After five years of dating, Mark*, 38, decided to make his relationship with Kenya*, 30, official. He organized a trip for their families and closest friends to celebrate both New Year’s Eve and Kenya’s birthday. Surrounded by the most important people in their lives, Mark dropped to one knee and proposed marriage. The moment was almost perfect until the newly engaged couple noticed Kenya’s mother standing apart from the crowd, with a look of disdain on her face.
Kenya has struggled for years to maintain a relationship with her controlling mother; earning two master’s degrees is just one of the ways she’s tried to win her approval. The elementary school teacher knows she won’t gain her mother’s favor unless Mark, a security officer, is out of the picture. She’s determined to marry the love of her life, but is torn by her mother’s unspoken ultimatum: your man or me.
Subjects names and identifying details have been changed.
“I always fantasized about a simple wedding, just me and the man of my dreams beginning our happily-ever-after surrounded by our loved ones. When Mark proposed, I was looking forward to planning the details of the most important day of my life. I have tried to make my mother see the wonderful things about Mark that I love so much, but she already had her mind made up. Our time together had become more and more awkward, and then six months after Mark proposed, she stopped speaking to me altogether. Under the pressure, I broke off the engagement for two miserable months before I decided with renewed commitment that no one was going to stop me from marrying my best friend and the man who brings joy to my life. “My mother had to make a life for herself after she and my father separated. She struggled after he left, and she worries Mark will take advantage of me financially. She raised me to be independent and responsible. I wish she’d trust my decisions and not treat me like a disobedient child.
“We’re on speaking terms again, but her negativity puts a strain on me and my relationship with Mark. I thought that if she spent more time with us, she would understand our decision to be together. But we’re no closer to getting her blessing than when we started, and I’m drained. I feel as if I’m splitting myself between my fiance and my mother. With the distance between my mother and me, I can’t truly be happy.”
Before I made plans to propose to Kenya, I wanted to show my respect to her mom, so I did things the old-fashioned way: I met with her first to ask for her daughter’s hand in marriage. Instead of giving her blessing, she said, Don’t stop on account of me. It was clear that she didn’t approve at all.
Over the years, I thought Kenya’s mom would come around if she just got to know me, but she’s been so resistant. She expressed concerns about money, but I would never take money from Kenya. She thinks that I am not on par with Kenya educationally, even though I have a bachelor’s degree. It seems to me that she thinks I’m of a lower class because I’m African-American, and she’s of a higher class because she’s West Indian. But I don’t understand why she thinks that has anything to do with my caring for her daughter.
I was hurt when Kenya broke off our engagement. It showed me just how far she was willing to go to please her mom, and I didn’t want to come between them. The pressure to gain her mom’s approval started wearing us thin. Her mother’s opinion of me and her ideas about what a man should provide have made me question my own worth, but I know that I will be a good husband to Kenya.
I try to be there for Kenya, but there is nothing I can do that will change the fact that her mom won’t accept us or even be present on our wedding day.