Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My twin sister is a smart, successful professional. We’re both near 40. I am married with three kids. She wants a family, too.
Unfortunately, she has had a live-in boyfriend for several years. He didn’t work for the first year after they moved (or do much of anything). Now, another year has passed. He did get hourly work.
She told him last year that she didn’t want to be with him but never kicked him out. Now she tells me he’s not her boyfriend and she doesn’t want a family with him. Yet he remains there.
I told her she needs to kick him out, but she asked me to stop talking to her about this and said she likes having someone around so she is not lonely. He also does things at the property (it’s a large home).
I stopped mentioning my dislike of this, but I don’t know what to tell my kids when we visit and “Joel” is still there but isn’t her boyfriend.
Sad for Sister
If they ask, just be truthful: “I’m not sure what’s going on, but Sister obviously wants Joel in her life, so I accept him.” When appropriate, teach them that only the couple themselves can really know what goes on in their relationship, and that, barring obvious signs of abuse, it’s not your place to impose your opinion on her.
An opinion of mine, for what it’s worth: Her words say she wants a family, but her actions say she doesn’t. She might be doing what she actually wants and not feel comfortable saying so, thus the disconnect.
Re: Sad: Could the opposite be true — they say how they really feel but can’t act on it? What trumps, words or actions?
Neither. Adulthood trumps all, in that adults with conflicting words and actions are entitled to live with those conflicts without the intrusion of well-meaning loved ones. Speak up once, yes, intervene when there’s evidence of abuse, yes — but beyond that, the words-vs.-actions debate for bystanders is merely academic.
For what it’s worth: It can be easy to take words as the true feelings because they’re clear. You hear, “I want marriage and children,” and you conclude she honestly wants that but gets bogged down on the way there. However, people who really want something tend to move the earth to get it — no doubt you’ve seen this yourself — so that complicates the words-prevail interpretation.
In my experience, people generally are sincere in expressing desires, but their actions tend to betray when there’s something else they want more. I’ll use me as an example: I genuinely want to be more fit. But when it comes down to it, I want my comfort and down time more. I guess you could say our words reflect our wishes but our actions reflect our priorities.
Re: Sad: In economics, it’s called “revealed preference.” If you want to know what people really want, focus on what they do, not what they say. Leading to this joke: Two economists are walking down the street and they see an expensive sports car. Economist 1: “I’ve always wanted a Ferrari.” Economist 2: “Clearly not.”
Hey . . . in economist circles, that joke KILLS.