How I Dealt With Meeting My Mum's New Boyfriend
The Debrief: No matter how old you get you will always be your parents’ child - even when they announce that they want to introduce you to their latest squeeze
Artwork by Tatjiana Antoniou
As I get closer to the agreed meeting place I realise that I’m nervous. I feel a bit sick, my left leg has that fuzzy feeling it develops when I’m about to speak in front of a crowd of more than two people, the pressure on my forehead is unbearable and I’m picking at my cuticles.
I’m not going to a job interview, nor am I going on a date. I’m about to meet my mum’s boyfriend for the first time. I’ve been an ACOD (Adult Child of Divorce) for almost four years and although there have been men on and off in my mum’s life since she and my dad separated but none of them have stuck - which was fine by me as I didn't approve of any of them. And that’s why I’m nervous now.
In recent years the number of people getting back into the dating game later in life aged 45 to 64 has increased so I expect other adult children have found themselves in situations similar to mine.
There is nothing more unnerving than being single at the same time as your mother perhaps with the exception of being on Tinder at the same time as her. What I learned when I found myself in that situation last year was that, no matter how old you are, dating is pretty shitty. It's fraught with unanswered messages, fuckboys, highs, lows, triumphs and rejections. Trying to find someone you like an above average amount is just as much, if not more, of an emotional rollercoaster in your 50s as it is in your 20s.
Watching your own mother ride that rollercoaster is much harder than holding your friends’ hands in the queue, before and after dates. Equally, it turns out, meeting their new partner is a lot harder than meeting a friend's new squeeze.
When it came down to it, meeting mum’s boyfriend of 6 months for the first time wasn’t quite what I expected. I’m an adult (apparently) so it shouldn’t have been a big deal but as I approached their table in the pub it dawned on me that it was. Sitting opposite mum, drinking a pint of beer and looking sharp in a dark blue suit and pale blue shirt, accessorised with a plain gold ring on his right hand, was a man who looked a little too much like my father for comfort and was about the right age to be him.
Make no mistake, I’m glad that my parents are no longer together. It sounds like a cliché to say it but it really was for the best. Clichés exist for a reason; if they’re overused it’s generally because they are sometimes the only phrase that will do. Those six words allow me to tell you all you need to know about their relationship. But, inevitably, I felt like I was somehow betraying my dad.
I’m too old to need ‘parenting’, so there was no question of him taking on any sort of surrogate father role. I no longer live at home so who my mum has a relationship with doesn’t affect me on a day to day basis. So, why did I feel so uneasy? I’d briefly met some of the other people she had dated, but I always felt like they were no good and it never went well. She seemed to really like this one, and somehow that put the pressure on. I’d already spoken to him on the phone a few times (he sounded nice), all I could think as I walked through the wood panelled bar was ‘Oh god what if I don’t like him? What if he’s like someone’s awkward casually unthinkingly racist uncle at Christmas after two wines? What if he’s totally sexist? What if he voted FOR Brexit?’ Then something else dawned on me, ‘what if I say the wrong thing and he doesn’t like me?!’
‘Look at you!’ he said as I arrived at their table ‘what do you want to drink?’. I wasn’t really quite sure what he meant, he seemed a bit nervous too. Which was reassuring, I wasn’t the only one who thought this was an important meeting
For hours we chatted over a few drinks and dinner about everything: his two dogs, his job, my job, my younger sister, Brexit (he voted in), Kate Moss (special thanks to Kate for being such excellent common ground).
The thing is, no matter how old you get you will always be your parents’ child, what changes is that as they get older you start to become more and more protective of them. You realise that they aren’t invincible. You begin to realise their flaws and see their fragility. In that past I’ve found myself constantly worrying about mum getting hurt, not really knowing what to say when she did and being enraged when people treated her badly to the extent that I want to call them and explain why their behaviour is inappropriate. Going into meeting mum’s new boyfriend I had all of this on my mind, plus there was the whole, inescapable, ‘ick’ factor. Let's not even go there.
After dinner, as we said our goodbyes he gave me the sort of hug that only a dad can give, which was as emotional as I had feared it would be. I wasn’t upset because he was horrible, I was relieved that he was so nice, so warm and so welcoming. I realised I had been worried that he would try and fail to live up to my dad. Thankfully he didn’t. I’ve had my dad for nearly thirty years, he’s been there through everything and knows all there is to know about me. He knows what I’m thinking without me having to tell him. He is irreplaceable. Nobody will ever be a father to me other than my own dad. This man knew that and he navigated the entire situation with tact, thought and respect.
You might not be best friends with a parent’s new partner instantly and you shouldn' expect to be. It's early days but seeing a parent happy is, I imagine, similar to having a child and watching them find the sort of love you’d like them to find. Seeing a parent in the honeymoon period of a new relationship is reassuring and heartening. If my mum’s going to have someone in her life they have to meet certain standards – the same rigorous standards, I expect when it comes to how my friends are treated by their partners. So far, this guy has passed the test and I’m sure he’s as relieved as I am by that.
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