Not Appalled with Myself
Date posted: Friday, September 14, 2012
Advice on lusting after stepsiblings and dealing with divorcing parents.
I’m Attracted to My Step-brother
My step-brother is really good-looking, and I’m embarrassed to say it, but I’m attracted to him. The weirdest part is that we were friends and flirted a lot 3 years ago. Nothing happened, and then almost immediately afterward our parents who were both divorced married. He and his mom moved in with me and my dad, and we had our rooms right next to each other, which was always a bit awkward. Now I’m a freshman at Boulder, and he’s a year younger and still in high school, so we see each other a lot. In fact he came to a party and that’s when the flirting started again. Now I’m afraid that one night of partying will lead to the inevitable. What should my mindset be? I guess if I were really appalled with myself, I’d be talking to a therapist, not asking some strange Internet woman for advice.
—not appalled with myself in Boulder
Dear Not Appalled,
I’m honored you asked! And I’m glad you’re not appalled with yourself. There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to your stepbrother, especially since you have a prior history with him. This is the human condition. If you want to feel less shameful, I suggest you watch the classic 1995 film Clueless, in which the main character, Cher, falls for her ex-stepbrother, Josh, who is the perfect man. She then catches the bouquet at the wedding she had orchestrated between her teachers Mr. Hall and Miss Geist, and presumably Cher and Josh live happily ever after.
But unless your stepbrother is in fact Paul Rudd (and keep in mind that Cher’s dad and Josh’s mom were long divorced by the time these stepsibs got involved), it would make your life unnecessarily complicated if you were to move forward. I imagine it would cause a lot of stress for your family, everyone would have lots of explaining to do, and considering that you are both teenagers, the likelihood of a relationship actually working out in the long run is very small. I foresee a lifetime of uncomfortable family dinners.
I’ve given similar advice before, but if in the sober light of day you know it’s a bad idea to make out with someone you’re attracted to, don’t hit bottle in their presence. And, I stress again, for many reasons, it’s a bad idea to make out with your stepbrother. So until you are no longer attracted to him, I suggest you limit your interactions to situations where your judgment is not impaired. Even if that means you have to go easy on the eggnog at Christmas dinner (or the champagne on New Year’s Eve). In other words, the inevitable awkwardness of the family dynamic that will ensue if you hook up with your stepbrother, is a reality that should inspire you to get over your attraction stat!
With a bit of research, I’ve learned that most books about stepsiblings are limited to the YA genre or grocery store check-out romances or something, frankly, unprintable. But I want to psyche you up on the real treat of siblinghood. Boys and friends may come and go, but your stepbrother, if he’s a good one, can be a true lifetime friend and advocate. This is no small thing. So read Antigone. Read the answer to the next question for more suggestions on sibling books.
I Fear My Brother’s Unpredictable Side
Last year, my parents got divorced after 33 years of a pretty normal marriage. I’ve taken this fine, but my younger brother is not doing well. (We’re both adults–I’m in my late-thirties and married, and he’s 31 and single.) At first he was just upset and emotional, but now that my mom has retired and moved to a small-town near Oregon, he thinks she’s depressed and he blames himself for everything. He was a troublemaker as a kid, he made life really stressful for my parents, and didn’t come into his own until a few years ago. He’s always looked up to me, so now he’s calling me all the time saying that our mom is going to die alone, and that we’re going to be responsible for her since our dad hates her because they really don’t talk anymore . He even tried to get me to invest in some stocks to pay for her healthcare when she goes crazy– it was a really elaborate plan with an investor and charts. I don’t want to do anything like an intervention because I fear my brother’s unpredictable side– he once drove halfway across the country without telling anyone after breaking up with a girl. But he doesn’t seem to get that our parents just don’t love each other the way they once did. And in fact, HE’S the one I’m worried is going crazy, and I’m not sure what the best thing to do is.
—Dealing with Parents’ Divorce
On average, we share 50 percent of our DNA with our siblings—an amount only rivaled by that what we share with our parents and children. Yet the bond between siblings is understated. Our siblings can cause just as much worry and pain and joy as the other members of our immediate families, but their personal histories are more similar to ours than any other person on earth. In such a way, relationships with our siblings can be much more honest, tolerant, stable, and loyal. Siblings can uniquely provide more informed and neutral support. (They can also really hit where it hurts).
If your brother was suffering from a mild malaise I would encourage you to set up a stand in a location within walking distance from his house offering PSYCIATRIC HELP 5 ¢. Take a tip from Lucy von Pelt, and when your brother begins to complain about his mediocre ennui abruptly interject with: “Snap out of it; Five cents please.”
But in this case I suggest you put up the “DOCTOR IS OUT” sign. Tell your brother that you’re worried about him and encourage him to talk to a real professional; one who charges more than 5 ¢, and whose digs don’t look like a cardboard lemonade stand. Do a bit of research for him on therapists specializing in adjustment disorders in your area. If he doesn’t budge, or if he retreats, you should speak to your mother. I’m sure she’s dealing with a lot herself right now, and may not be in a position to console a grown, erratic son. But she may be better posited to encourage him to seek help.
In addition to Antigone, read J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, JoAnn Beard’s The Boys of My Youth, and, though I’ve recommended it before, Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia.[pinit]