When Mr. Right is a "Mama's Boy"
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When Mr. Right is a "Mama's Boy"

Does his close relationship to Mom make him a better partner for you?

A Mother's Love

Candles, soft music, a bottle of wine, and...Mom? Everyone knows the unflattering stereotype of "mama's boys" and the mothers who love them. He's dependent, immature and, if you are his girlfriend, he puts her first. To you, his mom may seem nagging and invasive. And, if you are his girlfriend, you fear she hates you.

But this stereotype also comes in a more appealing scenario. He loves and respects his mom, so he loves and respects women -- including you. His mom is wise, cool, and, because she just wants to see him happy, she likes you.

In fact, a new study suggests that the second scenario is closer to the truth. Researchers at Ferrum College in Virginia have found a correlation between men who are close to their moms and women who are satisfied with their partners.

A man's relationship with his mother, says researcher Sarah R. Roberts, "is his first introduction to femininity, and where he gets many of his ideals." Her survey revealed that men who feel close to their mothers tend to have partners who feel "understood"; men who feel understood by their moms are described as "affectionate" by their partners; and men who feel they communicate their feelings effectively with Mom have partners who are happier in general.

The study included 33 couples, who were in dating relationships. The men answered a questionnaire describing the degree of closeness they felt with their moms, while the women sounded off on the level of satisfaction they felt with their partners.

Such findings confirm our instincts about men and their moms. As Judy, 38, a financial planner in Palo Alto, California, says of her fiancé: "One of the first things he said was what a great person his mom is, which I took, correctly, to be a good sign about him and his ability to have a high-quality relationship with a woman -- say, me."

Adds New York attorney Rachel, 30, "Look for the guy who reminds you about Mother's Day."

He "Gets" Women

John, 43, a customer service representative in Ridgewood, New York, is one of those guys. He lived at home -- paying rent and doing his own cleaning -- before marrying at 32. His dad worked three jobs when he was little, so, John says, "My mom was my parent." He was also the only boy among three sisters and a grandmother.

"If any man could claim to be in tune to 'a woman's way of thinking,' I can," he says. "I still do things that startle my wife, like being able to help her pick out clothes." His upbringing, he says, helped him not think of women as a scary, mysterious other species, but rather as fellow humans that one can -- and should -- learn to get along with.

Patricia, 25, a marketing executive in Long Island, New York, loves her boyfriend's closeness -- literally -- with his mom. "Most women would run from a 26-year-old man living with his momma, but my boyfriend's so sweet that he enjoys helping his parents out financially and doesn't need to move in order to be independent," she says. "He feels comfortable asking her advice, including 'Patricia's sick -- what should she eat?' To me, 'Mama's boy' equals future family man [and the most] wonderful boyfriend I have ever had."

Still, there's close, and there's too close. "My ex got a mild case of dengue fever when we were in Asia. His mom flew to Thailand to take care of him for a few days, and he didn't try to stop her," recalls Veronica, 28, a travel agent in San Diego. "I felt like, what am I, chopped liver?"

The study did pinpoint where a man's relationship with his mother could cross that kind of line. According to Roberts, men who said their mom was their "best friend" were described as less "considerate" by their partners. "In my opinion, it makes sense -- if he's spending all that time with his 'best friend,' his partner might feel left out," she says.

Strategic Tips

How to share him with Mom

Your guy's so close to his mom that he's often spending time with her and helping out. How can you compete?

  • Remember, this is a guy you can talk to. "You could say, 'I love that you have such a great relationship with your mom, but sometimes I feel a little jealous, or worried that somehow I won't measure up,'" says Albuquerque, New Mexico psychologist Christine Nicholson, PhD. "If he's had that compassionate relationship with a strong maternal figure, he'll probably be able to say, 'Honey, I have a different kind of love for you and no one can replace or surpass that!'" Often, says Nicholson, just feeling heard can make you feel better.
  • He's cleaning out her gutters? Perfect! Quality alone time --or Girl Time -- for you.
  • Spend some time with his mother (without him) every now and then. You'll feel less like an accessory and more like a member of the family.

What if she's not on his good side?

What if you're thinking: My guy doesn't get along with his mom, and our relationship is fine. Should I be concerned? Should I encourage him to patch things up with her?

  • If you're happy, there may be nothing to fix. Studies show, Nicholson notes, that abused children do not necessarily become adult abusers. Likewise, she says, "A guy who has not had a good relationship with his mom might yearn for a positive relationship with a woman, even bend over backwards to make it happen."
  • Helping him mend fences "shouldn't become your mission," says Nicholson. "No one has to have a good relationship with their mother." Some things are best left in the past, and some things, strictly speaking, are not your business.
  • If their hostility does affect you and your relationship, that's where you have some say. Keep the focus limited to your feelings and your dynamic, cautions Nicholson. Rather than criticizing him -- or worse, criticizing his mother -- say "Let's figure this out together."