Question: Dear Luise: I need help! My son, 20, has dated a girl since high school. They are both in college. From the very beginning she has been a poison to our family and has tried to drive a wedge between us. She is succeeding. She says she cuts herself, although I believe it is a lie to get sympathy. She is controlling and manipulating. We have talked to him many times about what he is doing with this girl, but he doesn’t seem to listen to reason. He broke up with her, however, after two months they were back together. That was one year ago. She has repeatedly sent us nasty emails and letters. When we bring these to our son, she denies any of it by telling him that she has “enemies” and he believes her. Now, she is creating ways of making it look as if we are sending her hateful emails and letters. This, too, is working. He is completely taken with her. We have since told our son that she is no longer allowed in our home. Now, we are portrayed as evil, vicious people. I actually think they might be talking about getting married. Help! I am at a total loss. Is this the price we must pay to maintain a relationship with our son? What should we do? Thank you. K.
Answer: Dear K. I think you are up against one of the most painful situations known to parents. It often comes down to supporting poor choices or losing contact. It happened to me many years ago when my eldest son came home from Viet Nam and moved to Los Angeles to join a cult. I thought my heart would break and I was totally terrified. I became the “enemy” and everything I said and did was “subversive.” What it came down to was support him or lose him. For a long time it looked like it was support him *and* lose him but eventually he moved through it.
We raise our kids to be independent. That’s what we want for them. Then their actions show us that they aren’t yet ready to make wise choices and they also won’t listen to counsel. Your son thinks he is an adult. You know better. He’s a pre-adult, at best, and on a very dangerous road called misplaced trust. He trusts his girlfriend just like my son trusted his cult.
Initial sexually, which is probably the most compelling factor here, can be mind-boggling. History is full of horror stories of “I’ll do anything you say and I’ll follow you anywhere.” Your son is captivated and has been for a long time. None of your wisdom has rubbed off. She always has the antidote.
Simply put, the crossroads you are at are; do you accept her to keep him or let them both go. No one can make that decision for you. And both options are loaded. The mistake parents often make is to throw down the gauntlet with an “it’s her or us” ultimatum. Not smart. It *is* time, however, to get a new email address and put “return to sender” on her letters. She is being abusive.
If you can’t bear to be around her and watch what’s going on, close the door. By that I mean, tell your son that he is much loved and always welcome in your home and in your lives but as responsible parents, you simply can’t support a relationship you see as pathological and potentially dangerous. The down side of that is you may not see much of him or any future grandchildren. Even so, that may be less painful than standing by and watching the whole thing play out, which it will. And he will need both of you when that happens. Blessings, Luise