Dear Ms. M.,
I have the perfect man in every way. But there’s one catch – his mother. At first everything was great and we got on well. Then, the moment she learned we planned on getting married it was like a switch flipped and she became an entirely new beast. She was insidiously nosy, even to the point of asking questions about our sex life (how it was first initiated and by whom) and whether or not we’ve had threesomes. She seems to have no sense of boundaries regarding her son and treats him like owned property. Worst of all she seems to be incapable of empathy or saying I’m sorry. She never considers how her actions or words affect others, which is baffling to me because great mothers are supposed to be the embodiment of empathy and compassion, at the very least, toward their children. Her behavior has been so irrational and immature, I just assume she’s mentally ill.
Rather than be angered by her, we decided to reach out to his father’s side of the family for guidance. They told us she has always been extremely emotionally immature. They presume her lack of comfort around them is because she is jealous since they are all so close and loving. Her parents were not. On more than one occasion, numerous people (including her best friend we also sought help from) began their explanation of her with, “The first time I realized she was selfish was when … ” usually ending with a despicable story. My fiancé’s childhood memories of her and how she raised him are not pleasant, and I’m guessing if it weren’t for his saint of a father, my fiancé might have turned out to be a very different man. He has stated on more than one occasion to his father’s side of the family that he feels his mother is not deserving of their family name, and therefore is not a true “McArthur.”
Recently, I overheard his father refer to her as “Mrs. McArthur” in a playful tone, discussing her job as a second grade teacher. It made me sick to my stomach thinking I too would share that title. Besides that, I am a major activist for women’s rights and equality. I have gone back and forth on whether or not I will take his last name when we’re married, but hearing his father refer to her as “Mrs. McArthur” really got to me. If it weren’t for the fact she’s so batsh*t crazy, I would probably gladly take his name. Do you have a personal opinion on whether or not women should take their husbands’ last names? I am torn. What are your thoughts?
-Future Mrs. ?
Dear Future Mrs. ?,
First of all, congratulations on your engagement! I always wonder why they call them in-laws and not outlaws … but then again, outlaws are wanted! Very few people I know have a seamless easy time adjusting to new family by marriage, but it is something you will have to endure and accept. You said at the end of your e-mail, “If it weren’t for the fact she’s so batsh*t crazy, I would probably gladly take his name.” So why are you letting a batsh*t crazy woman prevent you from doing just that? Surely you are not as equally batsh*t crazy, that you react to her insanity. Do not allow this woman to have such power over your life! You cannot control her, but you can control how you react to her. How she treats you and her family is her karma, but how you react to her is yours.
Here’s a thought: Be the Mrs. McArthur to your future husband that his mother never was. Redeem the family name by being the gracious, empathetic, emotionally mature, wonderful, intelligent, strong, wise woman you are. You don’t need her or her approval. He already loves you, and luckily for you, he sees through her crazy ways. It sounds like the rest of the family does too, and they will also likely be fortunate to have you redeem the name.
If however, there is a minor aspect of your own independence that stands in the way of you taking his name, perhaps the two of you can take a more modern approach. When Beyoncé and Jay-Z got married, they kept their last names, but added the other’s name to the end. For example, she was Beyoncé Knowles, and became Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. He was Sean Carter and became Sean Carter-Knowles. Their daughter took the Carter last name however, so how you determine what last name your child(ren) will take is something the two of you should discuss. In Hollywood, there was a famous couple named William Traylor and Peggy Feury. They both kept their last names and gave one daughter, Susan Traylor her father’s last name, and Stephanie Feury her mother’s last name. I guess it was a good thing they didn’t have a third!
Regardless of what you decide, this is an opportunity for you and your fiancé to discuss an important aspect of your future together, openly and honestly. Heart-to-hearts are not necessarily always easy, but they do bring couples closer and will help you to gain a deeper understanding of one another. Hopefully by now, your future husband has set some boundaries for his mother so she doesn’t go meddling as much.
If hearing, “Mrs. McArthur” makes you feel that grossed out, you can always go by Ms. McArthur so the shared title isn’t exactly the same. Ms. McArthur sounds more sophisticated in my opinion, anyhow.
Best of Luck,