Seeing Men Through My Mother’s Eyes
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The other day while I was visiting my mother we got to talking about our extended family, and I made the mistake of mentioning that Charmaine, one of my younger cousins, was ‘thinking about’ moving in with her boyfriend, Dean, sometime in the New Year. I say mistake because as soon as she heard the words ‘moving in with her boyfriend’ my mother flipped out. She went from a calm woman happily spending time with her daughter to an angry, fearful, and paranoid man-basher in an instant.
‘What does she know about this man? Who is he? Why is she letting him hook into her?’
Her questions came at me rapid fire, giving me no time to answer. But truth be told, my mother wasn’t interested in hearing any answers I could give. She had already made up her mind, based on my off the cuff comment, and her own fears and past experiences with men (I won’t go into detail about this here, but let’s just say my Dad really liked the ladies). Within seconds she had created a story in her mind that featured Dean as a dastardly n’er do well who was manipulating and controlling her innocent niece, Charmaine, his unwitting victim. (For the record, I have spent time a lot of time with Charmaine and Dean, and my only concern regarding their relationship is that my young, underexposed and very naive cousin will outgrow her older boyfriend – she’s 24 and he’s 36 – once she gains some life experience. Having said that, I have no fears of him trying to control or manipulate her. As far as I can tell Dean is a solid dude, who really loves her.)
As I listened to my mom continue her vociferous rant about the impending doom my cousin would face if she chose to live with her boyfriend, the depth of her anger, fear and distrust of men became really clear to me. I mean I had always known it was there, but in that moment it really hit home. It was like I was seeing and understanding her perception of men for the very first time, which got me thinking.
What had happened in her life to cause her to feel the way she did about men? Was the anger I saw in her based on her relationship with my father or did it stem from earlier events in her childhood? Had all her fear, anger and distrust of men seeped into my thinking, ways of being and living as I grew up in her house? Had her beliefs about men become my own?
I doubt I will ever get any real insight into the source of my mother’s feelings towards men, as she is not one to talk about her emotions or her past. My best guess is that her failed marriage to my father and the events that brought it to an end, hurt her more than even she recognizes. I’m sure that much of the rage and fear I saw in her that day are remnants of what she felt when she discovered that my father wasn’t the man she believed he was. I can only assume that she felt betrayed, hurt, and very unsure about her own judgment as her marriage fell apart.
Despite her issues with my father, while I was growing up my mother did her best to make sure I saw him in a positive light – she was never the kind of mother to browbeat me with my father’s imperfections. I was never allowed to speak badly of my absentee father, and anyone else who tried to do so in her presence was quickly shut down. Interestingly enough, my father, the one man she had every right to be angry at, was the only man who went unscathed by her wrath. Despite my mother’s efforts to give me a balanced view of men and relationships, whenever I asked her directly about dating or marriage, she wasn’t able to hide her negative view of men from me.
By watching her behaviour, overhearing her conversations with her girlfriends and just living life with her as my primary role model of how to be a woman, I picked on her core beliefs about men. Beliefs which led to her:
Choosing not to get married or date anyone seriously while I was young to prevent a man from ‘hurting’ her child.
Quickly laying blame at the feet of the companions or husbands of her girlfriends when they complained about relationship difficulties.
Boldly declaring that men were liars and cheaters during phone chats with her girlfriends.
Warning me to always live my life as if I was living alone, even if I ended up marrying a man, whenever she heard about a relationship that was ending.
Going on ad nauseum about all the “yout’ man dem” (young men) whose only ambition seem to be “breeding up” (impregnating) somebody’s poor daughter – as if the daughters in question had no say in the matter.
All these ‘lessons’ showed me that men were to be feared, not trusted and dealt with as if they were the enemy. But more importantly they taught me that being a woman meant that I was destined to be a victim, who was incapable of choosing a man that would do right by me. Sadly, it seems that I’ve learned and applied these lessons well.
I’ve had longer connections with the men I hook up with casually than with the men I’ve called boyfriends.
In the past (Lord, I hope I am learning to overcome this) I’ve used the most insignificant infractions/idiosyncrasies to ditch men.
I chose not to have sex until I was almost finished university because I was so afraid of getting pregnant, and when I finally got brave enough to go there, I purposely chose a man who was into me way more than I was into him so I could leave him easily.
I’ve spent years at a time not dating/being celibate because it feels safe.
For most of my life I’ve ‘flirted’ with the idea of a relationship by dating inaccessible men (i.e. men who are emotionally unavailable or who live in different cities), because of my fear of commitment and being vulnerable.
In essence, I am my mother’s daughter – albeit a muted version. I say that only because, I think that unlike my mother, I have some awareness of my programming concerning men. Also, as I become more aware of what’s going on inside my head, I’m doing my best to approach men and relationships differently. When I think back to all the unnecessary drama and grief I inflicted on the men of my past because of my misguided beliefs, I feel incredibly sad. Things could’ve been so different if I knew then what I know now. But I’m not going to sit around lamenting the past. I’ve got to take responsibility for my life and work on changing my patterns so I can have a better future – because frankly, ain’t nobody going to do it for me.
Anyway, while thinking about how my mother (my family of origin) has shaped me, in ways I’m only recognizing now, I started to wonder how other people are impacted by the indirect (and in some cases direct) messages they received about relationships, men, and/or women from their parents/caretakers. Are most people carrying around relationship baggage that was imposed upon them by someone they looked up to? Do the majority of people who are carrying around this type of baggage become aware of it at some point so they can work to rid themselves of it? Are there many people out there who much like me are fighting demons that are not entirely their own?