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PLS assuage my guilt about refusing to beat my head on a cold shoulde
January 19, 2013 6:01 PM   Subscribe

My brother assumed the worst about why I didn't attend a family event out of town. He wouldn't return my calls or texts to just talk about it. Other members of the family insist I should keep trying to 'get through'. I feel like I never deserved his anger and I don't deserve his further disdain. Help me stop torturing myself about it.

My brother has always kept his gf/wife and her extended family separate from his 'original' family (he had told me he did so deliberately because he was uncomfortable about the idea of our parents meeting hers....I told him he was being ridiculous, but I didn't make a big deal about it and we have never really been close and I just didn't really care). He has repeatedly let me know that I will be invited to something, and I never hear anything about it and then I hear the event has happened and he just decided not to have any of our family there. He and his gf missed events associated with my wedding (i.e., he was supposed to be an usher but was nowhere to be found when the time came). I have just let all this slide all the time - it was obvious he had other things going on, and I just didn't really 'need' him. I also became pretty disillusioned about the possibility that we might get closer as we got older. It seemed to me that we had a nice, non-committal acquaintance, and I resigned myself to that.

He has undergone a change since his first child, calling me more often and getting our parents to meet his wife's, etc. It was a little strange so suddenly, but I just rolled with it and enjoyed the extra interaction. Oddly, a few months ago, he announced to me that he expects me and other out-of-town family members to visit him from now on, since there will be no traveling with a kid. (Odd because he hasn't visited in me in years...are we visiting now???)

Then a few months ago, I turned down a recent invitation from my brother's in-laws (in a polite way, rsvp'ing and sending a gift) and thought no more about it; it was an out-of-town event for me and I couldn't travel at the time. My brother got really angry and assumed the worst as to why I couldn't make it (he sent me angry text msgs and sent emails to my mom and aunt saying horrible things about me). I tried to talk to him about it after the fact -- we live a day's drive from each other, so I called him twice and texted him -- he never replied*. I never got a thank you or even an acknowledgment that my gift had arrived (except from Fedex).

This was upsetting, but I realized that I was more upset to think that my mom and aunt thought badly of me, that they too misunderstood what had happened (because they would have had no information from me). Well, they did think badly until I told them what I had actually done and then I felt like they were just trying to be neutral about it. It was hurtful to me that they had believed my brother at all; it still really boils me up that no one reacted like, "Why would she do that? Are you sure you're understanding what really happened? Let's get her on the phone and I'm sure there's a good explanation for all this." Nope, they had just 'stayed out of it' according to them. They said I 'should' have called my brother personally beforehand to let him I couldn't go (even though they agree that this type of consideration would a) not have been necessary in the past and b) would never have been proffered by my brother). Both my mom and my aunt had been comforting overall when I talked to them, but later I have gotten emails asking if I've tried calling him again. Their argument is that I will miss out on my new nephew (whose arrival no one told me about; I found out on Facebook like their 20000 closest friends); I am not swayed by the nephew argument and I feel like mom and aunt also think badly of me for this too.

Can I just stop trying to fix this? In the first place, I never did anything 'wrong'. Unfortunate circumstances kept me away from the shindig I turned down. And he has been nothing but shitty to me since it happened. I honestly think I should avoid talking to him for a looong time because I am so angry now myself. But these little naggings from my mom and aunt keep me from just putting it all to bed, and it makes me feel alone and unloved that they're not supportive. I'd angrily tell them off about it, but I know then I will just feel even worse.


*In the past, he has refused to return calls from my parents when they bother him (and he says he deliberately leaves his voicemail box full so that he can honestly say he doesn't get messages. So I don't think that his not returning my calls is an oversight or a mishap. He also purposely doesn't have an email address or any kind of social networking, so that he can also honestly say he doesn't get those kind of messages.)
posted by Tandem Affinity to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Send him a letter in the mail apologizing for not attending the event, and leave the ball in his court. Then nobody can fault you for not trying to communicate.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:12 PM on January 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can I just stop trying to fix this?

Yes. You responded politely by RSVP'ing, decided to be extra nice and send a gift, and then when he responded rudely you reached out through calls and texts. You also checked in with your mom and aunt to smooth out the family-wide misunderstanding. To at least some extent, they're all acting as if his behavior was reasonable--and you really can't work with that. You can't do more.

A letter in the mail is a fine option if you really want to go the extra mile, but I think you've done plenty and your family has shown that they're just not going to be reasonable about this. Your mom and aunt may be prioritizing their connection to the new baby over your feelings. Your brother is just plain acting unreasonable and mean. I'd let this go. Know that you made a good faith effort and shift your focus to people who are kind to you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:28 PM on January 19, 2013 [22 favorites]


You know you've done nothing wrong, but you're still upset because your brother thinks you've done something wrong. You're giving power to his opinion of you.

For a silly analogy, let's pretend that your brother thinks that you dyed your hair green, and is all upset with you for it. Would you torture yourself about that? Of course not. You haven't dyed your hair green, so you have nothing to feel bad about. In fact, you might wonder what is going on for your brother, that he is mis-interpreting reality so much. Either way, your conscience is clear and you just opt out of making his drama your drama.

I'm not sure how to handle things with your family, but that's how I'd handle things in your own head.
posted by (F)utility at 6:32 PM on January 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


Don't blow up at your Mother and Aunt. Just tell them "Look, I feel Brother acted weirdly about *event*, I didn't do anything wrong. You know he's always had weird issues about family contact, I'm just going to leave the ball in his court for now."


Your brother is trying to manipulate and control your behaviour. You are an independent adult with every right to turn down an invitation for any reason you see fit. But he wants you to only act in ways convenient to him. It sounds like he is good at pulling the strings of your other family members too.

Keep your distance from people like this, family or not, and resolve to only deal with them on your own terms.
posted by Catch at 6:36 PM on January 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, no. According to my reading, your brother has decided to open up and include/join the two families together and have them meet/socialize, etc, after a looong perod of reticence in this regard. And, according to my reading, he decides exactly how everyone should respond to any invitation he sends out. Soooo, if you now have any reason not to attend the invitation he so graciously and uncharacteristicly has sent, or don't otherwise act exactly as he expects, you suck.
Well, I have a bit of a weird family, at least half of them are angling for some way to be offended/otherwise insulted because of a thing a "normal" person might do (like RSVP "no" to an invitation), so I have experience with my own family's brand of this behavior. I'm past 50 now and have decided some time ago that this crap is just crap; you sure can't fix whatever their problem is, nor can you read their mind and the new face they've decided to put on relationships.
My tactic is to be nice and pleasant as possible and always treat everyone with the greatest respect. And just be glad they have LESS inclination to involve you in their fuss and muss because there is no way you can meet their expectations anyway. Freedom!!!

Can I just stop trying to fix this?

Yes. Permission granted
posted by bebrave! at 6:40 PM on January 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've dealt with a family member acting really despicably, and other family members acting as if such behaviour couldn't be possible and that the fault must really be mine.

When it's just one family member acting poorly toward you (and really, seriously, this was absolutely not your fault) it's OK to cut off contact until they come around. He's not contacting you, so this should be easy.

Tandem Affinity: "it still really boils me up that no one reacted like, "Why would she do that? Are you sure you're understanding what really happened? Let's get her on the phone and I'm sure there's a good explanation for all this.""

I really feel for you- that's messed up. If your other family members are willing to buy your brothers' narrative and not even check in with you, well, I would just go about your business and not give a damn about what they think.

Life is far too short to have anything to do with people who treat you poorly.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:41 PM on January 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


Sounds a bit like my own relationship with my brother, which various family members have tried to "help" me with. The key is to push back in a "brooks no discussion" kind of a way.

For example, when a parent says to me, "you should give your brother I call," I tend to reply with "I'm not calling him. He should try being not such a shitty brother." My pissed off tone and the fact he is kinda shitty and everyone knows it, tends to convey a "discussion closed" vibe. When a parent has tried to push it in the past, I simply say, "You don't get a say in how much I talk to him. I don't tell you to call people. Keep this up and you'll have two children that won't talk to you." That shut them up.

Nowadays basically no one asks me to contact my brother.
posted by smoke at 6:46 PM on January 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Help me stop torturing myself about it.

One of the toughest things I have struggled with in therapy is that I cannot manage the behavior of my family members, or get them to treat me more appropriately. All I can do is manage my own reaction to it.

From your description, it sounds like your brother has gone from being controlling by refusing contact, to being controlling by micromanaging family contact. You don't have to agree to this, you know.


Life is far too short to have anything to do with people who treat you poorly.


Amen.
posted by ambrosia at 6:46 PM on January 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


One of the toughest things I have struggled with in therapy is that I cannot manage the behavior of my family members, or get them to treat me more appropriately. All I can do is manage my own reaction to it.

This. This. A thousand times this. You cannot control what anyone does, says, or feels. The only thing you can control is how you react and feel towards their actions. Your brother is acting shitty towards you just as he always has. He's being crappier by bringing your mom and aunt into it. They may allow him to manipulate them, but don't let him manipulate you through them.
posted by patheral at 6:56 PM on January 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


My brother has always kept his gf/wife and her extended family separate from his 'original' family (he had told me he did so deliberately because he was uncomfortable about the idea of our parents meeting hers....

I would guess there is something deeper going on here-- perhaps that your brother is ashamed of them, or of your side of the family, or of himself in some way and fears someone would reveal something about him to his wife's family.

He's finding any possible excuse to keep you all apart, and none of them hold water, and it's interesting he seems to be trying to discredit you even with your own family, as if he fears you especially.

At this point you have little enough left to lose that I think you should confront him directly and ask him what he's really so afraid of, and tell him to stop lying about you if he knows what's good for him.
posted by jamjam at 7:16 PM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't explain yourself or offer any more excuses to your mother and aunt. Tell them, if they bring it up again, that you don't want to have a debate about it - your brother has your number, and if he has an issue with you, he is an adult and he can tell you himself.

Why should they expect you to fall all over yourself trying over and over to "get through to him"? He's not a teenager. No one needs to cater to him if he's sulking and complaining behind your back. He can behave like a grown-up, pick up the phone, and get through to you if he really is upset about something. Tell your mother and your aunt that: "He can call me."
posted by citron at 7:24 PM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of my brothers is an amazing, warm, loving guy who always thinks of me when he has something wonderful to share. My other brother is so involved in his own stuff (serious stuff, not Vanity) that it never occures to him that other people have other shit. He blames me for trying too hard and 'ruining' things, he blames me for not doping everything in my power and 'ruining' things.

It's freaking tired.

Your brother doesnt want a real realationship with you. He wants things to magic into some perfect fantasy, and wants it to be your fault when it doesnt happen. Do yourself a favor and realize that all of his changing the rules and his hurt feelings are exactly the same as his insistence that his inlaws and your immediate family stay seperate: he is trying to call all the shots. This isnt a game you can win.


Stop trying.

It's not your job. Your job is not to be a jerk. Your job is to leave the dood open a crack so he can slip into being a decent dude later with minimal shame. Continue to send gifts, polite responses, generous invitations. If your family gets on you because of his weird behavor? Say 'oh, that was so strange! He must be terribly stressed. Lets not talk about it and embarrass him.' And change the goddamned subject.
posted by Blisterlips at 7:25 PM on January 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


If your mom and aunt pester you again about calling your brother, tell them you will as soon as you receive a Thank You note for your gift.

You have been more than polite. Put him and his new family behind you.
posted by francesca too at 8:25 PM on January 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Oh man, I've been there. My brother is a self-involved dick and it has only increased as we've gotten older (we're currently both in our thirties). And my mom still lays the guilt trip on me saying "You should call your brother. It hurts my heart that you don't have a relationship." And I tell her that he should stop being a jerk to me (and my husband and my child). I decided I was fully done making any effort at communicating with him when I texted him to wish him a Merry Christmas and the only reply I got was berating me for texting so early in the day when he was in a different time zone for work.

Stop making the effort. Fill your life with people who care about you and don't waste time on those who don't.
posted by chiababe at 8:26 PM on January 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Your mom and aunt are nagging you because you let yourself be nagged; your brother doesn't give them the time of day, so they direct all their angst at you.

You can tell them to direct their angst at its source, that it's not your problem, and that you'd like for them to stop stressing you out by treating you as a proxy for the actual problem child.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:37 PM on January 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


If it makes you feel better at all, I imagine the reason your aunt and mother are trying to get you to keep trying is that they really do know that you're the more "reasonable" one and are counting on you to make this right. This happens all the time in families, friend groups, workplaces, etc.

Of course, that's not fair to you and you are absolutely right to decide you don't want to play along with his bullshit.
posted by lunasol at 8:46 PM on January 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Aside from agreeing with the above, this:
he announced to me that he expects me and other out-of-town family members to visit him from now on, since there will be no traveling with a kid.
is a pretty clear indication to me that this is about his need to orchestrate the terms under which he has interactions with his family, because (and I say this as a dad of 3) that is some straight up BULLSHIT, yo. No traveling with kids? Are you fucking kidding me?

I wish I could say this will get better, but if he's already making proclamations about how is loyal subjects will pay him obeisance at his manor because - alas - his sole heir is too fragile to travel, well, good on ya for making whatever effort you're willing to, but clearly you shouldn't put yourself out too much.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:37 PM on January 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


That event you missed --- was it for Brother's wife or kid, or for Brother's in-laws? It does make a difference; while you would be expected to be polite when encountering Bro's in-laws, they are not YOUR family: they are HIS family, and expecting you to attend an event a day's travel away from you for people you have no connection to is asking a bit much. Plus, assuming you told whoever invited you that you would be unable to attend, Brother has NO basis for his anger..... if his in-laws invited you and you politely RSVP'd your regrets to them, you're covered.

To be totally honest, I'm not sure if your brother has a serious problem or if he's simply a jerk. He refuses to communicate with you AND he purposely makes it damn near impossible for YOU to communicate with HIM; he chooses to shun his family except when he wants to manipulate them against each other; he seems to consider himself the be-all and end-all of the universe and expects the world to revolve around him. Enough!!

* Tell your mother and aunt that you will NOT discuss Brother with them any more, and stick to it. If they bring this up again, tell them ONCE that it's between you and Brother, not them, then WALK AWAY every time they bring it up. EVERY time, without exception.
* Brother's refusal to communicate is completely unreasonable, and you would be totally justified in dropping him. I'd bet big bucks he DOES have an email address (and is on facebook), but --- just as with his purposely making it impossible to leave voicemails --- it makes him feel powerful and in control to refuse to let you know what that email address is. Fine. If he wants to hear from you, let HIM contact YOU.
* His refusal to travel 'now that he has a kid' is just another symptom of this self-centered refusal to communicate. It is indeed quite possible to travel with kids! This is, again, just another way of controling other people.
posted by easily confused at 1:51 AM on January 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Absolutely, you can stop trying to fix this. You have more than done your part already and the ball is in his court. From what you've said here, it sounds like he has his own issues, perhaps involving his wife's family, that you might not know about. (The fact that they did not thank you for the gift you sent shows that a lack of manners if nothing else. That kind of rudeness never makes life easier. I'll bet it's the tip of the iceberg.)

It is interesting to me that your family are pressing YOU to be the one to reach out for the sake of the new child. Presumably your brother should also see the value of that family connection. If he doesn't, there is not much more you can do to persuade him.

When your mother or aunt ask if you've tried to contact your brother, you could reply something along the lines of "Not since the last e-mail/phone message/whatever, which you already know about. The ball is in his court and I am respecting his right to decide whether to return it or not."
posted by rpfields at 2:44 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your brother sounds unhinged. And your mother and aunt are completely wrong for "remaining neutral" when somebody is being abusive and manipulative towards you. You've tried several times to reach out to him for something that you are not even in the wrong for. You can stop trying to fix it, because you haven't done anything that you need to fix.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 3:50 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


"In the past, he has refused to return calls from my parents when they bother him (and he says he deliberately leaves his voicemail box full so that he can honestly say he doesn't get messages. So I don't think that his not returning my calls is an oversight or a mishap. He also purposely doesn't have an email address or any kind of social networking, so that he can also honestly say he doesn't get those kind of messages.)"

You officially have my permission to stop feeling guilty and stop engaging with this person, whose behavior is, by my objective and disinterested assessment, totally manipulative and abusive at worst, totally weird and inconsiderate at best. You were polite and generous when you responded to his invitation and he decided to be a jerk right back; you were polite again, so now there's nothing else for you to do.

If anyone else in the family bothers you about it: "I reached out to him several times and did not hear back. If he wants to be in touch then he knows how to reach me."
posted by zdravo at 11:08 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nthing that you should stop trying to fix this AND that you should stop talking to your mother and aunt about it. You already tried to fix it and when he wants to accept than and talk to you, he will. And while you don't need to angrily tell anybody off, asserting to Mom and Aunt that you have already made efforts to amend the situation and are respecting his boundaries, and that you'd rather not drag them any further into the middle of it, would be an okay thing to state. (Sounds nicer than what you're probably thinking, right?)
posted by sm1tten at 1:27 PM on January 20, 2013


There is nothing like reading 21 slightly different but all sane views on the situation, from a group of objective readers, to start to squelch the irrational bad feelings I've been having. I feel I will refer back to all your answers again and again, but for now, I am feeling much calmer about it.

Meg_Murry, thank you for pointing out how my mom's and aunt's need for connection with the baby is probably having an effect on their actions -- something that seems obvious to me now, but helps with the 'why don't they care about me' feeling.

rpfields, your point that my brother should also recognize any importance of my connection to his family (but still won't speak to me)is helpful in facing the argument that my nephew 'needs' me and thus I should do everything possible to fix things.

Blisterlips, your note that my job is merely to leave that door open will be really helpful when I try to decide what to do or say in all settings where this is an issue. As I said, it is really tempting to just blow up about the whole thing but I also know that I would regret it. I like the 'door open' image as a mantra.

Thank you all for taking the time to think about my problems....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 2:34 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Glad it helped, Tandem Affinity.
posted by rpfields at 1:49 PM on January 21, 2013


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