I probably dated Norman Bates.
When I hear a guy describe himself as a “mama’s boy” or talk about how important his mother is to him, I wince. This is because I’ve had one or two exes that had seriously inappropriate relationships with their moms.
Their mothers had an abnormally strong pull on their sons. In fact, they looked at me the same way a jealous girlfriend would look at the girl her boyfriend was cheating on her with.
And much like a man treats the other woman in an affair, the original chick took priority every single time. Their moms were the reason we couldn’t move out together, why I couldn’t decorate my home a certain way, and at times, even why I couldn’t trust my partner to keep secrets.
It was creepy to watch, and it was infuriating. I never understood why those exes couldn’t stand up to their moms.
When I was in a relationship with these guys, I’d end up being compared to the guy’s mom on a daily basis. Even if I did some things right, the guy would always find a flaw in my behavior. I can’t even name how many times I heard one of my exes utter, “But that’s not how Mom does it!” Without fail, there would be a point where he would eventually have to be forced to choose between me and his mom.
Sadly, there’s no way to actually win as a partner in this situation without a breakup or a sudden “wakeup moment” where he puts his foot down. From what I have seen, it’s often better to just leave him with Mother Dearest. Even if he does eventually choose you, the fight will leave you feeling like a hollow shell of your former self.
That was, of course, until I read up on something called Emotional Incest Syndrome and I realized the two guys I dated were victims of it.
You see, incest doesn’t always take a physical form. When a mom starts relying on her son to provide emotional support and loyalty that her husband is supposed to provide, the relationship dynamic between mother and child warps into something that is more adult in nature.
If your boy has any of these issues, then he probably has been a victim of emotional incest.
1. He has an abnormal amount of focus on keeping his mother happy.
Does his entire life revolve around Mother Dearest? Does he always (and I mean always) put her ahead of you, no matter how pressing the issue is? Does he expect you to kowtow to his mom, or explain why he's a doormat to her by saying, "Well, I can't do that... she's my mom!"?
Well, that's because a victim of emotional incest tends to view his mom in a quasi-girlfriend position. And she's basically acting like his main chick.
2. His mom makes a point of showing that you have to live by her rules.
Here's the thing that guys who are victims of incest don't understand about a healthy relationship: in a normal one, you have BOUNDARIES with your parents. If she's butting in on your home planning, your sex life, or even your holiday planning, you have a problem.
She's trying to exert control where it doesn't belong, and your boy toy probably is going to expect you to live under her thumb, too.
3. His mom acts like a jealous girlfriend.
True story, I had one sick mama emphasize that it was her son I was dating... in the exact same tone an angry wife would use on her husband's mistress. At times, she'd also slut-shame me for sleeping with her son right to my face.
I've seen jealous girlfriends act more civilized than that and looking back, it wouldn't surprise me if something was going on between those two in a physical manner.
4. He has an issue with power.
Incest hurts you because you start to think that a normal relationship has power struggles. So, he may end up trying to dominate you or control you as a way to "establish who's boss." Or, he may expect you to cede all your power to his mother.
5. He uses his mom as an excuse to not do things, or she uses him as an excuse to behave a certain way.
This is called "triangulation" and it's a very common sign that abuse is going on. This often makes one party feel "cornered" or feel like someone isn't really acting in their best interest.
6. Guilt is a huge thing with him.
Now, all moms have guilted a kid into doing something or other at least once. But when he literally feels guilty for even breathing out of line, or when he feels guilty for just acting like an adult, there's a problem. And it's a big one.
7. He won't show any independence from his family, even though he's way too old to be acting that way.
I know one guy whose family calls the shots on him for everything. They tell him where to work, what to eat, and also make a point to tell him that he's not allowed to live away from them.
Sounds fine, until you hear that he's 40 years old and not 18. I'm convinced that this kind of "failure to launch" is a sign there's emotional abuse and incest happening.
8. He won't stand up to his mother, no matter how much it hurts you or how badly it affects your marriage.
This is often what ends up killing what would have been a good relationship. Frankly, it'd shock me if any of the "Mama's Boys" exes I had will ever have a happy marriage.
9. He's accused you of "not understanding the relationship a son has with his mother."
Oh, sweetie. This is very bad news because it means that he has no clue how a healthy relationship works. Whenever I heard something along these lines, I realized I was the other woman in the relationship. His mother will never allow you to act like a wife because she is his wife.
10. Everything you do is compared to how his mother does it.
This one is often the first thing you'll notice with a guy who has emotional incest problems at home. With one guy, any time I'd try to cook food from his nationality, he'd critique it and tell me how his mother would make it. (Needless to say, I stopped cooking any sort of ethnic cuisine for him eventually.)
Looking back, I realized that the straw that broke the camel's back in that relationship was that he was more concerned about what his mother thought than the family that we were supposed to try to build.
11. He has sexual issues.
Studies show that guys who are emotional incest victims tend to have issues performing in bed. They may be unable to get sexual without guilty feelings, or they may be hypersexual. Or, they may have a Madonna-Whore complex that makes it hard for them to respect someone they sleep with.
Simply put: the difference between Emotional Incest Syndrome and being a Mama’s Boy is obvious.
A real Mama’s Boy will prioritize other women and can leave the nest in a healthy way. A victim of emotional incest has issues, crippling ones that keep him from actually reaching real adulthood and having healthy relationships.
If you think about it, it’s surprising people don’t talk about Emotional Incest Syndrome. It’s both common and, to a point, promoted by the way we assume families should work these days. Our society often encourages parents to enmesh their lives into their children’s in unhealthy ways. But we rarely talk about the dangers of over-involvement or having one parent basically push the other parent out of the family dynamic.
We’ve all heard of husbands who keep excusing a bad mother-in-law’s behavior with a plea of “But she’s my mom!” We’ve all heard of wives whose lives are turned to hell because of bad in-laws. And, once in a blue moon, you might even hear about the 40-year-old who can’t bring himself to move out because it’d break his parents' hearts. In other words, Emotional Incest Syndrome (and its fallout) is common in our world but is often left unnamed because of how taboo and how twisted it really is.
Until we have an open dialogue about this, being a Mama’s Boy will end up being both a good and terrible label to have. In the meanwhile, I’ll just avoid Mama’s Boys like the plague, thank you very much.