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03 July 2008

Do I have to agree to this lunch? Don't make me go!![More:] My ex's mother absolutely loves me, and always wants to have me more in her life (inviting me to concerts, etc.) Now she wants to have lunch yet again, but I feel absolutely nothing (good or bad) towards her and I don't know how to draw the line, it's a chore, not a pleasure, to see her. Why do I have to continue this relationship?

I think she is eternally grateful that I was such a stable influence in her son's life; but it's been 10 years since he died, and frankly it's exhausting to interrupt my work day to drive and try to find an obscure atmospheric county restaurant just to struggle to make conversation on my part (my life is boring at the moment, and being forced to analyze it yet again is not relaxing) and/or and listen to all her retirement activities and outdated, self-centered feminist rantings. (Some of these rantings contributed to his being so screwed up, which I also resent, probably unfairly, but it doesn't help my feelings towards her.)

But breaking off contact completely with her would be crushing to her, and besides she gave me some of his money when he died (without asking) so I feel that guilt as well. Who's the more selfish person here?! Why can't I just people-please her and not have it bother me?! How does one deal with relationships that mean absolutely nothing? How have you dealt with such a relationship?
How often do you do lunch with her?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 03 July | 12:28
Only about once a month or so.
posted by Melismata 03 July | 12:29
It may mean absolutely nothing to you, but it obviously means something to her. It's just lunch. You should go, and then schedule your NEXT lunch with her while you are there -- for maybe a month from now. Then she'll have something to look forward to, and you'll have her out of your hair for a month.

After my mom was diagnosed with senile dementia, most of her friends stopped calling. Her social life revolved around playing bridge and having lunch with her friends. She isn't capable of playing bridge now, but it makes her sad that her friends don't call and ask her out to lunch. Evidently, 80-year-old women think senile dementia is contagious or something.

It sucks to be old and alone.

Take the lady to lunch.
posted by BitterOldPunk 03 July | 12:36
Would it be possible to push them back to once every other month? Or only try to schedule them when they aren't totally ruining your whole work day?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 03 July | 12:55
I think you are a link to something she lost. Think of it as karma helper.
posted by doctor_negative 03 July | 12:58
Maybe instead of feeling guilty and like it's an obligation, you could adjust your outlook to feeling like you're doing a great kindness for a fellow human being, because that's what you're doing, really.

I don't know the history of you and her son, but having a child die is terrible. Maybe she still feels some connection to her son though you. Especially because she is so grateful for you being a stable influence for him.

I realize it feels like a burden and I totally understand. You don't HAVE to continue the relationship (regardless of history or money or whatever), but it is very kind of you to do so.

Apologies if this is totally not anything you wanted to hear.

Maybe you could suggest meeting somewhere that wouldn't disrupt your whole day as much?
posted by lilywing13 03 July | 13:17
I feel for you. I have the same thing with my hubby's mother. I have some resentment of her attitude towards him. She never gave him any love he didn't "earn". But, she still loved him in her own odd way. Maybe you can find something in that thought that will help it make your visits easier?

I have the "opportunity" to visit with her every so often. I think doctor_negative has it right. You are the link.

She may even be thankful for the part you played in his life. My MIL creeps me out when she thanks me for being so good to my hubby. What?!

I try to go whenever possible, but never relish it. I have only one thing in common with her, but I also respect her need to see me. I think that's the key for me. Sometimes it's easy to do things for others, and sometimes it's just so difficult. But, I go anyway out of compassion for her needs.

Oh, I totally dread having to see her - but the anticipation is always worse than the actual event. And, it feels so good when it's over.

So, no advice, but I can tell you that I totally get your conflicted feelings. Do what you can without stretching too much is about the only thing I can figure out in this scenario.
posted by mightshould 03 July | 13:18
Wow. Once a month is more often than I see my closest friends.
posted by Stewriffic 03 July | 14:08
Oh, my. I've been in a situation uncomfortably close to this: my late partner's mother saw me as not just a link, but a part-time replacement for her dead son, with whom I shared a great many characteristics.

It wasn't good for her, but she wasn't my responsibility. It wasn't good for me, either, and I do have responsibility for me.

I don't have a ton of useful advice to give; in my case, it naturally fell apart without much action on my part. I will say that I don't think it's selfish of you to lunch with her less frequently, especially if it's painful for you. ("Boring" is different from "painful," but that's your call.)

Once a month seems like a lot. I don't lunch with my best friends once a month; we just don't have the time.

As others have said, if you do decide to see her less frequently, you can ease the way by arranging the next date yourself, and maybe make it less taxing for yourself by suggesting:
- someplace more accessible for you, so you don't spend your afternoon getting there and back.
- something other than lunch. If you spent an hour at a museum or gallery together, you'd have something external to discuss, which is handy since you want to get the focus off your current life. Heck, it doesn't have to be a museum --- mini-golf would do fine!
- What about joining her at one of her "retirement activities"? My mother moved to a "retirement village" a couple of years ago, and I cannot tell you the chorus of approval I get whenever I show up for the current [charity rummage sale/ wine and cheese party/ cook-out]. Man, they love fresh meat at these things.

Do I have to agree to this lunch? Don't make me go!!

I'm absolutely not saying you're obligated to go, just offering some perhaps more palatable options in case you do decide to maintain contact with her.

More than a decade since my then-partner's death, I regret letting his mother slip out of my life. I couldn't handle the relationship she wanted, and I didn't know how to step back to a comfortable (healthy) level, but I was fond of her and now that she's gone, I miss her.
posted by Elsa 03 July | 14:24
Elsa's suggestions rock. I was going to suggest something like a museum etc. and I really like her suggestion about joining her at one of her "retirement activities". Sometimes older people are a hoot to hang out with.

I do agree with doctor_negative - she sees you as a link to her son, whom she may have guilt over not "raising better" or doing right by. And maybe once a month is too much (heck, many of my good friends I only see a couple of times a year!), but if you can plan things like Elsa outlined above for every couple or few months, perhaps that would work out better for both of you.
posted by redvixen 04 July | 08:58
Elsa: I don't know how to step back to a "comfortable" level either; something to work on!!!

Doctor_Negative: Karma helper! That's me! Love that term, I'm going to use it for this experience and a few others like it. Thank you!

Thank you ALL for helping me putting this in a MUCH MUCH better perspective. Knowing that I'm not the only one who has had to deal with this is more than half the battle.
posted by Melismata 04 July | 10:35
Oops, I left this comment hovering preview limbo for hours! I'll go ahead and post it as is.

Melismata, did you decide what to do or say?

I hope the suggestions in this thread didn't pile guilt on you. Obviously I cannot speak for others, but for my part: I suggested ways to make continued contact easier for you only because ceasing contact is pretty simple and doesn't really require much in the way of suggestions. I wasn't trying to imply that you have an obligation. You're the best judge of that.

Everyone upthread is spot-on: if you decide to keep seeing her, privately reframing it as a kindness to another might make it more pleasant for you.

If nothing else, you can take this away from the thread: to most of us, once a month sounds like a lot.
posted by Elsa 04 July | 14:21
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