The Parent...the child...the mate


Single female -- intelligent, attractive and caring, has good relationship with father (OK, it took years of therapy), in search of single man for loving, committed relationship. Must have career, concern for mankind and a close, but not that close, relationship with his mother.

You're female, intelligent, attractive, personable and single -- although perhaps you don't want to be single. Well hear this: According to the authors of two books -- among the latest additions to the burgeoning self-help market -- a romantic relationship is about more than the two of you.

It's about you, him, his mother and your father.

"Your Man and his Mother" by Annette Annechild (Longmeadow Press, 1992) claims "the first woman in his life" will have an enormous impact on you -- whether you like it or not.

And "Women and Their Fathers," by Victoria Secunda (Delacorte Press, 1992) talks about how "the sexual and romantic impact of the first man in your life" can wreak havoc in your love relationship.

Do these situations sound familiar?

* He comes into your life and sweeps you off of your feet. Just when you tell everyone he is THE ONE, he dumps you.

* He swears he loves you but wants to change everything about you.

* He's a jewel. Friends say you are blessed. Your parents love him. So what happens? You dump him for someone who treats you like dirt.

Girlfriends, if this is you, it's time to figure out what's wrong. According to Ms. Annechild, the place to start is with his mother: Get him talking about her.

"Some men react against their mothers, choosing a mate who is totally opposite. Others attempt to re-create that first relationship with the woman they encounter throughout their lives. Whatever the case, you can be sure her influence is there," Ms. Annechild writes.

But don't bombard the poor guy with mother questions immediately, advises Ms. Annechild, who passed through Baltimore recently on a book promotion tour.

"On the first date you should be asking, 'Do I want a second date?' But maybe by the third date you should ask him about his mother," says the Malibu, Calif., resident who grew up in Baltimore County. "It's better to interview him now instead of being miserable down the road," she says.

Some of the aforementioned situations can be avoided by knowledge gained from the mother-son relationship, she suggests.

For instance, that man who sweeps you off your feet and then bolts? Maybe, says Ms. Annechild, his relationship with his mother was characterized by a lack of warmth.

"Initially, he probably ran after his mother's love, then he may have convinced himself that he didn't need it and eventually closed down -- just like his mother. As an adult, he may believe he is unlovable and find it hard to trust that love can ever come to him," she says.

A critical man could be echoing the sort of mothering he had. "A legacy of criticism can be passed down from generation to generation, from family to family." Trouble is, Ms. Annechild says, people may not know they are repeating learned behaviors until it is pointed out to them.

Ms. Annechild, 41, who has a master's degree in counseling psychology, doesn't mean to scare mothers about being perfect. "Nobody does mothering perfectly," says Ms. Annechild, who is divorced and again part of the dating scene.

But it bodes ill for a relationship if the man had a mother who was always depressed or constantly critical or totally smothering, she warns.

True enough, some women will love their men no matter what type of mothering they had, the author admits. "But I'm for women sticking up for themselves and using logic. We have a right to be happy," she says.

And don't think for a minute fathers are off the hook. A rocky -- or non-existent -- father-daughter bond might be the source of future bad love relationships, according to Ms. Secunda, author of "Women and Their Fathers."

"Not every woman wants or requires a man in her life. . . . But if and when a woman does want a loving partnership with a man, she will, however unconsciously, bring to it her childhood experience [with] her father," says Ms. Secunda, a journalist who serves on a New York task force on child abuse and neglect.

Unlike Ms. Annechild's breezy treatise -- a fun, light read -- Ms. Secunda's nearly 500-page book, culled from research and pTC interviews, elicits painful emotions from female readers, she says.

Ms. Secunda, 53, knows where those feelings come from. Her parents divorced when she was 7 and she seldom saw her father after the divorce.

She wrote the book partly "to find out what I had missed."

Although mothers, of course, have a strong impact on how their daughters turn out, "the greatest impact on a woman's romantic choices and her ability to feel comfortable in her own sexual skin is how her father treated her in childhood," Ms. Secunda writes.

"If a daughter is unable to win her father's approval for her self, and not simply her achievements or 'womanly' virtues, she may believe she is unacceptable to other men, or she may choose men who can never measure up to her image of Daddy. She may believe that she can't live without a man -- or that all men are no damn good," says Ms. Secunda.

Or perhaps because of a distant father who never let his guard down, she may recoil from emotional, caring men, she explains.

A woman who loses her father in childhood through divorce, death or desertion, "is a child's nightmare come true," Ms. Secunda says. ". . . all her perceptions, all her decisions, all her future relationships are filtered through that early, unimaginable, ineffable loss."

Ms. Secunda says her book is not about blaming men -- they have their own societal pressures to deal with -- or labeling them all as bad fathers.

And both books end on an upbeat note. It is possible, the 'D authors say, to have sustained loving relationships despite unpleasant upbringings.

"Some men are learning to be fathers in the best sense . . . learning how to tap into their long suppressed capacities for nurturing," Ms. Secunda writes.

"Remember, no one is perfect," says Ms. Annechild. "He may or may not be interested in changing. It is solely his choice. But you have a choice to accept or not accept what he is."

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