Dear Tell All: My son has had a wonderful girlfriend ever since sophomore year at West High. Catherine (not her real name) is smart, creative and caring, and she’s become practically a member of our family. For almost three years she’s eaten at least one meal a week at our house. She buys thoughtful birthday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day presents for both my husband and me. She and I developed a separate relationship, going out shopping and meeting for lunch. She became one of my favorite people, as important to me as any friend my age.
Catherine entered UW-Madison this year while my son went off to college in Ohio. They were committed to staying together, but it didn’t work out that way. Over winter break my son broke up with her after getting involved with another girl at school. He told my husband and me about what happened but bristled when we stuck up for Catherine.
We didn’t see Catherine at all over break. I toyed with the idea of texting her to ask how she’s doing, but she ended up texting me first, right after my son went back to school. She acknowledged her pain over the breakup and asked if we could get together to talk.
I’m inclined to say yes, because I care about Catherine and want to help her however I can. I also miss her terribly. After everything we’ve shared it’d be weird to drop her as a friend, wouldn’t it?
Dear Maternal Instinct: If it would be weird to drop Catherine as a friend, that’s only because it was weird for you to cultivate a friendship with her in the first place.
It’s important for adults to establish reasonable boundaries with 1) high school students and 2) their kids’ fleeting romantic partners. I don’t even need to explain why because you’ve demonstrated it beautifully. By crossing the boundaries, you’ve put yourself, your son, and Catherine in a difficult position. It’s no surprise your son bristled when you appeared to take Catherine’s side.
At this point your best option is to gently reject Catherine’s offer of getting together, explaining that it would be inappropriate and wishing her well. And for God’s sake keep a healthy distance from your son’s new girlfriend, no matter how wonderful she seems to be.
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