Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Encourage Family to Be Open

DEAR NATALIE: My sister is dating this new girl, and no one likes her. The woman is much older than my sister and financially supports her, but we often see them fighting. Recently, we had dinner at my sister's girlfriend's home, and my sister was mad that no one was "going out of their way" to include her new girlfriend in the conversation.

It's been really hard for the family to accept my sister as gay, and on top of it, her "sugar mama" isn't exactly warming to everyone. How can I keep the peace as her older sister who just wants her to be happy (regardless of who she is dating)? -- SISTER SISTER

DEAR SISTER SISTER: Sounds as though there is a lot to unpack here. First of all, it saddens me that your family is having a hard time accepting your sister's sexuality. But I'm glad to hear that you just want her to be happy. Hopefully, over time, your family will learn to accept her and love her for who she is.

Having said that, while it may be challenging to like her new partner, different couples have different dynamics and different ways of communicating. Maybe bickering is just the way that they express themselves to each other. But if the fighting is filled with derogatory comments or name calling, that could be a problem over time if not addressed. And while it may be difficult for your family to accept the fact that her girlfriend is older and wealthier, that doesn't mean they don't have a functional relationship.

I think everyone needs to take a step back and let this all breathe for a minute. Your sister might be feeling defensive or even guilty about the dynamic of their relationship, but that is on her. She will have to work through those feelings and deal with it. At the end of the day, the best thing you can do as her sister is just love her and be kind. Try to open your heart and encourage your family to do the same.

Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to nbencivenga@post-gazette.com or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)