Well, a few months pass, and Nancy meets a new fellow, Ed. Ed has no high school degree or GED, no relationship with his family at all, is a former alcoholic, quickly moved in with Nancy, immediately “lost” his job, contributes nothing to their bills, uses food stamps even though he’s fully capable of working, isn’t even nice or friendly, smokes at least two packs a day, is what some would call a video game addict and a pothead like I never imagined existed. Clearly, not the ideal boyfriend for what I consider an exceptional, extremely compassionate, beautiful, intelligent, trusting and trustworthy human being like my sister. I am convinced that Ed has brainwashed her. She dropped out of her master’s program without telling most of us, makes excuse after excuse for everything, hates her job but does nothing to change it, became a pothead herself after never having any interest in it at all, loses her job because of pot, her apartment is filthy, she is late on bills and is constantly coming to us for money (money that then is spent on Ed’s habits), and has started lying to some of us out of what I assume is shame and/or not wanting to hear our opinions or advice (which I understand and we stopped giving it quite some time ago). Note: none of us think she is in a physically abusive relationship.
About a week ago, I let Nancy know that if she could come home for the weekend, I’d be happy to give her money to cover her costs. She came and we had a nice weekend (although I heard some of the bad attitude, I looked the other way). When she got back home, she texted me reminding me that I never gave her travel money. I apologized and deposited it into her account the next morning. (I have stopped giving her cash that Ed may be able to use, but am happy to help with this sort of thing, as well as dinners and gifts that only she can use, etc.). Last night, my mother mentioned that she gave Nancy money before she left for traveling home for the weekend. I was shocked. She is a very honest, kind person and it hurt to feel like now she is becoming someone who would essentially steal from her own family. She doesn’t know we know about the travel money double-dip yet. She’s also a pretty fragile person who doesn’t respond to anger so we are usually gentle with her. Part of me wants to scream at her and give her a wake up call, but the other part of me knows it won’t do any good and I don’t want to lose our closeness and make her feel like a terrible person. Wendy, commenters, tell me what to do! — Sister Drama
It would seem that your sister has some self-esteem issues and, while I am in no way blaming you or your family for those issues, I’m sure the family narrative that she is “fragile” and less book smart than your other siblings probably hasn’t helped matters. I would also think that constantly being treated with kid gloves or being made to feel that she is too stupid to choose a good partner for herself eventually begins to erode whatever self-confidence she had. And you’re probably right that her current boyfriend has “brainwashed” her to an extent. I wouldn’t be surprised if he further convinces her that she’s not very bright and that she needs him because she’s not good enough to find anyone better.
So, what can you do about that? Nothing. She’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to hear your opinions. You know from experience that sharing your opinions about her bad boyfriends doesn’t help anyway. With any luck, this guy will dump her like that last guy did and she’ll be free. But you have no control over that one way or another (nor do you have any control over whom she might date next). What you do have control over is the way you treat your sister. If the way you have been treating her for years hasn’t had a positive effect, you need to change your behavior. I would suggest that instead of buying in to the idea that your sister is helpless and needs financial support from you and the rest of your family, quit enabling her and let her know that you have faith that if she needs money for anything she is perfectly capable of earning it herself. Find other ways of expressing your love and support than through gift-giving and money-loaning. Build up her self-esteem by giving positive feedback for the things she does well and independently. If you want to see her, go visit her instead of giving her money to come see you. Invest time rather than money in maintaining a relationship and you may see things improve.
As for your sister’s travel money “double-dipping,” I wouldn’t say anything to her about it or you risk alienating her at a time when it sounds like she needs people in her life who care about her well-being. By calling her out on her lie, you also further confirm the family narrative that she’s a fuck-up, and right now you want to help create a new narrative for her — one that is about her rising to her potential and pursuing the goals she once had for herself. (You can do that by showing interest in her accomplishments and encouraging her to set goals for herself). Reiterate how much you enjoyed her visit and how happy you were that she could come. Trust that as much as you feel hurt that she lied to you, she came to visit not because she wanted your money but because she genuinely wanted to see you. And in the future, don’t give her gifts of monetary value, but give her gifts in the form of love, support, and faith in her.