My mum has been through a lot in her life, and I really mean it when I say she knows her stuff. And like most people who know things, she can never help giving her Ďunsolicited advice.í
Last night Mum came to stay at my new share house for the first time, and after witnessing several tiffs between two of my housemates (who happen to be a couple), she couldnít stand holding back anymore.
Sitting at the dining table, she turns around and says to them: "can I give you guys some unsolicited advice?"
"Sure," says Sarah, "Sometimes I think we need it." As what Mum was about to say was obviously going to be directed at Sarah; Ryan stood back, clearly interested to see how his girlfriend would react to what was coming. I simply turned to my boyfriend with a here we go, prepare for the worst look on my face. Mumís advice is good, but sometimes itís difficult to take in.
"First of all, I can see from your behaviour that you come from a family of perfectionists who uphold a strict regime." It always starts with your relationship to your parents. Sarahís father is a data analyser, and her mother is a teacher. No surprises there. "They also still have a strong influence over your life."
"Yes, they donít think I should be with Ryan, so they arenít great at giving advice," Sarah says. Ryan pulls a face in the background. His expressions were like a commentary the whole way through, and Sarah never even noticed.
Mum both can and canít believe her ears. "At 22 you are an adult, and they have no authority over you anymore. Your allegiance should be to Ryan now, especially now that you are living together, and not to your parents. Secondly, clearly the two of you were brought up with different ideas on how to do things. Some people, like you Sarah as I heard just before, think your sheets should be washed every week. Some people, like Ryan, hardly ever wash their sheets. As itís his bed, you canít tell him what to do with his sheets. You donít have to sleep there if you donít like it. You have your own bed."
"Yes I know, I canít always tell him what to do," Sarah says. "Sometimes I let him do things his way."
"But you said ďletĒ him do things. Thatís not up to you."
"I know, thatís why I have to step back sometimes, and even if it annoys me I let him do things his way."
"Yes," says Mum, "but again, you said ďletĒ him. Itís not up to you to ďletĒ him do anything. Ryan is an adult too."
Suddenly Sarah stops, realising what Mum has said. Ryan stares at Sarah pointedly with a slight smirk on his face, glad that someone else has finally pointed out to his girlfriend the fact that she is not the boss of him. While Sarah processes this revelation, Mum explains something else.
"Itís a lot easier for you guys to adapt to living together at your age. I just got married three years ago after many years raising my daughter how I felt she should be raised. Now I have step children that are in my house, but not under my authority, and I have a husband that is also used to doing things his way. It has been such a learning process for the two of us trying to find compromises between the way each of us would do things. And at the end of the day, the fight isnít about whether to cook the gravy in the oven or on the stove. Youíre fighting about who is right, and that is not what a relationship should be about."
Later, as she was leaving, Mum said quietly to Ryan, "I hope I didnít say anything wrong back there."
Ryan replied with: "no, it was good actually. I wish you could have analysed me the way you did Sarah. It was fascinating. I want to know what you can reveal to me about myself."
"The thing is, even though Iíve only met both of you once, I know Sarah better than I know you, because I was never you Ryan, but I was her. I can see some of my traits in her, which is how I know what she needs in the way of advice. You are a different kettle of fish. But I will send you an email that will help you to live with someone like her. Maybe even some tips from my husband."