Woe Is Me! “How Do I Cope With My Boyfriend’s Attention‑Seeking Mother?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“My boyfriend’s mother is an energy-sucker. She’s extremely attention-seeking and has a lot of narcissistic tendencies. Unfortunately, she’s also battling cancer, so it’s difficult to confront my boyfriend or his mother about her behavior. How do I tackle this situation without being misunderstood as inhumane or insensitive?”
— I Swear I’m Nice
RD: Hey I Swear I’m Nice, I’m not so sure you are. I think narcissistic tendencies or wanting attention are valid personality traits if you’re battling cancer. Having a terminal disease is usually an isolating, tedious and painful experience, and his mother has the right to draw on the energies of people she loves and who love her, like her son. You seem to not like her very much, so I suggest you stay away? Unless you’re living with her or have caretaking duties where you feel the mother is imposing on your time or sucking your energy, what do you care about how she is dealing with her illness?
A reminder that physical illnesses like cancer also have a mental health toll; it seems to me that you’re quite out of place to be criticizing the way she has chosen to deal with what’s happening to her and somehow made it about yourself. Is it that your boyfriend tends to her and doesn’t spend enough time with you? I’m just failing to see why you of all people should have a problem here. A little empathy, maybe?
SM: Dear I Swear I’m Nice, I understand it being hard to deal with something like this, especially if it’s taking up a lot of your time, energy and space. It’s super-duper important to be considerate of people’s emotional, mental and physical health when they’re battling cancer, but it’s equally important to recognize and successfully deal with the second-hand impact that might have on you. So, it’s important to put your well-being first, but as Rajvi said, I think you should also try and be a little more empathetic, given that she is going through something which is so so hard to deal with.
Maybe you should think about how you’d want to be treated if you were in a similar situation, to find a balance between giving her love, care and the attention that she needs, while also ensuring that you get to check out when you really need to.
PP: This isn’t your situation to tackle. Unless you’re in a live-in relationship with her son while he lives with them, and a large portion of her care falls on you — anything you say in this situation will make you come across as inhumane and insensitive simply because she has cancer. It doesn’t mean that you are, it just means you don’t kick someone when they’re down unless you absolutely have to, in that they’re taking you down with them.
So, I suggest, keep your distance and give him space and time to support his mother (and whatever way she chooses to cope with cancer), and be there when he seeks you out (as reasonably as you can). This also gives you the space to check out and replenish your energy sources, which she is somehow depleting. Here’s a trick that may make things easier: do exactly what you would want your boyfriend to do if one of your parents had cancer. I’m sure you’ll see — no matter how attention-seeking they’re being, you’d want to oblige, and you’d expect your partner to understand.
AM: Hey, this is not so difficult. Clearly, this is the wrong time to bring up something like this either with her or your boyfriend. Even if you choose to confront your boyfriend about his mom’s behavior, he’s not going to get it, or he’s going to be in denial. For all you know, it might make matters worse for you.
If you haven’t been in this relationship long enough, take time to settle down, to know people around you. Don’t judge or make assumptions about their personalities already. If it’s been a while, this situation demands extra empathy. Why not give it? If it’s something that’s not doable, then carve out a plan that will mean spending the least amount of time with her and around her in a day. That’s the only way out of this situation that will ensure your feelings are taken care of and nobody’s hurt as well. Good luck.
ADT: Honestly, just limit the time you spend with her, but how you handle perception here matters quite a bit. Make up a work excuse or any other excuse, and try not to be in her presence often. But, when you are in her presence, however, drown her in affection and enable her attention-seeking relentlessly, i.e. let her feel extra loved. We’re all human, and it is FINE to find those afflicted with cancer irritating, as long as you are hyper-aware that such a malevolent disease is bound to put cracks into the most solid mental constitutions. Allow yourself the time and space to shamelessly hate on her and avoid her, and then make sure to feel bad about it.
AJ: Hello, you. I once dated someone who called my grandmother annoying af? Let’s just say it did not end well. So, first things first: Do not tell your boyfriend! Listen, I’m all for transparency in relationships but there are some things that might have a tendency to jeopardize relationships beyond repair. Poor thing’s already having to deal with a parent who’s struggling with a terminal disease. The only thing he would expect from you is support. Maybe the fact that she is battling cancer is accentuating her insecurities. She’s in a space where she is both physically and mentally exhausted.
My suggestion would be to steer away from any kind of confrontation unless its directly affecting your relationship. If it’s just a few snide remarks here and there, I think you should ignore it and move on because at the end of the day you cannot really expect character changes to happen overnight. Ignorance is bliss!