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Hi mixed feelings,
My boyfriend of five years and I broke up in the middle of Covid. It was hard just dealing with the breakup, but it was compounded by a few of my old friends suddenly not talking to me, but still talking to my ex. [My ex and I] ended on good terms, so it was a bit of a shock when I suddenly started getting left out of things. My mom [though] is still very close friends with his mom, and the mother of an old friend who doesn’t talk to me anymore…
Recently, my mom has been asking me to go to my ex-boyfriend’s house to hang out with her, my ex’s mom, and the mom of [the friend I mentioned earlier]... We used to do this all the time...but I don’t feel comfortable doing this now for a million reasons, but especially not now that I’m dating someone else!!
My ex’s mom & co. can be a bit gossipy and old-fashioned (enforcing gender stereotypes, commenting on weight, etc.), and I really don’t want them spreading any rumors or info about me to their children who don’t talk to me anymore. My mom agreed not to talk about me to them, but when I expressed I wasn’t happy with her hanging out with them, she said that they...love me too and it’s not malicious. She’s been inviting them to events that she and I would normally [got to] together...I understand that these are her friends, but I really wish she wouldn’t hang out with them quite so much.
How do I tell my mom I’m uncomfortable with her always hanging out with my ex-boyfriend’s & ex-friend’s moms? Or at the very least, how do I get her to stop pressuring me to hang out with them? — Peace&Quiet, they/them
Even if we amicably choose to end a relationship, that kind of shift can be hard for so many reasons. Your letter made me think about how difficult it is to navigate boundaries, particularly with people close to us. To understand and communicate your needs, it’s important we understand how to best handle boundary-setting conversations. It’s also important to acknowledge how the loss of your partner, friends, and in some ways, a version of the relationship you have with your mother is impacting you.
Boundaries are a hot topic for conversation these days and I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what it means. Many people think that boundaries are all about telling people “no” and policing the behavior of others in the name of self care—but that’s not true. At their core, boundaries represent the distance at which you can care for yourself and another person at the same time. They’re about trying to achieve a “win-win” scenario, rather than going into a situation thinking, “in order for me to be OK, you have to lose.” Boundaries are about identifying a path to honor what you do and don’t like about a situation and make it work better.
How To Set A Boundary
Sometimes boundary setting goes against the nature of many things we’re taught about being “good kids” growing up. It feels uncomfortable to say, “It really hurts my feelings when you do X.” This can be especially true if you’re trying to set a boundary with a parent or other authority figure.
It’s important to be assertive and forthcoming, and you can do this in a loving way. I think it’s best to start any conversation on boundaries by acknowledging how important you feel it is to maintain the relationship and find a way to move forward together. It might be helpful for your mom to hear how much you value the time you spend together in addition to how bothersome it is when she hangs out with your ex-boyfriend’s mom and the mothers of your old friends. Before you talk, try to think of what kinds of guidelines would work best for you while keeping yourself open to compromise and negotiation.
Above all, try to center how you feel as the most important context for the conversation rather than just throwing out demands. An important question to consider is what you want your relationship with your mother to be. Are there activities that you feel very strongly about doing just the two of you? If so, try to make that very clear.
Sometimes in protecting ourselves we forget that we’re actually talking to another person with a different set of thoughts and feelings. While it might be uncomfortable for you to see your mother spending time with people who are no longer in your life, consider what she might be gaining from these relationships. Perhaps this is a special social connection for her and she wants to feel connected to people she has a history with. Try your best to start this conversation with an open heart and mind, while still having some parameters that could work for you moving forward.
It’s OK To Grieve
There is a lot of social support for a romantic breakup. When it comes to losing friendships, there’s less of a script on how to react and navigate that loss. There can also be a lot of pressure from larger social forces—even the people closest to you—to be “OK” with an ex or old friends. This is in large part due to how tangled our lives can get when we have romantic relationships. That often means that other people have to grieve and adjust to the break-up too. While it can be hard, it is important to be forthcoming about how we’re hurting and to communicate the difficulty surrounding a loss to those closest to us.
We have to grieve friendship losses just as we do the loss of a romantic relationship. Assessing how the loss of your friends has impacted you can do a world of good in understanding your situation better. As these relationships ended, what losses or changes came with it? What thoughts came up when it comes to building connections and trust? When exes or “ex-friends” are still connected to our lives it can feel confusing and frustrating. Understanding how you feel about the many facets of losing a partner and friends can help you further understand your needs.
You and your mother may be able to reach a mutual understanding here. It’s easy to reach a stalemate when we keep saying, “No, please don’t do that” over and over again. I’m instead inviting you to consider what makes you say, “Yes, let’s do that!” Perhaps you can allow space for your mom to have those relationships while also empowering her to also say “yes” to spending quality time with you that doesn’t involve those same people.
It’s perfectly fine for you to decide that you don’t want to spend time with people who have left your life, for whatever reason. You don’t have to justify this choice. Sharing your feelings with your mom might help you get to a place of mutual understanding much quicker. Who knows, there may be boundaries that work well enough for both of you.
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i'm working with my therapist now to improve my boundary setting lol i have a tendency to just point out all the things that people are doing to hurt me rather than centering myself and making it about how i feel. feel bad for peace&quiet though, seems like a really tough situation if they want something that their mother doesn't...
Setting boundaries with specifically my close friends and family has always been an uphill battle for me, so it’s really reassuring to know others struggle with this very same issue. I always viewed boundaries as more of a one sided thing, so to view it more as a compromise and/or negotiation has rly opened my eyes to what I’ve been doing wrong in the past. Thanks for the advice, I’ll try and work on this especially with the holidays and influx of friends and family that come with it!!! 😭😭