Is He a Mother-Enmeshed Man?

Reader’s Question

I met a nice man and his 85-year-old mom at church 8 months ago. He and I were attracted to each other almost immediately. They were very sweet to me. She told me she wanted her son to get married before she died. We got along well until an old lady brought her daughter to church and introduced her to his mom. This lady knew he liked me. When his mom realized the daughter liked her son, she turned her back to me immediately and didn’t allow him to talk to me. I heard her telling this lady whoever married her son couldn’t kick her out of the house. This lady promised her it wouldn’t happen if they got married. He didn’t like the daughter and tried to avoid her. I wrote his mom a letter to express my interest and said I understood her wish because my mom also wished me to get married. She was so mad at me. They both disappeared from the church. Two months later he finally gave in. He has been dating the daughter for 4 months now.

I don’t understand why she was so mad at me. I thought she misinterpreted my letter, and I should try to clarify it for peace. I sent him a message to explain my point. He called me back 3 days later for an appointment to catch up. It was a casual meeting for tea. It was the first time we could meet privately. He said the context of my letter upset his mom and he couldn’t help me. He didn’t think anything wrong with his mom. Then he changed subjects. He was more interested in getting to know each other. We had a very good conversation which lasted longer than we planned. I had to remind him of the time. After we parted, we were on our way home. He suddenly turned around and walked up to me and kissed me on my cheek. I put my hand on his shoulder. It turned out like a date. I don’t understand what the kiss meant since we know it’s impossible for us to date as long as his mom lives. He could have left it as it was. Did he want to kiss to say good-bye forever?

His mother holds on to her ascent and culture and he also follows it. He has 2 other siblings who are married. His father died 27 years ago. He lives with his mom and treats her like a queen. He is like a surrogate husband to her. I think she doesn’t like me because I am Asian. She misinterpreted my letter out of her own insecurity. She used it against me. I don’t understand why he cannot stand firm and pursue the woman he likes. Do you think he is a MEM (Mother-Enmeshed Man)? Do you think his mother will continue to affect his life even after she dies, like the movie Psycho?

Psychologist’s Reply

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He is pursuing the woman he likes…but it’s his mother. Your experience with this man has more to do with his relationship with his mother than with you. The fact that his mother controls his dating and selection of churches tells us he is clearly enmeshed or emotionally/psychologically entangled with his mother. In my experience, I’ve seen this situation many times and in many different forms.

For example:

The Caretaker
This man has a history of normal relationships (marriage, divorce, children, steady work, etc.) and has arrived a few years ago to care for his parent in ill health. While they may date and have romantic relationships, they are dedicated to caring for their parent until their death, at which time they resume normal social options such as dating, remarriage, relocation, etc.
The Personality Disorder
This individual may have a Dependent Personality or even Antisocial Personality and lives with his mother for food, housing, financial support, etc. Their personal history will contain marginal employment, often problems with alcohol/drug dependence, and a limited history of independent living. While they may date frequently, their parent is their “home base” and they only leave if the new partner offers a better housing, financial, and supportive arrangement.
The Enmeshed Relationship
This individual has probably always lived with his mother and despite the presence of an excellent career or work history, has seldom if ever lived independently. He typically has no marital history but may have lengthy yet marginal romantic relationships — the kind of man who has a “dating” relationship with someone for 8 years. They are often described as “married to Mom”. While they may date, as you have seen in this case, potential dates must be 1) approved by Mother, 2) not threaten the enmeshed relationship, and 3) not place demands on the son to change the relationship with his mother. After the death of the mother, this individual may have significant problems forming relationships and often seek a “mother substitute”. Their attachment can be extreme (the movie Psycho), and when dating they may ask their date to wear their mother’s coat, scarf, or favorite jewellery. Does this man manage a Motel???

I’d let this one go. He is likely to maintain contact with you, but any dating will likely always be “dating” with the relationship being very limited (as permitted by Mother).

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