For many years, May Parker was the rock behind Peter Parker and Spider-Man. While May is an elderly woman, her inner strength, optimism and kindness gave Peter guidance through many dark times.
May Reilly was born to poor parents in Brooklyn, New York. It was an unhappy household, with her parents constantly arguing over money, with May feeling guilty. Her mother didn't help. She blamed May for Mr. Reilly leaving the family, telling her that if it hadn't been for her, they could have made it. Children were nothing but a burden. (Amazing Spider-Man #370) As a young woman, she fell in with a criminal named Johnny Jerome. She was still not a wealthy person and was embarrassed that she couldn't afford to go dancing or wear nice clothes, but Johnny always had money to help her. Her promised her the world, without her knowing that his crimes ranged from bootlegging to burglary to murder. He had offered her a jewel necklace but she turned it down. He showed up at her home later to get her answer, but Ben Parker arrived to tell her that the necklace was stolen from a jewelry store. The police were waiting outside the Reilly home and Johnny was arrested. Ben comforted her as the police took her ex-boyfriend away. (Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #4)
May and Ben began dating but were often forced to take Ben's much younger brother, Richard, with them on dates. May learned to love Richard after she and Ben were married and she loved Richard's son, Peter. She loved it when her nephew visited but was secretly happy when he went home. After Richard and Mary died in a plane crash, May and Ben were left with the responsibility of raising Peter. May was initially angry at the burden that had been dropped in their laps. She even pulled away from Ben and Peter, feeling like the odd woman out. She came to love Peter for having his parents intelligence but his Uncle Ben's kind heart. (Amazing Spider-Man #370)
After Ben Parker was murdered by a burglar, May was left to raise the teenager Peter alone. She and Ben were still not very wealthy people and after Ben died, May secretly pawned her jewelry to make ends meet. (Amazing Spider-Man #1) May doted on Peter, even to the point of treating him like a child. When Peter was in college, he came home to visit May and he found out that the Beetle had been robbing stores in the neighborhood. May feared that the news had upset him and she told him to take a nap while she made chicken soup. Anna Watson asked her why she babied Peter like that and she responded that he was all she had. Anna reminded her that Peter was an adult and not a child, but May insisted that Peter spent all of his time studying without anyone to look out for him. She then went to buy milk for her "growing boy." (Amazing Spider-Man #94)
May went away for a while, after Gwen Stacy told her that Peter was a man, not a little boy anymore. Gwen apologized for speaking to her like that but the old woman took it hard, saying "Perhaps--a foolish old lady--lonely and unthinking--can smother a person, with love." (Amazing Spider-Man #109) May was hurt by what Gwen said but didn't disagree with it. She left her home and didn't tell Peter where she was going in a note that she left for him. Spider-Man found her by accident while intervening in the Hammerhead/Doctor Octopus gang war. After Octavius was captured, May told the police that she hadn't been kidnapped by the criminal. She had sought him out after she left Peter and he gave her a job as his secretary and house keeper. After he was arrested, she even agreed to stay at his home and keep it in order. (Amazing Spider-Man #115)
May nearly married Octavius some time later but he was seemingly killed in an explosion. Spider-Man took her back to New York and she rested for a while with her neighbor, Anna Watson. (Amazing Spider-Man #131) May hardly spoke about Otto after that, but she did have other romances. Nathan Lubenski was one such man. She and Nathan met after she had a heart attack at a Gray Panthers rally at city hall. (Amazing Spider-Man #176) They met at a nursing home, where they were both undergoing physical therapy. They quickly fell for each other and started a boarding house in her Queens home. They loved each other but Nathan had a gambling problem and was soon in trouble with his bookie, who sent goons to beat him up when he didn't pay them back. May was disappointed in Peter, whom she had asked to look after the wheelchair bound elderly man. "I thought you were going to keep an eye on him last night. Save your excuses Peter. I don't hold you responsible for what happened and you mustn't blame yourself. I realize now that you were only humoring me. You have your own life to lead...and the fears of a silly old woman just don't play a very important part in that life." (Amazing Spider-Man #271) May stayed cold with Peter for a while but eventually forgave him. Sadly, Nathan was eventually killed in a random act of violence. (Amazing Spider-Man #336)
May took Nathan's death hard. She later told Peter "I've been through too much. Too many vultures circling around me...pecking away at the people I love. I think my heart is dead, Peter. A piece of it died with your mother and father. Another with your Uncle Ben. And I think the final piece died...with Nathan." (Spectacular Spider-Man #187) While she was certainly traumatized by the death around her, she regained her focus when she saw Peter being taken away by the Vulture as a hostage. Her breaking heart was helped to recover by Willie Lumpkin, her next paramour. The relationship didn't last long but May had significantly recovered from the shock of losing her fiance.
May went on through several more traumas over the years, such as her home being destroyed and being kidnapped by Norman Osborn. She finally remarried, to the father of Spider-Man's biggest critic: J. Jonah Jameson. May and Jonah Sr. seem to be happy together and now live in Boston.
Well Meaning but Overbearing
While we really don't know what Peter's upbringing was like as a child, we know that May was a caring but somewhat over protective mother figure. When Peter wanted to travel to Hollywood to star in a movie as Spider-Man, she told him "Peter dear, I think you're still to young to go traipsing around the country that way!...But I worry so much about you! You know how fragile you are!" (Amazing Spider-Man #14) At that time, Peter was a senior in high school and was about to enter college. He was always a shy teenager and May's nervous personality likely contributed to that shyness. A study from 2001 found that mothers that are anxious and prone to psychological stress and neurotic tend to be more overprotective, controlling and derisive in their parenting, especially if the child is shy.
May has also been intrusive in Peter's marriage to Mary Jane. She once let herself into their apartment while MJ was in the shower. She found an envelope of photographs on the table and to her shock they were of Mary Jane...nude. When Mary Jane explained that they were for a lingerie catalogue as a try out, May warned her that if the pictures were to upset or embarrass Peter at all, she would have to deck MJ. Since May almost said "dock" instead of "deck," MJ thought it was funny and burned the pictures and negatives. (Web of Spider-Man #43)
Psychopathology: Anxiety from Loneliness
According to the villain, Tracer, May Parker is approximately seventy three years old. (Amazing Spider-Man #525) According to a University of Michigan doctoral candidate, 60% of people age seventy and older experience some kind of loneliness. The size of the person's social circle doesn't matter as much as the quality of the social interaction. Emotional loneliness deals with feeling left out and lacking close companionship. Social loneliness entails not being part of a group and having no one to turn to.
Lonely people have been shown to have higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which is released in response to stress. Constant exposure to cortisol creates "wear and tear" on the cardiovascular system. Various emotions have differing consequences for different parts of the body and loneliness is especially difficult for the heart. Loneliness increases vascular resistance, making it harder for blood to move through the arteries.
May has had several heart attacks over the years. She had one while Spider-Man was battling the Green Goblin with the Human Torch (Amazing Spider-Man #17), another after arguing with a police officer during a Gray Panthers protest in front of city hall (Amazing Spider-Man #176) and a second one soon after, while she was still in the hospital (Amazing Spider-Man #177).
Her marriage to JJJ Sr. may be one of the best things to ever happen to her, in terms of her health.
Personality Profile: E.N.F.J.
The Myers-Briggs Personality Test uses the theories of Carl Jung to determine where a person ranks on a continuum of character traits. Everyone has preferences as to how to act in a situation, and the test helps determine where an individual falls in the four preferences.
May is extroverted, as shown when she and Anna Watson went to see the musical production of "Hair." ("Hair" was a rock and roll musical that featured nudity, profanity, depicted drug use and sex.) (Amazing Spider-Man #96)
May is intuitive, as she told Peter after finding out that he was Spider-Man "Well, ever since you were a teenager, I knew you were hiding something. On top of that you were quiet and sensitive, you didn't like sports and you were awkward around girls and...to tell the truth Peter, for a while I thought maybe you were gay." (Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #38)
She tends to be a feeling person, as she doesn't look at the logic of Spider-Man being a hero. She agrees with JJJ's assessment of the wall crawler (no matter how many retractions he has been forced to publish) and thought that Otto Octavius was a kind, gentleman scientist. (Amazing Spider-Man #115)
Again, after learning of Peter's secret, he lifts her up over his head in joy that they can finally talk to each other again and she was stunned at his strength. She told him that after she was convinced for years that he was so fragile, she would need to get used to knowing he was so strong. Her difficulty in coming to terms with the new information made her a judging person. (Amazing Spider-Man vol 2 #38)
An E.N.F.J. person is: Warm, empathetic, responsive, and responsible. Highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. Find potential in everyone, want to help others fulfill their potential. May act as catalysts for individual and group growth. Loyal, responsive to praise and criticism. Sociable, facilitate others in a group, and provide inspiring leadership.
May has indeed had a difficult life. She grew up in a cold, unloving home and watched as her first husband was murdered by a burglar. She was left alone to raise a teenage boy and guide him through many struggles, including the murder of his own first love. The anxiety caused by her loneliness and stress took a toll on her health, causing her to become susceptible to heart attacks. Still, her belief in gumption has pulled her through and this strength has been invaluable to her nephew and his fight against crime. Aunt May is an old woman but she isn't a quitter.