Advice: Sister on the Rebound

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

My two sisters and I have generally been close. Recently, we have undergone a bit of an upheaval, and it’s causing some issues in our family.

The youngest, Susan, has been married to Stan for 13 years. Susan and Stan separated four months ago. Last month, Susan started dating again. She seems to have clicked with one man in particular, and has even introduced him to her children. The children are, understandably, confused by what’s happened between their parents. They told me and my other sister they’re unhappy. Of course, we know my sister’s separation isn’t the boyfriend’s fault, when he’s around he reminds the children of their parents’ problems. We see that this hurts them. When we tried to talk to Susan about this…suffice to say that talk didn’t go over very well.

We are planning a birthday party for our aunt, and I know Susan wants to bring her new boyfriend. My other sister and I haven’t invited him and, quite honestly, aren’t ready to meet him yet. We are still mired in the emotional conflict between Susan and Stan. And, we know that the boyfriend’s presence at the party won’t go over well with Stan. It will damage whatever chance of reconciliation they may have, or affect their ability to have a working relationship if they do divorce.

I don’t want to sound mean, but we are exhausted with Susan’s current situation. I don’t want to have to fake it with the boyfriend. We don’t condone any of this, and we know it’s hurting the children. How can we show support to our sister when we see how much this hurts her kids?

Sad Sisters

~~~The Bartender and The Priestess respond~~~

P: Wow, so, Terri, How many people were in that marriage bed? Do we need to count toes?

B: I know, right? This question comes with a lot of holes in the backstory, so much of what I want to say about this is probably going to be more general than I would like. And yet, there’s still so much to talk about…

Or rather, I would have a lot to talk about, except I’m suffocating.

My lovely Priestess has hit one of my initial questions square on the head: who was in this marriage, anyway? Was it your sister and her husband? Or was it you, your sister, your other sister, and the separated husband? How are you “knee deep” in their emotional conflict? Do you even know what a boundary is?

You say you and the sister in question have always been close; surely, you must have had some inkling that she and her husband were unhappy, before their separation. When my brother left his wife, I knew he was desperately unhappy. I didn’t know it would happen on the day it did, but when he left, it made sense. You know “close family” isn’t synonymous with “hive mind”, right? Your sister doesn’t have to behave in a way that you like, even a little, if it doesn’t suit her. She can wear short skirts and vote Democrat and change her religious affiliation and date men who aren’t her (legally separated) husband, and she doesn’t owe you an ounce of explanation, right?

P: Exactly, my sweet Purveyor of Spirits! Sisters, let’s start at the end, where you wonder how to support your sister. I have to say there is nothing, nothing I’ve heard that begins to suggest that you are looking to support your sister. I’ve heard a little bit about your supporting her children and a lot about supporting a marriage about which you have said nothing. News flash: judgment is not support, it’s judgment. So, my dear supportive sisters, do you have any idea why your sister wants a divorce? Because it was your sister who was in that marriage. If you’ve been in it, it’s been because you’re butting in. Your sister needs your support. No one ends a 13-year marriage without a lot of pain, particularly when the spouse is the person with whom you made a family. This was never an easy decision.

B: The only people she owes anything to in this time of significant emotional upheaval are her children. You say they’re reminded of their parents’ conflict by the presence of the boyfriend. I call BS. They’re reminded of their parents’ conflict by the fact that Mom and Dad live in two different places. They’re reminded of the conflict by one less body in the house at night. They’re reminded of it by the hole at the dinner table, by who’s not checking their homework, by who’s not giving them kisses goodnight, every night. To blame the children’s sense of loss and confusion on the presence of one man undermines the reality of that loss, which is with them much more than their mother’s new boyfriend. Their pain and confusion should not be greeted with, “We’re sorry this is your mother’s new normal, kids. Blame THAT guy.” Care and support? Missing in that statement. Instead, try saying, “Welcome to the day after everything changed. Let’s hold hands as we plunge together into the void.” How do you approach these hurt, confused children? Arms folded, sniffing over the tops of your glasses and “Tsk, tsk”ing at your sister as she goes on a date? Or arms open, ready to offer love to a grieving family?

Because believe me, your sister is grieving. Even if she’s the one who initiated the separation and claims relief, there’s still grief and confusion. Chances are she’s played every second of her marriage over in minute detail, asking herself any one of the million questions that accompany this seismic shift. Why didn’t this work? Why did I pick the wrong guy? Maybe I’m the wrong girl. How did I stay with this person for 13 years? Should I have left earlier? Would I have been better off if this marriage never happened? Did we ever really like each other?

And so on, and so on. Even if she is stock-sure this was the best move for her, she’s still got to climb out of an emotional bog. That is her reality.

P: If this is only about your religious beliefs about the sanctity of marriage, what, if anything do you know about whether or not the husband held the marriage as sacred. What was your sister due in her marriage? Was she getting it? Did you ever talk to her about it? Or did she, understanding what kind of response she would get from you, stifle her feelings and say nothing? I don’t even know from what you’ve said who wanted the divorce. Do you know? Or are you just clear your “little” sister is wrong.

You say the separation has been stressful on the family. My suspicions are it’s been more stressful on your sister. Who are you to be knee deep in the conflict? And while you are, what are you stirring up? It seems to me the conflict is between the ex and your sister.

And if there’s conversation about reconciliation beyond your clapping for that Tinkerbelle, I haven’t heard it. (ps, as much as I love Tink, in this place, I don’t think she’s real.)

Tink isn't coming back. In all likelihood...neither is the ex. Move along.

Tink isn’t coming back. In all likelihood…neither is the ex. Move along.

B: Here is the reality of the situation: your sister is rebounding. She is free to run around with her underpants on her head so long as she’s not self-destructive and putting herself or her children in danger. “If they reconcile”, or imagining how un-civil the divorce could be if your sister dates, are not reality. Honey, you’re projecting so hard you should get a job in a movie theater. And the reality is, also, that no matter how emotionally unprepared you are for your sister to start dating again, most divorcees do not decide to live partnerless forever. You, and the children, will have to make room for a new beau at some point. Is now too soon? Maybe. But you don’t get to decide that for your sister, any more than your sister gets to decide where you’re going to work, or how often you play the lottery as you dream about a better life in the south of France. Or whatever. You get to arrange your life as you see fit, she gets to do the same with hers. That’s how it works.

P: Is it better that people don’t dash into relationship? You betcha. Does anyone recommend that the first thing you do after getting out of a long marriage is bonk your way through life — no therapist or counselor worth his/her salt (that I’ve known) has suggested this.

But many, many people do. They’re struggling their way toward happiness. Most people find their way out of the rebound period, maybe a little wiser, a little more ready to find their happiness. And your sister deserves a chance to be happy. We’ll all hope she’ll be content with the infatuation period long enough to figure out if she really likes this guy.

Your job is not to sniff about this but to be understanding.

B: I am sure your concern for the children is well-intentioned and heartfelt, but you need to make sure they are living in reality, too. “Yes, your mother and father live apart from one another. But no matter where they call home, or who they date, or whether or not they talk to one another, they will always love you. We’ll be here to help them along the way, as well, because they’re scared and confused and have to figure out the world around them, because it’s different for them now, too. But we’ll be OK, because we’re family and we have a ton of love between us. See? Now, your worries are much less scary.”

That’s what you should say. Instead of, “Poor us, we don’t have the energy for this.” You’re punishing your sister, and using the kids as leverage, because you don’t want to adapt to the changes in her life. That’s not support. That’s control.

P: The one place I’m going to give you some props is that you’re concerned about the kids. That’s laudable. Often after a death or a divorce a parent can go a little crazy with the freedom. If you’ve been unhappy in a marriage, it’s a heady feeling to spend time with someone who thinks you’re great, especially if you think they’re great too. Infatuation is a marvelous thing. It’s dangerous, but it’s marvelous.

Terri made some great points about what to say to the kids. It’s great that you are willing to stand up for your nieces and nephews. And if you feel things are really out of whack, you might say, if you can manage to be straightforward and caring: Sweetie, I know you’re really happy, but your kids are not ready to see you as a sexual being under any circumstance and particularly not when they’re reeling from the break up. They’ve come to us and they’re confused.

Hopefully that will wake a mother’s heart.

If it doesn’t then you need to talk to the kids. (also how old are these kids? What you say changes a bit with age.) You do NOT need to be disapproving of the mom, you do need to say, “wow, you sound hurt and confused. You know your mom loves you. You know your dad loves you. You didn’t want this for the family, but unfortuntately families are based on marriages, and when they break is difficult. It’s rarely just one person’s fault or another’s. They’re sad too. And whatever happens, they love you. That’s never going to change, even if they’re both finding different ways to deal with the changes that are happening in their lives. And you know we’re right here to support you. Things will settle down a bit. Keep talking to us,” or some version of that. It’s a much better alternative than teaching them to be judgmental little so-and-sos.

B: Be gracious to the boyfriend at the party. I can’t even consider you have any other option. And knock it off with the “she’s the youngest” rank. She’s old enough to be married, have kids, and decide her life isn’t working for her. She is not a baby; she is your peer, and that sort of familial seniority-ranking should have stopped once you were all done with high school. Pointing out that she’s younger than you only puffs you up, but it has no real merit behind it.

P: If you’re not planning on leaving your husbands behind for your aunt’s celebration, why would your sister think she needed an invitation for her date? I’m not sure why you’re not ready. You’ve had four months to get used to this. And my guess is you’ve missed several years of paying attention to the demise of this marriage, completely ignoring your sister’s comfort.

You may be missing your soon to be former brother in law. That’s sad. There’s nothing that says you can’t eventually have cordial relations with him. However, that time is not now. He needs to lean on his family and friends for support. If you preference your B-I-L over your sister, you’re likely to lose the sister, especially if she has a spine. Nobody loves a sister who makes them earn a place in the family she was born into. She’s divorcing her husband, for goodness sakes; she didn’t steal the family silver.

B: Circle the wagons around your sister! She’s your sister. She’s not some oddball interloper.

P: So, in the meantime, if you can’t manage to be happy about this, wish your sister happiness and love her. That’s what close families do.

Do I need to say it again? BOUNDARIES, people!

Do I need to say it again? BOUNDARIES, people!

Many thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photography!

Many thanks to the Lewisburg Hotel for its generous use of location!

If you want to learn more about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here!

Do you have a question? Email us at bartender priestess @ gmail (dot) com. If you’re a non-spambot human, remove spaces and punctuate accordingly. 

Thanks for reading!

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Advice: Threesome: One Too Many?

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

My boyfriend, “Bob”, and I, are in a committed relationship. We’ve been together for the past nine months, living together for six. Yes, we moved fast. For the most part we are super-compatible. We’re good at dividing household chores and bills, we are supportive of one another, and our sex life is great. I can picture us spending the rest of our lives together.

However. Bob has a sexual bucket list, and at the top of that list is having a threesome. He almost nags me about it, because it mentions having a threesome every week, more than once a week. He’ll even make a point of showing me which of my friends and co-workers he’d like to invite in as the third person at the party. Bob says he can only picture having a threesome before we get married, because having one after we’re legal would be “weird”. Before we get married, after we get married, the fact is I’m not really comfortable with having a threesome, and I don’t expect that to change. What do I do? Should I give in and have one with him, because it seems like it’s so important? Do I let him find two other girls to have one with, even though I know I won’t be OK with it?

–Just Me In The Bed

~~~~The Bartender and The Priestess Respond~~~~

P: Here Terri, hold my shawl and my drink, will you? Because I’m going to need both my hands to pull my hair out, k?

I barely know where to start on this all kinds of bad…

See the thing about coupleness, as I see it, is that sexual bucket lists become a couple’s sexual bucket list. And a bucket list is sorta wow, that might have been really interesting to do, but damn, life interfered.

Presumably no one in Mr. Threesome’s life has ever thought it was their job to satisfy this fantasy… which is to say, so far he’s failed, but he thought maybe you could pimp his dream for him? Nice guy.

B: I want to echo Ann and emphasize that as far as couples go, a “sexual bucket list” is one that should be mutually shared by the couple. It’s not that all sexual exploration has to stop once you commit to another person. It’s that the exploration should meet both partners needs OR, at the very least, doesn’t jangle one partner’s “Ick” reflex. When that happens, the other partner needs to be willing to let that “Ick” thing fall off the table. So if you were interested in having a threesome, by all means, you should, as a couple, go for it. But you’re not.

Because the thing about sex, despite the idea that clothes can be thrown off with reckless abandon and it’s just skin, is that you are, at that time, vulnerable. You are, literally, naked. You are—especially as a woman—literally opening yourself up to someone else. You are as physically close as two people can be. If you’re not going into the bedroom joyfully (or at the very least, with open-hearted acceptance), then you shouldn’t go.

P: And actually, this is really the first thing, which makes all the other discussions sort of moot? You’re not interested. No means no. Anything else is coercion. Coercion/Persuasion to do something you don’t want to do doesn’t really fall in the partnership model, it falls in the sexual assault or maybe just harassment model.

B: Yeah, Ann, I agree. I’m more than a little alarmed by Bob’s war of attrition. Mentioning his desire to have a threesome, repeatedly, and pointing out desired partners…do you find the ground getting a little uneven beneath your feet? Does it knock you off balance a little? It should, because trying to wear you down that way is manipulative and unsettling. He’s hoping you’ll finally snap; All right! Enough already! Let’s go bang Susie from accounting!

P: For real? WORK??? He’d like you to waltz into your work place, where presumably you have a career that’s important to you, and not to him, btw or he wouldn’t be asking you to screw it up, and solicit someone for sex? Someone, who would then have all sorts of private information to hold over you. This looks like a great idea if you’re working on a program how to derail your career in a couple easy steps. There are reasons we don’t have sex at work. Almost all of them are valid.

The cards say: don't bring your co-workers into your personal kink.

The cards say: don’t bring your co-workers into your personal kink.

B: Absolutely. Repeat after me, dearest: BOUNDARIES, please! I’m concerned about Bob’s willingness to point out his desired partners from your pool of friends and co-workers. Work is not the place to look for kink playmates. That’s what Craig’s List is for. Are you supposed to view everyone in your life as a possible sex partner? Or more than that, as a sexual threat? Are you supposed to feel jealous or possessive or “maybe this is the one?” every time you’re around another attractive woman? That doesn’t lead to sexual autonomy or healthy decision-making. That’s a constant stressor, and will find its way out in overreactions, or a poor work environment. Stress will out. If you did agree to a threesome, insist that he stop pointing out which members of your social circle he’d like to sleep with and engage in finding third partner as a couple, and insist that it’s someone who’s independent from the rest of your lives.

P: Yes, it was early to move in, and that’s a problem because you need to know someone a while to know whether or not he’s going to start lobbying for you to do something you really don’t want to do “for him.” Because what’s going to happen when you say no, I’m not interested?

What will happen when you say, no, in fact, I’m not interested in a man who puts his fantasy above his real relationship?

B: I’m not sure if you’re actually engaged, or if you’re projecting into your future engagement. Regardless, you speak as though you’re looking at a lifetime together. Here’s the thing: if you’re going to function within the parameters of a committed relationship, then you need to behave as though you’re in a committed relationship. That means respectfully attending to your partner’s feelings, and reaching a mutual consensus. That does not mean filling your own desires by the grinding emotional erosion of attrition. Bob says a post-marriage threesome would be “weird”. But you’re committed to one another right now, right? This is supposed to be the testing ground before marriage. This isn’t supposed to be, “You are my one and only, baby and I know a threesome isn’t your thing, but…what about her?” Question that “but”. What if “but” never happens? Will there be resentment? Will there be cheating? Will there be more coercion, even if it’s “weird”? You need to find out just how important this is to Bob. Or, on the flip side, if you do agree to a threesome, you need to ask yourself if you’ll feel OK, or resentful, or betrayed. Depending on your perspective, a threesome can be an opportunity for you both to explore a sexual avenue, safely, together. Or, you can feel like you agreed to let your boyfriend sleep with someone else while you had to watch. (Would he be OK with if your threesome was with another man?) Or, since you already said you don’t think you would feel OK if he went forward with a threesome without you, you can feel like you undermined your own set of principles by letting him do what he wanted.

P: Oh, and this… those people who are really anxious to be part of a threesome, it does double their sexcapades and partners. I’d be wanting some good info on a person I was going to do a bunch a things to that I didn’t want to do… cause probably boyfriend wants to watch… because there’s nothing hotter than two chicks who so aren’t into each other pretending to get off for a guy…

What if he likes it and wants to do it again? Do you say no then? ‘cause now you’ve done something you had no interest in doing with someone you work with who now knows everything about you and you have to leave your apartment AND your job.

B: You know, I see people all the time, at the bar, drowning out the aftermath of bad decision-making. Ask yourself how your relationship with Bob is, overall. Yes, you said you’re both good with chores and responsibilities and have a good sex life, and those are all important, but does he make you feel respected? Cherished? Secure? Free to be who you are? And the same goes for him. Perhaps he’s just a different person with a different set of values. The question is whether or not you can make your values mesh. If the answer to that is no, I’d recommend taking some time to strongly consider whether or not he’s the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. It can be hard to extract yourself from a relationship, and we often put up with more than we want because the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. And it’s hard to accept that you can love someone but not be able to make things “work”. Adding one more person into your bed won’t ease this sort of contemplation.

P: Feeling beleaguered or harried or resentful or compromised or unfulfilled is no way to start a life together. This question bothers you enough to write in about it. Is this, potentially, a deal-breaker? If it is, then let it be your dealbreaker, and make peace with it. It’s your body, and it should be your decision how to use it.

B: If you feel that engaging in your boyfriend’s bucket list threesome would empower you in some way, then go for it. But if you feel like this would be damaging or compromising, then stand behind your beliefs. If he can’t accept your sexual boundaries as part of the marriage package, then maybe it’s time to take a different path.

Sex Rx?

Sex Rx?

Thanks to Deb Slade for Phabulous Photos!

Thanks to Dale and the good people of the Lewisburg Hotel for the swanky location!

For more information about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here.

If you have a question for us, please email us at bartender priestess @ gmail. com; human non-Spambots, please remove the spaces.

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