How To Spot A Mummy's Boy (And What To Do If You Suspect Your Boyfriend Is One)
The Debrief: How to spot one, and what to do when you’ve realised your boyfriend actually is one
John Cleese has revealed his troubles with women were all down to the relationship he had with his mum – but unfortunately, the Oedipal Complex works in mysterious ways and there are way more shades of grey than Freud (or John Cleese) would have you believe. From the obvious, to the slightly more subtle, mummy’s boys are a male phenomena that you’d think would be easy to spot.
One thing’s for certain, though: it’s not just an amusing insult to hurl at a guy who wears jumpers that his mum bought him. It is, actually, a Real Thing To Be Wary Of, whether he has a ‘tyrant’ mother, like the 74-year-old comedian, or the ‘weirdly touchy feely’ mother like my ex-boyfriend’s (arrrrgh). We spoke to Professor Ros Taylor, clinical psychologist and all-round MB (mummy’s boy) expert, to give us the lowdown. ‘Not all of us have access to psychometric testing, unfortunately, but you need to watch closely,’ she warns. ‘Even if it’s a mother substitute, the way a man interacts with girlfriends, other young women and wives is down to their mothers.’
How to spot a mummy’s boy
You can never tell, unless you've actually seen the mother in action. Not, like, giving birth, but hanging around with your potential life partner. You don’t have to orchestrate an official inquiry – just a brief ‘hello’ will do. ‘Engineer a meeting and make a good appraisal of her, because that’ll be you. Watch how your potential partner interacts with her and her to him,’ says Professor Taylor. Preferably do this naturally, and while in the room. Wearing a false beard and ogling them through binoculars could become problematic. ‘See whether he rushes around and does her bidding, notice if he never contradicts her, or doesn’t laugh with her and becomes like a ten-year-old. Is he very placatory all the time, wanting her to be happy constantly? Does he never assert himself? These are all bad signs.’
If the mother lives in a foreign country, or you can’t engineer a meeting, other danger signs include: not being able to iron a shirt, make a meal, or basically do anything practical (because his mum did it for him); describing how his dad used to treat his mum badly, then treating you exactly the same; expecting you to do everything for him; being a bit of a weirdo.
Why a mummy’s boy is the way he is
Don’t blame the poor sod, blame his upbringing (unless he’s just a total prick – then the onus is on him, unfortunately). ‘Mothers can be fabulous, but they can also inadvertently negatively affect their sons’ relationships with other women,’ Professor Taylor explains. ‘The first three years of life is all about imprinting. While we might not remember it, it’s all still there. We absorb information from the people we interact with, and that’s mostly our parents. Of course the father is equally important, but the mother is more important in terms of girlfriends and how the son will react to women.’ Everything from the way he’s raised, to the way his father interacted with his mother will have a direct affect on you, if you decide to be his girlfriend. ‘How does their dad treat their mother? They will adopt that as well. If the father can say sorry, if they can treat their mother with love and respect, then that’s how he will treat you,’ she adds.
Interestingly, the effect of a mother on a son in terms of his relationship with women is even stronger than the effect of sending him to an all-boys boarding school. Which is pretty terrifying. ‘If their mothers do everything for them, that doesn’t bode well for a relationship with a girl later on. They’ll think their washing magically gets done, their food appears on the table. While boarding school can make boys terrified or phobic of girls, it doesn’t affect them as much as a parent can.’
What to do with a mummy's boy
Well, if it’s all-out Oedipal (ie they keep snogging and he refers to his mother as his ‘number one lady’) then probably run away while throwing up. However, all isn’t lost if you’re just starting to realise that guy you’re dating shows some hallmarks of being a mummy’s boy. ‘You can have honest conversations. A lot of guys say, “Oh, I do the ironing so badly,” or, “I just argue like this, it’s not my fault I can’t help it,” and you have to show them that practise makes perfect. With both the behavioural and the practical things.’
In short: don’t pander to him, but don’t be totally mean, either. If you find yourself ironing his shirts, then stop and have a good look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself whether this is what you dreamed of. It’s not? Then stop and, if he gets all pouty, teach him how to do it himself. Does he argue like his dad? Point out that you’re not his mum, and you can’t deal with being spoken to like that. ‘Watch closely, and see how he is with other women, and if it's something you can talk about, then talk about it,’ says Professor Taylor. ‘If it’s really screwed up, and he’s really screwed up because of it, then get counselling. Or run away. Run very far away.’
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