Alpha dog: not just a Justin Timberlake movie.
Q: My brother has apparently struggled with substance abuse and depression for a number of years, and recently stopped trying to hide the worst of his troubles from us. 2010 has been challenging for everyone in my family, to say the very least. My boyfriend recently "reached out to him" against my wishes (Mere, on FACEBOOK CHAT nonetheless!) -- I knew my brother wouldn't take too well to it -- he's pretty private and he and my boyfriend are not close at all. Also, my boyfriend's a bit of a self-important social worker and I was afraid he'd reach out to make himself feel better, not to actually help my brother. My boyfriend's account was that the chat went well but he admitted that my reasoning behind asking him to not "reach out" by "relating his similar troubles" might have been true. I was a little peeved he'd actually done it, but ultimately felt OK with it.
I went home for a visit a few weeks ago and my brother and I talked about their chat. My brother politely said he didn't appreciate the "reaching out" but had played nice because he knows my boyfriend isn't a bad person. Then he began ranting about my boyfriend's alpha tendencies. Now, this is a part of my boyfriend's personality I don't like either -- it seems to be a situational thing, if you can believe me: setting up a tent site with a group, etc. Regardless, I haven't been able to get past the revelation that my family might actually dislike my boyfriend for the same reasons I think he's less than perfect. For most of my relationship with my boyfriend (3 years), my family has indicated that they liked him. I've shared the fights and the doubts and the drama that comes up occasionally, and early on my Dad suggested I not "close off any doors," but I've never gotten the feeling anyone had strong feelings about the matter. I really can't understand why this matters so much to me because my brother is an insufferable cynic, dates an at-times unpleasant person himself, and disappears from my family months at a time without apology. While I can't really envision letting their opinions influence my life to the extent I'd break up with someone (and not least of all with a caring, well-meaning if not misguided guy), this still hits me in an uncomfortable way. Nobody's perfect. Why should confirmation of that matter so much?
I'd like to move past this. We're going to my family's home for a weekend soon, and I'm really nervous. How do I resolve this?
– Maine Transplant, Maine
A: Like your brother (and you), MT, I'm a bit concerned about your boyfriend's alpha tendencies. It's one thing to get bossy in a group of people who are trying to set up a tent. It's another thing to take it upon yourself to contact your girlfriend's depressed/addict brother without your girlfriend's permission.
He can be a jerk all he wants when it comes to the little things, but when it comes to the important stuff, his desire to care for you as your equal and empathetic partner should be stronger than his desire to be a big shot. Your family loves you and wants to be sure that you come first. You want to be sure, too.
Right now you're not sure what your boyfriend is capable of. That's why you have that weird feeling in your tummy. He admitted that he might have behaved selfishly, but does he regret meddling and putting you in an uncomfortable position. Does he get it?
When you're sure that he gets it, in general, you'll care less about what your family thinks, and they'll probably get better vibes about the whole situation. You're uncomfortable because your family is a mirror. I know, super annoying, right?
Readers? Am I right to say the letter writer is uncomfortable because she fears her family might be right? Can a big-shot alpha ever learn to put others first? Is it possible the brother is expressing strong feelings because he’s also an alpha? Discuss.
Your bossy beta,
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.