Balancing the boyfriend and family

Hi Meredith,

I'm very lucky to be in a happy, loving relationship with my boyfriend of about 8 months. My younger sister, however, is not so happy about this relationship. My sister and I are three years apart in age and are in our mid-20s. She has recently complained to my parents (not to me) about feeling like a "third wheel," and has said that she does not think I should be allowed to bring my boyfriend to family events. For example, I was planning to bring him to a family friend's engagement party next month and my sister has made remarks to the effect of "we should go as family only."

It's not as though he has been at every event since we started dating. She and I have spent time together just the two of us and I have not brought him to family holiday celebrations yet. When I've invited her to join us for dinner or to come with us to the movies, both he and I have made a sincere effort to engage her directly and to not be overly affectionate with one another in front of her. She is very shy and often takes a long time to open up around new people, so I want her to spend more time with us and become comfortable around him.

I'd appreciate any advice on how to make her not feel like a third wheel. I'd like to be able to bring my boyfriend to family events, as it does not feel right to exclude him solely to accommodate her feelings, but I also don't want her to resent me because of it. If it's helpful, he has been very friendly toward her, but she has not been particularly warm to him. She and I have always had a very close relationship so it is important to me that she feels comfortable around him.

– Sister Struggles, Boston

This will work itself out over time, SS. If you and the boyfriend stay together, your sister will adjust. He'll start to feel like family, and maybe she'll even begin to appreciate him. Or perhaps she'll get her own boyfriend and everything will feel a bit more equitable. Don't try to rush the bonding process.
For now, just do your best to give her (and your parents) some balance. Invite him to the big family events, but remember that he doesn't have to come to every party. Will he really have fun at your family friend's engagement party? Are other people bringing boyfriends? You're quite smitten with this guy, which means you want him around as much as possible. But please consider what you miss by bringing a date to some of these events.

Also ... I have to wonder what your parents think about this. They're the ones who told you about the third wheel issue, which means that some of your sister's feelings could have been exaggerated in translation. Did your parents tell you how they feel about the boyfriend coming to family events? Do they also want more alone time with you? I don't want to imply that they're using your sister's feelings to manipulate you, but I wonder what they think and why this came from them. Maybe you should ask.

Readers? Should she bring the boyfriend to family events? Should she talk to her sister about this? How should she balance the relationship with family? Discuss.

– Meredith