June 7, 2024
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The Guy I’m Dating Compares Me to His Mother

Dear Dr. Chani,

I have been dating a guy named Ari for a few weeks and things seem to be going OK. I am not yet sure how I feel about him. One of the questions that has come up for me is that Ari often compares me to his mother. I am wondering if I should be concerned about this and if it is a red flag.

When I think back to the times that Ari compared me to his mother, I think that the comparisons were generally positive. For example, once when he was unsure about what to do next on our date and I helped him decide, he mentioned, “You seem very decisive, just like my mother.” Another time, we went to a pottery decorating place on a date and I put effort into choosing the colors for my creation. Ari noted, “You are so artistic and talented. My mother is also an artist.”

My first reaction when Ari made these comments was to accept them as compliments. Yet, over time, as he kept referencing his mother, I began to worry that at some point, the comparison will fall short. I don’t know his mother, but I imagine that I will not be like her in every way. I might also not agree with his mother’s opinion about everything. I wonder what will happen when Ari feels pulled between his mother’s perspective and my point of view. Will Ari have a difficult time separating from his mother?

What is your professional opinion about this dynamic? Is there anything I can do so that it will not become a problem at some point?

Thanks so much,
Rina

Dear Rina,

Navigating the dynamics of your relationship with Ari can be both exciting and challenging. With Ari’s first compliment, you felt happy and appreciated. It is natural to feel flattered when someone associates you with someone they admire. Being decisive and artistic are wonderful traits, and it’s great that Ari appreciates them in you. Yet, you are wondering if it is a good thing for him to be frequently comparing you to his mother. Let’s explore why Ari might tend to compare you to his mother, as well as ways to navigate your relationship.

It can be helpful to understand the context of Ari’s comparisons. One of the reasons that he is comparing you to his mother might be that his mother is the first female figure who has played a significant role in his life. When Ari compliments something special about you, and points out that his mother shares that quality, in his mind, he is elevating his compliment up a notch. He is letting you now that he thinks that you remind him of the first woman who earned his admiration.

At the same time, it is usually not socially appropriate for someone to repeatedly tell a person that they are like someone else, even if they mean it positively. The message that the “complimenter” is conveying is that he cannot necessarily let the person shine in her own right. Her personality and positive actions seem to have value because they are similar to the ones of another person. Leaving aside any potentially deeper ramifications, this tendency to compare can itself be bothersome. If this continues to trouble you, it is important to bring it up and address it in a conversation with Ari.

On a deeper level, while it is understandable that Ari is excited to find someone who seems familiar to him, if he repeatedly brings up his mother, it might be a signal that he has an unusual attachment to her. Your questions about Ari’s being able to separate himself from his mother and develop his own family unit are valid. Keep this question in the back of your mind as you develop your relationship. As you get to know Ari, you will be able to gather more information that will help you get clarity about this issue.

One of the aspects that you raised is your question about how Ari will react when he sees how you differ from his mother. Your awareness that you would like to maintain your individuality and not be expected to be totally like Ari’s mother is important. You are your own individual. You will not be a replica of his mother, nor should you be. You would like to see that Ari is able to appreciate you as a whole person, and accept that sometimes you might differ with not only his mother’s opinions but even with his own.

If the issue of Ari comparing you to his mother becomes persistent, it is essential for you to express your concerns to him. When you discuss this, it is possible that he will not recognize what you are referring to, or that he might even feel offended. Remember, in his mind he has been paying you a great compliment.

Explain to Ari that you are appreciative that he is complimenting you and that he is stressing the similarities you have to someone who is very dear to him. Let him know that while you value his positive comparisons, you want to build a unique connection with him. You would like him to appreciate you for who you are, rather than because you remind him of his mother. Clarify that even if he can sometimes see you as similar to his mother, it is better for him not to verbalize that. When he says it explicitly, you feel that it minimizes his compliment instead of maximizing it. Although it is probably unintentional, by comparing you to his mother, it does not give you the message that he values you for who you are on your own. These ideas might be a new way of thinking for Ari, so give him a chance to absorb what you are explaining.

Down the road, another point to eventually discuss is your vision for your relationship and how you plan to create boundaries with your families. You can explain to Ari that you feel it is important to set boundaries and expectations in order to build your own relationship as a couple. For example, it is inevitable that you will not agree with Ari’s mother on everything. That’s OK. Encourage Ari to appreciate that you and his mother may have distinct perspectives, and that they can both be valid. At the same time, you would expect him to prioritize your needs and feelings, while maintaining respect for his family.

A related issue to discuss is what will happen when each of you have different opinions than each other’s families of origin. What will happen if Ari wants to do something that your family disagrees with? What about the other way around? When you discuss these scenarios, you don’t need to have all the answers. The goal is to allow you to embrace some of the issues that you might encounter as a couple. Discussing them will give you both the opportunity to gain awareness about these issues and reflect on how you see yourselves and your interactions with your families.

Remember that every relationship is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Trust your instincts, communicate openly with Ari, and continue to gather information to help you clarify how you feel about your relationship. As you develop your relationship and communicate about these issues, you will notice if your dynamic is trending in a positive or negative direction. This will help you determine if you feel comfortable moving forward or you would rather move on.

Wishing you much success,

Chani

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Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist who has specialized in helping people build and enhance their relationships for over two decades. If you would like to improve your relationship with yourself, your loved ones, or others in your life, reach out to her at chanimaybruch.com.

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