DAME’s Friendkeeper helps a woman whose sibling is dating a total jerk, and lets another know that not all favors need to be returned.
So, my sister has a shitty boyfriend—and has for six years. My family is very close, supportive, and loving. But he doesn’t value family relationships and not only doesn’t want to spend time with our family, but he also doesn’t want my sister to spend time with us. One of our favorite times of year is Christmas, and we spend all day together, drinking, cooking, opening presents, talking, and it’s just great. His idea of Christmas is to sit in his apartment alone, eat a ton of food, smoke pot until he can’t move, watch TV all day, and definitely not see any family. They’ve had arguments about it—that’s all they do, argue—and she came up with a compromise: they spend the first half of the day doing Christmas his way and the second half of the day with her family. He told her that it would ruin his Christmas, and for it to really be his kind of Christmas, she couldn’t see her family at all. They’ve broken up many times over the last six years, once for a few months when she tried to date someone else. Later they got back together and he put her through hell over that short-lived boyfriend and told her she cheated on him. He doesn’t know the phrase “thank you,” has never given a gift of any sort, and takes every opportunity to drink as much alcohol as there is available, or finish off any food. He has said, “I’d give fatherhood a try, and if I don’t like it I’d just leave.” In private he belittles, criticizes, and manipulates her; in public he’s taken to being syrupy sweet. I’ve had it out with her in the past about how he’s not good for her, and been her shoulder to cry on when they break up. The worse he is, the more she wants to save him. You’d think she’d be a spineless airhead, but she’s one of the most strong, opinionated, generous, interesting, intelligent, willful, funny, and awesome people I know. Our whole family is sad, angry, and confused about why she allows herself to be abused by this person, and insists on bringing this sour fart into our time together. I know it’s her own decision to stay with him, but the tension is honestly hurting everyone, especially her. Is there anything I can do besides keep quiet? If I can’t keep him out of my sister’s life, is there a way to keep him out of our family life? Do you have any advice for us?
Terrorized by a Loser
Wow, for a long time I felt really proud to hold the title of person with the worst (ex) boyfriend in the world. But now my bank robber mafioso is looking pretty good. I feel I must hand the torch, crown, sash, and sheepish expression to your sis. Clearly you can fill a book with the crappiness of this fella, though his Christmas sounds kinda special. Does he have tinsel on his bong? Okay, what jumps out to me is WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR SISTER? WHY IS THIS RELATIONSHIP OKAY WITH HER? I feel like you can’t keep quiet about this and your sister needs help. It sounds like there’s a lot of anger and defensiveness about this but I would take your sister aside and tell her that you’re worried about how she allows herself to be treated and feel like she may need some help. I know lots of women and men who are in relationships with awful people that they think they can change but at some point the light goes on, and if it doesn’t you can try to help her see it. I would do it with extreme kindness and understanding. When I was in my terrible relationship, I felt defensive about it, too. I think it was my way of expressing my rebellion—I was bad to the bone! But it was only six months. She needs a major boost to her self-esteem and lots of therapy. And you can help her if she’s willing to be helped, but if she’s not, there’s not much you can do. I have a friend who hates her sister’s husband and she limits time they all spend together. And it sucks but it’s the only way she can enjoy her family. Ask your sister to talk about the relationship without judgment and listen to her—see if, when she’s not being defensive, she can maybe share some of the yucky stuff about him. And if nothing works, I’ll give you my ex’s number and he can maybe put him to sleep with the fishes.
I’m not sure if I’m weird for asking this: I have this amazing friend who was at my beck and call, unsolicited, when I was going through an awful time, a really acrimonious divorce, which left me devastated. She just swept in and took care of everything. I was so moved by her generosity and Herculean efforts, I was eager to return the favor after I emerged from my morass of crap. And, as it turned out, sadly there was an opportunity: She got very ill about a year after. But when I tried to care for her, she shut me out, and told me she had friends to care for her. I mean, I was happy that she was being taken care of, but I was also hurt, you know? Am I wrong? Should I just be grateful for what she did for me? I feel snubbed, but I also feel like I’m being selfish. What am I supposed to feel?
Just Want to Express My Gratitude
I totally get your hurt feelings and am not sure why your friend wouldn’t want help from you, but maybe she sees herself as a caretaker and has a hard time being in the receiving role. Or maybe, for some reason, she feels that with you. I know I have relationships that are mostly one way and they can be hard to bend in the other direction. She just may not see you as a caretaker, or she thinks you have your own problems. I think you can suggest things you might be able to do for her and tell her how much you’d like be there for her the way she was for you, but then you need to leave it alone. At the moment, you are totally allowed to feel bad about this, but not to express the feelings to her because then she’d be unfortunately back in the position of having to take care of you. Your intentions and your heart are good. If she just doesn’t want the help, you can send her little cards or a book or some stupid magazines just to let her know you’re thinking of her. And there may be something you can do for her down the road. Good luck with it all.
Got a platonic problem of your own that could use the Friendkeeper’s advice? Fire away: [email protected]. No situation is too uncomfortable or too small and all details are kept confidential.
AN INDEPENDENT FREE PRESS HAS
NEVER BEEN MORE IMPORTANT.
Your financial support helps DAME continue to cover the critical policies, politics social changes impacting woman and their allies.