Mother knows best, even on Valentine's Day

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Hundreds of thousands of Valentine's Day roses from Ecuador.
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

WASHINGTON -- Guys, if you want to get the girl, try bringing flowers - to her mother.

With Valentine's Day coming up, it's something to think about: Winning over mom may sound old-fashioned, but it's still a smart strategy in today's fast-changing, app-tapping, hookup-happy world of dating.

In a new poll, 6 in 10 young women say when they're thinking of getting serious with somebody, their mother's approval is "extremely" or "very" important.

"She makes the call," said Jessica Wilhelm, a 19-year-old college student and self-described "mommy's girl."

Wilhelm, from Brighton, Michigan, said she learned her lesson in high school when she tried going out with "the guy your parents don't want."

"It's not a good idea," she said. "It doesn't go smoothly for anybody."

Indeed, 4 in 10 young women say they would consider breaking up with someone their mom didn't like, according to the Associated Press-WE tv poll. And 16 percent say they've actually dumped a guy for that reason.

In contrast, a mere 6 percent of the young women, ages 18 to 29, say their mother's opinion of their dates matters "not at all."

Sons worry a little less about what mom thinks, the survey found. Still, half of men under 30 say her approval is extremely or very important when a relationship might get serious.

Andy Lowney, 22, of DeWitt, Michigan, said if he were dating a woman his mother didn't like, he wouldn't ditch her immediately.

"I'd see if it's something you can change over time," he said. "But long, long term, that's going to be an issue."

Dads, the stereotypical gatekeepers for teenage daughters, still have some say, too.

Half of young women and nearly 40 percent of young men put high importance on dad's opinion when a romance is getting serious. A father's view outranks what friends or siblings think, according to the poll.

Kelsley Broomfield, 21, said her parents deploy different tactics when sizing up boyfriend material.

Her mother, always friendly and chatty, asks the what-do-you-want-to-do-with-your-life questions. Dad listens and doesn't say much, but he'll signal his verdict later with a few subtle comments.

"He's kind of the test," said Broomfield, of Englewood, New Jersey.

Of course, dating a guy your parents like isn't the same as dating a guy who's like your parents.

And it turns out men aren't necessarily looking for a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad, either. Among men and women of all ages, a slim majority - 51 percent - think it's better to go out with someone who's the opposite of their parents, instead of someone who reminds them of the folks.

And how do the folks feel about all this?

We're not asking for much, they insist, but couldn't you just listen to us now and then?

While few parents say they want a lot of sway over their grown children's love lives, the vast majority of parents of all ages - 7 in 10 - would like to exert at least a little influence.

Alas, fewer than 6 in 10 parents believe they have, or will have, any influence at all.

Some may be underestimating their lifetime impact, however.

L.D. Ross Jr. of Clinton, Maryland, said he made his expectations known early through years of dinner-table conversations about values and how to judge character. By the time his son and three daughters were old enough to date, he said, "they were very good about the people they selected to bring home." Three of the four are married now, and he has five grandkids.

"I don't think anybody really wants to bring home somebody they know their parent is going to just totally disapprove of," said Ross, 59. "It's not going to be a happy family."

What about when he was going out as a young man, did he give his own parents cause to worry?

No, Ross says, laughing - but they didn't know about everything.

"I was a sneaky little sucker," he said.

The poll of 1,315 adults was conducted ahead of the premiere of WE tv's new show "Match Made in Heaven." The poll was conducted online Dec. 19-21, 2014, using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.