Advice – What is considered emotional affair?

I (27/F) am very upset that my relationship has ended because my ex boyfriend, “Todd” (30/M), thought that I have an inappropriate relationship with my best friend, “Zach” (27/M).

Zach and I met over a year ago and quickly became best friends. We are in the same professional program and rely on each other a lot. He is also my lab partner and I am required to spend at least 3-4 hours with him a week. Todd and I met four months ago, and our relationship had been incredible aside from his issues with Zach. He checks all the boxes, and I could see us having a serious and long term relationship.

Now this is what I don’t understand. I do talk to Zach everyday. We text frequently about school or ongoing drama with our friends. We’ve never had a romantic or physical relationship. However, I’ve told Todd that I don’t have an interest in Zach as anything more than friends, but Todd still sees the relationship as inappropriate due to the frequency that Zach and I talk, and because we’ve talked about intimate details of our lives. Nothing too graphic, but Zach supported me when I was having trouble in school and when my dad had a health scare. I would say that Zach has been an excellent friend to me and one that I can trust.

Todd doesn’t like Zach because he thinks Zach would sleep with me if given the chance. And thus, this is why Todd thinks I’m having an emotional affair. He thinks I’m too close with Zach and he shouldn’t have to “share me” with anyone. He thinks it’s wrong that I asked for support from Zach and that I’m leading Zach on. I can see his point – Todd should be the number one guy in my life. And I thought he was.

So I guess what I’m asking has two parts. How do I get over Todd’s judgment when I feel like I haven’t done anything wrong? And was my relationship with Zach truly inappropriate and emotional cheating?

/u/TomorrowProof9689, Reddit.

Dear Tomorrow Proof,

Let’s start by defining an act of infidelity. An act of infidelity is loosely defined as an intentional violation of any explicit or implicit relationship agreement(s). There are few socially agreed-upon and implicit relationship agreements, such as “Do not have sexual encounters with other people while we are in a monogamous relationship.” However, most of the specific relationship agreements are for the people in that specific relationship to determine.

Based on what you have shared, I don’t get the sense that “Do not have close friendships with someone of the opposite gender” was not an explicit relationship agreement. As such, I don’t think that we can qualify your deep and rewarding friendship with Zach as infidelity.

Even if we look only at the emotional infidelity, I don’t think we can qualify your connection with Zach as an emotional infidelity. In general, emotional infidelity is even more ambiguously defined as any pursuit of forging a romantic connection without a physical/sexual component that usually earmarks any infidelity, which is distinctly untrue for your connection with Zach.

It is difficult to fully gather Todd’s rationale on how he saw your connection with Zach. But I think we can make some educated guesses based on what he said and what made him feel insecure before we get to what this means for you personally.

Let’s first talk about what Todd said.

Todd said that he saw your connection with Zach as inappropriate because:

  1. Of how frequently you and Zach exchanged messages;
  2. Of the depth of your connection with each other.

Both of those rationale speak more about what he personally assesses as inappropriate, completely without any reflection from what your actual stated intentions were. In fact, the context of your connection with Zach alone should have explained the frequency of your communication with Zach (since you two are in the same professional program) as well as the depth of your connection (since Zach helped you manage your emotional labor associated with school as well as with your dad’s health scare). So in his words, he not only disregarded the context of your connection with Zach but also disregarded your own words that defined your lack of romantic intention toward Zach.

I also want to touch on Todd’s comment about how he thinks Zach will sleep with you “if given the chance”.

What does “if given the chance” even mean? Is he implying that you have poor judgment and therefore should feel unsafe around Zach because he will disregard your lack of interest and disregard your complete lack of consent? Or is Todd saying that he doesn’t take you at your word when you declared your lack of romantic or sexual intention toward Zach?

I get the feeling that his animosity towards Zach is more likely a product of his own projection rather than one that is grounded in the reality of your connection with Zach.

That gives us a better idea on what made Todd feel so insecure.

In modern monogamous relationships, we are so often programmed to believe that we must be everything for our partners – emotionally, physically, and sexually. And any failure to fulfill all of your partner’s needs is immediately unbecoming of you as a partner. It is at core an incredibly faulty and dangerously unhealthy premise because asking one person to meet all of your needs for your entire life is too much of a Big Ask. A much more reasonable expectation to uphold is that you’ll do your best to meet as many of your partner’s essential needs as is reasonable.

It could be that when you sought out Zach’s emotional support, Todd could have felt like he was unable to meet your emotional need in that specific way. And that inability to meet your need fed into his insecurity about your connection with Zach, which in turn manifested through his underlying animosity toward Zach for providing that which Todd himself could not or were not made available to provide. Note that what Todd believes as his perspective on your reality is very different from your own perspective on your own reality. This is important.

You can also see his rationale spreading and manifesting in your retrospective justification as well.

He thinks it’s wrong that I asked for support from Zach and that I’m leading Zach on.

Just because he thinks that it is inappropriate for you to seek emotional support from a friend doesn’t mean that you should think so as well. Just because he thinks you are leading Zach on doesn’t mean that you are actually leading him on. Zach knew that you were in a monogamous relationship, and you knew you had no romantic or sexual feelings towards Zach. You are grounded in your own beliefs and needs; and if you believe that diversifying your emotional support portfolio by maintaining close connections with multiple people of different genders is better for your mental health, it isn’t your partner’s place to judge you or critique your connections. And in a way, it looks like his projection of his own insecurity has morphed and manifested in self-internalized guilt for you (“I can see his point – Todd should be the number one guy in my life. And I thought he was.“).

So let’s go back to the two-part question you asked at the end of your post.

I’ll answer the second question first (“And was my relationship with Zach truly inappropriate and emotional cheating?”). No. I don’t think the connection you have with Zach qualifies as cheating. It is perfectly okay to maintain a close connection with anyone who feels good for you to stay connected with as long as you feel confident in your own ability to set appropriate boundaries.

As for getting over Todd’s judgment, it is okay to feel some guilt over the end of any intimate connection. Your feelings are real and valid. And if you feel that you did nothing wrong in fostering a deep connection with a platonic friend in Zach, then your feelings also have weight. Regardless of the happenstance surrounding the end of your relationship with Todd, give yourself some space and time to grieve the end of your intimate connection with another human being. Allow your feelings to complete the cycle.

It is important to remember that the narrative you want to create from here on out is yours and yours only. Will you choose to beholden to a twisted story that your ex will weave in order to avoid resolving his insecurities, even as an echo? Or will you choose to write your own story based on your own experiences using your own words?

Good luck.

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – My family keeps commenting on my resemblance to my dead father.

My father passed about two years ago from a sudden car accident. Even before he passed away, I often received comments from family and friends about how much I look like him. But it never used to bother me but now that he’s gone it does. His death was hard on everyone in our family. I know that but honestly I’m ready to move on. However, I can’t live every day of my life thinking about the fact that he’s dead. I have a hard enough time looking in the mirror and see him in my reflection. It’s a constant reminder on its own. How do I tell my family to stop without hurting them? Thanks!

Anonymous, Reddit.
Photo by Ellieelien on Unsplash

Dear Anonymous,

I am really sorry for your loss. It is clear from what you have shared that your father meant a lot to you, and that the loss you experienced two years ago is still very fresh and raw in your mind.

Many people experience loss and grief in such different ways. Some would grasp onto the remnants of their deceased loved one to keep a reminder on the type of person they were. Some would move on through compartmentalizing their past firmly in the past where they could process their loss and grief from a distance. In my own personal experience with loss, I have found that there is very little reason and logic to the feelings of los and grief. Instead, they were found to be entirely emotionally driven, often unexpected in the ways grief would rise up from beneath the surface.

That could also apply to your family. You say that the loss was heavy for your family. But your family could be processing the loss of a father and a husband in completely unique ways. It could be that some of your family members are trying to hold fast to their own personal mental image of your father through the physical resemblance you share with your father. For them, it is a way for them to process their grief, albeit illogically and irrationally thrust upon you.

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

I want to touch on regarding your comment here.

However, I can’t live every day of my life thinking about the fact that he’s dead.

I was very close to my father-in-law when he passed away – also unexpectedly – about a year and a half ago.

It would have been his 65th birthday yesterday.

There were days when it felt like we were all lying flat on our back on a seashore with the waves washing over our faces. And there were days when we had to take the extra thirty minute refuge in bed. And there were days I felt normal but suddenly get hit in my gut with something that reminded me of absence of him. Even a year and a half alter, there isn’t a single day that goes by without a thought of my father-in-law.

It could be something innocuous like how organized and structured my partner is, much like her father. One time, it was on an ad for a local brewery he liked to visit. Sometimes, it is on the very signature lips that my daughter inherited from her grandfather she’ll never get to know.

What I am trying to say is that the recognition of his death and celebration of his life need can be a part of the process for moving on. Those reminders in the mirror are there as a way to remind you that he was there once upon a time in your life. And the resemblance you two continue to share is something to be cherished, not to be shed.

You say that you are ready to move on. But like loss and grief, the process of moving on could look very different for your family as it is for you. And so, your family might not be ready to move on yet.

It could be that for some of your family, acknowledging the traits they carry forward past this particular loss could be a way to honor who he was when he was alive. But for you, you personally envision the state of closure where you are no longer reminded of the absence your father left behind. As such, you see the way your family is processing loss and grief in real time – to turn inward – as a direct conflict from the way you want to process loss and grief – to turn outward. And to your family, your desire to turn outward could feel like anticipation of another loss on the horizon, except this one isn’t determined by a sudden death but rather a conscious decision to create distance.

It might be a good time to check in with your family about how their grieving process is going, and share with them how your own grieving process has been progressing. Take this opportunity to strengthen and reaffirm your connections with the surviving family members who are all grieving in their own unique ways.

If you really strongly feel that your family’s comments about your shared resemblance is detrimental to your own self-recovery, perhaps relating to them about how their comments about your shared resemblance feels hurtful for you.

Good luck.

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – My family keeps yelling at each other.

I (18F) would like to preface by saying that I come from a Slavic family that currently lives in the US. I was born in the US.

As far as I can remember, yelling has always been something that frequently occurred at my house. My parents constantly argued, and to this day consistently argue.

If something wasn’t done, screaming. If something wasn’t done the right way, screaming. Screaming over every little thing possible. My mom is the worst. She’ll scream and yell and it feels like she throws a tantrum because she either is not having a good day or something sets her off.

My dad always took pride in the fact that he was a “good father.” But I literally don’t have fond memories of him. He always insults my brother and I and talks down on us, and did his fair share of yelling.

Things have progressively gotten worse when my mom found out last year she was pregnant. It was a surprise pregnancy. The baby is 5 months old now.

Every time I hear yelling I just can’t stop crying. I feel sick to my stomach and nauseous and at times think about ending my life. I feel like I’m at my wits end because I just can’t handle this anymore. I’ve asked them to stop yelling when they’re upset but they just don’t care.

I don’t know what to do anymore. Moving out is not an option. If I leave the house too much, my mom complains that I don’t get things done around the house. My parents hate it when I hang out with my friends. I’m just so exhausted.

/u/yuliaburdak, /r/relationship_advice
Photo by CHI CHEN on Unsplash

Dear Yulia,

I am really sorry to hear that you are going through this. At eighteen, you should not be at a headspace where you feel emotionally unsafe around your parents. At difficult times like these, as sad as it is, it is necessary and imperative that we – as our parents’ children – parent our parents.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. 1878.

This is a quote I personally like to repeat to myself and keep in mind often when assessing difficult and toxic family relationships. It is a brief yet incredibly poignant looking glass through which we can understand why dysfunctional families perpetuate the dysfunction internally within the family. The quote itself is deceptively simple, but the nuances run deep. At its core, the quote states that there are numerous types of dysfunctions within a family unit that can make that family dysfunctional. And in order for a family to be happy, that happy family needs to avoid all the pitfalls and successfully manage all the common dysfunctions. It is why every happy family resemble each other in its bountiful peace and harmony, while each unhappy family suffer from its own unique concoction of dysfunctions.

In any perpetual problem, we need to first consider the Why (as in why did it happen first), the How (as in how does it keep happening), and the What (as in what do we need to do to manage it better). Let’s start with the why.

The Why is actually very straight forward. It could be that your family’s conflict management skills are culturally inherited. It could be that both of your parents were raised in their own respective households where as kids they saw their own parents resolve conflicts through yelling. And because that was how they were raised, they used their respective parents’ model for conflict resolution and continued to use yelling as the only viable conflict resolution method for themselves. Think of it as a time-warped reflection of what you are currently seeing through your parents.

The How on the other hand is a bit more complex. You’ve already outlined a couple different points in which the conflicts within your family is perpetuated and dilated through echo.

First is the way your mother perpetuates the verbal abuse. In short, your mother appears to lack any proper self-soothing measures. In psychological terms, this is specifically called grounding or self-soothing techniques. Healthy adults implement calming tactics to manage their difficult emotions and feelings. For example, a person who has a good self-soothing management skills might deal with a bad workday by taking some self-care time in the evening to listen to their favorite music or taking a long bubble bath. It could be that your mother acts out and screams in order to receive the emotional validation or support from her loved ones, often at the hefty price for those who do provide support. If she was raised in a family where this type of behavior has been normalized, then this behavior is already a well-paved pathway extending decades into her past.

Second is the pandemic. We are all currently going through a pandemic-induced societal trauma where we are all put under immense emotional distress through extreme social distancing. Humans are by default social creatures, and being sequestered to our most immediate family members – even in the most happy and healthy households – can be difficult. As such, it could be that both of your parents as well as you and your brother are all low on emotional resources that would have otherwise been used to manage difficult feelings.

But the most obvious is the surprise baby. Taking care of a newborn is one of the highest emotional, physical, and financial stressor anyone can take on, even when you plan for the baby. And as such, it is very likely that your parents are both driven to their own respective wits ends maintaining the household harmony, even less than prior to discovering that they were expecting a third addition to their family. This in combination with pandemic adds a compounding mechanic that exacerbates the tension within the house that never gets resolved and worsens over time. As you said, your newest sibling was a surprise. And if both of your parents were not totally on board upon discovering that your mother was pregnant, it could be that there is a lot of internal marital tension between your parents that are now unfairly and unfortunately coming onto the surfaces of their relationships with both you and your siblings.

Photo by Vivek Kumar on Unsplash

Now let’s talk about the What.

It sounds like you already took the right first step in trying to de-escalate the situation, albeit unsuccessfully. I think it is time to relate, then to clearly state your boundaries with your family. Both of your parents need to sit down and understand how their actions make you feel. A productive dialogue might sound like, “When you do X, I feel Y.” Here is an example. “When you yelled at me for coming home late after spending some time with my friend, I felt really depressed and unsafe in our home.” This will help your parents understand how their toxic actions are correlated with your and your siblings’ respective headspaces. They need to understand that their behaviors affect others, intentionally or unintentionally.

Once they have a better understanding of how you feel, then it is time to state your boundary. The actual boundary might vary, but a good starting point could be this:

“I will not have a conversation with someone who is screaming at me.”

Then go into detail about a hypothetical scenario that outlines what you might do if they yell at you. You have a couple different options to de-escalate a situation where your parents are screaming at you. First is to physically remove yourself from the situation. Go on a walk or step away from the house until they have learned to better manage their emotions. If removing your physical self is not possible, then closing your eyes and disengaging from the situation entirely is a viable option for you as well, as a way to mentally step away. Meditating in particular can come very handy even if you aren’t facing your parents. So you can even practice before you have the next abusive situation arise.

If necessary, kindly remind yourself and your parents that you are still an adult even if decades junior.

I already mentioned meditation, but self-care for you will go a long way in order for you come up with and maintain your own self-soothing tactics. It is very easy to get trapped into a codependent mindset where you are stepping into manage your parents’ feelings instead of managing your own. In particular, if you are finding it difficult to assess your own needs even when it is only in mild conflict with your parents’ needs, it might be time to take a look at that list to figure out if you are developing a codependent attachment to your parents, and then determine what you want to do to acknowledge then grow past your codependent habits.

The last thing I’ll mention is that you said that right now living apart from your parents are not in consideration. Sometimes, physical distance is the best boundary you can establish with your loved ones. In these times of social distancing, it is especially important to know how close you can let your family in while also keeping them at a distance to maintain your own sanity. That could mean establishing some proactive future-oriented plans to become financially independent from your parents so that you can maintain that safe distance from your family by living on your own again.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – My boyfriend says I cannot leave him alone with my dog.

“I have a dog who was abused in his past and now has behavioral issues. He is very attached to me and doesn’t like when I leave. My BF moved in about 8 months ago, and whenever I leave to go anywhere- the gym, hike, see friends- and my boyfriend is home, the dog pesters him and won’t relax or leave him alone until I get home. I guess he follows him and pants and whines and won’t just lay down and be quiet. I’m not sure what I would do in my BF’s position. He says he just wants a quiet place to lay down and I don’t blame him. When the dog is sectioned away from him, he either barks or has accidents. This is very distressing for me. My BF always lets me know there’s trouble and I feel like I need to leave wherever I am and come back home.

But from my end, it sucks that I can’t go anywhere. I’ve resorted to taking the dog with me places like CVS to pick up meds and instead of going to the gym, hiking the dog. Today we had a big fight about it as I told him this all makes me feel really controlled like I can’t have my freedoms and I can’t go anywhere or see friends (pre- and post-pandemic) because this has been going on for a long time. What is the right thing where? Am I being unreasonable? I understand my BF’s side- he wants to feel relaxed and safe in his own house and not bothered by the dog.

The dog also can’t go to dog parks right now cause of the pandemic and he is even more anxious than usual. He is not aggressive in the slightest but rather painfully anxious and he jumps up when he hears car doors slam because he thinks it’s me. We don’t have a yard for the dog to go outside in. My BF has gone so far as to say that if I insist on going places and leaving him with the dog, he may want to live somewhere else. I am so deeply wounded by this. We are/were planning a life together. He says that I am threatening his psychological well being by not allowing him to have a quiet place to lay down. I know that my dog is an anxious handful. Yes he already has doggie Xanax. What should I do here?”

/u/didntstartthefire on /r/relationship_advice.

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Dear Didn’t Start the Fire,

Poor little anxious pup.

One of the most challenging aspects of any relationship is in establishing healthy boundaries, enforcing those agreed-upon boundaries, and developing contingency plans for the unexpected. It can be difficult to communicate, especially in such pressured times like this. But it is an absolute necessity in order for you to have a healthy relationship. And I don’t mean just your relationship with your boyfriend. I also mean this in regards to your relationship with your dog as well.

My dog also used to have mild separation anxiety symptoms – symptoms that I know will come back once life gets back to normal. And my vet friend once told me to consider putting a blanket on top of his crate and crate him even when I was home. She told me that doing so could help normalize his crate space as his living space rather than a space he has to go to be alone. The first couple times were very challenging, but he eventually got used to his crate to the point where he’d just chill there even when he wasn’t necessarily being “trained.”

And dog training is often like that. It seems impossible and unmanageable until it isn’t.

It sounds like your pup has severe separation anxiety. You said that your pup is already on canine Xanax. That is a good start to help manage anxiety, but it won’t be the solution to the anxiety caused by the act of separation.

Photo by Ilargian Faus on Pexels.com

There are a couple ways to actively work at fixing the core issues at hand.

First is by properly establishing expectation with yourself and your boyfriend. It is not your boyfriend’s responsibility to look after your dog; your dog is your sole responsibility. Dog ownership comes with a lot of unwritten expectations, and actively managing and training your canine companion – often at very little recognition or award – is one of those unwritten expectations. Communicate so with your partner and let him know that you’ll be managing your pup’s training on your own.

Next is by determining how you would like to manage your dog’s separation anxiety. Counterconditioning (by aligning good feelings and rewards with being alone) and desensitization (by slowly removing yourself a little further, for longer amount of time each time) are both really great places for you and your pup to start managing his separation anxiety. But if you feel that his separation anxiety is too severe for you to manage on your own, I would advise for you to contact a certified animal or a veterinary behaviorist who can help correct this behavior with you.

Once you have settled on a plan of action, stick with it. Behavior adaptation can be very difficult, especially if it is with an older dog that you’ve been with for a while. Communicate with your boyfriend that these are the steps that you’d like to follow. He does not necessarily need to participate in the correcting your pup’s behavioral routines, but he too needs to understand that you’re doing your best to manage this.

Photo by Olenka Sergienko on Pexels.com

Like I mentioned, it is wholly your responsibility to manage your dog’s anxiety, as his primary owner. So his feelings about not wanting to be around your dog while his anxiety is not as well-managed is fair. And his potential decision to live elsewhere while his constant psychological well-being is threatened by the state of your dog’s anxiety, try not to read it as a slight on your relationship. Just because you two are planning on building a life together does not necessarily mean that you two have to cohabitate in the same home together.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – My sister owes me money.

“When I [22F] was a freshman in college I got a really cool job and made 1.7k a month. I’m really frugal and I was able to save it up. At the time, my sister [35F] found a well paying job and was raking in dough. Or at least that’s how she appeared to be. She would always fly first class, she has two kids, they would travel a lot. Her husband [38M] also had a good paying job. They purchased two houses, and they even paid college tuition for his 3 siblings!

I think that’s what killed them financially. She eventually got demoted at her job (with a massive pay decrease). Her husband got fired and lost his insurance. When he received a cancer diagnosis, they paid for his cancer treatment out of pocket.

One day, she called me asking how much money I had in my bank account. She asked to borrow $5,000 and promised that she would return it in 3 month’s time. She told me she needed it to pay one of her mortgages. I love my sister, so I was more than willing to let her take some under the pretense it would be returned.

It has been 4 years and I haven’t gotten it returned yet.

It gets worse. I go to NY and Boston with her on vacation, where with my permission and understanding that it would be paid back immediately. Instead, she used my card to buy clothes for her kids (my niece and nephew who I also love to bits).

And like that another $2,500 is taken out.

I’ve stopped lending her money, partially because she has stopped asking for money and also because I told her that her spending habits aren’t sustainable. From what I hear, she apparently also borrowed $30,000 from one of my brothers as well.

I’m not sure what to do now. Her husband is unable to hold on to one for more than a year and is currently in between jobs. They still have 2 houses (renting one out for money). She switched jobs but I’m not sure if that came with a change financially.

They still indulge a bit. Not massively. But they have subscription services, and live TV. they enroll their kids in soccer, karate, and ballet.

Every time I breach the subject of paying me back, she says that her finances are still in a bind and she promises that she’ll pay me back soon. I haven’t brought it up in a long time and now with her new job I want mention it again, but I’m not sure how.”

/u/naalotai, /r/relationship_advice.

Dear Naalotai,

I am sorry that your sister has taken advantage of your (and your brother’s) financial situation(s). $7,500 is a significant sum of money for a new college grad starting out. That could be a down payment on a new car, or a pretty great overseas vacation. But more important than the number is the value of your connection with your sister.

I do believe that a lot of people get trapped in the concept of lifestyle creep / lifestyle inflation where they incrementally spend more and more to match the household income. Once that bubble pops, the reality will sink in. It sounds like your sister’s family got caught up in living in a partial denial of her new reality that her lifestyle has outpaced her income.

It sounds like you’ve already established some very sound basic boundaries with your sister to make sure that your financial aspects are not too adversely affected. You did a great job by putting your foot down and reminding her that she cannot come to you for financial support any longer. And I think it is time for the rest of your family to come to the same realization, that your sister’s spending habits are unsustainable.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I also wonder how beneficial it could be to reframe your sister’s habits and behaviors from a perspective of an addict. The cycle of guilt-tripping, codependent behavioral traits, and the period of calm before the next “hit” all seem to reflect the same mentalities that substance addicts embrace in order to maintain their livelihood. If anything, I strongly encourage you to read up on codependency and reflect on what that concept means to the relationship you have with your sister.

And in a lot of different ways, the money you (and your brother) loaned her is being used to enable her clearly unhealthy and unsafe financial practices. As such, she is living in a fundamental state of denial that she does not have any problems with managing her finances. And sometimes, the most difficult thing to do is to just let it be, to let her fail.

You’ve already done the best you can. If you are keen on getting that money back, you might be able to find some legal success in small claims court. But it’ll be difficult to prove that the money you loaned her weren’t gifts especially if you lack proper documentation. Otherwise, keep holding your boundary; you’re doing great.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Becoming close friends with an ex-partner.

“We [32M] started talking and became friends more than two years ago. She [26F] lives literally on the other side of the planet.

We had a romantic relationship for about a year. It was very intense. Then one day she said that it wasn’t realistic for us to be together. It was hard for me to hear that, but I respect it.

We talk literally every day. She’s a huge part of my life. She’s my best friend. I’m trying really hard to navigate this in a dignified way.

I want to remain friends. In the past, I would just end a friendship because perceived rejections and all of that. I’m trying to grow and I want to get beyond that pain. I want to value friendship properly.

We love each other on a friendship level and I value that highly. It’s something I’ve been missing for a long time. She’s my family.

Sometimes, it’s really hard. I’ll feel everything rushing back and it takes everything to not break down and cry. Most of the time, I just remember how much I love her, want her to be happy, and to thrive.

I am looking for any advice to deal with this. Most people say to go on dates or create distance with her. Honestly, I don’t feel ready for dates. I also don’t want distance.”

/u/datawillnotsaveus, /r/relationships.

Dear Data Will Not Save Us,

For me personally, relationships are about managing and occupying space. It is about the space you create and curate for your partners, friends, and family. What kind of emotional bandwidth and time can you allot for each person in your life? Does that space match their expectation of a space they’d like to occupy in your life? Can they reciprocate and create spaces for you to reside in in their lives? Are you okay only occupying that size of space that they’ve left for you?

These are all really great questions for you to ask as you think about the space and role you expect to take up in your best friend’s life. You say that you two had once been romantically entangled, but since decided to remain as platonic friends instead. Are you mindfully consenting to the space that she has asked you to occupy? Are those being reciprocated in the space you have created for her?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For whatever it is worth, give your pain too some space to breathe. Acknowledge and embrace that you are experiencing one form of heartbreak. One that comes is exacerbated by the massive physical distance between you two. Realistic or not, it ended for the reasons that you both feel are justified. And because it was such an intense relationship, you are left longing in the shrinking container in which you’re asked to occupy. Do you know what happens when you shrink a container with the same amount of air inside? It gets pressured, keen for the thinnest layer to burst through.

So instead of pressuring yourself under this shrinking container, why not just step away for some time, re-evaluate what this means to you, then come back smaller chunks at a time? It doesn’t matter if that means you step away for two days or five months or decades. Whatever time you feel is necessary in which you can feel ready to reinvent with her this new phase of your connection yet.

I am really sorry to hear that she broke your heart. But you don’t have to continue to take part in activities or connections that do not add to your life and passively causes you pain. That’s just self-inflicted emotional harm. So treat yourself better. You deserve some rest that isn’t contingent upon another. If she really is family, she’ll be hurt but she’ll also understand. And if there’s a friendship to be rekindled in the future, today is as good as any day to start your journey to recovery. Once you have recovered, there will be room for friendship somewhere.

I can guarantee you that that new container will be better than this one.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – I found out my father isn’t really my father.

“I [37F] took an Ancestry DNA test to find out more about my family history. What I found out is that my father [64M] isn’t actually my father.

It all started with a free trial to Ancestry. I like history and don’t know a ton about my family tree so one day while I was bored I figured I knew enough to get the ball rolling. My mom’s family is pretty diligent about preserving the history of their side so that info was easy. My dad’s side was more of a mystery. One little leaf linked to another and suddenly 3 hours later I was deep in the rabbit hole of census information. After I couldn’t go any further, I was already in too deep. I saw the DNA health kit and decided to go for it. I sent in my vile of saliva and waited for my results.

My health results came back first and were pretty unexciting. My DNA and ethnicity results are a little more complicated. At first, I just glanced through the DNA results because who cares about 2nd and 3rd cousins really. At the top of the list of shared DNA was a man and just under his picture, it read “parent/child” in the related field. My brain did not process it. I read it as a parent/child of someone in my immediate family even though I have no idea who they are. Like I said, my dad’s side is more of a mystery. I looked at his picture and saw some resemblance and that was that.

Fast forward to yesterday. I woke up to a notification of a message from this guy via the Ancestry app. He was asking me if I wanted to talk and that he had just seen me because Ancestry sent him notification of the DNA match. STILL, I wasn’t following. I thought he was being polite because of the family match. Then I looked at the actual data. It says parent/child because I have half his damn DNA. We exchanged a couple of messages. He seems genuinely interested in knowing about me. I asked if he knew my mom and from where. He explained that he knew both of my parents but had no idea about me. He knew them when he lived in my home state, 37 years ago.

I called my mom this morning because I needed some answers. She had a pretty terrible childhood and a young adult life full of things she wishes I didn’t know about. At first, she was very defensive, then I think a bit of shock set in. DNA doesn’t lie so there isn’t a way out of it. She admitted that the possibility was there but she always believed my dad was my father and she doesn’t remember this guy at all. I am still not sure if she is telling the truth or not.

I am just at an absolute loss right now. My dad and I don’t have a super tight relationship because my parents divorced when I was 3 but he’s a really great guy and he really tried his best. I love my dad and think the world of him but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel like something was off my whole life. He adopted my brother when he was a baby and raised him as his own. I feel like it would crush him if he found out that the one-child he did have, wasn’t his at all.”

/u/TheNWTreeOctopus, /r/relationships.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Dear NW Tree Octopus,

I’m really sorry that you had to discover and learn about your heritage in this way. The pain from the complexity and confusion are very apparent in your words. I really hope you can take some time to process this on your own first and foremost.

Let’s be frank and honest here. Even if your father was not your biological father, that does not make him any less of a father for you. We all get so caught up in the idea of the blood bond between kin defining family. The truth of the matter is that family is what you make of it. It honestly sounds like your father has done his best to make sure that you survived and thrived in a divorced household. He was the one that was there for you from the beginning, the one that saw your grow up, and the one that can better identify as a father. He does not need to share a single drop of blood with you to be your father.

And no one has ever said the title of a “father” has to be exclusive to one person either. It could definitely be shared by more than one person. You can definitely have more than one father figure in your life. Fatherhood is a privilege and it’s a title worthy of being shared by multiple people. I really feel for your biological father who missed out on 37 years of his own fatherhood he could have had with you. Your mother certainly robbed him of that experience. If you decide to connect with your biological father, I strongly suggest to approach that new connection with caution and compassion. You’ve been alive for the past 37 years. But he just discovered that he has a daughter. So be patient and allow him to discover and connect with you slowly.

Photo by Mahima on Pexels.com

And let’s talk more about your mom. You might never discover why she decided to withhold that information from you. Based on the timing, it is possible that she was having an affair with your biological father. It is also possible that she was just casually seeing multiple people at that point in her life. And when she became pregnant, she chose your father to attempt parenthood with. She could have just completely blocked out her experience with your biological father and decided to live out the reality she wanted to live in. Whatever the reasons are, it is ultimately unimportant and unnecessary to paint the broad picture of your own life. It doesn’t matter if her obfuscation of reality was intentional or accidental. You still live in this world after all. Just like you can have more than one fathers, you absolutely do not need to have a mother at all. But I strongly suggest that you forgive her for whatever decisions she consciously or unconsciously made. She tried her best.

As for your father you grew up with, it honestly sounds like he too has tried his best to be your father. And I think you have a decision to make, on whether or not you disclose your new findings with your father. You mentioned that his discovering the truth about your biological parentage might crush him. So I ask you to weigh your burden of not sharing against the security of his current reality. Like your biological father, your father spent the past 37 years of your life with you as his biological daughter. It is clear from what kind of father he has been to your adopted brother that he doesn’t necessarily need biological linkage to be a good father. But the circumstances are completely different here; he opted for adoption with him whereas he was (falsely) granted fatherhood with you. And that too doesn’t take away from his 37 years of fatherhood. Like I said above, he does not need to share blood to be your father.

It might not be unethical to not share this new discovery with your father, as your mother has done so far. It is not necessarily important or pertinent information in the grand scheme of his fatherhood with you. I also wonder what is the “need to know” basis here as well. It isn’t like he is with your mother anymore. And you’re all already grown up. It might just be kinder to allow your father to continue in his fatherhood as he has done so for the past 37 years. Sharing that kind of world-altering discovery might take years or even decades for him to recover from. And sometimes, the best action is to not take any action at all.

Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.com

I’ll tell you that as someone who comes from a very traumatic childhood, one of the most influential father figures I’ve had was my father-in-law. Until I met him, I had a very difficult and different ideas about what a father should be. He taught me that even the most secure and confident man can be completely awkward and goofy at the same time. And it completely broke my heart when I lost him almost a year ago. He might not have been my biological father, but I definitely looked up to him as one.

So I ask you to look to your father the same way. He might not be your biological father, but you certainly can continue to look up to him as one. Most people don’t even get to have one father. And you have options. No need for you to rush into making any decisions now. So sit and think about what you want to do.

Good luck.

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Is a narcissistic in-law a dealbreaker?

“I [28F] have been with my boyfriend [34M] for 7 years. I always assumed his mother was a bored housewife. She and I have had problems getting along because we each come from such different socioeconomic backgrounds. His parents lived on the west coast while we have been living in Washington DC. I am seeing a new side to his mother which is really upsetting me after they moved closer to us this past fall. It came to a head over Christmas where she gas lit me a few times. In addition, my bf’s father spent all of Christmas dinner talking about how his brother-in-law wasn’t really family; he is just his sister’s husband. As their son’s girlfriend, that didn’t sit well with me.

It has been a whole month, and I’m still really bothered by everything that happened at Christmas. I know none of this is my bf’s fault, and every family has their problems. But I don’t want people like that in my life. I’m thinking the only option I have here is to leave, because its not right for me to give him an ultimatum. He is an only child and his mother is estranged from her entire family, so he really feels like he has to take care of her.”

Squatchopotamus, /r/relationship_advice.

Dear Squatchopotamus,

You mentioned in a follow up message that his mother is 75. So your boyfriend could be right that this could be a memory issue as well as a manipulative issue. But more importantly, I don’t think there is enough information here that your boyfriend has a healthy relationship with his parents either.

Almost all of this falls upon your boyfriend’s shoulders, especially in managing his parental relationships as it pertains to you. If it really feels uncomfortable to be around your boyfriend’s parents, then consider establishing a boundary to not be around his parents when you can avoid it. You said you live in DC while they reside in Philadelphia, which is a solid two hours drive away. So try to make yourself scarce when they’re around outside of explicit family gatherings.

What is more concerning is in the way your boyfriend seems disinterested in establishing healthy boundaries with his parents. You said in a follow up comment that this dynamic is not one you’d like to have in your life if you could avoid it. So what if you can’t avoid it? Is this set of knucklehead parents a worthwhile price of admission for you to pay in order to continue to be with your partner of seven years?

Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

Stacy Hubbard from the Gottman Institute talks a bit about the concept of relationship aptitude. In short, Stacy theorizes that agreeable character traits along with the ability to securely attach to their partners makes someone have higher relationship aptitude to weather the necessary and inevitable storms in any relationship.

To that, I ask you what are the biggest dealbreakers that you see in this particular arrangement with your boyfriend’s parents? What specifically do you notice in their relationship that reflects directly onto the relationship that you have with your boyfriend? Instead of looking at the relationship your boyfriend’s mother has with her husband, why not look at the characteristics your boyfriend is presenting through his parental relationships? You aren’t dating his parents. You’re only dating him.

For many, having a narcissistic person in relation can be a dealbreaker, especially if there are personal trauma tied to narcissistic abuse in the past. But you are also completely within your own rights to determine for yourself that the emotional labor of being around draining people isn’t a cost of admission you’re willing to pay to be with your boyfriend.

After all, your dealbreakers and red flags are only for you to determine. Not your boyfriend, not his overbearing parents, and certainly not an anonymous online advice provider.

Good luck.

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – I wasn’t invited to my close friend’s wedding.

“My [26F] friend [25F] and I don’t often meet up because our schedules often don’t line up. I usually try to make room for her in my schedule. To her credit, she also tries but is usually too tired after work. Despite this I still consider her a close friend from way back. She had a family-only ceremony and will be holding one for friends and family soon.

I know it’s dumb but I considered her family. Knowing she never saw me as one hurts a bit. Also, she hadn’t talked about marriage and it seemed to have come out of nowhere when she told me she was getting married . It had been radio silence for months before she sent me pictures saying she is now married.

I feel hurt and have yet to really say anything besides asking why I wasn’t invited.”

– Transferring to Earth, /r/relationship_advice.

Photo by Olenka Sergienko on Pexels.com

Dear Transferring to Earth,

Wedding is but a celebration of their relationship. I can’t tell if you are actually happy about your friend’s wedding, just that it is deeply buried in the feelings of pain from not being invited to their family-only wedding ceremony.

Maybe a better way to think about this is to re-frame your mindset around what you can do to celebrate your friend’s marriage instead of dissecting reasons on why you weren’t invited. The reasons themselves are ultimately inconsequential; she already made them. And even if there was a good reason on why you were not invited to her family-only ceremony, neither you nor I will be able to figure that out without living in her head for a little bit.

I also have a close couple friend with whom my partner and I chose not to invite to a very close wedding & reception. At the time, I felt that we weren’t all that close. But I have very often regretted not inviting them to my ceremony. Since then, we have had many a doggy double dates and board game get-togethers where we all bonded well, to make up for what was lost. They invited my partner and I to their very extravagant wedding they held a year and a half later, an event in which I felt very privileged to be a part of.

So instead of questioning why she doesn’t envision her connection with you the same way you envision her connection with her, why not choose this as a great opportunity to grow closer together. This way, you can become a better friend so that you can be invited in any future close gatherings your friend decides to host even if you’ve missed out on this one. And should you ever host your own events, maybe you can extend an invitation to her to let her know how much she means to you.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Issues with partner’s parents.

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

/u/Chansine writes on /r/relationship_advice…

“My boyfriend [23M] and I [26F] have been dating ‘officially’ for nearly 3 months, but prior to that we have been talking/firting for 6ish months give or take. We love each other a lot but his parents get in the way. I am Australian, mostly white and was raised with acceptance and being open minded. My boyfriend was raised here as well since 3 years old, but has strict Kurdish parents. (He is also of Kurdish decent.)

I met his parents for the first time and his mother was nice, his father didn’t speak to me at all just spoke in Kurdish the whole time and practically ignored me. Which I expected, but his mother was nice to my face more or less.

I called my boyfriend today – as I usually do – and the topic of his parents came up. He said he didn’t want to say horrible things his parents had said about me. I am yes, a larger woman, my boyfriend is skinny/in shape. (I have struggled with eating disorders since I was 11, have had depression and anxiety diagnosed since I was 10 and have struggled with my weight. I have lost 10 kilos just by changing my eating, but do have thyroid issues and poly-cystic ovaries which doesn’t help my weight and it fluctuates constantly.) Basically, they said they would prefer a ‘skinny Kurdish girl’ and didn’t like the fact that he was dating me which yes, I expected, but still hurts. This stuff normally doesn’t offend me at all, but when it’s the parents of someone you love (he still lives with them too) it’s harder.

But within us speaking about it, he basically pointed out that his parents would always come first. Now, I get it, family is important to some people, but am I wrong for wanting him to stand up for me more than he did? He is introverted and yes usually shy, but if you love someone I’m sure you’d want to stand up for them. He told me he said his piece about how he loved me, which was great but then went on to say if I gave him an ultimatum he would choose his parents. The fact that he even said that just hurt me. At least he was honest, but it’s kind of obvious now that I am not a priority to him as much as he is for me.

He is a kind, giving and loving person and treats me well, but I can’t help but feel upset by this and I’ve been through this before with an ex, and it’s fucking tiring and exhausting. I haven’t had the best experience with dating men or women but the fact that he was so ready to drop me for his family who he feels obligated to and who guilts him into doing things, he submits and says things in a way that just make me feel like utter shit. He even said I was like number 5 on his priority scale. He literally numbered me and thought it was okay. He is very inexperienced with women, as I am the second girl he’s dated/been with sexually. Which I understand relationships are hard to navigate sometimes.

Am I wrong for feeling this way or am I being selfish? This situation really sucks and I’m not sure what to do. I do love him, but it is emotionally damn draining and it’s a lot to handle. I don’t think anyone is the ‘bad’ person here. I’m just exhausted from it.”

Photo by Julia Zolotova on Pexels.com

Dear Chansine,

I am so sorry to hear you are experiencing so much pain. Your feelings are completely justified. It does sound like there is a major disconnect here and a breakdown in communication of needs.

Your pain is understandable; you want to be considered a high priority as a romantic partner in your partner’s life. To hear that your relationship was number five on his list of priorities was unnecessary and painful. As you added, I wonder how much of that mistake is due to his inexperience in relationships. I’m also concerned with the conflict between the role of his family and your relationship with him. It is already difficult enough to make relationships work without the externalized pressures and racial prejudices against your skin color. It feels slightly unfair that while you’ve accepted his identity and being entirely, that he is only choosing to accept small snippets and parts of you.

I also disagree that introversion is related to inability to stand up for oneself. Introversion has a lot more to do with direction of energy in social circumstances whereas his inability to stand up for himself with his family is a mixture of poor boundary setting and the influence of his culture. As a Korean man in his twenties, I was taught from a very early age that elders were always right. So I too have had to balance fighting subservient parts of my cultural background against the western ideals I ended up actually assimilating with. There will be a point in your boyfriend’s future where he will have to determine how much of his Kurdish heritage means to him. That however is not your responsibility. It is his to assess, his to decide whe enough is enough, and his to enact change if he is unhappy. I understand where your pain comes from, but recognize that his reality of accepting his parents and their role in his life is just as valid and real as your pain.

I think the bigger part of the problem is in how much your boyfriend shares about his parents’ discontentment. His relationship with his parents is not a necessary part of your relationship with him. You’ve only been dating for three months. Both you and he are still trying to figure out if this relationship has legs to make it work long term. And his parents’ pre-judgment of you is completely interfaced by their history and not actually who you are as a person. They have no idea what kind of person you actually are. So don’t take their misconceptions too personally. You’ll have plenty of opportunities in the future to prove them wrong and show what an incredibly perceptive and sensitive person you are, and what a great match you are for their son. What you might need to do is to communicate with your boyfriend how hurtful it is when he relays hurtful comments from his parents directly onto you. And he needs to do his emotional labor on what he should and shouldn’t say in front of you, while he himself sorts out what he is actually willing to stand up for in his relationships.

I agree with you that no one is a bad person here. They are all humans, each with our respective histories and personalities. We are all flawed, and some of us do a better job of recognizing and decorating our flaws.

You do have a decision you need to make. Assuming this continues as it is, is his cultural heritage and his relationship with his family a worth price of admission to continue in this romantic relationship with him?

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!