“I’m in Love with My Sister”

I am 50 and my half-sister — we share the same dad — is 43. Since we were young I’ve always been attracted to “Carol.” When she was a teenager she would tell her friends she loved me “differently.” I moved away for about five years and then came home to visit. I was sleeping in her bed and she came to bed after everyone was asleep. We talked, fondeled and made love. About three more years passed, and I came to visit again and we went out for dinner. On the way home she told me to stop the car and we started kissing and went to a hotel and made love and cried.

Four years ago we were both single and we moved in together and did everything as a married couple, but on the down low. It was amazing. For four years we were happy. Intamacy was like none other for both of us. She wrote me letters and made promises we would never break up and told me that I was her soul-mate. I had never felt that loved in all my life. Then one day she said she wasn’t happy and we split up. Two weeks later she’s living with another man 11 years older. She called me once crying saying her life was messed up, she moved too quickly, but because she is a hard-headed person, she is sucking it up.

I am crushed. My world is destroyed. The only person I have ever truly truly loved and trusted betrayed me, lied to me, and cheated on me. I have since lost my job, let myself go, and cry constantly. I can’t think straight or even eat right without my stomach being upset. I don’t feel like I want to live anymore. Please help me. Please pray for me — pray that she wants to get back together again. I know it in my heart she feels trapped by this guy. Please help. — Missing Sis

I’m sure there are people reading this right now who believe — or who at least want to believe — that this letter is fake, but I have strong reason to believe it’s not. And for that reason, I want to urge the LW to please, please get yourself to therapy. The feelings you have for your sister are not healthy. For whatever reason, the two of you became co-dependent, finding a sense of security and acceptance of each other that you mistook for romantic love.

That’s the bad news. The good news is you can break your dependence on your sister and find the kind of love you desire in healthier forms. You can learn to trust other people. And you can learn to move out of the fantasy world you’ve created for yourself, where your sister fills the role of mate and partner, and move into a reality where healthy relationships exist. But you need a professional to guide you through that process. I’m not qualified to help you in that way, and, even if I were, I couldn’t do it in a single advice column. What I can tell you is that your life isn’t over. You can be helped. You can move on. You can form other friendships and even relationships with other people. And when you do, your life will open in a way that it probably has not been open in a very long time, if ever.

Please make your emotional and mental help your number one priority. Find a kind and compassionate therapist who can give you the tools you need to confront your past and build a happy future. And respect the boundaries your sister is trying desperately to create with you. Let her live her life and move out of the unhealthy role she’s maintained with you for so long. If you love her, then space is the kindest thing you can give her right now.


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


  1. Here’s the thing: you’ve broken up with someone you’ve had feelings for since you were in your 20s. You’ve had feelings for her for more than half of your life! It makes sense that you’re a complete and utter wreck after breaking up. Plus you have weird sibling-bonding chemicals that are interfering with that. So here’s the thing: cut off contact and get a therapist. It’s the same advice we have for everyone here, basically. Cut off contact and get a therapist.

  2. Avatar photo LlamaPajamas says:

    I think this happens more than people realize. That’s not to say that sibling relationships are OK, I just don’t think the LW should be overly hard on himself or avoid therapy because of the stigma. WWS and WCS – break off all ties and find a good therapist. LW, it’ll take some time but I think you’ll be OK!

    1. I actually thought the LW was a woman, though I’m not sure why.

      ETA: No, I guess not, hence “another man” rather than just “a man.”

      1. I, too, think the LW is a woman. Wondering what other commenters think?

      2. I think it is a man, since he says his sister is with another man, instead of moved in with a man.

      3. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        Yea, the “another man” comment made me believe the LW is a man.

      4. At first I thought the LW was a woman, but decided I really think it’s a man. Not sure why.

        Also, do any of you remember those VC Andrews books? Flowers in the Attic? I kind of immediately thought of those while reading this letter. And I’m not saying that to take away from the emotional pain this LW is going through.

      5. Those and also “The Hotel New Hampshire” by John Irving, for something a little more literary.

      6. That’s exactly the book I was thinking of when reading this letter. The scene with the brother and sister in the hotel room, having sex until they were both too exhausted and sore and emotionally drained in an effort to “cure” their feelings for each other? Heartbreaking!

      7. I actually also read it like the LW was a woman, until I got to the “another man” line. Idk why either, but I totally pictured them as a girl-girl couple until that point. Then I had to go back and read it again, imagining the LW as a man.

      8. I thought it was a woman at first, too.

      9. Avatar photo LlamaPajamas says:

        I thought it was a woman at first, too, and after the initial comments I had to go back and reread to make sure I hadn’t goofed. It was the “another man” line that made me think the LW is a man.

    2. i remember seeing a show about this, but it was more about long lost siblings, or adopted/long lost fathers/daughters or moms/sons falling in love with each other- not two siblings that grew up together (which i assume these two did? maybe not?) falling in love. the therapists on that show said that the emotions of finding a long lost person so connected to you for the first time often will manifest itself with romantic feelings.

    3. What do WWS and WCS stand for?

      1. What Wendy Said. You can replace the letter of the commenter you agree with in the middle — W__S. So if I wanted to say “What Emma Said”, I would write it “WES”.

  3. WWS. LW, please find yourself a good therapist. Really take some time looking for someone reputable and find someone you feel safe and comfortable with, because this is going to take a lot of time to work though.

    1. I also want to add that you might have to “shop around” a bit for a therapist. Find someone you click with. Unfortunately, it might not be the first person or even second person you see.

      1. I think the therapist advice is spot-on but I have to feel for this LW because when you are THIS down in the dumps, the basic acts of researching, finding and trying out therapists may seem impossible. For anyone else I’d say recruit a friend to help with those steps, but I can imagine that given the unusual circumstances of this situation, it’s hard to bring anyone else into the inner circle to help.

      2. Oh, it can be daunting. And you might get lucky your first try.

        I just wanted to point this out, because A. a lot of people will unfortunately find this LW’s situation slightly taboo. And B. Even though therapists aren’t supposed to judge, some still do.

        So, if and when the LW decides to see someone, if the first one totally sucks, I don’t want him to give up.

        Honestly, the first therapist I ever went to, I felt judged and I didn’t care to open up. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences since with the two I went to thereafter. The only reason I’m on my third is that I moved 1800 miles away.

  4. Avatar photo call-me-hobo says:

    Yeah, this is not healthy. To be so emotionally codependent on someone that you lose your job? Do you have a nest egg saved up? Are you on unemployment benefits? If you have the means- get to a therapist. NOW.

    You are unhealthily fixated on your half-sister. You need to cut off contact. I think that the maybe taboo of the relationship really spurred or deepened the strength of your codependency on each other (It’s me and her against the world, No one understands our love, etc, etc). You two have spent the last two decades folded in on each other, and you’re definitely going to need a professional to help you.

    I would advise you to cut contact completely. No answering calls, emails, and maybe even avoiding family functions where you might see her.

  5. Wendy, I love your first line because I don’t want to believe this is real.

    LW, the problem you have is normally, people lean on loved ones and family after a break up and because of this taboo, you cannot tell people what happened or how it affects you. Here is what you need to do, start thinking about what would make today a good day and tomorrow. Then start doing those things. Go for a walk and get some sun and fresh air. Do a handful of projects around your home that you have been meaning to do. Really think about what makes you happy about yourself and start doing those things. I am not at an ideal weight but when I put on an unwrinkled outfit and take the time to put myself together, I feel better. When I check off things on my to do list outside of daily chores, I feel good. Think of what makes you proud of yourself and focus on those things. And get help.

  6. Oh LW, please please please get yourself to therapy.

    I also want to point something out: even if this were a conventional relationship, it is NOT healthy that you ask us to pray “that she wants to get back together again”. That’s really really unhealthy. In a good strong relationship you can still stand on your own two feet even without that other person.

    I’m religious and I will say when I broke up with my ex I actually originally was going to pray to get him back…but then I decided to pray for “what’s best for me”. And you know what? What was best for me turned out to be him breaking up with me. Eventually I had some closure. I hope you do too.

    1. yea, i thought that too… brother/sister or not, its not healthy either way.

    2. Avatar photo lemongrass says:

      I don’t understand how your comment could get thumbs down. Please explain yourselves down-thumbers.

      1. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

        Yup, I was going to post the same thing.

        Edit- It doesn’t look like they are going to tell us lemon.

      2. Avatar photo lemongrass says:

        Oh noooooo! My first down thumb. I had such a kick ass streak going.

      3. I’m wondering the same thing. Maybe because I talked about praying? That was a pretty dark time in my life and my faith really helped me through it. But now, over a year out of the break up, I would be the first to admit the relationship was unhealthy and I was too willing to give up who I was just to be with him…

      4. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

        I guess? Still doesn’t make sense to me. LW pretty much threw out there they are religious (or at least on board with praying)…so the advice is VERY relevant. Speak up you down thumbers!

      5. Agreed. That’s why I wanted to put it out there.

      6. This makes me very sad. It’s funny that yesterday we were all talking about how we don’t really mind the down-thumbs, but then things like this happen and it’s just disappointing to see individuals targeted like this (I mean, who down-thumbed her most recent?). My only other guess is that some rando is showing up and downthumbing sporadically just to sow discord. I’m going to call that the “Grassy Knoll Thumber Theory.”

      7. I really don’t mind *that* much — but I think it could spark some good discussion.

      8. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

        right?? I just want to know WHY they don’t like what you said for another perspective. It would be interesting to hear!

      9. OK, so why are people thumbing down this too? I’m curious. I’ve been speculating this all day. I really don’t care if you disagree with me, I’m just wondering.

      10. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        At this point, you just have to sit down and have that long awkward talk with yourself – you know, where you digest these facts: it’s *you*, not them, it *is* personable, and there’s nothing nobody can do about it. Mwahahahahahaha. (I’m kidding, I get it.)

      11. Hahaha, I love you AP. I’m just too curious I guess.

  7. This letter made me so sad. LW, definitely take Wendy’s advice to heart. You need professional help to get yourself to healthy mental state. Many break-ups are hard, but the fact that you have had feelings for your sister for over 20 years and your life is now falling apart definitely warrants a good look at how you got here and what to do next. Good luck!

  8. You held on to a love for your sister, and wouldn’t let your self love somebody else for over 30 years! You need to take Wendy’s advice, and see a therapist right away, it is not healthy to have such an attachment, and not let yourself love somebody else.

  9. Laura Hope says:

    Usually when siblings form an unnatural bond, it comes from family dysfunction, possibly some form of abuse. The larger issues need to be explored with a really good professional.

    1. Avatar photo LlamaPajamas says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking and why I feel like the LW needs kindness more than anything right now.

  10. Laura Hope says:

    YES! A big hug from all of us!

  11. applescruffs says:

    Find yourself a good psychologist or maybe a clinical social worker (look for an LCSW after the name). Like someone else said, you might need to shop around a little, but I promise you can find a therapist who won’t judge you and will help you through this.

  12. honeybeenicki says:

    Oh, this makes me so sad. I’m sorry you feel this way LW, but you need to get yourself to therapy. Ignoring the whole half-sister thing, it is not healthy to be this dependent on another person. You need to focus on yourself and your mental and emotional well-being. I know this is hard, but you have accept that she has moved on and you need to take steps to do the same.

  13. WEES. The basic advice is the same whether you’re with your sister or an unrelated person. This was a long, complicated relationship and you’re in mourning now that it’s over. You need professional help to get through this. Your ex isn’t the only person in the world for you; a good therapist will help you move forward until you realize this for yourself. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you can never be happy unless she comes back to you.

  14. LW, I think you are downplaying your personal responsibility in this. You say moved move away for about 5 years after she was a teenager. Depending on whether it was “about 5 years” and how young a teen she was. the first time you slept with her she was either still a teen or barely out of her teens, and you were about 30. You had the higher level of responsibility. I would never shame someone about their feelings, but your actions are very suspect in that early liaison. I think you need to consider the extent to which you took advantage of your much younger sister, and the extent to which this may have negatively affected her, before you consider your need, your “love.” In therapy. I don’t like to be judgey, but you need to consider your actions and their effects. Hope you find peace with this.

    1. Wait, I’m confused. If the LW is 50 and the sister is 43, how could the math work out? I agree that the LW needs to think and work on their own reasons for being involved romantically.. And to be honest, I wonder if they actually will take onboard the advice given here. But I think you might be out with the dates? Or I could be wrong.

      1. It just depends on exactly when these incidents happened. She could have been 18 when he moved away for 5 years, or she could have been a teenager of 13. Any way you look at it, he’s much older, and while I’m not automatically saying he’s the villain in this, he had a responsibility and that needs to be considered. Most likely both are very messed up. And I don’t doubt they love each other, but that doesn’t make this OK. (Really, Diablo? Y’don’t say!)

      2. I assumed he moved away for 5 years after college, which would make him 26 and her 19. I don’t think that’s a huge difference at that age. But it’s true that he didn’t give us enough info to know one way or the other.

        One thing the LW doesn’t seem to realize is that although HE may have been blissfully happy when they were together, she quite obviously was not. If she had been, she wouldn’t have left him. So LW, if you love her, you need to think about her happiness as well, which she’s made quite clear lies elsewhere, not with you.

    2. He didn’t say he left home when she was a teenager. Just that she said she loved him differently when she was a teenager. I thought the timeline was something like he left home when he was 18 (she was 11), came back at 23, when she was 16. Still inappropriate in terms of being involved with a minor (ignoring the sibling stuff), but not like a 30 year old praying on a child.

      1. interesting and i read it as he left home when she was a teenager, so he would have been older than 18! funny how when we’re given ambiguous dates/ages we all kind of fill them in differently. it’s hard though because we have zero frame of reference for how old he actually was when he left home.

      2. In this case, I don’t really think it matters all that much how we spin in… Still not good! I’m not even sure why I bothered pointing it out, since it really doesn’t matter.

      3. i think him being a teenager when he left makes it even worse. it’s one thing to start a relationship like this between adults, but if one of them is a minor it’s far different.

  15. Bittergaymark says:

    Wow. Yet another reason why people should STOP having a kid or two with each and every partner. Such a relationship didn’t arise thanks to any parents of the year — you can count on that.

    Therapy, LW. Get professional help now.

  16. A first step, LW, is to come out of the clouds and recognize that, while the relationship may have seemed like utter perfection to you, it wasn’t to her – otherwise she would not have broken up with you and moved on to someone else. Don’t be inveigled by her tearful calls – that’s wishful thinking. She wanted out and she got out. Now you move on and get support in understanding yourself and why this untypical relationship has meant so much, too much, to you. Good luck!

  17. meadowphoenix says:

    I want to 1000th the “find a competent professional” comments and also the need for self-reflection on your part in getting this whole thing going.

    However I will say that often people find solace and fulfillment in what they know or should know is taboo because for some reason or another the conventional is not open to them. So I just want to note that you do not mention how others felt about the relationship. Do you have others who you engage with? Is there anyone, besides your sister, who would and/or has talked to you about what’s going on in your life right now? Who would and/or is concerned? If there is no one, you might want to work with your therapist on why this is.

  18. Wendy (not Wendy) says:

    I second the comments questioning the ages… I couldn’t get past that point so I was surprised the first comment was so far down. The teenaged sister who loved her brother “differently” (and the “she told her friends” angle always strikes me as sort of wishful thinking) had to have been at most, like, seventeen, and probably younger–a. that doesn’t COUNT, and b. it’s disturbing. Teenaged girls who have feelings for older men–whether family figures or teachers–and then end up involved with them never seem to me to be in a healthy adult relationship; it’s more a wish-fulfillment left over from childhood. And as others have mentioned, the sexual relationship seems to have begun when (at best) the LW was 23-27 and the sister was 16-20. Sure, the later age difference isn’t that huge, but he’d been “away from home” for five years–the implication is with minimal contact, right?–so these were, again, the crushy feelings of a teenager no matter how old she actually was. It doesn’t surprise me that her new lover is also an older man (the “eleven years older” strikes me as a bit defensive–seven years, eleven years, not a huge difference, sorry).

    So we have a LW who has been attracted to someone who was, at the beginning, MUCH younger (“since we were both young”–HOW young? Seventeen and ten?) and a woman who became sexually involved with her brother and an indeterminate young age and now is with a different older man (though on the surface there’s no issue with a 43-year-old woman and 54-year-old man, for sure). Therapy all around, please.

  19. lets_be_honest says:

    “Please help me. Please pray for me — pray that she wants to get back together again”

    I had really expected this to read “Please pray for me – pray that I not have these feelings anymore.” Idk, wees I guess.

  20. Bittergaymark says:

    Like many of you — the ages confused me. And I kept thinking it was a lesbian thing, too. I even thought ANOTHER man meant the sister went BACK to men at one point. But then the married couple made me rethink things. Confusing letter all around.

  21. LW, please take everyone’s advice here!

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