Columns Jul 27, 2011 at 4:00 am

Oh, Brother


TSA: Google "genetic sexual attraction," which generally occurs when the Westermarck effect is not present to beat it down. This kind of thing is more common than most people are willing to admit.
I propose an alternate, sex-positive spelling of the world "slut" to distinguish it from the sex-shaming social-order-enforcing one.

I offer: slyt
I am flabbergasted by Dan's analysis of CPAS. Yes, CPAS should dump her, because she is abusing him. But this has nothing to do with looks. It is irrelevant what the guy looks like, and what his girlfriend looks like!

Not first!

TSA: the Brady Bunch movie already covered this. Getting pregnant was fucking stupid, but 14 year olds do lots of fucking stupid things (especially if they've only ever received abstinence-only education).

Have you gotten therapy for this? I highly recommend talking to a professional about it (one who understands the Westermarck effect, not one who thinks you were an incest victim), and I highly de-recommend telling your fiance about it--it's your sexual history, and history is not relevant to your current relationship. But the fact that you're having panic attacks strongly suggests that you're not as over this as you seem to think you are.
Ugh, CPAS's SO is my worest nightmare of what I fear becoming in a relationship and a template for most of the people in my family (both male and female). Whenever I feel my temper getting the best of me, I imagine someone I care about seeing me the way he discribes her and get sick.

Listen to Dan, CPAS. It only get's worse as the years go on (ex. my grandparents) and no one deserves to live like that. DTMFA while you still can.
Seems like "engaged" is exactly the right moment to reveal this info. After you both are committed (so he's emotionally invested and prepared to listen to the explanation), but before the actual wedding (so you aren't withholding info he might find relevant when deciding to get married).

Your brother will be at the wedding, and in your life. There's no way to keep this secret the rest of your lives. Sit down and explain the uncomfortable reality to your fiance, possibly with a knowledgeable therapist present to help provide context. You were both children, and should not be held responsible. Hoping that the fiance proves himself worthy of you.
@3: I side with Dan on this one. How else do you explain that this guy's willing to stick with an abusive bitch rather than dumping her like I would do? If he feels that she'd ordinarily be out of his league, he's willing to put up with her screaming in order to be seen with her and get some mimsy. If he thought he could get someone as hot as her, her ass would bounce twice on the pavement after he booted her out. And I agree that CPAS should DTMFA. No sex is worth being treated like that.
EW! Why would nature do this to siblings? Genetic sexual attraction couldn't possibly be good for evolution anyway with the increased likelihood that a sibling pair's offspring would carry defective traits on, so WHY?!
Mrs. DePointe: she can't NOT tell him about it, because he would be very angry when/if he finds out about it somewhere else. That kind of omission could end their marriage.
CPAS, you knew the advice you were going to get before you even wrote in. I think you should give yourself permission to take it. Good luck.
I'm surprised LW1's situation doesn't happen more often in those scenarios. Add two unbonded half-siblings together with peak hormonal chaos and this isn't exactly an unlikely outcome. Tell the fiance. If the relationship with the half-brother is normal and healthy now, and the fiance can see that, he should be ok with it.
And CPS you have to know what the right course is, as 11 suggests. I can't even imagine that the therapist hasn't taken you aside and advised you to get the hell out of Dodge. This isn't normal; it isn't healthy; and it's a recipe for a terrible outcome complete with cops and bloodshed. Please get out before you get physically injured or arrested (because if you have to defend yourself and end up hurting her, the onus will be on you to prove that it was self defense). She's a bitch. Worse, she's a crazy, unhinged bitch who sees you as her personal punching bag. DTMFA and RUN. Don't look back.
People do get weird about these things, TSA, though. I was involved with my mom's boyfriend's son at about that age, and they freaked out. No matter that there wasn't any genetic similarity, but just because it seemed 'weird'. But it is true - you stick two 16 year olds together who just met and who get a long well and have a lot of hormones, and well, you shouldn't be surprised at the outcomes.
@9: GSA isn't really a function of being genetically related; it's more a function of general attraction mechanisms that get exacerbated. Despite the "opposites attract" mantra, in reality we're more likely to be attracted to people who are similar to us: shared interests, shared values, shared temperament, shared culture, etc. All of those things are more likely to be present with people we're genetically related to. Which means that were it not for the instinctual revulsion we feel at the notion of hooking up with relatives, most of us would not leave the house.

The Westermarck effect is the mechanism by which that evolution-saving "instinctual revulsion" is acquired. In short, seeing someone raised by the same person(s) that raised you makes them sexually unattractive to you. That's why most people are grossed out at the prospect of kissing/shagging a sibling: because you saw that sibling get raised by your parents.

When genetically related people meet as adults or even as teenagers, there is no Westermarck effect and thus no instinctual revulsion (though there is still societal taboo). So your biology doesn't see that relative as "icky"; it sees that relative as a sexual possibility, just like anyone else. And since you and the relative have so many things in common, sometimes a sexual attraction is the result.

Now couple the lack of revulsion and potential sexual attraction with a teenager's massive horniness, lack of long-term vision, and overall poor impulse control. The results are not that surprising.
Nice boys ask you out on dates. Hot boys spit Jager in your mouth.

Good to know.

OMG, CPAS, seven years ago I could have written that letter. Get out. You're her emotional (& sometimes physical, apparently) punching bag. Your self-confidence, self-image and sanity are worth far more than whatever it is you're getting out of this woman. Get out & don't come back. Ever.
Isn't it kind of a shitty thing to tell someone who's being abused that they must be ugly? And why the assumption that there's a looks gap? Isn't that kind of jumping to conclusions? Lousy advice, other than the DTMFA part, which is a no-brainer.

As it happens, I am acquainted with a stunningly good-looking guy who is married to, and emotionally (and likely physically) abused by a much-less-attractive woman. I have often speculated that she abuses him to keep him in line because she's afraid of him leaving her for someone else, which he could quite easily.

I think it's a bit silly to assume that looks are always an important factor, though. Some people are just abusive pieces of shit, and whoever is unlucky enough to become attached to them ends up being the victim.
not vacation sex, but hella kinky. I once had a baby-producing fuckfest my own half-brother. It's not gross. We didn't grow up together; there's some science. That's the kinkiest thing I've ever done.
Dear TSA,

Have you ever been informed by your partner that they'd been raped?

It would most likely not happen until a fair ways into a stable relationship. Would it really change how you felt about your partner (except in my case to max out my protectionistic tendencies)? In a weird way it validates how important you are to your partner because they are willing to tell you, and put themselves on the line for you. In essence, they are protecting you from themselves, or at least the stigma they carry.

My response was to listen to everything she had to tell me, hug and kiss her through the tears, and let her have her way with me as much as she wished that weekend. Outside of the tears part, same as usual.

I won't lie that it wasn't a heavy burden, it still is. I have had vivid dream flashbacks over the years, always with the same result: I wish there were anything more or better I could do for her. I still marvel that somehow, even as a clueless teenager, I did the right things to allow a normal sexual relationship to thrive for her. A big part of that was listening to what she wanted, and letting her body teach me what I needed to know. My regrets mostly center around being addicted to pot at the time, 'cause I wish I could still remember all of those lessons.

@ 3 - yeah, assuming TSA's description is accurate, the girlfriend is an abusive piece of shit. Everything else is irrelevant.
The behavior that CNAS's girlfriend exhibits indicates she may be suffering from borderline personality disorder.

anyway, CPAS is in a relationship with someone who reminds me of who I was starting to become. I never truly got to the point of physical violence, but I always feared it. I was unfair and overly-needy in relationships and took it out, both aggressively and passive-aggressively, on my partners. I was jealous, insecure, and constantly frustrated. I would get furious over things I sometimes couldn't even identify, and then more angry when my partner would call me out or get angry back.

The road to self-discovery only really started after I was dumped. While I regret not having the opportunity to change during the relationship (there was no frank discussion of my behavior and how it was affecting our relationship), I have no regrets about who I've become and the partner I was lucky enough to snag after doing so much work. I've learned to be much more up-front about my needs, and also to find multiple ways to get needs met. I've learned to express when I'm jealous and to channel it into better actions.

Still working on it all, but I agree that DTMFA is the right action -- for both parties.
Ms Erica - [Hoping that the fiance proves himself worthy of you.]

Just how worthy is that, anyway? I don't fault TSA for the romance at all, but she doesn't seem the stuff of a heroine. The one thing in her plus column, and I'll allow that it's a big one, is her insisting on taking a reasonable share of responsibility for the big kerfuffle. But in the rest of the letter, she reminds me a bit of Mrs Bennet - the dramatization seems similar.

I agree with your first paragraph. As for the wedding, I bow to your superiour knowledge, as I myself am never going to marry. If I were to do so, though, it would seem to me quite reasonable for my HTB to request that none of my exes attend, blood-related or otherwise. I doubt I'd have a second thought about acceding to such a request.

I'll join in a hope that TSA's fiance doesn't find what happened or her sickening, but can't necessarily go much farther. It seems reasonable that he might not think the worse of her for that particular chapter of history while also not wanting the situation to be part of his life, or new insight into her character might reveal to him that they just aren't a match without any fault on either side.

Not that you were doing this, but I've seen a lot of posters recently in various places playing the You Deserve Better card without sufficient support, and anything that even remotely looks like that has been irking me.

I have been in the position of TSA's fiancee when told by a girlfriend about her rape. It kind of came out in a "can you still love me" way. I could, and did.

@22 - PLEASE give me a clue about the path which you followed to transform yourself.

Your description of yourself coincides closely with my own of me. I am you at the point of having just been properly dumped for exactly the same behavior, and the same mental process, as you describe.
With deep gratitude: Thank you.
Sort of hoping that TSA's fiance doesn't have a relationship with the BIL-to-be yet. I can't imagine being friendly/friends with someone and then finding this info out. At least if they have yet to meet, then the fiance can take his time establishing trust. She has to tell the finace though, since everybody in the family found out.
Damn Dan, you missed the boat with this one. Your looks have nothing to do with being abused in a relationship and it was classless to suggest they do. If you meant to say that you though that the LW had (what he thought of as) compelling reasons to stay because he thought he could never find a hotter GF, that still says nothing about the LW's looks.
Do only ugly women get abused, Dan? How about gay guys-are the cute ones protected? Didn't look that way down at the Cook County Domestic Violence Courthouse, helping folks fill out Emergency Orders of Protection.
It doesn't sound like TSA is in an open or poly relationship. Based on that premise, the fact that her brother is still in her life is going to be a problem, possibly a deal breaker.
Continuing relationships with ex-lovers are always problematical at best, particularly if the current lover isn't aware of the prior relationships. Incest makes it an even greater problem. Assuming the prior relationships were public knowledge, at some point somebody will say something and the current lover will find out. Since TSA, rightly, believes her future spouse is going to find out eventually (possibly from her mother) it would be best if he found out now and from her. I do think she was wrong not to have told him before she agreed to marry him. This is the kind of secret that will leave festering wounds.
@3 Personal experience means I'm willing to put £5 that Dan's right on that, mind. If he's wrong, though, the second paragraph stands just as well on its own as with the first.

Re: TSA - man, that's a severely uncool position to be in. Good job, Dan, for going and grabbing someone in a lab coat to get the message across to TSA. @28 - it's hardly a conventional "ex-lover still in life" situation, though. I'd have thought the "fucked up shit happens", when properly explained and understood, would render that a non-issue.
9-Whitness-- Let's take a deep breath and remember what nature is, what evolution is, and how natural selection works. It gets trickier when emotional and behavioral traits such as sexual attraction get thrown in amidst the physical ones, but the principles are the same.

For a review: Nature does not do anything to siblings. There is no commanding force with consciousness. There is no reason. Nothing is "good" for evolution. "Good" is a moral value judgment and therefore a word to be avoided when discussing evolution. There is only adaptive to the environment and not adaptive to the environment, and the environment keeps changing.

It is true that for most mammals including humans, offspring from closely related incestuous relationships is likely to result in deleterious recessives showing up from inbreeding. (It doesn't much matter in, say, fish.)

You asked WHY? Non-adaptive individuals are born all the time. Why Down's syndrome? Why psychopaths? Why educated straight women with no particular desire for children? There doesn't have to be a reason. Natural selection hones and refines, hones and refines again.
I was in a relationship very much like the one CPAS is in - and while there may not be an externally discernable looks gap, I'd bed that CPAS sees one in the mirror: has low self esteem. I did, and I put up with a lot of abuse, which every now and again did get physical. Get out now.
I feel sorry for TSA's mother. Her teenaged daughter got pregnant by an older half-brother who's a product of her husband's affair and forced to live with her, a constant reminder of her husband's affair! And now she's lost her husband AND daughter because she tried to protect her?

There must be more to the story, but if you're reading this, TSA, and there aren't other major reasons to stay away from your mother, maybe reconsider?

Though you're likely to get an earful about multiplying recessive traits and the dangers of incest, few people will note that almost all of our domesticated animals are in some way products of incest. Mating father to daughter and mother to son is a fairly common practice from milk cows to show dogs. Incest doesn't automatically damage genes, it just solidifies and spreads certain traits throughout the species. This can be a bad thing if both relatives have a recessive gene for a genetic disorder, but a 'good' thing if they have recessive genes for a desirable feature. It's not inherently bad or good. Evolutionarily speaking, it may give the offspring an advantage.
...aaand thunk, the thread drops dead.

@ 32--Have you thought of capitalizing on other assets? Or dating not beautiful women? There's real actual people with feelings and longings and stuff inside those unattractive bodies, as you probably know.
21 been there myself-- Allow me a quibble. In my experience, people do not suffer from borderline personality disorders themselves. They make everyone near them suffer while they breeze through life fine. With depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia, even to a certain extent alcoholism, the person with the illness is the identified patient. With borderline disorders, it's the people who love them who go to the psychotherapists convinced that there's something wrong.

So yeah, Dan's advice to DTMFA is good. Dan's guess that the letter writer is ugly might be true, might not be, and is irrelevant. We don't know why people stay in relationships that are obviously bad for them. (Obvious to everyone else.) Maybe this guy hasn't found someone who is as smart, articulate, independent and beautiful without the temper and violent tendencies. Maybe to him the good outweighs the bad. Whatever. He needs to know there's someone better for him out there.
I always wondered how they kept the Brady Bunch kids apart.
I had a remarkably similar situation. I was an exchange student when I was 16 and lived with a family for a year. During that time I came to regard the host parents as my own parents and even came to call them Mother and Father like their own children did. In the household with me was a 19 yr old and a 16 yr old and *surprise surprise* I ended up with a huge crush on the 16 yr old, as he did on me. One night we ended up hooking up, but were stupid and didn't use protection and I got pregnant. I miscarried and the host family found out but they weren't mad at us, just wanted us to be careful. Now 5 years later I still have a good and healthy relationship with him, even though I still call his parents Mother and Father when we communicate.
It is definitely more awkward when you are related by blood but think of it like having a sexy new step-sibling, you know it's wrong but that probably just inflames the hormonal teenage brain even more!
@25: If you want to change, but don't know how, therapy is your best bet. It may take a while to find a counselor you "click" with, but who doesn't coddle you, but the effort will be well worth it. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) may be your best bet. Best wishes to you.
Idunno about this genetic sexual attraction thing. I'm most interested in guys who are genetically not at all related whatsoever, and appear to share no traits with me. I'm average height and pasty White, and the male side of my family is pretty hairy.I'm mostly interested in tall dark skinned Latinos, Asians, and Black guys with less body hair than I have. Basically men who look like they could not be related to me whatsoever in any way.
CPAS has the relationship he needs and wants. He may be pissed and sad but that's only because he hasn't fully accepted his role as her bitch. She needs to understand he wants her in charge and not be afraid to dominate him. Her confidence (along with a hairbrush and crop) will makes theirs a happy home.
@41, Interestingly your personal experiences and life aren't used to explain all of human experience and nature. Huh. Go figure.
There are plenty of "smart, articulate, independent, and friggin' beautiful" women out there who arent also psycho. I should know, I live with one. Don't settle.
There's a good Lisa Kudrow movie about her getting knocked up by her step-brother.
The first letter reminds me of Sleeping Dogs Lie. I mean, does he really need to know?

Unless you're still wanting to fuck your half-brother. Then, tell him now...
@23/28 - for some people, continuing relationships with ex-lovers is a problem. For me and my husband, most of our LTR exes are still close friends. Generally, the blah sex was what ended the relationships, as they evolved into more of a friendship. So, yes, we each had exes at our wedding.

vennominon, I meant that I hope her fiance takes the "There but for the grace of God" attitude, rather than being a judgmental prick. Saying "I hope he's worthy of you" means that in my view, she's a regular person, not damaged goods.

Although, if @5 is right, TSA's panic attacks may show that she isn't comfortable with herself yet, and could use some therapy before she starts building a life with someone else.
Um, and the column's been around for eleven years on the Internet alone. Time causes changes in tone. If a twenty-nine-year-old man starts a writing project, no one should be too shocked when eleven years later he turns forty-one [numbers made up on the spot].
DAMMIT, I mean forty. Still, it's fair game. Commence making fun of me.

@2: I've always been partial to "sloot" myself.

@3: It's not *necessarily* irrelevant: normative attractiveness is a privileged cultural category, and differences in attractiveness are therefore often manifested as differences in social privilege (e.g. ability to attract potential/desired sexual partners) and power. Dan's hypothesizing that CPAS is less normatively-attractive than hir girlfriend because when people put up with emotional abuse, there's usually some reason (generally the abuser is exercising some sort of power/control over the abused), and getting people to recognize what's motivating them to stay in a hurtful relationship can help them dismantle that motivation or exercise of power by the abuser in order to leave. It may NOT be looks in this case, but attractiveness is statistically more likely to be the root of a power differential favoring a woman over a man (vs. things like economic self-sufficiency or physical prowess; of course we don't KNOW CPAS is a man, just that hir girlfriend is a woman, but that, too, is statistically more likely).

@12: Given the stigma around incest (consensual and abusive both), it may happen far more often than we know; as with TSA, most people are not going to be exactly thrilled about sharing this sort of story, even, or perhaps especially, if they view the sex as consensual and not rape.

@41: Genetics predisposes people to certain behaviors; it's never solely responsible for them, as all of them are contextualized within (limited by, enacted within, and understood through) a certain historical-cultural frame (for example, people have genetic predispositions to eat about as much food as is necessary they burn off, or possibly more if they come from a genetic population acclimated to areas with long fallow periods for which they would have needed to stock up on calories, but that doesn't mean that people don't 'diet' or develop aversions to food for socialized/cultural/personal history reasons; people have genetic predispositions to engage in partnered sexual activity and probably with more than one partner, but plenty of people are asexual, have low libidos, and make and keep monogamous commitments). Saying "people generally have a predisposition toward sexual attraction to people who are similar both genetically and personality-wise" does not mean that it's true for everyone, nor that there's anything "wrong" with people for whom it's not true. Given that most aspects of human identity are culturally inflected with power differentials and sexual preferences are often related to power differences/power exchange, an attraction to people who are in some way "other" is actually pretty common - the most common example is probably an attraction to people who are differently-gendered than oneself (gender is a major source of differences in power/privilege, after all; there may be genetic predispositions at play here, too, but if so, they are also strongly culturally-reinforced).


Don't DTMFA right away. Find some other women you like to see you with your current "gf". Talk to them. Get to know them a little bit. THEN dump your GF, and say "She just didn't seem like the person I should spend the rest of my life with. What are you doing on Saturday?"

Hot chicks make you attractive to other women, so take advantage!

And, as a general note from an averagely-attractive guy, I've never (well, not since I got out of my incredibly shy/creepy stage) had any trouble having hot girlfriends - so long as I meet them in places where we get to know each other personally. At the bar, not so much. But yes, averagely attractive guys CAN have attractive girlfriends, so long as you don't act like an insecure jealous asshole, which is a huge turn-off.

He probably doesn't need to know.

But she needs to know he knows. That's the only way she'll be happy in the relationship.
@34: Protect? "tried to physically prevent me from getting an abortion" sounds like protection to you?

Me thinks that last entry was about a borderline woman.
I don't think CPAS is necessarily ugly, or even less attractive than his bitchy girlfriend but I'm sure there is some kind of imbalance there. Maybe he's a low-status man (which, in the het world, Dan, doesn't necessarily mean physically unattractive - as it does for women and gay men - but maybe something like nerdy, poor, unambitious or passive). Low-status men have problems finding partners and CPAS may be reluctant to give up on this miserable relationship for the same reason he may have rounded his girlfriend up to 'beautiful'. He may fear this is as good as it's going to get.
I agree with the people who say you missed it here, Dan... My own brother is like CPAS.. he's in a marriage with a woman who treats him like this when they fight, including the physical hitting. They both are head-turners.
Confused, Pissed, and Sad/CPAS: Your GF sounds like a classic narcissist. I'm currently in therapy to get over the years of abuse my horrid narcissistic mother heaped on me. LEAVE THIS WOMAN! Narcissists care nothing for anyone else--they continually need their own feelings validated and egos constantly boosted by the dupes who hang around them. (And they're good at duping--most narcissists are attractive and charming people, so it's easy to get sucked in by one.) Narcissists manipulate those around them, cutting them down, invalidating their experiences and feelings. They're all around horrible, horrible people. And therapy NEVER works on them, because as far as they're concerned, they're perfect; the problem is with everyone else. Get out now.
@47 My premise inferred a monogamous relationship and nothing TSA wrote would indicate otherwise. A friend can become a lover, but can a lover become just a friend? People are divided on the issue. Only with respect to a closed hetero relationship, once you have been intimate with someone there is always some risk, given the right set of circumstances, of becoming intimate with that person again. Certain boundaries have already been crossed. I assume both of you were honest about the nature of your relationships with your exes before getting married. It is one thing to know in advance what you are getting into and another to have its sprung on you as a surprise sometime in the future. Prior knowledge alters the dynamic. Some people argue that the past doesn’t matter, which is true when the past is truly the past. However, is that really true when you have a continuing relationship with an ex?

To those of you who used rape as an analogy. The basic flaw with that analogy is that unless a child results from the rape (the father sometimes has certain legal rights) the victim doesn’t normally have a continuing relationship with the rapist.
As a conversation starter, TSA could watch John Sayles's Lonestar. It's a good movie with a bit of a half-sibling thing at the end.
@21 - Yes, me too. And that is exactly what I thought, but just that letter is not enough to go on for a diagnosis, huh?

Also on TSA: I can relate, a little. I remember one girlfriend, to whom I was deeply attracted, and found the same kind of electricity with both her sister and mother. Of course, I never went there! I think this is way more common than people like to admit.
The therapist we're seeing takes my side, but still nothing gets better.
Uh ... CPAS, you've got an ineffectual therapist who's not getting the message across to her. Why? Because your bitch of a partner is pretending to be DEAF, so that she doesn't have to alter her behaviour.

Get out NOW before you get even more damaged.
@3, @8, and others above -- yes, it's a little shitty to speculate about CPAS's looks when he's already in a bad situation. But I think there's something you're missing (and which I think was part of Dan's intended, albeit not so successfully worded, meaning): that this is the calculcation that CPAS' abusive partner is making, consciously or unconsciously.

I don't think Dan is endorsing the economy-of-looks paradigm ('if there's a physical attractiveness differential between partners, the more physically attractive has extra bargaining power'). I think he is exposing the kind of calculations that go on in CPAS' abusive partner's mind, so as to help him do what probably is the most difficult step, namely, to fall out of love with her.

Now, of course it's possible that CPAS himself is terribly attractive (someone upstream wrote about such a situation, in which a handsome guy is abused by a less attractive woman) and that the causes are in some other source of insecurity rather than his looks. Still, insecurity there must be, to explain why he doesn't get rid of such an obviously abusive partner. Somewhere, somehow, CPAS is doing the math wrong ('I'll never have such a wonderful/beautiful/smart/independent etc. woman in my life, because I don't deserve to, and if I got this one it was sheer luck, so I should stick to her'). And CPAS' partner is making the complementary kind of calculation ('I'm with inferior here. Why on earth am I doing that to myself? Let me punish him for revenge!'), which allows her to keep her insecurities under control ('I'm still pretty, because I can abuse this guy and still he won't go away! Yay!').

Unfortunately such calculations, consciously or unconsciously, still often go on in relationships. Again, I don't think Dan is endorsing it as much as exposing it (in this specific case).

FDNY provides limited information about her situation. Were they in a closed or open relationship before she moved away? How far away did she move? How much regular physical contact does she have with the BF? Is he taking the trouble to visit her and vice versa? Is she still in grad school? What are the career opportunities in her field where her BF lives? What is the BF status? Is he is in college or grad school? Does he have a job or started a career? How mobile are his skill sets? Could/would he be willing to relocate to be with her? Will either of them want to stop screwing around once they get back together, if they do? The list of variables goes on.

Long distance relationships are difficult to maintain even where there is exclusivity. The longer the separation lasts the harder it becomes, mainly because you are no longer part of the other person’s life. You have less in common when you no longer have shared experiences. People can’t control their emotions and proximity breeds intimacy. To assume that neither party will form emotional attachments during the separation is naïve, particularly once sex is added to the mix.

The boyfriend did not agree to an open or monogamish relationship, only (complete?) freedom to screw around while they were apart. FDNY does not say what, if any, boundaries or ground rules were established. While they had a relationship before, they will have to reintegrate (reconnect) each other into lives that have diverged. Without additional information, the best FDNY can expect, if and when she returns, is (at least initially) some form of friends with benefits arrangement. Traits and behaviors that were accepted or ignored while they were together may be annoying or worse after she returns.

I've been there - or in a *very* similar place - where my partner would yell and get upset, but at the slightest sign of animation (in conversation) from me - be that a raised voice, speaking more quickly, etc. - she would accuse me of getting "aggro" (as in aggravated), etc. Attempts to remain calm were then met with "Stop patronizing me!"

There wasn't a looks differential between us, and things were say, 80% good in the relationship. Good enough to try to work on it for a couple of years.

The thing is: it never got better. It actually got worse, including leading to her physically assaulting me (which crossed the line, and I promptly DTMFA).

All I can say is: you've tried to work on this, you've tried to affect change, but it appears clear that there is no motivation for her to change her behavior - if she hasn't done it yet, it's probably not going to happen. So DTMFA is probably the right advice.

After that happens, there are liable to be lots of promises of change, but tread carefully, because if she didn't change before, and change is being foisted on her (she's not changing because she wants to, but because she has to), lasting change probably isn't likely.

Trust me when I say that there are other awesome, intelligent, articulate, and beautiful women out there. And if you don't find them, they may find you. Just keep being yourself and have fun - those two things will make you the most attractive guy in the room.
@50: Nice!

I once worked with a political reporter who would never tell what a politician's political affiliation was, presumably to undo decades of partisan rancor, which is a noble motivation, at least superficially.

I suggested that perhaps she shouldn't name the politicians, either, lest she trigger pre-conceptions. For that matter, maybe leave out what they said and did, too, just to be safe.

Or maybe replace gender-specific possessive pronouns with one, non-specific one, and in doing so remove the false dichotomy of gender and sex from the lives of all who read it.

I've been there - or in a *very* similar place - where my partner would yell and get upset, but at the slightest sign of animation (in conversation) from me - be that a raised voice, speaking more quickly, etc. - she would accuse me of getting "aggro" (as in aggravated), etc. Attempts to remain calm were then met with "Stop patronizing me!"

There wasn't a looks differential between us, and things were say, 80% good in the relationship. Good enough to try to work on it for a couple of years.

The thing is: it never got better. It actually got worse, including leading to her physically assaulting me (which crossed the line, and I promptly DTMFA).

All I can say is: you've tried to work on this, you've tried to affect change, but it appears clear that there is no motivation for her to change her behavior - if she hasn't done it yet, it's probably not going to happen. So DTMFA is probably the right advice.

After that happens, there are liable to be lots of promises of change, but tread carefully, because if she didn't change before, and change is being foisted on her (she's not changing because she wants to, but because she has to), lasting change probably isn't likely.

Trust me when I say that there are other awesome, intelligent, articulate, and beautiful women out there. And if you don't find them, they may find you. Just keep being yourself and have fun - those two things will make you the most attractive guy in the room.
@58 Plenty of people in monogamous relationships have no problems with being friends with or simply being in the same social circles as previous lovers. Like everything else, just because some people make a mess of something does not mean that other people cant do it right.
To say that "given the right set of circumstances" people might get back with the ex, is no argument at all. Given the right set of circumstances people cheat with friends they have know a long time and never before slept with or with total strangers. Following that kind of reasoning, everybody should lock themselves and their significant others in a box and never come out again.
@51 (biggie): you've just summarized my life experience (down to also having had to escape a 'creepy' phase). Yes, it is possible for average-looking people of both sexes actually to have 'hot-looking' partners (if that's what they're looking for), by simply allowing personalities to meet. Of course, we shouldn't want to ignore someone whose personality is quite compatible on looks alone... but I suppose you weren't implying that.

@60: I was once witness to a situation not unlike TSA's (except that I was friends with the 'half-brother' boy, so I saw it mostly from his perspective, and his half sister didn't get pregnant), and I was once (while I was travelling abroad) in a situation not like @39 above, with a host family I called 'father' and 'mother'. Yes, I do think such things happen a hell of a lot more often than most people think, and we just cover things up in shame.
@8, @30, and @55:

I think @62 put it very succinctly.

There was a time for me where, despite knowing that I could find "someone" else, I thought the abusive person I was with was the person for me.

A lot of this had to do with my dating history: I am fairly particular and hadn't been a good fit with the people I had dated before. So when my new partner came along and things were 80% good, that was a lot better than previous relationships, and I thought we could "get there from here." Especially because I know that all relationships take work and compromise. Well, I was wrong...we couldn't get there from here.

The lesson I took away was: Don't settle. Yes, things take work, but things should also feel natural. And if you're getting beat up (verbally, physically, emotionally) and are unable to communicate effectively with your partner, something's wrong.
@58 - "I assume both of you were honest about the nature of your relationships with your exes before getting married." Yes, we both knew the sexual history with our partner's exes before we got married. And so did most of our friends, since we were all from the same circle of college friends.

"It is one thing to know in advance what you are getting into..." Right - TSA should tell her fiance now, before they get married, so he understands that he is joining a family with this awkward (but not immoral) history.

@67 - exactly!
CPAS and other men being abused, be aware that if your girlfriend gets hurt in one of these "physical encounters" she could call the police and you could get arrested and charged. The police are much more likely to believe that a man hurt a woman than the other way around. Happened to my friend's son, girlfriend tried to hurt him, missed and fell. She called the police, etc, etc. He was very, very lucky to not go to jail.
CPAS, learn from my experience: I was you many years ago, and did not dump the woman in the beginning, when I knew I needed to. Four and a half years of terrible, heart-breaking and destructive fighting ensued. Finally I found the courage, in spite of the love, to dumped her. Four years I cannot get back. Four years that could have been spent with the right woman whom I eventually met and married.

I bet your girl never does that stuff when other people are around and is probably trying to isolate you from people in your life that you care about.
I don't know what your living arrangements are, but the next time this thing happens, which probably won't be long, just say to her the following: "I think it's time you leave".
Barring that, you can say, "I think it's time I leave".
After that, fucking don't engage her in any conversation - other than to tell her you'll drop off whatever she claims to have forgotten to take with her.

"I think it's time you leave" - say it with me.

I did not say this years ago when I should have and I am telling you now my friend: get as far away from this person as possible, as soon as possible and stay that way.
Well, let me pile on again CPAS - do what @73 is telling you to do, but when you do, be prepared for a blowup - and take the advice of @71. Ideally be someplace with witnesses. I had to flee on foot, and it was not easy.

That is one bizarre situation, but I think Lieberman's advice is sound. If a prospective mate admitted a story like that to me I think I'd be stunned, but it wouldn't be a deal breaker. Just another version of "Well you're not screwing him NOW are you?!" I'd accept it and move on.
CPAS: I was in a similar situation. The relationship ended in violence. I called the police. They arrested us both. The only thing that saved me was that I was bleeding, with torn clothing, obviously beaten on and she wasn't. So, uh, get the fuck out. Now.
I hate bullies. As a gay man, I've always been leery of them. I thank God for your It Gets Better video message. Hopefully it will inspire others to look farther down the road past the bullies and onto a better future. For that you deserve a world of respect, my only question is how or why you chose to become a bully too. I read your comments about Marcus B., and it seems so stomach-churning that I couldn't believe you had said those things. You fell pretty hard down on my respect-o-meter today.
I thought people would be discussing the nonmonogamy letter since those are often very popular, but instead there is a lot of controversy over CPAS's letter which I felt was pretty mundane. Interesting.
@58: It's plenty possible for lovers to become friends. I just spent an evening with a group that included my first lover, his current girlfriend, another former lover of mine, and his wife and kid. We had a great time. And over the course of that vacation I spent an evening at the home of each of those lovers with no problems or boundary-crossing at all. I'm still close friends with a number of my exes -- I typically spend Thanksgiving with one of them and her family. It's not that unusual.

@60: I've made out with both a parent and their child, completely separately, without either knowing about the other. Nothing serious with either, and to this day they don't know and are never finding out.
I doubt TSA has read down here - or read comments at all - but in case she or anyone else in a comparable situation could use an opinion:

I've seen some documentaries on GSA and the Westermark effect online before, and if a partner told me about something like that in his past I wouldn't think badly of him at all. Dan said it best: there but for the grace of god go I.
@TSA: I agree with Debra Leiberman, too. I hope it all works out for you. And no, I don't think you're sick; just confused as a teenager. If you're engaged, I also agree with others in that you really do need to tell your fiance about the situation with your step-brother, however in your past. At least you'd have a clean slate and could move on.

@57 AliC99: I second that! OMG!!!! CPAS sounds like he's dating my older sister, a direct cross between Queen Victoria and Mother Teresa (first she gives you her middle finger for NOT just absolutely worshipping her and giving her everything you have, then cries that she needs to lie down from exhaustion)! CPAS---leave the witch already!!

Thanks again for another great column, Dan!
I was in a relationship where I was not very nice, kinda like CPAS' relationship. I never hit him, but I think he thought I might in the future. Thing is, he was an unbelievably attractive man. An idiot, but very attractive. He would drive me insane with his narcissism and ego. He had such low self-esteem that he would overcompensate to the point that I was repulsed.

Yes, I was an asshole, but so was he, in his own way. I take responsibility for my actions, especially after he dumped my ass, which took me a long time to recover from. I thought that I was doomed to be this way with all my relationships: an asshole.

Really, we were a horrible match. I do not act like that in my current relationship, because we are better suited for each other. My current man is not afraid to accept his faults, does not try to hide them. I can respect that, and therefore, respect him. I found with a lot of soul-searching that I should never be with someone with low self-esteem because I would probably make it worse, while pissing me off in the meantime. You live, and you learn.
14 and 27 and whoever else is blaming Dan for pointing out the extreme likelihood of 'look differential.' The guys letter made it very clear his 'hot' girlfriend was a fuck dream cum true for him which was the source of her power over him. Dan's answer was dead straight on. Men will put up with batshit crazy bitches if they think that is the best they will ever get...

As for Sis, your family drama is very sad and unfortunate. If future hubbies gross-outness is in any way religious based you might point out this little passage:

Genesis Chapter 20 is a hell of an interesting read:

Abraham (yeah the patriarch of both the muslim and jewish faith) said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’

12 (Abraham said): She is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.

This is really no big deal and hardly unexpected. Given all the 'broken' and hybrid families out there consider this a public service- the people need to know. Thanks Dan!

Interesting answer on Google also. Amazing how much has changed in such a short period of time.
I learned so much from this column. As a straight man with only a male sibling, I always wondered how brothers weren't attracted to or at least curious about their sisters.
@58 and the trauma of rape,

I used rape as an example of a traumatic incident that placed me in the position of TSA's fiancee. I wanted to express the similarities with the timing and the extremely negative self image burden carried by the women. And I wanted to convey my acceptance and support to ease that burden for my girlfriend. Given all the circumstances, especially my being a frequently stoned idiot, it still seems a miracle that I helped her to find a vibrant sexuality.

This is a case of needing an editor to look over what is written and ask just what I meant. I think her fiancee will accept TSA's history and help her make the best of the situation. I think she should learn to trust him, he does want to marry her.

TSA, you have nothing to be ashamed of, and if your fiance is a decent guy, he will be able to handle your story and not think any worse of you for it. Definitely tell him now, so both of you have a chance to deal with it before getting into all that wedding-planning and wedding stress.

For what it's worth, I know at least a few people who have had sex, or sexual encounters, with their first cousins. Depending on how the genes get tossed around, they could be just as closely genetically related as half-siblings. I don't think it's abnormal for people to have that kind of attraction, with or without a Westermarck effect to help explain it. You have nothing to apologize for here. It happens. I'm glad you don't feel like you're forced to be a victim in this situation. When other people (e.g. mom, relatives, whoever) react as if you are one, that can be much harder on you than whatever prompted their reaction in the first place. However, keep in mind that your mom and others might be traumatized by this discovery, and wouldn't react in a completely rational or understanding manner. Maybe there's a limit to how much they can be blamed for that, you know? When getting married, it might be a good time to let go of some of that, if you can.
CPaS, the list of qualities you really want in a woman--"smart, articulate, independent, and friggin' beautiful"--is missing most of the good stuff that's important for a relationship. If you dump this one (which I agree with Dan, you should!) and move on, it will do no good if you're looking for the same list. How about substituting things like, "kind, generous, caring, good to me, communicates well, can laugh at own mistakes, doesn't take offense easily", and other qualities in that vein?
also a bit perplexed on the advice to CPAS and the whole looks thing...but either way, it aint worth it to hang with a psycho bitch no matter how hot, articulate and smart she is. totally DTMFbiotchA

Oh do please continue with your closing argument. I so desperately want to hear more about that. Not as a troll; I promise I am only curious to read more of your thoughts on all you mentioned there.
Dump the MF woman, for sure! But I think Dan is off-base saying this is only about looks. I have seen relationships where the woman is fat and ugly and the guy looks like he could do much better, and yet still gets abused. Who knows why these guys love the bitches, but they see or need something we don't.

But if he is reading and he thinks that she is using her looks to get leverage over him, this guy should not just DTMFA, he should dump her and date fat ugly nice girls for a while (just take them out, don't break their hearts). That'll teach her.
Re Sister act, simple stuff print out what Dan wrote and hand it over with a note on the bottom with the words "Let's Talk this is me" if he goes berserk then time to dump him... shit happens.
@31 is full of BS, Miss 90. "offspring from closely related incestuous relationships is likely to result in deleterious recessives showing up from inbreeding. (It doesn't much matter in, say, fish.)" First, you need to have deleterious recessive genes before you need to worry about incest causing genetic problems, and even then, you odds are only 1 in 4 for a brother and sister with the bad gene to both pass it on to their child, and 1 in 8 for half siblings, one in 16 for cousins. The main problem with inbred folks is if the family has a distinctive look or other physical features, the resulting child will probably have those features in a more exaggerated form (e.g. the Habsburg chin. But the Habsburgs were inbreeding the royal houses of Spain France and Austria for many generations before they produced an idiot. And it only takes one generation of outbreeding to undo all the inbreeding that could possibly be done in 100 generations)
I'm amused by FDNY's through-the-looking-glass take on long distance relationships. In most cases, the agreement the two participants make goes something like, "I promise not to fuck anybody else" (with the unspoken part being "but if I meet somebody wonderful enough, I will break up with you honorably.") In her case, it's more like "I promise not to break up with you, but if I meet anybody wonderful, I promise only to fuck them honorably."

The sad part is that both of those promises are equally unenforceable. Bottom line is, _any_ relationship is subject to replacement under the right conditions. Long-distance relationships are particularly vulnerable to this, and someone who goes into one expecting otherwise is setting himself up for a painful surprise.

That said, if the two of you do make it all the way through grad school, get back together, and still find each other to be partner material, more power to you.

Oh, and what Dan said: in a nutshell, don't go breaking any hearts of unsuspecting folks who might consider themselves potential (replacement) mates.
To CACS: Stop using mealy-mouthed language like "These fights sometimes end in physical confrontations that she instigates." If the reality is that "she hits you," then say that, without qualification. Otherwise it sounds like some share of the violence belongs at your doorstep. This will eventually land you in jail while she skates.

Meanwhile, don't wait for the next incident. Take her somewhere public, dump her ass there (don't try to do this at home), and get the hell away from her.
@85: Yeah, it's weird. There's this intense physical feeling of revulsion and nausea that comes up whenever I even think about anything sexual with someone I grew up with.

I agree with everyone who thinks looks have nothing to do with CPAS's situation. I don't even think his girlfriend is that attractive; it's just in CPAS's head. I've been in similar situations and I look good. It's just insecurity and low self esteem. CPAS needs to DTMFA and find a good individual therapist.

I don't know why TSA is panicking. It's just not a big deal. No one decent would care. She reminds me of those people who are terrified of their incredibly weird and kinky fantasies of spanking someone...
@94: FDNY's take makes a lot more sense to me... it's hard not to fuck other people, easy to stay with someone you care about.

And yes, a promise to stay with someone is enforceable. You don't know when someone else has sex but you know when they leave you. So you can make it difficult for someone to leave: say, set up an agreement that whoever leaves the other person loses money, or gets beat up. Or social sanctions.

That's actually one of the purposes of marriage: by making it difficult for either person to end the relationship, you encourage people to stay with it instead of leaving.

Your past doesn't negate everything that made your fiance fall in love with you and decide to marry you. If he truly loves you, your story won't change his feelings. If it does, better to break things off now. If you stay together, you'll both go through fucked up times and make mistakes after you get married too, and hopefully you'll stand by each other. When you love someone, you take them as they are, flaws and all.
"She is exactly what I've always wanted: smart, articulate, independent, and friggin' beautiful."

Looks like you get to add a new item to the list of things you now know you want in a partner: the ability to care for your feelings as well as her own.
I have to disagree with everyone including Dan on CPAS. What it sounds like is that CPAS is incapabale of rising to the occasion of exerting influence to counter manipulate his GF.

The first tragedy of dumping his GF would be the lost opportunity of learning to deal with the situation already, and secondly he would lose the opportunity of learning how to manipulate other girls like her.

His GF probably simply needs someone who can rise to the challenge of counter infuluencing her by using the same tactics against her.

Think of it as an exercise in intellect. You have to dominate her by messing with her values and worldview. Good luck.
@100 - your second paragraph is more or less exactly what my therapist did with me when I was involved with someone I believe was a BPD sufferer. Without the bit about 'counter manipulating'
As to why CPAS would put up with her, there doesn't have to be a looks disparity. He could just have low self-esteem and/or a distorted view of his own desirability. All that is necessary for someone to stay with an abuser is for the abused to believe they can't do any better or that they deserve the treatment.

I forgot to mention that manipulation should be used strategically, and not by default.
Thats what distinguishes a GOOD leader from a psycopath.

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