#1163: “I’m screamingly jealous of my sister’s fiancé.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

My sister is 37 and I (also female) am 34. We share an apartment and consider ourselves best friends. We’ve both had bad luck with relationships, and I had quietly given up on either of us marrying. But in the past few months she has finally found love and is now engaged. And I’m having a very hard time dealing with it.

I can’t stand to be around her fiancé. I don’t have any actual objection to him — no red flags, he seems like a good person who really loves my sister. I know that I’m just projecting all of my fears and insecurities about the situation onto him. Maybe it would help if his personality meshed better with mine, but he’s boisterous and loud and irritatingly familiar, while I’m a quiet, reserved introvert. We have no interests in common and fairly different values. It breaks my heart because my sister and I have always been so close, and now the most important person in her life is going to be this man that I cannot imagine being friends with. He gets along great with the rest of the family; I’m the only one who seems to be struggling with the situation.

I know it hurts my sister that I haven’t been welcoming to him. I really am so glad that she’s happy, and I’m actually excited about the wedding because it’s her wedding! I just can’t get through a conversation with the groom without wanting to run away and cry. I have talked to my sister about my fear that she won’t have room for me in her life anymore, and she promises that isn’t true, but I’m still scared. And there are other things, too, that she can’t control — like whether I can support myself alone (I definitely can’t keep our apartment) and the likelihood that I’ll be the spinster aunt alone when I thought we would at least have each other. It’s all pretty upsetting for me and every bit of it is channeling into resentment of her fiancé. I don’t know how to change my feelings or deal with them. What can you advise?


Did you ever think you’d be living in a plot point from Little Women? You are Chapter 20 Jo March right now:

“I just wish I could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the family.” 

“She’ll see those handsome eyes that she talks about, and then it will be all up with her. She’s got such a soft heart, it will melt like butter in the sun if anyone looks sentimentally at her. She read the short reports he sent more than she did your letters, and pinched me when I spoke of it, and likes brown eyes, and doesn’t think John an ugly name, and she’ll go and fall in love, and there’s an end of peace and fun, and cozy times together. I see it all! They’ll go lovering around the house, and we shall have to dodge. Meg will be absorbed and no good to me any more. Brooke will scratch up a fortune somehow, carry her off, and make a hole in the family, and I shall break my heart, and everything will be abominably uncomfortable. Oh, dear me! Why weren’t we all boys, then there wouldn’t be any bother.” 

You are not alone in feeling the way you do, and you do NOT have to marry a German literature professor old enough to be your dad to work through it, ok? There are easier ways.

My biggest piece of advice is: For now, sort out your behaviors and let your feelings be your feelings.

You can feel: jealous of this dude and his place in your sister’s life, nervous about your future living situation, anxious because the life you imagined for yourself has been upended, and irritated at this dude for not meshing with you. Your life is being upended, there are big changes that affect you, you’re not an irredeemably awful person for feeling this way!

If your behaviors are unwelcoming to the fiancé (cold, rude, running away & wanting to cry whenever you talk with him) and you put a lot of stress on your sister when he’s around and make her work very hard to take care of your feelings about this, the source of any rift with her that results won’t really be him. It will be you. If he were abusive or unkind it would be a different story, but he’s just kind of not your jam. Being reserved doesn’t make someone a better person than being exuberant, and she didn’t fall in love with him AT you or to punish you, so you have to decide, how hard do I want to make my sister work to have a good relationship with me right now?

Over the long term, you will be happier if you can train yourself to look for things to like about him rather for things that annoy you. He’s here to stay. What does your sister like about him? What do other people in the family like about him? Practice redirecting your “bitch eating crackers” thoughts, like, “Yep, he’s not my favorite, but he’s good to my sister.”

But you don’t have to figure any of that out right now. You don’t have to be friends with him or ever love him like one of the family or ever think he’s the most fun person to hang out with. You just have to figure out a basic amount of pleasant and well-mannered and that any new person deserves when they’re a guest at your family table and aim for that.

That means, at minimum: Greeting him and making some effort at small talk. I’m working on a post loosely called “Small Talk Is Useful And Good And You Won’t Die Of It” that will be up sometime this month, but you know the basics already: Say hello & goodbye, ask him a few polite questions about hobbies/family/daily life, try to find a few safe topics you have in common (you both like your sister, so that’s one right there), steer away from controversy or conflict areas. That’s all you have to do. The goal is to create a series of brief, positive interactions that leave the door open to things getting easier someday, rather than working hard to find some kind of deep connection that might never happen.

That also means, stay away from joint activities you know bring out the worst in you (or him). There are people in the world I can enjoyably play board games with, there are people who mention board games and I’m like “WHERE ARE MY SHOES, GOTTA GO” and they are like “you just got here” and I’m like “I KNOW! TIME TO LEAVE WHILE WE ALL STILL LIKE EACH OTHER!” Not to pick on games: I am a full-on Karaoke Person. If you are not, we should not go to a karaoke bar together. We should especially not do karaoke together if you are already a baseline of annoyed with me, literally nothing about it will make you like me more, not even the time I totally slayed this song despite not remembering any of the words or how it goes. Does that make sense? If your sister starts to attempt some “look at my two favorite people, together, on this really competitive trivia team, in a loud bar full of boisterous strangers!” Geek Social Fallacy 4 + 5 nonsense, knowing when to be a Determined Good Sport (once a year, on her birthday, for up to 2 hours, maybe) and know when to say “Y’all have fun without me!” (every other time) might be a good portion of your battle.

If your sister is smart, she will set aside some sacred time or activities that are just for the two of you, NO BOYS ALLOWED. That is something you can ask for, by the way: “I’m so happy for you, can we do something that is just for us sometimes?” If this fiancé is smart, he will stop trying super-hard to win you over and meet you at “basic polite & friendly behavior.” That is something you can ask for, by the way, “Duder, I know you make my sister really happy, and you’re doing your best. I’m having some trouble adjusting to the changes, and none of that is your fault or about you, but like, don’t try so hard! Let’s just give it some time. We both love my sister, that’s all that counts.” 

It doesn’t fix everything you’re feeling, but it’s a start.

Ok, that’s squared away, let’s talk about the stuff that’s going on in the rest of your life. Because your letter reminded me a lot of this one, and the lessons in it are worth re-visiting.

I met Mr. Awkward at 38 and married him at 42 so I apologize, I cannot hang with “I am 34 years old and now DOOMED TO ETERNAL SPINSTERHOOD” talk. If you never want to get married or be in a couple of any kind, cool, it’s not a doom! If you do want to be partnered someday, there’s no guarantee of anything but there’s also no cut-off time after which it is definitely Too Late For You. It is way too early (not to mention incredibly un-constructive) to cast yourself as the bad fairy at the feast, haunting the corners of your sister’s new happiness.

It doesn’t mean your feelings and anxieties right now aren’t real. You’ve been building your life on the idea that nothing would ever change and especially on the idea that another person (your sister) wouldn’t change, and that was all okay as long as you’re both in it together. Sing it with me: “I’ve been ‘fraid of changing ’cause I built my life around youuuuuuuuuuu…”

And then the landslide brought you down.

You’re having to make some stressful adjustments, but you’re also getting a giant wake-up call/opportunity to redesign your life and make sure it suits you. And it’s not because something terrible happened (your sister didn’t die, or decide suddenly that she hated you), it’s just change. The changes are here, you can fight them or embrace them, but there is no avoiding them. So what else can you do about them? The two biggest things that come to mind involve solving your housing situation and looking for ways to take pressure off your sister & that relationship:

A) Having to find a new living situation is stressful, and expensive, but it can be done, and it can be planned for. Start looking/saving now. Start thinking about possible roommates or what you can afford on your own. Talk frankly with your sister about the lease, the furniture, finances, etc. and make a plan together that’s fair to everyone. The sooner you start, the more choices you’ll have.

B) If your social life and support system has been very tied up in your sister, and you’re feeling very lonely right now, that’s also understandable! Nobody is going to replace the bond you have with your sister (nor should they!) just like no dude is going to replace the bond she has with you (Just watch ’em try! See below! I literally never need an excuse to link to this clip!):


But you’ll feel better and stronger if you can approach your relationship with her from a place of strength and abundance. She’s your most important person but she’s not the only person in the world. You need a support system that isn’t just about her and you probably need to work on cultivating some other friendships.

Good news, this is a time of year where tons of people are starting something new with the same collection of hope and regrets and awkwardness you are feeling. Take a class, volunteer somewhere, join a hobby group, try something you’ve never tried before, do all the stuff we know works to build human connection. And reach out to old friends, too! Not every lapsed connection is still a live wire, but as long as it’s a matter of drifting (vs. “please leave me alone”) and nobody’s selling anything*, I think there are way more people who would be happy to hear “Hi Old Friend, I really like you and I wish we’d never lost touch. Can I buy you a coffee in the New Year?” than not.

Letter Writer, I hope you can be very good to yourself, be a basic amount of nice to this guy, and that you can find ways to channel your frustrations with all of this into making yourself a good 2019. Thanks for your question, if anyone needs me I will be re-reading/re-watching Little Women. 



*Inspired by the true story of my eighth grade bully’s sad attempt recruit me for various leggings & weight loss pyramid schemes last year. Turns out, yes, I’m “still mad about all that.” I do not think that all went how she imagined it in her mind.

New Commenting Buds, please take a peek at the site policies, and let’s all remember to be gentle.

259 thoughts on “#1163: “I’m screamingly jealous of my sister’s fiancé.”

  1. You say you have no interests in common. Are you sure that’s true? If you and your sister have a lot in common. And if your sister has a lot in common with Fiance, then math would suggest that you have something in common with Fiance. (The other possibility here is red flag territory where the only thing Sister and Fiance have in common is starry eyes and sexual attraction. Nothing in your letter suggests that’s the case. I only mention it since I brought up math.) Do some digging, and it may turn out that you do share a lot.

    He gets along great with the rest of the family, but if you’ve been putting on a brave face for them, they may have been putting on a brave face for you. In some ways that’s good because it’s good to welcome a new family member, but it can help you feel less alone if you share how you’re feeling with someone close who can understand.

    He’s boisterous and loud and irritatingly familiar– perhaps because he’s nervous? Perhaps if you viewed him as as insecure around you as you are around him it would help.

    You say you have different values. Can you say about what? I mean, if he values sports while you value theater, that’s something that can be overcome, but I’d call those different interests. Values seem to me to be something more basic, more integral to who we are as people.

    I’m a spinster aunt, and I’m telling you, it’s terrific. Lots of joy in the little ones, none of the responsibility and worry. (Which is to say, I’m responsible when I’m in charge of the children, and I worry some because it’s in my nature.) As long as you can avoid pyramid schemes that involve leggings, you’re in good shape.

    1. You say you have no interests in common. Are you sure that’s true? If you and your sister have a lot in common. And if your sister has a lot in common with Fiance, then math would suggest that you have something in common with Fiance.

      I dunno, one of my best friends is married to a guy who I have literally no interests in common with. I do often wonder what they have in common, but I know she has some interests that I don’t share, so it’s possible that she shares stuff with him and stuff with me and he and I don’t overlap at all.

      1. My best friend is engaged to someone whom I have virtually no interests in common with, because Bestie and I bonded over Thing X, and Bestie and Fiance bonded over Thing Y, and there is no (to my knowledge) mutual social circle overlap between Things X and Y. It happens. I believe we do have some values in common, but those are extremely basic things like “Nazis are bad,” which isn’t exactly a basis for wanting to get to know someone better.

        1. In this day and age, both of you believing that Nazis are bad is pretty valuable. Don’t take that for granted!

          1. YES, it is INVALUABLE. I am just at this moment mentally composing a post to Captain Awkward about how I found out at Christmas that a dear family friend has fallen for some Nazi-type propaganda on YouTube, and now really likes them…

        2. “which isn’t exactly a basis for wanting to get to know someone better”

          Following moss’s line of thought, it totally is if you both join your local antifascist direct-action group. Though maybe not the best way to expand one’s social circle, since security culture practice dictates sharing as little personal information as possible between group members to mitigate damage from infiltration by agents provocateur.

        3. Yep, same. BFF’s husband seems like a good guy, we get along fine, but we really don’t have any common interests at all. His sense of humor always leaves me feeling a little bit stupid (it’s not at all mean, but it’s quick-paced, and I’m often slow to get the joke or reference–he’s never unkind about it, I just feel self-conscious when I can’t keep up). When we’re stuck alone in a room together, we talk about 1. BFF, 2. their adorable kids, 3. mutual acquaintances. But that’s enough! We are friendly, he makes BFF happy, he and I don’t need to be besties also.

      2. I’ll point out that even if they do have interests in common with each other, they might express those interests differently. Like, on paper my sister and my boyfriend should have a lot in common: they are both musicians, they both watch musicals, they’re both quietly nerdy types. But not only are their specific interests different (my sister is a singer and my boyfriend a guitarist; she watches musicals almost competitively and he watches them only occasionally), but their personalities are so different that even when interacting with each other, they don’t mesh.

        1. Yes exactly! On paper I seem to have things in common with friend’s husband – we both love reading but he mainly reads non-fiction tomes and I love YA and spec fiction.

      3. Also, not everyone values having common interests. I am one of those people. If doing hobbies together, or liking the same things is important to you, cool. But many of us find partners and friends based on different criteria. My previous partners and current friends are hugely diverse and I have almost none of the same interests as them.

        My sister is married to a person who has no similar “interests” as me. Except three really big ones: my sister and her 2 kids. But we get a long great because we have similar values and world views (i.e. he’s not a Nazi). We talk about whats going on in our careers, our families, our communities. And we both make an effort to remember what matters to the other person, and check on that when we see each other. Because we care about each other, our relationship, and our relationship with my sister.

        LW – I totally get your emotions behind this (I too am a single 34 year old woman) and it’s HARD and totally valid to feel left behind and anxious about this very big change (and possibly triggered by society’s message that you have somehow failed by not securing a suitor at the spinster age of 34. #sarcasm). But just try and get to know this guy. Slowly. Don’t worry about commonality. Maybe he will introduce you to something new. If this guy is a good person and good for your sister, he may bring some new joy and connection into your life.

    2. Yeah, the “values” thing gave me pause too, but then I thought, it could be something like valuing order and routine versus valuing freedom and spontenaity. Or, valuing a connection with nature, solitude, and being in the moment, versus valuing large group dynamics and technological innovation.

      True facts, I personally get a bit “bitch-eating-crackers”-y around tech bro types, even if those types are women, and there seem to be a lot of “technology will save the world!” people in geeky circles, probably due to science fiction. I go for long stretches without internet access, and at times have swapped my smart phone for a satellite phone: text and calls only, can reach an emergency line deep in the woods but can’t do much else. When my laptop’s put away, internet time is done.

      But. I don’t think over-valuing technology and under-valuing nature makes someone a bad person. Grudgingly, I’ll even admit that people invested in technological innovation have saved my life at some point. So: maybe that’s what LW means by different values. There are a lot of values that are important, but not core values like respecting everyone’s humanity, and it’s okay to disagree on those.

      1. To add to your example, I’m not very family-oriented. It’s just my husband and me, and though my parents and sister are still alive, I moved far away from them years ago, see them rarely, and am fine with that. For some people, this is totally unfathomable and my lack of interest in going back to see them over the winter holiday season or at any regular interval is completely unacceptable and often treated with suspicion or unwarranted sadness on my or their behalf. I had an ex (from a close-knit family) who was super-uncomfortable with it.

        1. Yep! I have a huge family and live a thousand miles away from them. I go up to visit every five years or so. But thanks to the magic of the internet and other modern conveniences, I still have a relationship with them.

          And for all the people who are “why don’t you visit” – never forget that THEY could also visit YOU.

    3. This – people think “awkward” and “poor social skills” means quiet and reserved and saying dorky facts, but often it means misjudging a situation, being way too loud, defensive bragging, being overly familiar, etc etc. Poor social skills means they make the social situation more challenging. It’s not always cute and dorky. Indeed, if someone is cute and dorky in a likeable way – they probably have good social skills? It’s the whole manic pixie dream girl myth again.

      1. I think people that denigrate social skills because “society is bringing you down, man,” somehow. I think social skills make things more frictionless instead of being some kind of horrible mask we all have to rot behind.

    4. Well, it’s not a given that LW and her sister have a lot in common; after all, this is a blood relative, not a chosen friend. I love my sister more than anything and we are very close, but I seriously doubt we would have become close friends if we had met as adults, we are too different. Also, it’s possible that the LW and her sister have a lot in common, but not everything, so the things the sister has in common with the fiance are different than the things she has in common with the LW. Or that the sister chose the fiance exactly because the things he brings to her life are new and different and are helping her grow as a person and expand her horizons.

      1. This is a good point! I’m close to my sister but we don’t actually have a lot in common. Amusingly, I have way more in common with her husband than I do with her! (He is very nerdy too) But she’s definitely had serious boyfriends in the past that I had no real connection to.

      2. Most of the people I know have very little in common with their siblings, even when they are very close & love them dearly.

        Interestingly, my brother and I have so many common interests that our relationship growing up was more like the how I hear the relationships between twins described than regular siblings…but we were both adopted as infants, and are not biologically related either to each other, or anyone else in our family.

    5. It could be that their interests in common aren’t things that are easily shared. If two people like quiet, solo things, or possibly “weird” nerdy things that neither is comfortable bringing up in early relationship stages, then the commonality may be there but it’s facing opposite directions – inward toward the respective individuals.

      Having things in common doesn’t automatically mean having things in common that face each other and whose paths cross.

    6. Everything that people said above but also – it is TOTALLY worth looking into! Maybe the stress over the change in situation has blinded the OP to what she and Fiance actually do have in common. Maybe it hasn’t, and there’s just nothing there. But you’ve got to look at something to see it.

    7. Oh my good god YES on the spinster aunt thing. I get to do cool stuff with my niece/carry and rock my nephew for a little while so my sister and bro-in-law can run some errands/have an afternoon to themselves/finish their dinner in peace and then I can hand the kids back 😀

    8. One thing you can do, aside from go about it on your own, is to ask your sister what things you and her fiancé have in common. She’s spent enough time with you to know your interests and presumably enough time with him to get an idea of where your points of intersection lie.

      I used to play a game with my students. Venn diagram. Literally just find out what you have in common. There’s always going to be SOMETHING. Perhaps there’s even something you have in common with him that your sister doesn’t. You might even decide to print out a physical copy of a VENN diagram (2 circles or 3 if you want your sister involved), and start filling it out. You COULD even do it with them. I find that often people are weird about things like that to start with, but then start to open up and ask some creative things, and odd things reveal themselves!

      An aside: I’m also a +1 on the found love and marriage after 34 group. I met husband at 37; we married at 39. I’ve now been married for 3 1/2 years. Prior to my marriage, my longest adult relationship was 3 months.

      1. I met my husband at 37 as well, we married when I was 40 (I’ll be 52 next month.) He is 15 years younger than I am.
        Previously I’d had a handful of relationships that lasted ~1 year, and one that lasted four, with long periods of enjoyable singleness in between. And of those relationships, most were guys I enjoyed spending time with/having sex with but would NEVER have considered marriage or envisioned any kind of long term future with. (And honestly, if I wasn’t hard wired monogamous when I am emotionally involved with someone, most of those guys probably wouldn’t have even had the relationship status that they did.)

        Interestingly, parents also met in their late 30s. My dad had had one previous serious relationship, and my mom had been married & divorced twice, to abusive men that the time period (1940s-1960s) made it difficult for her to leave. She was DONE, but my dad was a prince among men, and loved & respected her immensely (and saw her as a PERSON) and they were happily married til my dad passed away at 79.

  2. I had a relationship with a very close friend/ roommate that was like this. People assumed we were lovers we were so close.

    After 3 years we chose to “break up” because we wanted romantic relationships and a freshness in our lives there was no room for when we were a unit together.

    She moved across the country for an adventure that is still continuing after 20 years. I met my terrible no-good ex, and after years of playing “let’s be our worst selves,” spent some years learning to be my best single self, then met my lovely husband and had some high-quality young’uns (if I do say so myself).

    Part of what helped me was letting myself grieve the changed relationship with my very good friend as a relationship loss. Even though we’re still friends, it’s not with the same intensity as it once was, and sometimes I miss the wonderful, fulfilling, relationship we had together.

  3. The Captain’s advice is solid gold as always, but I want to add something on this:

    “he’s boisterous and loud and irritatingly familiar”

    Have you been primarily exposed to this guy/spending time with him in your apartment where you live with your sister? I ask because there are plenty of people who are great at social occasions, but I (a fellow reserved person) do NOT want to run into them in my kitchen when I’m getting ready in the morning/exhausted from a long day at work/hungover/having a quiet pyjama day. I’ve had housemates who have started dating perfectly lovely people and my attitude to them has gone for “they’re fun to hang out with at parties” to “the sound of their voice makes me want to claw at the walls” within a few weeks of them regularly being in my space.

    This is potentially only a small aspect of the wider problem, but if he’s slowly morphing into your third housemate, all the more reason to start looking into the possibility of getting your own place as soon as possible.

    1. Oooh, yes, nobody else has mentioned this either. If you’re trying to adjust to a breakup AND you’re a raging introvert AND this dude is all IN YOUR SPACE where you can’t get away from his loud boisterousness, this is not going to go well. LW, would you be able to have a quiet chat with your sister, in a neutral space (coffee shop, restaurant that is familiar but not one that you particularly frequent, etc.), and see if she’d be willing to spend more time at his place while you adjust to not having her around all the time?

      1. Seriously, hardly anybody loves their roommate’s boyfriend who’s over all the time … I went through it twice, and even when I liked the guy, it just wasn’t a great feeling to be perma-third-wheel in my own home / wait for Non Rent Paying dude to finish in the bathroom / clean up a third person’s maybe-mess – if you’re dealing with that type of stuff AND your fears of being left by your sister and 3AM mortality thoughts, try to be extra extra nice and gentle with yourself, not beat yourself up for not loving Your New Brother right away 😦

    2. This was one of my first thoughts, too. Luckily, it’s easily fixed when you have people who care about each other dealing in good faith! My sister not-quite-so-recently-now moved back in with my mom and I part-time (her husband retired, they bought a place an hour or so outside of town, but she’s still working in the city and stays with us on work nights to avoid the commute, and also her husband sometimes); I’m very much an “interact with housemates briefly in passing or if we actively feel like hanging out, otherwise do solo things at home” kind of person, while she’s much more a “time spent in the same location is TOGETHER time” person, which are not especially compatible relational styles. But, we care about each other, so it was relatively easy to have a conversation where I identified the disconnect, explained that I wasn’t being passive-aggressive or upset if I spent much of my time at home alone, set some boundaries, and committed to at least SOME together time every night my sister is staying over for her sake.

      Remember, for people acting in good faith, clear boundaries are a KINDNESS that tell them how best to act to make you comfortable, which they very much wish to do. If part of the problem is indeed different expectations or desires for how housemates (and frequent-guest romantic partners) spend their time in shared space, an open, direct conversation about it could help a great deal.

  4. I think this devastation over the sister’s upcoming wedding and all the changes associated with that are a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. What I get from the letter is that the LW doesn’t find her own life very fulfilling at the moment, and that has led to her leaning on her sister for validation (“If she’s okay, and we do everything together, then I must be okay too.”). I think the single biggest thing she could do for herself is to figure out what makes her feel like a complete person on her own. It might be as simple as having a wider social circle to lean on. It might be as complicated as a full life makeover with a new career in a new city. Only the LW can say for sure, and it might take some time and soul-searching for her to figure it out—that’s okay too.

    Once the LW feels better about her own life, it’ll be easier to be happy for her sister and to welcome her future brother-in-law into the family with open arms. It’s okay not to feel like that while she’s getting there, so long as she’s able to fake it enough that her struggles don’t become their problem.

    1. I had that thought, too. Letter writer, Be the Hero of your Story if you can. (Be the champion of the fight, not just the man) (I’m quoting a song from Big Fish, the Musical). Thirty-something isn’t too old to fall in love and get married yourself, and if looking for love isn’t the path you want to take right now, that’s fine, but I think doing something to take control of your life and be the Hero (or Heroine) is a good idea.

      1. IMHO, people in their thirties are exactly the right age to START thinking about love, marriage, family, and there is no such thing as “too old”.
        People in their thirties are usually out of school, more settled in their lives & careers, more emotionally mature, and much better able to navigate the ups & downs of adult life. And they generally know themselves and what they truly want much better than people in their twenties.
        People in their twenties shouldn’t be worrying about “getting settled” before some imaginary Big Three Oh expiration date, they should be enjoying their lives, furthering their goals, and working on becoming their best possible selves, and having happy and fulfilling lives *on their own*. Because not only will that prepare you to be the best partner or parent you can be, it gives one a life worth living whether one ever ends up coupling up or not.

    2. I had this thought, too. Not to be overly blunt, but there is a very strong “misery loves company” vibe coming off this letter. The LW states that she had “quietly given up on either of us marrying,” but her sister’s engagement has exploded that assumption, which means the LW is being forced to reevaluate the conclusions about her life and fate that she had previously drawn. It’s a hard place to be. LW, I hope you can find somewhere and someone with whom you can process those feelings (is therapy at all an option? It might be worth prioritizing that.) so that you can come out the other side of this and be well.

      1. Yeah I have to admit I found that kind of odd. It’s one thing to “quietly give up on” one’s own romantic hopes/prospects, but to arbitrarily make that “decision”, even just in one’s head, for a person who is not them is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. And then to be shocked/hurt/miserable when they/their life actually differs from your head-canon of them?
        Methinks LW might just identify a little too strongly with her own fantasies of her sisters life while ignoring the realities of it.

  5. This is tough.

    I’m living the other half of this. I’ve intermittently been roommates with my sister, and she has definitely been My Person for long stretches of my life. I have a newish partner–we’ve been together for a year–that none of my family really clicks with. (In our case, the fam is boisterous and overbearing and my partner is reserved and soft-spoken.)

    Everyone is pretty transparent about how they feel, and that’s okay. (Sister: “I’m not sure what you see in him, but he is really good to you and I can see that you really like him so it’s cool.” Parents: “Huh. He’s okay I guess. I mean, you’re the one dating him and you seem really happy, so cool?” Partner: “Have a great time visiting your family! Tell them I said hi. Thanks for not asking me to come along.”)

    I’m not sure I really have any advice, besides don’t force things. Coexist when you have to, keep your distance when it’s an option, etc.

    Oh, one thing I will throw out there. My partner encourages me to be my authentic self, and makes me feel safe in doing so, in ways my family never has. I know that part of their resistance to him is related to the fact that I’ve changed within the safety and warmth of this relationship. They’ll sometimes make “that’s not like you” remarks, to which I can only respond, “Well, actually this is exactly like me–this IS me.” Maybe your sister’s boisterous, demonstrative fiancé brings out something in her that’s been dormant. Why does she love being with him? Have you asked her, in a spirit if genuine curiosity? That might be worth exploring.

    1. “Oh, one thing I will throw out there. My partner encourages me to be my authentic self, and makes me feel safe in doing so, in ways my family never has. I know that part of their resistance to him is related to the fact that I’ve changed within the safety and warmth of this relationship. They’ll sometimes make “that’s not like you” remarks, to which I can only respond, “Well, actually this is exactly like me–this IS me.” Maybe your sister’s boisterous, demonstrative fiancé brings out something in her that’s been dormant. Why does she love being with him? Have you asked her, in a spirit if genuine curiosity? That might be worth exploring.”

      THIS!!! When my husband and I were dating my family tried to tell him what I liked and didn’t like…usually after we’d just done one of the things they were convinced I didn’t like.

      1. That has to be one of my biggest pet peeves. And in my experience, it is a big red flag for people who don’t really listen or pay attention to the people around them across the board.

  6. Goodness, I wish more people would learn how to not be dismissive of feelings. LW: “I have talked to my sister about my fear that she won’t have room for me in her life anymore, and she promises that isn’t true, but I’m still scared”. How much easier would it have been on both of them for sister to step back and say, “You know, it sucks that I can’t do all these great things with Guy, and still spend just as much time/energy/life together with you. In my heart, I need you to know I’ll always love you. Sadly, my calendar and my finances mean there’s a lot of changes coming for both of us.”

    When you’re upset, and clearly justifiably so, it really sucks to hear, “Nothing is going to change!” When EVERYTHING is going to change. It is so dismissive.

    1. This!!! LW’s situation reminds me of the amazing film called Life Partners with Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs. It’s abour lifelong BFFs’ relationship changing after Gillian Jacobs character gets in a serious relationship with a man. There’s a really memorable scene where GJ dismisses LM’s feelings by suggesting that nothing changed for her so nothing must have changed for LM, but then LM says something alone the lines of “nothing changed for you because you still have someone to talk to if something happens at 2AM because you have your boyfriend, and now I don’t have anyone to talk to” and begs GJ to acknowledge that things did in fact change. It’s a great movie that discusses this type of situation.

      1. Really nice point to make. It is good for me to remember that jealousy is an expression of pain almost always based on loss of some kind.

      2. I’m really uncomfortable with this quote…it doesn’t sound like the character is really coming from a healthy or defensible place.
        I’m reading it as the LM character having all her friendship eggs in one basket, and then blaming the GJ character for actually having a life that doesn’t revolve around LM. If LM character had a full life and other friends, she’d *still* have someone to talk to at 2 am and not have to depend on GJ as her only friend, and therefore would not get bent out of shape that GJ has a boyfriend (or hell, even another good friend.)

    2. This resonates with me. I was really happy for my close friend to find a loving partner, which she had been longing for for so long.
      But our get-togethers swiftly became mostly boyfriend-inclusive mostly – yet she insisted nothing had changed. Her fellow is totally fine, but conversation is different when he’s around. I suggest a one-on-one together sometimes but she hems and haws and tries squeezing her fellow in anyhow.

      If feels a little dismissive when she says: “But If we have dinner with my fellow and have a little drink just us two afterwards, you’ll still get your one-on-one time with me, right?”
      It’s like she paints my wish to hang together a deux more often/longer than a few hours every 2 months as overly needy, and that feels worse than just seeing her less.

      But then I remind myself that she’s probably just very much in love and her behavior has little to do with me.
      I guess I’ll just have to let her be in love-land for a while and focus a bit more on other people and activities, per the Captains advice.

      1. If it’s been less than maybe 3 or 4 months, I’d wait and see how things go. Sometimes people go into a sort of couple-nesting period with new love and then come back out when the NRE has dissipated somewhat. But if it’s been longer, it might be worth bringing up that you’d really like time with just her, and maybe worth explicitly stating that to you this isn’t “nothing has changed”. If she’s not receptive, then it’s a question of where to invest your energy and whether you can deal with this being the new normal.

      2. I see that as a red flag – not a giant one, but still a signal that there could be something less than ideal going on. Yes, infatuated people tend to be VERY into spending lots of time together, but they also spent literally all of their lives up until they met/became infatuated not spending ANY time together, so spending some time apart is definitely a thing they CAN do. I’m not suggesting that it even indicates an intent to isolate on either of their parts, but at minimum it does indicate a disregard of the friend’s feelings. If a friend would rather not hang out with one AND one’s partner, what does one gain by forcing the issue? Friend won’t have a good time, or as good a time, which means one is less likely to have a good time oneself, and trying to force two people to have a relationship at all, let alone a GOOD relationship, simply can’t be done. So the only upside is that one gets to spend more time in physical proximity to one’s partner, and if that trumps all consideration for a years-long friend, I do find that a bit concerning.

        In a position like yours, Tortoise, I’d make sure I was being very clear (you may well have done so and encountered complete denial despite really emphasizing that, no, things very much HAVE changed and you’re absolutely serious when you say you want to spend time together without Fellow around) and then set and hold a boundary concerning plans you make: agree to see your friend with Fellow sometimes, and absolutely refuse to allow him to be interposed when you’re making just-you-and-friend plans (and if you’re serious about the boundary and your friend doesn’t acknowledge that, you may eventually need to enforce it by e.g. walking out of the restaurant if you make dinner plans and, hey, look who joined us!). If you haven’t done so, it might help to point out that you like Fellow perfectly well right now, but trying to force you to be around him when you don’t wish to be is more likely to make you dislike him than like him more; your friend may well be experiencing distorted thinking where Fellow seems so perfect that the idea that he may not be someone whom LITERALLY EVERYONE wants to be around all the time is simply unthinkable. And, yes, focusing on other relationships when one of your primary people gets busy with something (work, new romance, whatever) and doesn’t have the time to dedicate to you like ze previously did is also a great idea.

        1. It might be a red flag if it’s been going on for a while, and I definitely agree that it’s worth having a serious conversation about in that case. Going so far as to walk out of a restaurant if he shows up may be a nuclear option. Which is not necessarily to say that it would always be the wrong option, but it’s one that would be very hard to come back from. I think it’s only a thing to do if you’d really rather give up the friendship entirely than have a lower-doses, less close friendship that includes the boyfriend.

    3. I disagree with this somewhat. I get what you’re saying, but it’s also not Sister’s job to manage LW’s feelings about Sister’s upcoming wedding and marriage and how it will affect LW’s life. The marriage will affect Sister’s life a lot more directly than it will LW’s, actually, even if the change is something she is in more direct control over and is something she wants.

      I got married to a wonderful person who nonetheless is from a country very far away from mine and whose citizenship is different than mine. My dad was unhappy about that because he is afraid we will someday move to my spouse’s country and he will very rarely see me. This is a legitimate fear frankly, and there is a non-zero chance we will someday move to the other side of the world. But that fear is still my dad’s to deal with, and if during my engagement my dad had ever come to me with something like “Let’s talk about how afraid I am that you will move far away from me and our relationship will change” I would have been FUCKING PISSED OFF. *Enormously* pissed off. Because my marriage wasn’t about him, or my mom, or my sibling, or anyone else but me and my now-spouse, and how my marriage made anybody else feel was their problem, not mine.

      I do not want to be dismissive of LW’s feelings. They are legit, and her life is about to change, and change is scary, and she is allowed to grieve and be upset, but the appropriate audience for those feelings is not Sister. This is a “circles of grief” thing, imo. You dump out, not in.

      1. I understand where you’re coming from and I fully agree that there is a HUGE issue with families treating children/siblings/parents as an extension of themselves. But I do believe that if you have a strong bond with family/friends then your marriage is actually partially about them because you have chosen a person to make all big life decisions with for the rest of your life (if it works out). If they can express that in a time and content appropriate way and respect your autonomy then I feel that’s much healthier than not addressing it with you at all. Of course, that’s with a big caveat that they do this in a way that is not emotionally manipulative and follows the “Ring Theory” of dumping out.

      2. Sure, Sister isn’t OBLIGATED to manage LW’s feelings, but assuming she does indeed care for LW, she can still VOLUNTARILY consider them and try to make accommodations to help LW navigate the changes. Ethical obligation isn’t the only reason we can or should do things; it’s perfectly fine to decide to go beyond baseline obligations to accommodate other people about whom we care, even in cases where their wants or needs may not be entirely reasonable or may constitute a relatively large imposition. Also, like Lurking Along, I DO think people have a social responsibility to at least consider the material and relational impacts of our actions on other people, and that can involve talking to them about what impacts they think are likely.

        Social relationships like marriage ARE about people other than those who are getting married – if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be reinforced as legal contracts, they wouldn’t be mentioned in public policy, they wouldn’t be given any social consideration or relational primacy, and they wouldn’t even be publicly celebrated, becasue they would have zero relevance to anyone else. My relationships with other individuals are PRIMARILY about me and each of those individuals, but they are also at least a little bit about other people. Consider a case that’s been raised on this blog, that of people staying friends with a known abuser. From an an extreme individualist perspective where social relationships are only about those directly party to them, those friendships are only about how the abuser individually interacts with each of zir friends, so any victims of zir abuse and people supporting them shouldn’t care if someone stays friends with the person who abused them, at least not beyond logistical considerations for group gatherings. But it actually does matter, and for good reasons, because our social relationships are about more than just the particular people whose relationship is under consideration. And the social impacts aren’t limited to the actual results of what we actually do, there are also opportunity costs of hypothetical alternatives. If you’re marrying him, you’re not marrying me; if you spend Friday evening watching a movie with me, you’re not going out shopping with your brother. Becasue we can think in abstract terms rather than only dealing with material reality as it exists in the moment, we also attach meaning to hypothetical alternatives, and rendering those alternatives impossible may impact people who are implicated in hypothetical alternatives rather than whatever actually happened.

        We can and should debate and come to a consensus as a culture about where to draw the line between reasonable and unreasonable consideration and accommodation, but I think we’re inevitably going to be talking about the degree of consideration and specific cases or general classes of cases that should be considered important or reasonable or valid or not rather than categorically arguing against the broader social relevance of our relationships with people, because I suspect that very few people actually think that a relationship between two people never impacts other people than those two, or that the other relationships of the people with whom one has relationships don’t impact oneself. I know we often operate from an individualist perspective in this space becasue we’re looking at setting boundaries, accounting for what is in our control and trying to let other things go, etc. and that’s most useful in those cases, but it’s not the only framing to consider.

        1. Ok, let me just interject here that you are making marriage sound like it’s all about something it’s really not…it’s a holdover from the bad old days when it meant that women & children were men’s property. The celebrations & traditions that go along with it mostly have some really ugly origins in that background, and it’s very often a trap for women. We can also argue the social impacts & greater relevance of all of THAT if you are going to go there.
          (Personally I think pledging yourself to a serious committed relationship and a legally recognized marriage partnership are concepts that should be completely separate. I see no reason that any two people who want the tax/insurance benefits should not be able to get legally married for that purpose, and I do not believe marriage is required or even recommended to have a deeply loving & committed lifelong relationship.)
          I also do not agree that a marriage or relationship is about anyone but the people involved in it, and that romantic relationships are both quantitatively & qualitatively different from friendship in a way that makes it a whole different ball of wax than the “being friends with an abuser” scenario you are comparing it to. For one, it’s EASY for people to not be friends with abusers, they just don’t WANT to stop. It’s NOT easy to just dismiss someone you are deeply in love with, especially in a situation like LWs, who has fully brought this misery on herself by cultivating no other friends while actively cultivating an unreal image of her sister as her old-maid life partner, or Sel’s, who gets to marry who they like and live where they want and not have to soothe someone else’s fears of something that MIGHT happen as a result of that.

      3. I 100% agree with you.

        It’s extra egregious to me because LW could have chosen to cultivate other friendships, and could have not created fantasy head-canon Sister that would be her spinster Partner For Life. It’s not on Sister to alleviate LWs hurt & disappointmentment that she brought onto herself by deciding to have no other friends, and believing that because *she* has given up on having a partner/relationship, then her sister must have too (and I wonder if this is because LW sees her sister as an even OLDER “old maid”, so OBVIOUSLY she must have given up on ever meeting a man? As someone who met their husband at 37 myself {and had parents who met in their late 30s too} and who heard all kinds of similar ageist BS, my spidey sense is just tingling, it’s wailing like an air raid siren.)

        I’ll admit that I’m really biased here, because I’m at a point in my life when I have MORE than HAD IT with two very specific kinds of people- those who engineer their lives to create their own self misery, and those (in my personal experience, almost overwhelmingly, but not always, men) who have their own preconceived notions of who/what other people are (whether it is person-specific or generalized) and then get hurt/angry when those persons/people do not fit neatly into the shape their minds have given them, because BOTH types of people expect those around them to soothe, mitigate, and process their hurt, anger, disappointment and misery FOR them, and oftentimes expect it from the people they are most irrationally hurt/angry with. I’m at the point where if someone starts pulling that shit on me, I’d rather just walk away from them for good then even start to engage with them. Years of experience have shown me that it almost never works, these people rarely become self aware enough to get past their issues, and just because I am a female identified person does not mean I am willing to be someone’s combination therapist/emotional punching bag for shit that is 100% their own issues to face and handle.

    4. I don’t see the sister as being dismissive. Sister probably believes that of course she’ll always have room for LW, they’re sisters, and that’s her go-to response because she can see that LW is upset. She probably just doesn’t realise that she simply won’t have the same amount of time for LW, it’s just a fact when you get married, and it’ll take more work and planning to see her family than it does now.

      1. Honestly, sister isn’t promising that nothing will change! She’s she’s just promising that she’ll still have room for LW in her life; it’s the readers who seem to be taking that as “sister promises nothing will change” and not “sister promises that she won’t abandon me completely”.

        1. That’s how I read it. Sister’s love & regard for LW won’t change, their relationship won’t change.
          I would also be willing to bet that Sister did not have her whole identity wrapped up in being one of The Spinster Sisters 4 Lyfe, which is another reason she doesn’t see things changing. I hope LW can learn to deal with her feelings in a constructive & healthy way so that Sister never HAS to know. Personally, if I found out that a friend, family member, or platonic loved one had felt similarly about me when I met my husband, I’d be both horrified and a little sickened by it. I’ve only ever dealt with anything like this once, and even then it was totally inappropriate because the person who felt that way was someone I was just slightly more than acquaintances with and did not hang out with or talk to regularly AT ALL. And I only found out because they had a ‘secret’ live journal under a fake name where they talked massive amounts of shit on me (nothing that was even remotely true) that I found because I was looking at all the people she had friended (a thing I did often with people I knew in there and met lots of really cool people that way.) Yes, she was friends with her fake blog, and yes, she was unstable, and YES, I dropped her like a hot coal after that.

    5. I agree!

      As a mom, I got so pissed off at my mother-in-law once. My young child (3? 4?) was crying and fussing about having to go home from Grandma’s house, and Grandma said, “You’re crying for nothing!”

      I got steamed and fierce. “She is NOT crying for nothing. She is crying because she is disappointed. Do not ever tell her that sort of thing–she’s entitled to have feelings, and it is mean to tell her it’s ‘for nothing.’ Maybe she can’t name her feelings yet; she’s little. But they are there.”

      Then to my kid, I said, “I understand you’re disappointed and you don’t want to go home. That’s a normal way to feel, and I’m sorry you are so disappointed. It’s OK that you let us know you’re disappointed, but remember that nobody is being mean to you–it’s just time to go home. And now you have gone on about this long enough; it’s also time to stop yelling and crying, and it’s time to figure out how to get your feelings in control. Because the rest of us don’t want to listen to your disappointment for this long; it’s time to stop now.”
      Lo and behold, she calmed down.

      Being dismissed was actually making her outrage and crying worse!

      I felt it was important to help her name the feelings, important to allow her to express them in an age-appropriate way (at 3, crying for a little bit was OK to me), and important to help her realize that there was a time limit, and an attention limit, to that expression of feelings.

  7. I feel like this letter came from me ten years ago. My bother was My Person and I was his until he got married in his late 30s to a woman I love now but at the time was not my jam. Okay, she’s still not someone I would pick as a friend, but we get along fine now that I’m not resenting her “stealing” my brother. Time mostly helped with that, and accepting the ways my life changed (big life changes just kind of suck when you aren’t the one choosing them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t okay on the end.)

    I am the spinster aunt now (or the wierd gay auntie, which is more fun for me) and it’s awesome? My nephew is like a goofy tiny version of my brother and he never would have existed if things had all stayed the same. I love being part of their family, but I also love having an independent life of my own where I have a quiet apartment and a lot less responsibility.

    I strongly agree with Espritdecorps’ excellent advice to morn the relationship. It’s not gone, but it is changing and that kind of sucks for you. It’s okay to be sad about that. I definitely mourned the change in my relationship with my brother, even while being very happy for him. Just don’t do that AT your sister or her fiancé. I saved my sadnes, for the most part, and occasional venting about how irritating my future sis-in-law was for my therapist and friends outside that social circle.

  8. Are we not going to address the fact that this is all happening in the course of a few months (as stated by the lw). I’m sorry you kinda burned the fields with your sister with your resentment because this will be a really good time to have pulled her aside and said something along the lines of “hey sister I’m so happy you found this guy, but I’m worried that at a few months in you won’t know if you are fully compatible together. Heck you don’t even know if you are 75% compatible (have they actually lived together? Because based on the letter the answer seems to be no). I want you guys to be married and live happily ever after. But maybe have a looooooooooonnnnnnnnnng engagement so if you find some major deal breakers at the 17 months point it breaking up won’t include lawyers”.

    But you can’t say that because you already made your negatives views of him clear and she’s less likely to separate this very important advice/concerns from your jealousy and pettiness and legitimate personal issue of housing.

    1. Uh, I think it’s a good point to address, but there’s no need to make the LW feel worse by stating that she never can bring up concerns about the fiancé with her sister. Firstly, situations like these are emotionally messy and no one acts perfectly while dealing with a tangled mess of feelings. That’s in the past. Secondly, if the LW is honest about her concerns, she can indeed raise them with her sis, I don’t see why not? Including things like “It’s taking me time to adjust, but I love seeing you so happy!” or “You know it’s taking me some time to warm up to Fiancé, but he’s a great guy and I want you to know that my concerns are unrelated to him as a person, I just want you to be happy” or whatever is true for LW might help her make her case. Whether her sister listens to her advice or acts on it is out of her control.

      1. Good call!

        I’m leery of relationships that move to the ‘we’re getting married’ stage quickly, but I also think that if the LW had dirt on this dude or reservations about how fast the relationship came together or the length of the engagement, it would be in the letter.

        1. Length of time is important absolutely, but it’s not the be all end all.

          First husband…married at 8 months, married 19 years until he died. Current husband…married at just short of two months (yes, for real), 15 years and counting.


          1. DH and I met in February of (year). He proposed at the end of September the same year, and we were married the following July. We’re still married, and still very happy, a couple of decades in. But a few things that I think made a difference:

            – Neither of us was that young when we met; I’m younger than he is, but by the time we met, I’d graduated college and had been living on my own for several years.
            – We spent a lot of time together almost from the beginning. Like, we’d go grocery shopping together even before we shared living space.
            – We included each other in our social circles pretty early on. I’ve told DH that so many of his friends went out of their way to be welcoming to me, because they were glad to see him happy, was a big point in his favor.
            – Another point in his favor was that my best friend and then-roommate’s cat, who didn’t like the guys Friend was dating, liked DH right away. As in she jumped up on the back of the couch next to him and looked at him like “Well, why aren’t you PETTING ME?!”

            Length of time can be an indicator, but doesn’t have to be THE indicator. I’d think more about how the fiance treats the sister. Is he respectful, does he consider her needs and wants as equal to his own? These things can be difficult to evaluate from outside the relationship, but can be possible to some extent.

          2. Firecat, your story reminds me of me, right down to the catly approval of my husband-to-be. (Except we met in July, were engaged in January, and married that August. Oh, and we were in our late thirties or thereabouts.)

            In more general terms, I think that the more life experience you have, the more quickly you can gauge whether or not someone is a good match for you – you have a good idea of what your dealbreakers are and what you’re willing to compromise on. So I’m not finding the timeline in the letter to be worryingly short, given LW’s sister’s age (and assumed life experience).

          3. My longest lasting relationship before my husband was four years, and that guy moved in with me after *two weeks*.
            He remains one of the few exes I am still on good terms with, and he was also the reason I ended up getting sober over 20 years ago, which has had a greater positive effect on my life than almost any other decision I’ve ever made.

          4. Firecat, my husband was *also* cat approved, and my cat did not like ANYBODY. She wasn’t mean, just completely aloof & indifferent to anyone who wasn’t me (I’d adopted her from an unhappy situation BECAUSE I was the only person she liked.) She didn’t even care for my mom, who was like the literal embodiment of Dr. Doolittle, St. Francis, the Pied Piper, and Gertrude Groan when it came to animals, ESPECIALLY cats.
            She LOVED my husband.
            Sadly, she ended up with kidney failure, and had to be euthanized the day after our first anniversary. That was a bad year all around.

    2. This sort of jumped out at me, too. Partly from the standpoint that it seems to be a bit of a whirlwind for the sister-fiancee, but also partly because it’s a short time for LW to adjust to going from sister/bestie/top dog to losing her spot to the new fiance.

      1. To be fair, we don’t really know how long Sister and Fiance have known each other vs. Being An Engaged Couple. If he was a work friend or someone she’d known for a while before they started a romantic relationship, she may know him a lot better than the LW is aware of.

    3. Most of the couples I know who met after 35 or so didn’t have extended courtships, because they were more settled as personalities and knew what they wanted out of life and out of a partner, so it was much easier to gauge if they were compatible. Especially the ones that were sure they wanted marriage beforehand and were “dating with serious intent” for the get-go.On the other hand I know people who dated for years but never seriously considered how their life goals aligned,and got married on autopilot, so to speak, and then crashed and burnt.

      Also, it’s possible they are planning for a long engagement.

      1. Bingo. Whirlwind courtships suggest a lack of forethought or real knowledge—but not every swift courtship is a “whirlwind.” Once you’re in your 30s or 40s, you have a better sense of yourself, and in my experience, are less frightened of being your authentic self from the get go.

        My BF and I met in our 40s and were basically totally candid with each other from the start. “These are my issues! Let me show you them!” When we moved in together after five months, some of my friends freaked out…but it’s been two years now, and we’re going strong. That would NOT have gone as well with anybody I met in my 20s.

        Tl;dr—absent other evidence, I think we can trust Sister to be making a rational choice.

        1. Agreed. If the person’s right, the length of time involved is irrelevant. If they were right yesterday they’ll be right today and tomorrow and hopefully forever afterwards.

  9. I, too, sometimes find that other people’s successes (especially romantic or creative) trigger a lot of “why am I not there yet?” feelings which, if given even the slightest grease on the wheels, roll merrily down the hill and crash into the boulders of “I am NEVER going to create anything meaningful or do anything worthwhile with my life” and “Also I am going to DIE, ALONE, IN A DITCH probably”.

    Having someone to talk to helps me, but I know therapy isn’t necessarily accessible. I can say that if it is, you don’t need to feel ‘bad enough’ to talk to someone. There is no misery bar of entry to meet before you can talk to a counselor. So if that is a realistic option for you, go for it! It helps me a lot to say my absolute worst fears aloud to someone who is not (like your sister) tangled up in the source of those fears.

    But beyond that, I keep a list in my journal of people who didn’t do the big thing they’re known for or didn’t find a partner or didn’t even begin their creative (or whatever) career until much later in life than we’ve been primed to think is the ‘right’ time. I call it my ‘never too late’ list and it helps me remember that there is no age when suddenly we go from “I can do interesting things with my life, I can have new and fascinating relationships, I can love and be loved” (etc) to “doomed to emptiness and loneliness for eternity”. There is no ‘window’ for these things to happen, so you can’t miss your window.

    Also, I’m 37. I got married when I was 22 and divorced when I was 26. I have not had an actual, serious relationship since then and that’s not entirely by choice. I’m only mentioning this to let you know where my perspective is coming from. You can be sad being single or happy being single and you can do both of those things in the same day, but what’s really going to trip you up is taking the way you feel today or this week or for the past year and saying “this is Who I Am and this is My Life, Forever”.

    Good luck!

  10. What a lovely tough-love piece, Captain. I’ve been deploying your advice to get through the festive season with minimal frustration and maximum kindness. Happy New Year and thank you for all the wonderful things you do.

  11. Really think the caps advice is spot on here, I just wanted to recommend a resource – “let your feelings be your feelings and focus on consciously behaving in line with your values and goals” is a super useful strategy for life and I recommend The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris (to everyone actually) for learning how to feel all the icky ugly uncomfortable feelings that emerge, accept that they exist without judging them or trying to work out what they mean about you as a person, and then put them down and act in ways that create a valuable and fulfilling existence both long term and in the moment. I’ve found it to be invaluable and would recommend it to literally anyone.

    1. Thanks for this recommendation. I literally was just thinking today that i wished I was better at feeling my feelings. I immediately bought this book.

  12. This is all great advice, and I love the balance of self care and loving behaviour towards sister and her fiance.

    But also, this is a break-up. This was a cohabiting relationship which you thought was going to last, and the other person has chosen to end that. I think all the wonderful advice from all the Captain’s break-up letters applies here, and dear letter writer, it’s OK to let yourself grieve, as well as working out how your new relationship with your sister will be.

  13. I kinda want to print this out in fancy paper and give a copy to each member of my family and my partner. Which is to say, great advice, Captain. And lots of jedi hugs to the LW, this is hard stuff to deal with.

  14. Oh, LW, this is such a painful situation. I hope that you can find peace and comfort with the passage of time.

    This letter brings up a lot of fears for me, too—specifically that I’ll never get to be somebody’s Person or have someone be My Person in the long run. My situation is a little different in that I don’t particularly want the sex or romance aspect. I’d just love to have someone I can share companionship and support with who will make an effort to stick around in that role. Unfortunately, in our current society romance pretty much always takes priority, so I’m reasonably certain that I will always be second or third choice. These days I’m more careful to limit how attached I get to any friends. It’s not a perfect answer, but I’m learning to make do with what I can reasonably expect. Pets help with loneliness, as does trying to cultivate solitary activities I enjoy. Maybe someday I’ll get comfortable with being more of a lone wolf!

    1. I’m a lurker here, but I’ll come out now because I feel you, and it seems relevant to the LW as well. I also do not desire the sex or the romance, but I do want connections, and to be important to people. The more time goes, the more I realize I am on the path to become like my uncle. Who is straight, single, but lives with two of his friends. He works part time and gets enough money for this to support himself, and a lot of free time to draw and play DnD. And I realized also that I had been used to see this as kind of a failure, but I am not entirely sure why. If I could live near my friends, and play DnD with them everyday, draw a lot and have money to spend when I wanted, well, that sounds pretty great to me. It is worth remembering that options like this are out there. Not the Society Standard™ but still valid ways to live. So, being single does not have to mean being isolated, or unimportant.

      1. Thank you for sharing. It sounds like your uncle has found a situation that works really well for him! I do have some dear friends nearby who I see a few times a week, and I talk on the phone regularly with my mother and sister. It’s not the cohabiting relationship I’d love to have at some point, but I do have positive things in my life! To put a less gloomy spin on the fears I shared, I’m learning to be ok with having to work harder for social interaction. It’s not the cozy intimacy of living with my family of origin or down the dorm hall from college friends—it’s not miserably lonely either, though, as long as my mental health is in ok shape.

    2. That sounds quite difficult, and I don’t know how you identify, but have you tried looking around for other ace-aro folks who are in the same quandary? I grew up in a tiny tiny place, but I still knew two sets of people with that type of life-partnership-friendship situation, who were, for lack of a better word “couples” in how they lived together and prioritized one another. That relationship model is out there!

      1. Thanks prs! I do consider myself aroace or something close to it. I’ve made one brief go of it with a friend several years ago, but he wound up realizing he wasn’t interested in a partnership type relationship, and I haven’t met other likely candidates since. Maybe if I get to a place where I can make more space in my life for looking something could pan out? At the moment I’m halfway through a PhD, and as you might imagine it isn’t very conducive to building a variety of social relationships! I think I get discouraged because we’re so few that finding a compatible person is difficult, and “dating” doesn’t work quite the same without attraction as a major factor. But you’re right, it’s not impossible, just a different kind of challenge.

    3. Like HonoraryJedi I’m a lurker here too, and have been feeling similar things. I’m ace/aro and my job is draining enough (and I’m introverted enough) that the thought of having to go find people to meet and hang out with outside of work, when there’s no real clear non-dating path to meeting people, and we’re all expected to hold romantic relationships as primary, is something that I can’t even fully wrap my brain around.Like, I have friends at work, but they all have partners. The situation HonoraryJedi outlined below sounds pretty damn good to me too, but I just don’t know how to meet other permanently single people. Thank you (and everyone in this sub-thread) for sharing your thoughts on this because it does make me feel better knowing I’m not the only one in this boat.

  15. I love this LW for knowing who she is and how she feels and just putting it out honestly so it can be responded to in kind! When people who act from jealousy are in any sort of denial about that, it’s terribly toxic, leaves everyone struggling to understand and to figure out how to respond with care. This letter writer will soar over everything that hurts her at the moment because of her open-to-input and honest approach. I’m 67. My 37 yo daughter turned me on to Capt. Awkward a couple weeks ago in order to help me with an old friendship issue and you all ARE helping me so much, just reading your comments/answers to other people’s questions. Bitch over there eating crackers is my favorite thing to say to myself when this “old friend” person shows up without warning with presents of candy and canned goods—home canned. And you can’t accept home canned anything without being willing to save and return the jars, much less candy that your grandson and your husband fawn over, right? Ball in my court. AGAIN.

    1. I am so intrigued by this issue want wanting to know the backstory and thinking about how it could be handled, but it’s probably a topic for its own letter, so I’ll try not to derail here!

      1. Thank you. Back story IS kinda long! Suffice to say she is a neighbor who has been pretty inconsiderate toward me and suddenly wants to go back to besties. I’m over it, but I don’t want to hurt her if I can help it. But her dropping in without calling to see if it is a good time for me threw me for a loop. She’d never done that in 28 years and did so twice over the holiday season—and I don’t know what it means. I’m hoping my lack of enthusiasm will be enough to make it stop.

    2. About the jars. Try buying a few nice canning jars at a yard sale or even in the hardware store, and keeping them around. Then when she is leaving, you just give her the equivalent number of jars to what she left with you, and presto, the ball is already back in her court.

      1. Very sneaky!

        Is buying decoy jars less work or more work than saying “Oh, friend, please don’t waste any of your homemade canning stuff on me, I don’t really use it.”

        1. I guess it depends on if you like and appreciate the *contents* of the jars.

          But in my experience, no one has ever expected the cans/jars back after giving a home-canned food item as a gift. It’s like the jar is part of the gift and it would be weird to offer it back. In fact, I don’t see myself doing any canning in this lifetime so the glut of canning jars in the cupboard is annoying for me in a different way.

      2. I don’t know, since it sounds like this person is not a friend, I’m kind of thinking pretend not to know anything about the idea that the jars would be returned. “Oh, I think they went out with the recycling.” I mean, I’ve had people give me canned stuff (that I kept around for years because it was a flavor I had no interest in eating) and they never bugged me about the jars.

        1. Speaking as a canner and giver of goods, -a- I don’t expect the jars back (and in fact it’s kind of a pain when I meet someone for dinner and they randomly hand me two empty jars that I now have to juggle for the rest of the night) and -b- if you don’t want the canned goods, use your words and say no thanks, I’m an adult who can deal just fine. (And if I can’t deal, then I’m even more not likely to foist canned goods on you again in the future.)

          1. In the past I tried that with unwanted gifts. The result was learning that I was in a place where it was viewed as extremely offensive to outright refuse a gift. In my case it was wine during a time in my life that I did not consume alcohol and in a place where, somehow, it was the standard gift. Throughout the year I was open about the fact that I didn’t yet continued to have bottles of wine turn up on my desk, etc.

          2. Yes, I’m an avid canner, and will give friends and family things like salsa, jams, jellies, and apple butter (if it’s wanted). I don’t expect the jars back though will accept them happily. However, if you want to keep them/use them/recycle them/give them away, that’s fine.

            I am now super careful about giving this stuff to people because I realized that a lot of people felt like they had to accept it to not hurt my feelings. So now, if I am making something I know certain people in my life really enjoy because they’ve had it before and said PLEASE SAVE ME A JAR THE NEXT TIME YOU MAKE IT* I will give it to them. But if I’m not certain-say, it’s a gift to a person who is having me over for dinner or something–I stick with something like wine (if they drink) or flowers or something like that.

            *That would be the apple butter.

          3. My experience with trying to refuse gifts or not eating food offered to me that I find unappetizing (or even nauseating) has not been productive – I’ve had a lot of people in my life over the years who have flatly refused to respect boundaries about those things. Ideally, people will behave as you suggest, Red Reader, and I definitely agree it’s best to start out assuming good faith and give people the chance to do well by us. Other strategies that people raise should be applied if good-faith engagement doesn’t prove productive.

          4. All of these comments are great—thank you everyone! One issue has been that our families have known each other and at times been very close for 28 years. Then she shunned me without warning about 2 years ago—I knew it was something petty but it was still difficult because it made my neighbors and her husband and mine uncomfortable. She’d make a show of not speaking to me while paying big attention to my friends—which didn’t impress anyone. I’m not sure what she thought would happen, but I didn’t lose any friends. And then she came back around and acted sort of normal, but distant, which I liked. I was really happy to just leave it there, where it stayed for a year. We would talk when we ran into each other somewhere and that was it, all the neighborhood “why is she mad at Pam” drama was gone. Then out of nowhere she started wanting to reconnect more closely, stopped giving gifts to these particular friends and surprised me with something in July, and for the first time with the expectation that I return the jars, and then again in December with the Christmas treats. I think she is trying to tell me that I am her favorite again, and since I am not interested I am looking for a way to shut the whole game down on my end. Every comment I’m getting here—and I saw them all for the first time today—is of real help.

    3. Oh my gosh, I don’t know what the answer to this is, but I’m so right there with you on home canning and jars!

      As an aggressive de-clutterer and slightly scatterbrained person, hanging on to someone else’s home-canning jars is a nightmare. I don’t know how to tell someone “I’m sure your jelly is great! It’s not worth the anxiety of keeping track of empty jars that you’re going to want back. We’ll both be happier if you don’t give me this gift.”

      No advice, but lots of sympathy!

      1. Actually, Yolanda, this is good advice. If my coldness last time I saw her does not solve the problem, I will use your suggestion with a “thanks, but I can’t take these. We’re out of town so often that I can’t keep up with canning jars.”

    4. I’ll admit I don’t understand the issue with candy and canned goods specifically, but I totally hear you on the unwanted gift-with-strings-attached dynamic! Isn’t it kind of the point of the passive-aggressive gift giving that others besides the unwilling receiver don’t understand what could possibly be the objection? It’s a super subtle way of impressing and winning over the others around you so you have that much less of a support network in little ways that it would seem petty to point out, and they totally don’t know what’s going on. But you know. You. Know. However you choose to end this dynamic, good luck with branching out in to the mega-uncomfortable territory of “rocking the boat by sticking up for yourself” and “returning awkwardness to sender.”

      1. It sounds a bit like the canned goods and candy are possibly a tangible sort of favor-sharking, like, “I bought candy that your son and husband like and I brought you canned goods that I labored over a hot stove and pressure canner* to make, so now you owe me [whatever this person wants from Pam Ruatto].”

      2. Damn. Posted sooner than I meant to do.

        I meant to mention that, having helped my mom make homemade dill pickles and bread-and-butter sliced pickles and several types of jam, I am aware that home canning can be quite a lot of work. But frankly, knowing the amount of work that goes into canning, I’d far rather give the canned goods to someone who likes them, wants them, and can use them.

        1. Yeah I’m sure you’re right about the favor-sharking; I’ve made canned peaches and that was a heck of a lot of work (my grandmother kept a cellar full of canned stuff from her farm and I don’t think it would have occurred to her to gift any of it– for her it was a grim thing that poor people did and also a badge of being The Most Responsible Woman At Church that she could lord over all the other old ladies, lol. Times have changed!). I think this woman’s nemesis has found the sweet spot for favor sharking that is soooo much work and soooo sweet, but doesn’t raise eyebrows as being over-the-top or suspicious. Anyway, I hope the OP doesn’t get discouraged if ppl around her don’t understand what is the big deal about canned goods, I’m sure they have super-personal difficult-to-explain context with this woman, that’s always how it is with unwanted favors. Like the next door neighbor might be thrilled to get candy and canned goods in theory, but they aren’t getting candy and canned goods from *this* lady, are they?

  16. You may be able to bond over a shared surprise for your sister since she’s who you have in common. You could work together to get her something she’s been wanting to buy for a while, or to take her on an experience she has wanted to do. If her birthday is coming up, great! You can reach out and say “do you want to go in on something for Sister?” Doesn’t have to be the only thing you both get her, could be an As Well As.

    In my experience some of the best times I’ve had with people have been conspiring to Do A Thing that will make someone smile. And if you manage it this once, it creates a baseline of shared history too! “Remember that time we got together and bought/did that thing for Sister? Remember her face? Let’s see Dad try to top THAT! *high five*”

    I don’t much like new people either OP, and I really don’t like having my status quo upended. I sympathize. But I’ve had to find ways to cope and this is my favorite one, because it focuses on doing something fun and positive together.

    1. See “The Maud Couple” episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic for this exact thing. Seriously.

      1. I really liked that episode. It mirrors Maud’s first appearance in “Maud Pie” when Maud and the other ponies don’t mesh at all but bond over caring about Pinkie Pie.

  17. I have three sisters and I love them all very dearly.
    I married young and had a baby and was very close particularly to one sister who was single at the time. Then she started dating a man (a wonderful man, a friend of the family who we already knew and loved) and we went from talking most days to talking… less. I was the person she called when she had a tough day at work, or was a bit lonely and needed company, and then suddenly (it felt sudden) I wasn’t that person anymore.
    I tell this story so that you’ll know what your feeling and experiencing is completely normal and ok. That change in intimacy can hurt, even without the extra work of changing living arrangements and being around somebody you don’t click with.
    It took some time for us (me) to recalibrate, but we did while we may not be close like we were then, we are still very close. I’m sure you and your sister will recalibrate and will be close again when things settle down.

    Also – “spinster aunts” are my favourite. My eldest sister is the “spinster aunt” to my children and what she offers is different and very special compared to their other aunts. My own spinster aunt married in her 50s so is technically no longer a spinster, but she was during my “coming of age” and she played a very special role in my life as I grew up. Maybe you will be single for the rest of your days – but that’s ok.

    1. (My message posted before I finished writing! I’ll wuickly wrap it up)

      Society is/can be really harsh on women who don’t marry and/or don’t have children. It is changing, slowly but surely. Take advantage of the freedoms single women have now and be as selfish as you desire! You will get through this, and your relationship with your sister will get through this. Hang in there!

  18. Dear LW.

    I have a solution for you. I am in a 12 Step program and have a sponsor. I struggle with envy at times when a friend has something I want. I also sometimes develop a resentment against someone — a big no-no in Program. So, whenever I have a resentment against or envy towards someone, my sponsor says, “Pray for that person for two weeks. Pray that he/she/they have everything their heart desires, pray that they have what YOU want. Do it religiously for two weeks, and your feelings will shift.” I know, who wants to pray for someone you fear or dislike! But here’s the best part. According to my sponsor, you don’t even have to feel the prayer. All you have to do is say it. And, it works! I’ve done it several times and it has helped every time.

    I hope that helps. Hugs!

    1. I wonder if it would work just as well to write a diary entry or a letter every day for someone every day for two weeks, if you’re not religious? Because it still puts you in a positive mindset about the person. Not sure, but it might work? Sounds like good advice either way.

      1. I like that idea! I might try the prayer thing myself, but although I am a Christian, I’m a bit skeeved out by suggesting prayer to someone whose religious views I don’t know.

        1. Yep, for the non-religious you could reframe this as “sending positive energy” or whatever, to the person who troubles you. Buddhists have a practice involving”metta” which can be translated as “loving-kindness”. One way to practice is metta is to first offer loving kindness to oneself (may I be happy, may I be peaceful, etc. ) Then you expand offering metta outwards to others, culminating in offering to those who trouble you, even actual enemies. I’ve found this practice very helpful in dealing with negative emotions like jealousy, or even simple irritation with people.

          1. An Ursula Le Guin short story introduced me to this, actually – and it’s great, if I can remember to do it. The metta framing is very nice, too, because it’s just “may you have happiness, may you have peace” – wishing, instead of specifying who’s in charge of giving them happiness and peace.

            (Though I am from the US South, so it’s hard for me not to put a passive aggressive twist on it – “may whatever is CAUSING YOU TO DRIVE LIKE THAT be SAFELY RESOLVED, FRIEND”. It’s better than just screaming, though!)

          2. I don’t believe in energy as a thing that can be sent, either, so that wouldn’t work for this non-religious person. :-/

          3. If you know something won’t work for you, never do it! It’s cool!

            I would like to avoid a situation where someone shares a strategy that really works for them, and then is under immediate pressure to extrapolate until it works for absolutely everyone or they’ve done something wrong. I’m sure that wasn’t your intention, it’s just a dynamic I see a lot in discussions here. If faith/energy/etc. aren’t your jam, it’s okay, try something else.

          4. I think any practice in which you take a minute or so to focus your attention on wishing good things for that other person–whether you do it through prayer, writing, thinking, chanting, speaking, whatever, and however you frame it–will work just fine.

          5. Ran out of nesting — sorry about that! The specific wording “for the non-religious” read as kind of…absolute, I guess you could call it(?) on my first pass. But now I see the other interpretation.

          6. Ran out of comment nesting. Thank you @JenniferP for articulating that. I see that here and on Tumblr (and other places) and it drives me crazy but I’ve never been able to put into words exactly why.

          7. Purps- Oooh, which story was it?

            Also re: Southern passive/ aggressiveness- I can not even begin to tell you how delighted I was to find out that the Souhthern form of ‘Bless your heart’ was an ACTUAL thing, and not just a ‘my mom’s family’ thing (my mom, aunt, & grandmother all grew up in a tiny Wild West town in the Texas panhandle during the 1910s/20s/30s before moving to East LA in the 1940s.) I will never forget the way any of them said it, and it brings a smile to my face whenever I think of it.

      2. In 12 step programs you don’t have to pray to a deity, there are atheists in the program. It can be to anything you consider a “higher power”. I used “spirit of life” for awhile. I realize the word “prayer” can be off-putting, I don’t like to use the word in public myself. I think writing it out or “sending positive energy” as one person below suggests would work just as well. I’m thinking perhaps sending “blessings” could be another way to think about it. Hey, try it! Whatever you try certainly won’t hurt and will probably help. 🙂

      1. Ooh, can I share a few tricks?

        So, for context, as it turns out, both sides of my family have a lot of ASD. I have two siblings who are diagnosed as on the spectrum, and another that’s borderline. I have never gone to be diagnosed, but would guess I have some traits but not severe enough to actually be considered on the spectrum.

        For me, this meant I had a lot of trouble learning to do the social interaction thing, and I feel like I learned it as a second language where it feels like some people never have to think about it. But as result, I’ve spent a lot of time developing theories about this that seem to work pretty well in ‘field tests’.

        **1. What is small talk anyway?**

        I consider small talk to be small, polite pleasantries that are ‘low stakes’ for both parties. They have limited emotional content, and mostly serve to lubricate an interaction. The content of small talk will generally be generic, and if you need to have several interactions with more than one person, you will probably reuse similar phrases more than once.

        Common topics used in small talk include the weather, traffic, and minor matters of local interest, such as sports or local events. Small talk often also includes inquiries about someone’s recent past or near future plans.

        Small talk should generally avoid emotionally laden topics.

        **2. Why might small talk be right for me?**

        Small talk is commonly used in a few settings.

        First, small talk is commonly used as social lubricant. What I mean is that when people must interact in close quarters, but not in situations where deep emotional connection is appropriate, small talk allows us to acknowledge other humans without needing to connect too deeply. Making small talk basically implies, “I acknowledge you exist, fellow human!” Small talk draws on shared experiences, such as the weather when no deeper basis exists.

        Second, small talk is often used in the setting of a friendly or romantic interaction before going into more charged or deep conversations. Most people need time to relax and get comfortable before talking about deeply personal matters.

        If you start paying attention to the more intimate conversations you have, you’ll probably notice that most people will start by talking about light matters, then ease into more personal matters, then at the end, they’ll either taper off or return to lighter matters. It feels…awkward to simply sit down and launch right into something deep and personal.

        **3. How can I do small talk?**

        First, accept that the content of small talk isn’t really relevant. It’s the ritual itself that matters, not the content. Yes, that means you’ll likely make the same comment about the crazy blizzard this weekend about ten times. Nobody cares. Seriously.

        Second, realize that small talk is an opportunity to practice conversation in a very low-stakes settings. If your story about the crazy light display you saw on the way home falls flat, no one is going to remember.

        Third, most small talk interactions look like this:

        A) Greeting
        B) One person makes a comment setting the topic
        C) The other person makes a comment on the same topic
        D) One person asks a question
        E) The other person answers, and will often return the same question
        [repeat as needed]
        F) Exit

        This might actually take a form like this:

        A: Well, hi, I haven’t seen you in ages! How have you been?
        B: Not bad, not bad.* Man, the traffic on I-494 is crazy since construction started, isn’t it?
        A: Oh, I know. I was stuck in it for 45 minutes the other day, trying to go three exits.
        B: Yeah. I can’t believe we have three more years of this.
        A: For sure. You still working with XYZ company?
        B: Yeah, for a few years now. I’m thinking of looking around though.
        A: Yeah? Well, good luck to you.
        B: Thanks. I’d better get going now, have a good one!
        A: You too!

        * This can be a total lie. If you’re conversation is going to be limited to small talk, e.g. in a brief interaction, you’re not going to want to get into everything that’s going on. If you don’t feel like lying, you may also say something like, “Oh it’s been pretty busy” or “Oh, the holidays are always crazy.” Just make sure that after saying something like that you make a comment or question that redirects it, or you put the other person in a position where they have to ask a follow up about how you are.

        1. This is great! I tend to prefer small talk options that have a way to flow naturally into more intense conversations, which is why I get grumpy when there’s too much weather talk, but it’s definitely low stakes!

          1. @Kancienna Totally with you, and I’m very procedural which is why this is a Thing I Have to Practice. But, weather isn’t arbitrary! It’s popular because A) Everyone has experienced weather somehow at some point, so it’s a pretty universal topic, B) Almost no one gets offended by generic weather talk (e.g. it’s pretty hard to offend by mistake when saying ‘Wow, that snowstorm was crazy’, while asking about someone’s holidays, for instance, can be charged for some people), and C) It changes frequently enough that you can comment on it without having to say the same thing every day.

            Another way to think about it is that it would be inappropriate to get into a deep conversation with the cashier at the grocery store or with the person who works at a desk in another department. But small talk can be a way to just acknowledge “You are another human I’m interacting with.” In a lot of ways, it’s more about the symbol than the substance.

            @JenniferP Hope that’s okay–I don’t want to take anything way, I’ve just spent…a lot of time working on this for myself. Hope it helps other people too!

        2. I LOVE THIS. I come from a family that’s 50/50 on the nexus of a culture of “don’t open your mouth unless it’s critical information because your body heat will escape and you WILL die” and a culture of “if you don’t gab nonstop people will think you have a problem and then they’ll MAKE a problem”.

          I’ve tried to explain that small talk can be a display of dog-park-style nonaggression – and I really appreciate how it provides a social lubricant layer called “just because we’re in the same room doesn’t mean we have no emotional privacy.” Small talk: you don’t have to be willing to unpack your traumas and dramas in order to talk to people! You can just say very mildly informational words and get along! There are even escape phrases if one person starts turning the other into an unpaid therapist, or some mild but serious incompatibility rears its conversational head! SMALL TALK.

        3. Wonderful hacks!

          A phrase that I’ve seen several times on this blog, and that I also love, is ‘complete the circuit’. It’s a helpful way for me to think about it because, particularly if I’m trying to keep a conversation/interaction brief or low-stakes, I don’t need to be charming or original – I just need to complete the call-and-response ritual the way they’re expecting me to and we both get to walk away happy.

          So thanks for sharing some beautifully concrete ways to accomplish that.

        4. For strangers on the bus or in the grocery line, I have no problem and your analysis is perfect, and works for me. My issue is with acquaintances. I have a social circle of friends who are all yogi’s. I am not. At parties, the small talk doesn’t fit your analysis, It goes more like this:

          A: Hi I haven’t seen you in awhile, what have you been doing?
          Me: Oh the same, house repair stuff. How is your (fill in wife, dog, job, son, project, x,y,z)?
          A: Bla, bla, bla, bla, bla…….but what about YOU?

          Or, what usually happens………..

          A: Hi I haven’t seen you in awhile, what have you been doing?
          Me: Oh the same, how about YOU?
          A: Oh, well I just had (insert some AMAZING, or WONDERFUL, or LUCRATIVE thing) happen and I’m so happy! But what about YOU?

          The problem for me is, if I don’t think of topics about me ahead of time to discuss as in Option #1 — and they had better be happy, positive, wonderful topics — then I’m stuck. I can’t think of positive things about my life while thinking on my feet. I can think of lots of negative things, and complaints (I love complaining, but for fun, you know?), but then I get labeled as a whiner and no one wants to talk to me. These are yogi’s, remember, where they manifest all goodness in their lives. (grimace) They don’t do weather unless it’s been snowing! And, if I don’t lead off with something about me right in the beginning, and go into listening mode, I literally forget myself, like who I am, what I did half an hour ago, what I had for breakfast, etc, and I cannot think of a thing to say! I bet I’m not alone here.

          Writing this out, I see I must focus on doing Option #1. (smiling). Thanks Captain and all.

          1. Oh bless. I would also be struggling in that environment. When I was in school the done thing was weaponized humblebragging – “oh gosh I’m just SO HUMBLED to be running my eighth ultramarathon to save emotionally disturbed elephants, I SO ADMIRE how you can just chill out and watch tv all weekend! I just HAVE to be productive!”. That kind of thing.

            There must be some delineation possible between small talk and other forms of more intense social maneuvering but it’s usually beyond me to figure it out.

          2. I would say it’s going a bit beyond small talk, because these are people you do want a bit of a relationship with, right?

            For me personally, in a case where I don’t especially feel like talking about what’s going on with me, I find it’s easier to give brief answers or non-answers about myself and then ask follow up questions of the other person. Most people love to talk about themselves. One of my favorite tactics is asking people about something they’re interested in but that’s also challenging.

            For instance, let’s say that you happen to be talking to someone who says they’ve just opened their own business. It might look something like this:

            A: I’ve been really blessed, I just opened my own studio! But anyway, what about you?
            B: Oh, nothing that interesting, just work. But your studio–it must have been challenging to find the perfect space—how did you do it?
            A: Well I… [blah blah blah]

            (You do want to watch body language though—generally speaking, most people start making small cues, such as shuffling their feet, looking away, or angling their body away from you when they want to be done with talking to you. That’s your cue to do a “Well, I should talk to other people, it was great catching up” exit.)

            In my experience, that will result in people liking you as a rule, though it won’t necessarily build solid or deep friendships. It’s a technique that’s best used for acquaintances or casual friends–people you like well enough but don’t want to try and become closer to. If you try this too often with people you do want to be close to, you tend to end up with an imbalanced relationship (OK if it’s a mentor/mentee thing but not really healthy for a close peer friendship).

            MAJOR CAVEAT though. In my experience, this whole thing gets way more complicated when you’re woman and the other person is a man. Some dudes will exploit this as an opportunity to expand on the Wonders of Them, and it can be a pain to disengage. I find a good litmus test is that if your first question gets you *way* more than you bargained for, it’s a good time to politely end the conversation without further follow-ups.

          3. “MAJOR CAVEAT though. In my experience, this whole thing gets way more complicated when you’re woman and the other person is a man. Some dudes will exploit this as an opportunity to expand on the Wonders of Them, and it can be a pain to disengage.”

            Yes, this! Or to go into great depth about their hobby/interest while ignoring all social cues about your degree of interest. Several times I’ve started chatting with Some Dude at a gathering and wound up having my eyes glaze over while he went on and on about Fandom in Great Depth after I indicated passing familiarity with the fandom.

          4. (Run out of nesting)

            One thing about the “ask questions, people always like talking about themselves” advice, is that actually sometimes they don’t sometimes they want to be the person asking the questions (just like the person being advised). So you do need to be able to hold up your own end of the conversation and be able to talk about things.

            The other thing about the advice about listening was I spent years following it, and then suddenly started to think, hang on, when will it be my turn to do lots of talking? Am I doomed always to listen?

        5. This is truly excellent! I would emphasize your point about “low stakes.” This is going to sound bad, but I firmly believe it: with small talk, people are largely responding to your tone and your facial expressions, not the content of what you said. You can say the most inane things, but so long as you’re pleasant and you give the other person a chance to say their own inane things, people will mostly come away with a positive impression of you. I feel like small talk is more closely akin to dogs sniffing each other in the park and giving a tail wag than it is to other kinds of conversation: all you’re establishing is that I’m good, you’re good, we’re all friendly and not aggressive here!

          Once I realized this, I felt EMPOWERED. I started deploying small talk on any number of unsuspecting coworkers! “Hello! How are you! How was your New Year!” [insert chat about how no one really wants to go out for New Year] “Yep!”

          I read some sort of pop sciencey thing that was almost certainly inaccurate in its details but seemed to me to be correct in its overall gist, which was: you need a significantly higher number of positive interactions with a person to outweigh one negative interaction. (Given that I am the kind of person who will creep around the edge of the very large store to avoid one coworker who made a mean face at me once, this seems correct to me.) With this in mind, I am always trying to rack up as many small pleasant interactions with my coworkers as possible, so at some future point when I — I dunno — drop a package of fruit on the floor such that it explodes all over someone, they’ve got me firmly in their heads as “that nice person” and not “that neutral person, my opinion of whom could readily change one way or another given new information.” I don’t think this would save me from a truly big mistake, but I do think small talk is very helpful for building up a sense of goodwill with people you don’t know very well but have to see often.

        6. I love this! I learned not to hate small talk a few years ago; this is so good and I could have used it early on in my life!

    1. Yes, looking forward to this also – I am a small talk convert (though I still find it hard and awkward often!) because it has helped me build better relationships especially with people who are different from myself. Talking about the weather/holidays/movies has led to “deeper” conversations about culture, hobbies, and family in contexts ranging from work to in line at the store. I now consider it an Essential Social Skill and when people insist that it’s the Worst Thing Ever it’s like…ok but how else are you going to start your human interactions? Even with good friends, we usually segue into more serious stuff after a round of light catch up.

      1. Chatting with people in line at the store isn’t the norm in all regions, for what it’s worth. I’m an urban Northeast US person and people generally leave strangers alone at the store, bus stop, etc. unless there’s some emergency. There’s a bright line here between interacting with strangers in a situation that is planned and consented to (party, downtime at work, choir rehearsal) versus in a situation where everyone is there for a more functional reason (buying something at the store, on the subway to get someplace). I like it that way — I get to save my emotional energy for home, work, hobbies, etc.

        Of course, where I live, the stranger you see at the store is someone you literally might never see again (in contrast to strangers you meet at parties or hobby groups, who often aren’t strangers for long, by choice), and I realize that there are places where that’s very much not the case.

      2. I learned (mainly by having many public facing jobs & eventually my own business) how to do “small talk”, and at one point I was so well practiced that it was almost second nature.
        I STILL think it is The Worst Thing Ever. It feels shallow and fake as hell.
        It’s also difficult because I don’t watch TV *at all*, have esoteric/weird/picky tastes in music, books, movies; don’t actually WATCH many movies; HATE all sports and pay zero attention to them; am kind of a Luddite with technology; can’t play video games (coordination disorder); don’t have, want, or especially like kids; hate cooking & have weird eating habits; etc so it’s EXTREMELY difficult for me to find even the most bland ‘common ground’ with people who do not already share interests with me (and sometimes even with those that do) because I am totally unfamiliar with/uninterested in so many things that make good small talk fodder.

    2. I feel like I’m always failing at small talk because people will ask me questions that might seem innocuous to them, but which startle me and make me think “gee, that’s a little intimate.” And my deflection just leads to it becoming a thing.

      I recently had a professor for a course at my university who would spend about half a minute chatting with each individual student at the beginning of every class session. Because Small Talk Is Important! And I Need to Connect With All of You as Human Beings!!! But with the men it would always be related to sports or TV, like “how bout them Knicks?”, and with the women, we tended to get more personal questions, like about our eating habits, or comments on what we were wearing, which made me pretty uncomfortable.

      One time he asked me how many hours of sleep I got. I was a little weirded out, so I said “Enough, I guess, I don’t know exactly.” He then proceeded to ask me what time I went to bed, I guess in an attempt to help me calculate how much sleep I got in front of the whole class? At this point, I really should have given some socially-acceptable lie like “midnight”, but I panicked* and said “I forget.” More “help” ensued, with me giving the least informative answers I possibly could, but there was still time for him to say “If you don’t remember these things, then how do you ever know what time to wake up in the morning?!” before he mercifully ended it.

      Why he couldn’t have just asked me “what’s your favorite TV show?”, like he asked some of the guys, is beyond me…

      *I am a huge night owl and frequently run into the “waking up early is a moral imperative” school of thought; when I have a job or other obligation that requires me to show up early in the morning, I can do it fine, but if not, I prefer not to get up before I need to in order to not be late for whatever I’m doing. Apparently this is a super bad thing in many people’s minds, so I don’t like talking about it.

      1. I also find most small talk to be way too intimate! I’m glad I’m not the only one.

        Ever since Christmas, it’s seemed like the number one conversation topic at my office has been “What did you do for the holidays?” Thankfully, the holidays are pretty un-fraught for me, so I don’t have to explain any complicated family dynamics. But even though I did fairly normal things for the holidays (spent them with a friend’s family that lives nearby, since my family lives on the other side of the US and I just flew back for Thanksgiving), I still prefer not to tell that to near-strangers whom I have to get along with in a professional context. If I’m friends with them, it’s fine, and if it comes up organically and I want to talk about it to contribute to the discussion, it’s fine. But when people are just going down the list of standard small talk questions, I feel like I’m being interrogated!

        (Though I also recognize that I’m unusual here, and that people are totally not intending to make me feel uncomfortable; they’re actually trying to make me feel welcome. So I try to answer cheerfully and politely, and give quick and fairly uninformative answers, and then ask a lot of questions so I don’t have to talk as much about myself. Anyway, I’m glad the whole small talk thing works for most people, and I’m definitely not trying to protest its existence! It’s just not always for me.)

        1. Yeah, I describe all my holidays as “relaxing” and thus not very interesting. I can usually come up with one book/movie/show/game to mention if anyone asks a follow-up. But the parts of my life I find the most interesting and fulfilling are not the ones I generally chat about to school/work people, unless they’re independently friends with me.

        2. Oh yes! This year for me it was terrible. Currently I’ve mostly said “Meh” in a very aggressively less than great tone…it does not help with the social lubricant. I think many of my coworkers hit a stumbling block with that one but I wish I could put the filter back on enough to say..”fine!” cheerfully to close the loop and move on with things.

        3. I’ve been answering “how were your holidays?” with things like “fun, how about yours?” or “I spent a few days with family” and let people think that trip was in any way a holiday celebration, rather than just happening in December because some things do. It’s not a lie to say something like “I ate All the Cookies” or “I really needed that long weekend to get some rest” and then ask the other person “how about you?” Or, if you haven’t seen the person in a while (or it’s a stranger you’re unlikely to see again) to parse “holidays” broadly and say how nice it was to see whichever relatives you had Thanksgiving dinner with–Thanksgiving is a holiday.

      2. Yeah, “how many hours of sleep do you get?” isn’t small talk, and it’s a weird thing for your professor to be asking.

        1. The advantage to small talk, if it’s really small talk, is that you don’t have to answer any question in any way that makes sense. You’re free to change the subject.

          What are you doing for the holidays?
          Nothing much for the holidays, but I’m looking forward to some hiking in January. Do you like hiking?

          What did you get for Christmas?
          Nothing special for Christmas, but I loved the window display with all the sparkly lights at Department Store. Did you see it?

          How many hours of sleep do you get?
          I never keep track of sleep, but for some reason I’ve always kept track of how long it takes for my bus to arrive.

          What television shows do you watch?
          I know someone who used to love Gomer Pyle. Did you know Nabors had a singing career?

          If the question feels too intimate, and if you’re not able to get away with a deflection, and if the small talker (interrogator) comes back with “what time do you go to bed” (after your first answer which was perfect), then THAT IS NOT SMALL TALK, and we’ve entered into the territory of weird questions from creepy people which is another thing altogether.

          1. “The advantage to small talk, if it’s really small talk, is that you don’t have to answer any question in any way that makes sense. You’re free to change the subject.”

            This makes me think I might divide small talk into the categories of “social lubrication” and “conversational gambits”. The social lubrication is the stuff where you aren’t going to have a long conversation no matter what and just need to establish general goodwill. The conversational gambits are for when you might be talking a while and want to get to a topic that everyone in the conversation can enjoy. Hiking, sparkly lights, bus operations, and singing careers could all be fuel for a longer conversation with actual content. Do we have a term for the type of conversation where it’s not necessarily deeply personal, but you do care what’s being said because it’s interesting and fun, or is that just geeking out?

        2. I think it’s really weird AND creepy that the prof asked the guys totally neutral questions about sports & TV and asked the women super personal questions about clothing, food, and sleeping habits.

          It’s like the skeezoid version of the Old Man questioning King Arthur’s Knights at the Bridge of Death.

          Skeezoid Professor to male student: WHAT is your name? WHAT is your quest? WHAT is your favorite TV show?

          Skeezoid Professor to female student: WHAT is your name? WHAT is your quest? WHAT is the number of hours of sleep you get each night?

      3. I have a similar problem with small talk. Ask me what TV shows I’ve been watching, ask me what book I’m reading now, ask me if I’ve been doing any fun hobbies lately, whatever. But I’m in a professional degree program, and inevitably school/work is the only thing people seem to be able to think of to ask me about. And I just really hate talking about it because exactly zero of my family or close friends are in the same field or even in a related field, so it just feels like I’m constantly having to talk shop with people who don’t speak the lingo. It’s also very much one of the many fields where people *think* they know what your job entails, but they really, really don’t, and so with some people the whole small talk will just be them asking me questions and then me having to explain that the entire premise of their question is wrong (this happens virtually every time I talk to my mother-in-law). It just feels so awkward and not conversational, but I have no idea how to make it stop once they’ve started asking.

  19. Eh I know the struggle can be real about actually having no overlapping interests. It’s happened to me too many times where a close friend (and sister) have some things in common with me that feel like most things since they get accentuated when we spend time together. Then a new person comes into the picture who legitimately puzzles me, but when I see them together I realize a not-in-common side of their personality I thought was small is actually pretty big when it has room to bloom with someone else. It can definitely happen where personality traits I find particularly grating mix well with a best friend I jive with particularly well. It’s just life.

    The Captain’s advice is on point. Relish the moments when you do get along with New Guy and be gentle with yourself around the rest of it. Try to ignore the harmless annoying stuff as much as possible, and maybe even have a secret smile to yourself that says something like, “I may be single but at least I don’t have to deal with that every day.” Your relationship may change, but your life can make/fill room for it eventually.

  20. re: findig roommates/housemates,

    I want to add, if that seems unmanageable for a reserved introvert, that it’s totally doable.

    I’ve framed my ‘flatmate wanted’ ads as “looking for cheerful introverts who are fine with me being in my room 90% of the time”. I got a combination of people saying “oh thank god, that’s me, I need a sharehouse but I don’t want to do a big communal thing let’s-all-cook-and-watch-movies-together thing, I get home tired and just want to be on my own” and people who are like “I am a massive extrovert so I am only home at night to sleep”. It’s been successful.

    You can’t ask someone else to spend a lot of time in their room if you’re not willing to, but you can totally say “introvert seeking other introverts”

    Like with online dating, being really specific and concrete about what sort of household you want weeds out a lot of people but gets you really compatible people.

    1. Definitely. Being specific about your wants, deal-breakers, and the things about you that might be deal-breakers (as well as deal-makers) for other people not only helps weed out potentially incompatible candidates, but also makes you more memorable among the sea of “chill people” who “love movies, cooking, and going out.”

    2. My husband and I have a roommate that sometimes we don’t see for days at a time- not only because our schedules differ, but because we are all super introverts who are ok with spending a lot of time alone.
      We call him our invisible roommate, and it’s going on 12 years. It TOTALLY can be done.

    1. Hi Marina/’Graceful Zee’:

      The quotes I shared are from the novel. The clip is from the movie adaptation. Jo’s nervousness about Meg’s romance with John Brooke is a plot point in both, handled slightly differently.

      I have banned you from commenting here and deleted your drive-bys for like, 7 years by now? I don’t know how you keep getting around the spam filter, but here is your nugget of attention, please enjoy! Now find a new hobby, your obsession with me/this blog and leaving pointless nitpicking (not to mention outright mean) comments is embarrassing, surely there is something else you can do with your time like sorting buttons. Go find a Tedious Bitch club and become its president. Idc. Go away.

      Forgive me, everyone else, this person is like comment lice. This particular comment might seem innocuous, but it’s part of a crappy pattern and they will NOT go away.

      1. Ugh, I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this, Captain. I hope this person goes away and leaves you alone at last!

      2. Can I just offer my empathy for this feeling, Captain? For really silly reasons, I’ve had a couple of people follow me around various websites to make nasty comments for years now. Just when I think they’ve given up finally and let go of a ridiculous grudge they pop back up. It’s annoying and frustrating and I totally understand this feeling!

        1. It’s weird when you start to really wonder about what the hell this person DOES ALL DAY. If making nasty cracks to a stranger on a website is apparently so important that it’s become a multi year THING.

      3. “surely there is something else you can do with your time like sorting buttons. Go find a Tedious Bitch club and become its president.”


        1. I’m just so tired of seeing this person in my filters. They aren’t alone, there are a few others like this, and I’m like, why? Life is too short to hate-read things! Go! Be free! It’s a whole new year to try not sucking!

          1. Some people, when you offer them a chance to rise to your level, would rather drag you down to theirs. It makes me sad to see how they choose to spend their potential.

          2. And if you do hate-read/hate-consume things, just find some friends who also enjoy hate-consuming that thing and complain to/with them amount it! It’s much more satisfying, you get to bond with someone, and you don’t have to burden the creator of said thing or other uninterested parities who really just Didn’t Ask with your numerous nitpicky complaints!

          3. Is one of then that “Nice Guy” Letter Writer who was mad girls didn’t accept his multi paragraph OKC message?

            (Peeps directed me to that one and hooooo boy, that was a fun ride)

  21. It sounds like you don’t like Fiance because it is a mix of opposite personalities AND that he has something you don’t: a relationship and one with your sister.

    To solve the second issue, know that while he is your sister’s fiance… she is still your sister and your family. She loves and cares for you, and knows you very well. Nothing will change on that, and you 2 have gone through a lot. I think that alone should keep you from ruining her happiness.

    The first issue… Maybe you should spend one on one time with him? Take him out for coffee or lunch. Take away the fiance and the family and see how you two get along.

    If this guy is not an abuser, I think you honestly need to find a common ground with this dude for the sake of your sister.

  22. As someone who married young, endured an abusive marriage and finally got out…Let me just say that being single was cool and I was happy. Figured it would be okay to be single for as long as needed, or maybe forever.

    Well, true love found me in late midlife. Every day I pinch myself, wondering how someone as kind and clever and nerdy could be mine. Someone who gets my jokes, and embroiders on them. Someone who takes great joy in caring for me, and accepting love and kindness in return. We have more fun than anyone we know, and we don’t take it for granted because we’re in our 60s (hope to make it to Forever with this person, but one never knows).

    In other words: As the good Captain notes, there’s no cut-off time for getting coupled-up. And there’s also great happiness to be found even in an SO-free life. My best friend is 74 and never married (although she’s had some pretty great flings), and she’s the most contented person I know.

    I think her advice is great and I hope it helps you decide the course you want to take. Jedi hugs if you want them.

  23. Possibly the most important lesson for me is that there is a distinction between being alone and being lonely. The most lonely I’ve ever been happened when I was in relationships, particularly my now-former marriage but that was a continuation of the dynamic of being around people yet still isolated that developed in my youth.

    While recognizing that your life isn’t mine and that a divorce which I chose to have is vastly different from your situation I am hoping that a certain point of similarity can work for you. As much as I like change it was hard for me to leave something that had been very comfortable. For over 20 years – since the start of my 20s – my life was defined by that relationship. I had to consciously think about “what could my life look like in the future? What would I like that to be? An example for me was that I decided I needed to spend less time at home on the computer (I do IT work so am on one all day for work) so I put it in an uninviting corner of the apartment. It worked, too – at one point I didn’t boot for seven months.

    As I approached the split I made a point to develop a network of friends that weren’t connected to my ex (granted there were strategic needs of a non-amicable divorce served by that as well.) I am extroverted so my network was rather large: 30+. As I adjusted to single life it meant that I had friends whom I could hang out with when I needed, and the frequency of that “when” is very individual-dependent. I also used it as an opportunity to do something that I always wanted to do: live downtown in one of the 50 largest cities in the US. My budget just barely worked for it. I went out a fair amount, often to nearby bars that were at least somewhat quiet. I often engaged the staff or nearby patrons in conversation, but I also had times when I read a book. I’d take my motorcycle to the nearby mountains for a day or weekend trip. While several younger girls being in awe of a woman who rides are my favorite memories the solitary time of just me, on my Ninja, with open road ahead was cherished.

  24. Please write a post about your high school bully trying to MLM at you and how it did turn out because I am imagine it as entertaining and satisfying.

    1. CN – bullying

      Short version, she added me on Facebook, which I accepted out of curiosity, then immediately added me to some secret MLM groups. Since I could post publicly in the groups, I chose that venue to ask what fond memories she had that made her think of me just now? Was it the time she made fun of me for not shaving my legs in front of the whole class? The time she locked my little brother in one of the portapotties near the football field and then got a bunch of older kids to tip it over with him inside? The time(s) she put red paint on my chair so I sat in it and then made fun of me for having my period and I had to walk around with stained pants all day? The way she used to slide her used cigarette butts through the slots in my locker and turn all my stuff into an ash tray and burn holes in my things? I mean, gosh, it’s amazing that we can relive all these fond memories together as adults, I’m so honored to be asked to join this weird sad pyramid scheme, did she have any leggings that matched “shit-covered crying 7th grader” or “period stain prank” so I could really relish those memories with her every time I wore them? Were any of the protein shakes ash-tray flavored?

      Strangely I was not a member of those groups anymore by the end of the day. Huh.

      1. That sounds like a more effective than average method of getting MLM people to f off and leave you alone, too.

      2. Oh, that’s more horrible than the bullying I went through, more horrible than any I’ve known either in person or in movies. I’d want to know what Bully’s life was like. Did she go for a MLM scheme because she’s unable to hold any sort of job anywhere else? Does she have any friends at all from the old days, or does everyone remember her as the mean person to avoid? Does she have any friends from the new days because she’s still at heart a heartless bitch? I’d want evidence that she was suffering from her own doing.

      3. I came here to ask for more on this story, and I am not disappointed! Though if you wanted to write up the long version sometime, I would read that with great enjoyment.

        1. It was not a well-thought through thing, more like, “Wait, Who? Why? WHAT? AW HELL NO” rage barf into the internet.

      4. CW for brief mention of self harm (not descriptive).

        Jesus fucking Christ on a bike, that’s not just bullying (and I know there’s no “just” with bullying, my youngest daughter was bullied so badly we ended up removing her from school after finding her self-harming, but still, holy FUCK), that’s terrorism. I think you handled that with amazing restraint, personally. Christ. I’m feeling quite sick just thinking about the level of planning and viciousness her actions entailed, and what could possibly have triggered them. As an ex teacher I understand that kids often bully because of deep unhappiness themselves, but sometimes? Kids are just shitty kids and grow up to be shitty people. I hope you’re all right after dealing with her reappearance in your life, I can’t imagine how it must have felt awakening all that again for you. Wishing you love, light and fiery vengeance x

        1. I hope your daughter is knitting herself back together (I think you’ve mentioned this before).

          I mostly never thought about this person after we graduated, but then, THAT was the way she chose to get back in touch? No ma’am. Burn it to the ground.

      5. The amount that people rely on other people’s silence astounds me. Like, is that a record breaking level of chutzpah or of obtuseness?

        To 2019, the year of responding to more things that deserve it with, “Wow, WTF”

      6. That response was beautiful and needs to be framed in a gaudy gold frame and welded on the fridge.

        (Points to anyone who knows the reference)

      7. Not that this is the defining moment of Captain-appreciation, but honest to god you’re my hear! Thank you for sharing, so awesome!

  25. Captain- I always love your advice…

    I must admit I’m a little sad that the link you posted on your slaying a karaoke song was of the original. 💚

  26. Re: Spinsterdom, my granny scandalized all my aunties by getting a new boyfriend shortly before her 80th birthday. Apparently the dating scene in her assisted living place is pretty hoppin’, too.

    Basically the only time limit on finding a fulfilling relationship is still having the brain capacity to be in a fulfilling relationship.

    1. Aye – my gran buried her third husband at 80 and then decided she was just going to shack up with them after that, and was on her third live-in beau when she passed in her early 90s. I joked regularly that gran had a more hopping social life in her 80s than I did in my late 20s.

      1. My grandmother is a widow well on her way to 90. She’s not dating (and I doubt she ever will) but she has a FAR more exciting social calendar than I do.

    2. My grandma died a couple years ago, and we were all delighted when my grandpa started bringing his girlfriend (from his assisted living community) around a year later! He’s in his upper 80s and I think she’s maybe a few years younger but not much. I also have an uncle that married in his late 30s, and another who married in his 50s (these were second marriages, but their first marriages had been very brief and both had been single for many many years before their current wives came along). There really is no age limit on meeting people.

    3. My 70+ year old developmentally disabled sister has had SEVERAL boyfriends that she’s met through her disabled senior day program. She’s very popular with the guys there!

  27. Just a short comment here – you the use of “spinster” – it’s a word with such negative cultural baggage. The equivalent male one of “bachelor” isn’t nearly so negative. Unless you’re in a good place – and feel like owning and trying to claim the word with positive meanings, (and it sounds like you’re not right now), it might be helpful to substitute a more neutral term into your internal narrative – like “single”.

    Being a single aunt can be pretty cool. You get to decide how much time and money you want to spend on any nieces/nephews that appear. You don’t have to negotiate with a partner over the myriad of small things that can end up being contentious. You can just do & decide stuff – that gives you a headstart in cool-aunt terms.

    To me, also, the use of “spinster” brings to mind lots of fairy-tales, where the whole goal of the story is apparently to get the woman safely married off – which is her guaranteed happy ending in the children’s bed-time story. If you’re finding you’re making those comparisons inadvertently too, then that’s another reason to change the wording of your internal narrative.

    1. I decided to seize “spinster” for myself after my divorce for it’s original meaning – spinning is the part of fiber arts that is my first love and hobby!

      1. I adore spinning, and it’s definitely helped me through some Stuff by being meditative but not too woo. The rhythm of it is calming, I guess.

        Do you use a wheel or a drop spindle?

        1. Both. I have multiple wheels – Ashford Traditional and Majacraft Suzie plus a book charka – and a ton of spindles. I also do support spindling on occasion. I mostly use the Traditional for things at home and a Turkish-style spindle for when I’m going somewhere as I can easily pack it on my motorcycle.

      2. Hear hear! (about spinster and spinning)

        I took up spinning about 10 years ago, and so wish I’d done so 30 years prior, when I first discovered that there was an active guild where I live. Spinning has taken over my life (in a good way), and I am happy to be the spinster aunt in the family. (And if all goes well, I’ll be a spinster great-aunt in the not-too-far-off future.)

        And I love my Majacraft Suzie and my Hansen miniSpinner, but never really bonded to hand spindles the same way. (I’m also carbonel on Ravelry.)

    2. Back when I was trying to make the whole “being AFAB” thing work, I decided to make my personal contribution to reclaiming the word “spinster.” In ye olden dayes, after all, a spinster was a single lady who was doing just fine on her own, thankyouverymuch; no need for a man’s support here!

      It’s obviously up to LW whether she finds strength and/or solace in that particular definition, but maybe the reframing would be helpful for her, or for anyone who’s single by either choice or circumstance.

      (Turns out I’m an androgynous dude, so “bachelor” is more applicable to me these days, though that’s not to say that “spinster” couldn’t apply to non-female genders as well, if the fancy strikes…!)

      1. Yea, I really like that framing of spinster. I’m happy to use the word for a similar reason (along with a sort of ironic joy at “oh yes, poor spinster me enjoying my life…”) but now I kinda want to try out bachelor instead. Being a non-male bachelor sounds like it could be fun.

        1. My alignment on the gender spectrum is somewhere between true neutral and Manliest Man Who Ever Manned (but defaulting to “male” on gov’t forms, since that’s a lot closer to what I am than “female” is, and since there no non-binary options at the federal level, well…), so as a non-fully-male bachelor myself, welcome to the club!

  28. Since his in-person demeanor grates and you lose your cool in his presence, perhaps you could start an email chain with him (that your sister knows about) where you can interact in relaxed email-time and share links to fun videos and that sort of thing.

    When I was a tween my much older sister, who was closer and more of a mom to me than our actual mom, left for college and soon after got engaged and married. It was devastating to suddenly just have her vanish completely, and then to have this strange man at her side whenever she visited. The thing is, because it was a Sibling Issue and not a Parent Issue, it somehow wasn’t supposed to be a big deal, nobody ever talked about it and I didn’t feel “allowed” to have big emotions. I don’t know why people have this attitude. It’s a big deal, and taking responsibility for your feelings means giving yourself permission to feel them and being kind enough to yourself that you aren’t afraid to be vulnerable with yourself.

    You might want to see a therapist about this; it sounds silly but lots of people need step by step guidance about how to actually feel their feelings (as opposed to displacing feelings on others like a future brother in law, for instance). All of the guides I can think of focus on emotional rebuilding after parental negligence but I’m sure a proper therapist could suggest a more relevant book, program or group. FWIW the “spinster” talk at the end of the letter sounds like what I do when I’m depressed and beating myself up: take the worst of what society produces– the meanest YouTube comments, the crappiest advice from least favorite Aunties, etc– and internalize it as The Absolute And Inevitable Truth That Everybody Really Thinks About Me And My Life. Just a reminder– it’s a skewed perspective, it’s tunnel vision that is difficult to escape when you’re down, but it doesn’t last and it is NOT the only reality.

    1. I’m interested in those guides you mention about rebuilding emotionally after parental neglect. Do you have any recs or tips for finding some titles myself? Thank you either way!

      1. @VoleCentral yes, Running on Empty by Jonice Webb was what I was thinking of; it has some workbook exercises as well as text. There’s also an excellent, beautifully written book by Pete Walker called C-PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving with more general, comprehensive, messy and inspiring advice. And then there’s a technique called “focusing” which is a meditation-y method of feeling your feelings, about which I have no one specific resource recommendations but if you look it up I’m sure you can find info. It’s not attached to any religion or program so if you run into that kind of “join us!” info, just disregard it. One thing many experience after neglect is “alexithymia,” which would also be a helpful place to start looking– that’s difficulty noticing and naming one’s own emotions, and coincidentally also something many people on the autism spectrum experience, so you’ll have a lot of those results to sift through too.

        I followed many suggested exercises in these books and found it a bit like nailing jello to a tree at first, but not difficult per se or prohibitively painful, and I noticed a lot of improved skill; tedious, but nothing to be afraid of.

        1. Thank you both so much, this is really helpful ♡ Alexithymia sounds def. likely in my case, thank you for the guidance (and the new word!).

    2. The idea of an email/group text or chat exchange is brilliant.

      My brother and I have never had the best relationship – but there have been efforts made as adults to be closer. When he’s been in close relationships and then when he got married – it was very important to my parents and my brother that I bond with my brother’s partner. As someone not super close to my brother, it wasn’t a huge shock that I didn’t typically bond so well his partners.

      Since chatting or hanging out has never been super easy – utilizing group texts to share funny articles/memes/low stakes chit chat has deeply helped in the ritual of reaching out but also allowing a relationship to grow slowly. I will also say that when my brother was engaged and during his wedding – I thought through what actions I could do that would be meaningful for them without necessarily involve me spending a lot of time with them. I made sure that financially I could give them a “large” (for my wallet) wedding gift as well as a very personal engagement gift. During wedding festivities during the bridesmaid mani-pedi date – I knew that my sister-in-law would enjoy my brother being present but also was upset at the state of his nails at the time. So I invited brother to join us and paid for his manicure.

      While all of those steps are money/gift based – there are things like offering to run errands or making baked goods or extra food for dinner that is available for the finance and sister to share. Acts of kindness that do not necessarily involve physically being together. While I did largely find ways to pay for those acts – it was also an easier task for myself. Instead of needing to enjoy hanging out with my brother’s fiance – I could figure out what were thoughtful gifts or gestures that show I cared while buying time more a personal relationship to grow on its own.

  29. This is such helpful advice, Captain. I found the piece on separating feelings from behavior to be profoundly useful; feel how you feel, but behave well. Thank you!

  30. LW, it’s hard when someone else’s gain (a new partner) equals your loss (your sister having less time for you, having to find a new housing situation.)

    You’re allowed to grieve, to feel angry, to feel sad.

    That doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad sister.

    And it’s ok to feel sad/scared/angry about what the changes mean for you, at the same time that you feel happy for your sister’s happiness.

  31. I am here for Stevie Nicks karaoke LET’S GO RIGHT NOW!!!

    Also LW after my separation/divorce at age 38 I had thought I was in for a few years of slutting it up followed by my slow decline into spinsterhood surrounded by my friends and cats and HERE I AM four years later surrounded by friends, cats, a dog, and my AWESOME fiance’ so I am here to tell you that if you want a partner, you can find one at any age. Do all the things the captain said to get you mentally in a place where you are INTERACTING WITH PEOPLE YOU LIKE while doing AWESOME THINGS THAT YOU ENJOY so that you can be 100% YOU. Then if someone comes along that is awesome, you can decide, yeah, sure why not give this a try? Or nope, I am enjoying my excellent spinsterhood!

    Good luck!

  32. LW, it’s hard when someone else’s gain (a partner) equals your loss (your sister having less time for you, having to find a new housing situation.)

    You’re allowed to grieve, to feel angry, to feel sad.

    That doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad sister.

    And it’s ok to feel sad/scared/angry about what the changes mean for you, at the same time that you feel happy for your sister’s happiness.

  33. Thank you in advance for the small talk post from someone who wants to be better at it but who definitely feels like dying of it is a distinct possibility.

    Love you, Cap.

  34. It does sometimes happen that someone who is great in one friendship/communication venue is bad in another and vice versa. The person who’s terrific one-on-one but difficult in a crowd. Or the person who is somehow all wrong in person– maybe too loud or too close– but who writes wonderful funny and profound letters. Or good at art galleries but not at sports events. Maybe a way to feel better about Fiance is to see him in a variety of situations to see if one of them clicks.

    Example from my life: I could find nothing in common with my sister-in-law. I could admire many of the things she’d done, but we always got together in home situations where my housekeeping skills were lacking. I’d try to help, get it wrong, feel chastised, etc. At some point we were in a restaurant, and she complained to me about some small thing the staff wasn’t doing to her liking. I think the music was too loud, and we were the only ones there. Without thinking I asked the waiter if the music could be turned lower. The waiter easily complied, and I realized I had a talent. Or the time she told me she couldn’t find something in a bookstore so I asked the guy at the desk where the biography section was. Turns out I’m also capable of asking salesclerks how much something costs when the price labels or signage is inadequate. I can’t say I did any of this on purpose, but we get along better now because, in her eyes, I must be fearless at taking care of these things. Of course, I wouldn’t say I was doing anything special or hard, but then, I wouldn’t say I was a lazy incompetent fool at loading dishwashers which is the dynamic we had before. Seeing each other in different situations made the difference.

  35. This is lovely advice.

    One thing that may not be comforting now, LW, but a thing that you may return to: You still have many, many decades to spend with your sister, and though your relationship will never be quite the same as it is now, it may be equally strong and equally good in ten or twenty years.

    I say this based on my mom’s relationship with her older sister — while they both got married and lived a ways apart for a chunk of their late 20s and early 30s, when they’d settled into their respective long-term situations, their relationship deepened and strengthened from that point onward. My mom had other friends in college and as a young wife and mom, but her older sister is her best and deepest friend. Parts of their relationship changed, sure, but not always for the worst. About ten years ago, my family’s home and business were catastrophically flooded (three feet of water in the business, one foot int he house, and the water sat over the neighborhood for a week). My aunt came out to help with the clean-up, the often-traumatizing business of pulling all our crap out of the mud and seeing what could be salvaged and waht couldn’t, and eventually, the reconstruction. She drove three hours every weekend for a solid six months, until it got cold and icy.

    I don’t want to say they were closer after that — they never stopped being close! — but if anything it was more obvious to me how much love and regard they had for each other after that year. They’ve both had ups and downs, including some marital issues (though they are both still married, relatively happily, to their sposues) and local friends who have come and go, but they are each other’s constant.

    Be kind with yourself, LW. Absolutely invest in yourself and your life, but the future is wide and it holds a lot.

  36. Oh boy, you may be as much a Karaoke Person as I am and it’s true that it’s best not to engage if one isn’t into it, like my wife.

    LW, please be compassionate to yourself, please believe your future will be bright. For all you know, had you gotten hitched at age 25 it would have been terrible and finding x person at age 45 might give you 40 years of bliss. Who knows?

  37. For whatever it’s worth, I just want to acknowledge the LW’s feelings about her sister’s boyfriend as legit. I’m seeing a lot of suggestions for different ways to get to know him / different ways of communicating with him / processing her feelings about him and her sister in therapy so that she can feel better about him, and that is all REALLY VALUABLE, but like. Sometimes people just don’t like other people. A close family member of mine has been with her now-husband for 15 years, and the fact of the matter is he and I are never going to be friends, and that’s okay. What really messed with me was years and years of family, friends, and therapists telling me that when I said “I don’t like him” that was just the jealousy talking and I was wrong about my own feelings. I have, in earnest, done every single thing a person can do to get to know and like this guy. I desperately wanted to shed my “fake”/projected feelings to make things easier for everybody — especially me! And in the end, the fact of the matter is, sometimes people just don’t like other people.

    SO! The LW is, of course, responsible for her own behavior, as the Captain said. If the boyfriend’s not a bad person, but is just a Person You Don’t Like, then calm and cordiality is the name of the game. Identifying topics of conversation you don’t mind talking about (for me and my dude it’s my job, his job, and superhero movies) will be a big help. You don’t have to be his best friend; you just want to be able to get on with him without making it a burden on your sister. Good luck!

  38. Oh dear, I’ve been on the other end of this and it caused years of stress and guilt. LW- I think something to keep in mind is that if you want absolutely nothing to do with such a big part of your sister’s life… well, you’re gonna miss out on a lot of her life. Unfortunately, my best friend was not as thoughtful as the LW and somehow did manage to convince me that my relationship was A Thing That Was A Problem in our friendship. Our situation was almost exactly like the older letter that the Captain linked, it was almost spooky to read it.

    My best friend and I went to high school and college together and were basically inseparable- codependent, really. We both found ourselves starting very different relationships at the end of college. I immediately recognized her boyfriend as a Darth Vader Boyfriend- the relationship was filled with drinking and fighting and YEARS of him “not wanting to put a label on things.” My relationship with my now-husband just clicked and we got serious fairly quickly. We share similar temperaments and rarely bicker. My friend and her boyfriend were a little unlucky starting their careers, while my partner and I had actually met and worked together in our chosen careers. We really felt like partners. I think my friend was frustrated to see my life falling into place a little easier and she showed it through treating my partner like an intruder. Once, fairly early on, I made the mistake of inviting my boyfriend, along with others, over for a movie night without mentioning it to my friend. I must have paid too much attention to him, and she wrote me this long Feelings E-Mail when she got home about how I had changed, she knew my partner didn’t like her or even want us to be friends anymore (a bizarre statement she would repeat, which I truly never understood) and just how in general I was being a very bad friend now that I was in a relationship. It’s true that we were seeing less of each other compared to when we were carefree, single college kids. There were certainly times that she’d have to pass on plans because she was doing something with her boyfriend. I couldn’t understand how my relationship had this effect on our friendship and hers didn’t. I took that Feelings Mail to heart and made sure we were having enough “girl time.” Except she would outright ask me to not bring my partner places…only for me to get there and she would bring her boyfriend. She once invited me on a camping trip with her and her boyfriend, and another couple, but on the condition I didn’t bring my partner. I didn’t go. For years I wracked my brain over what my partner had done or said. Was there some huge red flag I was missing, despite feeling safe and supported with my partner? Still, I valued our friendship and tried to accept this. I was a big girl! I knew not all my friends were gonna be best friends with my partner.

    After I got engaged, I asked my friend to be my maid of honor. It was a small wedding, a lot of people were coming from out of town, including my friend, so I didn’t expect or even want the engagement parties or bachelorette parties. I just wanted her to show up and be happy for us. But once again, I fucked up- I planned a night out with the wedding party members who had gotten into town early- me, my fiance, another mutual friend of our from high school and his boyfriend, and my friend. Her boyfriend couldn’t come, and I think she must have felt self-consious to be the only single person. She repeatedly asked why my fiance was crashing my bachelorette party (which she could have planned but didn’t), why he wasn’t with his own friends? We were really close with the other couple present, had even vacationed together a few months prior, so we thought it WAS a night out with all friends. Even if it was out of insecurity and stress, it broke my fucking heart. I knew that if she couldn’t bear to spend time with my husband to celebrate his own damn wedding, she wasn’t gong to be on board once we were married.

    1. I’m so sorry that someone that was once a good friend made you feel so shitty over something that was *entirely* a “her” problem. *Jedi hugs*

  39. LW, this is far down on the comment thread and I know there are many, many posters who have given you wonderful advice, but in my (admitted) skimming of them I’m not sure I saw something that has been helping me lately.

    I have trouble sitting with conflicting emotions. I sometimes have trouble properly noting causation vs. correlation. These things can make my emotions messy and make me feel like there is no way out and I must sit and be miserable because life.

    In your situation, it would seem to me like “I am happy for my sister but I can’t stand the thought of the man she loves,” and “My sister loves somebody I don’t like so I am miserable.” When really, it’s “I am happy for my sister AND I can’t stand the thought of the man she loves,” and “My sister loves somebody I don’t like and I am miserable.” These things are all happening together and denying that you feel them or feeling guilty for feeling them isn’t serving you. But you can sit with those feelings together, and you can make small changes to change what surrounds the “and”. So maybe you can make small talk and go home and say, “I was uncomfortable/unhappy and I was polite.”

    You’re losing the life plan you’d made, and that’s a hard thing. It’s an uncomfortable thing. It’s bringing a lot of tension into your life that you didn’t ask for and it seems like you’re overwhelmed at all the changes this man’s presence in your sister’s life is bringing you. You love your sister and I trust that you want to try your best to support her and not feel these feelings (notice the “and”?). Give yourself a little grace but make sure that you’re letting it stay a you problem and not making it a them problem.

    I hope this makes sense, it’s been a big help in me naming what I’m feeling and allowing myself to feel it while still letting me be proud of myself. Somehow mentally putting in the “and” makes me feel less like I’m doing something I’ll be resentful of later and more like I’m building new skills.

    I wish you all the best, LW.

    1. Thank you for this post. I think it’s an important one. I went from not being comfortable with conflicting emotions to not being comfortable with people who can’t handle conflicting emotions. I like your x AND y construction. Now when I think about it, it seems like the most natural thing in the world. OF COURSE we can be happy for a friend’s success and jealous at the same time. OF COURSE we can be looking forward to something new and apprehensive about it at the same time. We can even be in the throes of grief after someone has died and aware of how much easier our lives are now that they’re gone and the caretaking worries have been removed. Mixed feelings are built into life; they’re built into feelings.

  40. If you are someone who needs to have a plan, when you know that he will be at family dinner or X activity, come up with 2-3 questions you can ask or one gracious host act that you can serve. Maybe, you don’t all have warm fuzzies yet, but you remembered that he likes an outside piece of the brownie. And if you notice a pattern that at the end of the night, you are max introvert and he is max boisterous, get your gracious host nicety done early (like greeting them right when they get there and getting first drinks) and then move on to other people. And that way, you know objectively that you accomplished the thing and put forth the effort that you were comfortable with. (To be clear, this does not need to be a woman in the kitchen thing, that’s just what I do at family activities.)

  41. oh do i know those jealous feelings. 😦 i’ve had two friends who i thought were with me on the Longtime Single boat get engaged/married. and here i am still single. one of them moved away, relatedly. it’s super hard to have to rearrange your social and home life because of changes they made. it sounds like this happened relatively fast, and of course it’s ok to have mixed or negative feelings about it. i think a sister could understand some grief over losing her as a roommate and best/default companion, and i’ve had success with my friends saying “i’m so happy you found someone, but i’m also feeling some sad left-behindness”, but it’s probably better to dump most of those feelings elsewhere. find somewhere, a friend, a journal, a therapist where you can vent all those sad and angry feelings about it. so that it’s not simmering as strongly when you actually see your sister and her partner.

    of course there is some grieving, even anger, and there’s also lots of room/opportunity for trying new things. figure out new ways to hang with your sister that don’t rely on you being in the same apartment (just the two of you AND whatever time with him works best for you). find some ways to feel more control and optimism over what happens next: you get to choose an apartment just for you or with new roomies, you get to redecorate, you get to try something new socially (take a class, volunteer, join a team or band/choir etc). i KNOW you didn’t want those things, but try to open up to them possibly being ok.


  42. I can relate, and I approx the guidance in the post and comments here. I have Grinch-level envy issues, especially around romance. I was upset when my five-years-younger brother began dating and having sex in high school, while I hadn’t (and, nearly 8 years later, still haven’t) ever experienced those things. I still resent seeing him with girlfriends, especially as we’ve grown apart, becoming adults who get along when we occasionally meet but have little in common to talk about or share. But I don’t envy him the emotional turmoil from his long series of relationships and breakups, and if he ever finds long-term love, I might be able to feel glad of it for his sake despite resenting nearly any good partnership between anybody. I tell myself that while a partner may know and love and enjoy spending time with the (decent, admirable) man he is now, none will ever know the sweet, funny, aggravating child I lived, fought, played, and shared secrets with for so many of our formative years. Perhaps it’s petty to comfort myself with ‘I have something they don’t,’ but sometimes petty is what works.

    And yes, it can be so hard to believe and remember that “young love” isn’t only for the young, despite our cultural messaging that makes it seem so. The love of my mother’s life, a woman 45 years older than her, was in her 70s when they found each other and started a family. Their example is an undeniable counterpoint that I try to keep in mind.

      1. Approx actually made sense to me, like “I also more or less agree with this advice”

  43. I have a brother-in-law who I have no interests in common with, he passionately loves the sportsball and I could not possibly care less, but he is one of my favorite family allies. He actively friended at me from the very beginning and it made me feel like I was included in their little new family as much as I’m part of the family that existed before. Plus, whenever I want a break from my side of the family at any sort of event, I can go ask him about what’s the latest sportsball thing. He loves to talk about it, even at the explain it like I’m five level where I can follow it, and knows I neither care nor will remember it, but he gets to talk and I get a break from my other relatives asking me when I’ll get married. An extrovert can make a very valuable party buddy.

    I agree with the person who suggested that maybe you could conspire on Doing A Nice Thing for your sister but, maybe before that, you could seeing if any of the things you don’t share are useful? You could redirect his boisterous and evidently not super effective friending attempts into something that would genuinely be endearing or at least practical? Maybe something you suck at and hate is something he looks forward to. My current partner, for example, loves IKEA. I cannot fathom that such a thing is possible, since I know IKEA to be literal hell of earth but now he can just go do that on my behalf and we can both feel smug.

  44. In case my experience might offer any hope/solace… I didn’t in any way adore my sister’s husband when they got together and, honestly, for about the first 20 years (not a typo). There were times I actively disliked him. Even when I liked him well enough, I definitely didn’t want to have anything more than a five-minute one-on-one conversation with him – it was just awkward. His redeeming quality was that he has always been very good to my sister. There were times I wondered what she saw in him and there were times when I thought they kind of brought out the worst in one another. Most of the time I just tolerated him and I assumed the feeling was mutual.

    Now, I consider him a breath of fresh air. I like that he is so different to my family. When things are tricky with them, I know he will be the steady neutral rock. I see qualities in him that I completely missed in the past 20 years and I think he feels the same about me. He is warm and considerate and is genuinely happy for me when things are going well in my life, without all the baggage that even the nicest immediate family member can bring. I still struggle to sustain long conversations with him and he still has all the irritating qualities that he had before, but our relationship has got to a very nice, comfortable stage where we both can appreciate the others virtues and sort of bypass our ‘weaknesses’. I am now genuinely happy to see him on visits home. I never thought I’d say that.

  45. I played the 3rd point of the triangle in my life recently, with my DH’s close friend, “CF.”
    CF recently stayed 2 weeks with us, and did not conceal her dislike for me. She was rude to me, created discord between DH and I (which we subsequently smoothed over, but damn), and was ever present. I spent 5 days visiting my family, so DH and CF got plenty of 1:1 time and it still wasn’t enough for CF. The blatant contempt and resentment of my presence (in my own home!) for me continued, particularly when it was the 3 of us. I mean, CF didn’t try to hide it, was apparent to both DH and I.
    You know what? CF is not invited back, ever. She’s known me as DH’s partner for nearly 12 years. I’ve been kind to her, generous with my living space (multiple weeks long couch surfing) and give her room to continue their bond with my DH wirh zero complaints. It hasn’t been enough. CF’s attitude does not escape DH attention, and he doesn’t appreciate CF more for it. He understands why CF is not invited back to our place ever again, and why i won’t join them in the future for hang outs.

    Takeaway for me is that you can show your friends/ family your love by meeting – at the least – a basic threshold of respect and goodwill towards the new important person in their life. Otherwise, you actively undermine the very ptecious relationship with your loved one. Even mistakes can be forgiven if followed with sincere apology and behavior modifocation.

    Timely topic foe me, so thanks for the place to share my experoence. Good luck, you’ve got tons of great advice here! Xo

    1. Jedi hugs, nebbebs. In your shoes, I’d have been absolutely livid! The only thing I can’t quite understand here is why your DH would even want any further hangouts, or to be friends at all, with CF after the way she treated you.

      1. Thanks! Those hugs are just right.

        I’ve thought about DH continueing friendship, and decided I am fine with him continuing. They’ve been friends for over 20 years. She is rarely in town, And doesn’t communicate in between visits much. In fact, she thinks they are mych closer than he does. So long as idon’t have to be there, when she is in town he is free to hang out with her, and she is not invited over to our place. DH says if she is snarky, he will tell her that our relationship is off limits, and if she doesn’t let it go he will leave. That’s a good next step for me. I expect her to step in it, and for it to continue damaging their friendship so that . For now, this set up works for us. 🙂 but yeah, on the face of things i totally get your concerns!

  46. LW, I had an experience sort of like this! One of my best friends (the level that’s basically a sister that happens to have different parents) spent years of chronic single-hood ‘casually’ talking about how if we never got married maybe we should just move in together and approach life that way. It was on that level that’s sort of a joke but also sort of a backup plan, you know? Where no one’s actually making plans around it yet, but there’s an undertone of “ok depending on what happens this might actually be a thing someday”.

    And then she went and met a guy and fell in love and got married, all on a pretty quick timeline. Which is great! Now that I know him better, he’s a genuinely great guy, they’re great together, and meeting/marrying him was absolutely a great thing for her. I’m really happy for her (and at least part of me was really happy for her from the moment she started talking about him in any serious way).

    But at the same time, her shift from single to coupled was hard on me. I hadn’t been counting on our ‘backup plan’ in any serious way, but losing it–even with its status as mostly a joke!–still made me feel anxious and lonely and scared for the future. I felt like she was ditching all the ‘plans’ we’d ‘made’ together–even as I knew logically that we hadn’t seriously planned anything, there were absolutely no commitments being broken, and I’d never really assumed she’d stay single or consciously thought of it as anything more than a joke. It was a confusing and upsetting set of feelings.

    In the short term, I mostly handled that by finding a friend who wasn’t her and looking to them for comfort and a friendly ear. Basically, I sorted my feelings into two piles–the ones that were happy for her, which were what I drew on when I was actually around her, and the ones that were scared for myself, which I brought to others. It worked decently well.

    In the longer term, my reaction made me confront some things about myself that I had been keeping on the back burner. I realized that I do actually want a partner someday–I had been telling myself that I’d be fine being single forever if that’s how it worked out, and it turns out that was a bit of denial on my part. And I realized I had to make some changes in my life to make that happen. I hadn’t been making any real effort to date or expand my social circle at that time; I’d been sticking mostly to people and communities that I already knew well, which was comfortable but not exactly great for forming new relationships of any kind.

    It’s been a couple years since then, and I’m still single…but I’ve been trying new hobbies, I’ve gotten involved in some new communities, I’ve set up profiles on some dating sites, and I’m actually meeting new people on a regular basis. A lot of them have been generally nice and friendly and good people. I haven’t met the right person for a long-term thing yet–but I feel like my odds are a lot better now that I have a better idea of where to look to find my people and now that I’m forming new connections on the regular. I also have a much broader network of friends and community to fall back on….so even if I do stay single in the romantic sense, I don’t feel like I’m going to end up alone. So my friend’s getting married really was a positive thing for me, even though it didn’t feel like it at the time.

    Your situation is a little different than mine was in that you were already living with your sister and financially entwined with her (for rent at least) and your plans for your future together weren’t veiled in the idea of it being a joke. That probably makes it even more stressful and anxiety-provoking than what I felt. But I hope you can take the situation and pull off a similar thing. It’s been a lot of work for me, but seriously worth it.

  47. Ugh, The Change You Didn’t Look For. Always a challenge.

    For Fiance, for right now, I think a good baseline for controlling your Feelings,etc. is to ask yourself, whenever you feel overwhelmed or irritated,
    “If this was Sister right now, talking to a member of Fiance’s family, how would I want that family member to act?”

    This may give you a platform of Pleasant and Kind to fall back on and put a boundary around the whirlwind of EMOTIONS! that are trying to swarm you like a flock of needy, screechy crows. It’s not that your feelings aren’t real or valid, or that big changes aren’t coming–but it’s no fun to feel at the mercy of them.

    Another thing to remember–your sister doesn’t love you less or think you should be more like her betrothed. You know this intellectually, but when a loved one “picks” somebody who’s unlike how you think of yourself, it can sometimes feel like a rebuke: “If I was more [fill in personality trait] than Sister might not have fallen for him” or whatever.

    How you feel about things is valid as your emotional map, but it’s not the only map, or the entire map. Don’t let the map of your street pretend to be the atlas of your life.

  48. I apologize if this is OT but they’re making another Little Women movie and they filmed part of it in my tiny Massachusetts town!!! I’m so excited! Sadly I missed the deadline by ONE DAY to become an extra (😭) but I believe it’s coming out late 2019 and Meryl Streep is in it!

  49. This is fantastic. Thank you so much for ‘If you never want to get married or be in a couple of any kind, cool, it’s not a doom! If you do want to be partnered someday, there’s no guarantee of anything but there’s also no cut-off time after which it is definitely Too Late For You’

    I’m (oh God) 38, hahahaha. And definitely verging on the ‘Dear God how did I end up here not married, doomed to eternal spinsterhood, I can’t tell people my real age because then I feel like a freak of nature’ path. I’ve made a goal of this year of keep pushing to get out, meet people, and who knows what will happen? Being a recovered shut-in is tough.

    I absolutely feel for the LW, what a scary feeling to have especially when our culture pretty much cuts off married people from making a lot of friends and being social. I’d definitely look into some therapy, a counselor would likely have some good exercises for you to try to help you ease into a big change in your life.

    1. This is a really late reply, but I found myself single (widowed) in my early 30s, about ten years ago, after a not-too-great decade-plus relationship, and I did a lot of dating for about 5 years and had mostly decided that I was never going to find anyone who could fit my very rigorous standards, and then I started dating this guy I’d been friends with for some years about 4 years ago. We got married a week and a half ago. I’m 43. 🙂 Just in case that helps!

  50. Dear sister

    I feel for you. This is a difficult place to be in. No wonder you feel like crying.

    Practise saying to yourself ‘She loves me and we always make time for each other’ whenever you worry about your future relationship with your sister, and ‘I’ll handle it’ whenever you worry about all the Bad Things that will have to happen, like moving apartments. Fill your head with positive statements to chase away the bad ones occasionally.

    Could you even joke about it? Like ‘i’m just still reeling from the fact that my older sister has found someone. We were totally planning on being two spinsters, living in a chateau together with lots of great wine, and collections of art, and cats. It was going to be great!… Now I’m going to have to admit that I’m not on the shelf either, and go out and be my attractive self, whereas I’d much rather stay in and plan the chateau thing. Yeah this sucks.’

    You sound like a really cool person, and your sister WILL miss the lovely living situation you two have had together. It’s just impossible for things not to change. If at all possible, try to focus on making the last months of living together into fun ones. (‘Let’s go to that local restaurant we are always meaning to visit’…)

    A therapist might be nice right now, to give you somewhere to vent and to give you some help for reframing and articulating ask the different things you feel!

  51. I do not actually think “embrace making polite small talk with a man who makes you want to run away and cry every time you encounter him” is sound advice, no matter who the dude is going to marry.

    1. Open to alternative suggestions, keeping in mind that:

      -The fiance’s “crimes” are that he is boisterous and mildly annoying (not mean, abusive, unkind, a reprehensible person, or otherwise an asshole),
      -The sister is marrying this person, he’s gonna be around in the family’s life literally forever,
      -The LW is very close to her sister, wants to stay that way, and wants to be involved in the wedding,
      -The “small talk” people dread so much can be a series of 5 or 10-minute interactions where the only goal is to not become the asshole in the situation or make anything worse.

      What would you advise, or do in her shoes?

      1. I like your advice Captain. But, I also think, if someone wanted to take a different approach– like, give yourself permission to take a break from interacting with this person until you get yourself sorted– I don’t think that’d be unethical either.

        There was a post, and I wish I could remember where it was, but it was something about how giving yourself permission to not face your fears is empowering and can ultimately help you face them. Like, framing facing fears as choices and consequences rather than something you *have* to do to clear some “good person” bar that society set for you without your consent, because that leads to shame, which makes it harder to try again.

        Even a fear as extreme as agoraphobia, if you frame it as, “choosing to never leave the house makes me feel safe. It means I miss out on [things I like that aren’t in my house, bonding experiences with my friends, etc], but for now, I’m willing to trade those things for the feelings of comfort and joy I get from arranging my environment to suit me best.”

        So, for LW, I think she’s okay to say, “choosing not to spend time around my sister’s fiance is a choice that has trade-offs, but currently, the ‘pro’ of not feeling extreme emotional distress outweighs all the ‘cons’– including missing out on a lot of time spent with my family.”

        I think if she owns it as her choice, and communicates clearly and non-judgmentally what her choice is (so people don’t wonder why she’s not attending family parties or holidays and worry about her), I think it’s okay to just choose not to be around this person.

        I don’t think it’s selfish to prioritize your own emotional health and wellbeing, as long as you don’t expect other people to “side” with you. It’s a choice that individual makes for themselves, between spending time with their family / sister and someone who causes them pain, versus spending time alone or with unrelated friends; it can’t be a choice “between him and me” that the LW forces on others. And each time an event happens, the LW could make the choice again, or make a different choice. And if she chooses to hang out and it doesn’t go well, she can give herself permission to leave, and try again later. She didn’t fail a challenge to perform joy when she feels like she wants to cry; she just made a judgement-free choice to leave an event early to read a book or do something that comforts her.

        I don’t want to minimize phobias in any way with my comparison; I’ve struggled with them myself. But, I think the framework of “let yourself experience your emotions without judgement,” rather than forcing yourself to pretend you aren’t feeling an emotion just because it’s not logical to feel, is overall healthy. Even if it does mean taking time alone to make sure your expression of the illogical emotion doesn’t hurt others.

        1. I feel that it is a different situation when the person you don’t want to be around is because they are some kind of jerk (in that case, avoid away!) than when you want to avoid someone because YOU (general ‘you’) are being a jerk…like when you are jealous that your sister/good friend has a nice S/O and you do not.
          All the ‘avoiding’ is going to do in this case is make *Sister* feel like shit and like she needs to soothe/placate LW or be the mediator between LW & Fiancé so things go smoothly. In this case I feel like it’s not ‘self-care’ to avoid him but closer to when a toddler is ‘acting out’ in a tantrum, or when people do the ‘silent treatment’ to teach someone a lesson.
          Sometimes you really DO need to suck shit up that you don’t like, to learn important life lessons and level up as a human (these have been some of the hardest, most frustrating, and most VALUABLE lessons I’ve learned.)
          Not that I’m advising that LW try to instantly become best buddies with Fiancé, but more like exposure therapy or allergy shots- small doses of the innocent but irritating thing until you get used to it, and eventually even constant exposure causes no reaction.

          1. Hmm. We might have to agree to disagree on this one. I see where you’re coming from; there’s definitely a risk that if LW avoids family gatherings for a while, her sister might feel hurt. And, it’s noble to try your best to not hurt someone you love if you can help it.

            But, in my opinion– and, I might be wrong– it can be like choosing self-love over sister-love. If LW chooses to “tough out” events that are emotionally painful for her, for her sister’s sake, regardless of the source of her pain, that’s a good and selfless act.

            But, I think people are allowed to choose to avoid pain, or learn to tolerate pain at their own pace, without necessarily being “selfish,” even if the opposite choice is selfless. Even if the pain is emotional, and even if the pain isn’t anyone’s fault really.

            Some choices, like blowing up at someone or, worst case scenario, attacking someone physically just because I’m in pain that they didn’t inflict on me, those are unilaterally harmful, inexcusable choices. But, choosing to just…do nothing. Just, taking a break from the painful situation for two or three months, or however long, and focusing on building up my own happiness: I think that’s a justifiable choice to protect my own emotional wellness, even if the cost is hurting my sister’s feelings somewhat.

            I’m not even saying that is the choice I would make. I just think it’d be ethically okay.

            Of course, I’ll own that I’m biased towards wanting solitude more than most people anyway, and that I tend to get frustrated when people take it personally when I turn down an invitation because I want to be alone. But, I don’t want to get too far on a tangent about introverts vs. extraverts, so I’ll just stop here, haha 😅

          2. Also– as someone who has done exposure therapy to overcome a phobia, let me say this: it’s pretty hellish.

            It’s not anything I would ever do again, unless my phobia was getting in the way of something I needed to do to save or seriously, significantly improve my life (which, in the first circumstance, it was). I don’t know if you’ve ever undergone a full flight-or-fight response, which involves the involuntary release of your own waste (because your body wants you to dump “extra weight” so you can run faster) but it’s pretty unilaterally awful.

            And, for the record, exposure therapy only works if the patient chooses, uncoerced, to complete each step, AND if each completed step is followed by comfort / reward. It’s like, you need to prove to yourself that you can endure the trigger on your own, and, also, internalise that your underlying fears about the trigger are false– the trigger has to be re-associated with comfort, acceptance, physical pleasure, whatever is the opposite of the underlying fear associated with the trigger. So, if an underlying fear is social rejection, for example, then simply enduring the effects of the trigger is damaging if it is still coupled with social rejection. The trigger has to be endured alongside cues that make the patient feel socially accepted or loved in order to make it un-triggering.

            That’s why exposure therapy has to be done in a controlled setting overseen by a medical or mental-health professional.

            Anyway, I’m proud of myself for doing it and getting through the sessions. But I’m never gonna do it again.

          3. I had a friendship loss because this friend became jealous and did what made her feel better, which was in part to completely withdraw from me. The other part was to try to get close to my best friends, women I had introduced her to in the neighborhood. I stepped back and let it unfold, trusting that my other friends were not going to turn their backs on me, and they didn’t. Whatever her intentions were there, my other friends and I pretty much shined her on and let it pass. Now she has somewhat come around, but the closeness she and I had is over, and the group interaction is over. She made it too awkward for us to be a foursome friendship again—what if she decides she isn’t talking to someone else. No. Once someone demonstrates that their highest value is to feel personally comfortable at all cost to others, everyone around them has to take that into account. This friend told me at one point long before we came to where we are now, “Your problem is that you question yourself. If you feel mad or uncomfortable with people, you wonder if that’s fair of you. I don’t do that. If I believe it, if I feel it, it’s true.” Which was ironic in that I was listening to her and thinking, right now I’m actually questioning how much I want to be friends with you. I can see that it is not that simple for you, Igmerriman, but for me it really is. I always question my feelings and expect myself to face them and get past them, if that’s what is logical and fair, to put myself in the other person’s shoes. I could do with a little more self-protective instincts, and I realize this and am working on it mostly by not starting friendships with people who are clearly going to be difficult to get along with. But once I am in a relationship of any kind—friendship, family, I am not happy if I suspect that I am succumbing to a feeling that is unfair to another person rather than based on how they have actually treated me—no matter how strong that feeling is.

          4. Ah! I don’t think we completely disagree Pam.

            For example, I know for a fact that my beliefs and feelings about the dentist (that was my phobia that I avoided facing until it was life-or-death) were 100 untrue, not reality-based. I associated the dentist with a traumatic experience (long story), and I agree that I was “unfair” to the dentists I was afraid of.

            So, there is absolutely an element of denial if someone believes that their phobia is rational. Likewise, it would be denial if LW said her jealousy / insecurity is rational.

            But, unfortunately, you can’t logic away emotions. Knowing that an emotional reaction is irrational or unfair doesn’t make it stop. In a way, emotions are pretty physical things– they’re hormones and heartbeats and reactions in muscle tension and body temperature. The effort of hiding your true emotions in order to get a job done is the original definition of “emotional labor.” It’s doable! The less intense the emotion, the more doable it is. But, even with a small emotional response, it’s still labor.

            I’m sorry you lost your friendship. It sounds like you two really used to be close, and you miss that. It’s okay to mourn or feel however you feel about what you’ve lost.

            I think, sometimes, relationships just don’t work out. And that hurts. And we wish we could undo it, but, we can’t.

            Maybe blaming her, and saying she was wrong to pull back to protect her heart, helps you cope. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if someone harmed us on purpose (which people tell us makes our anger justifiable), or only inadvertently (which people tell us makes us petty if we’re angry over). I believe you that her choice to pull away really hurt. Jedi hugs, if you want them.

            And, personally, I also believe that it doesn’t actually matter if she pulled away to hurt you on purpose, to punish you out of jealousy, or if it was a, “she didn’t drift apart *at* you” situation. From my perspective, you’re allowed to feel angry either way. You don’t have to be fair about your anger. Anger after hurt is a natural reaction, and you don’t need to justify it.

            For whatever reason, your friend needed to feel emotionally safe more than she wanted to stay close with you, and that really sucks. I’m sorry that happened– for both of you.

            On the upside, I’m glad that both of you have friends you can count on, even if you aren’t friends with each other anymore.

            Everybody’s gonna feel how they feel. And, unless they choose to act out with violence, verbal abuse, or other kinds of abuse, I’m here to respect however anybody needs to deal with their emotional pain.

            I hope things are going better for you over-all, even if this friendship didn’t work out.

        2. Hi lgmerriman, I once read a life-changing post (for me) called “you don’t have to face your fears” by Havi Brooks of Fluent Self, your comment here made me think of it. It’s an incredibly helpful counterpoint/approach to the notion that facing your fears is the one right way to get through them. Avoiding them can actually be another totally valid strategy. I think if the LW is feeling a certain amount of triggering by seeing this person, then having both the option of making quick, low-stakes small talk, or opting to bow out if it’s just to much at that moment, is helpful. The LW’s ability to cope will probably change from situation to situation. While it’s true that in cases of extreme trauma triggering, advising/forcing someone to confront their fear can be extremely counterproductive or damaging, in this context, it would seem that figuring out how to make that small talk and learn to cope somewhat is very important. So, knowing yourself, knowing your situation, and knowing there are options and no one right or wrong way can take away a lot of pressure/shame/angst. I would guess the LW falls somewhere in this middle ground. Good luck and much empathy, LW.

    2. Eh, it depends on what kind of ‘man who makes you want to run away and cry’ he is. Is he a jerk? Is he harassing you? Is he generally an awful person? Or is he a perfectly fine person who happens to be adjacent to something that’s making you feel some shit, and your brain has simply decided for mysterious brain-reasons to make him the face of this whole upsetting situation?

      With the former group, absolutely skip the small talk; the best you can generally do is get yourself away from them. But with the last one…your reaction isn’t about them as a person. It’s not really about them at all. It’s about a whole situation (which you’ll still have to deal with whether or not you talk to this one guy). And while you could choose to avoid him while you process those feelings, there are potential bad consequences to that choice–for example, the person he’s marrying, who you ostensibly love and want to be happy, might not be thrilled that you’re giving this perfectly decent person who they love the cold shoulder. It can be very much worth it to suck it up and make small talk for a bit, under this kind of circumstances.

  52. The literary example I was thinking of is Rosemary and Ellen West, friends of Anne Blythe, nee Shirley. Right down to the arranged joint spinsterhood and the loud and boisterous suitor Norman asking Rosemary for Ellen’s hand in a brilliant display of tactlessness…

    1. Dang, good pull! That was always one of my favourite romances in the books because it intersects with so much complicated family/compatibility stuff, dealt with in a really beautiful and sensitive way. It was one of the first books I read that contained the lesson, “Sometimes the people you love with love other people that you don’t love, and that doesn’t mean anyone is bad or has done anything wrong.”

      *disappears to reread Rainbow Valley*

  53. Hey!! It’s me, letter writer 546 (linked in the post), and your letter also reminded me a lot of my life 5 years ago! My best friend and roommate who I was going to grow old with moved across the country and married that dude. I was maid of honor at their wedding and even though I didn’t love him, I played kickball with them on the morning of the wedding and cried when she walked down the aisle and was so happy to share it with her. And the destruction of All Our Hopes and Plans that I was living in that moment actually opened a giant door for me. I felt abandoned and that turned into “guess you can’t count on anyone then screw everyone I’m gonna do what I want!” And what started as the end of the world turned into the impulse to move to my dream city on a different continent, study a new degree, and do amazing things I totally wouldn’t have needed to do if I hadn’t been kicked out of my comfort zone. This past year, Friend and her husband came to visit me in my new country and her husband really got on with my friends and my new partner and suddenly he seemed like a really cool interesting guy in this different context. Friend’s Husband even confided to my boyfriend that I hadn’t made a great impression when we’d first met while Friend and I were living together, and that he was surprised and delighted with how well we got on on their visit. So don’t despair if you do occasionally run away crying now! They’re expecting a baby this year and I’m planning to visit them in their city a few months after the birth to make dinners and give them some nap time. Throw yourself at your life, if you can take all those complex feelings and let them give you permission to do whatever the hell you want, this could bring you some amazing opportunities and, with time and space and your own awesome life, you might even like the guy!

    1. What a wonderful update! Congratulations, and thank you for letting LW know that not only can one survive this situation, it can be the catalyst to actually *thrive*!
      Great big Jedi hugs of happiness for you!

  54. LW here. It’s been long enough that I don’t know if many people will see this — when the letter first posted I was traveling without internet! — but I wanted to say how much I really appreciate everyone’s advice and sympathy and all the Jedi hugs (those actually really help!). I’m so thrilled the good Captain answered me, and I kind of cried my way through reading her advice, because she really hit every single nail on the head! I already had been focusing on behaving well, whatever my feelings were, and not making any of it my sister’s problem — and I seem to be doing okay at that, since she made a comment the other day about how well I had warmed up to Fiance. (Which is a whole new question, honestly, because at point does that become actively deceiving my sister? I’m not cool with doing that…) I vent to my best friend, who’s great at sympathy and tough love as needed, so I don’t dump any of this on my family.

    It helped a lot to hear from so many people in the comments who had dealt with similar situations and come through it okay. The world is not actually ending. I can get through this.

    I also wanted to take a moment to reassure people (since some questioned it) that Fiance is not a bad guy, despite my reaction to him. I’m trying to look for his good points and they ARE there. He’s generous, considerate, helpful, affectionate, light-hearted, and dogs and small children like him. (Even my sister’s dog likes him and he normally hates anyone outside his ‘pack.’) He’s a touchy-feely guy by nature, but when I told him to stop touching me, he immediately apologized and has never touched me again. I can feel that I am slowly, s l o w l y, getting used to him and to this whole situation. Thank you so much to the Captain and all the commenters for your well-wishes.

    1. Hi, I’m so glad to read this! I could tell you were doing your absolute best to be there for your sister and handle your own feelings, I’m so glad you wrote, and I hope things get much better soon. ❤

Comments are closed.