Dear Captain Awkward,
Context: My sister and I are incredibly close and talk about everything. We grew up in a Charismatic Christian home. We’ve spent a long time trying to work out The Right Thing, first as Christians, now on our own. These days we’re both happier, but it’s still difficult trying to figure out if I feel guilty because the situation warrants it, or if it’s a hangover from religion.
Current day: We live together, we’re both bisexual and poly. My sister is currently seeing a small group of lovely people who’re all involved with each other. I haven’t been in a polyamorous relationship to date, but I also identify as poly.
One of my sister’s partners and I have had some flirty chemistry for a while. Over the holidays that went from light physical affection to an enjoyable makeout session. (My sister knew about us getting handsy and kissing btw).
Now my sister and I are discussing the possibilities of whether I should date him as well, and what could happen as a result. We’ve tried to cover all the bases (it’d be awkward if one of us stopped seeing him, how the group would handle it, who goes to parties with him, etc) and are currently at an impasse.
Neither of us wants to police the other’s behavior. She won’t tell me I can’t date him because she doesn’t feel that’s her right and she wants me to be happy. I don’t want to date him if it’s going to cause any harm or hurt to our relationship or her relationship with any of her partners.
To add more context, this isn’t the first time someone has been interested in both of us, (though we’ve not yet dated the same person). It’s ranged from more emotionally complex (her ex-husband, an ex-boyfriend) to a guy we got to know at different times. We have similar tastes in a lot of things and we get along very well, and people are drawn to that. (We also both have anxiety over everything, be it big or little, lol.)
I desperately don’t want to hurt anyone here, mostly my sister. I know I have a tendency to shut things down before they have a chance to develop, partly out of self-preservation. Realistically I know this won’t be the last person I have chemistry with and it won’t kill me not to date him. At the same time, it’s been a while since I’ve been attracted to someone and enjoyed being around someone this much.
I also don’t want to not take a risk simply because it’s unconventional or complicated.
Any advice is muchly appreciated.
Dear Anxious Sister,
You made out with this guy and the world didn’t end.
Laurie loved Jo and then married Amy and the world didn’t end. Supernatural fanfiction which I am NOT linking here happened…and the world didn’t end.
You know and I know that if you both date the same guy at the same time, some people will make jokes about sister-wives and speculate awkwardly about threesomes. And some people will find it forever icky. Right or wrong, appropriate or not, true or not, icky or not, only you and your sister and this dude have to live with the potential awkwardness, so only y’all get to decide how much you care and who you tell and how you live with it.
The world won’t end, but there are a couple of things in your story that give me real pause:
- Y’all made out before hashing out the feelings & ethics part with your sister. If he initiated said make-outs, was he absolutely clear on whether your sister was cool with it? On whether you were? He’s sexy, yes, but is he a good person? Does he see you as a person separate from your sister or is this like in Civ 5 when you use Great Generals to annex a neighboring state’s territory a little at a time?
- More importantly: “It’s a free country, I can’t tell you what to do” is not the same as “I think it’s great and you should do it!” If your sister enthusiastically wanted this to all happen, wouldn’t she say so? To me, “we’re at an impasse” means “nope.”
- Just because everything used to be off limits in your home growing up it doesn’t mean that everything has to be within bounds now or you are somehow falling prey to convention.
Good news: The world is full of people, many of whom will probably want to joyfully explore sexy-times with you. Whether you ultimately pass on this guy or decide to make an interesting mistake, maybe 2017 can also be the year you do some fun sexual exploring on territory your sister has not scouted first.
Parting jaunty musical number, because a) I fucking love this weird-ass movie and b) the world hasn’t ended (yet).
122 thoughts on “#933: “Should two bisexual, polyamorous sisters date the same guy?””
LW, I am neither bi, poly, nor from a religious background–I know there are commenters here who are, and I know they will have good advice for you on those aspects of your situation. My advice comes from having a similarly close relationship with my sister. I have found two things to be true for me: 1) it’s really important for me (and for my sister, individually) to have a space that is Just Mine, that I don’t share with her and 2) Romantic relationships need to be a part of that individual space for us. We don’t overlap well there.
Every sibling relationship is different, of course, and if you do decide that this is something you’d like to pursue, I have only good wishes for all three of you. I just encourage you to be cautious and make sure that everyone is truly on board. As the Captain pointed out, “I don’t feel it’s my right to police you” and “I think this is a good idea, you should do it” are two different statements.
This is really good advice. I’m one of the commenters with a religious background and weird family history, and I think you nailed it. My sister is the only person in the entire world who can really understand what our childhood and our family are like, and that’s such a HUGE thing. I imagine the dynamic between LW and her sister is similar.
I also know that my sister and I BOTH do this thing where, because we love each other so much, and because we have an abusive background/mentally ill parent who was known for screaming and belittling and gaslighting, we both overcorrect. We both don’t want to be like Mom, so we don’t ever bring up negative things with each other. I’m wondering if a similar dynamic is at play here.
One could also take this as a suggestion that possibly, if LW and LW’s sister have well-established Just Mining zones and romantic relationships aren’t part of that, they might be okay.
Dunno, myself, it’s definitely a tricky one.
What are Just Mining zones? I did google, but all the results were about actual mining.
I think it means areas of your life that are ‘just mine’.
I am a recovering Catholic, so I sympathize with your religious upbringing and how it complicates decisions like these. The issue that I had with religious rules is that they are restrictions put in place for no reason, but like, some of them have very good reasons. So like, no female preists, that’s stupid and makes no sense and is just dumb…but not having sex before marriage made a lot of sense in a world where there was no protection from STDs or unplanned pregnancy. We no longer live in that world, so that rule no longer makes sense. Plus Leviticus like not eating pork, also sensible in that pork carries lots of diseases and if you don’t have good refrigeration and thorough cooking it can make you very sick. But on the other hand not murdering people is still a good idea.
So yeah, there are a TON of religious rules that were put in place to keep human beings alive and healthy. But (apparently? it’s easier to convince people to follow rules if you tell them that the man in the sky says they should or shouldn’t, than if you try to reason with them. The problem is that a lot of very sensible rules get thrown in also with a lot of BS rules about covering your head and which words you should say when and all this other stuff. And then it’s hard to parse out, so religion is just about following all these rules and then you leave and it is like FUCK RULES.
But…I feel like “Not fucking the same person as your sister at the same time” might fall into the category of “Things that are forbidden because they are actually a bad idea.”
There are just so many possible ways this could go bad between you and this guy and your sister. And the risks are so high, compared to the pay off. (You don’t sound like you’re in Loooooove with this guy, you have chemistry. There is a whole internet of poly people out there, more of whom you will have chemistry with and who will also not be with your sister at the same time as you.)
You seem like an awesome person who communicates well and has an interesting story. I’m sure you can find your own sexy poly group to have fun with. You deserve to be appreciated for who you are, and to have a life and experiences unique from your sister. After all, having your own experiences mean the two of you will only have MORE to talk about.
Sharing is good but…. there is such a thing as too much sharing.
>>>> But…I feel like “Not fucking the same person as your sister at the same time” might fall into the category of “Things that are forbidden because they are actually a bad idea.” <<<<
Made me snort water through my nose.
I’m pretty sure that’s actually one of those things the Bible doesn’t forbid, like slavery and marital rape. But yes, I’d say you’re probably right about it not being a good idea.
Yeah but I think the fact that I can feel some of the vomit muscles in my mouth preparing to clench when I think about a similar scenario with myself and my sister speaks to a less…. holy… rule against it.
There is a reason for the occasional EW NO reaction that we as humans have to things, and I think just like when you feel fear, you should trust it. Trust the disgust.
(Obviously these sisters should make their own boundaries whereever they are comfortable, I once had someone tell me about how they and their siblings text back and forth about their bowel movements and I was like ALSO NOPE NOPE NOPE. Some people juggle geese….)
I definitely don’t think that disgust is automatically something you should trust. I mean, think about it, sure, but disgust isn’t in itself evidence that anything’s wrong with a thing. The fact that you feel disgust in response to the idea probably just means that it is not right for you, not that there is something inherently bad about it or that it’s not right for anyone. And lots of people feel disgust and “EW NO” and vomit muscles clenching in response to, like, gay people, and a million other things, and that doesn’t mean there’s a “less holy rule against” those things or that they should trust their disgust. Basing your morality (or ideas about what courses of action are correct/advisable) on personal squick reactions goes bad places very quickly, especially when you are talking about universal truths rather than your own personal choices.
Technically, they were goslings.
eh, I do agree. I think there has to be reason a behind the emotion, for sure. But if something makes you feel afraid, or react with disgust, that is not a thing you should do, personally.
But I can think of some pretty strong universal taboos that cause a similar reaction. The difference is there is a reason for those taboos. And that reason is not just “well my mom/I/My pastor thinks it is gross.”
In this case it’s called the Westermark Effect, which kicks in around intimate behavior with people you were raised with/you raised/who raised you! *sparkles* *The More You Know logo*
It actually explicitly does – I just went and looked it up and it’s in Lev. 18:18, “do not have sex with your wife’s sister while your wife is living”. Trivia!
Does not answer the question of what the LW or any other person who doesn’t consider themselves bound by the ancient Israelite laws of sexual purity would do, but since you asked 😕
Fair enough. 🙂
Sadly, it’s actually biblically fine to marry sisters. Not sure about the group sex, though. lol
If it weren’t, we (Jews) would be missing one of our matriarchs!
In fact I believe in one of the books of the Torah that’s full of fiddly law things, it’s stated that it’s obligatory to marry your sibling’s widow, take from that what you will.
Only if she doesn’t have children (or really, sons). Onan wasn’t willing to.
Further details, fwiw: A man who died without an heir could expect his brother to marry his widow and produce an heir for him, that is, for the deceased man. The Torah offers a ceremony involving spitting and a sandal to get out of this if the brother doesn’t want to marry her. Onan got in trouble when he married his brother’s widow and had sexy times with her, but refused to get her pregnant because he knew the kid wouldn’t count as his for inheritance purposes.
Actually, it is forbidden. Yep, Jacob married Rachel and Leah, but Leviticus 18:18 forbids marrying your wife’s sister in her lifetime–basically, once your wife dies, you can marry her sister, but not otherwise. So this is one of those things where we raise our eyebrows at Jacob and say, well, you did it before it was forbidden, and sure, Laban tricked you, but. . . Dude.
Leviticus 18:18 says no marrying/sleeping with living sisters. Jacob did it before the Torah was given with lousy results. Rivalry between the sisters is cited as the reason why this is a bad idea.
LW, you may want to make sure this guy isn’t interested in you because he has a fetish about being with two sisters at once.
Unless LW also has a fetish to be with her sister’s partner 🙂 Women have unorthodox sexual preferences too, you know? If this is something that works for all three of them, they can go ahead.
And her sister does too… but it kind of sounds like her sister doesn’t.
Well yeah but a guy scoping out someone on the basis of “this is my fetish” without giving a heads-up that it’s about that tends to get skeevy fast.
It seems like additional info from your sister would be helpful in making this decision? You know she doesn’t want to police you or tell you what to do, but I didn’t read anything about her array of anticipated feelings based on what you might do? Which, like the Captain, I read as maybe connected to the fact she feels bad about this idea but doesn’t want to say anything, but the only way to know is maybe to talk to her again about it. It’s totally possible the answer is: I think I would have some bad feelings but they would be managable through discussion and making me feel cared for, or I’m not sure what feelings I would have but it would be good if we planned in advance to check in about what feelings come up, or any other answer that would help you make a decision? I think part of the reason you’re having a hard time figuring out whether this is a hangup or a good call based on your current relationship with your sister is it isn’t actually clear what this decision means or will do.
Hey long time poly person often in seemingly incestuous polycules. Poly is complicated when in a simpler dynamic than what you have described. For your first foray into this, where you will most likely be learning what does not work by things going wrong, sometimes breathtaking wrong… I have to say my whole body is screaming no don’t do it. You say you don’t want to hurt anyone, I hear a lot of new to poly people say that and here is the thing, you will hurt someone. It’s not something you can avoid. Feelings will be hurt, relationships will change. That is the nature of the beast. If you believe your relationship with your sister can survive those things go for it. If you don’t or you don’t want your relationship with your sister to change then this person, however wonderful is probably not worth it. Also a million seconds to what the Captain said about your sister not giving enthusiastic consent here. I don’t want to say no cuz I don’t want to control you is not yes I’d be happy/fine if you did this. The one time I said something similar to a partner I really did want to say no but felt like it was wrong for me to set that boundary. That’s a common poly mistake and it made the situation way worse than it would have been if I had just told my loved one no this is a level of discomfort I won’t get over. I can’t know if that’s what your sister is feeling but we’re i you I would need her to be really clear about what’s she wants here. Like even though she doesn’t want to “control” you, if she could would she choose this?
Thanks for the tip! “I don’t want to control you” means “no.” Good to know!
Having been in a situation where I REALLY did not want my husband to do a thing, but also wanted to be an “adult” about it and not wanting to control another person–I believe that I’ve said the exact words “I don’t want to control you” and they meant NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! And I remember a time in high school when I asked my best friend if I could date her ExBF, and she said something like “I don’t think it would be right for me to stop you” and this also turned out to mean NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
You’re looking for enthusiastic consent. Sounds like fun! Oh, that’s awesome! Oooh, sexy! Oh, wow, have fun! etc. etc.
And a HUGE side eye to the guy here, who made out with his partner’s sister without talking about it first. There is a reason that the old joke is that a three hour intense discussion about feelings = poly foreplay.
I hope the LW steps aside from the potential nest of bees and leaves the guy be!
Oh gosh, so much this. I have used “I don’t want to control you” so many times when I really didn’t want someone to do the thing they were going to do, but didn’t feel like I had a right to tell them they couldn’t do it.
I feel like going there would open you and your sister up to have your heads fucked with by guys who aren’t into you as people, but are just into the idea of having sex with two sisters. This guy probably already has fantasies of fucking you both at once, and do you REALLY want to be that close to your sister? From your letter it doesn’t sound like either of you do, and I don’t see a thing wrong with that.
I’d say it’s probably better to keep that boundary in place until you both decide that you definitely want to drop it, independently of some dude sniffing around who wants to bang you both.
(bi, poly woman with no sisters here)
“She won’t tell me I can’t date him because she doesn’t feel that’s her right and she wants me to be happy.” = She does not want you to date him. Your dating him will likely make her feel unhappy and also guilty for feeling unhappy about it.
I would tell him no as clearly & friendly as possible, and hope for a platonic good relationship going forward.
This. Absolutely this.
100%. Someone who doesn’t feel that they have the right to tell you no by definition can’t give enthusiastic consent.
TBH I’d have qualms about getting involved with someone whose partner didn’t feel they had a right to say no to my involvement *even if said partner wasn’t my sibling*.
Yes, this. To be able to say yes to something requires the ability to say no to it. Without no, yes is meaningless.
In some fairness, there are poly folk who believe that vetoes and suchlike are wrong and no one should ever be able to “forbid” their partner anything. Personally I don’t see the difference between an explicit veto policy and saying “if you date this person, I will be so unhappy I will break up with you”, but it seems to be important to some. Also, my experience is that healthy, respectful relationships generally play out well regardless of what “rules” the participants have, while toxic ones are toxic all along the spectrum, from monogamy to relationship anarchy. *shrug*
The way it was explained to me by a poly friend wasn’t about rules or ‘forbidding’, but about choosing to make promises and agreements with each other. All humans in relationships with each other, sexual or not, make agreements and promises of various kinds all the time.
The idea as they explained it was not to never make any promise or agreement with a partner, but simply to choose to make ones that were actually meaningful and important to you, to consciously choose together the relationship you wish to define between you, rather than making promises automatically based on societal rules.
Forgive me if I sound a bit annoyed. The thing is that I and my partner have had our non-monogamous relationship critiqued by what feels like everybody. We *do* have a veto policy, and I’ve been blessed to be informed by various High Officiants of Poly that we are committing a cardinal sin by daring to voice – and still worse, *agreeing to* – conditions like, “Please don’t sleep with any of your roommates, I don’t think I could handle that”.
It’s hard to hear “You should do what works for you and your partner(s) based on respect and communication” and “you’re doing it completely wrong” in the same breath.
replying to whingedrinking:
Wait, did I do that, or poly people you know? If me, was definitely not my intent.
And yeah, it does sound annoying.
Reply to TO_Ont: Sorry about that. I got distracted while I was writing my post, forgot my main point and in retrospect said some things that weren’t germane to the discussion that was actually happening in favour of grousing about people who in fact here. Whoops. *blush*
‘In some fairness, there are poly folk who believe that vetoes and suchlike are wrong and no one should ever be able to “forbid” their partner anything.’
For sure, those people exist. And I do not get involved with people who voice that belief loudly. because I’ve seen so many of their relationships explode in flaming balls of anger and misery.
From my experience, people who live that credo in a sustainable way don’t say ‘I don’t have the right to forbid my partner anything’ because that’s not how they think. They say, ‘I’m apprehensive for [abc reasons] – how can we work through this so you can do the thing you’d like to do? Could we set up [xy or z support] to increase my feelings of security?’
It’s a process of continuing enthusiastic consent, not an abdication of one.
(If this sounds like I’m judging, that’s because I’m judging. A lot of people who do poly are bad at doing poly, and as a result manage to hurt each other in new and astoundingly creative ways when relationships fall apart. I’m not going to pretend that’s not a thing.)
Indeed. At least in my area of the world such people identify as “poly anarchists.” Which, from what I’ve observed, it seems like a lot of people are using the term to justify some really bad behaviors. I’m always really happy when people proudly fly the poly anarchist flag because it means I know to never, ever, ever get involved with them.
To me, the thing about poly “vetoes” is that one can always have a personal dealbreaker that says “if you did that, it would end *our* relationship.” But a sibling relationship is, at least on some level, permanent.
“Someone who doesn’t feel that they have the right to tell you no by definition can’t give enthusiastic consent”
Tangential, but thanks for nailing what was giving me the screaming bees about a mono/poly ‘support’ group I subsequently left. That formulation really helps.
I think I may have left that same support group, and then broke up with the person who was the reason I was there. : /
The sister’s reaction sounds like tangled web of the female “Soft No” and the pressure to be “Super Chill Cool Girlfriend”. She doesn’t want to hurt or deny her sister (or the guy) something by enforcing a boundary; she also doesn’t want to come off as jealous, possessive, close-minded, or otherwise uncool in a way that might damage her relationship with her poly partners.
For context, I am a person who will say “You decide, I don’t want to stop you being happy” whilst desperately hoping they will choose not to do the thing that will hugely hurt me. It’s always been a crushing blow when they then do the thing because – surely they should have Realised. Basically I’m seconding that lack of enthusiastic consent and letting you choose could easily be a silent Nooooooo.
I am the person who will say “You decide, I don’t want to get in the way of your happiness” and I genuinely mean it because I don’t believe that you can have dibs on another human being, romantically or otherwise.
That said, I would definitely be sad (and also a bit squicked) if my own sister hooked up with a guy who I had dated and/or expressed romantic interest. I’m not poly, so maybe the boundaries are completely different here, but it sounds like your sister isn’t jumping for joy at the prospect of sharing a partner with you. If it was my sister, I wouldn’t stand in her way, but I also wouldn’t pretend that her decision would have no impact on our relationship.
That is definitely not normal for poly–I guess I don’t want to say it never happens, but the boundaries are often very similar as with monogamy when it comes to siblings.
bi poly here – My instincts are with the Captain in that the lack of enthusiastic consent is not a good sign. And from my reading of the issue, she wouldn’t be policing your behavior, she’s (potentially) making rules about her relationship with her partner(s), that happen to affect you. A relationship being open doesn’t mean it’s without rules – She shouldn’t be deciding who you can and can’t date, but she does have the right to propose restrictions on her partner(s), and it sounds like she’s maybe not okay with a partner sleeping with her sister. And that’s something she and her partner need to work out, too. He might decide he’s not okay with that restriction. And she may decide that she’s not okay with that and they break up. It happens.
It’s also worth considering that some of the conflict here might not have anything to do with being siblings – I’d be very hesitant about adding my best friend/roommate to the other side of a V relationship, or being added myself, without a /lot/ of conversations. What happens if he vents about her? She vents about him? Do you play mediator, do you stay out of it? What about shared secrets? What restrictions would you want to bring into his behavior and how does that affect him and his partners?
Honestly, I would suggest avoiding this level of complication for your first poly relationship and look elsewhere for a partner. (but then again, if it is carefully negotiated, communication and compersion could win, who knows. But make sure you’re aware of the risks first)
Yeah, I was also thinking this. Maybe if you were both old pros at this and this was just another complexity to negotiate in your complex sex life.
Seconding this. Just imagining an evening when both of you might like to spend the night with him and he has to decide – sounds like emotional torture to me. I don”t want to know in that detail what my partner(s) are doing with other people/when they are not with me. I would not want to be in a situation where I have real time updates on who he is seeing more, is he with the other person right now, is he as affectionate with both of us at the kitchen table at breakfast etc. Too much awareness can make these things unnecessarily stressful.
But then, I also would not want to be cohabiting with a partner for reasons, one of them being that I don’t want “seeing other people” to equal “going away from play/leaving play behind alone at home”.
(longtime poly here)
I have nothing to add to the Cap’n perfect advice. I merely wish to state that I taught this entire song and some attendant choreography to my baby sister when she was 5 and I was 20. It remains a Thanksgiving crowd pleaser even now that she’s 25 and I’m turning 40. She’s still my little sister, she’s just a lot taller than me now. 😉 White Christmas forever! Also, I’m married to a woman so the lines about fighting over men elicit only laughter.
Nothing to say substantively about the advice, but someone should be linking Satisfied as a source of additional insight into the situation. And so I have.
Thank you! “She’d say she’s fine, she’d be lying” was the first thing in my head.
This feels to me like a situation of “just because it’s permissible doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”
It sounds to me like your sister is strongly signaling, “I don’t want you to date him, but I don’t feel right forbidding you to do this.” So she’s not going to lay down a big ol’ NO, but she still sounds uncomfortable with it.
And honestly, this part of it is what makes me go “no do not:” My sister is currently seeing a small group of lovely people who’re all involved with each other. That means that if this ends badly, either between you and dude, or sister and dude, you and sister, or all three at once, that it has the potential to blow up an entire social network. My experience has been that when you have a loosely-connected and/or large social group, you can take more risks than you can with a small, tightly-integrated, interdependent social group. In a loose social group, if one bond breaks down in flames and tears, the network as a whole can often stand. In a tight group, you often end up with the entire network on fire, people taking sides, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.
So even if you were just friends and not sisters, I would advise ‘tread carefully.’ Add sibling relationships to that mix, and I am inclined to go “stay away from this potential powderkeg.”
>“I don’t want you to date him, but I don’t feel right forbidding you to do this.” So she’s not going to lay down a big ol’ NO, but she still sounds uncomfortable with it.<
Maybe she doesn't say it openly because of your common Christian background: she fears it's only her religious hang-ups, whereas it is awkward for her for other reasons.
And there’s the fact that so many women get socialized into not saying “No, I am not comfortable with this and I don’t want you to do it” directly. We’re conditioned into saying “Whatever you want is fine with me!” I got a WHOPPING HUGE dose of this conditioning, not even from religion, but from Midwestern “children should be seen and not heard” and “women should be polite and accommodating” values.
The stakes in this letter are a lot higher than what movie to see or where shall we eat.
That too. But I’ve seen this on an acquaintance who grew up in a strict religious and conservative family.
When he “escaped” his family, for some time, he was hell-bent on doing the exact opposite of what his family taught him: he went head-on in a lot of risky situations, and it was hard to make him understand that in between “alcohol is forbidden” and “being in the ER because alcohol poisoning” there are several middle levels.
Maybe LW’s sister feels the need to demonstrate (to herself? to LW?) that she has rejected her family rules and so she can’t say “no” in fear to seem backward?
I agree with you 100% on the impact of breakups, both romantic and friends, on social circles. I’ve had several “small, tightly-integrated, interdependent social groups” go utterly and toxically kerblooie as a result of one acrimonious relationship breakdown. Not pretty. Not fun. And, like Humpty Dumpty, there is often no putting things back together again.
Sharing a boyfriend or fling with your sister is a potential powderkeg indeed. I’ve mentioned *having options* as being important in relationships and friendships. You want your buffet of relationships to be a smorgasbord, not a meager plate that has the potential of dumping its contents on the floor. Are you (LW) feeling like this person is one of your only opportunities for fun (in bed or wherever)? In my experience, feeling constrained or like you have few options can lead to taking unwise risks (because you are sexually or emotionally “starving to death” so to speak).
Another bi, poly person here. I don’t think rights are the most useful framework here. That would be relevant if she was trying to tell you who you could or couldn’t date, and you thought she was overstepping. Your situation sounds like the inverse of that: you have asked your sister what she wants, because, at least in this case, not hurting her is important to you, maybe more important than the chance to date this person. And she is—reasonably—concerned with not trampling on your autonomy, to the point where she doesn’t feel comfortable saying something like “thanks for offering, and yes, I’d be happier if you didn’t date this guy.”
You have the option, as an autonomous adult, to decide to date him, and also the option not to, for any reason at all, including that the situation seems messy, or that you’re not sure it’s a good idea. That includes the option to look at the Magic 8-Ball, see “answer cloudy,” and decide to think about other things for the next three weeks and then see how you feel.
I like this framing a lot.
Whether you do or don’t, here are a few points to keep in mind –
People avoid dating in their workplace because breakups are tough when you have to deal with break-ee every day. It’s going to be tougher if you break up with your sister’s boyfriend – or if she breaks up with your boyfriend.
Whether or not you fight over the guy – bad days happen, and the coffee always runs out right before you wake up enough not to say exactly what your grumpiness thinks – the literary space exists, and it’s hard to go against cultural narratives.
Yeah, the potential for this ending badly probably outweighs the benefits even if both sisters were heartily into the idea at the time.
No, what will be tough is if boyfriend breaks up with sister to see LW. Or wants to bring LW into sister’s poly group.
I feel like the potential work and complications here outweigh the potential benefits by faaaaaar. Maybe there will be a dude that is worth it enough to try it, but I am not hearing anything you say about this guy that outs him there.
Just a side note that if this is something you decide to do then making sure that you both get to have time together one on with with that partner is important rather than spending time only or mostly all together, which is maybe not likely to happen automatically when you are living with your sister. I [bi poly] have been in two different triad relationships with other people [although not with my sister] found that if we didn’t plan it the default was to end up spending time all together as a 3, and that doesn’t allow time for each individual relationship to grow. It also took a lot of communication around helping everyone to feel safe and good, particularly when we were having individual time together or if one partnership had more time [or resources or sex or romance] together than another.
Both of those triads that I was in broke up at least partially, one completely, first with the other two partners breaking up and then also with me and then me and the remaining partner about 6 months later, and the other triad me and one of the partners and we are both still with the other partner. At least in my limited experience I have found the break ups particularly bad with that relationship structure because when it happens it affects the people in the remaining relationship as well as the one that broke up a lot more than if they weren’t also involved, and they are also not really able to give support [and will probably also still need support] and not see things from the same point of view as if they were not in a relationship. We weathered it with my current partner and our relationship is still strong and healthy [although it was very difficult at the time], but I now don’t have any communication with that metamour at all. The other triad I was in, none of us are in touch any more. It is probably worth also talking about what you all want to happen if pair does break up, eg will you/your sister need them to not come to the house any more?
I’m not saying don’t do it. My breaks ups definitely do not mean it will always end in break up, and I incredibly value the relationship I have with the partner I’m still with that came out of that. If its what you really want and you and your sister both think it will work then I wish you well with what you decide to do. Just be aware that break ups with this structure can be particularly rocky. Also having a good social network outside the relationship helps a lot if this does happen, so you/they have somewhere else to access support and vent feelings away from the people involved.
Please please please please please take a proverbial cold shower and shelve this metamour idea. The only situation I could see a workable future between the two of you is if 1) he and your sister decide to end things and 2) dynamics between the two of them have cooled to the point where it won’t be painful for you two to pursue a closer relationship- and the chances of both factors being present is VERY slim.
I also identify as bi and poly and have never been in a poly relationship (and loved recklessly and caused a lot damage in a tight-knit group, which is my biggest life regret to date). LW, the ingénue in you can be very compelling, and you may in fact be hearing that part of your brain singing, “But loooooove will conquer allllll, I must follow my FEELINGS” and you must pat that ingénue on the head, give her some tea and gently stiff-arm her before she ‘loves’ her way into an interpersonal explosion. Redirect that love back to yourself. This man has brought out a side of you that makes you feel desired and loveable, and you deserve to find someone who ignites those sparks AND doesn’t already have an amorous connection with your sister/roommate.
Wrap yourself in soft blankets, listen to weepy music, and congratulate yourself for being a good friend, sister and brain-mate. It’ll suck, but you can do it.
“But loooooove will conquer allllll, I must follow my FEELINGS” and you must pat that ingénue on the head, give her some tea and gently stiff-arm her before she ‘loves’ her way into an interpersonal explosion.
Polyam person here, lesbian who has a polyam roommate who is a cis het man. We share the same social circles, he’s a really good dude. He’s honest and kind and very sweet.
More than once, he and I have dated/had sex with the same woman in a similar timeframe. Turns out I don’t do well with that. I’ve decided to make it a condition of dating someone (not just having sex with for fun, but dating) that they not sleep with my roommate in our home. I may extend that to not at all, should it come up again. Point is: you and your sister live together. Don’t shit where you eat. Find another sweetie, preferably outside of your sister’s circle. As noted once or twice above, a circle like that can implode quickly, with a lot of heartache for all involved.
I think you want this boy, and are trying to figure out a way that having him for a partner won’t be a disaster of biblical proportions.
But you sorta kinda know it will.
I think your method of backing away will be to recognize that your sister doesn’t really want to share this partner – or perhaps any partner – and doesn’t quite know how to say so.
Perhaps after you pass on this boy, you and your sister can talk a bit more about comfortable boundaries.
FWIW, I’m bi and monogamous.
I’m an ex-evangelical (Christian and Missionary Alliance), so I can really understand the dynamic between LW and her sister. I’m happy for them both that they got out and moved on, and are in the process of figuring out what works for them and what they believe.
It took me years after leaving church and not believing in God (okay, I never did, really) to admit and own my atheism. It took me years to not feel guilty about sex. I still occasionally struggle with some church-related goofiness, including a real and humiliating fear of the end times and the Rapture.
I’m still feeling out what I believe. I definitely over-corrected at first, and started doing things that I wasn’t comfortable or okay with because they were explicitly against my parents’ religion, including sex with a dude I barely knew and sex with a dude I really didn’t even like. It took me a long time to sort out what my comfort zone was, and what my morals are. I’m still figuring it out. My sister also left the faith, and she and I sort of worked it out together. We have vastly different lifestyles, and it’s fine.
I do not think dating your sister’s boyfriend would work well, or is a good choice for you. I respect her not wanting to say “no”, and I totally get why. You both deserve better than a dude who wants to have sex with his girlfriend and her sister.
LW, it sounds to me that the relationship you already have with your sister is more important to you than the potential relationship you could have with one (or more) of her partners. If that’s the case, I’d advise you not to get involved with this man.
You say you don’t want to not do something just because it’s unconventional, so how about this? “I say no to more hot make outs with Mr. UST because I refuse to risk hurting my sister”. That way, you take back the authonomy to make your own decisions that religion may have taken from you.
Yes this! I was trying to say this above and you put it so much better. Sometimes there is still a good reason to not do something you want to do. Not following religious rules doesn’t mean not following any rules at all.
Another example, I refuse to restrict my eating, I can eat whatever I want whenever I want and I don’t attach moral value to food. However, I never eat McDonalds because McDonalds makes me feel like crap, and also hungry again in like 5 minutes. I’m making that decision for a reason that is true for me, not just because McDonalds is “baaaad.”
Yay for boundaries! Getting to set your own rules on something feels pretty awesome imho 🙂
I’m not bi or poly, and come from a functional and healthy religious background.
However, three things stand out for me in your letter.
1) Your sister doesn’t want you to become involved with this guy and is uncomfortable with the idea. That’s pretty clear.
2) Dating a guy your sister is seeing, who is part of a close group of people who are also seeing each other, when you are living with your sister, when you’re both prone to anxiety, and you have trouble distinguishing between good guilt and bad guilt, strikes me as super-advanced, PhD level relationship stuff, and not a good idea for your first foray into polyamory.
3) When you combine 1) and 2), the potential for this to end disastrously badly are a lot higher than in a less complicated situation. Not badly in a “heart is broken” sense, but badly in a “estranged from my sister, have to find a new place to live, *and* heart is broken” way.
So yeah, I think dating this guy is off the table, unless you deliberately decide it’s more important than having a good relationship with your sister.
But aside from this, it’s probably worth having a general discussion with your sister about what your mutual boundaries are over things like seeing the same person (simultaneously, or at different times), or having overlapping relationship groups, when there isn’t a hot and interesting person waiting in the wings to put pressure on both of you.
Poly queer person here, afab and more or less female-identified. I don’t have a biological sister, but I do have a former ladypartner who’s my closest friend and pretty much my only family at this point. We lived together for a few years after we decided to stop dating each other, and I’m still really really glad that at no point have we tried to date anyone simultaneously. There was a person who expressed interest in both of us at the same time, and at the time I felt deeply skittish about the idea and said no, and I’m so glad that I did, because her relationship ended pretty badly a year or so later. When I try to imagine what the effect would have been on my relationship with her if I had also been dating her partner at the time? One of us would likely have had to move out of our shared living space, just to get some space away from all of the Feelings. We would have had to pull back on contact with each other, which would have really hurt. It would have been a huge, ugly, painful mess. In the end, what made me decide not to get involved with her partner was that I valued my friendship with her so much and I didn’t want to do anything which might end up coming between us.
I don’t know what your needs are, nor your sister’s, but I do know that what I’ve found helpful in my life so far is to keep my relationships compartmentalized at least to a certain minimum level. I don’t date my coworkers. I don’t date my kid’s teacher. I don’t date my landlord or my business partner. That way, if things go badly with someone I’m dating, I don’t have to make the painful choice of do I grin and bear it or do I (move out of my apartment/change jobs/make some other big life change) in order to avoid contact with this person. When I’m deciding whether or not to date someone, I find it helpful to ask myself what my life would look like if our relationship were to end badly. I ask myself what I’m risking, and then I evaluate whether I feel the risk is worth it. So: if you dated this person and it ended up going badly between you and them, or between them and your sister, and there were a lot of Feelings and it was a huge mess, what practical consequences could result from that? Would you need to stop living with your sister? Pull back on contact with her and take some time apart? Would there be other changes you might need to make? What’s the worst-case scenario, and how do you feel about that kind of risk?
Best of luck!
That kind of analysis is really useful for me also! Although the anxiety LW mentions may complicate the process a bit? Depending on how severe it is, I’d schedule the analysis on a quiet day with some solid self-care activity scheduled right after to prevent the anxiety levels from growing uncomfortably high.
I may be way off base here, but I’ll throw it out there.
You were raised in what sounds like a restrictive environment, and ine that taught you it was bad and scary to be who you naturally are. You identify as poly, but have yet to try it in practice.
Is it possible that part of this guy’s appeal is that part of you feels he’s safe and/or accessible because your sister – who you trust, and who is already living poly – has, as it were, vetted him for you? Entering your first poly relationship has got to be a step outside your comfort zone, so is there a part of you that feels keeping it all in the family makes it more doable because you have a role model in the form of your sister, who’s proved it’s possible to do poly *with this specific guy*?
I may be wrong. But if I’m right … well, that’s a reason you shouldn’t be with this guy. As others have said, ne’s actually riskier rather than safer, emotionally speaking, and you could bring up some serious old sibling issues of the why-do-you-have-to-touch-my-stuff variety.
You and your sister are close, and you’re thrown together even more by being mutual survivors of a religion you’ve moved past. I think that when it comes to sex and romance, you’d be better off striking out on your own. Your closeness will be healthier if you have independence as well. I don’t know how inturned your church was, but right now, I’d advise you to be turning outwards.
Picking up a bit on the inturned-outwards idea:
LW, obviously a letter has limitations, but the way you’re describing you and your sister and your relationship is a lot about how you are the same: same orientation and relationship tastes, same goals, same home, same anxieties, liking the same things, liking the same people, and so forth. Her ex-husband and one of your ex-boyfriends wanting to date you both.
Again, forgive me if the little concern ping I’m picking up isn’t quite this, but: Do the two of you each have sufficient things in your lives that are different from each other? Things that are just yours, which let you be and grow yourselves absent each other and in your own individual context? Do you tend to pick up each other’s attitudes and people and positions? Where are your privacy and personal space lines?
Basically, is this a church of two now, sharing everything down to gentlemen and their parts, and is that what you each want?
You may be on to something, here, Ice and Indigo. OK, I’m pretty sure I’m demisexual, and I’m definitely an introvert, and someone who has been stalked by prior acquaintances which pretty much spooked me away from being casual about who I trust, so it takes me a really loooooong time to warm up to potential boyfriends. I have a close friend and have had her ex-BFs hit on me more than once, whether they know how close we are and despite the fact that she and I aren’t much alike in personality or appearance (beyond a lot of shared interests). Sometimes I did not know until after the “why is this person suddenly hitting on me?” fact that the person making moves on me from within our friend circles was an ex-BF of hers. To clarify, she dates a lot, mostly casually, which is awesome for her, so there are many, many people of the appropriate age that she has gone on at least one date with, though very few have earned the status of official capital-b Boyfriend. When I say “BF” I mean “has gone out and done something social-slash-date-like at least once with this person.” That is still a little too close for my preferences. (Part of my vetting process does require being friendly with someone before any pants-feelings occur. It is inconvenient, but there I am. I am generally extremely uncomfortable around and instantly dismissive of flirting from complete strangers.) When this “a person in our friend circles who is currently hitting on me is someone she has dated in the past” situation has come up, we’ve done our best to discuss and clarify that she is no longer interested in dating this person, and vice versa. It helps. It is still not ideal. Those for whom she still has clearly unresolved feelings are not to be dated, out of respect for her feelings. But, yes, the fact that she survived dating someone and knows them, I have to say that it does feel safer to an extent. They aren’t likely to be serial killers, y’know? That may be part of what is going on. Because LW’s sister has survived a relationship of some sort with Interesting Guy, Interesting Guy may feel “safe” to LW on some level, and feeling safe when trying new things is very comforting.
All the same…I’d be really, really clear with sister and clarify that she is no longer interested AT ALL in Interesting Guy, which means she does not want to date or have sex with him AT ALL. No “I can’t stop you” waffling, but a clear “no, I do not want to date or sleep with that person and I am OK with you doing so” before a Feelingsbomb explodes. See, I personally would not share a current intimate partner with a family member who is also currently being intimate with that person. There be dragons. Partners are easier to find than close family who have been through the same experiences you have and who understand you and have your back. I’m not saying family should trump everything, because many of us have family members who are abusive or intrusive or otherwise not awesome or healthy to be around, but you, LW, DO have a good family person at your side, and my gut feeling is that keeping things copacetic between you two is far more valuable and important than any random Interesting Person who wanders into your orbit, especially one your sister has had some kind of intimate interaction with or an interest in. It’s just too messy.
I’m not bi or poly, but maybe I have something useful to say anyway. The part that stood out for me in this letter was what wasn’t there. I saw nothing saying: “There’s this GREAT guy. I’m really into him. I absolutely want to date him for this, this, and this reason. The only trouble is that he’s dated my sister.” Instead, I get the idea that you’re meh about him to start. It would be one thing if there was a real conflict between something you really want which is dating this guy and awkwardness (or worse) with your sister. Instead, you’ve got the awkwardness on the one hand, and something that seems a little vague to me on the other. I’d be asking myself what I really wanted and how I could it and whether I could get it some other way that didn’t involve threatening the very good thing I had with my sister.
Also, for musical numbers between sisters who are looking for romance: Young Girls of Rochefort. I don’t have a particular link to a particular number.
I’m neither poly nor bi nor brought up in a religious environment, but maybe I have something useful to say. The thing that jumped out at me in the letter wasn’t anything there, but was rather, what wasn’t there. There isn’t anything saying what a great guy this, how much you want to date him, all of the things about him that makes him a good idea right now. There’s just a bit of flirty chemistry with the implication that the flirty chemistry is minor or something you could find easily elsewhere. So on the one hand, there’s something that comes across as meh in favor of dating the guy, and on the other hand, there’s the rest of the letter about how awkward it would be with your sister, how important the relationship is with your sister, how long lasting, etc. That leads me to think there’s not much positive about dating him. I’d change my mind if the plus column for him were greater, but his positive points only seem to be a bit of chemistry and the way he’s interested in you.
Now on to the next thing that struck me: The Young Girls of Rochefort. An even better movie on sisters dating and finding romance and staying close and singing and dancing, and I can’t say enough how much I love this movie. I couldn’t even decide on a single clip to link to. The whole thing is great.
I’m a bi poly person who tried this exact thing with her best friend of several decades, and my biggest fear for you isn’t even the obvious stuff about getting this thing off the ground or eliminating resentment from your sister. I was the one afraid to say no so I steamrollered over even my partner’s reservations and campaigned for them to date. We had a rocky start, but we quickly maneuvered ourselves into a V everyone felt good about. I genuinely moved past my initial discomfort and felt proud of myself.
Here’s the deal, LW: if your sister becomes your metamour, each of your actions will have potential for tremendous impact on the other’s life in a way that has never been the case before. I thought we were going to work so well together because we knew each other inside and out, knew each other’s quirks and flaws but loved them anyway, knew how to anticipate problems. Instead, we found out that being metamours is a different skill set than being BFFs, and the dynamic that worked for a friendship didn’t work for this.
You will have a new type of power over each other in ways you have never experienced or imagined, and some of the quirks and flaws you lovingly support as a sister may become the source of terrible and repeated pain and hurt for you, and you will no longer be able to accept them so lovingly.
We started with a lot of love and emotional reserve, we worked incredibly hard to learn to work together and fix problems, and we ended up with so much hurt and bad emotional habits and we’re just so damn tired that we barely even like each other anymore. We are trying. It’s not looking good.
We did all of this with the support of an incredible guy who poured energy and love and equal commitment into the two of us. It would have blown up far sooner with a partner who wasn’t 200% in the game.
Holy shit, LW, the heartbreak you may feel now is nothing, NOTHING, in comparison to whatever unique disaster could await you and your sister.
This is my favorite comment. Truly, thank you for your perspective.
“being metamours is a different skill set than being bffs”
I will cautiously agree with this (cautious because small sample size in my case). I haven’t ever tried to become metamours with someone who was already my bff, but I’ve definitely had a couple of friends who became my metamours, and in one of those cases it went fine, but in another it seems to have had the effect that our friendship’s not as close as it maybe otherwise could have been. Which is kind of sad, because even though I’m really happy to be dating our mutual significant other, and I don’t regret it, I admire my metamour a lot and would have really liked to be closer to them.
Thanks for sharing your personal data about this, it’s illuminating.
I’m bi and I’m polyamorous. One of the most useful boundaries I have agreed with my partners is that we do not date each other’s other partners, family members or exes. This leaves hundreds of thousands of people we CAN date! And it saves us a lot of time, energy and angst we’d otherwise have to expend on discussing the possibility of dating particular people (by which point someone is already at least a bit invested in the idea of dating that person).
You need to discuss boundaries with your sister. This should probably not be a conversation about this particular guy but about how you can best deal with the fact that you two may be interested in the same people in future. It is likely to happen so you need an idea in advance of how the two of you want to handle it. She likely needs to have a similar conversation with her partners (or if she already has an agreement with them about this, she needs to communicate it to you!).
I can only recommend that this is what works for me and my partners. What you, your sister, your future partners, hers, find works could be different. What isn’t different is needing there to be a general idea of what you are going to do when you are interested in the same person.
Oh man, I squeed a little when I saw the title.
I don’t have many poly rules in my relationships, but my biggest one is “Don’t fuck my sister I’d you want to fuck me.” We’re just not comfortable sharing sexual partners. Obviously there’s a bit of a statute of limitations (she got in a serious relationship with someone I’d been on a few dates with years earlier – I wasn’t going to say “No, I got to him first!” when she had a chance at something awesome), but for the here and now it’s a great rule for us.
I know two other poly sisters who are totally fine sharing partners. One of them joked that, because she dominated their shared partner, and he dominated her sister, she could order him to make her sister do the dishes! That probably out of most people’s comfort zones, though.
I’m going to agree with the Cap that I less you’re getting an enthusiastic YES from your sister, the answer should probably be no, unless he feels like a once-in-a-lifetime compatibility.
I can’t help but notice that Sister and Dude are dating other people that are all involved with each other. It’s only fair that any change or addition to this poly group would need to be discussed with all relationship participants. They may not want to add not only another person but a family member at that. If they do approve, there needs to be a discussion about the new setup of this relationship. Does she become involved with the other people or just Dude? How does everyone feel about that?
Just seems like this decision does not belong to the sisters alone.
Depends on the relationship structure and philosophy. The way I do polyamory, I don’t feel a right or a need to “approve” the relationships of even my direct partners – let alone further down the line. They are their own person and I don’t own them, which means they don’t need to ask me permission to do as they like. Obviously if I have concerns about someone or a new addition is bringing up FEELZ, I’ll talk about it with them and they may choose not to date someone who brings me stress.
That said, it’s always better to check in. Even if the polycule doesn’t have “right of refusal,” Dude should definitely be keeping his partners appraised of the situation, and keeping lines of communication open. That way if anyone does have a problem with it, there’s plenty of room for them to bring up concerns.
Just because you’re poly doesn’t mean you can’t have boundaries and everything has to be ok (this might be more for the LW’s sister actually). LW – If you can see hurt and trouble coming down the road, it’s okay to say no and step aside.
Some people and situation aren’t worth the hassle they come with and that is ok for you to make a decision based on that as a motivator.
LW, to address the first part of your letter, where you say it’s hard to differentiate between religious-hangover guilt and reasonable guilt, I would say that you don’t need to feel guilty for being into your sister’s partner. That’s okay; your feelings aren’t anything that you need to feel bad for. It may not be a great idea to go through with dating him, for the reasons other commenters have given, but it is Very Okay to be into him. You aren’t wronging anyone by having a crush, and the guilt you feel is probably habit.
Now I’m going to bring my own personal baggage into this.
LW, your situation reminds me of my own relationship with my twin sister. We were very, very close and talked about everything. At one point in my life, I probably would have blithely gone ahead and dated my sister’s partner, hypothetically.
[warning for incest-adjacent shenanigans and sexual regret]
Thing is, my sister and I were unhealthily codependent for many years. She was socially isolated and depended on me for companionship; I was used to serving as her interpreter for social interactions and had no boundaries. We had no boundaries. Our relationship as children through young adults involved a level of quasi-sexual intimacy that I deeply, deeply regret now that I’ve gained some distance from her. There’s a lot of stuff about my sexuality that she knows that I wish she didn’t know, and vice versa. I would give a lot to go back and undo some of this stuff. I think I’d have a harder time coping if my twin and I had slept with the same person, especially because we probably would have discussed it in detail.
I may be projecting hardcore into your situation, but if I were you, I would stop and think really hard about whether you’re okay with sharing a sexual partner with your sister. Or, if you are comfortable with it, I would think about what that may mean. Everything could be hunky-dory, or you could be in an unhealthy situation. (Of course, please feel free to disregard this if it doesn’t apply to your life/ if I’m talking out my ass/ if I should really just go talk about my own sister in therapy more/ etc.)
I’m bisexual and I’m polyamourous.
I’m not sure why the fact that you and your sister both also like the ladies is relevant in a discussion about the two of you potentially dating the same dude at the same time. I’m wondering if there is some part of you that brought this up because you are for real considering the possibility that Dude seriously wants to get the two of you into the same bed at the same time. (The number of shitty interviews Tegan and Sara had to deal with where they were literally asked if they fucked each other… tells me the potential for this is not zero. Unfortunately).
Like, maybe that was just information, but maybe your own mind is tossing up a red flag?
And now some anecdotes:
1) My first girlfriend (also my first non-monogamous relationship) was with a woman who got a Big Huge Crush on my sister (who lived down the street from me at the time, NOT in the same apartment).,.
My sister is, conveniently, heterosexual and monogamous, and wouldn’t have been interested in my gf even if she hadn’t been dating *me specifically*.
Here’s the thing: My girlfriend? She was crushing on my sister (and TELLING ME ABOUT IT) while making a lot of noises about how… unappealing I was, in various ways. “Too needy”, “Not Poly Enough”; phoning me every day and then acting irritated, mean, and bored while she talked to me.
That was not a fun time for me, let me tell you.
2) I’ve had at least one partner break up with me upon finding someone who had all of my “good” qualities (caring, generous, emotionally intelligent, creative, nurturing, etc, etc…) combined with the potential for none of my “difficult” qualities (like wanting to be treated with care and consideration, or wanting to be treated like more than just a resource).
3) My live-in partner and I were once dating the same (long-distance) partner. Said person broke up with me, and started leaning heavily on our mutual partner for emotional support, and they were on the phone a LOT during the two months after said person broke up with me. That was ALSO not a fun time for me, let me tell you.
So… I may be projecting here but… I kind of wonder what Dude is trying to pull here.
Like, maybe he is a skeeze-bag who is trying to make his Boning Two Sisters fantasy into a reality, but…
Maybe (or alternatively) he is also (a skeeze-bag who is) at one of those “will our relationship deepen or dissolve” points in his relationship with your sister and, rather than do the hard work of figuring that out (and it IS hard, and scary. Especially if your diad is only one in a multi-faceted constellation of interconnected diads that make up a polycule like your sister’s, and which will all be effected to some degree if your particular relationship transitions to something less intimate on whatever axis)… maybe he’s looking at YOU as the “easy” version of your sister. All the “good” stuff about your sister (see: all the things you mentioned having in common with her) minus the “difficult” stuff (like “she’s a real human being with wants and needs independent of him, and NRE is not smoothing that stuff over anymore”).
However. Even if NEITHER of those things is going on, and Dude is just really into both of you, as independent individuals whom he thinks are cool and amazing, and who happen to live in the same house?
This is still a bad idea.
If you have not yet learned – in practice – how to have a partner who has partners other than you? Please, PLEASE, do not start by dating someone who is also dating a person who shares your home. Fights with your metamour about open relationship insecurities will get tangled up with fights about whose turn it is to buy the kitty litter or clean the bathroom, and that’s even before you throw in fights about Who Got Invited to Jessica’s Birthday In Grade Five or Which One Of Us Mom Really Likes Better, or whatever your personal inter-sibling rivalries and long-buried hurts happen to be.
Start with something easier. Start by dating someone in a close-knit polycule that does NOT include your sister.
I mean, your sister had to meet her partners somewhere, right? That means there are other poly people where you are. Go out and meet them. Some of them are going to be just your type.
Red Flag: Your sister’s ex-husband and ex-boyfriend were interested in you? No matter how gracefully she handled it, that must’ve hurt her deeply.
Please don’t do this with this guy. In fact, stay away from him altogether. Don’t be around when he’s around. Go find your own boyfriends, your own friends, your own life. Be clearly off-limits to guys like him — don’t give them signals, and if they express interest just shut them down right then and there. Don’t act wistful or say you’re sorry. Don’t hang around so that you accidentally bump into them. Don’t let yourselves be thrown together. And don’t turn this into sexy sexy forbidden love romance novel in your head — it isn’t. Don’t get turned on by this. He will be, so whenever’s he around, just leave. Find your own boyfriend outside of that group, STAT.
Shut down this pattern where some guy who was interested in her first is now interested in you and then you both know about it and talk about it. You don’t need to be talking to your sister about the guys who were into her and then started being into you. Take a step back from trading hurtful details like that. Create a climate where men who are into both of you would be terrified to let either of you know that. You can revisit this policy in 5 years, but for now just don’t do anything that might hurt your sister. Even if she’s too nice to tell you it hurts.
Wow. The biphobia is strong in this one.
You make some good points, but you might want to take into account that it is not just men who LW and her sister are interested in, and that it’s not just men who may express and interest in both the LW and her sister.
Also, telling the LW to get some space and form relationships independently of her sister’s area of influence is a good idea, but I don’t think she should feel obligated to leave her home, where she lives and she has the right to spend all the time she wants, so as not to bump into her sister’s partners.
I’m not seeing how this is biphobic – janetmaymiller refers to “guys” because it’s a guy LW is writing about, and she mentions guys in the past that were involved with her sister and were also interested in her. There’s not much point in talking about women LW could theoretically date while discussing a pattern that so far only involves men.
I also don’t see where janet suggests LW leave her home, either – “go find…your own life” could imply that, but it could just as easily mean “make sure you have an identity separate from ‘me and my sister’,” you know?
I’m hope I don’t sound like I’m attacking you, I just think you’re off-base with this comment.
Yup, telling a bisexual (and poly) woman to “go find your own boyfriend” (as opposed to, y’know, “go find your own partners”, “partner” being the word that LW chose) is not biphobic at all, what on Earth was I thinking.
Heterosexism exists. Biphobia exists. They are unfortunately fairly common worldviews that colour people’s perceptions and actions and words, like in this case.
I think you’re both right. I focused on men because of the men who were mentioned in the letter and because I feel like there might be a different dynamic, but also because the bi part might not feel as real to me yet. And that last part is pretty biphobic, or at least bi-dismissive.
And although I didn’t intend for her to leave her home whenever this guy drops by, I do think she should go hang out in her room and read or watch movies or whatever downtime activities she likes. Just hanging out in the living room with them increases sexual tension when the goal is to decrease it.
I have a non-catholic friend who went to a Catholic college. She adored seducing good Catholic boys because the forbidden sex aspect of it made it so much more exciting. I feel like hanging out with this guy in a group sparks that dynamic, even when you don’t want it to. Have you ever had a coworker you were crushing on? Absolutely anything, from going over a regressive test spreadsheet to complaining about the breakroom running out of mint tea can start to seem romantic. I’m just hoping she doesn’t succumb to the falsity of “We were overcome by (translation: gave in to) temptation! So that must mean it was meant to be!”
Anyway, I’m glad you called me out on my hetero-centricism. Words matter, so thanks.
Thank you for clearing that up, janetmay 🙂 (And for being more gracious than me about it)
I get where you’re coming from now. I agree that hanging on by oneself to help decrease UST is a good call. Anything that helps the LW to carve a space for herself, as an independent person with loves and interests of her own, sounds like a good idea imo.
This isn’t about open-mindedness or religion or anything else. It’s about setting good boundaries. If you have the slightest inkling that your sister isn’t truly cool with this, don’t do it. Like the Captain said, there are other partners out there.
My social group consists of many people who have dated many of each other, including one set of two brothers and one set of three brothers who have dated some of the same people. This wasn’t at the same time, but the difference seems to me to be the same difference as dating people one at a time or several at once anyway, so I don’t see that much that’s more complicated than negotiating and managing ethical polyamory anyway.
Shared sexual partners with siblings is more unusual in, say, 2017 in the USA than it has been at other times and places – the Christian angle in the letter makes me laugh a bit, since one of the norms of early Semitic societies that produced some of the stories in the Christian Bible(s) held that brothers should marry the widows of their deceased siblings (violating this norm by not impregnating his dead brother’s wife is what gets Onan in trouble, for example – that story has nothing at all to do with masturbation). But the serial monogamy version not really all that uncommon still, and siblings sharing sex partners is and has been a widespread human behavior (obligatory note that a behavior being common doesn’t necessarily make it ethical or a good idea in a given context). The taboo around it in my society (2017 CE metropolitan upper Midwest USA), to the extent that it does exist, is very recent in anthropological time.
Basically, I’m weighing in to say there is nothing inherently wrong or problematic about dating the same person as a sibling, even at the same time, and whether it’s a good idea will depend on the people involved, their views on and processing of needs and boundaries in romantic and familial relationships, and how those will intersect social norms in their particular subcultures. I agree with The Captain, but I wanted to expand a bit to check some of the responses in which people are projecting or universalizing their personal internalized norms and values.
The closest I came to an experience like this was with a woman who’d I’d begun my first adult sexual and emotional relationship with. Emotions ran high, but then we’d separately become interested in the same guy. He was smitten by her and felt about 30% that strength towards me. Which, intermittent reward-ey, of course made me want him even more.
She and I would break up to go with him, or we’d get in fistfights that the cops had to break up. Less fun than it sounds (sarcasm. immaturity+alcohol) He told us that we’d be the perfect girlfriend if he could make us into one person. Um, wow? And he wanted sex with both of us together, to which we said never you and absolutely not.
He was precisely the sort of blowhard who’d gloat, tell everyone and make it all about himself, and we knew it. Instead, we picked a male we both liked and knew would be cool. This got back to blowhard, who was incredulous.
It was way more stress and negotiation than I could do, and I ended deciding the scene was not for me, and I left both relationships. The two of them found their third woman elsewhere.
Because we’d had a far more involved emotional relationship than the sexual one, it was more difficult to deal with the ending of the relationship with the woman. I went back to hetro monogamy.
LW, I got a sense that you are looking wistfully over your sister’s shoulder at these men/partners, and those people are picking up on that energy. As others have said, this isn’t your best path to take, and it’s because it will keep you from having the full experience. And it will be at the expense of your relationship with your sister. My feeling is that your emotional bond will be preserved by you talking about your separate sexual lives within your current sisterly relationship, which sounds too lovely to risk.
Also, no sex for blowhards.
Poly woman here.
I think an important part of good boundaries is to know the difference between telling somebody what to do, and expressing your feelings. For example, I don’t get to tell my girlfriend that she’s not allowed to smoke. That’s not how our relationship works. We do NOT tell each other what to do. However, because I know we’re both clear on the distinction between giving an order and expressing my feelings, I am at ease telling her my reaction to witnessing her smoke. It is a libido killer, and I would be unhappy if I ever see, smell, or taste any evidence of her smoking. Because she cares about me, she never smokes when I’m around or when she’s expecting to see me that same day. (Or indoors ever, so her house doesn’t smell like cigarettes.)
She still smokes about once a month. I’m not crazy about it, because it’s not good for her, but I can accept that it happens. She knows my opinion, and she’s made the decision to smoke when I’m not around. She’s free to do that. Now, if her smoking *at all*, even if I never see or smell it, was a libido killer for me, then I would honestly share that opinion. And she’d have to decide which was more important to her. Most likely, she would choose me. But the decision would genuinely be hers. It would not be me telling her what to do.
LW, I suspect your sister has some kind of “less than enthusiastic” feeling about you dating her partner. The fact that she has those feelings does not mean that she’s controlling you or telling you what to do. They are just her feelings. Obviously you care about her feelings. So perhaps a possible script to say to your sister is this: “I know you don’t want to control me, and I promise that I will make a decision of my own free will. However, since I care about you, your feelings are going to influence my decision. I am not asking you to make a choice here. I would simply like you to tell me your honest reaction to me getting romantically involved with X.”
And if her feelings are as Captain Awkward and all of us suspect, it may simply be worth moving on. After all, as you said, there are so many other attractive people out there.
This is a really good framing and script and I like it a lot.
I know a brother and sister who both dated the same girl (girl because everyone was a teenager at the time it started). They were from a very little village in a pretty conservative place. Their relationship system stayed stable for at minimum four years, maybe more, until one of the relationships ended, and it ended amicable. Everyone thought it was weird, including the involved persons, but as everyone seemed happy, why not be weird?
I was (and am) closer to the brother, and asked him early in the relationship what he thought about it, and he said “Well, it’s strange, but you know I’m a fan of strange situations”
I was raised as an atheist (which is no guarantee against Judeo-Christian guilt getting passed on, but at least I’m free of the most explicit iron-cast rules) and I’m super close to my sister. We are both bisexual, and, although we don’t wholly identify as polyamorous, we are both definitely interested in open relationships (and she’s in one). I think it is not a good idea to risk your bond with her for this. I’m going to be blunt, although of course you do what you truly want to do, since that is what your life is for! But my advice is simple: don’t risk hurting her like this. Because you are risking a truly wonderful relationship, a bond that cannot be replaced… for a guy. *Just* for a guy, if I might add. In my opinion, your sister should not need to ask you not to do this. She will probably be very grateful if you simply step back and reject this other person’s advances next time (and even tell her? Not out of control things but out of loyalty).
Maybe some physical space away from the two of them might help you, since you are in a position where it’s likely you are getting really hurt too, since you are witnessing how this person you are interested with is involved with your *sister*. I certainly would find this situation really, really hard on me, and I would try to stay away for a while, or ask my sister to not bring him over when I’m home, or other similar solutions.
Something else that might help: a couple of days alone with *her*, and away from Chemistry Guy. This will probably make you see more clearly what you value in your relationship with her, all the wonderful things that are worth your loyalty.
But of course, you do you. Your sister and you might have a different view of life, and that is swell! I wish you happiness regardless of what you choose xxx
This is excellent advice. Boundaries are really good things to have, especially within close relationships like the one you have with your sis. I’d argue that boundaries actually allow you to be close. And as lolotron so expertly pointed out, this guy is highly likely to float out of your life as quickly as he arrived. He may be cool, or he could be exploiting the possibility that you and your sister are still discovering your post-evangelical sexual identities. And just to clarify, he doesn’t have to be conscious of doing anything damaging to engage in damaging behavior. My advice is to run far, far away and consider separating your sexuality from your sister a bit further. You two really need each other and there’s nothing wrong with protecting an important relationship.
It’s not about “should” when it comes to who you date. It never is.
It’s about everyone involved in the relationship enthusiastically consenting. Just from the letter, and the fact that you felt the need to write it in the first place, suggests this relationship is probably not a good idea.
You will find other exciting people to date that don’t make for weirdness with your sister!
But it’s not about the labels on the relationship, it’s about the feelings and actions and consent within it.
Not poly, but have a super close relationship with my sister (people often mistake us for twins even though we’re 4 years apart). And I’ll tell you, some things we share, some we don’t, but when we share, it’s enthusiastically. Always. “Oh, I have to show you this thing!” “Have you tried this” “You need this!” “Take this!” Anything less than excitement means no. Absolutely no.
And while we can share friends as adults? When we were kids awkward-me trying to share sister’s friends because I wanted to spend all my time with sister caused some hurt before Mom clued me in on what was happening. And we still have friend groups that don’t cross over. I can’t imagine the problems sharing intimates with. (Besides the instictive ew factor or the fact that older sister me still has the urge to do stereotypical shovel talk with anyone dating younger sis.)
“or is this like in Civ 5 when you use Great Generals to annex a neighboring state’s territory a little at a time?”
I didn’t think I could love this blog more and then nerdgasm.
LW, I don’t have a strong opinion no matter what you decide, so please don’t feel like I’m trying to convince you to fall one way if your heart falls another.
I just wanted to say that if the choice you make is that you don’t continue the relationship with this boy, it is okay to be sad about that and to ask for support. By that I mean, I get the sense that even though you know there are other people out there, you kinda like this one, and even if you’re okay not following it up, it’s totally natural to be sad about losing that ‘could be’. If your feelings have developed further, it might feel like a break up – and maybe it is – and to go through natural break up feelings is not wrong!
I think it would be okay if, should that be the decision you made, to ask your sister to help create some space from this guy – maybe he doesn’t come to the house for long periods of time for a few weeks, maybe he doesn’t visit at all for a short period. I don’t think it’s selfish or wrong to say:
“Sister, I’m making this choice for (reasons), and I am content/okay/proud/happy with this choice, but the consequence is that I’m feeling a little sore right now. I want to be able to move on from this so that we can all be happy, but to do that properly I need some space away from (guy) so that I can get over my soft feelings for him. Could we maybe lessen his time in our house, just for (time period)? I don’t want to impact on your relationship and after that time I think I could welcome him back but for now I just need some time.”
I don’t know if I am even close to barking up the right tree, but I just wanted to throw out that even if the choice comes down to “what’s best for Sister”, it doesn’t mean you have to suffer silently through it if you end up hurting for a while.
Not poly so grain of salt. My first response to just the headline is, “Does he see you as individuals, or is he starting a collection?” But you know the guy and I don’t.
I’m bisexual and polyamorous (and raised Catholic!). I also have a sister who is straight and monogamous, as far as I know. We both have anxiety. Personally, I’d never date a guy my sister dated, even an ex, even if (hypothetically) she was cool with it. It’s not just the weird vaguely incesty feeling, though that is a big part of it. But I think we’d both subconsciously worry that the guy favored one of us over the other, or (as did actually happen at one point) he was going after one sister because he’d struck out with the other. It saves a lot of time and energy to simply have that rule, rather than hashing out the finer points every single time. It means some lost opportunities, sure, but the purpose of rules is to be able to make decisions quickly and categorically, even if the rule (here, “don’t cross the streams”) is a bit overbroad. There’s a lot of overbroad rules like that (“if they’re not half your age plus 7, they’re too young;” “don’t date coworkers: it’s a bad idea to dip your pen in the company ink”) that work because the cost of not using them outweighs the benefits.
LW, there is a saying I dearly wish would become part of the common parlance: “Sisters before misters”. In your case, this applies literally. Dating this guy is all very fine until he dumps your sister for you, or wants to bring you into your sister’s poly group, and all of a sudden sister blows up and unloads x years’ worth of slights and jealousy on you. Your sister is not okay with this. “I don’t want to control you” means “I shouldn’t HAVE to tell you this would hurt me! You’d better do what’s right.”
Sometimes feelings are depressingly conventional. Your friend with benefits gets seriously involved with someone and it was just sex between you two but your little heart is still broken. You knew your crush had a girlfriend and you were never going to disclose your feelings but when she announces that they’re getting married your tummy still drops. You’re poly and he’s poly but the thought of your sister saying “he’s gonna be staying over so um can you um be elsewhere that night” and glowing with lustful anticipation makes you die a little.
Back away from this one. And sit your sister down and tell her that it’s okay to tell you no. It’s not about controlling you,it’s about making sure neither of youhave to read tea leaves to avoid hurting each other.
I think the real advice gem getting overshadowed by other excellent commentary is the concept that one cannot give enthusiastic consent if one cannot also feel safe if one wishes to emphatically say no.
Waffling about not feeling like one can control someone else or dictate what they do is just a way of saying “please don’t put me in this position where I really want to say no, but don’t have the energy or time to deal with anyone making me feel bad about saying no, nor my socially-ingrained feelings about wanting to be cool about this sort of thing but not feeling up to ACTUALLY being cool about it.”
There’s a lot of discussion on forms of words/scripts here, and I just want to add that (admittedly in very different scenarios) I find the way to approach it is to say something like “I have no wish/right to stop/control you, but personally I wouldn’t be comfortable with it.” The sister should definitely be a bit clearer about her probable response, but the letter writer also needs to probe more deeply.
Also FWIW my own sister went off the deep end when I merely bought spectacles that were similar to hers; we were so alike at the time that I reasoned whatever looked good on her would also look good on me, but she got very resentful and accused me of ‘copying’ her and not being able to think of something original for myself. It was a poisonous family dynamic anyway, obviously, but if a blow-up like that can happen over such a small thing I’m not sure I’d want to risk the potential fall-out when the ‘shared object’ is actually a person.
Who will, presumably, have something to say on the subject himself.
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