Is my sister after my beau?

I really like my new boyfriend but apparently so does she

Published June 7, 2013 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I am so happy these days. After a long stretch of single years after a painful and heartbreaking divorce, I've finally met a wonderful man and we are just starting to date and establish a relationship. I've introduced him to my family and friends and everyone really likes him. The problem, though, is that my one sister REALLY likes him. I think she developed a crush on him the moment she met him and it's making me uncomfortable. After only having had a few dates with him, she told my mother and sister all about him and called him my boyfriend, which at the time he wasn't. She's always asking when we can double date with her and her husband; she's been married 25 years. Up until now she has never said anything uncomplimentary or critical about her husband, but since my new boyfriend she has gone on about how lucky I am that he's so affectionate in a way her husband isn't, how he's involved in things she wishes her husband was, and how she's living vicariously through me. The other day she told me that she will have to attend an annual gala I organize alone since her husband will be traveling for work and after I told her that many of my friends whom she knows will be there, she asked only about whether my boyfriend would be there.

Cary, I love my sister and she has been a good friend and supportive of me when I was going through my divorce and after. But I find myself very off put by her manner toward my boyfriend and really don't want to spend time with her and him together. Honestly, it feels very uneasy and images from country songs or scenes from "A Street Car Named Desire" come to mind, like I'm going to have to tell her to keep her hands off my man. Admittedly, I do tend to run toward the insecure side of things, but still, I've been around enough to see boundaries ignored and marriages and relationships break up.

What do I say, how do I stop letting this bother me? I feel like it's affecting my relationship with my sister and making any time we spend together with my boyfriend awkward at the very least. Of course I haven't said anything to my boyfriend as we are still a fairly new couple and he's been nothing but straightforward and appropriate in his manner toward me.

Happy With a Tinge of Unease

Dear Happy,

I think the way you will stop letting this bother you is by fully understanding the complex of emotions and fears surrounding it.

Such understanding is within your grasp. You can achieve it if you are willing to journey beyond the socially approved assumptions that we usually call "understanding."

I don't know what your inner motivations are. But you do, or can find out by letting them come to conscious awareness. You probably cannot do this on your own. Most people can't. We do have settings such as ashrams and therapist's offices and groups, however, in which we can explore our own psyches.

That is what I suggest -- that you seek out and implement appropriate methods by which to know yourself deeply and fully. If you do this, then, in the course of coming to know yourself, you will understand why you react to your sister's behavior the way you do. You may also come to understand why she is acting that way.

As a starting point, here are some possibilities. After a heartbreaking divorce, you may abnormally fear a repetition of the experience. Depending on the circumstances that led to your divorce, you may be hyper-alert to any hint of their recurrence. Though you know that an affair between your sister and your new boyfriend is unlikely, you may fear it because in the past you have competed with your sister for other kinds of intimate attention. You and she may have competed for the attentions of one or both parents, or for friends who are close in age, or for another sibling.

Also, you may be longing for something that is hard to define but crucially important to get from your family: a mature recognition of you as an individual, confirmation of their confidence in you. Applause. Praise. Respect. Those are just a few possibilities -- guesses, really. Your job is to find the truth for yourself.

Are you able to talk to your sister deeply, intimately, truthfully? Are you able to exchange confidences and admit your faults to each other? If you can, then why don't you have a talk with your sister? Confess to her your uneasiness. If she is a kind person she may understand how her behavior is affecting you. If you both love and trust each other then you can talk this through. She can see that her like for your new boyfriend and her enthusiasm about his arrival in your social scene can be misinterpreted. She may see that her enthusiasm has other causes -- that her dissatisfaction in her own marriage is finding expression there. This is another thing you and she could talk frankly about -- since you have gone through a painful divorce, you could share your experience with her. If she is genuinely unhappy in her marriage, she may have been entertaining thoughts of divorce herself. Such unacknowledged emotions drive our behavior and until they are acknowledged can make our behavior seem quite mysterious when it is in fact just pretty normal.

In short, I suggest you take this new relationship as a sign that it is time to enlarge your world of expression and communication with your sisters and mother, and develop an appreciation for the rich blend of support and rivalry a trio of female siblings can engender.

Context is all.

By Cary Tennis

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Boyfriends Divorce Family Relationships Sibling Rivalry Since You Asked Sisters