One of the ways I knew I needed to limit my time with Paul’s mom was that before we’d go over, I’d start getting really, really angry. This isn’t limited to her, either, and it’s also not limited to anger–whenever a relationship has begun to turn toxic, I found myself thinking about all the possible negative outcomes of certain encounters and I’d sit and stew in that, putting me in a pretty fowl mood.

The thing is I feel this need to prepare myself to deal with her, to anticipate a comment she might make about this or that and how to respond in a way that’s not mean but that makes it very clear she’s been rude and disrespectful. I do this in part because in the past, she’s caught me so off guard with her nastiness that I’ve been like a deer in headlights fumbling over defenses but not statements that make it clear she’s crossed a line.

Obviously, this is not a good way to go into a surprise birthday party for her. If she wasn’t my long-term boyfriend’s mother, I wouldn’t even go. I feel like his sister Julie knew that when she asked if we’d come–it was like there’s no assumption that we’ll be there.

I don’t feel super comfortable around his extended family, either, except maybe close family friend Loretta. Most of them are nice enough, it’s just we don’t really have a lot in common and I don’t know what to say to anybody, and possibly vice versa. When Paul got conscripted with Julie’s boyfriend to man the outdoor fryer, I sort of stuck with his sister Emily until she went outside, too, and I finally joined when they had a bonfire going. Too cold otherwise. We talked about college and writing for a long time–she’s looking at going to my alma mater to major in writing, and her occasional impatience to finish high school and get into college reminds me of myself at that age.

It’s probably a good thing I decided against clinging to Paul outside–he and Michael got in some good bro time together in a way they probably wouldn’t be able to if they weren’t alone cooking. Personally, I am dying to hear Michael’s unfiltered opinion of their mother. I know he doesn’t like her, and I know he cracked much sooner than Katie and I did in terms of not going over to the house.

But other than me being cranky, the party did go well. And I absolutely have to give Paul’s family credit for making sure there’s at least something vegetarian-friendly I can eat. I don’t expect that from them, but they do it anyway and it is appreciated.

The one moment of difficulty was when I said something to Paul when he was three beers deep about one of us having to drive home and his mom said, completely serious, that we could just spend the night. Now, the offer in and of itself if we were both drunk is nice and smart and responsible–even though I was able to drive and just didn’t want to, but I would have. But the request for us to spend the night at the house, especially for Paul to, is becoming frustratingly common, and this time, her argument was that Jacob spends the night when he visits, so why shouldn’t we? Because when Jacob visits, he’s in from California and staying with his family makes sense. Paul and I live less than an hour away and can’t promise one or both of us won’t start screaming at his mother. I mean, he’s so much happier since he’s moved out, and I even noticed that he used to complain often about headaches and stomachaches but doesn’t very often anymore. And what 25-year-old man wants to go have a sleepover with Mommy and Daddy on the weekend just because, especially with a mother who was emotionally abusive?

We both agree that he has to talk to her about it at some point, it’s just that neither of us is sure quite how to go about it or what he should say. But it’s about setting boundaries and acknowledging that she has adult children who are off on their own now and she has to handle that in a healthy manner, not cling to them and keep trying to draw them back home.

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