When my parents split up, my mother fell to pieces. I spent literal years mopping up tears and offering sympathy, empathy, and listening to things no daughter should ever have to hear. She swore she would never love again. My father was the one and only, and if she couldn’t have him, she would have no one. No one! Augh! Dramatic flounce!
She would never love again, never trust again, never even look at another man–she swore it. And, for the better part of 27 years, she kept her word. Then, one day in 2018, I went to pick her up from Independent Living to take her to lunch and she announced that she was engaged.
I knew my mom had been sitting with a man at lunch and dinner meals, and had forgone the company of her regular little crew of blue-hairs for his. I figured she had some feelings for him, but it was really beyond my capacity of belief to even imagine she was falling in love. Especially since all of this happened over the course of 3 weeks.
So, my mom told me she wanted to marry this dude, and I said great. Because… Well, at that point she seemed lucid enough to make that kind of decision. She couldn’t manage her finances, but the heart wants what it wants, and it’s not like I could keep them apart anyway. They lived down the hall from each other, and more often than not, my mom was at his place, soaking up the sunshine of his smile.
I’m going to long story short you here and tell you that things fell apart spectacularly in another month, leaving my mother devastated, broken-hearted, and as sure she would never love again as she had been in 1991.
I was not prepared to deal with my mother’s love life. I tried to be encouraging and happy for her, but also keep my feet on the ground for her because there’s that old saying, “fast flames flame out fast.”
It was weirdly like parenting a young teen. Neither of these people could drive. Neither had jobs, or control of their finances. It was like two kids at boarding school, who met in the dining room and hooked up in their dorm rooms after classes. And, neither had full executive function. The problem solving, long-term planning parts of their brains were both kaput.
But, they were in looooooooooooove, and as handsy and grossly horny as high schoolers. I was so not prepared to see a man gnawing on my elderly mother’s face and groping her boob. It was like two sock puppets trying to ingest one another.
As ill-prepared as I was for the romance, the breakup was a blitzkrieg assault on all my skills. It had been almost 30 years since my mom had kissed a man, and she’d fallen hard and fast for this one, who couldn’t keep his hands off of her. Then suddenly, he hated her laugh, hated her voice, hated that she wasn’t from Texas, hated that she didn’t like to be outside, thought she might be planning to steal his money, and…five minutes later, he just wanted to be friends and talk to her about the other women he fancied, and called her ten times a day just to talk and tell her he loved her.
I was not prepared to be my mother’s girlfriend and sounding board, or to pick up her broken pieces…again. She fell into depression and didn’t want to go downstairs to eat because he was there. She didn’t want to face her friends because she was afraid they had gossiped about her. And, she floundered around in the fear that she was unloveable and inherently flawed. You know, the same things we all fear when we have a breakup, only the “hopeful” part of her brain was also calcified.
Ultimately, even after he moved to a different community this dude kept calling her and stringing her along. Maybe they could work it out. Maybe things would get better. Maybe they could still get married. Until, after we toured the community where he lived and we ran into him, and he called me to say that my mother had the wrong idea and he didn’t want her to live anywhere near him.
He called me again when she didn’t answer her phone for 48 hours (because she was in the hospital recovering from a stroke and I had ignored 20 dials from him) to ask me to BREAK UP WITH HER FOR HIM.
I did this by blocking his phone number.
When I moved her into the new community I eyeballed the ratio of men to women and kind of hoped we’d be safe from romance. I am stupidly naive. She’s been there for 2.5 weeks and she has a boyfriend.
She had pointed him out to me on Saturday and said, I kid you not, “that’s a cowboy I’d like to ride.” I changed the subject because do not want. Do. Not. Want.
I discovered that the feeling might be mutual when the man’s daughter and WIFE introduced themselves to me last night, and told me that he and my mother had become “partners”. He doesn’t remember he’s married, you see. His wife seemed very pleased for him. His daughter did not.
I think I smiled at them? Then, I got my mother out of the common room and hid in her room with her until I saw them leave.
I’m still not ready for this, but I know more than I did last time. Also, when my son starts dating, I’ve got this under my belt and might be a better help to him.
That said, here’s what I learned when your Old wants to get married:
- Finances can be a deal-breaker. This is what ultimately shut it down for Mom and her swain. He was receiving his deceased wife’s pension, and if he remarried, that part of his income would go away.
- Benefits can improve. If my mom had married this guy, her SSI benefit would have increased. But, benefits can also decrease because with things like Medicaid, as the household income rises, the amount of the benefit falls.
- It’s less expensive to share housing, obviously. While it would have cost one of the then-happy couple $2700 a month to live in my mom’s apartment, adding another body to the household would only have increased the rent by $800, so they would both have benefitted from a reduction in cost of living.
- But if you think blending families is hard when you have small kids, imagine trying to do it when your kids are the ones pushing your wheelchair. Then, you’ve got all the moving pieces of estate planning, wills, and medical directives, and who will run the joint finances. You might end up with a smart, organized kid who hires an attorney to protect her parent’s finances and hers and her siblings’ inheritance, or you might end up with a kid like me who says, “Can’t we just sign a deal that says you guys keep all your stuff, and my mom keeps all her stuff, and when one of them dies, they just revert to where they were today?” (Hope you have the one who lawyers up. She’s probably a lot smarter and less naive.)
- You’re going to have to manage your own emotions, and you might have to manage it like your parent is your child. Give them the freedom to love and be loved, but be there to protect their interests. Your Old is still a person, and people want to be loved. If they can find someone who makes them happy, be happy for them. Wise like a serpent, harmless as a dove.
- And, be prepared to talk to your Old about STDs. I did have this conversation with my mother and it was awful for both of us, but I’d rather be embarrassed for 15 minutes than have to have her swabbed for chlamydia.