Should I be upset over my girlfriend's relationship with her male friend?
April 3, 2011 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Am I just being oversensitive? My girlfriend shares an apt with her cousin (male) whom she calls her best friend. I feel like the relationship is kind of creepy and closer than any best friend situation I've ever seen. He calls her 3-4 times a day, just to check in. She waits until late night to eat dinner with him even though she gets home at 5. They do everything together.

Until recently (first 2 months), she couldn't tell him about me because he's very codependent and he would get jealous. I'm not allowed to come over if he's there, and I can not stay over (I live an hour away). In fact, I've never met him.

She finally told him about me, and he says he's fine with it.

But their history is odd: he would fight with her if he didn't get to spend time with her and if she had other friends; he tried to hurt himself in front of her because he was depressed about their relationship; he didn't speak to her for weeks because I went on vacation with her instead of him (they have vacationed previously, but his schedule did not allow it this time).

In the distant past (previous years), they had helped each other through difficult breakups and personal troubles. She admits he is co-dependent but won't push him to do anything about it. She has toyed with the idea of getting her own apartment, but hasn't decided.

In the meantime, my schedule with her is often determined by what she has to do with him, when they eat, etc. I have to be quiet when she speaks to him on the phone, for fear that he'll know I'm around.

I know there are two sides to every story, and I know their past connections and bonding make them very close. But this has really been bothering me.

Maybe it's me.
posted by antipode12 to Human Relations (68 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Not you; this is a wierd situation by any reckoning, not just yours.
posted by killdevil at 5:16 PM on April 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

It's definitely not you. That relationship is totally out of whack.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:16 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's not you and HE is not the only co-dependent person in this relationship.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 5:17 PM on April 3, 2011 [23 favorites]

Not you. This is weird.
posted by amro at 5:17 PM on April 3, 2011

Definitely weird. You're going to have to push back. I'm not saying an ultimatum, but tell her that she doesn't have room for both of you in her life as it stands right now, and that you need more of her than she's able to give with that guy demanding her attention. It sounds like he's kind of emotionally abusing her, really.
posted by elpea at 5:18 PM on April 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Nthing that this is extremely weird.
posted by queens86 at 5:20 PM on April 3, 2011

It was not very long ago that cousins did marry. He might have some Ideas.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:20 PM on April 3, 2011 [9 favorites]

It sounds like the cousin has some pretty serious mental issues - this is not your fault. Whether she's his caretaker or his enabler or somewhere inbetween, you will probably be sharing her life with the cousin indefinitely. It's probably tougher for her than it is for you, but regardless, you have to decide if the relationship is worth it for you.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:21 PM on April 3, 2011

It's not you.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:21 PM on April 3, 2011

Wow. Are you sure she is ready for a boyfriend?

Any romantic situation where you have to be quiet while your gf or bf is on the phone - so that they can hide you! - is not healthy for you to participate in.

I don't think you should continue with this relationship. She's not in a good place, and even moving out won't fix her values or choices where someone (you) in the bf role is concerned.

So sorry.
posted by jbenben at 5:22 PM on April 3, 2011 [26 favorites]

It's not you, it's her.

Having said that, people's lives are complicated and things are not always on the inside the way they look on the outside. If she can admit this situation is abnormal and work with you to move it closer to normal, I'd probably be OK with letting that play out.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:25 PM on April 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Nothing about this situation is healthy or normal. You need to find a way to discuss this openly with your girlfriend and prepare yourself to deal with the consequences. It is unfair to both of you to let this continue as it is.
posted by Go Banana at 5:25 PM on April 3, 2011

You are never going to be in first place if she has you hiding your presence. His jealousy is more important than your feelings. Very, very few things are worth this. Get out, this is very, very unlikely to improve.
posted by 8dot3 at 5:25 PM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Are you sure he's her cousin?
posted by Nickel Pickle at 5:27 PM on April 3, 2011 [43 favorites]

he's not her cousin, he's her boyfriend. she's cheating on her boyfriend with you. she went with cousin because she thinks you'll split if you found out she was having an affair with you.
posted by radiosilents at 5:27 PM on April 3, 2011 [120 favorites]

Sounds like you're only a few months in, so I'd cut my losses now if I were you. Are you even sure she has fully told her cousin all about you? Anyway, this is a weird, weird situation to be in and it sounds like there's too many years of emotional baggage to even begin to sort though. I'd end it as soon as possible.

On preview, radiosilents brings up a good point. Whether it's her actual cousin or it's her boyfriend, get out now.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:28 PM on April 3, 2011

This isn't much different than having an unreasonably overprotective sibling or crazy parent. I had an extended family member start fasting in protest because her daughter was dating a guy who wasn't Indian and they found out about it from a friend of a friend. She dumped him eventually but he was lame anyway.

Not worth it. It's weird.
posted by anniecat at 5:32 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

It would weird me out (and I'm assuming that this is legitimately her cousin, and not her boyfriend she's not telling you about).

What matters is that it's bothering you. I don't think you're being oversensitive, but really, all that matters is that it's bothering you. You need to decide what you want to do about it, but don't try to convince yourself that your reaction is invalid.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:34 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not allowed to come over if he's there, and I can not stay over (I live an hour away). In fact, I've never met him.

She lives with him, you can't stay over, and she won't let you meet him. My first thought was, "He's not her cousin, he's the boyfriend, and she's two-timing him with you."

She's probably bored with him, but doesn't want to change her living status until she has something else lined up. So "cousin" is what she's going with here until she sees how things go with you.

If you stay in this 'relationship,' don't be surprised if she wants to move in with you soon because her 'cousin' is just so unreasonable or other such nonsense.

Personally, I'd advise you to run. My gut says she's manipulating you both.
posted by misha at 5:34 PM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you want to resolve the "is he really the cousin" question being raised here, you might want to insist on meeting him. If he is actually her SO, he surely won't tell you he's her cousin. And if she's telling the truth when she says he says he's okay with your relationship, why wouldn't he be okay with meeting you?
posted by J. Wilson at 5:44 PM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

radiosilents brings up an interesting idea to think about.

But you know, even if they are just cousins, he's still more or less her boyfriend: her primary relationship is with him, not you.
posted by Jehan at 5:45 PM on April 3, 2011 [9 favorites]

Creepy. Run.

You sure he's not her live-in boyfriend? Sounds like it.
posted by Neekee at 5:48 PM on April 3, 2011

In fact, I've never met him.

Ask to meet him! Let us know how it goes!
posted by Greg Nog at 5:59 PM on April 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

You're in a relationship with three people. Apparently he outranks you in the relationship. If this is something you can't accept, then you need to make her your ex-girlfriend. I don't think you are out of line to be upset at all.
posted by inturnaround at 6:05 PM on April 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Here's the thing: this would be creepy and wrong with anyone. That is, if this was her sister who she had to clear things with and hide you from, it would be weird. If this was her dad, it would be weird. If this was some random guy who had decided to camp out permanently in her bathroom it would be... well, extra weird.

The operative word in "SO" is significant. You are at best second rank in this woman's life. Either get yourself promoted or get out.
posted by SMPA at 6:15 PM on April 3, 2011 [9 favorites]

This situation is too weird for this to be the whole story. Either they are way too codependent, or it's actually her boyfriend

either way, I'd like a follow-up on the gray!
posted by radioamy at 6:18 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

We do not know all the details, but I can promise you that after this is over you will wish you had run away earlier. Now is your chance to do that, run away as fast as you can.
posted by BobbyDigital at 6:27 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

So many red flags here...I'm with the rest. Get out now.
posted by SisterHavana at 6:32 PM on April 3, 2011

I read this question aloud to my girlfriend and she interrupted, saying. "that's not her cousin."
posted by jayder at 6:41 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you for letting me use the word 'crazypants' for the second time today.


She is not in an emotionally healthy relationship with her cousin, so there is no way she is in a healthy relationship with you.
posted by Vaike at 6:44 PM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

My ex-girlfriend used to look after a 19 year old guy four hours a day. He was intelligent, but he had a range of mental issues and showed similar dependent behaviour to your girlfriend's cousin. She asked me to spend some "guy time" with him a couple of hours a week and in that time it became clear that he thought of her as his girlfriend and that he tolerated me only because she asked him to. He became increasingly hostile to me over the next few months until she "broke up" with him. He also had certain routines, enforced by tantrums or threatened violence, that began to affect our relationship (phone calls at specific times each day to check up on her, etc.). I know nothing about mental illness, but this situation sounds similar to me.

Other comments:
The phrase "co-dependent" implies both parties are dependent on each other.
You're far enough away geographically for this to be a convenient lie - i.e. she's seeing someone else.
Whatever the case, this doesn't seem healthy.
Don't send her any money.
posted by doublehappy at 6:47 PM on April 3, 2011

Not healthy. Leave.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:49 PM on April 3, 2011

I'd talk to her and say it's weird and that there needs to be progress made towards more normalcy.
posted by empyrean at 6:58 PM on April 3, 2011

"that's not her cousin."

See kissin' cousins, and kissin' kin.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:08 PM on April 3, 2011

Yuck! RUN! Think about the kind of person it takes to be part of this duo. This is a two-parts set making one completely disfunctional whole. If this is what she thinks is normal and fun, are you willing to be him? Will it make you comfortable & cozy that she puts her entire life on hold for your arrival and will want to spend every waking moment with you? SURE, it may sound nice now... It's like the proverbial guy married to his Mom. I'd tell a girl to steer clear; I'm telling you this only gets messier too.
posted by Ys at 7:10 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

he would fight with her if he didn't get to spend time with her and if she had other friends; he tried to hurt himself in front of her because he was depressed about their relationship; he didn't speak to her for weeks because I went on vacation with her instead of him . . . my schedule with her is often determined by what she has to do with him, when they eat, etc. I have to be quiet when she speaks to him on the phone, for fear that he'll know I'm around

All of the above sounds controlling, verging on emotionally manipulative or abusive. Consider this: how much of it is him controlling her, and how much of it is her controlling you?
posted by Orinda at 7:22 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Show up unannounced. This thing needs to be lanced.
posted by fleacircus at 7:25 PM on April 3, 2011 [13 favorites]

Should you be upset? You ARE upset.

Is this what you want? It appears no. So why are you still with someone who refuses to give you what you want?

Suggest dumping her permanently, no second chances, TOMORROW EVENING.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:32 PM on April 3, 2011

The least disturbing possibility is that he's actually her boyfriend, and she's cheating on him with you.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:35 PM on April 3, 2011 [47 favorites]

Show up unannounced. This thing needs to be lanced.

Best suggestion in this thread. Pay a visit for some very very innocuous reason ("a friend who lives hereabouts asked me to return some books he lent me").
posted by jayder at 7:39 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is weird. Run away, run far away.
posted by zippy at 7:42 PM on April 3, 2011

I really appreciate everyone's input. It's good to have it simplified from the outside, sometimes.

To be clear -- he *is* her cousin. I've met her father. Seen family pics.

He *is* a headcase. No question.

My read on it had always been that they depended on one another as "surrogate significant others." They both came from messy breakups and/or family situations. They did everything together (I knew her from before we were together) and I've even said to her during tense conversations that he is her *husband*. It's the only label where all the behavior seems to fit.

I always figured that in an actual relationship, she'd be able to let go of her need of him. And to a degree, that has been true.

Anyway, my concern is that *she* doesn't see the problem. She tells me that I'm being overbearing -- that I won't let her have *her* life. That she wants to spend time with him sometimes, too. I don't know -- it's easy for me to get lost in the excuses and think I'm overanalyzing it.
posted by antipode12 at 7:58 PM on April 3, 2011

And to add a little more context -- ever since she told him about me (two weeks ago), she says his behavior has changed. He's been much less possessive.

Nonetheless, some of the attachment issues have not ended.
posted by antipode12 at 8:11 PM on April 3, 2011

Do you want to be in a relationship where you play second fiddle to somebody else? Where you have to be quiet while she's on the phone with him? It's not right. As much as you may care for her, she cares for somebody else more. You need to have a real talk with her about it, and if she's not willing to let this guy drop to no. 2, I think you have your answer.
posted by defcom1 at 8:14 PM on April 3, 2011

It sounds like a good deal of the issue isn't him, it's her. I'd say run if you can, and if you can't, you need to get her to walk away from the cousin for a while. Almost nothing that you described sounds normal to me.
posted by markblasco at 8:23 PM on April 3, 2011

You need to meet him asap. No excuses from her. Be nice and try to be his friend too. It'll never work if she doesn't let that happen.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:24 PM on April 3, 2011

Seriously, read over your question, and try to imagine a friend of yours explaining this situation to you. Is there any chance that you wouldn't tell that friend to break up with her immediately?
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:25 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

my schedule with her is often determined by what she has to do with him, when they eat, etc.

Sounds like it's time to turn up unannounced with a cold six and a large cheese pizza, and not leave until you've drunk them all and eaten every last slice. "Oh yes, my friend, we are going to get to know one another."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:45 PM on April 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

She has a really twisted idea of what is normal. Where does she get that? I really dislike her attempts to make you second-guess your reactions to it, which are mild considering how you've been treated.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:53 PM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Um, surrogate SOs with your cousin, or any blood relative, really? Not normal. At. all. It's one thing to be BFFs with a family member, but SOs implies something totally different. This is going to sound silly, but this kind of reminds me of the episode of The Office (US) where Erin has a creepy relationship with her foster brother and it makes Andy uncomfortable. I honestly don't know if I would stay with someone who ever fostered that type of inappropriate relationship, even if they were willing to modify it.
posted by elpea at 10:00 PM on April 3, 2011

Run. Run far. No one needs this crap.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:55 PM on April 3, 2011

"I always figured that in an actual relationship, she'd be able to let go of her need of him. ... She tells me that I'm being overbearing -- that I won't let her have *her* life."

This totally isn't your problem. This is you picking up the ball and handing it to her because she's not getting it. Now you're stuck holding and you don't want to put it back down and she's telling you you shouldn't have picked it up in the first place.

"But this has really been bothering me."

Also, in all this mystery, you're not being listened to and your relationship needs and concerns aren't being addressed. And it sounds like you're not going to be able to make her understand that. Bottom line, you don't sound happy enough to warrant sticking around.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:27 AM on April 4, 2011


This is seriously getting weird. Very, very weird.

But failing that, you need to put your foot down and ask her to decide if you really are a SO to her or not.
posted by titantoppler at 3:50 AM on April 4, 2011

Your girl is allowing this behavior to exist. Red flag, man.

posted by hal_c_on at 5:01 AM on April 4, 2011

It's not you, this is not a normal situation. Let me enumerate what strikes me:

1) Your girlfriend is in an extremely close emotional long-term relationship with a person who is not identified as her SO. You are 'officially' her boyfriend but she is having an intense emotional affair with an other. Unless you have specifically discussed polyamory in your relationship the conflicts of interest between you and the other will cause tension in the relationship.

2) Your girlfriend is in a co-dependent relationship with a "headcase" by which I assume he is suffering from a mental illness or personality disorder. The cousin is extremely possessive, manipulative, and seems to desire to isolate your girlfriend from her friends and SO. She is enabling and encouraging his dysfunctional by adapting her and your lives to his desires. If he really is a "headcase" he need to receive professional, competent treatment or your girlfriends is hurting him rather than teaching him adaptive and coping skills.

3) Your girlfriend is in a relationship with her close cousin that is considered highly inappropriate in western, internet-using cultures. Even in other countries such a close relationship with a close blood relative is abnormal and in some cases taboo. A widely used cultural deprecation is to suggest that in the culture romantic cousin-pairings are common. See: "kissin' cousins" which is used to disparage impoverished Southern culture to increase solidarity in privileged cultures. The reason for this revulsion is the risk of harmful genetic stuffs happening in offspring, so cultural taboos against cousin-pairs is pretty widespread. While this is not inherently harmful, her "husband" relationship with her cousin will be widely considered wildly inappropriate cross-culturally.

4) Your girlfriend is somehow manipulating you to accept a very strange and inappropriate relationship as if it was normal. There is a possibility that the way you have brought up the issue and discussed it isn't productive and could be described as "overbearing," but if you are getting "lost in the excuses" that isn't a good sign. There must be compromise in a relationship. It isn't possible to spend a lot of close, bonding time with another person without picking up that person's traits, especially if it is reinforced through functionality over time. The traits displayed by her husband uh, cousin are most likely present in her. Threats of self-harm, passive aggression, and extreme jealousy are accepted part of the most important relationship in her life. These manipulations are part of her interpersonal relation toolkit and will be present in her other interpersonal relationships.

Any one of these points would make a juicy ask.mefi but combined it's the perfect storm. I hope the number of internet-people saying it's not you convinces you that you are in an abnormal and possibly harmful situation.

tl;dr: OMG, DTMFA + GTFO!
posted by fuq at 7:31 AM on April 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

You want this situation to change.
Does she want this situation to change?
Does he wants this situation to change?

Unless you all can clearly envision a future relationship dynamic that works for all three of you, somebody's going to get dumped. Who is it?
posted by aimedwander at 7:44 AM on April 4, 2011

Damn, brother. I've been in your shoes. I was in those shoes for longer than I'm comfortable admitting to—but long enough to know that there's nothing you can do about this. Her cousin could decide to get help and start normalizing his relationship with your girlfriend; your girlfriend could decide to conjure up a backbone and start setting healthy boundaries with her cousin. You, unfortunately, are limited to one of two choices: stick around and wait, or cut your losses and depart.

I stuck around and waited. I don't recommend it.
posted by Zozo at 8:19 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Anyway, my concern is that *she* doesn't see the problem. She tells me that I'm being overbearing -- that I won't let her have *her* life. That she wants to spend time with him sometimes, too. I don't know -- it's easy for me to get lost in the excuses and think I'm overanalyzing it.

Well, she's pushing back on you because she doesn't feel she can do it to him. So she calls *you* overbearing when it's clearly *he* who has the issues and set these odd ground rules that makes her feel like she has to cut out any other substantial opposite sex relationship she's had in her life.

I think you've gone above and beyond what's called for as a boyfriend and if she doesn't see that what breaks up her relationship is this weird exclusionary relationship she has with her cousin.

Maybe they'll break up one day, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it.

Good luck.
posted by inturnaround at 9:08 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

As much as it might sound like a workable plan to show up unannounced on a unilateral mission of preemptive male-bonding in an attempt to enact some sort of 'regime change' in your girlfriend's apartment, you might just end up further radicalizing the population. Ok, that was an unfortunate metaphor, and I apologize, but the point stands that in general, going against your SO's explicit wishes is as likely to cause new relationship problems as help current ones.

Seems to me like the first order of business hear is to find out how your GF envisions things going forward, ideally. Is she happy with the status quo? What parts of the present arrangement do and do not work for her? How much longer does she think you guys can go with you being kept so separate from a big part of her life? Does she eventually see some sort of integration happening? What does that look like in her mind? Ideally, how would she want you to be handling this?

Consider this entirely a fact-finding expedition. Don't try to get any point across, don't be confrontational, and try not to get frustrated. You don't want this to become an argument, because your girlfriend can't truly think critically about her unhealthy relationship with her cousin when she's defending it/herself. Instead of making a counterpoint, try to pin-down/clarify what she says with statements like, "ok, so what I'm hearing is [x] / what I think you're saying is [y]." Don't editorialize with your paraphrasing. Stay calm, even if you don't like what you're hearing.

Wait a day. This conversation should give you a lot to think about, and hopefully, her too. If she doesn't want her relationship w/ her cousin to change, it's not going to, and there's not a lot you can do other than tell her she's great, you really like her, but that right now, she doesn't seem to have enough room in her life for the kind of relationship you want, and that it'd be best if you went back to just being friends for now. If she does want to start establishing boundaries with the cousin, your conversation the previous night should give you some ideas of where that should start. Maybe it's pizza and beer. Maybe it's time for her to start spending nights at your place, so that the cousin can come to his own conclusion that he'd rather have both of you around than neither.

It seems like one of the things she gets from their relationship is some structure - someone she can count on to have dinner with, even if she has to stay up late for it. Someone she can feel safe letting her self depend on a bit, because she knows he needs her more than she does him. If that's the case, try to plan things out with her ahead more. See if she wants to go see a movie next Tuesday, or get a reservation at a new restaurant you want to try. Maybe get some friends involved, and start doing weekly bar trivia night at a local dive. If she feels like you're someone she can safely count on, she might have an easier time letting go of her safety blanket cousin.
posted by patnasty at 9:20 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jeez, didn't realize how tl;dr my post had gotten. In short: talk to the gf, ask her questions about how she wants your relationship to proceed w/r/t her cousin, without arguing your position at all. Marinate on that overnight, talk again, using what you learned to plan your next move.
posted by patnasty at 9:27 AM on April 4, 2011

Just as a data point, I dated with a woman who was a live-in caregiver to her severely retarded brother. Her brother also had some anger and possessiveness issues. There were no real problems dating her except it was hard to schedule dates sometimes. Being a caregiver does not entail being crazy yourself.

The relationship you describe sounds like it's going to end in some sort of weird Chinatown confession ("He's my cousin.. he's my husband!"). It's not just you.
posted by benzenedream at 11:11 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's clear from her reaction, as unfair as it is, that she thinks this is normal behavior. I'd show her this thread, if at all possible. Not a single person thinks her situation is normal.
posted by timoni at 8:21 PM on April 4, 2011

This reminds me of the movie Cyrus
posted by evilelf at 10:42 AM on April 5, 2011

Again, I'm grateful to all of you strangers who have given some very thoughtful time to me.

Not much has changed except that we plan to talk tomorrow about some of it.

We spoke today, though, and she began explaining something else.

My girlfriend's only brother died years ago in an accident (as an adult). She explained to me that she, her sister, and even her father, see the cousin as a sort of surrogate brother. (The cousin came into the picture later in life... as an adult.) And so they all are very close with him partly because he reminds them of the brother.
posted by antipode12 at 4:28 PM on April 5, 2011

This whole scenario is no less weird because of the surrogate brother angle. Focus on the behavior not what may or may not have caused it.
posted by benzenedream at 1:45 AM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Most people don't have relationships like that with brothers either. It doesn't really matter what family label she puts on it, it's codependency. Is he like a brother or like an SO? Those are not the same at all.
posted by elpea at 1:06 PM on April 6, 2011

(The cousin came into the picture later in life... as an adult.)

This makes it weirder.
posted by amro at 6:57 AM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds far too weirdly intense and your position is lowest on the rung. It won't be your fault at all that she can't form meaningful relationships until she deals with her issues with this man. ( cousin or otherwise ). It's definitely not healthy for you.
posted by Boris14 at 10:14 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

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