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Dear Swipe This!
For Thanksgiving this year, I went home with my boyfriend and met his family. I was nervous that they wouldn’t like me, but it went great! They are really kind people and I enjoyed getting to know them. And I was so relieved because I felt like they liked me, too!
The only problem was my boyfriend’s mom was kind of too eager to get to know me. She knew things about me she hadn’t even heard from my boyfriend! Eventually, she admitted that she had been stalking me on social media! We all kind of laughed it off. She gave me lots of compliments, told me I was really pretty, and asked lots of questions about trips I’ve taken. She kept saying I was very well-traveled. Mostly it felt good that she was so interested in me, but I started to feel a little overwhelmed.
During our stay, she would comment on everything I did. I didn’t finish my mashed potatoes, and she asked me if I was on a diet. She kept encouraging me to take seconds of everything, which felt kind of pushy. She also had so much to say about my appearance. My hair, my clothes. Mostly it was just compliments and things she was doing to take care of me, but it felt a little invasive.
After we left, she friended me on Facebook and followed me on Instagram. Now, she sends me links and jokes via Facebook messenger every day. She watches all of my stories on Instagram, responds daily, and comments on everything I post. It just feels like a LOT to me.
She’s a sweet lady, but it’s making me feel really anxious. I don’t want to have to constantly interact! I’ve talked about it with my boyfriend and he said that’s just the way she is and to just ignore her. But I don’t know, that feels really rude to me. And I don’t want to be rude! I can’t tell her to not interact with me, right? So how do I interact less without hurting her feelings?
I freaking love old people. Much like babies, they are unfiltered and totally real. Older people are unapologetically themselves. If you don’t like who they happen to be, chances are they aren’t going to soften or adjust it for you. But the best of them have a lot of wisdom and warmth to offer. And I find that when I take an interest in them, I tend to have really meaningful and delightful conversations.
Probably because of these same gifts, old people are generally terrible at using social media. They’re not slick enough. And there are plenty of Facebook groups and Twitter threads dedicated to laughing about a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle posting something somewhere it really doesn’t belong.
The internet is also a place where older people make wonderful connections. On the subreddit r/AskOldPeople, older people share compassionate wisdom. It’s also a place where people who feel isolated, as many older people do, can reach out and keep in touch.
Your boyfriend’s mom may or may not consider herself an old person, but she is generationally far enough away from you that she relates to social media more like an old person would than a peer. Here’s what I like about her: She’s honest. And she genuinely cares about getting to know you.
It sucks that she doesn’t intuitively get your boundaries. But in a way, she’s giving you the gift of getting to know and set your own boundaries. Based on your letter, I’m getting the sense that you are someone who doesn’t really know their boundaries or how to state them to others. And boundaries are a really amazing tool, especially when you’re building a new relationship.
So how do you interact less? Simple. Interact less.
First, you need to get over the idea that it’s rude not to respond. If she’s contacting you daily and you don’t have the energy to respond to her daily, that’s that. As long as you don’t ghost her completely, I think you are well within the parameters of polite behavior.
Next, you need to figure out how much connection actually feels good to you. Experiment. Try blocking her from seeing your Instagram stories. Or mute her notifications on Facebook and see how it feels to just check them once a week and respond to one thing. Once you remind yourself that you are in control of when and how often you will interact with her, you can start to actually enjoy it! Based on your letter, it sounds like you actually like your boyfriend’s mom, just in smaller doses. What a treat! Treat her like a treat and maybe you’ll start to enjoy her.
Maybe you’ve made a lot of choices in your life to make others comfortable, and you’ve told yourself that’s a nice thing or that’s the right thing. But when you do that, someone is still very uncomfortable and that someone is you. To do things differently, you’ll have to lean into a new kind of discomfort.
It is absolutely possible that your boyfriend’s mom will notice your change in behavior. Maybe she’ll be curious about it or a little hurt. Maybe she’ll adjust her behavior as she learns when and how you like to connect. Or maybe she’ll ask you about it. If she does, I think the healthiest thing you can do is tell her the truth: Too much interaction overwhelms you, and you’re learning how to use social media in ways that feel healthy to you.
Nayomi Reghay is a frequent contributor to the Daily Dot, covering body positivity, feminism, sex, relationships, and gender. She is also the author of the advice column “Swipe This!” A former New York Teaching Fellow, her writing has been featured in Reductress, Rolling Stone, Mic, Someecards, and more.