When one is a teenager, meeting your significant other's parents is something that happens pretty quickly. After all who is going to drop you off, pick you up, finance dates and generally hover around trying to keep the rating as 'General audience friendly' as possible? As one gets older though, parents can be avoided. And when you are as old as I am, you can basically pretend they don't exist.
I had been doing this fairly successfully when it came to The Man's parents, primarily because they spend a large part of the year overseas (bonus!).
Over the New Year this April though, reality stepped in when they announced that they would be flying down for the holidays. For three whole weeks. The Man seemed amused by my anxiety.
The Man: Stop being so skittish, they are my parents, they are looking forward to meeting you. It will be fine.
Me: What if your mother doesn't like me?
The Man: Didn't your ex-mother in law love you?
Me: As a matter of fact she didn't. She was dead.
The Man: Well that's why she didn't!
Coincidentally, Musical Girls' (my son Trou's girlfriend) mother was also back on holiday during the same period and we were invited to Musical Girls' (let's call her MG for short) father's house for dinner. Frankly, I didn't know which to dread more, meeting my 'mother in law' or the woman who no doubt thinks that all my son wants is to sleep with her daughter.
MGs' parents had clearly had a recent and difficult separation and the child lived here with her HulkBuster sized father. The plan was, that when it was time for college, MG would move to Australia with her mother. I knew that the prospect of separation already bothered Trou and his girl but with a couple of years between now and that eventuality it wasn't one they spent a lot of time agonizing over. And why should they?
The Man's parents arrived first and I approached my first dinner with them with severe trepidation. When I got to his house his mother buttonholed me immediately. We talk a great deal about The Man, Trou, my dogs, her dogs, her passion for art, my passion for writing, her charity work, my need to run at least five miles a week, and lots more.
She is kind and I relaxed. I manage to get through the whole evening without swearing, dropping avocado on my dress or saying something unnecessarily forthright. His father is utterly charming and frankly, adorable.
I breathe a sigh of relief.
The Man takes his parents out of town, I don't go along because it seems to me that after all that time apart they need him to themselves. His mother smiles and says I am "very sensitive" to have understood this fact.
When they come back ten days later I have them over at my house and they meet Trou. Again, the evening passes without difficulty. Trou and The Man deal easily with each other and I see his mother make a note of this.
All in all, I seem to be doing better than my poor Trou. The initial lunch to meet MGs' mother didn't go too badly but the atmosphere was incredibly tense, and MG was clearly torn between delight at her mothers' presence and dread lest the tenuous peace between her parents erupts.
Foie Gras (my ex-husband) had also been invited and he and I find ourselves being extra cordial with each other. A desire to demonstrate that there is a healthy emotional plain that can be reached post-divorce (given adequate time and a significant amount of therapy)?
MGs' mother engages Trou in a great deal of conversation. He and MG hold hands, laugh and hug regularly and I see her mother taking note of all that.
I can't say I feel like Trou or myself are really being tested in any way.
As it turns out that's my mistake.
Following the second dinner with The Man's parents, I am quite willing when his mother asks if I can take them shopping. Turns out only she wants to go out. Turns out she doesn't want to shop. She wants to talk.
Over coffee, she tells me, quietly and politely, that while I am "undoubtedly a wonderful woman" and she can quite understand why The Man wants to be with me, she is asking me to please consider that her son deserves the chance to be with someone who can give him a family. That at 37 years old, he is highly eligible and that I (while not "looking" all of my 44 years) am not a suitable candidate for a permanent position.
To say I was gutted is, to put it mildly. Everything I feared the most where The Man was concerned had landed in my lap. This was it. I was not getting the seal of approval. I don't think I said much in reply to her polite request. The fact is that I had thought the same so often that the situation felt more like déjà vu rather than the passive-aggressive game it was.
I did ask one thing "Isn't this his decision too"?
And she said "I think you will find that ultimately the decision is yours. You would want the same for your son".
In the weeks that followed his first meeting with MGs' mother, Trou and MG spent less and less time together, mainly because she was hanging out with said mother. I told him this was only natural and not to be bratty about it. He trundled lugubriously around the house a bit and painted one wall of his room a very odd shade of green, but other than that he seemed to be doing ok. Miserable, but ok.
Thus, I became somewhat self-absorbed (shush, I will rephrase), rather more than usually self-absorbed. It was The Man's last week with his parents so I absented myself (with my usual "sensitivity". Humph!) and hung out with Macaron and her burgeoning belly. Our conversations basically went along these lines:
Me: But she is right! Maybe I would feel that way too if it were Trou...
Macaron: But that's the point. It isn't Trou! The Man is fully grown. He makes his decisions. He chooses you. That's it.
But that wasn't just it was it? His mother had called upon me to make the sacrifice play. Not now perhaps (after all 37-year-old men are really nowhere near their expiry date), but I could see my eventual goal should be to step out of the way, to do the right thing, to allow him to find someone with (literally) more eggs in their basket.
The mother in me, (which is really the biggest part of me and always will be), could see exactly where she was coming from. But the girl in me, the one who had been rediscovered and nurtured and given centre stage by The Man, that girl looked at me with big eyes and said: "But what about me?"
I didn't want to rat his mother out. I felt he would react badly and if he confronted her then that would be unlikely to work in my favour. Their farewell dinner at his house was a trifle strained. I drank too much white wine and talked too little. Then I laughed too much. I swore (like NC 17 rating swearing) not once, but twice.
A few days after they leave The Man and I go to the movies. He is quieter than usual during dinner afterwards.
Me: Missing your parents?
The Man: Yes. But also no...
Me: Were there any......issues?
He looks at me.
The Man: No. None. Were there issues I don't know about?
A few days later, MGs' mother leaves the country too.
Trou and I entered the merry month of May, not unscathed, but not totally brought low either. The kids went back in school and though Trou still seemed to have a lot of time for DIY projects around the house on weekends (as opposed to hanging out gazing at Musical Girl adoringly) I assumed that maybe her mother had insisted on a tighter rein on her freedom or something.
So there I was a couple of days ago, playing the conversation with The Mans' mother over in my head and (self) obsessing when the door to my study opened and Trou stood there. There was an expression on his face that I had never seen before, and believe me I know his expressions, I helped invent most of them.
"What's the matter, honey?" I ask. He doesn't meet my eye, just stares over at some point far beyond my left shoulder. "Trou?" To my utter shock, his eyes fill with tears. "Trou? What's the matter?" My head fills with panic, did he pick up a phone call he shouldn't have? Has there been bad news about my mother? His father? What's going on?!?!
I walk up to him and take his hands in mine. "Trou!" I say insistently.
Finally, he looks at me
"She broke up with me" he whispers.
I hold my sobbing teenage boy. I hear the sound the crack makes as it pops and runs riot across his heart, and I want to scream 'Stop! Stop! Don't let him have to feel this way'.
I finally see clearly what the last few weeks have really meant for MG, however painful, however reluctant, she has been withdrawing from him, letting little bits of herself drift away, till she had what it took to make a final clean cut off the rest.
And all the time, my son was at home, struggling to be patient, listening to his mother tell him not to be bratty and just waiting for things to be the way they used to be.
This, for all intents and purposes, is another milestone of sorts – first love, first kisses, first heartbreak.
I knew it would come for him and that I would be powerless to stop it.
But it hurts. How terribly it hurts.
Trou and I found our loves at around the same time last year. It seems to me now that we both are in the process of losing them, all that remains to be seen is whether that loss will be permanent.