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“My Boyfriend’s Relationship with His Sister Weirds Me Out!”

New readers, welcome to Dear Wendy, a relationship advice blog. If you don’t find the info you need in this column, please visit the Dear Wendy archives or the forums (you can even start your own thread), or submit a question for advice.

I’m 23 years old and have been in an honest, mature relationship with my amazing and sweet boyfriend for six months. We are very compatible and it’s likely that we’ll end up moving in together in the next year or so. A few weeks ago, I got to meet his sister, who is two years younger than us and the person he’s closest to in his family. Man, was I in for a surprise! Not only did they hug each other tightly for almost a full five minutes when we met her at the airport, but he constantly had his arm around her or was holding her hand (and sometimes mine, simultaneously). The “pet name” that he calls me turned out to be a variation on his nickname for her. He even called her by my nickname and me by hers several times. He honestly looked distraught when he had to choose which one of us to sit next to. It was strange because many of his flirtatious moves, like play wrestling, tickling, picking me up, etc. were also things that he did with her! It felt….bizarre.

On top of this, his sister exhibits signs of anorexia that my boyfriend refuses to notice. A meal for her consists of an orange or a handful of crackers, and she’s super skinny, weighing 105 lbs at 5’7″. In the past, my boyfriend has mentioned that while he knows that it’s unhealthy for women to be so thin, he’s really attracted to the wispy, thin women. He may have been trying to compliment me, since I myself am fairly thin, but I can’t help but feel like his sister has something to do with it.

Do you think I am just being paranoid and jealous about the way he treats and looks at his sister, or do you think there’s something strange like I do? I’m worried that if we see much of his sister, I may be at risk of developing an eating disorder myself (I’ve had some borderline problems in the past). What should I do? — Second to his Sister


Short of telling your boyfriend that you’re uncomfortable with how physical he is with his sister — at least in your presence — I’m not sure there’s much you can do. It’s not like you can demand he stop pawing at his sister like she’s the first woman he’s ever seen. You can only hope that in expressing your discomfort, he will say something to put you at ease and change his behavior during future visits with her. I suppose you can also take some comfort in knowing she lives far enough away that in the six months you’ve been with her brother, you’ve only met her once.

Unfortunately, if you plan to move in with your boyfriend and perhaps even marry him one day, his sister is obviously going to be a permanent fixture in your life. And if her presence, in addition to making you uncomfortable and jealous, puts you at risk for reigniting a dormant eating disorder, this may just be a situation in which you need to MOA. Being weirded out is one thing (and a MAJOR red flag at that); screwing with your emotional and physical health is something else entirely, and not something I would risk doing for a six month relationship with a guy who has, at best, an uncomfortably close relationship with his sister.

Finally, if your self-image is so fragile that you would so easily be tempted to quit eating, you could probably use a visit to a therapist. Clearly, your boyfriend’s sister is always going to be part of his life; his relationship and behavior with her isn’t going to change overnight — if at all — and if seeing them together or even imagining in your worst fears how your boyfriend feels about her makes you insecure about yourself and in your relationship with him, then having a professional at hand who can guide you through processing some of these emotions is definitely for the best. And eating disorders, like any psychological issues, aren’t something that ever fully go away. They need to always be monitored and should be addressed immediately at any hint of recurrence, regardless what the surrounding situation might be.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

avatar Desiree March 8, 2011, 3:19 pm

Do any individuals with siblings care to comment on appropriate sibling behavior? I do not have a brother and know very little of “normal” brother/sister interaction (though I do think the whole thing sounds very odd).

avatar AnitaBath March 8, 2011, 3:29 pm

I have a little sister I do these things with half-jokingly, but I’m not close to my brother so I don’t really know. At first I started reading and I was like, “Oh, whatever, they’re close. Stop reading into it!” But then I got to the parts about how he holds their hands simultaneously, and mixes up their pet names that are super similar, and it was kind of hard to ignore at that point.

avatar LSS86 March 8, 2011, 3:37 pm

I have 3 brothers, and though I don’t see/talk to them very frequently, we are really open with each other and can talk about pretty much anything when we do catch up. But I would never, NEVER, interact with them in the way the LW describes.

I knew a girl at college who had this type of relationship with her brother (and her father) and it creeped me out so much. I know some people are just more physical, but to me, this crosses into inappropriate territory.

avatar SpaceySteph March 8, 2011, 3:40 pm

I’ve never been this close with my brother (6 years younger) but my best friend growing up had an…extremely close family. She had an older sister and younger brother and, even though each had their own bedroom (with bed), when they were younger they would all three sleep in a full size bed together. They did this well into high school. But they don’t anymore.
They are the closest family I know, and I thought it was pretty odd that they would choose to sleep 3 to a bed rather than in their own rooms. But now that all 3 are grown (youngest is 22), they DO NOT cuddle or hold hands or anything like that.
So yes, even from the standpoint of oddly close brother/sister relationships, this sounds extra odd.

avatar Rachelgrace53 March 8, 2011, 3:44 pm

I would hold my little brother’s hand or have my arm around him, but he’s 12. Not 21….. And the other things she mentioned were much creepier than 20-something siblings holding hands. Granted, I don’t have a sibling close in age, so I can’t say for sure, but I’m thinking that at least the pet name switch-up and the borderline flirtation are pretty unusual.

avatar PFG-SCR March 8, 2011, 3:56 pm

I’m a sister (very close to one brother), as well as a mother to both sexes of children. Siblings typically spend a lot of time together over the years (especially if close in age), and I think in many ways, the relationship of siblings can have an impact on how each of them will interact with others, including the opposite sex, in the future. However, a lot of these behaviors (e.g. holding hands, wrestling, tickling, etc.) are done with younger children, but they’re outgrown as the siblings get older. Just because they haven’t been outgrown doesn’t necessarily mean there is an underlying sexual attraction to it. But, it’s a bit outside most social norms here to be so affectionate to an adult sibling.

It’s unlikely that this will be something that the LW has to deal with that often given the distance from the sister, but she needs to determine if she will have some underlying doubts about her boyfriend’s interest in his sister. It’s more likely that it’s nothing more than sibling affection, though, but the LW can’t let it negatively affect her, her image of herself and her relationship with her boyfriend. While I don’t think it’s wrong for her to mention that he and his sister’s physical affection are a bit “more” than most siblings, I think she needs to tread carefully.

avatar Younger sister April 29, 2014, 4:09 pm

I am a younger sister to my older brother and we are super close but we do not get physical like this EVER. However, I myself am having the same problem with my boyfriend. His sister is older by less than a year and they are ‘close” as he puts it. I can see he follows her around like a puppy, thinks that everything she says is gold and puts her on a pedestal. I do not see it from the other way, she is not like that with him at all. I’m just wondering where to draw the line… We just moved in and while I was away for the weekend he folded up a beautiful rug I put out on display because he thought it looked better without it. However, he has taken his sister’s drawing and (really ugly) ornaments to decorate OUR space. I am not comfortable with this obsession but I do not know how to tell him without coming across like a jealous psycho. I understand they might have similar style and taste in things but I feel like he puts her up all the time, whereas with me its always negative. Why can’t he show me the same level of love and support? I know he is not an incestuous freak but I can’t help but feel like he has her as the ideal woman in his mind and no one is going to live up to that. I don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who is kind of in love with someone else. How should I tell him this?

avatar Ash March 8, 2011, 4:12 pm

I’m very thankful to have not one but two siblings! A younger brother and sister who trail behind me at 21 and 22 (I’m 24). We’ve always been very close and see one another often but the kind of behavior LW describes sounds really, really strange. I’ve never held my brothers hand (except when we were children) and it would feel bizarre to do so as adults. Even when we don’t see one another for weeks/months we don’t give lingering hugs to one another. Some ppl are more affectionate but the way LW’s guy acts sounds strange. Mixing up pet names? Holding their hands at the same time? Hmm…

avatar cmarie March 8, 2011, 6:14 pm

If the pet names are variations of the same name it’s easy to mix them up. Heck my own mother had to go through my siblings names to get to mine, sometimes the dog’s name too. I call my partner “baby” and when I go talk to my sister sometimes I’ll call her that. Doesn’t mean anything is going on there, it’s just a habit. I also call everyone “sweetheart” from my partner to my brother. It’s a habit ingrained from childhood. My brother still calls me by my childhood nickname, and believe it or not so does my partner. It’s cute and nobody has a problem with it. It’s actually “honey”. It could also mean that the LW and sister have similar names. If the pet names are based off a name isn’t it possible that they would be similar.

avatar katiebird November 30, 2011, 9:52 am

I call my little brother “boo” and sometimes I get mixed up and call my boyfriend that. It really only happens when they’re in the same room though and I’m talking to both of them though.

avatar shelllo November 29, 2011, 5:35 pm

I am very close to my two brothers. We do give lingering hugs…when my brothers are trying to choke me haha (all the while pretending to not notice my physical discomfort while louding proclaiming how much they will miss me/have missed me). But in all seriousness I am trying to have a more mature relationship with my bros. One that does not involve so much annoying each other on purpose.

avatar Southern Girl March 12, 2011, 8:48 pm

I have a very close older brother (2 years) and we both think this is inappropriate. Sure, we hug each other and we sit next to each other sometimes, but I prefer to sit next to my husband and my brother to his fiance.We sometimes wrestle or play around, but there’s almost always one of his kids involved. As far as nicknames, we simply use shortened versions of each other’s names, although he does sometimes call me little or baby (because I’m his baby sister). I don’t really have any nicknames for him, although I do for his kids.

avatar oppositeofzen November 29, 2011, 6:05 pm

I have 2 younger brother (one is 22 months younger and the other is almost 5 years younger) and this sounds super creepy to me. I’m not attracted to guys that look like my brothers and the only time they do a long hug is to pick me up and shake me (we have some hilarious videos of that). There’s something creepy about this.

I also agree with Wendy that if the LW’s mental health is fragile enough to be injured by this, she needs to MOA. And she should consider professional help because unfortunately, mental illness never goes away.

avatar JC May 24, 2013, 3:26 pm

Have a sister who is 2 years younger than me. We are a close family and as individuals we like the cuddling thing BUT not with each other, with our boyfriends or girlfriends.. We kiss on the cheek with that half hug that lasts for a few milli-seconds… any touching that might last longer then that would make me feel awkward, and very uncomfortable… I’m sorry but having a man mind, reading about those two.. Get them alone in a room together with some booze and those two will go at it.

avatar sarolabelle March 8, 2011, 3:22 pm

I don’t have anything to add really – I just wanted to say I love the picture you posted with this letter!

avatar HmC March 8, 2011, 3:28 pm

This sounds like an episode of Seinfeld.

avatar PFG-SCR March 8, 2011, 3:35 pm

Actually, there was a Friends episode where a guy that Rachel is dating was like this with his sister…but, even a bit more extreme!

avatar Anne (I Go To 11) March 8, 2011, 4:10 pm

I was JUST going to comment about that episode of “Friends”! :)

avatar MissDre March 8, 2011, 4:16 pm

Yeah didn’t they take showers together?? LoL!

avatar PFG-SCR March 8, 2011, 4:44 pm

A bubble bath!!!

avatar cdj0815 March 8, 2011, 4:33 pm

At least they did not kiss in the mouth for a weird length of time like and Angelina Jolie and her brother at the award show.
P.S. Wendy you had me LMAO about ‘It’s not like you can demand he stop pawing at his sister like she’s the first woman he’s ever seen.’ I am still laughing!

avatar MissDre March 8, 2011, 3:28 pm

In the past 5 years, I think my brother has only hugged me twice. Once was on Christmas, the other time was at his wedding. Definitely don’t know anything about super close sibling relationships…

avatar Amy March 8, 2011, 3:30 pm

I can’t imagine my brother treating me that way – or any of my friends and their brothers behaving so strangely. I think feelings about a SOs family are a huge indicator of future success in a relationship. I’d weigh your uncomfortable feelings very carefully and not shove them under the rug because you think the family relationship won’t really affect your relationship – it very well might.

Also – the point of dating and even starting relationships with people isn’t to have the relationship – use this time to see if you are compatible for a successful long term relationship. Red flags should really be examined closely in this stage.

Good Luck – and I wish you success with managing healthy eating habits.

avatar cmarie March 8, 2011, 3:33 pm

I wonder if the LW has any siblings that she shares a close relationship with? It sounds like they are very close, growing up together and being so close in age will do that to a person. It also sounds like he doesn’t get to see her that much so it’s logical that he would feel a little emotional at seeing her. Just because the LW is uncomfortable with their relationship doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate. I used to be really close to my sister and she is currently really close to our older brother. The LW has to understand that they are 2 people who have grown up together, experience life together for far longer than she has been in the picture. Who knows what they’ve seen together, maybe there’s a story about why they’re so close, she saved his life in a freak sandbox accident… Whatever the reason I don’t think it’s about to a girlfriend to tell them that it’s abnormal and they need to knock it off for her comfort. And just because he’s attracted to thin girls and his sister is a thin girl doesn’t mean he’s attracted her. It honestly just sounds like the LW is jealous and is reaching. I’ll be the first person to say that when you choose a partner that person should come first but unless the sister is being mean or catty then you need to just accept it and work on yourself to see why you’re so uncomfortable.

avatar elisabeth March 8, 2011, 4:20 pm

Even if the LW’s boyfriend’s behavior itself isn’t a red flag, her discomfort may be, and it shouldn’t be discounted simply because this situation is plausible.

I have three younger siblings, and my brother and I were pretty close growing up and are just getting close again, now that we’re in our 20’s. We hug. I might loop my arm through his if we were out together. But I’d never hold hands/tickle flirtatiously/treat him the same way I would a significant other. It feels innappropriate to me. I’d do it with my sisters, and I do it with some of my female friends, but I wouldn’t with my brother, or male friends if I didn’t feel attraction to them.

While the cited behavior may not seem innappropriate to siblings or individuals who come from a different family environment than mine, it’s not weird for the LW to feel uncomfortable witnessing it.

avatar cmarie March 8, 2011, 5:58 pm

I’m not saying that the LW doesn’t have the right to feel weirded out, the point I’m trying to make is that just because the relationship is different than one you have doesn’t make it wrong. What I was saying that if she’s uncomfortable with it, then it’s her decision to decide if it’s truly a red flag or if it’s something she can live with. The first person I ever tickled was my older brother; he was also the first person I ever held hands with. I also hold hands with my partner and tickle her, does that mean my relationship is with my brother is inappropriate? If you can’t accept a person’s relationship with their family then you have no business being with that person. His sister will always have been there first and they’ve established the dynamics of their relationship long before she came along. While it’s possible to change you shouldn’t stick with someone expecting them to change. Be happy with the person they are right now even if they have some quirks that annoy you and you’ll have a better relationship. I def think the LW should listen to the part of herself that’s uncomfortable but I don’t think it’s right to start flinging blame on her BF and sister for not changing to accommodate her. If she’s uncomfortable that’s her issue and she needs to deal with it. Just because it’s different doesn’t make it wrong!

avatar elisabeth March 8, 2011, 6:15 pm

Reading your reply, it seems like we’re thinking along similar lines but coming at it from different sides of the subject. I didn’t mean to imply that the BF should change his habits with his family because the LW feels uncomfortable, but that her discomfort should be given equal weight. With my previous SO, I felt uncomfortable with his family at first – they’re all very loud, a bit obnoxious at first, with blatant northern humor. I wasn’t accustomed to it. But I got used to it and felt very comfortable in his home in the end. If the LW’s negative reaction to her boyfriend’s behavior is simply discomfort, then maybe she’ll be able to move past it and continue her relationship with her “amazing and sweet boyfriend.” If it’s more of a gut-reaction, or something deep-seated because of *her* previous experiences, it may not be something she can ignore.

Either way, it’s all on the LW to decide what she’ll do next. Of course communication should happen first – maybe the boyfriend can elucidate the issue and put the LW at ease. But ultimately, it’s the LW’s call whether she’s willing to try to accept it, or whether she’ll MOA.

avatar rosalee March 8, 2011, 10:53 pm

Agreeing with the above, it doesn’t have to be a value judgment about the boyfriend’s relationship with his sister. Whether or not we think it is “weird” by some standard, the most important thing is that it is uncomfortable for the LW. And her feelings are valid. If I were in her shoes, I’d probably feel weirded out by it, too. Ultimately, the LW has to decide if it upsets her enough to outweigh the good things in the relationship. That’s a tough call, especially if the boyfriend is otherwise really great. I can definitely understand if it creeps her out too much for her to endure; I can also understand if she decides she can tolerate it. All the LW can do is talk to the BF about it and/or give it some time to see how big a problem it becomes (or doesn’t become) for her.

avatar anna728 March 14, 2011, 2:12 am

I don’t think anyone would suggest it’s weird to be close with your sibling, but not all close relationships are acted out in the same way. It’s not just that they were unusually physically affectionate- it’s that their interactions were nearly identical to how he interacts with the LW.

avatar cmarie March 8, 2011, 3:34 pm

Side note: after my mom died my brothers and my sister and I have become even closer; that includes hugging.

avatar LSS86 March 8, 2011, 3:41 pm

I hug my brothers. But I don’t hold hands with them. They don’t treat me the same way they treat their girlfriends and I don’t treat them the same way I treat my boyfriend. I think the biggest red flag for me is that the LW says he engages in the same flirtatious behavior (play wrestling, tickling, picking her up) with her that he does with his sister. It’s one thing to have a close relationship with your sister, but I don’t think you should treat your girlfriend and your sister in the exact same way.

Just Max Just Max March 8, 2011, 3:56 pm

I agree with you about the red flag being that he behaves the same way with the girlfriend as he does with the sister.
As I said below, my siblings and I are very affectionate, but our relationships with SOs are totally different.

avatar cmarie March 8, 2011, 5:49 pm

If play wrestling and tickling are indicators of an inappropriate sibling relationshp then I’m screwed. Those are behaviors that a lot of siblings take part in, especially in childhood. It’s only natural that some of them would carry into adulthood. My brother still picks me up the way he used to when we were younger and would horse around. If she’s uncomfortable that’s fine but that is also her problem. There’s a lot of judgement about a relationship that we’ve only read a paragraph about and the LW has only seen in action once. Just because it’s not what you would do doesn’t make it wrong.

avatar WatersEdge March 9, 2011, 9:55 am

I agree- I’m fondly recalling this past Christmas where my brother sat on me on the couch, pinning my arms down with his legs, and tickled my knees until I cried. It was awful and hilarious— but inappropriate? Some brothers are just physical with their sisters like that.

avatar Steeze March 9, 2011, 10:58 am

i have to agree, i have a brother that wrestles with me, picks me up and spins me while i scream, hits my knees from behind so i can fall, tickles me until i cry… i thought all brothers were annoyingly fun like that? oh and im 28 and hes 36.

avatar MAC2011 March 8, 2011, 3:37 pm

It sounds to me like the LW should see a therapist, first for her eating disorder and second for her insecurities. I’m not saying that the sister & brother should be flirting b/c that is bizarre but I’m not sure that’s what was happening. I think sometimes siblings are close & if they don’t see each other often they may be more inclined to hug and what not.

avatar ArtsyGirly March 8, 2011, 8:56 pm

I agree and I might get burned by it by other posters but I think there is some weird jealousy thing going on. I only have a sister, but I will goof off with my male cousins who I am close with and would never see them sexually. I mean IMO the LW has been the guys GF for 6 months and obviously the sister was at least not physically present during that time. The comment that gets me is that the guy had a hard time deciding who to sit next too – I mean he can sit next to his GF or his sister who he has not seen in months – is that really so suspect? Also who knows where her BF’s preference for slender women comes from…maybe their mother always stressed how important it is for a woman to be skinny and it has manifested on both siblings (the sister in the form of self-denial and the BF in the form of dating skinny girls). Basically I think the LW’s insecurities are showing up big time and she might be seeing things that really aren’t there.

Just Max Just Max March 8, 2011, 3:40 pm

I have many siblings and we all hug and kiss when we see each other. After long periods of time of not seeing one another, the hugs do last a little longer; we sit or stand close together; hug some more or hang an arm over the shoulder; the conversations are longer; that kind of thing. We all hug and kiss good bye too.

I don’t know if this is typical of siblings or if we are a bunch of very touchy people.
I do have one thing to say though, if any of my brothers’ girlfriends had a problem with me hugging them or fixing their collar or just plain being the way we are with each other since for ever, it’d rub me the wrong way. It hasn’t happen yet, and I hope it never does.

On the flip side, my ex never had a problem with our interaction, and my brother in law (the one sister’s husband) doesn’t seem to have a problem with it either. And we are a very loud and affectionate bunch!

seven7three seven7three November 30, 2011, 2:37 am

Cosign! Your family sounds so much like mine.

My brother and two sisters are the same way. We went through some pretty nasty childhood trauma together and we are all very close. When we were young, all we had was each other. I know that some people think any sort of affection among siblings is strange but my brother is really struggling with alcoholism. We talk 2-3 times a week and when we do see each other I’m so happy that he’s still with us, I hug him tight and don’t want to let go.

And my sisters and I DO hold hands. We are best friends. We did a ton of hand holding on Black Friday so we wouldn’t get separated in the Target crush. We hold hands the way little kids do and there’s nothing odd about that to me.

My entire family says goodbye with a quick peck, a hug and we say “I love you”. Mr. Seven thought we were super strange because his parents aren’t like that. We’ve been married for 11 years and I’ve never heard an “I love you” once. From anyone in his family. That…that makes me sad.

seven7three seven7three November 30, 2011, 2:45 am

I also wanted to add that my brother has an amazing fiancé. And when we are all together, there’s no mistaking that SHE is the one he’s romantically involved with, not any of his three sisters.

avatar silvii March 8, 2011, 3:43 pm

I’m not THAT close to my little brother but I am protective of him since he’s seven years younger. I’m thinking that maybe your boyfriend is just very caring and protective of his sister and shows that by the holding of hands and the affection. You mentioned she has an eating disorder – maybe something else has happened in her past that has led your boyfriend to be extra affectionate (for comforting reasons) and could be perceived as “creepy” to the outsider.
I’ve been watching this show called “Supersize vs Superskinny” and the super skinny people they feature often say their eating disorder is down to something that happened to them in the past.

Maybe you can talk to him and just ask if she’s okay, how’s she’s doing. Maybe even get to know her better and offer your friendship, being that you might want to invest a lot more into the relationship with you and your man.

avatar SGAC March 8, 2011, 3:44 pm

It is one thing for a guy to respect his sister – heck, if he respects the women in his family, it’s a good indication of how he’ll treat you. I don’t think LW has to feel threated with her guy’s sister, especially since she lives so far away and this is the first time you met her. He obviously cares about you enough to introduce you to her. He could just be missing her and be getting chummy accordingly. I know my husband feels uncomfortable by how close I can act with my sister and cousins, but he recognizes that his family interacts with each other much differently than mine. The important thing to look at is how the guy interacts with you. The more serious the relationship you develop with your guy becomes, the more of a priority YOU should become. If seeing how he interacts with his sister makes you feel insecure to the point that it brings up memories of your eating disorder, you need to have a talk with yourself (or with a therapist) first to understand WHY you are feeling this way.

avatar sarahthegreat March 8, 2011, 3:48 pm

My sister and I are very close. We have nicknames for each other and we are sometimes physically affectionate, and we do goofy things like grab each other’s butts. It’s different because we’re both girls, and I think I would probably behave differently with her if she were my brother instead, but I think the LW’s boyfriend and his sister probably have an affectionate family or something.It would weird me out too if I were in the LW’s shoes. I think she should just talk to him about it.

Ooh, I’ve been reading since day one but this is my first comment.

avatar convexed March 9, 2011, 5:23 am

I have five brothers and a sister, each of us about 2 years or less apart in age. With my sister, since we are both in our twenties, our relationship is more like very close female friends–walking arm in arm, hugging, and when we visit, we’d rather share a bed than have one of us sleeping on the floor. My brothers and I are very emotionally close. We are friends and supporters of each other, and keep in regular contact. However, my hugs with my brothers are quick and are usually ‘handshake’ hugs. We maintain some inches between our bodies and hug with affection but respectful distance. Being teenagers all at the same time, with changing bodies, we all felt the need for personal space for ourselves and each other. So, I have a background with my brothers of very close and caring emotional relationships, but physical restraint.
To me, the behavior of the LW’s boyfriend sounds very unconventional, and I question his respect for his sister if he does not seem concerned about her eating. Perhaps he is deeply concerned and acts oblivious to shield his sister from strangers and their prying. Or, perhaps his sister is a sort of womanly object to him, something to love and see as beautiful, like a creature, still child-like, and not quite an adult like he has become…
It’s a red flag, to me, if his default way of interacting with women is so physical and appraising of their bodies, not because it’s not well-meaning, perhaps, but because it indicates a possible difficulty in setting boundaries, in separating familiarity with someone’s life from physical entitlement to their bodies.

avatar WatersEdge March 8, 2011, 3:52 pm

I have a brother 18 months younger, and here’s how that works for me. My brother and I play wrestle, and I play wrestle with my husband. It’s basically how I show affection to a guy. So the touching, tickling, and play wrestling all falls into that category. But we don’t hug for 5 minutes, or hold hands. My brother may put his arm around me occasionally and squeeze my shoulders. He’d never feel the need to sit next to me over his girlfriend though.

I will say that I get weirded out by my husband’s relationship with his mother. He calls her a saint and says she’s adorable, and he openly says that he likes me because I remind him of her. He tells her he loves her a lot and he does things for her that are more thoughtful than for me at weird times like Valentine’s Day. He prioritizes her over everyone and when she makes a request, he acts like it’s written in stone and expects me and everyone else to drop everything and live around it. It’s CLEARLY unhealthy. However, I endure it because 1) He also treats me extremely well, because he learned how to treat women from his upbringing and 2) She lives several hours away and she has indicated that she never intends to move in with us in her old age. Yes it’s annoying, yes it creeps me out, but it’s not a daily problem. I’ve talked to my husband about the need to balance his mother’s needs with everyone else’s needs and the idea that his first loyalty is to me (as mine is to him). He gets it intellectually but his knee-jerk reaction is to drop everything for her. It’s a work in progress. But maybe think about whether some of these things are things that you can approach him about. I wasn’t the first girlfriend to tell my husband that his relationship with his mom was weird, so he was open to my suggestions. The rest I deal with because it’s part of what makes him such a good partner to me.

avatar WatersEdge March 8, 2011, 3:58 pm

Also- if she’s very thin, and he likes very thin women, it could very well be because they both got the same messages in childhood about very skinny women being attractive. Maybe their father, or mother, or whomever, let them know that thinner is better. It definitely does NOT necessarily mean that he’s attracted to his sister.

avatar Sarah Brown March 8, 2011, 4:01 pm

I wonder if the LW has ever seen The House of Yes.

avatar April March 8, 2011, 4:05 pm

I have two older brothers. Growing up, we did the typical sibling things–rough-housing, hand-holding, tickling, sleeping in the same bed, etc. HOWEVER, this all stopped when we grew up. Anyways, I consider myself to be very close to them (they’re in their late 20s and 30s today), but our relationship is no where as intimate as the one mentioned. We all live in different states, so hugs pretty much only happen during hellos and goodbyes at the airport. When I was introduced to their girlfriends (now wives) it was never awkward, and I never felt like I was competing with them. Conversely, my bf is very close to his younger sister and they also don’t have this touchy-feely relationship.

caitie_didnt caitie_didn't March 8, 2011, 4:06 pm

Weird. Weird weird weird. I’m close with my little bro, but I would NOT hold hands in public with him or engage in the other behaviour the LW talked about. I think if a casual observer is unable to tell the difference between the sister and the girlfriend (as could be the case here), brother and sister are a wee bit too close for comfort.

Guys who treat their sisters well make awesome boyfriends, generally speaking, but if I were this LW I think I’d find this whole thing just too bizarre to hang around.

Besides that, the LW should take care of her physical and mental health first and if staying with her boyfriend is going to trigger a dormant eating disorder or cause her a lot of anxiety, she should move on regardless of the boyfriend’s relationship with his sister.

avatar ReginaRey March 8, 2011, 4:08 pm

I have a brother who I love very much, but very little of what you described registered on the “normal sibling interaction” scale with me. I don’t think it’s wrong for your boyfriend to hug his sister (but for 5 minutes…?), tickle, play, etc. If that is how they show their affection, then that seems fine.

What I DO feel weirded out about, and what some other commenters have noted, is that he does the same things with you that he does with his sister. At best, he seems to idealize his sister and to hold other females in his life to the same “standards” as her. Holding someone to certain standards is fine, but repeating the same exact behaviors with both of you, wanting his SO to be extremely thin like his sister, and feeling torn about who to be physically closer to all seem like rather big red flags. There’s a difference between wanting a SO with qualities and values similar to his sister, and wanting a carbon copy of his sister.

Either way, the bond between siblings (and especially this pair, as far as we can tell) is usually quite strong. Broaching this with your boyfriend may be difficult, and he will certainly be defensive. I agree with Wendy, if something about your SO makes you extremely uncomfortable and insecure for ANY reason, then it is probably not the relationship for you.

avatar OffbeatCube March 8, 2011, 4:21 pm

Has anyone considered that there may be a cultural factor into this? As a daughter of Cuban immigrants who was born and raised in Miami, it’s perfectly normal for siblings to hug, kiss, cuddle, wrestle, etc. Even then, the behavior is not necessarily relegated to siblings. Also nicknames in certain cultures are interchangeable for SOs and family/friends as well.

Personally, my siblings and I grew up a little WASPier than your typical Miami Cuban so I don’t engage in the behavior with them but I’ve witnessed it plenty of times in my life to the point that I think my brothers and I are the “abnormal” ones. In fact, I hold hands, hug, kiss, and show all kinds of affection to my close friends and thought it was perfectly normal until I moved to D.C. and realized I had to tone my behavior way down.

I think the LW, and some other commentors, may have a very narrow definition of how a family is “suppose” to act and should probably try to be more openminded. Combined with the LW’s previous borderline behavior, she may have a very fragile or low sense of self-worth and she should defintely try to deal with these issues before they become fullblown.

avatar MissDre March 8, 2011, 4:29 pm

This is a really great point!! I guess we can’t know for sure since she didn’t mention their culture.

Dear Wendy Wendy March 8, 2011, 4:38 pm

I did consider the cultural aspect as I once dated a guy from a different culture who behaved this way with his mother, but I didn’t focus my advice on that possibility for a couple reasons: 1) the LW didn’t mention her boyfriend being of a different culture; 2) even if he is from a different culture, what matters is that his behavior makes the LW uncomfortable and she should express that discomfort and listen to what he says in response (maybe his reply will be a cultural lesson); 3) I’m sorry, but if you’re from a different culture than your significant other and your culture is the “foreign” or minority one, by the time you’re 23, you should know enough to expect that your differences MAY raise some eyebrows and you might want to alert your significant other about what s/he can expect as to limit potential shock.

avatar OffbeatCube March 8, 2011, 10:29 pm

Umm… while I agree with #1 and #2, I’m kind of offended by your #3. Just b/c I grew up “foreign” or as a “minority” doesn’t mean I should have to run around blasting a disclaimer about everything I do. It’s annoying in the first place that I’m automatically nominated, without any due process, as the “ambassador” of anything outside of WASP American culture.

If I were the LW boyfriend this is my FAMILY, I’m letting YOU in. That’s a significant step in it of itself, without cultural consideration. If you add the (possible) cultural consideration, then it’s been six months and you should already know I’m from _____ which may or may not bring up differences. Therefore, two way street, I shouldn’t have to lay in wait expecting a raised eyebrow. :-(

Dear Wendy Wendy March 9, 2011, 7:54 am

I figured people would probably be offended by that comment, but I stand by it. If you want to make your significant other feel comfortable and you KNOW your culture is different than what is the “norm,” it’s the thoughtful and sensitive thing to do to give a head’s up that your significant other may see/experience behavior that she wouldn’t expect when meeting your family. Of course, one doesn’t HAVE to — and sure, you can make the argument that it’s wrong for her to “expect” this different culture to be like hers — but a simple, “by the way, Cuban families are typically much more affectionate than white American families, so don’t be shocked if you see a lot of hugging and kissing when you meet my family,” is a thoughtful gesture that would definitely go a long way in diminishing awkwardness and promoting cultural understanding. I can appreciate why it may be annoying to be an “ambassador” for one’s culture, but in regard to helping someone you care about understand where you come from a little better, I guess I don’t understand why a little “disclaimer” as you call it is such a big deal.

avatar mf March 9, 2011, 11:55 am

I agree w/ you, Wendy. It’s really a matter of courtesy, of making your SO comfortable in a new situation. In my dad’s culture, people kiss you on the cheek when they greet you. It can be disconcerting to be grabbed and kiss by distant cousin or even a stranger if you’re not used to it. Before I introduced my fiance to my dad’s family, I warned him to expect this and just go with it. He appreciated the heads up.

avatar XanderTaylor November 29, 2011, 6:14 pm

Shoot – I do this with my family and we are not a different culture than the friends or former SO’s I took to meet them! A little heads up goes a long way…. Just sayin.

avatar AnitaBath March 8, 2011, 5:09 pm

And there’s some stuff that is just creepy, any culture aside. Holding your sister’s AND your girlfriend’s hand at the same time? Using the same pet names interchangeably?

avatar Maracuya March 8, 2011, 5:25 pm

@ AB

That’s what I find odd, not that he play wrestles or hugs. Using the same pet name is what I find the weirdest. I think it would be just as off-putting as finding out that they used the same pet name for a friend or an ex. The point is that the pet name is an extension from someone else and it makes you not unique, when my thought is that pet names are supposed to set you apart.

avatar OffbeatCube March 8, 2011, 5:31 pm

Using pet names interchangeably is done in both English and Spanish. I mean – “Honey,” “Sweetums,” etc. If it’s a generic pet name then I totally would get it.

As for holding hands? I totally tag team people when I’m feeling all affectionate and sweet. No one (normal) ever batted an eye. Except for my crazy, controlling ex who I only dated for a few months who he hated that I was so affectionate with my guy friends, but he had emotional issues that had nothing to do with my expressions of affection.

avatar thyme March 8, 2011, 6:14 pm

My ex used to call me “My Love,” in what I thought was his Sweet Boyfriend voice. Then I heard him call his younger sister the exact same thing in the EXACT same tone of voice. I wasn’t jealous, but I was dissappointed and I felt a hell of lot less special after that.

He never held her hand or play-wrestled with her though. At least, not in front of me.

avatar AnitaBath March 8, 2011, 9:36 pm

I guess it depends on the nickname. If it was just something like “Hun” I think that would be one thing, but the way the LW said that he has a very similar one for his sister made me think that he calls the LW “Schmookie Bear” and his sister “Schnookum Bear” or something.

avatar Maracuya March 9, 2011, 10:21 am

Yeah, this is what I meant. There are a ton of generic pet names like honey, dear, sweetheart, cariño. But based on the letter I figured it was something that seemed more unique to the letterwritter and her relationship with her boyfriend-like lazycats or cuddle bear or sugar wombat, I don’t know. Something unique enough that she thought he had chose because it represented her. You can’t fault her for at least feeling disappointed in that instance.

avatar Steeze March 9, 2011, 11:10 am

i want my bf to call me sugar wombat.

caitie_didnt caitie_didn't March 12, 2011, 3:48 am

The man that calls me “sugar wombat” is the man I will marry.

avatar LSS86 March 9, 2011, 1:20 pm

Ok, AnitaBath and Maracuya, you come up with amazing pet names.

avatar Amanda March 8, 2011, 7:30 pm

I was going to bring this point up, myself. Not that I pretend to know anything about this – I’m about as WASPy as they come but I thought it might be a distinct possibility.

Even though she didn’t mention anything, this could definetly be part of it.

And, if not, then it is a very odd relationship for sure.

avatar Marie March 8, 2011, 4:36 pm

I have an older brother that I am very close to. We have never had a single argument and we DO NOT interact anything like explained in this letter. It’s not normal… no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen your sibling.. this type of behavior is bizarre. I’d MOA.

avatar WatersEdge March 8, 2011, 4:42 pm

I think it’s worth noting that people here all have different boundaries with siblings. Some play wrestle but wouldn’t hold hands, some hold hands/link arms but think play wrestling is inappropriate, some do long hugs, others don’t. If you watch Keeping up With The Kardashians, those siblings are all weirdly close and cross lots of boundaries. Open mindedness here might really help things along.

ETA- I am playing devil’s advocate here. I am not convinced that something is really wrong. But I do think she should talk to him about how uncomfortable it makes her.

avatar DebMoore November 29, 2011, 7:42 pm

I agree with you. There are explainations for just about everything (except the hand holding, that was kind of odd)
-Such as Pet names, I call people close to me similar pet names.
-Affection, some families are closer than others. Maybe it was a long hug because they havn’t seen each other in a long time and besides how many times have you thought sometihing was “5 mins” when really it was maybe a minute at best (I do that with traffic lights all the time)
-wanting to sit next his sister, again maybe he hadn’t seen her in a long time and wanted to sit next to her to talk and catch up
-Anorexia, others have pointed out, perhaps she has had it for a long time, so he is used to it. Also (and I may get slack for this) but a lot of guys I know prefer slender women. My husbands sister was anorexic and he prefers slender women, but I know he is not sexaully attracked to his sister (and while he prefers slender women he does not like them stick thim and boy like either)
-Flirting, I am a shy person and tend to clam up around people I don’t know very well. But I am close to my brother and my male cousin and have been accused of “flirting” with them because I can open up around them. Plus I tend to be more open with guys (related or not) than girls.
So I am also not convinced there is something really wrong going on. I know lots of girls are jealous re: their man. Esp if they have not seen anybody else act close to their boyfriend it may come as a shock to see another girl put her hands on her man.
But I will admit the hand holding thing is throwing me for a bit of a loop.