I am writing to you because I am hurt by my daughter. She is an adult, and she can be very blunt and tactless, but it just is too much for me! She grew up with me being in 2 different relationships, one with her father, and one with a woman when I came out. I stayed in both relationships way too long. He was physically abusive, and she was emotionally battering. Both cheated on me. I know they weren’t great examples of relationships for my daughter to witness, but I was doing the best I could, and between and after them, I was a single mom, which ain’t easy!
So, over the past year, I’ve been sort of seeing a new woman, I’ll call her Ellen. She is terrific and we really get along super well. She loves me and is very open about that. She wants me to move in, but having been twice burned, I’m not so sure I really want to be in a relationship at all. It’s only been in this past year that I’ve lived alone for the first time in my life! And I like it! I thought I’d hate being alone. But it’s great! Now Ellen and I have lots of honest talks and we really are compatible and she really gets me and gives me the space I need to figure out if and when I want to get more committed to this relationship. She really wants me to move in, but isn’t pushing me. She listens and she cares about what I feel and need. No one has ever done that before.
So, here’s the thing. I never got my daughter’s permission before moving in with the first girlfriend, who was emotionally abusive, and it turned out that they both hated each other. I don’t want that mistake to happen again, even though my daughter is adult and living on her own. So, last weekend, I asked her how she would feel if I were to move in with Ellen in 6 months when my lease is up. She said she likes Ellen a lot, and they do get along fine. But what hurt me is that she said “fine, as long as you don’t hurt Ellen!” And then she left the room. What about me? What about my happiness? She was her father and the other woman hurt me very deeply, and now she’s worried that I’m going to hurt Ellen, and that’s a deal breaker for her?? I’m stunned and deeply hurt. I decided not to hide my feelings, but to tell her before our visit was over last weekend, but she isn’t bothered by hurting my feelings and I’m angry and hurt and confused and don’t know what to do. Help! Confused in Canton
Dear Confused in Canton,
I hear you! You’ve learned about relationships the hard way your whole life, and you finally think you might have found someone who is really worthy of your trust and love, and who won’t be abusive and hurt you again. You may be right! However, what I think maybe you don’t yet see, and I know your daughter doesn’t know yet, is that you WILL get hurt by Ellen, and by your daughter, and Ellen WILL get hurt by you. It’s a matter of “when” not “if”. So if that’s your daughter’s deal breaker, it’s one that doesn’t make sense. Anytime you open yourself and are vulnerable to someone else, which intimacy requires, you will eventually get hurt: intentionally perhaps, unintentionally is more likely. You and the other person are not clones of each other and don’t see or hear everything the same way, and if you are tired, hungry or angry, it’s easy to lash out from that at whoever is nearest to you.
It sounds like you and Ellen get this pretty well. She’s listening to you, and though she has different needs and wants, she’s willing to give you the space and time to go through your process to see when and if you are ready to take the next step of commitment to Ellen. She doesn’t push or blame, she listens. And you talk to her and you both understand each other. You never had this with your daughter’s father, nor with your first girlfriend. Neither of them knows how to be that way, and at the time, you didn’t either. And now, if you look at your daughter’s significant relationships, they probably mirror what you had with her father and then the woman: not listening and getting emotionally abusive or worse. So, what you can do, is have compassion for your daughter who doesn’t get intimacy yet, and doesn’t understand that hurt is a part of love, and it’s not to be mean, but it’s a part of trying to blend your life, needs and wants with a completely different, unique person who has a different life, perspective, experienced, wants and needs than you! Disagreeing and even fighting in a relationship can be very healthy, and can create the possibility for deeper intimacy and understanding and respect of each other, as you learn what buttons the other has and how to avoid hurting them on purpose. So, take a couple of deep breaths, and then live your life, make your own choices about moving in with Ellen, even if your daughter doesn’t put protecting you from hurt first, and let her learn from the example of your healthy relationship which you’re learning how to create now! Let me know how it goes.
Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Royal Oak, MI 48067