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!

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 [email protected]. Please include your NAME, nickname, or first initial, plus your AGE and your CITY.