Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My twin sister graduated college last May and began a new — very high paying — job in January. She’s incredibly smart with work and school but doesn’t always make the best choices with men.
For example, she has been in a relationship with “Jim” for over a year to hear her tell it, but Jim refuses to admit they are dating or even friends. She recently moved about an hour away for her job. She wants him to quit his job and move in with her. They are having sex; she says she loves him and doesn’t want to push him to make a formal commitment.
Carolyn, is there anything I can do to help her see he is using her? He lies to his parents about where he is when they are together, he won’t give her an official title, and he’s almost mean to her in public. I can’t stand the thought of my beautiful sister supporting a jerk. Advice?
My advice is to do one of the hardest things possible: Let go. Your sister is an adult, it’s her life, and it’s not your job to fix her. Be her friend, her safe place, her biggest booster, her subtle reminder of what a supportive relationship feels like, but don’t give in to the impulse to be her guardian.
The encouraging part of making this choice is that when she really does need someone to step in — say, if she is ever with an abuser, versus a mere (and merely suspected) user — you actually will still have standing to do so. One of the hardest lessons people learn in your position is that interfering now means, down the road when the next guy makes this guy seem like Lloyd Dobler,she’ll greet your concern with years of experience at tuning you out.
Do speak up when he’s mean to her around you. That much you can do, and should.
For Sister Situation: My twin sister was in a similar situation to your twin, and I agree with Carolyn that you need to give her more support than doubt. In my experience, my sister was all-in for her less-than-ideal relationship and my contrary comments weren’t going to burst her bubble. So as extreeemely difficult as it was, I slowly started to support her right to make her own decisions (while still working through the, “But she’s my twin, she should obviously still think like me!” on my own time).
In the end, he broke up with her because dishonest relationships aren’t sustainable in the long run. Because I was there to share in her relationship from the start, she felt comfortable turning to me for love and support while she worked through her difficult breakup.
Agreed, thanks, with all except the sustainability: Plenty of awful relationships stagger the whole distance. That’s why seeing loved ones enter them can be so upsetting.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.