I'm 17 and I do not love my mother

She's never been there for me, and now I just can't feel a thing for her.

By Cary Tennis
April 13, 2006 2:37PM (UTC)
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Dear Reader,

Just a reminder: Thursday night, April 13, 7:30, at Books Inc., 2251 Chestnut St. in the Marina district of San Francisco, please join Lori Leibovich, Andrew Leonard, Lakshmi Chaudhry and me to celebrate the publication of Salon's new book "Maybe Baby."


Now today's letter:

Dear Cary,

Is it normal not to feel any love for one's mother?

I am a 17-year-old girl and this is supposed to be the time of my life when I feel and experience everything. Youthful exuberance should be flowing out of my pores but I am encumbered by feelings that something is missing. Lately one particular issue has occupied my spheres of thought: my emotional indifference toward my mother.


I believe that I love a lot of things. My city, Faulkner and espresso are just a few. But I have never felt an emotional tug at the mention or thought of my mother.

Perhaps a bit of background may help. When I was 7 I spent a summer in the South with family. Upon my return I was shocked to find that my entire life was uprooted. My mother had moved us into her boyfriend of a few months' apartment. I barely knew him. He was an employee of my uncle. Worse yet, he was 16 years her junior.

While they were together she only spent time with him and at work (she is a real estate broker). I was left in the lobby of her office building during the summers and at home during the school year. Admittedly, things weren't better before the relationship but she had gained an accomplice. She was able to make room in her life for someone else. They even went off on vacations together while I was left with relatives. Thankfully, I devoted all of my energy to my studies and tried not to think about it much.


Finally, seven years later, after what seemed like eons of emotional tumult and grief, the relationship fizzled.

For the past three years (or since the blade dropped), my mother has been trying to forge a relationship with me. I don't want one with her. Every time she tries to hug me, or says, "I love you," I cringe. I am, indeed, being very harsh but I feel no love or tender feelings toward her. The most poignant feeling I have felt for her is pity, and even that is mild. I feel it most when I see her face after she says, "I love you," and I do not respond. Whenever she tries to hug me and I step back I see her face revert back to that of a child. Her eyes become like saucers; within them I see confusion and expectancy.


I see my friends with their parents, the relationships that they have, and I want that. I just don't want it with her. This is not a teenage rebellion thing, I assure you. I have never felt warm feelings toward this woman or any of her family members. Except for a cousin of mine, but he married in; I can only compare him to a prisoner of war.

So, finally, after a few paragraphs of ramblings, my questions are as follows: Is it severely unhealthy for me to feel this about my mother? Do you think this will affect my relationships in the future? Am I on the path to emotionally unavailable spinster-ville? If I don't do something about this now, will it affect my relationship with my children (if I even have children)? Oy. Do I have any hope or should I purchase my one-room flat with the cats now?



Dear Vacant,

I do not think it is so unhealthy for you to feel this toward your mother. I think it's to be expected. I think it's good. I think it's what you should feel. I'm glad you feel it.

You should keep in mind that this feeling will likely persist for a while. It will be there, like a strange friend who will not go away but whom you do not always wish would go away -- a friend who is sometimes annoying but who also protects you and brings you interesting things. If you try to lock this friend out it will stand by your door. If you let it hang around all the time, you will not get anything else done. If you try to ignore it while it's right there in front of you it may become loud and embarrass you. So it takes some skill and some compassion to manage it. In a strange way, this feeling is like the child you were that summer. It needs to be taken care of.


You can take care of it. In fact you need to take care of it.

The most important thing to remember is that blotting out this feeling will not help.

I say this because those of us who have this feeling are often so startled when we find something that blots it out that we fall in love with whatever blots it out and want to feel that way all the time. And then it takes over our lives.

For instance, say a person like you or me, who has for years felt like something is missing, discovers sex, and suddenly nothing is missing anymore. The feeling of completeness is so profound that she naturally wishes she could feel this way all the time. Or she takes her first shot of scotch and suddenly nothing is missing anymore and she falls in love with scotch and wants to feel that way all the time.


Then come monstrous troubles.

This I can tell you from experience.

So balance is the key. Balance and awareness and a sense of humor. It may sometimes seem overwhelming. But catch your breath. Balance. Do things in life that give you balance: ballet, yoga, meditation. And when you stumble through an entire day you can always go to sleep and wake up the next day and start over. Get out of bed carefully. Balance.

So you love Faulkner and you love your city and you love espresso. You sound like my kind of person. You sound like a delightful person. I think you will have many friendships.


For that reason, you are right to ask if this may affect your relationships in the future. It probably will, in certain ways. It doesn't mean you can't feel anything toward anybody. But it may mean that you guard your feelings more closely than others do. That is good. Guard your feelings. They deserve to be guarded. If you don't guard them, who will? Not to put too fine a point on it, but your mother did not guard them when she should have. Now it is your job. That is what this feeling is about. It is there to protect you. It is there to guard your feelings.

Now, to use another metaphor, in the process of guarding your feelings you may find that pressure builds up. At times there may be controlled releases. You may feel intense rage and sadness. You may catch a glimpse of these feelings from time to time. That too is good. Do not be frightened. The feelings of a child are enormous. But that is in the past. All you feel are the echoes. It can't hurt you. Go about your life. Balance.

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