He yelled at her because she didn't know who the Colonel was

I think my sister's boyfriend is very rude and mean to her.

Published September 29, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My sister's boyfriend belittles her in front of me. I've seen them together about four or five times (they've known each other for over a year) and it's happened each time. I don't know if he does this in front of others or in private.

My sister acknowledges that he has an "edge" and that she points out his bad behavior privately each time it happens and that he "works on it."

She is very committed to him and says I only see one side of the relationship and that he really is very good. But the side I see is heartbreaking.

For some reason, we were talking about Elvis today, and the boyfriend said: "Do you know what the Colonel said after Elvis died?" And my sister said: "Who is the Colonel?" The boyfriend rolled his eyes and looked at her -- incredulous; angry; snarly. "You don't know who the Colonel is?! I can't believe you. What is with you?" This man is all worked up and really quite disgusted that she doesn't know who the Colonel is. Of course, I don't know who the hell the Colonel is either. The boyfriend explains. All is well with her, and I'm mortified that the man who supposedly loves her belittles her over a piece of trivia.

I called her tonight to tell her how disturbed I am with what I see as a pattern of disrespect on his part. She assures me it's only some of the time and that I don't know how good their relationship really is. From the outside, it doesn't look so good to me. She's broken up with him twice, and he's asked her to come back both times, saying he will work on his problems.

Is there such a thing as a good relationship where one party is disrespectful to the other some of the time? She is angry at me for being intrusive and "judgmental." I risked her goodwill by telling her that I thought she was selling herself short with this guy and that his belittling her was a form of abuse. In retrospect, it seems dramatic, but this is how I felt when I witnessed it. Was I wrong to say this? Is being judgmental always a bad thing? I love my sister and want to see her with a man who treats her with kindness and respect.


Dear Judge,

Here is what I suggest you do: Be there for your sister. Support her. If what she chooses brings her difficulty, and she asks for your help, help her through the difficulty. But do not insist that she see a difficulty she does not see. There may be much about your sister that you do not understand or cannot accept. You have already told her that you do not approve of this man. That is enough.

There are times when we must rescue our loved ones from real danger. But the lesson parents learn is one siblings must learn as well: You have to let them make their own mistakes. You have to stand by while they figure it out.

If you dislike this man, try to spend time with your sister when he is not around. Try to strengthen your bond with her. Concentrating on this man will only create conflict between you.

And as to the Colonel, well, perhaps it seems sad that men attach such importance to these things. And he certainly could have been kinder about it. But while the importance he places on knowing who Elvis Presley's manager was may seem a little sad and small-minded, it is also part of the greatness in the human soul, part of why Michelangelo did his thing, part of why men buy guitars and learn how to play: because ordinary life is just not good enough. Going to work and going to school, getting married and raising kids, having a girlfriend and acting right and playing by the rules until your status on your insurance forms changes to deceased is so unutterably bleak a prospect that some of us must seek at all costs to find something more beautiful and more true, and if that means cutting a single and getting a manager who's a cunning, manipulative son of a bitch, why, that's what you've got to do, even if it ruins you in the end. And even if you have no creative talent but you've got two ears and a heartbeat, if one day you hear a sound that lights up your soul, that lifts off the top of your head and pours champagne into your brain, that cleanses the world of its dry friction of the real, its arthritic grind, its soul-crushing automaticity, well, wouldn't you attach some importance to that and all the circumstances surrounding it? Wouldn't you seek to know everything you can about it? Wouldn't you get into a van and travel to Graceland? And wouldn't you occasionally perhaps react with stark astonishment when this world that offers you salvation is unknown to the one you love?

So I do not find it surprising that a man might want to acquaint the woman in his life with the story of Sun Records and Colonel Tom Parker. Granted, he's not being very smooth about it. But smoothness isn't everything. Passion counts too. Passion can be rough and uncouth. It can seem rude and unkind. It would be nice if he could sit down with your sister and say, Baby, I'm sorry I was rude and flew off the handle, I love you a lot, but this stuff matters to me more than life itself! After all, that's what Elvis would do. In fact, come to think of it, he's acting more like the Colonel than like Elvis. Maybe if she told him that, he'd get the message.

But it's not really any of our business. It's between them. My advice to you is just to be kind to your sister, love her, cherish her, and respect her choices, bad as they may seem to be.

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