According to Psych Central, children of alcoholics typically suffer from low self-esteem, wind up in unhealthy relationships, and tolerate behaviors that other people find unacceptable—presumably because they’re used to them. It got two out of three right where I’m concerned. If you read my blog post about Facebook Live killer Steve Stephens or any of my memoir chapters about domestic violence, you no doubt noticed that I’m outspoken. Unless you’re the person who signs my paycheck, I’m more than happy to tell you how you’re adversely affecting your life, other people’s lives, my life, or the lives of animals. That comes from observing my father hurt everyone in his path, including my pets, but not being able to say anything. While growing up in a dictatorship where he threatened to “knock [me] into the middle of next week” for expressing opinions—i.e., having “a smart mouth”—I started binge eating to stifle feelings that came across as sarcastic remarks because I hated showing weakness. Once I was exiled and forced to move in with a mama’s boy, I stopped mincing words. People like journalist Kate Stone Lombardi are one reason why.
In the most nauseating, self-serving, and self-aggrandizing article I’ve ever read, the author of “The Mama’s Boy Myth: Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger” told Time magazine readers that women who raise mama’s boys “are helping their sons reach their full human potential and setting up their boys for happier, more successful lives.”
The first problem with that statement is Lombardi based the book on her relationship with her son. Considering he was only 23 when she published it, asserting that she’d helped him achieve his “full human potential” and positioned him for a “happier, more successful life” was pretty presumptuous. Not surprisingly, her article lacks corroborating evidence, such as accomplishments, testimonials from girlfriends, or photos of him smiling alongside a swimsuit model, mansion, or Maserati.
The overarching problem with her statement, not to mention her book title, is it disregards 3.6 million articles that women have written to warn other women about mama’s boys and their mothers.
Many end with a breakup. Some end with a divorce.
Lombardi’s La-La Land
Further illustrating her ignorance and self-centered purview, Lombardi told NPR and Westchester Magazine that the mother-son relationship is the only stigmatized parent-child relationship.
“Mothers and daughters, she says, have no problems,” NPR reported.
In fact, “[t]he mother/daughter relationship is celebrated—there’s practically an industry built around it with spa discounts, etcetera,” Lombardi told Westchester Magazine.
Likewise, father-son and father-daughter relationships are valued, she told NPR. “But mothers and sons—that relationship is always looked at with a little skepticism and a little fear.”
But not until the mother in question fakes sweetness and innocence a la Lombardi’s book jacket head tilt:
Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.
Manipulative pose aside, Lombardi’s been so wrapped up in her son’s life that she’s apparently never heard of daddy issues, watched “Postcards from the Edge,” or read Psychology Today’s “8 Toxic Patterns in Mother-Daughter Relationships,” which leads me to the No. 1 reason women should run if they see her book on their potential mother-in-law’s coffee table: Her generalization that “[n]urturing mothers can help their sons develop emotional intelligence” assumes mothers are emotionally intelligent.
My Mama’s Boy Experience: Lies, Secrecy, Porn, and the Wrong Fight-or-Flight Instincts
According to CNN, Lombardi’s book says mama’s boys are “less inclined to argue and more inclined to ‘work it out,'” but a month after I moved in with the martial artist I trusted to protect me if my father hunted me down, I learned that he couldn’t even handle confrontation from a 5-foot-8 anorexic. As I questioned him about a Playboy I’d found tucked inside a kung fu magazine in his sock drawer—
“My drawer,” I said. “Mine. You’re hiding porn in the dresser I used to keep my Barbies in? It’s like a fucking magic act. Presto chango—plastic turned into silicone.”
—he dumped the clean laundry I’d left in the basket post-discovery, filled the basket with pit-stained T-shirts, and fled to his parents’ house, where I’m sure he told his mommy that I’d been mean to him and set the toaster oven on fire while cooking tacos.
When he returned two days later with tinfoil-covered leftovers in hand and, unbeknownst to me at the time, the phone number of a blonde his mom wanted to hook him up with in his pocket, he moved the magazine to his side of the closet like location had been the crux of my tirade.
Despite the dormant self-esteem issues its presence roused, I tried to get over it.
Before the self-help book explosion, the internet, and the “Dr. Phil” show, women turned to fashion magazines, friends, and shrinks for relationship advice. Since I couldn’t afford a psychologist on my $6.20 per hour salary at Macy’s, and my only remaining girlfriend after my relationship with an alcoholic was a feminist who would’ve echoed what I was already thinking, I consulted Marie Claire, which instructed me to list his positive and negative qualities.
Weighing pros and cons is no way to make a major decision like continuing to live with a man as boyfriend or demoting him to roommate, but it sounded good at age 21. And on paper, he looked great compared to my ex. Whereas the alcoholic chain-smoked, gave up on his dream of becoming a writer, had zero desire to travel beyond Ohio’s borders, and bought me Eeyore figurines and Lenox collectibles like I was a 12-year-old girl or his mother, Jason:
- ate a healthy diet and inadvertently aided my anorexia by teaching me to drink a glass of water when I felt hungry because I was probably just thirsty;
- did “Buns of Steel” with me one evening and genuinely complained to his tang soo do instructor who called halfway through the tape that it was the hardest leg workout he’d ever done;
- attempted to learn PEARL and C++ in spite of his dyslexia;
- road-tripped to Toronto with me to camp out at a three-day concert; and
- bought me cute outfits and complimented the fact that “clothes hang well” on me because I have “great square shoulders and long legs.”
He also painted a Christmas card for me and exchanged stick figure-filled notes with me like the morning I’d informed him the water heater was broken by drawing a picture of him in the shower with his frozen, detached penis lying near the drain.
“And before we moved in together, he went dancing with me,” I wrote.
Still, I couldn’t stop crying over the only con that came to mind.
To shut me up, he said he “got rid of” the magazine. Intuition or suspicion told me that was Mac-geek speak for “I hid it,” so the next time he left the apartment, I ransacked the computer magazines he kept in a cardboard box beneath his desk and found the Playboy and a newcomer (pun intended): an inch-thick review of the recent adult video awards, complete with red carpet pics of one woman suckling another.
Livid, I winged them at his head when he walked in the door.
“Lying and being sneaky just makes me wonder what-the-fuck-else you’re hiding,” I yelled.
Soon, I got my answer.
One Devastating Discovery After Another
Negating two important pros I’d listed, cohabitation first revealed that he devoured Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups by the case when he got stressed—i.e., he was a binge eater like me, which didn’t bode well for me overcoming the eating disorder—and that he was actually playing “Quake” instead of coding and furthering his career.
Then I learned I couldn’t leave him alone for five minutes.
The first time Jason called off sick from his job as a parts runner and IT guy for an asphalt paving company, I stopped at a convenience store across the street from the apartment to buy him ginger ale and saltine crackers before I went to work. When I took them home, he was masturbating to my Cindy Crawford workout video.
After my convertible broke down and his employer’s mechanics volunteered to fix it, I realized our difference was irreconcilable because he spent 40 hours a week in an office that was wallpapered, ceiling to floor, with pages from porn magazines. It also played Howard Stern over the PA system and sat mere steps from strip clubs that offered lunch specials.
While he slept at his parents’ house that night, a Lenny and Squiggy-esque coworker poked around Jason’s Mac, opened a folder labeled “Stuff,” and said, “Here it is,” with trumpets in his voice. As he scrolled through thousands of photos with me peering over his shoulder, I remembered all the times Jason’s dial-up modem had woken me up in the middle of the night. Then I remembered working two jobs for months so I could afford to buy him Christmas presents.
“Can you show me when he saved these?” I asked.
Happy to oblige because he thought I’d break up with Jason and marry him out of gratitude, my wannabe poacher sorted them by date, and I became Al Capone.
To retaliate, I went on a date with a security guard who followed me around Macy’s more than thieves. When I invited him upstairs after “Mission Impossible,” and Jason grabbed his magazine from the bedroom and announced, “Takin’ a bath!” I sent George home and debated tossing an electrical appliance in the tub.
Due to Jason’s daily bathtub betrayals, my self-esteem issues, and the constant worry that my father was going to kill my mom, I became so depressed that when a manager at Macy’s got me a managerial position at another chain in another mall without me even interviewing for it, and the women in charge of training me treated me like the classmates who’d ridiculed me from fourth grade through high school, I clocked out for lunch, drove home, curled up in a ball, and never went back. My brain was so fogged that it didn’t even occur to me that the $22,000/year salary I was abandoning could solve two-thirds of my problems by enabling me to get a place of my own. Until I overheard Jason’s mother ask, “Has Miranda found a job yet?” I was content to lie in bed, stare at the frozen lake through the plastic we’d sealed the sliding glass doors with, and test the imperviousness of our cement walls by blaring The Cure.
Contrary to Kate Stone Lombardi’s claim that close mother-son relationships teach men to respect women and a Harvard psychology professor she cited who said mama’s boys “make strong, empathetic spouses and partners,” Jason’s porn hobby became such a problem that I can count the number of times we had sex in two and a half years on two hands. Lest you think that’s because we fought all the time, he spooned me most nights of the week and sat on the floor between my knees every Sunday as we watched “The X-Files” over Angelo’s Pizza. Every episode ended with him giving me a foot massage and pedicure. I would’ve preferred an orgasm. But as author Naomi Wolf wrote, “[P]orn doesn’t whet men’s appetites—it turns them off the real thing.” And tears elicited zero sympathy. In fact, he told me my eyes were prettier when I cried.
“The red makes them more green,” he said.
My Temporary Metamorphosis from a Moral Person to My Parents
Eventually, Jason’s preoccupation with porn, callous neglect of my needs, and refusal to talk turned me into my father. Not only did I obsess over what he was undoubtedly doing while I worked during his employer’s winter shutdown, I called him stupid when resentment took over my tongue because the word was so embedded in my brain from my upbringing that it became my default insult. Unfortunately, his dad had called him stupid for being dyslexic, so the word sent him running home to his mother’s open arms every time. And since my father’s tirades were never complete until the entire neighborhood heard them, once Jason and I moved from our eighth-floor apartment on the lake to a quaduplex in the city, our one-sided arguments typically ended with me chasing Jason’s Honda down the driveway in a T-shirt and panties to tell him and the rest of Ridgewood Avenue that his mother didn’t raise him right.
In hindsight, mine hadn’t done me any favors by instructing me to look elsewhere for the attention she could no longer give me after the birth of my brain-damaged, diabetic, and epileptic brother. I didn’t seek it, but I didn’t turn it down either. Consequently, I spent my 22nd birthday doing shots with an attorney I’d caught “admiring [my] assets” while I knelt on his conference room floor and loaded court reporting equipment into an attaché case. Seated at a table on the bank of the Cuyahoga River, I told him about my miserable relationship, he told me about his miserable marriage, and we clinked glasses to “two lone wolves.”
Although my eyes kept flicking toward his wedding ring, I enjoyed his gravelly voice, courtroom stories, and he’s-gotta-be-crazy-to-jack-off-to-porn-when-he-has-you compliments so I went drinking with him two more times. Then he gave me a pager. We’d never even held hands, but the first time it went off, I felt like a hooker and ignored it. Pissed, he waited for me outside the court reporting firm’s gated parking lot the next day, followed me for a mile, and then yelled at me to pull into an abandoned gas station, where he cornered me against a wall, demanded the pager, and left without another word.
Back to drinking again like my mom, I started going out with coworkers for happy hour. After downing three Long Islands one Friday, I played “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” on the jukebox, drank a fourth, and passed out. I’d played it because my friend Kathy told me to pick a song to round out the roll of quarters she’d fed the machine, and it was the only classic rock option I liked. Apparently, I should’ve explained that to our table because the firm’s alcoholic videographer, who always smelled like garlic and had creepy eyes that reminded me of Ron Silver in “Blue Steel,” took it as a cue, carried me to his car, unbuttoned my dress, and lacquered my breasts and stomach with whiskey-scented saliva while I asked him to call Jason to pick me up. Realizing he wasn’t going to stop, I pretended to pass out like a human playing dead in front of a bear, so he drove me to his place, where, thank God, he slept on the couch while I clasped my hands over my chest and stared at the ceiling above his bed.
Jason never asked where I spent the night. He just assumed that I’d finally cheated on him to get back at him. I wanted to tell him what happened, but I wouldn’t have believed him if the situation had been reversed so I figured it was pointless. Besides, while he jacked off to my Victoria’s Secret catalog, knowing I’d walk in on him as I got ready for work, stared so hard at a black mini skirt that I yelled, “GREEN LIGHT,” startling him into stomping on the gas pedal while the light was still red, and acted out in other ways, I was busy panicking because the coworker who’d taken advantage of my drunkenness was a WWII memorabilia collector who didn’t handle rejection well. After I told him I still loved Jason regardless of anything I’d said when I was wasted, he brought in a grenade and set it on top of his monitor, showed a coworker a pair of Japanese swords he kept in the trunk of his car, and silenced the lunchroom every time he walked in.
Later, he earned my second restraining order by sitting in a parked car facing my new employer’s front door.
A Last-Ditch Effort to Fix My Relationship
The married attorney and psycho ex-coworker made me appreciate Jason more so I tried to fix our relationship. As the earlier mentioned Psych Central article said, when adult children of alcoholics are unable to confront an addict, “they will try to control the other person’s problem, perhaps even thinking they will be able to cure that person’s problems. Almost always, these efforts are destructive, and simply allow the problem to grow stronger, resulting in disaster.”
Not being privy to this information, I thought getting Jason away from his employer’s whore decor would help cure the addiction he denied having so I got him an interview with the IT consultants at my law firm. After they hired him, he started buying new clothes, wearing contacts he hadn’t worn since before we moved in together, and telling me about women he’d helped. The job increased his confidence—and his courage. So instead of running straight to mommy the night I screamed at him for jacking off seven feet away from me as I lay in our bed crying about the fact my mom had just confessed to cheating on my father after lying about it for 15 years and was preparing to be killed, he shoved me so hard that I nearly went backward through our closed kitchen window and onto the pavement 20 feet below.
Two days later, I came home from work to find all of his things were gone. And in case that didn’t teach me that some things need to end badly in order for them to end, my mom and brother fled to a domestic violence shelter shortly thereafter.
By the time Jason showed up on the doorstep of my new apartment with tears making his eyes more blue to apologize, admit that he was addicted to porn, and beg me to take him back, I was blond, dating an attorney I worked for, having sex every night, and—for the first time since I was a little girl on roller skates—smiling from ear to ear.