It's His Mother

There I was, minding my own business, picking at the broccoli quiche at a bridal shower, when from across the table I heard an old friend of mine shout to me,

"Hey, Doc! What should a woman do if a guy tells her something that turns her off in the first five minutes of a first date, something really scary?"

"Like what," I ask, "Like he's got a gun? Pass the nuts."

He had told her that he had mother issues, that his mother had screwed him up.
"And you don't find that interesting? Why is that scary?"
For me this is confusing. Most of my conversations start with, My mother screwed me up. In my defense, this time I did not crack, Come on, the guy's Jewish, right?

Contrary to popular belief, Jews do not have a corner on mother stories.

And truth be told, I can certainly see why a person would hesitate getting involved with someone who divulges a personal issue before his first diet coke.

She might have had good reasons to want to run before ordering her sushi, reasons like:

thinking he should have cleared up his issues by the ripe old age of forty, either by watching Oprah, going to therapy, or successfully banishing negative memories to the recesses of his mind, hoping never to have to deal with them. Like the rest of us.

thinking the polite thing for him to do would be to ask her about her issues, perhaps not talk much about himself at all

thinking he could have showed his mother more respect than to diss her in the first five minutes of a date

So I buttered a roll, gave her the benefit of the doubt, and was about to explain the facts of life, when she challenged me further.
"Well wouldn't you see problems with a mother as a red flag?"
What's with the flags? Are all issues red flags? Is everyone a potential serial rapist? Does this mean he'll be obsessed with navel lint? How's one to know? Must there be a tragic flaw? Things are culturally synchronous (I know they are with her dates), you share the same values and yiddish nuances. You can work the rest out.

But I wipe my mouth and say,
"Why look for reasons not to like this guy? You only had one date. Anyway, isn't it INTERESTING that his mother screwed him up? Do you think there's someone out there who ISN'T screwed up? I'll bet he's been in therapy."
I'm thinking therapy is a good thing, see.

But I'd rather not get into any of this, not over salad, not across a table, and I've just been asked to emcee the shower (n = 70) and to introduce the next speaker, and I'm not a hundred percent sure I know her name.
"Well, yeah, he's been in therapy," she says, frowning and shaking her head from
side to side, as in, therapy's a bad thing.
More than a sigh, not quite a groan. A sroan.
"Don't you want to know what happened to him in his childhood?"
Blank look and decent enough pause.
"Not sure."
I'm a patient person. This is my friend, after all, and I love her and I want her happy. So I decide to wait before introducing the speaker, to postpone the opening of the presents.

"Would you really rather talk politics and religion on a first date? Do you really care? Everyone has something going on upstairs. I'd want to define that something, maybe talk about the person who's had the most tremendous influence upon his psyche, behavior, relationships, attitudes, and habits. Don't you want to know about those kinds of things? Here's a guy who wants to talk about this stuff. Geshmacht. Delicious. And the quiche isn't bad, either."

She tells me she still can't see past the red flags.

I suggest she try to weed out violent tendencies, substance dependency and abuse. But rather than use the filtering method for dating she might consider something else, something much less popular yet very sophisticated. She needs to look for something other than flags.

"What?! What do I need to look for?!"

The wonderful.

You need to look for the wonderful.

The point of dating is projecting into the future, seeing what it is that you'll see twenty, forty, perhaps even sixty years from now. You're looking for things that will make you smile, that will make you happy. There's something truly wonderful in everyone, and your job, should you choose to accept it, is to find it. If you decide to spend the rest of your life with this person, you'll want to absorb, love, enjoy and build on the wonderful. It's the wonderful that you need.

"The wonderful," she repeats.

"The wonderful."

Way too simple, is it?

Pass the dressing.

copyright 2007,



Anonymous said…
i always try to do this but sometime, i get blind sided or shocked because i see the wonderful side of them and worry/try to hide or some other coping to deal with it. i love your writing....
Anonymous said…
Great dating advice!... I'm wondering, though, if there is a way to tell this story without making the other person (the "fall gal" so-to-speak) look so... well... challenged. It's not just this post, actually. Check out the one below (about the bullies) -- the kid comes into your office confused and angry, he leaves three days later, able and willing to take on the bullies.

Based on the stories you share here, you are good at what you do. Lots of interesting success stories, which is why I drop in occasionally. But the "fall guy/gal" set-up makes it difficult for me to stick around. It's one of the reasons I'm not a regular reader.

And yeah yeah I know, it's a blog... so the usual response is that I should just move along and find another blog to read... Just wanted to share my thoughts before I mosey on down the internet highway...
the Bag Lady said…
Therapydoc - the Bag Lady loves this post! Many years ago, she was warned against getting involved with her current spouse, but she found the 'wonderful' in him, and they have been together for almost 14 years. Oh, he's not perfect, but then, neither is the Bag Lady!
therapydoc said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Motherwise said…
Wonderful piece. Wonderful advice. After my mother screwed me up, I decided (when I was 10) that all I wanted to be when I grew up was happy. I am. Wonderful! (After all, what's the other option?)
Anonymous said…
When I quit whining about how "they" (Mom, Dad, Mamaw, Papaw, etc., currently my wife...:) all screwed me up, Im left with nothing but the wonderful, which is why I put up with it all in the first place.
Nice one, Doc.
Anonymous said…
And I thought I was the only one with this theory! I've seen too many of my friends get hung up on something that I didn't think was an accurate reflection at all of another's personality. Why then do these people have a tough time hearing where you and I are coming from? It's as if their minds are made up and they can't seem to get past an issue no matter what. It's just too bad...
therapydoc said…
It's really about fearing intimacy, not fearing his tragic flaw.

Elizabeth makes the point (I think). But I'll make it more clear.

When we see a flaw in someone else, what we see is our inability to not so much see past it, but our inability to deal with it.

If I can't deal with someone's particular shtik, then why should I sign up for it?

So I'd say, rather than run from it, give it a try, and maybe get help or get him help, rather than lose all the good in the person.

I'm fond of saying, Oh, he's a great guy, A NICE MAN, a giving person, one who doesn't even hesitate to help, doesn't steal, doesn't cheat, is tolerant and kind to others, keeps friends and works for the well-being of the community in some way or another? Marry him.

Yes, it's an unpopular position and YES, it minimizes the situation beyond belief. But all relationships are difficult, all require adaptation and acceptance. When they're new, you can at least TRY to tweak them before you sign up, and you can try to determine if what you don't like is really SO tragic.

It's intimacy fear, however, that paralyzes people in relationships, and that's a SYSTEM problem, will affect the couple's interactional/affectational system.

And there's volumes to speak on that.
Anonymous said…
what is a system problem? That does not compute... but seriously...what is that.
therapydoc said…
Understanding a system is very complicated, and probably requires a systematic method :), one that we don't have time for right now.

Here it means that his psychology and her psychology and the psychologies of the people they know and love all interact and trigger unconscious (sometimes conscious) responses that reinforce other responses, and ultimately form a homeostatic system of responses that repeat.

That's the long way of saying that people have patterns of response, feeling, and thought that can be interrupted or not, but often should be.
Anonymous said…
And "the wonderful" can be as simple as -- he takes the inside of the bread and gives you his crust -- without your having to ask for it
Anonymous said…
thank for the answer where could look for more on this particular topic for later computer cruising...
Anonymous said…
I'm a firm believer in that we pick our mates in order to work out issues with whichever parent we've had the most issues with. I've married my dad twice now! And I seem to be working through the issues with this one (Thank You God!) And I swear, and tell him, "You married your mother when you married me." In fact, earlier this week I told him I wish he would get over his mother issues so I could quit being her. . .
Before marrying this one, a very wise (male) neighbor of mine who is now departed gave me this piece of advice: Stop looking for Mr. Perfect. He does not exist.
The Goddess G said…
Absolutely awesome...and so very true.
Anonymous said…
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MT said…
The wonderful is why dachshunds can't learn to shit outside. But I guess mate-selecting isn't exactly a breeding program. As an individual, you can get lucky.
Linzi P. said…
Lol MT ;)

I was just going to say Doc - the Wonderful is the magic in my second wish/affirmation (inspired by the book Five Wishes you commented on)

Not just for dating, it helps me look past the twice daily routine my husband has of covering the whole counter top in crust and crumbs of freshly sliced bread... amoung other things ;)

#2: "I bathe in the truly wonderful aspects of my husband every day, which fill me with love as pure and untainted as when we first discovered each other."

...because sometimes he brings me that bread toasted with a cup of tea, in bed ;D

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