Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: My mum hates my girlfriend

I know I can’t force my mother to like her, but obviously I don’t want to hurt her

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

I’ve been going out with a girl for nine months now and I’d love to move in with her. I know she’s keen.

But the problem is my mother. It’s quite clear she can’t stand my girlfriend. We’ve tried having her over and making a fuss of her, and my girlfriend bought her a lovely present for her birthday and baked her a cake, but nothing seems to make any difference. I know I can’t force my mother to like her, but obviously I don’t want to hurt her. She lives on her own – my dad ran off with her best friend five years ago. What can I do?

Yours sincerely,


Virginia says...

Normally I’d suggest that your girlfriend try to cultivate a personal relationship with your mother. Suggest they go to see a film or an exhibition together. But I suspect that the real problem is that your mother doesn’t really realise quite how obvious her dislike is. Nor has she thought through what effect her dislike is going to have on her future relationship with you. She’s just thinking in the short term. She feels, wrongly I’m sure, that this girl is stealing you away in exactly the same way her best friend stole your father – and even if she’s not completely conscious of this, the whole scenario obviously reminds her of a very painful situation. In other words, she’s not seeing your girlfriend for what she really is – she’s seeing her for what she symbolises: a woman who’s incredibly close to a man she dotes on and who’s planning to pinch him. And naturally, she wants to get rid of her.

I don’t know, Pete, how close you are to your mother. Would it be possible for you to have a talk to her on your own and say you find it really upsetting the way she behaves to your girlfriend? You could say you’re longing to welcome her into your new set-up, and tell her, in as kind a way as possible, that the more unpleasant she is to someone you love, the more difficult it becomes for you to want to be with her. Reassure her that you love her, bang on about how she’s the best mum in the world, lay it on with a trowel and reassure her that if you were to move in with your girlfriend it wouldn’t mean you loved her less. But there should be an underlying message: that if she continues to feel so threatened and therefore so spiteful, things aren’t going to work out happily for her at all.

But if you’re not on those close terms with her, my advice is to enlist the help of a close friend of your mother’s. Tell her what the problem is and then invite your mother and her to come and visit together. This will mean  that the close friend will be able to see your mother’s behaviour first-hand.

Later her friend can rave about your girlfriend at the same time as saying she was astonished how obvious your mother’s dislike was. She can warn her that if she continues like this she’ll drive you away. Often the objective observations of a third party have a great deal more effect than the opinions, however kindly expressed, of the people involved. I do hope, for all your sakes, that this works. 


Readers say…

It’s all about trust

Your mother has had two betrayals in one: if her husband had just left her, she would have hoped to seek solace from her best friend, whom she trusted implicitly. She can’t because her best friend was complicit in that betrayal. Her whole support mechanism (apart from you) was washed away all at once.

That said, she’s very unlikely to trust any woman moving into her remaining familial relationship. I suspect it’s nothing to do with your girlfriend’s personality. And she can’t do anything to appease your mother until you have a very direct conversation with your mother, reassuring her that you are not going to leave her.

Clare Gibb, By email


Try tough love

You’ve reached a crossroads. Like a good son, you’ve stood by your mother, but she should be building a new life, not clinging to you. Clear the air by forcing her to explain exactly what her objections are. If there’s been cause for offence it should be brought into the open so that it can be dealt with. But if her antipathy stems from jealousy, she must give up trying to control you. You are not your mother’s keeper, nor is she yours.

Nichola Hyslope, By email


Next week’s dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I have always had a troubled relationship with my sister. Now she lives in Dubai and I live in England and we don’t see much of each other, but we do talk on the phone. Every so often she starts attacking me and I get extremely upset. Each time I speak to her I feel I have to pretend that I’m not as happy as I am in order to stop her feeling jealous. This last conversation has left me so upset that my partner says I should cut her out of my life, but she’s the only family I’ve got. I only wish I knew how to get on better terms with her.

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Jean to do?

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Virginia’s one-woman show will be at the Soho Theatre on 26 September.