You Asked It

Just Wondering

Annoying sisters, cuddle buddies, and the hardest question that Sady Doyle has ever had to face!

LESKOJULY2013JW

Let me be frank: I utterly loathe my little sister. She is two years younger than me, and everything she says or does just rubs me the wrong way. I feel rage at her for no real reason! I am constantly saying really mean and critical things to her, and I get in trouble a lot for this. You’d think I would learn, huh? The worst part is I don’t know why I hate her—she does annoying sister stuff, but nothing remarkable. I just feel such anger when I even look at her, and I hate feeling like this. I resolve to be nicer, but I feel like I physically CAN’T or something in me will pop. One of my biggest worries is that my parents will start to hate me because I am like this. I know this is more than just sisterly fighting, because none of my friends treat their sisters half as bad. I want to be nicer, plus I want control of my emotions. Please help! —Phoebe

My sister is five years younger than me, and we are total opposites: She is devotedly Catholic, politically moderate, and emotionally reserved, while I am a fancy-free radical loudmouth freaker-outer. We have never, ever gotten along. There are so many painful feelings wrapped up in this relationship: annoyance, frustration, shame, fear.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, if you feel like your anger is totally beyond your control, read this article by Liz Armstrong on controlling your rage, and if you feel like you want professional help, read this one by Jamia on finding a shrink.

OK. Now, you said that you rage out at your sister “for no real reason.” Your anger feels out of proportion to her “annoying sister stuff,” but maybe that’s because it’s a stand-in for another, more emotionally intense feeling? Concrete example: You catch Tina (this your little sister’s name) wearing one of your shirts, and you blow up. It sucks that she stole something from your closet, but perhaps what you’re really reacting to is that she’s not respecting your need for space and privacy—that is way bigger than one borrowed shirt. Getting punished for yelling at her will only compound your rage, because you’re being penalized instead of having your real need addressed. Womp.

If you can figure out the secret threat underneath your own anger at your sister, you can ask for what you really need: In the above example, that might be “Nobody goes into my room when I’m not there, period, because I deserve to have privacy.” Articulating what you really need might help you slow down your anger or stop it before it starts! Something to remember, though, is that anger is not instructions. It’s just a feeling. It’s up to you to decide how to express it—and that doesn’t have to be by yelling or criticizing. Every time you avoid blowing up at her (or anyone), it makes the next time easier. (Not getting in trouble or feeling like a jerk will also motivate you!) Try talking to your parents about what’s bothering you during a neutral moment when you’re not actively angry. What if you told them that you know that Tina doesn’t deserve your outbursts, but you were having trouble with X major issue? I don’t know your parents, but mine probably would have freaked out and bought me anything I wanted if I had ever taken responsibility for my feels like that.

Also, your parents are not going to hate you. I had that same damn fear, and when I brought it up, my parents confessed that they blamed themselves for the fact that my sister and I didn’t get along. Whoa! I suddenly understood their anger over our fights, because they had a really personal emotional stake in our being “friends.” From there my folks and I were able to team up to fix the dynamic between my sis and me.

As for being nicer to your sister? A Rookie staffer was recently in a similar situation to yours, and she brought her problems to our staff Facebook group. Everyone agreed that one thing that really helps with sibling rivalries is space. A Canadian Rookie wrote: “I love my sister so much. She lives in Rwanda. These two facts are related.” Try to minimize your interactions with Tina, especially if you feel like you’re about to go off: Can you take a walk, a class, or just straight-up avoid her? No matter how old you are, you are two years closer to freedom than she is–there are probably things you can do that she can’t yet. Use that. Try for emotional space, too: Call someone you are close to and ask them politely if you can yell at them like they’re your sister. Say they can put down the phone if they like. Trust me, this works!

You have no obligation to be super tight with your sister, but you do owe her the common decency that you would extend to any stranger. Instead of trying to be a “good sister,” aim to be a good human. Thinking of it this way helps me override the bazillion years of immaturity/regression/BS that have passed between me and my own sib. I try not to start or escalate a fight, and I apologize when I’ve done something wrong without requiring her to respond in kind. I don’t do this for her—I do it for my own sanity, and for my parents. I wouldn’t tell a stranger that I straight-up hated their fucking guts, and I don’t even know that stranger’s parents!

Another Rookie expressed it perfectly in our li’l staff group: “No matter what, you’re not any less a good person, sister, or daughter for fundamentally not getting along with your sister. You have no obligation to like her, hang out with her, or even have a relationship with her. You are TOTALLY different people, and it’s OK to just hope for civility while you have to be around each other (a month, a year, forever).” Good luck!
—Lola

I really like cuddling with boys, but I have not yet met a guy that I would want to be in a relationship with. Should I just turn friends into cuddle buddies, or do I risk getting into a mess if they become attached? In case you need a definition, it’s like friends with benefits, but it’s more like “friends with cuddling and spooning.” —Lola

Well, you definitely run the risk of getting into a mess if you turn friends into cuddle buddies, so the question is really whether you (and they) are willing to take that risk. My own experience and observations lead me to believe (generalization alert) that straight dudes are less likely than straight women to be content with friendly cuddling and flirting, or to take rejection lightly, and that often leads to messiness. (I think that has something to do with living in a patriarchal society where men are used to holding power in personal dynamics, so they’ve got all this ego-y pride crap to deal and would rather pull the plug on a relationship before their feelings get complicated and leave their control zone, but whatevz, man.) So if you’re seriously concerned about “getting into a mess” and complicating/possibly terminating some friendships, I would not recommend turning your male friends into cuddle buddies.

That said, I think running risks is fun, I think non-straightforward relationships keeps things un-boring, and I also like cuddling with boys. So I’d say just talk about what you want with your potential cuddle buddies. Be honest. Say, “Yo dude, I wanna cuddle and spoon, but that’s it, aight? Are you OK with that?” There’s a good chance that some will say they’d rather not do that, because of that complicated-feelings thing I mentioned. But everyone is different, so it’s totally possible that you have a super-cool, nice male buddy who’d be down to have a purely platonic cuddle squeeze.

I have a long history of being super non-confrontational. I’m also a big flirt who likes cuddly affection and warmth. This is a messy combination that often leads me into trouble. Like, I would start cuddling with a boy, or I’d hold his hand, and that’s all I’d want to do, but they would take these gestures as advances toward something more, which would lead them to develop crushy feelings, and then everyone would get upset and feelings would be hurt and our friendship (sometimes irreparably) damaged. All of this could have been avoided if I had just laid my cards on the table before grabbing his hand in the first place, you know? So yeah, talk to people about cuddle partnerships.

Two more things to chew on: (1) It’s only in recent years that I’ve met cool dudes who are into simply cuddling and who really mean it, rather than just using that as a pretext for something more. Often, these dudes have been poly, radical, and/or interested in feminism and exploring gender dynamics. (2) There are two kinds of spooning: One is where you have your bum pushed up against the dude’s groin, and the other is where they simply have their arm tossed lovingly around you, possibly their head nuzzled into your back. If you want to keep things relatively simple, I’d stick with the second kind. —Anna

In February’s Just Wondering, Stacey May Fowles said that it’s not feminist to tell women what to do with their lives and bodies, specifically in the case of BDSM. I would put cutting in the same category with BDSM: It’s something I do privately because I like to. But I’m being encouraged from all sides to stop cutting. Why is cutting bad but BDSM is OK? —V.

First of all I’d like to thank you for posing the most complicated and difficult question I’ve ever had to answer in all my time as an answerer of questions.

My own opposition to shaming or judging BDSM isn’t exactly “don’t tell people what to do with their bodies.” It’s more like “don’t blame consensual sex for rape.” There’s a very old-fashioned argument against BDSM, which goes like this: Since it looks sort of like rape or partner abuse, it must therefore cause people to enjoy actual rape and partner abuse, and therefore, women who enjoy BDSM should stop, or they’ll make rape and abuse more common. This particular argument doesn’t take into account the fact that BDSM (according to the people who do it) tends to be a carefully negotiated, respectful exchange. It also blames rape and abuse on consensual sex rather than on abusers and rapists, which is never a good thing. So: There’s my position on that matter, explained.

But I do think that people have the legal right—maybe even the moral right—to do whatever they want with their own bodies, even if other people don’t like it. People should be able to get abortions, get spanked during sex, go to Taylor Swift concerts, whatever. That doesn’t mean, however, that everything you do with your body is good for it. A person has the legal and moral right to smoke cigarettes, or drink alcohol—after a certain age, there are no laws against those things—but someone who can’t get through the day without heavy drinking has a severe problem, and someone who smokes cigarettes should be realistic about the fact that smoking is lethal. No one can take away your right to do those things, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to worry about their consequences for someone you care about, nor to express that concern and even try to persuade them to stop.

Cutting is a matter of concern because, just like heavy, habitual drinking, it’s often a symptom of depression, anxiety disorders, or other serious illnesses. There are a lot of theories as to why people cut. The most convincing one, to me, is that it’s a form of self-medication: The physical pain releases mood-lifting endorphins into your system, just like exercise. But no matter what the cause, it is true that people who cut tend to be experiencing unmanageable levels of stress or emotional pain. That pain and stress, rather than the cutting itself, is the problem.

What this means, in my view, is this: First of all, it’s silly and unproductive to tell anyone to “just stop cutting,” just as it’s unproductive to tell a drinker to “just stop drinking.” Focusing on the symptoms rather than their root causes is missing the point. Also, vilifying or mocking people for cutting is a real douche move. Cutting isn’t immoral, it’s an expression of pain. But if someone is cutting, it’s entirely appropriate to be concerned about their pain, and to suggest that they try to find out (a) where all that pain is coming from (is it a brain-chemistry issue, or situational?), and (b) how they can lower their general pain and stress levels without engaging in risky or self-harming behavior. Again: People do have the right to cut, just as they have the right to start the day off with three shots of vodka. But in both cases, they’re attempting to solve a psychic injury or sickness by causing a physical injury or sickness. If there are safer, more effective ways to solve the problem—and there are so many safer, more effective ways!—I think it’s OK to suggest that one ought to pursue them. If you don’t let the people who love you express their concern when they think you’re in pain, aren’t you the one trying to limit their rights in this relationship? —Sady ♦

Got a question that you want a total stranger with no professional advice-giving qualifications to weigh in on? Send it to youaskedit@rookiemag.com. Please include your NAME, nickname, or first initial, plus your AGE and your CITY.

23 Comments

  • Jes July 24th, 2013 12:10 AM

    okay people, i need your advice on a related subject. my friend asked me out, and i rejected him. but i would definitely be his cuddle buddy. should i tell him (keep in mind i’ve already rejected him) that i would cuddle with him? or is that a bad idea?

    • Anaheed July 24th, 2013 1:24 AM

      I think it’s a bad idea, because he probably harbors some resentment about the rejection, and because you already KNOW that he wants more from you. And he might take this offer as some kind of consolation prize, you know what I mean? Seems like bad vibez.

  • 3LL3NH July 24th, 2013 1:53 AM

    I feel like I have to say something about cutting. I engaged in self-harming behaviour for almost all of last year, and for me it wasn’t (solely) to chemically make me feel better, but also because it legitimized my feelings, because it acted as a precaution of release small amounts of pain into the world so balance it and make large amounts less necessary and less hard to take, and because I like the look of blood on skin.

    I think for me it was the best solution for the time. It worked somewhat like a tattoo, to visibly brand myself with who I was without anyone’s influence, and I still trust that what I did then was right for the time. I do agree, however, that there usually are deeper issues, and while I don’t think any psychologist or other professional should tell someone to stop cutting, I do think that is an outlet that should be utilized before cutting, as it is made to change dark feelings, which cutting is not.

    The problem, as with many things, is the addictive quality of self-harm. It is important to understand that if cutting is a reaction to a certain feeling, it will become linked so that every time you have the feeling, you have the urge, which is something that isn’t healthy or good, and won’t get you away from the feeling.

    I found this blog that shares some insight on the topic: http://talesofacrazypsychmajor.wordpress.com/2009/04/22/self-injury/

    (Keep in mind that I’m not condoning cutting, just saying I don’t think it’s inherently bad and/or something that anyone should stop until they themselves are ready to try doing so)

  • enchantedviolin July 24th, 2013 3:25 AM

    I’m so pleased to see Phoebe’s question and Lola’s answer as I’m going through the same feelings but about my mum’s long term bf. I hate that I don’t like him as I try to be a very peaceful, good person.

    Any advice from you lovely Rookie readers would be great!

    I’ve never verbalised or acted on my dislike for him but it’s probably obvious to him. Mum does know how I feel.

    I don’t think it’s because he’s her bf that I don’t like him but down to a personality clash and the fact it feels like he respects the cat more than me.

    My ‘rent’ for living at home is doing half of the housework and cooking (a good deal!) This includes cooking when he comes at the weekends. He always thanks mum for cooking, not me. He never follows house rules to help me keep the house clean such as taking his shoes off. I have OCD so that double annoys me. He only ever says two words to me which are ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ and when offering to make tea / pour wine NEVER does so for me. This weekend I came home with the fruit of a big achievement and he wasn’t remotely interested in it or in pretending to be.

    I know he probably acts this way due to my feelings about him and that we’re both adults purely linked by my mother so don’t have to have anything to do with each other but I feel if he is to come to my home every weekend we should be able to be at least civil. Just being in his presence makes me feel hate and isolation.

    I’m saving up to move out (don’t worry, I’m more than old enough to) but I want to move because I’ve found somewhere nice, not because of him. It would destroy my mum.

    • periwinkle_dreams July 24th, 2013 2:26 PM

      That’s rough. It might help to try to communicate more – like, you could politely remind him of the house rule next time he walks in with his shoes on, and ask that he please follow it because it will mean less work for you later when you clean. If he’s not a total jerk, he might listen and try to change his habits. Other things you could ask your mom to help with…I mean, it’d just sound better if he goes, “Wow Jane [that's your mom], this food is so delicious! Thank you for cooking!” and she says, “Actually, Lily [that's you] cooked our dinner tonight,” (his cue to thank you), rather than if you cut in with “She didn’t make the food, I did!”

      You don’t HAVE to get along with him, but for your mom’s sake, it might be a nice idea to try to be proactive about mending your relationship with him, since he obviously isn’t.

    • Hally July 24th, 2013 3:45 PM

      Hi, enchantedviolin! That sounds like an awful situation. If you were never rude or disrespectful to him, then he has no right to act that way toward you – and he is definitely being rude, from what you’ve said here. I think as the older adult, it is his responsibility to be the “bigger person.” Even if he is aware of your feelings toward him, he should try to talk to you about it, or show you through his actions that he is actually a decent person so that you may one day want to have a relationship with him. By continuously being immature, he’s making the whole situation much, much worse.

      If I were you, I’d speak to your mum about it. You have an arrangement and agreement to be in that house, and you have the right to feel comfortable there at all times. If her boyfriend is making you uncomfortable, she needs to speak with him and set some rules. If your mum truly doesn’t want you to move out, she needs to be more helpful in facilitating communication between you and the BF. Otherwise, it sounds like getting some space may be your only option. (And it’s a good one! Moving out for the first time is AMAZING!)

      Best of luck to you!

  • katyg July 24th, 2013 4:46 AM

    I’d like to respond to the cutting question, first of all by saying I’m glad to see it here, and I think the response is good and wise, but that it does skirt solving the issue whilst doing a good job of naming it – if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, are we wrong to treat it like a duck?

    I cut myself for years, with a sense of joy and pleasure to it. Never in times of strife, or at times when I felt unbalanced, but more like masturbation…because I enjoyed it. The thing with cutting is, firstly, there’s a huge amount of supposition around it, because it can be symptomatic of so many things, and because people are told most often that it’s a cry for help, and thus feel they’ve a duty to respond.

    Secondly, if, in an attempt to avoid the social stigma, or worrying your nearest and dearest, you try to hide your cuts and scars, then it begins to look like a problem, and can end up being one.

    Thirdly: seeing cuts/scars can remind others of their own, less comfortable experiences.

    My advice to those with the same enjoyment situation is that it’s fine to cut with responsibility to your body – not deeply, always clean and care for your cuts and eat and rest well to promote healing, just as you might drink extra water if you’re going out for an evening where you’d drink more than usual for you.

    But be aware that it’s publicly loaded. Don’t expect understanding, and choose wisely where you cut and display your scars. Want to change society’s cutting default? Write about it – under a pseudonym if needs be – and share. I think I might do that myself.

    • mrsfigg July 24th, 2013 5:25 PM

      wow. I thought I was the only one who did this… I’ve pretty much stopped because I’m scared of what will happen if my mom sees; it’s hard to hide things when you walk around the house in your underwear or swimsuit half of the time. but I’m glad I’m not the only person who feels this way towards cutting. (I know that it’s an extremely painful, touchy subject for many people, but for me it’s something else that’s hard to explain. And I always thought I was a horrible person for wanting to cut even when I wasn’t deeply emotionally disturbed/upset.) interesting to know that others feel the same way.

      • abby111039 July 24th, 2013 5:58 PM

        I feel the same way as both of you do, mrsfigg and katyg. It’s refreshing to know that other people see cutting this way.

  • Sophie ❤ July 24th, 2013 6:13 AM

    With the first one, since I don’t have a sibling, I was just going, ‘I wish I had the chance to feel these kinds of things’! Oh well. This was really cool!

    http://theneonpapaya.wordpress.com

  • Salomeq July 24th, 2013 6:28 AM

    I have almost the same problem as in the question about cuddling and spooning. I like a guy very much, and he knows it and he likes me too. We rarely meet, only when my sister gets together with her friends (he is her friend too) and when we do, things are going pretty well. We make out and cuddle and do other stuff. When I think about him, I always fantasize about makin out with him. He is not ready for a relationship, but when we meet, it’s like we’re going out. Maybe I shouldn’t think about “our future” and just keep making out with him when I meet him because it feels awesome! We’d be like friends with benefits.

  • Lorf96 July 24th, 2013 9:49 AM

    I’d also say be careful with the “cuddlebddyness”, I was really close to someone and I guess u could have called us cuddle buddies. My feelings really grew for them but in the end they weren’t returned and I feel like if we had been straight with each other from the beginning about our spooning ect it wouldn’t have been so difficult xxx

  • Chloe22 July 24th, 2013 10:45 AM

    I have probably one of the most stressful and trying sister to sister relationship. We argue probably (literally) 5 times a day and she can’t touch one of my Seventeen’s without me having a fit. But we adore each other. We have so many fun times together, we’ve shared a room our whole lives, and i stand up for her whenever someone’s being a turd. I honestly think the whole sibling relationship thing is a lot different from any friend/love interest/parent relationship. I don’t know why, it just is. I think you get so used to each other, that unless things get extra hurtful, you forgive each other. And honestly? I couldn’t see myself having an easy life in my house if me and my sister had a ”I don’t like you but we’re going to live with each other until i head off to college, and see each other every holiday.” Also, the girl who sent in the question had a younger sister. Mine is 6 years younger, and she does those exact things. Problems can be worked out.
    http://rhinestonemoon.blogspot.com/

  • Sydney Sue July 24th, 2013 12:05 PM

    I, personally, have always avoided the friends with cuddling situations, just because I tend to get too attached. Is there any way to just keep it physical, without letting feelings into the mix?

  • Monroe July 24th, 2013 3:08 PM

    “Got a question that you want a total stranger with no professional advice-giving qualifications to weigh in on? Send it to youaskedit@rookiemag.com. Please include your NAME, nickname, or first initial, plus your AGE and your CITY.”
    I’ve just noticed this now. Can I ask why your age and city must be included, when it seems that only your name appears on the question?

    • Anaheed July 24th, 2013 3:49 PM

      It’s often helpful for the answerers to know the questioner’s age, and the city is helpful in cases where we might know a local resource that can help someone. Also, we use some of these questions for Ask a Grown Woman/Man, and those answerers really like to know your ages and cities.

  • Anne July 24th, 2013 4:03 PM

    I think the only safe cuddling friendships are those about which you know it will always stay platonic.. so for me that would be my guy friend who is into boys who is also super cuddly..!

  • abby111039 July 24th, 2013 5:34 PM

    Okay, first things first, I’d like to express how happy I am that I am reading comments on here that are not portraying cutting as being inherently wrong. I know people have differing views on this, and the social stigma surrounding self-harm is extremely negative, but as someone who as been self-injuring for over a year now, I am so fucking glad to read something that neither shames nor encourages cutting. It’s so refreshing to see.

    “That pain and stress, rather than the cutting itself, is the problem.”
    This statement stood out to me the most out of Sady’s answer. I’ve been in therapy for my self-harm for over two months now, and while the cutting itself isn’t improving all that much, I have been able to get a number of other underlying issues addressed, such as my depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, possible PTSD, and the possibility of me having other disorders is being explored. In my eyes, if I can get these more serious and debilitating problems under control, then the cutting really isn’t a problem because all it becomes is something that I simply enjoy doing, like any other hobby. I don’t care if it’s socially unacceptable or potentially unhealthy; it’s no different than smoking cigarettes in my opinion. That being said, I am NOT condoning cutting. It is my choice, and these are my personal opinions, as with anyone else on the subject. Everyone is entitled to their own decisions; just make the one that is best for you yourself.

    Okay, ending my rant now. On a very different note, I could really go for a cuddle buddy at this point. </3

  • MissKnowItAll July 24th, 2013 5:37 PM

    I’m really happy to see Phoebe’s question and Lola’s answer.
    I have a similar problem with my younger brother. He’s a very good brother to me and he often covers for me and sticks up for me when my parents and I get into a fight. But everything I say to him sound horrible. Even when I have good intentions, I end up sounding terrible and sometimes I feel violent urges against him. He doesn’t even have to do anything to trigger it, but I’ll have to restrain myself from hitting him or pushing him around. I honestly don’t know why. I don’t think of myself as a violent person and it’s starting to affect my relationship with my older brother bc he notices the verbal abuse. Please help

  • Paprika July 25th, 2013 10:57 PM

    I honestly don’t think that cutting and bdsm are at all that relevant to each other; the aim of bdsm isn’t to harm one’s self but to seek sexual gratification.
    With compatible and consenting partners BDSM can be practiced safely, with healthy and positive results. Good, consensual sex, regardless of its content, is healthy.
    Cutting is self harm. As a former cutter I can confidently say that it is a dangerous and unhealthy habit. Those who practice cutting enjoy it because it truggers the release of positive endorphins. It isn’t a “hobby”, as somebody else suggested, but an addiction; you become dependent on the release of hormones that follows the act of cutting. As my cutting escalated, that feeling of release became harder to achieve; I had resorted to burning and reopening wounds by the time I was hospitalized.
    Cutters also run the risk of developing severe infections; I once heard second hand of a woman whose cutting led to a blood infection and sepsis. Scary stuff.
    I’m stepping off my soapbox.

  • HollyMargaret July 26th, 2013 1:12 PM

    Thanks so much for the answer to the final question, Sady. It came just at the right time for me because unfortunately I currently have one family member who self-harms and another who is an alcoholic. It made me feel better about showing concern for the people I love even when they sometimes seem not to want you to!

  • Pashupati July 27th, 2013 6:10 AM

    Hmmm though it’s a great answer, I understood the cutting question as being someone who cut sexually and is misunderstood as cutting for other reasons. Like blood play, but alone. I don’t think this falls into self-harm, but it can be quite difficult to explain to people. (I guess, because I self-harm without cutting, know about blood play, and will probably never be in a situation where I do or need to explain blood play.)
    Now some people can cut for both reasons, sexually and self-harm, at the same moment or at different moments, and this get complicated!

    • Pashupati July 27th, 2013 6:11 AM

      Oops, self-harm in itself isn’t a reason (a reason would be to “get down” from a panic attack or relieve feelings or…) I meant “ways”.