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Auntie SparkNotes: My Mom Is Basically a Vulcan

Dear Auntie,
How should I deal with my Vulcan mother?

I am a 22-year-old college graduate. Recently, on top of all my other stresses, my relationship with my mother has been stretched paper-thin. The problem is my mom belongs on Star Trek. Her life views and socializing skills are like a Vulcan. Every problem should be solved as logically and efficiently as possible. Anything not logical to her is wrong and can be argued with.

On paper, this sounds great. The problem is in practice, this creates problems with family members and everyone else. My parents bitterly divorced when I was in high school and I only have one older sibling who lives on his own. So if I want to spend time with my mother, I have little to no buffer. The problem is deciding if I still want to spend time with my mother. While I do have fun with my mother, the moments that are emotionally devastating are starting to outweigh the good.

For example, last Thanksgiving I made the 7-hour trip from college back to my hometown for a week to visit family. The plan was to spend half the week at my dad’s and half the week at my mom’s. Suddenly, on Wednesday evening, I get a call from my mom. She found 2 tickets online to see one of my favorite bands in a neighboring city in a sold-out concert and was planning to make a multi-day trip out of it…..with her boyfriend.

She knew I was coming a month ahead of time. So the fact my own mother was ditching me at the last possible moment to go see one of my favorite bands, hurt my feelings. I called her in tears and she couldn’t comprehend why I was upset. To her, it was logical to go to the concert when she had an opportunity to do so. When I called her upset, she simply laid out a plan for us to meet for a concert next time and didn’t understand why I was upset.

This is part of a long pattern for her. Problem arises, she has her own way of dealing with it. If I don’t deal with the problem like she would like, I can expect a long, 20-minute lecture on the logical way she would deal with it. Hell, if I don’t use my weekends to her ideas of efficiency and tell her the truth, I can expect a lecture from her and a plan to better use my week.

Should I take my break from my mom? What’s the best way to deal with a Vulcan?

To answer that question, Sparkler, we’re going to need to boldly go where no agony aunt has gone before. Because if Star Trek has taught us one thing, it’s that revenge is a dish best served cold by a bare-chested, platinum-blond man in a gold velvet bolero.

….But hey, if Star Trek has taught us two things, it’s that you’ll never get any satisfaction from trying to reason with a Vulcan—or any alien, for that matte—like he’s a human.

And while your mom isn’t actually an alien, for the purposes of trying to relate to her and get her to understand the emotional impact her behavior has on you, it might help to think of her as one. As you pointed out yourself, this isn’t a problem unique to your mom’s treatment of you; being an inconsiderate blockhead is just what she does. It’s who she is—and it causes problems in her interpersonal relationships with literally everyone around her.

Of course, that’s also the bad news. Despite all the compelling incentives (avoiding conflict, preserving relationships, not being seen as a giant doink by everyone near and dear to her), your mom has proven virtually incapable of approaching other people like… well, a person. But if you start there, with a baseline acceptance that the way your mom has always dealt with this stuff is the way she’ll continue to deal with it, then maybe that’s something you can work with.

In some cases, that might mean spending less time with your mom, or at least planning the time you do spend together to lessen the likelihood of unpleasant surprises. (Once you’re living on your own, maybe it’ll make more sense to let her do the traveling to come see you—and to have an appealing backup plan in the event that she flakes and doesn’t show up.) But it also means setting boundaries, so that whenever your mom is being… well, herself, you can shrug it off as her issue, which it is. If telling her the truth about how you spent your weekend invariably results in a lecture about your time management skills, then just change the subject when she asks—or put your foot down if she starts to monologue. (Ex: “I know you have a lot of ideas about how I should plan my weekends, but I like my life the way it is and I’m going to spend my time the way I want to. Let’s talk about something else, okay?”)

You don’t have to submit every decision you make for maternal review and approval; you can also solicit your mom’s advice strategically when you aren’t sure about the most efficient way to do something, since it seems like lectures are her primary means of communication. And on that front, you can also ask yourself if your mom’s annoying behavior is actually a misguided means of demonstrating affection or care. Not that it makes it any more fun to deal with, but she wouldn’t be the first socially awkward person to act like an overbearing know-it-all when normal forms of intimacy prove too scary or elusive to manage. (I also can’t help wondering if you’ve tried pointing out to her that it is not just hurtful, but totally illogical for you to travel seven hours to visit someone who won’t be home when you get there—and that if you can’t rely on her to stick around when she knows you’re coming to town to see her, she oughtn’t be surprised when you stop showing up.)

In the end, it all comes down to this: Your mom is who she is, and your odds of convincing her to be otherwise—or talking her into caring about your feelings in a way that would be completely out of character—are basically nil. And yes, that totally sucks. But before you quit spending time with her entirely, it might be worth giving yourself just enough distance to see the big picture, to recognize the patterns in your mom’s behavior, and to realize how much it has absolutely nothing to do with you. Maybe there’s a relationship still to be had there, even if it’s not the one you originally hoped for. And if not, then you’ll still be well-positioned to keep moving back bit by bit until you and your Vulcan mom can comfortably share a planet.

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