Calling out mama

Has the avalanche of mail started? Well, throw another snowball on the pile. You have got to be kidding me with your response to The Good Son. Anyone who fucks his mother when he is 15 years old is lucky not to have put a bullet through his brain by the time he’s reached 30. Have too many parakeet-jerk-off letters left you so jaded that you can’t see the gold standard of fucked-up-edness? He doesn’t think this is part of his problem, eh? Do you actually think that denial isn’t a more likely possibility here? God help us if he isn’t fucked-up. —Too Many Mother Fucking Letters For You

I believe you are way off base in your response to the man who had sex with his mother when he was 15 years old. You’re a smart guy — do you really believe someone when he says that having sex with his mother is not the cause of any problems in his current love life? It’s clear this guy is in total denial about the impact of his mother’s actions on his life. You can hear the rage underneath his passive voice. I have heard the same kind of language from men I know who were molested as kids: "I don’t see how talking to her about it will do any good," they’ll say, because they’re too scared to talk about it. But once they do talk about it, it’s incredibly liberating and empowering. Incest always has a huge impact on the victim! And in the case of intercourse with a parent, any professional will tell you it’s enormously damaging.

What I’m sensing is that the fact that the guy’s therapist wanted him to talk to his mother about it pushed a button for you. The word "confrontation" triggered something in you. Leave aside what the therapist is suggesting to him. Even if the guy didn’t have a therapist, he should confront his mother. She needs to take responsibility for her behavior.

As for him saying they have a good relationship, I doubt that too. It’s clear his mother as an adult didn’t care enough that she was screwing up their relationship by having sex with her son. She was the adult in the situation and had all the power. Sounds to me like she still has all the power, and this poor wimpy passive guy is afraid of his rage towards her.

Believe me, if it didn’t bother him, he wouldn’t be talking about a therapist or writing you. —Victoria B.

Unless TGS’s therapist is a hack, he or she is likely not singling out this "one incident" as the issue, but rather a whole dynamic in which the mother probably treated the son as her partner rather than her child. I would argue that the only context in which a mother could "wind up" (love that use of the passive, by the way) having sex with her son is this kind of context. Your correspondent probably has never had a long-term relationship because he already has a long-term relationship — with his mother. That is something he damn well needs to address with her, and she damn well needs to apologize for it. —Amateur Psychologist

Take it from another survivor, TGS, you gotta do everything in your own time. Something like this has serious, lasting implications, and shouldn’t be done unless you are absolutely certain (you can’t take it back after). The fact that you have questions about it signals that you probably shouldn’t do it now. Believe me, confrontation should only be done if you personally feel the need to vent your anger, and you really need to be ready for the shit to hit the fan. I took the confrontation route (by my own choice), and it resulted in me not talking to my mother for seven years, and hence a lot of awkwardness and isolation from my family. In the end, I decided I actually did want a relationship with my family again, and to have that I would need to have some kind of relationship with my mother too. So, I set the conditions and reinitiated contact. We can talk about the weather, etc. (i.e., "normal" stuff), but the ironic thing is that now even if she tries to have a "serious" talk about our past, it is me who won’t allow any discussion of her abusive behavior. Why? I simply don’t want to dwell in those moments for the rest of my life. —Good Luck On Your Journey

I agree with your advice to The Good Son. But it should be observed that whether or not he follows his therapist’s advice, incest doesn’t happen in a vacuum. (Everyone knows that, right?) A mother who sleeps with her son is no doubt doing countless less-obvious things that quite likely led to his current fucked-up state. Although confronting his mother may not help the situation, he should be aware that his crazy mom probably got him halfway to where he is today. —Drunk In Minneapolis

I would totally have to agree with you in your response to The Good Son. Speaking as a professional therapist-in-training (though I think I’d hardly like to admit to it in this case), it may be his therapist’s orientation to delve into childhood issues (this is a psychodynamic POV) to resolve present conflicts. However, the therapist should realize that this would not be beneficial to the client. TGS reported that he has a good relationship with his mother and fears messing it up. I would suggest he drop this particular therapist if he doesn’t feel comfortable. The whole point of a therapeutic environment is that the client feels comfortable enough to let down barriers and let treatment begin. This can be done in many other ways than confronting the mother. And there are many other "kinds" of therapists out there who would let TGS move at his own pace and toward his own goals and not pressure him into what the therapist wants. He may want to seek out a person-centered or humanistic-existential-oriented therapist, or even a cognitive-behavioral therapist. Some of their techniques include an opportunity to face the previous situation without the other person there (if that’s what the client feels most comfortable with). They acknowledge the past, but don’t dwell on it. They are more present- and future-oriented problem-solving therapies. If TGS does want to confront the mother, then more power to him; however, it should be his own decision and the therapist should be there for support and guidance. —Therapist In Training

Like The Good Son, I’m a man in my early 30s who has had problems establishing a serious relationship. Like TGS, I decided to talk to a therapist. Like TGS, I had to deal with physical behavior from my mom — not nearly to the level of intercourse, but some gross attempts at French kissing, offers to shave my legs, walking in on me showering, etc. I had never put much stock in it — it was only a few times, I’m an adult now, I don’t have an interest in being a victim.

However, the real issue for me wasn’t the occasional crossing of the line physically. The real issue was the constant crossing of the line emotionally. Mom had a crappy marriage, she was frequently depressed, she needed someone to confide in, she chose me. Me having problems with romantic relationships today has something to do with being a de facto husband/boyfriend/partner at age 10 and on up, in a completely fucked-up dynamic. Today I deal with mixed signals and short circuits when I try to be a real husband/boyfriend/partner with some really great potential partners.

I can’t say this holds true for TGS — but he may need to understand the emotional environment that made the one physical event happen … and that could be why his therapist is pushing. —Stand In

I’m a therapist and my second opinion is that The Good Son does not have to confront his mother, period, ever.

But he does have to confront the breeze with which he dismisses the significance of his mother’s and his coupling. Incest is not processed by shooing it away like a pesky fly. If the incest didn’t really bother him, he should be able to talk in depth about it. If the incest turns out to be more meaningful than he thought, he’ll probably not want to talk about it.

My advice: Just keep talking. I think the more "dramatic" therapists are naturally in the public eye. Most psychotherapists do not pressure their patients to do anything in particular … because that is not psychotherapy … that’s sales.

I think the value of emoting, venting and confronting is a hangover from the thrash-about 1970s. I studied the holler-and-hug techniques and came to believe that all the hysteria had nothing on deeply understanding another human being by listening and reflecting.

Before The Good Son waves away the future of his love life, he might just want to talk about his mom. But if the therapist won’t get off of telling him to confront, my advice would be to confront the therapist with her presumption and arrogance. If she doesn’t become more complex, then confront the door. —The Second Opinion

Several years ago, in the hope that you might offer some answers, I sent in an idea about what happened to me: My mother humped me when she was drunk and lonely. Now I see in The Good Son the exact sad advice I also followed: Be a good offspring and pretend that it never happened.

I have been playing the Good Daughter for years. But I also tried to get my mom to do the right thing: apologize. I have tried repeatedly to get that apology, but every time my mother escapes. Last time I tried she slapped me, and my brother made it seem as if I was a happy party to my mom fucking me.

There is nothing nice when parents do this total wrong. It is almost impossible to get the adults to realize their horror. I totally support the idea that TGS deserves an apology. That’s been my dearest wish: I just want her to say that she’s sorry. —The Good Daughter

The guy who masturbated over his sleeping friend JON’s feet "needs to know that he was spotted that night," but the woman who slept with her 15-year-old son doesn’t need to be confronted about what she did?

Your reason for the one is that the masturbating friend "did something deeply creepy/relatively harmless that made [the other guy] uncomfortable." Doesn’t sleeping with your own child qualify as deeply creepy? And harmless only relative to, say, killing him?

It seems your reason for saying that he shouldn’t confront his mother is that "plenty of men who’ve never fucked their mothers have relationship problems" and that the son says he doesn’t think it’s relevant to his relationship problems. But come on, Dan! First of all, do you really think a person can escape sex with his mother totally unscathed, especially when it comes to sexual relationships with other women? Some people would say you can’t escape your mother unscathed even if you don’t sleep with her. And second of all, and more importantly, look at his letter:

(1) He acts like the sex was something that was no big deal, something that sort of "just happened," and makes excuses for his mother: "She went through a very bad breakup … we wound up having intercourse," (emphasis mine).

(2) They’ve never talked about it since, and he doesn’t want to confront her about it because "my mother and I have a good relationship now and I don’t want to destroy it." I don’t think it’s too wild a guess to say that this guy has never even blamed his mother for what happened (let alone forgiven her), that he thinks it would be unkind to bring it up with her, and at the same time that he’s scared that this surely unstable and unreliable nutcase would abandon or otherwise hurt him if he brought it up.

Sure, he doesn’t have to confront her just because his therapist says so — he doesn’t have to do anything — and if that’s all you’re saying, then I agree. And maybe actually talking to his mother wouldn’t really solve anything. But I think the real point (and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the main thing the therapist was really saying) is that he has to confront the issue and stop protecting his mother. I can’t even begin to imagine how someone would be able to have a serious relationship without getting through that.

It seems the guy does need a little push toward owning up to the reality of what he did with his mother. —Push The Motherfucker Already

DAN HERE: Different things were at stake, PTMFA, which is why I recommended a conversation in TGS’s case and a confrontation in JON’s case. TGS has a hard-won, adult relationship with his mother, which he seemed loath to imperil by confronting his mother about something — something extremely fucked-up — that happened a long time ago, something that, denial or no denial, he doesn’t feel is at the root of his problems with women. If TGS goes in with guns blazing, that relationship will be damaged — hell, it already is damaged. If TGS feels he can work through his issues without confronting his mother, I think he should give it a shot.

JON, on the other hand, isn’t risking anything by confronting the late-night jerker, except alienating a creep — a creep that needs to know he was caught before someone wakes up during one of his late-night footfests and 1) beats the shit out of him or 2) calls the cops and has him arrested for assault. Send letters to [email protected]

About The Author

Dan Savage

Dan Savage is a sex-advice columnist, podcaster, and author, and has appeared on numerous television shows. His sex advice column “Savage Love” first appeared in The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly, in 1991. The column is now syndicated across the United States and Canada. He has published six books...
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