For the first two years of my relationship with my Large Greek Boyfriend, his mom didn’t acknowledge me by name. I was simply, “The Girl.”
“Are you bringing The Girl?” she’d inquire when he made plans for family dinner. “Does The Girl like spanikopita?” Being a typical dude, it didn’t register on the BF’s radar, but her refusal to eke out more than those two syllables made me paranoid. Did she not like me because I’m not Greek? Had I said something stupid during our initial meet and greet? He assured me she liked me just fine, she just didn’t want to bother learning a name if I wasn’t going to stick around.
Whatever the case, his mom’s inability to say my name paled in comparison to 28-year-old lawyer Anna’s mother-in-law. “I met her at our wedding and the first thing she said to me—her new daughter-in-law—was, ‘So, are you pregnant?’”
Annoyed, Anna told her she’d have to wait and see. Things got worse after Anna gave birth to their son (two years later, thank you very much!). “The doctor came in to ask how I was doing and before I could answer—and in front of everyone—my mother-in-law asked the doctor, ‘How much for a paternity test?’” Sweet! Brooklyn-based blogger Shelby had been dating her guy for a few months when it became glaringly clear that his parents considered her girlfriend-non-grata. “His parents decided I was a tramp, corrupting their sweet boy. His oldest brother’s girlfriend was in the same boat,” she reminisced. “They would make their hatred known by inviting the middle brother’s girlfriend—whom they approved of—to family events, but deliberately not inviting me or the other girl.”
Annoyed and hurt by her shunning, Shelby asked her man if there was anything she could do to improve the situation. “He was oblivious. He said they didn’t approve of girls who wore pants, so if I just wore skirts then everything would be okay.” Being a good sport, Shelby wrapped her normally jeans-clad butt in a skirt one visit. As she suspected, her new outfit had absolutely zero impact on their behavior.
Psychologist Rob Dobrenski says, “unless you’re Ghandi or perhaps Tina Fey, you have to get used to the idea that some people will not like you.” Besides, he adds, “conflicts with in-laws are at the core of the American sitcom because it’s so common.”
While it is true that the Borscht Belt was built on mother-in-law jokes, knowing that the woman who gave birth to your partner loathes you can be detrimental to an otherwise good relationship. Indeed Anna’s psycho MIL was a big factor in her decision to divorce. “She actually told my ex that she hated me because I killed her in a former life.” Kookoo!
Obviously she was a “special” case, but for your non-deranged, garden-variety crank, Dobrenski advises, “If you think you can actually change the situation, then by all means talk to them about it. But don’t kill them with kindness either; insincerity is the key ingredient in generating more conflict. Be yourself and embrace the idea that you won’t be everyone’s first choice for a BFF.”
While my boy’s mom and I aren’t BFF’s, we have grown closer over the years. And indeed, at about year 2.5, she started using my name—though she still always cutely tacks on a “the” in front of it. And I have to say, I’ve grown to enjoy being “The Judy.” It has a certain flair, don’t you think?