Dear Wendy: “How Do I Handle My Boyfriend’s Obnoxious Sister?”
After splitting up for a month, my boyfriend (of nearly a year) and I are back together. The problem is, he confided in his older sister about our problems during the breakup, so she knows about my insecurities and all the other nitty-gritty details of our issues. During the breakup, she’d put really mean videos about awful girlfriends and mean jokes that were directed at me on his Facebook wall, knowing that I’d see them. He took them down and told her to stop, and she did. This woman doesn’t even know me, she’s 10 years older than I am, and she was cyber-bullying me! I never let it get to me too much, but now it’s his mother’s birthday and he’s inviting me to celebrate it with their family, and we are invited to stay at his sister’s house for a weekend. I’m finally realizing that I’m terrified. Part of the reason why I didn’t take her snarkies against me too seriously is because she’s bipolar, but I’m also scared that she’s going to bully me. I have a tendency to let everyone else have their way, even at the expense of my own happiness, so I’m afraid that I’m going to be miserable during this weekend. He told me that it would be fine, but I don’t know if I should try to get out of going or if I should go in there and hold my head up high. — Fear of Twisted Sister
If you see a future with your boyfriend — and I assume you do or else you wouldn’t have gotten back together with him — his family is going to be part of your life whether you like it or not. Think of this as an opportunity to show your sister’s boyfriend how great you are and how wrong she was in her impression of you. I realize it must make you feel vulnerable that this woman you’ve never even met before knows about your insecurities and the “nitty-gritty details” about your relationship with your boyfriend, but now’s the chance to show her you’re way more than the sum of your issues and you don’t let a few bumps in your relationship define who you are.
I get that you’re sensitive and feel vulnerable that this woman you’ve never met knows personal information about your private relationship, but the best thing you can do for yourself right now is approach her from a position of confidence and power. You have the upper hand here. She may be your boyfriend’s sister; they may be very close. But, remember, you’re the one sleeping with the guy. That always trumps all! She probably feels threatened by the relationship you have with her brother, so use that to your advantage. Think in terms of putting her at ease while presenting you and your boyfriend as a unit. Send her an email message saying, “[Boyfriend’s Name] and I are looking forward to seeing you next week for your mom’s birthday, and I’m especially excited to finally meet you in person. Thank you for inviting us to stay at your place for the weekend. Let me know if there’s any way I can help make the occasion a special one.” This way you’re establishing confidence right away, and showing you aren’t afraid of her.
And honestly, why should you be afraid of her? Because she left some random videos on your boyfriend’s Facebook page? Look, you’re overreacting by calling that “cyber-bullying.” Unless she was out-and-out calling you names, threatening you, spreading rumors about you, or harassing you with endless emails, she wasn’t truly bullying you. You’re giving her power by calling her a bully. You’re putting her in a position where she was the ability to strip you of your strength and confidence. So stop thinking of her that way. Think of her, instead — at least until she proves otherwise — as a woman who feels overly protective of her brother and only wants the best for him. When you humanize someone, you immediately even the playing field and make it much easier to deal with her from a place where you’re most comfortable and confident.
I realize that as soon as I post this letter, readers will comment that you shouldn’t even stay at the sister’s place — that you should stay at a hotel, instead, if you go at all. I thought of that option, too, but here’s why I don’t recommend it: By staying in a hotel, you’re showing the sister you’re afraid of her. You also give her ammunition to use against you: “She thinks she’s too good to stay at my place!” Just suck it up, bring her an orchid as a hostess gift and tell your boyfriend he’s in charge of making sure things go smoothly. If you feel the slightest bit unwelcome, you can stay in a hotel the next time. But for this first meeting, do everything in your power to start off on the right foot and show the sister she has the wrong impression of you.
*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.