Dear Misery Loves Cookery,
My son has been dating the same girl for 6 years now. They’re 22 and they’ve been dating since they were 16. I’ve not always thought she was “the girl” for him, and I’m not fond of some of her life choices, but as their relationship has gotten serious over the years, I’ve tried very hard to get over myself and welcome her in with open arms. I’ve texted her, reached, out, had her over for meals, and have been just generally been as nice as I can to her.
They live 8 hours away from us, so we don’t get to see them very often, but when they’re in town, we make sure to include her in all family dinners and events and, over the years, I’ve grown to genuinely like her. This past Christmas, in fact, they were home and I really enjoyed my time with her. I felt that we’d really crossed a point in our relationship where we were going to be friends.
In March, she came in town without my son for her sister’s birthday party. I knew she was going to be here for a few days, so I texted her and made plans to meet her for coffee while she was in town. A few hours after we had made plans, she texts me and says, “Not to be rude, but I was wondering why you wanted to see me? I didn’t think you liked me.” I was very confused and asked her why she thought that and she told me that my son had told her that I didn’t like her.
I quickly called my son to ask him about it and he said that, “no, he hadn’t said that, and in fact had defended me to her just that morning when she accused me of not liking her”.
As soon as I got off the phone with him, SHE called me and tried to smooth things over. I told her that if I didn’t like her or I had a problem with her, I wouldn’t have made plans with her and tried to assure that I did, in fact, like her. HOWEVER, since then, things have been strained. On the one hand, I know her to be VERY insecure. On the other, I think to myself, “If I was giving my all to make her feel welcomed and liked, and she STILL didn’t think she was, then why even bother?”
Since March, we’ve had zero interactions other than the occasional comment on facebook or a text now and again (very surface and usually about my son). I don’t know how to move forward from this. This issue took any genuine “like” that I had for and made me dislike her all over again. Do I just continue to be civil and “surface”, or do I tell her how I feel about what she did back in March and try to form a deeper connection? This is where I’m stuck. Any help would be greatly appreciated. I just don’t want to lose my son over this girl not liking me or me not liking her.
Thanks for your letter. I understand what a tricky spot this could be.
There are lot of complex, moving parts in these relationships—your son’s relationship with her affects her relationship with you, your relationship with your son affects his relationship with her, her relationship with you affects both of your relationships with him…we could just go on and on.
You don’t know what your son says about you to her, you don’t know what she says to your son about you. You aren’t going to ever know those details, so it is impossible to discover where this belief that you don’t like his girlfriend started.
Here’s the reality: as complex and ever-changing as the relationship dynamics between the three of you may be (or may become), the answer is simple:
If your son loves her, and is committed to her, you need to try to find the good in this person and love her, too.
That’s really it. Ask yourself at each interaction, “Am I giving her the benefit of the doubt?” The fact that she tried to smooth things over with you is best taken as a good sign, a sign that she realized that there was a misunderstanding, but she wants to move past that.
Do better than being civil. Be kind.
Do you have to reveal your soul, share your secrets, tell her intimate details of your life? No, of course not. A lot of your interaction will be more at a surface level as you develop trust for each other over time. Yes, you’ve known her for many years, but for most of those, she was more a girl than an adult. Learning to trust each other as adults, especially given your relationship hiccup, will take time. You can be a kind person no matter what the discussion or amount of trust, and that will speak volumes to both this woman and your son.
Ultimately, if your son commits to a life with this lady, she will be his first priority. Any kindness and love you show to her is a kindness to him, and will make it possible for you to remain an important, loving influence in his life.
They don’t live nearby, it’s true, but don’t fool yourself—this woman is a part of your immediate family as long as she is a part of your son’s. Don’t miss the opportunity to give her the same chances you would give your own kids. It will expand your heart in the process.
You mention that your son’s girlfriend is (in your estimation) insecure, and may need support. This made me think of a quote from Norman Maclean, the University of Chicago professor who wrote A River Runs Through It and Other Stories (Amazon Affiliate Link), from which the movie, A River Runs Through It (Amazon Affiliate Link) was inspired. In recounting the lines in one of his father’s sermons, he hits on a core truth that I remind myself of all the time, in my most challenging interactions with loved ones:
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them—we can love completely without complete understanding.”
You don’t have to understand her, you just have to love her.
Like the family of fly-fishermen featured in that wonderful book (and film), who work with rhythm and patience “to coax a rainbow to rise” (as Maclean would say), you will develop your own rhythm and patience to coax the best out of your relationship with your son’s girlfriend.
How can I not recommend a trout dish with that in mind? Making the two of them a delicious dinner of trout meunière the next time they visit is a great first step in rekindling a friendly dynamic among all three of you. Preparing the dish is very easy (and does not require standing in a freezing cold river fly-fishing for hours), so you can pay attention to each other during your time together, not on complicated cooking directions.
My favorite recipe for this dish is actually written featuring sole, sole meunière being the classic preparation. Sole is delicate, delicious, and sometimes expensive and hard to find at a reasonable price. Trout adapts perfectly for this recipe, just adjust the cooking time to account for a thicker filet, as necessary.
A dish named after the miller’s wife (la meunière) requires a dredge of flour, of course. With just a few additional ingredients—butter, parsley, lemon—to accent the golden crust from the flour, you’ll be amazed at how the flavor of the fish is celebrated.
Make sure to get the freshest fish possible—if trout or sole is not available or doesn’t look fresh, tell your fishmonger (or fish counter person, as is usually the case these days) what you are making, and have him or her recommend their best option from the catch of the day.
Best of luck with these delicate matters of girlfriends and fish filets. I have no doubt that all three of you will feel much happier if you work with the assumption that all is well, and swim along from there.
(As always, should you click on an Amazon Affiliate Link and make a purchase, I may receive a small portion of the purchase price as compensation. Thank you.)