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Auntie SparkNotes: My Sister’s Boyfriend Is Inappropriate

Dear Auntie,

My little sister (18) started dating this guy (18), about a month and a half ago. Although I love that he makes my sister happy, he can be really inappropriate in front on me (19) and my family. He’ll suggest sleeping with her overnight or talk about her chest to her in front of me. I understand they’re in a relationship, but does he not know that he’s talking about my little sister?! I don’t want to know that stuff! I have a hard time as it is just seeing her with someone else right after being assaulted. And the thing is, we’ve both been assaulted. So all I want to do is protect her and love her as much as I can. Plus, they’re already set on getting married and talk about having kids all the time. Ugh. Can you help me figure out a way to act around her new boyfriend?

Wellll… off the top of my head, “like a grownup” would be a good start.

Because not only are you a legal adult, but so is literally everyone else in this situation, which means that your statute of limitations on getting squeamish over your sister (horror of horrors!) spending the night with a guy has officially expired. Even if it’s not precisely first-class etiquette to mention your girlfriend’s figure in front of her family, and even if the two of them are being totally premature with all this discussion of marriage and kids, we’re talking at worst about some minor and ultimately harmless TMI. Being 18, a little bit immature, and a lot infatuated may not be the most crowd-pleasing of combinations, but there’s nothing actually wrong with it, you know?. And while your intentions may be pure and your motives purely protective, it’s still a bit strange that you’d describe it as “hard” to see your sister in a healthy, affectionate relationship with a guy who makes her happy — and whose biggest flaw, as far as I can tell, is that he’s a little more open about his feelings for her than you’d prefer.

But that’s why I suspect that your sister’s relationship isn’t really the problem here. It’s that being next to a couple engaged in average levels of twitterpated schmoopiness makes you disproportionately uncomfortable. And here’s the thing, sweet pea: in light of what happened to you, feeling scared and uneasy about intimate relationships in general may be a pretty natural reaction. But your feelings aren’t telling you anything about the relative decency of the boyfriend, or your sister’s relative safety with him — and even if you could get the two of them to studiously avoid doing or saying any of the things that bother you, you wouldn’t be doing anything to help the underlying cause of your unhappiness. This isn’t about them; it’s about you, and your emotional health.

Which is why I’m hoping you’ll take this opportunity to look past your squeamish reaction to your sister’s relationship, and start taking steps to deal with the deep-down stuff that’s troubling you. And while I can’t tell you exactly what those steps should be — this is something you’ll need to figure out yourself, ideally with the help of a therapist — you can get a head start by asking yourself why you’re so particularly bugged by even the slightest suggestion that your sister’s boyfriend is sexually attracted to her (keeping in mind that this is a normal element of most romantic relationships). Have your experiences led you to see male sexual interest as inherently inappropriate and dangerous? Do you disapprove of your sister’s decision to enter a new relationship despite having been assaulted? Do you recognize her right to handle that experience in her own way, and that you risk denying her agency when you talk about her as though she’s a child, and about her boyfriend as though he’s a threat? How much of your discomfort is really about your sister’s safety, and how much is a projection of your own feelings of mistrust and fear surrounding men and relationships?

Don’t get me wrong, I know these aren’t easy questions. And even with the help of a counselor, it will take time and effort to thoroughly work your way through to a healthier place. But it’s worth doing, not just for the sake of not making things weird with your sister, but for the sake of your own happiness. And in the meantime, you can treat your sis and her boyfriend like the young adults that they are — by forgiving them if they occasionally get a little too cow-eyed and show-offy about their intimacy, and by telling them to get a room if they start doing it too much.

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