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Decision needs to be made by you

Dear Carolyn: My mom basically despises my boyfriend "Tom" because he didn't graduate college and works a blue-collar job. She is so rude to him we can't even be around her.

Tom and I are 24, independently financially stable, and have lived together for six months -- another source of my mother's angst.

Although I am beyond furious at her treatment of Tom, I don't want to lose her. I'm also scared about what this is doing to my parents' marriage. My dad is saying things to her in a tone I've never heard before -- telling her that her behavior is unacceptable, that she needs to stop. She just gets defensive and yells at him. I don't want my relationship to be their undoing.

I love Tom and could see us getting engaged in a year or two. However, I'm actually thinking about breaking up with him over this, although I know evil shouldn't triumph.

But I feel like he's on one side, and on the other side is my relationship with my mom AND my parents' relationship AND the potential to have it all if I meet a college-educated suitor. (I feel like a horrible person saying this.)

-- Mom vs. boyfriend

A: Wow. You just made countless adult children grateful for their parents' passive aggression and subterfuge.

I'll start with the (relatively) easy part: You're not responsible for your parents' marriage. You didn't cause their rift; you're merely the topic. The cause is the difference between their beliefs that this topic laid bare. It was there before Tom and it will remain if Tom goes away.

As for your bond with Mom, you can no more go back to the "before" picture than your dad can. You can't break up with knowledge, and your family bonds hereafter will reflect what this situation has taught you, about yourselves and about each other.

So don't leave Tom to solve your family problems; leave only if it solves your Tom problems.

In that little throwaway line at the end, you admit you've toyed with the idea that you can do better than Tom. As difficult as it will be, you need to decide whether that's your voice or your mother's -- somehow tuning out her vacation from her senses.

Specifically, you need to stop thinking in terms of whether "evil" should or shouldn't "triumph." In this case, "good" shouldn't triumph, either: Resisting Mom's pressure on principle would be just as much of a mistake as caving in to it. Principle makes this about your mom, and she's nothing but a terrible distraction from the important process of figuring out whether you and Tom really fit.

Principle also won't keep your conversations with Tom going 20 years from now; compatibility will, and commonality, and affection, respect and trust. Be patient, please, and see if that's what you have in Tom.

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