‘I Need to Stop Flirting With my Mother’: On Parent-Child Relationships

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“I don’t want to have sex with my mother,” is a sentence I have shouted surprisingly often across crowded rooms. Is this a joke I run with? A little attention to satiate my fragile ego? Yes. But it is also to do with the relationships I form with women, and my need to be loved by everyone in the unconditional way we usually only experience with our parents.

Love is the reigning force in most of our childhoods. My siblings and I certainly received our fair share of devotion and affection growing up. But like many child-parent relationships, though it has a strong foundation, it rarely cracks the surface. The person my parents see and the person my friends see are different. When we’re underage our parents act as authority figures and care-givers, but what happens when we enter young adulthood, progress to middle-age and generally continue life without them? The common-sense trajectory would be a levelling of control, with both child and parent acknowledging their adult status and recalibrating to a friendship-relationship.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal film, Psycho, Norman Bates romantically exclaims, “A boy’s best friend is his mother”. Never has a truer sentence been uttered in celluloid. I love my Mother dearly, but although this may disappoint some of you, I do not want to have sex with her. I want her to love me unconditionally, and in return, I will revert to the sanitised nine-year-old version of me that she best loved.

In all my interactions with my Mother, I infantilise myself. Though for a man my age, this no longer comes across cute. Instead, it could be described as flirtatious. If I accidentally texted something to my Mother that I was meant to send to a woman I fancied, it would not look out of place. If I am in the bath and my Mother asks me what I am up to, I will send her a selfie (PG rated, of course). Last week I was bored and messaged her, “You up?” If I get tipsy, I don’t call my ex. I call my Mother and extol my woes. This felt normal, until I matched with a woman on a dating site (you are as shocked as I was).

There was something about her. I thought, “Wow. She reminds me of my Mother”. We ended up going out. She reminded me even more of my Mother in person, and we had a fun time. But a few dates in, I noticed that I was holding my tongue. I was afraid to swear, I was afraid to say anything vaguely sexual. I was a child again. I wanted to please her, I wanted her to like me, I wanted her to love me. When she broke up with me, I felt a pain like none before. I wasn’t heartbroken because the girl of my dreams had left me, I was heartbroken because a Mother-substitute had rejected me. If this woman couldn’t find a reason to keep me around, would my Mother? Would she get bored of me? Would she stop answering my texts? Would she send me straight to voicemail? In a panic, I realised there was only one way to get out of this tizzy. I needed to stop flirting with my Mother.

This has changed everything. I don’t date anyone that reminds me of my Mother anymore. In fact, my girlfriend (sorry Incels, not the article for you) is the opposite. She challenges me and pushes me to be a better version of myself; the real me. It has altered my relationship with my Mother also. I’m starting to crawl out of my shell. I will occasionally swear or make a risqué comment, (not that this is the defining aspect of adulthood, but it was my particular parental no-no). My Mother is not my Mother anymore, but my friend. I realised I don’t need the doting, overprotective relationship. We can’t and shouldn’t cling to the safety afforded to us as kids, no matter how comforting it is. It’s just weird.

Although Daddy issues have hogged the cultural limelight, Mummy issues were actually the first focus of parental psychology. Long before every dad in an American sitcom feared his daughter would become a stripper if he didn’t love her enough, Freud proposed boys enjoyed hugging their mothers too much. His theory is based after Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, a cheeky little scamp who kills his father, then marries his mother. If we follow Freud we must ask, is this what we all secretly desire? Are our fathers just love rivals, disguised as polo-shirt wearing Toblerone fanatics?

The answer is probably no. Freud has mostly been dismissed in his field, and although rivalry for affection exists in all relationships, most of us do not want that love to veer into talk at the village green. It’s true our relationship patterns start with our parents. If you love to argue, your parents probably did too. If you love to tell mean jokes, betting that’s how your family communicated. And if the way you communicate is by flirting, chances are you had a playful, joke-filled child-relationship with your mother which doesn’t translate well into adulthood.

 

Photo credit to Paramount Pictures and Shamley Productions.

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