How do I deal with being the brother of an angry virgin?
March 1, 2009 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out how to deal with being close to a musical genius brother whose inability to get laid has led to outbursts that are traumatizing my parents and me.

Every Saturday night or so, my dear old dad picks up the phone and it's his son, Eddie. Eddie is frustrated and ranting because he's a virgin in his late 20s, and his odd social ways are not getting him any lovin'. Eddie is also a musical genius who loves funk-jazz fusion artists, and when there's a piano for him to commandeer at a party, people's heads will turn to find this unassuming little guy pounding out this abstract blues that is like something from outer space, and I mean that in a good way. But because of Eddie's obsessive artistic purity, rather than using music to meet women, he coops himself up, devoting most of his hermitude to writing mid-1980s-style video game soundtracks that are only appreciated by a small, retro-obsessed Internet community of, like, people in Sweden whose preferred operating system is Amiga Workbench.

It has gotten to where I want to either pay some nice sex worker in downtown San Francisco to seduce him, or forcibly become his manager and make him come up with a live act to meet women, so that he will stop making my poor mom suffer with his piteous and unnecessary cries of loneliness. Dad's tough; mom has really been through it over this.

For years, Eddie has indicated interest in the live music plan, but has been maddeningly passive about doing this or anything to change his life. He is active, however, in wrenching pity out of my mom over his hundred-percent rejection rate by women. It has gone on for years and I am trying to build a healthy wall of separation between his feelings and mine while trying to see if there is anything I can do to help. Being a less close-knit family isn't an option; we pulled together to make sure Eddie got through childhood problems that another kid might never have survived. Though on the other hand I could really use some distance, because in the fall I start law school, and cannot be around any more emotional outbursts like this.

The point is that it has also given me severe guilt issues. I knew they had gone too far when I woke up my summer fling at 6 a.m., weeping about my brother, and she was understandably like WTF?

I have this crazy belief that my brother needs to "catch up" with my (very modest for my age) dating accomplishments. I'm afraid of his being jealous of me and somehow I have this sense that the universe is wrong for letting me sleep with people every now and then while my brother, unless he changes his ways, seems headed for a future of being like Billy Bob Thornton's 45-year-old manchild in "A Simple Plan"--remember the part where he talks about never having kissed a girl?

I have a really hard time watching this happen, and I'm angry at the world for the unfair distribution of rewards. Eddie has had some modest dating accomplishments lately, and I try to concentrate on those, but last week I found out he is being treated for severe panic attacks where he thinks he is going to die all the time, and it just makes me so upset. Right when you think something will go OK for him, he will post some annoying Facebook message about being alone and rejected.

Has anyone ever had to deal with anything like this sibling guilt, and what did you do about it? I know some people will identify a certain level of "Dead Ringers"-level "codependence" insanity here ("We have to get in sync!"), and there may be truth to that. But I can't just disappear from my brother's life when we are best friends and I've been almost like another parent. Do I just need to see a shrink or what?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Has he seen/been seeing a psychologist? He seriously needs therapy (and maybe some xanax). I'm willing to bet that his panic attacks have a LOT to do with his social failings in life.
posted by sbutler at 1:36 PM on March 1, 2009

Get him to join a band. A cool band. Kill two birds with one stone.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:40 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can't say I've been in this situation, so I can't really offer any solutions, but I think Eddie is very, very lucky to have a brother as thoughtful and caring as you. I hope it works out for you all, and I'd sure love to hear some of that abstract blues - maybe be you should record him next time he plays at a party and send the recording off to some labels? That might in turn lead to gigs and provide a simpler way of beefing up his social skills/self esteem.
posted by Chairboy at 1:46 PM on March 1, 2009

Ohh... I misread the question. I thought it was about how to help your brother, not how to help you.

My sister sometimes does some things I think are bat-shit insane (not nearly as crazy as your brother, however). The difference between me and you, however, is that I don't get guilty, I get angry. We're talking huge, holiday ruining screaming matches over something as simple as how to handle a phone bill.

But over the last 26 years I've come to realize that I have my life, my sister has hers, and it's best for everyone involved if we keep it that way. That is, whenever I hear some insane story, I've learned to roll my eyes and change the topic w/o offering my opinion. It was frustrating at first to not be involved, but now it's become this almost Zen like experience. I can physically feel myself unwinding. Just let it go, dude.

Basically I think you need to put some distance between yourself and your brother. I'm not saying to cut him out; just realize that there's zero reason his insanity has to trickle into your life. You absolutely CANNOT fix his life for him. I don't think in the history of humanity that strategy has ever worked, and you're going to burn out trying.
posted by sbutler at 1:48 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think it's nice that you want to be supportive, but (I know you know that) your adult brother's journey in life is his own. You can share information and be supportive, help him brainstorm if he's interested, but he's the one who has to make his own choices. You can't get too invested in the outcomes, because you aren't in charge of what happens. (ObviousFilter but)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:49 PM on March 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Can you introduce him to a musician with similar issues who's now more confident, has direction and is successful? That way he's avoiding sibling jealousy and gaining a mentor in his field. Your efforts are awesome but his passivity is his own cross to bear.
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:53 PM on March 1, 2009

The music thing is irrelevant. If he's making the art he wants to make, that's great. I know you just want him to be happy, but pushing him to perform or make music that he doesn't want to make in the hopes that it will lead to sex is kind of gross.

maybe be you should record him next time he plays at a party and send the recording off to some labels? That might in turn lead to gigs and provide a simpler way of beefing up his social skills/self esteem.

See above, and that's not really how the music business works.

Maybe help him find a therapist, and find one for yourself if you want to deal with some of the things you're feeling here.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:53 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your brother is mentally and or emotionally ill. He needs treatment, not a roll in the hay. Since he is being treated for panic attacks I assume he is getting the help he needs on that front.

Meanwhile, as to you, it is perfectly ok and appropriate for you to set up boundaries. For one thing, it isn't any of your business whether or not he's a virgin, and you need to make him understand that. You cannot make your brother happy and you need to make YOURSELF understand that. Making yourself unhappy won't help him, but being kind and firm with him might. Perhaps you could make use of a counselor yourself -not because you particularly need one but because a good counselor could help you with ways to distance yourself from this and/or be a real help to your brother.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:04 PM on March 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I hope this doesn't sound to harsh, but -- you're killing your brother with kindness. He's not finding his own way to do things because he has you all to buck him up and feel better about himself, and so he's not learning how to do things himself. It's good that you and your parents are starting to separate yourselves from him, because the longer that you let him get away with crying to you all when he's not feeling good about himself, the longer he's going to avoid getting over it.

I think tough love may be the case in this situation. Offer him your concrete support -- you'll loan him money if he actually IS going to start a band, whatever -- but these "poor poor me" phone calls? They've gotta stop. You will listen if he's literally about to kill himself, but if he's just whining about "women don't like me"? Too bad. They're not productive, they're affecting you as well, and they're not helping him.

Whatever he feels about your own success with women is not your problem. By letting him continue to call you and by continuing to listen to him, you are letting him MAKE it your problem, and that is firstly not fair to you, and secondly it is not letting him learn how to get over himself. Don't let him pull that. Get off the phone as gently as you can when he calls, but don't let him pull that crap with you. His jealousy is his own to deal with, and not yours.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:06 PM on March 1, 2009 [5 favorites]

? How is he paying his bills? Is he able to hold down a job? That part wasn't clear. If he's got anxiety, your own added to that won't exactly help. He needs positive reinforcement, affirmations of what he does have going for him and letting him find his own way however that may come about. Some people bloom later than others. He doesn't need to be compared to anyone else.
posted by watercarrier at 2:06 PM on March 1, 2009

Tell him to join an internet personals site if he really wants to meet someone. There are a million women out there on personals sites such as yahoo personals, etc. It's not that hard to meet someone.
posted by Slinga at 2:09 PM on March 1, 2009

You will listen if he's literally about to kill himself, but if he's just whining about "women don't like me"? Too bad.

Well, on the other hand, if you make it so you'll only listen to him if he is "literally about to kill himself," and you're his long-standing support network, he's likely to be "literally about to kill himself" a lot. He probably should go to a therapist, if only to have somebody else to talk to.
posted by Electrius at 2:21 PM on March 1, 2009

honestly, I would hire a sex worker to deflower him. once he gets passed the "virgin" wall and can think of himself as a sexual adult he'll be a lot more able to "fend for himself" and find what he wants.
posted by supermedusa at 2:44 PM on March 1, 2009

There are three people suffering here (since your dad has distanced himself), and so three things to say:

1. You need to stop worrying about your brother, because his state of being is not your fault, not your responsibility and nothing you can fix, except perhaps to support his efforts to start taking charge of his life. You also need to stop worrying about your mother, because her state of being is not your fault, not your responsibility and nothing you can fix, except perhaps to support her efforts to stop feeding his misery.

2. Your mom needs to stop taking those calls. When he calls, she should be busy, and should pass the phone to his dad. I have a mother who screens all her calls, and as far as she's told me it's to avoid another relative -- but it might be to avoid me, how would I know? He won't know either, if she starts screening her calls.

3. Your brother needs to understand that misery is only fixed when someone takes action to fix it, and whining to his mother is like watching TV -- some time passes, and you feel like you accomplished something, but all you did was self-medicate to ease the pain briefly. He needs to start spending time with people who do what he does, appreciates what he appreciates, or just like hanging out and playing video games or something. The broader his circle of like-minded friends, the more chance he'll stumble into a relationship, or at least not feel so lonely all the time.
posted by davejay at 3:10 PM on March 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think the only person who doesn't have a problem is your brother. He's tooling along, living life his way, and telling everyone about it. It doesn't sound to me like his musical talent or virginity have anything to do with it.

Your mom, dad, and you need to set boundaries, though. Am I the only one who thinks it's a little icky that he talks to your mom about his virginity woes? Ah, but wait -- let me rephrase that to show you... Am I the only one who thinks it's a little icky that your mom listens to his virginity woes?

If you guys set boundaries, and keep them, he will eventually learn about what's private (your sex life) and what's for public consumption.

Then, define who owns which problems. For example, he owns his problems. Yes, of course you and your parents should lend an ear if he wants to talk -- but actions are his to take, or not. You can listen, you can give advice, but then you let it all go.
posted by Houstonian at 3:41 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

If your brother is having mental health issues, those need to be addressed before he becomes a woman's mental health problem. He needs to be told this.

I don't think hiring a carefully vetted sex worker in the meantime is the worst idea in the world, either, as long as all parties are fully informed of the situation, sex worker included.
posted by medea42 at 4:22 PM on March 1, 2009

Your brother does not feel comfortable doing the things he needs to do to have dating success.

You want to control his activities so as to reduce your own anxiety about people discovering something about you don't like about yourself. You fear your brother's "failure" will reflect on other's opinions of you.

There is no "time you're supposed to get laid by." There are no commandments written on the stars about this. You will have to go on living with a brother who does not want to do the things which will help him meet someone.

As for him stopping bugging your mom, that's her job. You are not suppopsed to be taking care of your parent.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:13 PM on March 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

(pointing) Okay, davejay said just what I was trying to say, only he said it better. So forget what I said and listen to him.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:51 PM on March 1, 2009

Here's another way to look at this. Your brother is doing what some therapists call "acting out." Instead of working to get his needs met in a productive, healthy way-- whether those needs are actually sex, or wanting sex is just the symptom of some deeper need-- he's forcing people to give him what he wants by emotionally manipulating them. Posting a Facebook message he knows you'll see and react to, calling your mother and making her have conversations that upsets her-- these are not healthy coping mechanisms; they're manipulative and desperate cries for help. Indulging them hurts you and your family and your brother.

What's going to nake him feel better enough to stop "acting out"? I don't know, you don't know, and he doesn't know. He needs a professsional to help him sort it out. Next time he calls to talk about this stuff, you and/ or your mom should consider telling him, "I don't want to see you hurting like this. I can't give you what you need right now; only a professional can. That's why the only support I can offer you right now is help getting counseling. I can't listen to your problems, because that won't help and that's not fair to you. But I can help you find someone who can get you to where you want to be."
posted by chickletworks at 9:05 PM on March 1, 2009

[This is a response from an anonymous contributor.]

Anonymous, I can't lay claim to your brother's musical genius, nor his outbursts, but I do share with him his late-in-life virginity, and I nodded in familiarity with much of his reactions. I'm a 35-year-old virgin.

I wish I could say some sort of amazing statement that would lay open the brain of those who remain a virgin. However, I do think I'm more emotionally in touch with myself (ha ha, everybody, shaddup) than your brother is, as I've been in and continue to be in therapy for a long time, and if you can come up with specific questions, perhaps the parallelities between your brother's situation and my own could mean that any answers I might have would prove helpful to you. You can e-mail me at (Note, there's a typo there, but the typo's in the account name when I created the account, not here: there really is a 'm' between 'mefi' and 'virgin'.)

I will give you a phrase to Google (include the quotes): "involuntary celibacy". There's been a lot of research done on that over the years, and it's evidently the now-accepted 'stuffy' phrase for virginity. Another one that seems in frequent use in other locales is "loveshy", which I believe was brought about by a guy named Dr. Gilmartin.

I'll also say that if you weren't a virgin, you might think that "40-Year-Old Virgin" was just a horny jokefest, but speaking as one, it actually did a great job of getting inside virgins' heads. Especially the "You know what? I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them!" and the whole recurring "pussy on a pedestal" bit. One of the biggest things I've ever overcome is this concept that every single existing woman is this sexual deity, one I could never be appropriate for. Worth another watch, seriously. I'll also say that Trish saying, at the end, that virginity was a "good thing" is still a moment that utterly kills me ... virginity leads to doom-thinking for those of us still one late in life, because it becomes in our heads this massive aberration that we're afraid will chase away any potential good woman that enters our life, meaning that virginity itself then becomes this awful reinforcing vicious cycle. Still haven't figured my way out of that one, but it's possibly one of the causes of his anger: being a virgin is bad enough, but thinking you'll be one forever more is far worse. (Trust me.)

Also his feeling that he needs to "catch up" is *classic* for virgins. The article that's the fifth or sixth link (the one that's at, it's from the Journal of Sex Research) even has a section where it speaks to that.

Listen: his mom is not his therapist. I kind of understand why he turns to his mom; I did the same for a while, and still find myself doing so. I'd not be surprised if you were to tell me he doesn't have a great deal of friends, either. When you don't have an extant social circle, you've got to lean on someone because you just can't stand on your own -- gritty Frank Miller man-heroes aside -- and you do so with the person with whom you have the deepest core of trust, and that's family, and often, especially with virgins, the family bond is strongest to the mother. (That's probably the origin, from the depths of prehistory, of the concept of "mamma's boy".)

But mothers aren't equipped to handle psychosexual disorders, which is what I have, and which is what your brother has, and I'm not surprised she's feeling crushed under the weight. He needs therapy, or he needs friends -- and most likely, the mental problems he's got (and believe you me, I don't say "mental problems" as a perjorative -- this comes from someone experiencing them, and it's more a happenstance of fate than any personal failing he might have) prevent him right now from having that social circle. You want to get him to lay off on his mom? Get him to a therapist.

A word of warning, though: the incel community does have these online enclaves here and there (I'm thinking of the loveshy_drgilmartin group on Yahoo Groups) where men just wallow in self-pity, and such places are quagmiritic holes that are not only of no use but dangerous. There's, but that seems to mostly be an abandoned community by now.

Your brother sounds like a sensitive sort. I don't know if your brother's life echoes my own, but with me, my virginity is in most ways my own fault: since childhood I was hurt so often by my peers that there's this constant reflex to close up to prevent from being hurt. I'm only nowadays beginning to develop the consciousness that it's not the world that's hurt me over the years, it's the separation from the world that's hurt me. Kind of harkens back to that concept of hell as not being intrinsically hurtful itself, but self-imposed hell due to "separation from God."

I gotta split. Please drop me a line ... again, (With the typo 'm'.) Also, there's been a couple virginity questions asked on Ask Mefi in the past, they're worth checking out too.
posted by cortex at 10:12 AM on March 2, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm going to throw in a bit of advice here from a double-outside perspective.

My brother in law has a lot of the codependecy/anger issues that you highlighted in your post. Since I'm a total outsider to my in-laws family I look at the situation a lot differently than they do. I look at it like they created their own monster by being too coddling/accepting/enabling of his weird behavior. Instead of telling him to grow-the-fuck-up when he acts like a self absorbed and whiny child, they collectively feel guilty about him and allow him to act like child.

Your brother, whether he acts like it or not, is a man. Tell him to get some therapy or not, but either way he's not your pet to feel guilty and shitty about. He's a grown up who needs to take responsibility for himself.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 11:01 AM on March 2, 2009

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