Dear Candid Caregiver: I’m a divorced, middle-aged woman who’d very much enjoy a relationship but I can’t even date because my mother gets mad when I do. I thought that I’d left this behind after high school but I’m obviously wrong. Mom had a stroke two years ago and recovered as well as can be expected. Other than having a slight limp, there’s little physical sign of what she went through. The problem is that six months after her stroke, she was diagnosed with a combination of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s dementia. I moved her in with me so that I could provide care when I wasn’t at work, and I hired care for when I was. This is turning out OK in general, but twice now I’ve been asked out by very nice men who I'd like to go to dinner with. Each time the man picked me up, Mom, who had a hired caregiver with her, screamed, swore, and had a complete meltdown. These were awful scenes, but each man tried to reassure me that they understood. I never heard back from either of them. It’s possible that they didn’t like my company, but I think that they thought that my situation was too messy and they didn’t need the grief. How on earth can I ever date? Do others have this problem? — Mommy’s girl
Dear Mommy’s girl: I’m so sorry about the predicament you’re in. All you want to do is enjoy the company of a man for a few hours and even that is too complicated. I’ll answer your closing questions first. Yes, others do have this problem. It doesn’t rank high when it comes to questions that I’m asked, but it has shown up a few times. As to whether or not you’ll ever be able to date, it’s going to depend on how much you want to go through with your mom.
Some people will think that your mom is just manipulating you. This is possible, but I’m assuming that this behavior is caused by her dementia. No matter what is upsetting your mom, you deserve to date as well as have other outside activities, so looking for a solution is the place to start.
- It may work to get to know the man better first by meeting him somewhere in a casual manner, say a coffee shop. Then, during conversation, you could bring up your mother. Gauge his reaction. If he’s sympathetic, whether or not it’s because that’s his personality (nice), or he has a friend or relative who is living with dementia, you could then say something general about the fact that life gets a lot easier if your mom has some exposure to a person prior to your walking out the door with them. If he never asks you to do more than have that coffee, then you haven’t lost a lot, since most mature relationships have complications that younger ones rarely have. This is real life and a man should expect that.
- Alternately, you could try telling the man about your situation and asking him to come early enough so that you can all sit down to visit. Even better, asking him to come over to your home at an earlier time and just sit and visit with you and your mom would be a huge step forward. Of course, both situations come with some risk. The man could decide even before he visits that the whole thing is too much of a hassle and call it off. When you think of it, though, that isn’t really any different from your current situation, so you may want to give it a shot.
- Since your mom is with a regular caregiver, she may be willing to go out with this caregiver for coffee and something brief. Then she wouldn’t have to witness you leaving. An alternative could work, depending on your housing situation, where the caregiver takes your mom to another room and closes the door, explaining to her that you have things to do so you have to go out for a while.
Whatever you want to do, don’t forget yourself in this mix. You not only have a right to go out on dates, you have an obligation to both of you to take care of yourself. Considering my suggestions may help you think of other ways to either distract or reassure your mom. Best wishes, Mommy’s Girl. This is one thorny problem.