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Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,
I’m in a long-distance relationship with a foreigner (a Southeast Asian) for almost three years and we maintained our relationship even during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has a stable job, a fruitful career, and a loving family. I never faced any problems with him.
This year, I plan to introduce my boyfriend to my mother here in the Philippines. However, she is not interested to meet him and suggested that I find Westerner boyfriends for her to choose. She wants to choose a suitable boyfriend/husband for me and dictate my life decisions. She belittles my boyfriend and calls him a sorcerer for no concrete reasons. By the way, I’m in my mid-twenties earning money through freelancing while providing for my mother’s needs.
How can I persuade my mother to give my boyfriend a chance? How can I prove to her that race and ethnicity don’t matter in a relationship? How can I stand on my own two feet and follow my heart?
Thank you for your email.
Parents worldwide often believe that they know what is good for their children better than the children themselves, even into adulthood. This can stretch from relatively mundane matters (“eat green vegetables”) to life choices such as careers or marriage. Some parents can be relatively objective in their guidance, seeking merely what they consider the best for their offspring, while others can be more self-serving, with an eye on, say, securing a source of financial and/or other support in their old age.
Many a daughter has been discouraged from marriage by her parents and siblings so that she can be available to look after the old folk in their dotage, often a win-win situation for everybody except the unfortunate daughter herself.
Your mother (let’s call her Maldita!) is clearly of the view that she alone should have the deciding vote in your choice of partner. Rather than adopting a strategy of reasoning and logical persuasion, she has decided that her weapon of choice should be the sledgehammer. I suspect that this is just the latest of confrontations between the two of you over whether you should remain a child subject to oppressive parental control or embrace the autonomy that an independent adult is entitled to.
Key to your response should be consideration of questions such as: What is Maldita’s motivation for her wild accusation of “sorcerer?” Is she trying to protect you from yourself based on your poor boyfriend choices in the past, for example? Is she afraid that if you get too close to your boyfriend, your financial support for her will reduce or even dry up completely? How intolerable will Maldita make your life if you defy her on this issue? If you are still living with your mother, would you be able to move out if matters deteriorated further?
As for getting Maldita to change her mind about her role in your life and also to accept your Asian boyfriend rather than a Westerner, this is probably a lost cause. Maldita seems impervious to reason if she brands him a “sorcerer” without motive. And is her preference for a Westerner based on color or presumed wealth or both?
A principle of family therapy after all is that the only person one can change is oneself, but also that once one person changes, so the other(s) in the family relationship will change/adjust accordingly. This means that you must change for her to change but you will not necessarily be able to control how she changes. You must therefore be prepared for the worst even while you hope for the best.
Thank you very much for your letter. Your mom thinks her feelings are more valid than yours. She does not even wonder if maybe, just maybe, both your feelings matter equally. No. She has no doubt that her needs are paramount, confident that you will continue to be as “obedient” as you have always been in the past. Why else could she make such absurd requests (marry a Westerner!) and clearly wrong judgments (he’s a sorcerer) without worrying that you may question or disobey her? She has probably gotten away with this sort of behavior for quite a while.
No matter what you say, no matter what you do, you cannot change her feeling of superiority over you. No matter what she says or does (since she will be conciliatory once she discovers that you will no longer simply do as she says), please don’t believe that what she truly cares for is your future and/or your happiness. Ironically enough, she may think she actually does, but your mother is a champion of self-delusion. A person who truly loves you, Jacqueline, would want to know about how you feel, how you decide if a man truly loves you, and who you want to spend time (perhaps the rest of your life) with. No one who truly loves you could refrain from being excited when you were excited, and be happy when you were happy.
Mr. Baer is right in saying that the only way a person might change is when you change. I am not asking you to say anything you don’t want to, dearest Jaqueline, I am only asking you to say what you truly feel. Let her know that her refusal to have anything to do with your boyfriend is her loss, not yours, and, from the sound of it, certainly not his. It will be she who may not be invited to do more things, and share things with you, not your boyfriend. You have been so obedient that even an itty bitty show of independence (which I hope will not be too burdensome for you to do) will shock her. And she will ante up whatever she used to say or do to control you. Please stick to your guns.
After all, you are not throwing her out on the street or being rude to her. All you are doing is sending a clear message to her: “I love you, Mama, but I love myself too. I, not you, will have to live with the choices I make and while I will do all I can to make you happy, it will not be at the expense of my pretending to be who I am not or making ‘choices’ that are really not mine, but yours.”
She will probably try and make you feel guilty (again) and ungrateful, not loving her and, God forbid!, loving yourself more than you love her. But that is what a person is supposed to do: think for, and love, herself. You are not meant to lay yourself on the altar of self-sacrifice, especially due to her selfishness and prejudices. Just because you refuse to indulge her whims does not mean you don’t love her. Again, if she refuses to believe that, that is her loss, not yours.
I know it sounds harsh, dearest Jacqueline, but hasn’t your life been harsh too? Living with a woman who behaves more like a frenemy than someone who loves you?
Please forgive me. I cannot share a quote from a poem, or a line from a song which might soften your sadness, but the truth can sometimes hurt so much. However, it will also set you free (John, 8:32)
— MG Holmes
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