Dear Wendy: “I’m A Selfish Girlfriend”

My boyfriend and I have been dating for nine months, and for this whole period, his mother, who lives several states away, has been very sick with cancer. Because this is such a difficult situation for him, I have tried to be understanding when things do not go my way. (I was not always selfless; during the first seven months, I would get upset when we didn’t have sex at least once a week or when he canceled our plans last minute.) In the last two months, his mother’s condition has taken a turn for the worse, and we do not know how much longer she has. I want to be supportive and as “there for him” as I can, but in these last two months he has not wanted to see me at all. The only interaction we have besides text messaging is when I’m picking up or dropping off his dog so I can dog-sit for him when he needs to go out of town to see his mother. I volunteer for this duty as it’s the only thing he lets me do to help him. The problem is, I can’t stop getting angry about him not wanting to see me, and I then voice that anger in the form of text message. He says he wants to be alone or is too in his own head to see me even though he still occasionally hangs out with his guy friends. I think that this anger is at least partially caused by me not knowing how to act in this situation. How do I get over this selfish anger? Do you have suggestions for how to act in this situation? — Selfish Girlfriend

This is not a relationship, SG, and you are not a girlfriend; you’re a dog-sitter. Your “boyfriend” doesn’t want to spend time with you because for the first seven months you were together, instead of being someone he could turn to for relief from the stress and pressure of his reality, you added to it. And for his part, he wasn’t honest, either with himself or with you, about his emotional and physical availability to begin a relationship. You were in opposite places, with needs neither of you could meet for each other. Rather than acknowledge and accept that early on, you continued with a charade of a relationship for seven months, which quickly led to resentment and anger. And now what you have isn’t even a charade. It’s simply nonexistent. If you’re only interacting through text messages, and he would rather hang out with his friends than spend even a minute in your company, you are not a couple.

The way to get over your “selfish anger” is to accept that and move on. Accept that even if this could have been the right guy for you, this wasn’t the right time. Accept that even if you could have been good partners for each other under different conditions, you are not now and never have been good partners for one another. Accept that the reason this guy isn’t letting you do more to help him is because there isn’t anything you can do for him (besides dog-sit) — because for the first seven months you were together, you proved your inability to meet his needs. None of this means you’re a bad person. New relationships simply require more than your boyfriend was able to invest and because of that, you felt short-changed. It happens. The mistake was in not cutting your losses early on and getting out before you grew resentful and made your boyfriend’s life even more difficult. Nine months later, you’ve had more than enough time to figure this out. You need to accept that this relationship is o-ver and decide whether you want to continue dog-sitting for this guy as a friend while he deals with his mother’s death or gracefully bow out and wish him well. But please, save the drama for for your diary or a dish session with your girlfriends. If you truly want to be selfless, let this guy grieve in peace. It’s the compassionate thing to do.

For about the past year, my sister has had a very odd relationship with one of her coworkers, Brian. My sister is 29, and he’s mid-40s, married and has two daughters. I first met Brian when she brought him and his daughters along on a ski trip we had planned. She didn’t tell me they were coming until we were already in the car driving there, and we had to stop to pick them up! My sister had me sit in the back seat with his daughters so Brian could “navigate.” While we were skiing, she and Brian went off together and left me to teach his daughters how to ski. The whole trip the two of them flirted nonstop, teasing each other and casually touching. After the trip, I told my sister that I did not appreciate being taken along as a babysitter. She hasn’t pulled anything like that since, but the weird relationship continues.

She hangs out with Brian practically every weekend. Sometimes just with him, sometimes with his wife, and sometimes with his whole family. She even hosts parties just for him and his wife and kids. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but doesn’t it seem weird that a 29-year-old single woman would want to spend so much of her time hanging out with this older guy and his family? She doesn’t even like kids! I also wonder what this guy’s wife must be thinking. Clearly, she knows this is going on because she’s present for a lot of it!

My boyfriend suggested that my sister is involved in some sort of alternative relationship with this guy. She hasn’t dated anyone since she’s been hanging out with Brian. I don’t know if this adds any insight, and I love my sister and I mean no judgment when I say this, but she is a people-pleaser and has a very hard time saying “no.” I know that Brian would not have a difficult time pursuing my sister. So I guess my question is, should I do or say anything to my sister in this situation? We are very close and it feels like there is this one area that I just can’t ask her questions about. If she is in an alternative relationship, I don’t want her to feel she has to hide it. My sister is a workaholic, and having a guy who doesn’t need her to be his full-time girlfriend is probably an ideal situation for her. But at the same time, I worry that I’m just way off from the truth and that she will get upset if I suggest that something more than friendship is going on. What do I do?? How do I be a good sister? — Twisted’s Sister

Are you truly “worried” about your sister or are you more hurt that she hasn’t opened up to you about the nature of her friendship/relationship with this guy? I suspect it’s the latter, which is fair enough, but you seem to think she’s hiding something when, in fact, that doesn’t seem to be the case. At most, she’s guilty of not being completely explicit about the details, but what do you think she was trying to do when she invited Brian and his daughters along on your ski weekend? Do you really think that was only a ploy to get you to babysit so she could spend time with him? The way I see it, that was her way of introducing you to what you call “a very odd relationship.” It probably wasn’t the best way to tell you about the relationship, and certainly, it caught you off-guard, which is why you reacted the way you did. And maybe she saw your reaction as judgment and chose not to reveal more about the nature of their relationship. Or maybe she doesn’t really know how to explain the details and she figured you could fill in the blanks yourself. But that doesn’t mean she’s hiding anything. If she were, you wouldn’t know that she spends nearly every weekend with Brian and his family.

Look, if you want your sister to trust you and tell you what exactly her relationship is with Brian, ask! Ask, if you can, without judgment. Just say, “Hey, I noticed you’ve been spending a lot of time with Brian lately, and I know it’s none of my business, but I was wondering if there was more to your relationship than just friendship.” She might ask why you want to know, so be prepared to answer that question honestly. Is it because you’re curious? Because you’re worried about her (and, if so, why? What is it exactly that you’re worried will happen?)? Because she’s your sister and you’re close and it hurts to think there’s a part of her life she feels she can’t share with you? The better you’re able to answer these questions for yourself, the better prepared you’ll be to not only answer them for your sister, but also approach her from a place of sincerity.

Finally, if you truly feel that this conversation would strain your relationship with your sister, then chill out and accept that this is a part of her life you don’t need to know all the details about. It really isn’t any of your business anyway, and if your sister, who is a grown adult and can take care of herself, doesn’t want to completely open up to you, that’s her prerogative. It doesn’t mean she loves you less. And it doesn’t mean you’re not a good sister. If this is something she feels is important for you, she’ll tell you when she’s ready.

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