DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: First off, let me say that you are doing God’s work. Giving people heartfelt advice when they’re feeling low or discouraged or at the end of their rope or even simply just confused and don’t know what to do is a noble job, indeed, and I would like to thank you on behalf of me and all your other readers.
Now, for the matter at hand.
I’m not really sure how to lead in to this, so I’m just gonna dive right in. My sister, J, and I have somewhat of a contentious relationship. For whatever reason, she’s just always been very antagonistic towards me — since we were kids — and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember, honestly. She’s just never really respected me, anything I say or anything of mine. Also, I can never say anything to her without her going from 1 to 1,000 in 2.5 seconds. She’s never treated me the way I deserve to be treated. She moved away for college a little less than two years ago. Whenever she comes home for the weekend or break or what have you, I dread it. It’s almost like “Okay, here we go. I guess I’m just gonna have to deal with the disrespect and dirty looks and her talking down to me all weekend.” Besides all of this, she’s just not the kind of person I would normally associate myself with. She’s irresponsible, she’s rude, she has a bad attitude, she’s fake, she’s disrespectful… you get the picture. She’s just not a good person, in my honest opinion. If she were not my sister, I wouldn’t have anything to do with her. I’ve tried for years to have a relationship with her, but for whatever reason she won’t have it. It’s become clear to me that we’re never gonna see eye to eye on anything. I’m done trying with her and my goal now is to just be civil with her until the day I move out. If she wants to apologize to me someday and start building a relationship, that’s great. But I’m done trying.
My question to you is am I under any type of familial obligation to invite her to big events like my future wedding or to make her the aunt of my future children? I know not having her be a part of my life outside my parents’ house is gonna break their hearts, but I’m not gonna deal with this for the rest of my life.
Also, I’d like to add that she’s being SUPER irresponsible about this pandemic and my parents are allowing it. She’s still hanging out with friends. She’s home one day, gone the next and my parents, for whatever reason, refuse to put their foot down and keep her home. I’m not sure what makes her think this is okay, but she’s also bringing her boyfriend, whom none of us had met before the pandemic, home to stay here for 2-3 days at a time. I want to say something, because it’s not just her health she’s jeopardizing, but I’m not her father. Still, it’s pissing me off how cavalier she’s being about this. I’d love an unbiased opinion on all of this.
Thanks in advance
DEAR SISTER TROUBLES: One of the hardest lessons to learn is that family isn’t magic. Just because someone shares a portion of your DNA doesn’t mean that they’re someone you need to have in your life. Being part of the same bloodline doesn’t obligate you to put up with them treating you like s
t, nor does it mean that you have to bend over backwards to make things work. Far too many people have been pressured into staying in contact with people who hurt them, abused them or worse, because “family”.
You’re allowed to decide who is and isn’t a part of your life. It is absolutely your right to not just have boundaries, but to set them where you want. If that means that not having your sister in your life, that is completely your call. Other people can have their opinions on the matter. They’re welcome to think that you’re making a mistake or that you’re being unreasonable. That’s their prerogative. But it’s still your life and your life isn’t a democracy. If your sister is a toxic presence in it, you are free to exclude her from it. She may be your future child’s aunt by blood, but that doesn’t mean that you have to let her have any place in their life.
Now the thing to keep in mind is that boundaries also come with consequences — consequences that you have to be willing to accept. Completely excising her from your life will, at this stage, likely make it harder to see your parents. If you’re going to refuse to be around her, that’s going to mean, for example, that you may not be seeing your parents during the holidays. Similarly, refusing to have her at your future wedding is likely going to cause no small amount of drama with your family. You have to decide if that’s a price you’re willing to pay, or if you’re willing to make allowances for family events. If you do decide to allow for her having limited presence in your life, then I recommend you be polite and civil and keep contact to a minimum. That may mean being willing to put up with a certain amount of s
t from her in the name of not making things worse for your parents.
Now all that being said: I think there’s some value in gritting your teeth white-knuckling your way through things while you’re with your family. Your sister may not be the greatest person in the world, but it doesn’t sound like she’s an actively malignant presence in your life. She’s irritating and rude, but not necessarily toxic or abusive. It doesn’t sound like there’s an absolute need to excise her from your life entirely or go out of your way to avoid contact with her. At some point, you may decide it’s worth having a full on “OK WHAT THE F
k IS THE PROBLEM?” conversation… but that’s for the future.
Unfortunately, while she may just be an a
hole and the two of you don’t like each other, the way she’s acting now is a potential danger. That means that you need to have a long, awkward and potentially painful conversation with your parents about how your sister is handling the lockdown and quarantine. While everyone has levels of risk that they’re willing to accept, we’re in a place and time where those risks don’t begin and end with us. The choices we make, especially regarding safety and COVID-19 exposure affect the people we live with and the people we come in contact with. This is why people actively disapprove of the anti-lockdown protesters; they’re not just risking their own lives but the lives of literally everyone around them. Your sister’s behavior is a risk to you and your parents’ health and safety and that is something all of you need to talk about and lay down the law.
If it helps: you’re not alone. I know of many people who are having similar conflicts with family members regarding quarantine and safety; family and household members who seem to be treating the pandemic like a minor annoyance, something that should be over already because they’re tired of being inconvenienced. It’s causing no end of stress and misery, and I know people who are having to face the prospect of kicking people out of their household in pure self-defense. If your sister won’t listen to you, then you’re going to need to have a Come To Jesus conversation with your parents about it, because this risks your life and theirs too.
It’s a s
tty situation to be in and I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. But this problem isn’t one that you can white-knuckle your way through. Someone’s going to have to be the first to address the elephant in the room and, frankly, it looks like it’s going to have to be you.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org