When You Are the Grownup
Dear Aunt Bossy,
My mother is embarrassing. She is sixty and insists upon dressing like a teenager, and only buys the most ostentatious designer brands. Bad enough she looks ridiculous, but her ostentatious wealth is offensive to me and those who care about the less fortunate. When I try to talk to her about it, she just ridicules me and calls me uptight and jealous.
What can I do?
Nothing. That is most probably what you can do. But, you can try.
First of all, train yourself so that you are the only one who can embarrass yourself.
Secondly, try to understand that your mother is suffering from insecurities and doesn’t really feel very good about herself, and you should develop some empathy and try to help her.
How would you go about that? If she had a career and is no longer working, that could have an enormous impact on her sense of self-worth. Try to get her to volunteer to put her experience to work helping others.
If she didn’t, realize that at least she raised a child with good sense. That could not have been easy.
Try to engage her in activities that do not have to do with appearances or money. Encourage her to volunteer in places where she can put her interests to work helping other people. For example, if she volunteers at a thrift shop which is sponsored by a charity, she would have the opportunity to advise young people on looking hip. (Is that still a word?)
This also has the advantage of getting her out and giving her exposure to people who have lives completely different from hers. It might help her mature.
Bottom line: you can love her and not approve of her. Above all, you should stay cognizant of the fact that she is not happy and see if you can do anything to alleviate that.
The Mysterious Dynamics of Change
Dear Aunt Bossy,
I’m having questions about my boyfriend. Some real deal breakers have been appearing. How much can I hope he will change? I love him and I know he loves me, but there are just some things I can’t live with.
This depends on so many things: what are the deal breakers, how old is he, what are your living arrangements.
If real character flaws are raising their ugly heads, that is one thing, but if this involves the toothpaste cap, the toilet seat, or table manners, that can be worked out with love and honesty. You have to let him know that, as silly as it might seem to him, those things are driving you crazy.
If he is older and has lived alone for any time, let me assure you, the challenge is real. Talk about it, but don’t get too tied into your position. Time and habit are formidable enemies.
If you live together already, it becomes more difficult to effect change, but you have no chance unless you talk about it and check yourself to be sure you aren’t being too fussy and set in your own ways. It isn’t easy, but is worth it if you love each other.
Until recently, I would have said that people don’t change, but I have changed and seen an amazing change in what is now a dear friend. In the last seven months I have started talking on the phone and even using Face time, which anyone who knows me will tell you, was something I just didn’t do because I loathed them. I found someone I wanted to talk to a couple times a day and he liked to Face time, so I changed my attitude toward it and now call and Face time people all the time. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is miraculous.
I’ve had a lovely acquaintance for years with whom I have recently spent some time after a long, covid absence. She has changed so much that I asked her the second time I saw her what was going on. She is so open, loving, generous and considerate, whereas before she was polite, reserved, and, I always felt, slightly unapproachable. I always loved her, but never felt that we were close friends. Now, I feel like I have another sister. She told me that she had gone into therapy. I didn’t ask why, but, whatever the reason, I’ve never seen such a glorious change. By the way, I lived in NY for almost 40 years and hardly knew anyone who had not been in therapy, but have never witnessed a rebirth like this one.
So, yes, people can change, and so can you.
P.S. It’s scary.