We’re all distressed damsels

Joey Garcia

I love my older sister, but I don’t like her very much right now, and I’ve been crying about that. She asks for advice, does the opposite and then complains in detail to everyone when things go as she was warned they would. She complains about her husband, telling me and others things I know she knows would embarrass him. I feel like people should protect the one they love from embarrassment. I worry that she’s not a loving person. The only time we connect is when we’re being catty, and I always feel awful afterward. So I’ve stopped calling her. How can I improve our relationship?

By embracing your sister as she is: catty, whiny and unkind. You can’t change her. She’s playing the distressed damsel (don’t we all sometimes?) and is enjoying the perks of being center stage, riding the rushes of adrenaline that peak whenever we become anxious, angry or fearful. Your best move is to stop giving her advice, even when she asks for it. If you feel compelled to coach her, learn to offer your two cents without being attached to whether she follows it. It’s her life, after all. She has the privilege of choice.

When you begin listening without trying to solve her dilemmas, you will have the energy you need to heal what this situation reveals about you: grief. It’s time to mourn the death of your idea about who she is and the kind of relationship you had or will have with her. Your expectations of intimacy have been dashed. Acknowledge the surprise, hurt and sadness. Then examine what you can do to form stronger liaisons with other women. Sisterhood is powerful but not necessarily sibling-connected.

And, yes, it’s sad that your sister disses her man. You could hold up a mirror by saying, “I would feel terrible if I heard anyone talking about you like that.” But if you do, be clear that some of your pain arises because you fear she will dis you, too—now or in the future. Again, you can’t control her. You do have the power to recognize that if she disrespects you, it’s an opinion, not reality. As for bonding by dishing dirt, don’t give it up, just give it over to the soaps. Soap operas—from The Young and the Restless (too old-school for me, girl) to The Game (those men are fine!) to Gossip Girl (spoiled bratz!) or Desperate Housewives (what happens after you spend your 20s living out Sex in the City)—give you characters and scandalous situations to chat about without abusing people you know. So find a mutually appealing soap (or novel) and lay the track for a new connection.

I’m an independent woman, but when a secure, independent man is attracted to me, I become codependent and insecure. Why?

Intimate relationships expose the cracks and fissures in our carefully constructed public personas. So when your man is close enough to discover all of you, not just the face of independence that you show to the world, some part of you wants to remove the mask. Doing so means you reveal the self you fear you are. Be grateful for this opportunity to confront what still needs healing. Then, attend to yourself by accepting that it’s OK to depend on others (even though they will disappoint you sometimes), but that a dating relationship is one part of your life, not the center of it. Also, remember that everyone feels insecure at times (and the closer you get to anyone, the more you can see their anxieties). As you accept yourself, your intimacy with yourself grows. That will allow you to be available for emotional equality in romantic relationships.

Meditation of the week
Children are slaves occupying the lowest rung of the world labor market, points out the brilliant Latin American writer, Eduardo Galeano: “[In] the Java Sea, they dive for pearls … they hunt diamonds in the mines of Congo … they stitch soccer balls in Pakistan and baseballs in Honduras and Haiti … in Columbia and Tanzania they harvest coffee and get poisoned by pesticides.” Who suffers (or dies) to support your lifestyle?

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