Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:
I am almost 70 years old and was alone for six years when I finally tried online dating. I met a very sweet divorced man, and we’ve been married for just over a year. My older sister, who previously was very close to me, took an instant dislike to him. She started spreading bigoted lies about him to my other siblings and mutual friends. Example: She didn’t like that he had a Southern accent (duh) or that he’s opposite politically from her (as am I).
Everyone I’ve mentioned this to say they feel like she’s jealous because now she doesn’t have me at her beck and call. I am beyond hurt because of all my siblings, I thought she would be happy that I’m happy after some very lonely years. Our relationship is now surface cordial, and while I’ve given up the anger I held, I’m having trouble moving on from the hurt and forgiving her. I’m very happy with my life now, but definitely need some strategies so I don’t obsess about this all the time.
—Still the Little Sister
Dear Little Sister,
Congratulations on the happiness you’ve found in your new relationship, and I’m sorry you didn’t get the support you hoped for from your sister. When I first tried to tackle this question, I found it tough to give you advice because I couldn’t decide what to think about her actions. Did she spread bigoted lies? Or did she state the truth—that he has Southern accent (which is obviously not a bad thing, and whether she likes it doesn’t matter) and has opposing political views? When I asked for help in hopes of getting un-stuck, others were caught up on the same issue:
“What lies did she spread? What are the husband’s political beliefs? Are they hateful in nature? I feel like there is not enough information to answer this question.” —@normiemorgainne
“I’m interested to know what the lies are since neither example (accent/political leanings) is untrue according to the LW!” —@britculb
“There’s not enough information here about what these “political beliefs” or “lies” are to determine if sister has a basis for her dislike. LW has to answer that, if only for herself.” —@moh_in_law
“The “tell” is that letter writer says “lies” but then gives examples that are not lies. Older sister dislikes new husband, perhaps for good reason (MAGA and associated personality traits) or conceivably not. That’s life! Talk to her about it if you want.” —@sheldman
“like many replies here, i find what has been left out to be very suggestive than the sister may be onto something” —@dstar
“I’m a bit confused here. The examples provided are not bigoted, untrue lies.” —@NoraMKE
“This is a loaded letter. Like others, I’m curious about the political differences. Are they political, or (as is increasingly the case) are they really moral/ethical differences?” —@notsowiseowl
This tells me that you might want to consider being more honest and detailed with yourself than you were when you described the situation to me.
I’ve found that vague statements about political “differences” can sometimes be used to gloss over actual details that would be more jarring. Only you know if this is about “He won’t shut up about how he thinks Black people are genetically inferior, he isn’t sure women should be allowed to vote, and he was stealing staplers off people’s desks at the Capitol on January 6” or not.
So do some self-reflecting about what exactly your sister is upset about here. Has loneliness driven you into the arms of someone who represents the opposite of your values and the values of people who have known you your whole life? Are you changing to accommodate him? Yes, jealousy is real, but is it possible that your desire to keep a relationship has caused you to vilify a person who’s simply reporting the facts?
If you come to the conclusion that your sister is truly being awful to a man who hasn’t done anything wrong, your next step is to figure out how you want to handle that.
As a few people pointed out, the option to cut her off obviously exists. If after reflecting on what she’s said and done, you conclude that she actually has been lying, that she’s coming from a place of jealousy, and that she’s truly bullying your husband for harmless differences (rather than for spewing hate or advocating for things that hurt others), you may need to take a step back from this relationship. Although you say you’ve always been close, it’s also worth thinking about how that closeness looked and whether this is a pattern: Was she jealous when you were partnered in the past? Has she always demonstrated an interest in controlling your decisions? Is she only loving to you when you’re making choices that she would make? If criticizing people for their accents and insulting them behind their backs are the kinds of things she’s always done, it might indeed be time to take a big step back from her.
Letter writer needs to work on accepting that she doesn’t have a relationship with her older sister any more, and that’s perfectly fine. Lots of people don’t get along with their siblings. — @hharden85
LW should seek counseling to move on. She’s probably right that her sister is jealous that LW is now in a serious relationship that affects how she spends her time. She can’t solve for that. Coping with hurt and loss isn’t easy, no matter what caused the loss. —@__dcemi
I feel like this is one of those situations where there’s this sense of obligation to forgive before the emotional time is ripe. Jealous sister is who she is, and isn’t going to change. Writer has to mourn the loss of the person she *thought* the sister was, or wanted her to be. —@gwensnyderPHL
But I don’t want to minimize the intensity of ending a lifelong relationship, especially at age 70. If it’s truly over between the two of you, you may want the help of a counselor to help you through the difficult feelings that will accompany this.
But maybe you’ll decide that the truth is somewhere in between. Perhaps your sister has been annoyingly judgmental and your husband has some beliefs that you find off-putting. Or maybe she is really jealous, but you can find compassion for her because you know what it’s like to feel lonely or abandoned. @dstar suggested gently disengaging when she brings up your husband with a comment like “I know how you feel about him. Let’s talk about something else.”
Others who responded also had good ideas for how to stay connected to both of them.
“Let go of trying to change her opinion of him & focus on what you want out of your relationship with your sister. I’d probably have a heart to heart: “I know you don’t like Gary, and that’s fine! I miss our closeness, and I love you regardless. Can we spend some time together?”” —@NoraMKE
“I also think it is worth it for the LW to ask her sister what she would like LW to do. Is there some action she thinks LW should take now? Is there something she can do to repair the relationship?” — @moh_in_law
“Does she think it’s reasonable for an almost 70yo to either get divorced or be estranged from her sister? I think being very plain about these questions may help sister see that this is… well, immature, if LW isn’t engaging in bigotry or harmful behavior worthy of estrangement.” —@moh_in_law
Whatever you decide, “surface and cordial” seems like it’s no way to move forward with a sibling you care about. Instead of avoiding conflict, you have to be brave enough to do the hard work of taking a clear-eyed look at both of these people and their actions, deciding what kind of relationships you want to have, and taking the lead in making them happen.
Q. How many ex-wives?: I’m a 41-year-old woman, never married, but with a string of long- and short-term relationships in my past. I started dating a man (he’s 39) a few months ago who is great! We have a lot of the same interests, live close to each other, are intellectually and physically compatible—I’m over the moon. I’ve always wanted to find a true partner who I felt I would eventually marry. Now, it is certainly premature to put him in that realm, but I have started thinking that he might be a great candidate. But, when I start thinking down this road, I always come to the odd roadblock in my mind that he has been married twice before. (They both ended with his wife cheating on him and leaving him for another man.) I would be his third wife. This just seems incredibly unromantic and anticlimactic to my partner search. But then I realize this is ridiculous! He is great and I should just calm down. And this is all an issue for the future (but, then again, I’m 41!). How can I feel this is a romantic and special relationship if it seems like he might just be willing to marry anyone?