Mom objects to my friendship with late husband’s daughter

My stepfather died a month ago. I am close to my mom and have been trying to be supportive to her in this difficult time. I am also quite friendly with my stepfather’s adult daughter, Ali. Even though we met as adults and were not raised as sisters, I enjoy her company and consider her a friend. The problem is that she and my mother do not get along and my mother feels quite strongly that I am being disloyal by having a relationship with Ali. She has told me she feels betrayed. Can I be friends with Ali without betraying my mother, or must I terminate the relationship? — Becky

Dear Becky: You are to be commended for your devotion to your mom, especially during this difficult time for her. Without knowing the reasons (real or perceived) behind your mother’s feelings about Ali, it’s difficult to form a definitive picture. However, absent some instance of truly horrendous behavior on the part of Ali toward your mother, it’s hard to see how your friendship could be a betrayal. Indeed, you and Ali remaining friends could be seen as a tribute to the life your mother and late stepfather had together. Plus, we can never have too many true friends. So by all means, maintain your friendship. However, during this time of painful transition for your mom, you may want to avoid calling attention to it. But if your mother pushes you on the matter, you should not feel that it is a betrayal to acknowledge your relationship and the benefit it brings to your life. Maybe, given time, your mother will come to share in that benefit.
I’m in my mid-30s and have recently been dating a very nice man, Joe, for a few months. He is a few years older than I am and shares custody of two kids from a previous marriage. I feel like we share the same values, including an interest in attending shul and deepening our relationship with Judaism. In addition, I really like his kids. I could see our relationship progressing except for one problem that seems to keep coming up. Not only is he intensely jealous of the man I lived with for a time a few years ago, but he seems unreasonably uncomfortable with the fact that I had relationships with any man before him. He makes snide remarks about my “sordid past” and will tolerate no mention of the man I once lived with — which makes it difficult for me to share details of my life, such as travels and other experiences that took place in that time. I’m uncomfortable feeling I have to censor myself or that Joe takes a negative view of how I have lived my life. — Sarah

Dear Sarah: Jealousy is an all-too-common human trait and Joe can be forgiven for harboring some himself, up to a point. What is unacceptable is the implication that you have somehow conducted yourself in a way that justifies treating you with disrespect. For goodness sake, the man is a 40-ish divorcee with two kids (kids you seem generously to have accepted into your life). His casting aspersion on your past, anyone’s really, is unseemly at best and hopefully not indicative of a deep-seated insecurity.

Beginning a relationship in middle age can have challenges as two people come together with their respective histories and entrenched habits, but it can also have its rewards. You and Joe hopefully are mature and reasoned enough to acknowledge friction points and work on mitigating them. A frank discussion of the impact his jealousy has on you may help, perhaps in the presence of an experienced and highly recommended couple’s therapist (beware of quacks and hacks) or perhaps your rabbi. If you are the first person with whom he has had a serious relationship after a long period of marriage, it’s possible he is relearning certain relationship skills and this problem will improve. If not, you can affix to Joe’s car a bumper sticker Mensch saw some years ago on the back of a pickup truck that read: “She doesn’t belong to you. It’s just your turn.”

Jonathan Harris
Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. He can be reached at advicemensch@gmail.com.