real life

Breaking up (with his parents) is hard to do.

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There are many many books that have been written about how to deal with
a break up. And I’m quite certain that Jennifer Anniston has bought
most of them. I mean, you’d have to, wouldn’t you? If your
astonishingly good looking ex and his ridiculously sexy new partner and
their gob-smackingly cute rainbow children were waved in your face by
the media on a daily basis? I would. Before buying a one-way ticket to
Timbuktu to read my self-help books by torchlight in a dark cave.

Perhaps you, like me, have sympathetically watched Jennifer work through Her Pain in long, lonely beach walks since that fateful separation announcement of January 2004. How tragic that I don’t even need to use Wikipedia to establish when Brad and Jennifer split. I carry the date in my memory. And my heart. But can I tell you the exact dates of World War One? Or Two? I cannot.

Anyway, back to Jennifer’s Pain. One thing that most heal-your-heart books fail to address is how to handle breaking up with your in-laws. You may have dumped his (or her) sorry ass for a whole host of reasons – or been dumped yourself – but chances are, none of those reasons include your ex’s parents. Given that they didn’t cheat on you, lie to you, fall out of love with you or disappoint you, it’s understandable that this break up can be a sad kind of PS to the main event.

Naturally, Jennifer sent planet earth spinning off its axis last month when she – are you sitting down? – HAD BRAD’S MOTHER OVER FOR TEA.  Paparazzi snapped Brad’s security team dropping his mum at Jennifer’s door and media reports were breathless with speculation over what it all might mean.

“Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt split more than two years ago – but that wasn’t the end of Aniston’s relationship with Pitt’s parents,” gasped UK’s Now magazine. “In fact, on Sunday – Father’s Day – Pitt’s mother, Jane, dropped by Aniston’s Malibu home for a chat. Odd that the actress is still close to her former in-laws? No way, says Pitt’s brother Doug. “Jennifer is a friend of Brad’s, why wouldn’t she be a friend of ours?”

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Whether it’s you and your ex’s parents or your own parents and your ex, you don’t need to be famous to wrestle with this complex relationship. Complex because it’s solely defined by another relationship that no longer exists.

And you don’t even have to have been married. Some of my most memorable ex in-laws were the mothers of high school boyfriends. Hello Mrs Hughes!

My friend Anna agrees. “When I was young and naive I dated a boy for two years” she recalls. “Most of the second year we stayed together because I loved his mother who had no daughters and spoilt me rotten. We broke up when he went to study overseas and I never gave him another thought. But I missed his mum for years. I wonder who she gives her old designer stuff to nowadays?”

And this from another friend: “I had an older boyfriend when I was in my early twenties and I think my mum loved him more than I did. He proposed and when I said no, she was shattered. She encouraged him to buy a big ring and try again. So I had to say no to him twice! Poor bugger. Mum couldn’t stop crying and it all got a bit intense so I had to move out of home for a while. She refused to even meet my new boyfriend for the first year.”

So is it disappointment or a lack of control that so upsets parents (well, mothers) when their kids break up with someone they adored?  “I think mothers contemplate their son’s women as potential daughters from word go” theorises one friend, “which is great when they love you and tough when you don’t. Having become accustomed to the thought, they find it hard to let go.”

This particular friend speaks from experience.  “My ex’s mother is still in touch with me 10 years after I ended it with her son. She knits me scarves and sends me inspirational books. I know she hasn’t forgiven her son for cheating on me and breaking my heart. She still sends me birthday cards and I’m very fond of her but my husband rolls his eyes. I’d quite like to make a clean break from that time in my life but how do I dump the mother?”

I have one friend who has it down to an art.  “If I’ve got to know the parents, I always send them a card when I break up with their son, regardless of who ended it. Because you never get to see them again, and I like to thank them for all of their hospitality and to say I acknowledge all of those times spent shelling prawns and making Christmas pudding, I acknowledge that they let us sleep, unmarried, under their roof in their house, and finally, I acknowledge that I am totally making a last ditch effort to be the lofty benchmark for all future girlfriends. Not because I wish I was still with their sons but because I am competitive and want to be the best. Amen. I have two significant sets of ex-in-laws and both send me Christmas cards in which I believe I can detect rather a wistful tone. So I think it worked.”

Possibly the award for Least Able To Let Go would have to go to my own family. We have all stayed extremely close to a significant ex boyfriend I had when I was about 20. A couple of years ago when he got married to a fantastic woman, we were all there including my parents, my brother, his wife, my husband and all our kids. My dad gave a speech. It was a beautiful day.
With that in mind, I wonder if Brad’s father might give the bride away at Jennifer Anniston’s next wedding? Could Brad be the best man? Angelina a bridesmaid? I can only hope and dream.

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