Are You A Mummy’s Boy? And Is That Still A Turn Off?
Men who remain close to their mothers have long been depicted in popular culture as either terrifying, like Norman Bates in Psycho, or comical, like Principal Skinner in The Simpsons. Men can – and many do – remain close to their mums as adults. But do women respect a man who has a strong relationship with their mum, or does the mummy’s boy remain the stuff of horror films?
A survey of 1,000 men in 2013 found that nearly two thirds of male chief executives, surgeons, senior civil servants and other high-fliers described themselves as mummy’s boys, compared with one in five from more “working-class” professions, and two in five from semi-skilled or manual jobs. The survey by adult learning website Love to Learn also found that two out of five women would never date a mummy’s boy.
Research has found that it’s important for men to have a good relationship with their mums. One study, for example, found that boys with insecure attachments to their mothers had significantly more behavioural problems. But mummy’s boys still don’t have a great reputation. On the one hand, we know it’s important for men to have good relationships with women generally, but there’s still a stigma attached to men who remain too close to their mothers.
Jackie Pilossoph, creator of break up blog Divorced Girl Smiling and “Love Essentially,” a weekly column focusing on relationships in the Chicago Tribune, says a man who’s close to his mum “reveals a caring, warm, kind, and gentle soul who appreciates a good woman”. “There is nothing more attractive to a woman than when a man treats his mother wonderfully and they have a great relationship,” she says. But the difference is, a man who’s very attached to his mum might side with her instead of his partner, and this is when it becomes a turn-off.
“It’s hard to have respect for someone who lets his mum walk all over him, who is subservient, and who fears his mother,” she says. “No matter how independent women want to be, we love a strong man who will put his mum in her place, but still love her and take care of her.”
Laura Jow spent two years in a relationship with a 27-year-old man who lived with his mum, before his unemployment broke them apart. “He would do everything his mum said, including cancelling important plans we had because his mum wanted him to do something that could’ve waited until later,” she says.
“He lived 45 minutes away from me and didn’t drive, so he’d constantly ask me to drive to his, just to give his mum a lift five minutes down the road. If I couldn’t pick his mum up from work, he would give her the bus fare to get home, or walk all the way to meet her and back with her if it was dark,” she says. “And there were quite a few times he was supposed to be coming to see me, but would tell me he couldn’t because his mum wanted him to stay at home. We were supposed to move in together but his mum didn’t want him to move out. He rarely ever came to mine because his mum wanted him to stay at home.”
She says she didn’t see the full extent of this dysfunctional dynamic until she’d already “committed a fair bit of time to the relationship”.
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Rick Belden, who specialises in life coaching for men, thinks that there is a very significant distinction between being close and dependent. “A mummy’s boy is a man who continues to put his mother’s needs, desires, perceptions and beliefs ahead of his own, and is incapable of existing as an independent person,” he explains. “And a man who hasn’t yet developed a healthy distance from his mum will display this dependency in a number of ways.”
So how can a man tell whether he has a healthy – or dependent – relationship with his mum? Belden advises asking: “Do you feel like it’s okay to tell your mother “no” when she wants something, including your time and attention?” A man with a functional relationship with his mum will answer confidently that they do, whereas one in a dependent relationship with his mother will not, he says.
So what are the consequences of being with the former? It’s complicated, according to Belden. “A man will generally treat others only as well as he treats himself. That requires him to know his own needs and find effective ways to meet them,” he says. “If a man’s closeness with his mother is characterised by an inability to stand apart from her as an independent adult, he’ll tend to put meeting her needs – and the needs of any woman – first, at the cost of his own.”
According to Belden, a mummy’s boy will struggle to have healthy boundaries with the women in his life, defer to their needs, and find it difficult to tell them “no”. “A man who regularly gives women’s needs higher priority than his own will wind up very lost and very angry.”
And Belden believes that men who do this will become resentful and distant towards their girlfriend as his own needs go unmet. “She may feel like she’s been deceived or betrayed when the nice, accommodating guy turns out to be moody, angry, and passive aggressive because he doesn’t know how to be honest with a woman about his own needs and wants.”
For anyone who finds themselves in a relationship with a man who’s very reliant on his mum, Belden advises that person to first look at their own needs, and see how they can be met. “Trying to change other people is a dodgy prospect, so it’s usually best that we begin with ourselves first,” he says.
Danielle, who’s name has been changed, says her husband’s relationship with his mum is closer than most because he acted as his mum’s carer as a teenager after she became fully disabled. “I’m glad they share that bond, because I lost my mum at a young age. It’s an irreplaceable friendship,” she says. But it has caused problems.
“The only time it was problematic for me was when he told her that I’d gone into labour. I’d assumed that it would be a secret until we announced the birth and was furious when I found out, in-between contractions. It made a difficult labour worse, knowing she was getting excited over a new arrival before I had the chance to do what I needed to,” Danielle says.
But ultimately, she defends men who are close to their mums. “Men who are close to their mums don’t deserve the stigma. Do ‘daddy’s girls’ get the same reaction? I doubt it. It’s good to have a close friend apart from a life partner.”