- On May 3, 2018
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By Laura Stassi
Many of us gray daters can’t imagine how we’d navigate a new relationship with an elderly parent living with us. Then there’s Jamie. She invited her former mother-in-law, Maude, to live with her. This sitcom-worthy arrangement has served two purposes, Jamie said. It’s not only given her ex-in-law (out-law?) stability, it’s also forced Jamie to be more careful about romantic entanglements. Jamie may be logical in her career as an engineer. But when it comes to men, she’s been all heart and no head.
“I have a problem going too fast with new relationships,” Jamie said. “So this forces me to go slower because how do you explain to someone that your former mother-in-law is living with you? And out of respect for Maude, I’m not going to have men traipsing in and out of the house.”
Jamie grew up in the Northeast. She went to a prestigious university, where she met Cal. They fell in love and got married after graduation, when they were in their mid-20s, then settled in the mid-Atlantic.
“I always wanted to be married, always believed in a happily ever after,” Jamie said. “I never expected to get divorced.”
But after three kids and almost 20 years together, the marriage had run its course and the couple split. Afterward, “I kind of went off the deep end with dating,” Jamie said. “I fall in love very quickly, which is detrimental to my health.” She got involved with a series of unsuitable men, including an emotionally abusive alcoholic.
Finally, after friends intervened on her behalf, Jamie realized she needed to start fresh. She took her portable, well-paying job back to the Northeast. Very quickly, she met Murray online, and then bought a house and invited him to move in with her. Murray arrived with his teenage son and dog.
“I thought we were going to have happily ever after,” she said. “But it became very difficult.”
Jamie discovered she and Murray really didn’t have much in common. He liked staying home and resented when she went out with her friends. Then there was the matter of Murray bragging about sleeping with 365 different women the previous year.
“He wasn’t right for me,” Jamie said, “but it took me a while to figure that out. I just went with what my heart felt.” After about a year, they split.
“At this point, I’m 50 years old,” Jamie said. “I realized I needed to break the pattern of meeting someone and sleeping with him right away, and then staying in the relationship because I desperately wanted it to work out since we’d already slept together.”
Jamie quit drinking, revved up her exercise routine, and went to counseling. She decided to move back to the mid-Atlantic and settled into an apartment. Several months later, while talking to Cal about something involving the kids, Cal mentioned he was moving to the West Coast and putting his townhouse on the market.
Impulsively, Jamie said she’d be interested in buying Cal’s place — and what did Cal think about Jamie asking his mom, Maude, to move in? Jamie had always gotten along with Maude. Even after divorcing out of the family, Jamie called Maude every birthday and checked in with her occasionally.
Maude, who’s retired, had gone through her own gray divorce and two decades later was still feeling hurt. She also had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, an incurable disorder that causes fatigue and muscle and joint pain.
“At this point, Maude is living in Georgia,” Jamie said. “She’s struggling, and her sons know it but no one seems to be doing anything about it. I thought if I took Maude in, maybe I could make a difference in her life.”
Jamie closed on Cal’s house in June 2017. A few days after she moved in, Maude arrived. “I guess I just thought, this will work out,” Jamie said. “And in some respects, it has worked out. It’s nice living with someone, and it’s helpful to share some costs. But in other respects, it hasn’t worked out.”
Maude can’t muster the energy to join any support groups or exercise classes, or to make new friends. She likes sharing meals with Jamie, but isn’t as enthusiastic as Jamie is about healthy cooking.
Then there’s The Guy — because wouldn’t you know? Only a few days after Maude moved in, Jamie met The Guy at a Meetup event. Jamie’s in love; she can see a future with The Guy. But she knows she must be patient not only because of her track record and Maude, but also because The Guy’s divorce isn’t final yet. He has some logistical and financial details to work out with his estranged wife, and he doesn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize his relationship with his young children.
“If he was ready to have a conversation about what our future looked like, then I know we could figure it out,” Jamie said. For example, Jamie can afford another mortgage. So maybe Maude could stay in the townhouse and get a housemate, and Jamie and The Guy could pool their resources and buy another place.
On the other hand, Jamie thinks it would be wise for The Guy to live on his own for awhile, to get comfortable with being divorced and figure out what he truly wants and needs in a relationship.
So Jamie is waiting, more or less peacefully. When she starts feeling anxious and antsy, she prays.
“I regret not being able to make Maude happy,” Jamie said. “I’ve finally learned she needs to find her own path to happiness. I’m a big believer in things happening for a reason.”
“I think God brought me back here, and to Maude,” Jamie said. “And I think God put me in this relationship with The Guy.”