Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Our family has always hugged and snuggled. In the last few years, my older daughter, 20, has not been nice in saying, “Don’t touch me,” when her younger sister snuggles up to her. Older daughter doesn’t seem to mind other people’s attention and frequently comes up and snuggles with me – on her own terms of course.
I worry that it’s a sibling thing, and I don’t like her being what I perceive as mean to her younger sister. I try to acknowledge that it’s permitted and reasonable to reject unwanted touches, but also say that since her sister is family, she should say it nicer than “don’t touch me” without explanation. Her younger sister is hurt.
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I can see being hurt, but I also hope the younger sister is old enough and rational enough just to stop trying to snuggle this sister, even if she never gets an adequate explanation for the rejections.
I do think you’re right to validate the prerogative to reject unwanted touches and the need for kindness, but have you talked to your older daughter about what’s going on in general?
And have you talked to the younger in the moment to say you imagine the rejections sting? And to note that things like this feel personal but often aren’t? And to reinforce that when people don’t welcome a touch, it’s best to step back unless they initiate?
The two of them will need to work this out, but you can provide steady insistence on civil communication.
Dear Carolyn: I’m in my early 30s. I know there are a lot of issues I need to work on, namely poor self-esteem, mistrust, fear of abandonment, etc. I am seeking help through therapy, and I’m actually not very interested in dating, but is it a smart idea to even try? At what point should I get back on the horse? I don’t know if I'll ever really be fixed.
Define “fixed.” We all have our stuff.
When you feel you have a grasp of your issues – what unhealthy choices you tend to make, how you can anticipate and redirect yourself – then there’s no reason you can’t be a good partner.
You seem to see dating, though, as an item on a chore list instead of a basic way of living. With basic living, you take care of yourself, work at a vocation, fill your life with things you enjoy, and if you happen to meet someone you like who likes you back, then you spend extra time with that person.
With dating as to-do list item, you have your life … over here, and you have this other thing, “dating,” as a series of steps you undertake to accomplish a certain thing. I don’t recommend such chore-dating – not while you’re sorting things out, and not ever. Just figure yourself out, figure out what makes sense for you, and be open to kind people you meet on your way.
If you eventually find yourself wanting more, then that’s your sign to make a more deliberate effort. Till then, your current “not very interested” status is permission enough to focus on getting stronger. That’s good stuff on its own.
Chat with Caroline online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.