What is it about you that attracts such folks? Probably that you are a visibly independent, assertive person. People who are looking for a partner to fit the role of "mommy" or "daddy" or "adult"---however you want to put it, are going to seek out others who fit those characteristics. By not engaging, you are placing the barrier right where it belongs---at the start. You don't say if you still live in the midwest (I do), so I understand what you mean about "fewer relationships". It's just the demographics here---outside of the larger cities like Chicago, there just isn't a large proportion of single people over the age of 25. Keep your head up! It's easier to meet someone who is mature and ready for an equal partnership if you're not already bogged down "parenting" someone who doesn't. Peace!



Thank you for posting this. I think a lot of us were squirming in our seats reading this. I know I was. Self reflection and self improvement are not easy things.

Medium Dave

This resonated a great deal with me... I've had that dependent/resentful dynamic going on in several relationships. It could go both ways; sometimes I was the dependent one, sometimes she was.

In my marriage I still struggle with this, though I think I'm making progress. My wife and I are both committed to making the relationship work, and have a great deal of mutual respect... but old patterns are behavior are hard to break out of. For example, I tend to expect her to be the "social director" all the time, and then become resentful when she makes plans without consulting me. On the other hand, she tries to rely on me to handle the finances, but also becomes anxious thinking that I'm not taking care of them properly.

Progress is frustratingly slow at times, but I can always look back to the start of our relationship and see the improvement. That helps.

Q Grrl

"And of course, when it came to boundaries, I famously let the women in my life set them -- and then promptly resented them for having done so. A partner would say something fairly reasonable like "Hugo, I don't feel comfortable when you go out with your ex-girlfriends without me." Realizing that these friendships with exes were usually tinged with something threatening to my current relationship, I'd quickly agree to my partner's request to stop seeing so-and -so. Soon enough, however, I would resent my current partner for putting boundaries in place, and I'd either start sneaking around behind her back or let the hostility build up inside of me. Instead of being an equal partner in setting boundaries, I made my wife or girlfriend the arbiter of what was appropriate behavior."

You're not unique in this. It is the perfect anatomy for our rape culture, and chilling in how you perceive this as an interpersonal failing. I see what you've written as the blueprint for heteronormativity [and yes, homosexuals will exhibit the same trends because we were all, as in each and every one of us, raised to be heteronormative]. Heteronormativity objectifies women, pure and simple. You chose your object to be the gatekeeper rather than the sexpot, but nonetheless she played a role while you reaped the benefits (which is also the textbook definition of mother-child relationship).


So as to your post, it's amazing how much what you describe, also describes my partner, especially the part about leaving all the decisions up to the woman. I am always "gifted" with making the decisions about what we do on a night out, where we go, who we do it with etc. It's very hard to get him to understand that I don't want to always be in charge. It makes me feel like a spoiled brat, or a dictator.

Barb, you are dead spot on.

Change the gender, and you have my situation. I was raised in an atmosphere where men and women were equal, or as one poster put it, that is was just accepted without thought. Like racism, it was a given that all were, by default equal. We just never thought about it any other way.

But my wife of 25 years is a traditional woman, and feels that men should hold their traditional roles as the decision maker of the family. Sometimes that can be smothering. The statement about making those decisions, then having your partner resent those decisions caused quite a few flashbacks in my mind. It can be a heavy responsibility making decisions that affect your wife and children. And of course, I was raised that those decisions should be made together, yet here I am.

It's funny now that I think about it. My first wife (whom I married when I was 20) was completely the opposite. Her family dynamics, abusive father, doormat mother, had made her very sensitive to control issues. She was determined, that if she was not to make the important decisions herself, that is would at least be mutual decision between the two of us. I thought at the time, that this was imminently fair. She wanted control of the checkbook, she wanted a career of her own. She was quite vocal that no man would ever control her. Hey fine with me. I was quite happy being two equals.

We divorced after 3 years of marriage. I got together with her a couple of times after that, dinner, that sort of thing. She told me one time, the biggest factor for her decision to divorce, was that I had not taken control of our family and our relationship. She found sharing the pants of the family to be a weakness on my part. She wanted to be a stay at home Mom. In short, opposite many of the things she stated she wanted.

So I guess the point in this is, that sometimes, especially in the young, we don’t always know what we want. Sometimes it looks good on paper, but living it is another thing. So when I hear women describe their men as children, I have to wonder if the men in their lives aren’t giving them the control they want, yet the taste is unpalatable.

It has taken my wife and I many years, but today, both of know what our respected roles are in the family dynamic. Its taken some experimentation and some risk taking by both of us, but both of us are comfortable in our roles.

Medium Dave

Interesting post, Uzzah. In what ways, though, do you think you contributed to that dynamic in your first marriage?


Interesting post, Uzzah. In what ways, though, do you think you contributed to that dynamic in your first marriage?

Well certainly, my first wife was not completely at fault for our failed marriage. It takes two to make or break a marriage. While in hindsight, it appears that I should have maintained a more traditional approach to marriage, I doubt that would have helped, since it was a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. There were certainly, at least as far as my divorce decision went, other factors that made me want to bail out. My ex's control issues went way beyond the checkbook, and I just wasn't buying into it. I worked and tried hard to be a good husband. But in the end, I became disenchanted with the whole control freak thing. I'm sure my [not well hidden] unhappyness only hastened what was already a dismal situation. On one hand, no woman wants or respects someone who rolls over and plays dead for them. On the other hand, most worthwhile women don't want (or won't admit they want) someone who overtly runs the show. So I'm not sure what I could have done to make that situation better. However, trading her in for a different model has worked out rather well for me.

Looking back, I realize now that getting married that young was a foolish mistake. That time in your life is a period of phenominal personal growth and change. The person you marry at that age will be a completely different person in five years. That new person may not be someone you want to spend the rest of your life with.


I think you have the right attitude, but humans do have a nature, one aspect of which is self-deception, which might be worth reflecting on once in awhile.


I'm not convinced that having a quasi-parental dynamic in a relationship is necessarily a recipe for disaster. My maternal grandparents had a relationship like that, and though it's definitely not a dynamic that I want in my own marriage, it worked for them. My grandmother was the oldest of ten children, and my grandfather was orphaned quite early in life, so the roles they took on in their marriage filled certain emotional needs that they had, quite aside from the fact that they'd have ended up in the poorhouse if my grandmother wasn't the one in charge. There are all sorts of relationship models other than strict equality that are potentially workable, no matter how strange they look to people outside the relationship. For example, the marital roles that evangelical Christians prescribe for men and women don't make a lick of sense to me, but they clearly work for some people.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Regular reads

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 01/2004