[Two Pronged] My boyfriend prefers his sister to me
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
I am unsure if I still want to stay with my boyfriend. There are a couple of reasons.
We've been together for only a short while but we're already close to each other's family. Before we got together, I already knew that he is close to his younger sister, his only sibling. She is my age, two years younger than him. However, during the time we've been together, I noticed how unusually close they are. They seem to chat with each other all the time when they are not together. He always tries to find a way to bring her into every topic that we talk about, he always mentions he misses her (they still live in the same house), and whenever we go out, he doesn't want her knowing or else she might get jealous. She always tries to come with us whenever we go out, which was fine with me at first, but she is very clingy and touchy with him. Whenever we eat out, she tries to exclude me from the conversation. I don't want to get jealous but it feels like I am the third wheel.
It doesn't help too that we've never been successful in having sex. We've had lots of opportunities but whenever we try it, he just can't get it up. He always promises he'll do better next time but he just doesn't seem interested in doing it with me. I don't think he is really turned on by me, since I'm a very fit person and his ex-girlfriends are chubby.
I hope you can clear things out for me.
Thank you for your email.
The most surprising thing in your account of your relationship with your boyfriend (let's call him Al) is that you are unsure if you want to stay with him. You have of course only dwelt on the negatives in your email and so we do not know what the positives are. However, the picture you paint is so bleak that perhaps all you are seeking is some sort of confirmation that your concerns are valid enough for you to call it quits.
You raise two issues: Al's relationship with his sister and his erectile dysfunction. Starting with the former, regardless of the precise nature of their relationship, the bond between them is so close that Al consistently gives it priority over his feelings for you, thus dooming your relationship to the status of second best. This is scarcely a foundation for a successful romance between you and Al. It is possible that if she gets a boyfriend herself, her relationship with Al will normalize, leaving him free to prioritize you. Only you will know whether this is a real possibility and even if it is, whether you want to wait in the hope that it happens.
As for Al's erectile problems, it is important to establish whether he has always had them or they are a recent development. Have you asked him if he had these issues with his previous girlfriends? If so, he should consult a doctor to establish whether there are physiological reasons for his condition. If however he has not had problems in the past, then this gives substance to your feeling that he is just not attracted by you, in which case I suggest you exit via the closest door.
Finally, in addition to these two massive problems affecting your relationship, both of which will require time, patience, and energy to overcome, if indeed they can be overcome, you are furthermore faced with Al's seeming indifference. His actions are not those of a man striving to make a success out of your relationship and so no one should fault you for calling it a day and moving on.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter. Mr Baer has discussed 3 issues with you: your boyfriend Al's erectile dysfunction, his seeming indifference towards you, and his relationship with his sister. Let me focus on this last issue, as it may be a major contributing factor to the two mentioned earlier.
Your description of Al's relationship with his sister (let's call her Rose – with or without the thorns) is indeed quite disturbing, and even hints at the possibility of incest (at least, on the emotional level).
I suggest you share your observations about his and Rose's relationship and see where this takes you. Because it is sure to take you somewhere – the sooner the better. The clearer, the less angsty.
You wrote to us to the effect that Al "always tries to find a way to bring her into every topic," that he "misses her," she always tries to come with you whenever you go out, that she is "very clingy and touchy with him" and tries to exclude you from the conversation. This is well and fine because we know what you mean plus we do not need proof of what you feel.
However, when you discuss things with Al, it would be a good idea to have a few examples (hopefully that he remembers actually happening) so he does not think your observations are merely figments of your imagination.
Contrary to popular belief, the best-case scenario is not that he agrees with your concern (over his relationship with Rose), but that he honors those concerns and tries to understand what is truly going on, hopefully with you in tow.
I say this because complete agreement with your concerns usually leads to no further discussion on the matter, a sort of flight into health a client might do to his therapist.
And, because your bringing this up will have taken a lot of courage, not to mention blind faith, it is likely you will accept his agreement as a sign you need not discuss this issue further when nothing could be less true. It is wrong, but it will be a matter of great relief and thus very tempting.
In my opinion, nothing but good will result in your sharing your concerns. If he opens up, well and good, this will lead to your sharing things on a more intimate level. This may or may not include Rose's being closer to you. But, so what, right? As long as you and Al open up to each other. Happily, intimacy is not a defined number or volume – it does not necessarily diminish if you share it with someone else.
Even if the result does not seem to the outside world (or to you) to be a positive thing because it leads to a breakup or further resentment (in which case, I hope it leads to a breakup soon), because it leads to clarity, I still think it will be worth it. I am only hoping you do so too. All the best and good luck!
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.