Recently my cousin broke up with her boyfriend so suddenly she’s started hitting on mine. He thinks she’s too skinny so I know he’s not interested so that’s not my problem. But I have an issue with her doing it in the first place. My sister wants me to forgive her and move on because of what happened to her, but she’s always letting people off when she shouldn’t. Aren’t I disrespecting myself if I’m letting my cousin get away with that?
Wow, did you pack a lot into a relatively short question. Impressive. I believe I may be able to literally reply in bullet form, sentence by sentence:
You don’t say whether she did the leaving or whether she was left, but it’s no huge surprise that your cousin is hitting on your boyfriend because she’s very likely to be experiencing some combination of lonely and insecure feelings about her romantic future. She’s on shaky ground psychologically. She’s been pointed toward thinking very weak and feeble thoughts about herself and unfortunately she’s not aware she can shift them. Fortunately she didn’t opt to turn that small feeling into anger, instead she’s seeking self esteem from the outside in and she’s using charm to try to fish for it.
Of course that plan won’t work—self-esteem can only come from the inside. You can help a bit with some compliments, but you can relax about her behaviour because her actions have almost nothing to do with you. Who the guy is or who he’s dating is irrelevant. It probably just means you have a kind and caring boyfriend. She may be looking for solace and your boyfriend may be kind, but if he’s not attracted then no amount of flirting will have any affect.
“He thinks she’s too skinny so I know he’s not interested so that’s not my problem.”
There’s a great example right there of how easy it is to put something out of our mind if we believe that’s where it belongs. If we really believe something we give ourselves the freedom to not think about it. So you have no trouble not-thinking about a potential attraction, but you do have trouble not-thinking when it’s about boundaries and rules and respect. That’s actually helpful. That helps point to what kinds of thoughts tend to get you going in unproductive directions. All this said, if you got sick and you lost a bunch of weight, he’d stick with you, right?
“But I have an issue with her doing it in the first place.”
For this to have aroused your sense of hearth and home makes sense. But after you feel those first rumblings, that’s your sign to check in with your thinking to make sure you’re not expanding or compounding a problem by thinking pointless thoughts. So have your initial reaction, but then use what it shows you so you can examine the situation from a even wiser perspective. In most cases you’ll realize no words or actions are required, just understanding.
“My sisters wants me to forgive her and move on because of what happened to her, but she’s always letting people off when she shouldn’t.”
Forgiveness is never a bad bet. And as for your sister being too lenient—we each have to be ourselves. We all respond to slightly different stimuli based on our early experiences, so she would say you’re too harsh. We’re all some combination. We’re flexible, we’re changeable, our lives are enjoyable, but even at our healthiest there is an us. We are defined by our preferences. Your sister seeks something like peace or accord whereas you seek something like certainty or rightness. Neither is right or wrong, they’re just different and each route suits a different traveller. It’s easier to be a peace with different personalities if we can see they got that way the same way we got our personality.
“Aren’t I disrespecting myself if I’m letting my cousin get away with that?”
You could choose to look at it that way. Or you could choose to see that you’re a big enough woman to be able to understand what’s really going on. Sure, act if you feel it’s actually required. But this can be a great test of you psychologically. If you can learn to see her sympathetically—to know you could be or might be just like her some day—then you’ll have grown spiritually. Because we’re all human. And when we feel especially separate and needy, that’s when we’re all at our worst.
It’s up to you how you choose to feel about your cousin. If your boyfriend finds it irritating then you can stick to activities for just the two of you. If you find it too irritating, same thing. But the Dalai Lama and Bruce Lee agree: vexatious people are opportunities to hone our spiritual abilities. They work to keep you off balance and it is your job to remain on. I’m confident in your abilities.
If you do try to scare her away try to do it from a place where you’re really considering where she is after the breakup. It will help you find the most constructive language to communicate a challenging idea. I’m sorry that this is where you find yourself dear letter-writer, but it is by moving through these experiences that we develop a comfortable familiarity with being off balance—something people will later refer to as grace.
I’m not saying you have to like the behaviour. But if you liked her before then you’ll probably like her again. Who knows, maybe even more if she’s extremely grateful for your generosity while this is going on. Either way, it sounds like you have a nice solid relationship. And dealing with this other issue’s about to make you a wiser, bigger person too. Congratulations. You can’t lose.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.