My boyfriend’s mom calls and emails him about diet and weight-loss tips just about every day. I just found out about it and I was super pissed. I really want to confront her and let her know how I feel. Is that appropriate? What would you do?
Whoa. That is super invasive and callous of her. If I were in your shoes I would be super pissed too. So yeah, I am with you there.
This is such a tricky question and the answer could go in a lot of different directions. So I am going to share what feels most right to me.
My advice is to start with him, not her. Deciding to bypass him could get really gnarly really fast. It might be a welcome situation approaching her directly, but there is a pretty good chance that this will lead to tension and confusion without much resolution. You run the risk of nothing changing, except now everyone feels super awkward for, like, anywhere between a few hours and the rest of this decade.
Let’s start with the possibility that he has no idea how to set boundaries with his mother. Setting boundaries is something we have to learn how to do, and it is more difficult for some people (and for some relationships) than others. This could be a simple access issue.
It is also possible that, even if he totally hates these emails, that it had just never occurred to him he could tell her to stop being a troll. You might tell him how you feel about these emails and ask him how he feels. It might take him a while to access how hurtful this sort of thing actually is. He might be in denial, or maybe he really doesn’t feel bothered by it. Don’t presume that he is feeling a certain way. Just give him the space to think and feel stuff. If he voices that it does bother him, then you can brainstorm together how to ameliorate the sitch.
The relationship between a parent and a child is a massively tricky thing to navigate as an outsider. No matter how long you two have been together, you will never totally be able to access all the history and complexity between them. Also the hard truth to reconcile here is that this situation is symptomatic of bad boundaries, i.e. the two of them have created this dynamic into his adulthood. That doesn’t mean her behavior isn’t awful and worthy of interrogation, but it means that this likely isn’t the only issue they have. Likewise, it is important to recognize that he bears responsibility in staking a claim to his body autonomy.
If you end up deciding to collaborate on boundary setting, then be prepared for pushback. Let her know that you are sure there are well intended reasons behind her behavior, but that boundaries are boundaries and justifications don’t trump boundaries. Have a four-step boundary plan:
1. State the boundary.
2. State it again.
3. Offer the consequences/ultimatum (e.g., “If you don’t stop doing this then I will choose not to engage with you”).
4. Act on the ultimatum.
You can teach most people your boundaries through this method.
I hope this helps!
Virgie Tovar is an activist, author and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp. Follow her on Instagram @virgietovar.