Oh brother, where art thou?
November 24, 2009 6:35 PM   Subscribe

I am estranged from my brother for a lot of different reasons. I want to have a relationship with him, but I only can do that if I do it 100% on his terms, which I simply cannot do (not religious and getting more anti-religious by the day). Should I continue to make the effort in the hopes of breaking through to him or just live my life without my only sibling?

My brother and I have been estranged practically since birth. He was five years old when I (baby sister) was born and instantly disliked my presense and has resented my being born ever since. When my parents got a divorce, he chose to stay with my stepfather (his bio father). I went with my mother and we all still visited frequently (tho still feeling quite the chill from my brother) and were "family". A very small family, with few other relatives.

My brother joined the military and served in Desert Storm, and when he came back, he spent a fair amount of time drinking and going to the local strip club. The absolute ONLY time my brother and I have ever bonded was ONE night when I was about 19, he came back from a night of mild debauchery and sat on my bed and told me some cool stories about his service and what he'd been up to that night. That is literally the only time I have ever had a sincere positive interaction with him, and I turn it over in my mind and savor it.

After the military, my brother joined a fairly prominant religious group and met his wife, who is the daughter of a bishop. I whole heartedly was for the marriage, and was happy my bro had found someone to love and who loved him. When my parents weren't invited to the wedding, we (Mom, Dad and I) were upset, but were informed that it was just the way it is, and so time went on. (I will admit, I was peeved as hell, our Dad, his bio father, was elderly and it was his only son's only wedding). He also physically abused our elderly Dad one night in a fit of rage, hitting him over the head with an aluminum frying pan (not making that up).

Some more time passed and some more stuff happened wherein our mother (and I, but I'm totally used to it) was treated really, really poorly by my religious-family-oriented brother and his wife. After my Dad died, she(Mom) went to live with my bro & wife for a while far, far away, and they basically gave her the bums rush and moved one day while she was out and left no forwarding address and changed their phone number. She was left to fend for herself (capable of this in a small town, not a big city) and had to go to the homeless shelter and was harrassed and all sorts of scary stuff for an elderly-ish person. When confronted with his actions towards our mother, he said she was messy and had thrown fits (messy yes, fit thrower? Pot-kettle)

I got my Mom back and situated (suicidal and angry and hurt, but situated) in a smaller community, and life goes on again.

I had a period of time where I felt really angry toward his religion, as I saw that as the wedge that came between my brother and I ever having anything at all, because I am a sinner of the worst kind (I smoke pot and fornicated before marriage, and lots of other things he thinks are sins) and he just doesn't think I am good. During this time, I did a shit-ton of research on his religion and wrote a really scathing critique of it, and in a moment of stupidity, hit send. My brother wrote back that he KNEW his religion was right, he KNEW the guy that made it up was truthful and righteous, he KNEW. He then told me that I wasn't his sister, that the Sisters were his sisters, and my heart broke into a million pieces. I apologized sincerely and have been ziplipped about his religion, but the damage was done (his damage, mine doesn't seem to be recognized, but that's okay. I'm tough :))

My culpabilty here is clear...I slandered his religion (I mean~put it on BLAST) and some days I wish I hadn't said a word (leaving everything to be completely fake and empty) and other days I'm glad I got to say my piece since we have NEVER had any relationship at all. He claims he loves me, but has proven in thousands of ways over the years that he wouldn't pee on me if I was on fire (UNLESS I joined his religion, then hunky doriness)

tl;dr :

My bro and I are estranged due to his religion, my lifestyle (really tame, but not to him), and my unfortunate choice to "say something about it" instead of keeping it to myself (forever stuffing it down). I want to have a brother. I want to be an Auntie. I want to be able to say my older brother has my back, like other people do.

Mefites, are any of you estranged from your siblings and can tell me how to get over it? And should I keep trying to reach out, or just let it die on the vine? If I reach out, what can I say? I'm not going to apologize again ( I was 100% factual and I have apologized 3 times), and he just keeps glossing over everything, because in his world, families don't argue or disagree, and if they do, you cut them out, because they are evil.

I'm not evil. I just want to have a brother.

I know I shouldn't have hit send, but I felt so fake not saying what I had to say. Help me Mefi.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't your choice, sadly. He's choosing not to be a brother to you, and instead choosing to be some kind of Holiness Monitor to you.

Make friends who give you brotherly love, and you can be their children's auntie. The person who is biologically your brother is a hateful person who treats you and your mother with abuse and disrespect.

You will never be able to say your brother has your back, because he chooses not to have your back. Instead, he chooses to judge you and berate you and make you unhappy.

What you can choose is not to take that. What you can choose is "chosen family" who treat you with love and respect.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:45 PM on November 24, 2009 [12 favorites]

My advice is: now and then send little messages that say 'I still care about you, the door is still open'. Make it easy for him to reach out again when the annoyment has faded. I'd say the minimum is tokens of attention at festivities; birthdaycard, christmascard. Lightfooted.
posted by jouke at 6:45 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

he clearly does not want you to be part of his life. stop chasing him. he's a negative influence and only brings bad things to your sphere when he enters it. let it go and find people who actually like you.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:46 PM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

you ===> therapy
posted by elle.jeezy at 6:53 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Another thing I meant to say: what you did in sending him a critique of his religion was rude and disrespectful, I agree. And you've apologized for that.

I'm not seeing him apologizing for any of the rude and disrespectful stuff he's done.

Also, if the church he belongs to rhymes with "Foreman" I would suggest that bouncing your elderly mom into a homeless shelter because she's "messy" or "throws fits" is Not Cool At All with the ethos of that church. So in addition to being an asshat, he's really hypocritical.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:54 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am an only child, myself.

What I have done is pick out people I wish to have for a brother or sister. Works well for me. If you want to have a brother, there are people out there who will fill that role. This dude doesn't qualify, and frankly in my mind he has lost the privilege of having you for a sister.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:07 PM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

My bro and I are estranged due to his religion, my lifestyle (really tame, but not to him), and my unfortunate choice to "say something about it" instead of keeping it to myself (forever stuffing it down).
If everything you say here is true, then your brother and you are estranged because he's a horrible, horrible excuse for a human being. I think you're better off without a brother than with this particular brother. Let him go. Surround yourself with people who don't do things like physically assault their fathers or arrange for their mothers to become homeless.
posted by craichead at 7:22 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

You say your culpability here is clear (for sending the emai), yet you also say the two of you have been estranged from birth. And, as you seem to be describing, there was plenty of crap coming from his end years before you sent the email. So if that estrangement was there before you sent the email (which perhaps wasn't the best idea, but it is understandable) why are you blaming yourself for causing the rift?

As others have suggested, perhaps it's worth seeking that brotherly relationship elsewhere -- the one you have at the moment just doesn't sound like it's worth pursuing at all.

It's a total cliche, but when you stop banging your head against a brick wall, it really stops hurting.
posted by prettypretty at 7:25 PM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wait, who's a sinner of the worst kind? *YOU*?!? No, this dickbag you happen to share some chromosomes with, who hits old men with frying pans and leaves old ladies on the metaphorical side of the road, is the sinner. Fuck him and the religious horse he's married to.
posted by notsnot at 7:34 PM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

I posted a question here once about my crazy half-sister. The short version is that my dad and I have had some stresses which are totally not her business but which she resents and even though he and I have worked things out between us, she continues to believe (incorrectly) that my older (full) sister and I have some sort of conspiracy against him. Also, she has become a religious nut :) When she does talk to me, it is usually to rehash small incidents dating back dozens of years, and to offer me suggestions for ways I might improve my behaviour and demonstrate my sincerity to her.

I got to a point where I just has to recognize that a large part of this was about her and not about me, even though it might seem to be. I accepted that it was better for me to step away from The Crazy. It still hurts a little to feel like we will never have the kind of sisterly relationship I want, but you can't make someone change their behaviour and I just feel much better when I stay out of the drama because I am not a drama person. So my motto with her has been tat when I see her I am polite, but for the most part I lay low and keep my mouth shut. Not how I want things to be, but better than going after her and getting all of her crazy drama in my life.
posted by JoannaC at 7:36 PM on November 24, 2009

Oh, and if you feel like salting his wounds, tell him if he KNOWS how fucking great his religion is, then he has no doubt - and the essence of true faith is the recognition of doubt. So by his own admission, he has no faith.

Honestly, he sounds incredibly insecure, and he makes up for it by pretending to be a cocksure son-of-a-bitch.
posted by notsnot at 7:37 PM on November 24, 2009

Regardless of whether you stay estranged, you'll still get to be an auntie -- as his kids grow up they're probably going to hate him and rebel against everything he stands for, and you're primed to be a person they will seek out when that happens. Partly because they'll appreciate how relatively normal you are, and partly because they know that reaching out to you will make him furious.
posted by hermitosis at 7:47 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm going to chime in with the people who say that you are estranged because your brother is a total dirt bag, not so much because of the religious thing. Maybe that was the catalyst, but he could be a blood-drinking Satan worshipper and he would still be holier than thou (in his eyes.)

The way he treats people is disgusting, and not within the teachings of any religion that I've ever heard of. Most Christians go for the whole "Treat others the way you want to be treated." Dumping your own mother so that she has to go to a homeless shelter in a strange city is despicable.

I know you want to have a family, but this guy is not your family. You might share some blood, but that is the end of it. I think it's time that you write this guy off for good. He's not going to change, and if you let him go now you will save yourself years of heartache.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:01 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

My bro and I are estranged due to his religion, my lifestyle (really tame, but not to him), and my unfortunate choice to "say something about it" instead of keeping it to myself (forever stuffing it down).

No. You are estranged because your brother is a chode.

Anyone who would hit an his elderly father and abandon his elderly mother so that she is left to fend for herself in a homeless shelter has serious, serious problems. You don't need that type of poison in your life.

It's hard to admit when a relative needs to be expunged from one's life -- especially during the holiday season -- but you probably know, deep down in your heart, that your brother's presence in your life right now would bring you nothing but grief.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:10 PM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

To answer your question about getting over estrangement: the answer, as usual, is "time". After a while you realize that you can't miss a relationship you never really had, you just miss the one you wish you had. But that one was all in your head and you never got any benefit from it, just a sense of longing and sadness, and ... gradually it just drifts out of your head along with the other wistful childhood fantasies like Santa Claus and velveteen rabbits.

From your description I don't think your brother will ever have your back or be there to support you when you need help. It's just not in his nature, from the sound of it. Your single good experience with him was just a one-off fluke. I'd just abandon him.

Friends can be wonderful stand-ins for family, plus they usually come without the baggage that arises from growing up together. I'd suggest cultivating friendships as a replacement for your dysfunctional sibling relationship.

I have essentially no relationship with my brother and I don't miss him or have any regrets - we have virtually nothing in common except parents, no shared interests or anything that would make us friends if we weren't siblings. I used to feel bad about it, but gradually accepted that we never acted like an affectionate family when we lived under the same roof and we weren't going to start now that we live so far apart. There was never any "there" there, so I stopped expecting any. It actually feels better to admit to yourself that certain things are not optimal and they're never going to change, rather than trying to fix a hopeless situation and beating yourself up when things just keep staying the same.

Good luck, find some wonderful friends, and don't worry that some day you might regret jettisoning your brother.
posted by Quietgal at 8:18 PM on November 24, 2009

You are free to pick your family.

You can pick those related by blood, or not. There are good people everywhere; waste no time on the others. If you chase a relationship with him over a fantasy where he has powers that others don't ("my older brother has my back") you'll have nothing to show for it except further turmoil.

You can find people who love and watch out for you. The best setup is when they'll let you love and watch out for them too. He's just not the one.

I hope you can find peace in the world where he is who he is; it's the only world you have to work with.
posted by fritley at 8:28 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have problems like this with my brother.

He served in Iraq between 2004-2005. He's married now, one son. Our parents are divorced. There are estrangement issues.

I hope you MeMail me. I have a lot to contribute, but it isn't for a public forum.

The issue here is this: Your Personal Values are in direct conflict with Your Family Values.

Not fun.

The solution is ultimately yours, but I'm happy to tell you about my process. It was fraught, but worth relaying. I hope I hear from you...

posted by jbenben at 10:46 PM on November 24, 2009

In his current condition, this person has nothing to offer you but a chromosome link. That's not to say he can't mature into someone worth having in your life. Right now, he's toxic. If you want to leave a door open to him, then sending the occasional card is fine. Don't expect anything worthwhile until he changes which may never happen.

That said, have you considered talking to a therapist or grief counselor? You've lost a lot of people in your family - perhaps the need to connect with your brother is wrapped in that. It's worth getting your own head together before you engage with someone as damaged as your brother.
posted by 26.2 at 11:02 PM on November 24, 2009

Holy cats that is quite a relationship that has been hammered between you mother, your brother and his family and you. I think that the fact that you are still looking for sibling type relationship with someone who has treated your parent in such a distorted way shows a compassion for humanity that you need to appreciate for a minute.

Really, sit back and give yourself some room to have that love. So your family situation doesn't allow itself to be involved with your love right now. And that is ok. Really, the stars and galaxies will continue swirl over our heads, and you can grow to be ok with your one memory of bonding and your openness for it in the future. Just don't

But sending mean emails ... that was silly. Apologies won't cover that up. However it was also very younger sibling-like. So being the younger sibling you should allow yourself some room to be an irrational goof sometimes.

Give it time. Remember he is a vet. Find a therapist you like. Good luck.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 11:46 PM on November 24, 2009

It doesn't really sound like this situation has much to do with religion either way. If your brother has disliked you since your birth, and you've never had a close relationship, then it's likely not just his disapproval of your lifestyle that's driving you apart now. And most of his rotten actions are in violation of Christian morality anyway (that "honor your father and your mother" dictum? Doesn't come with a release clause in case of messiness). So I'm guessing that in this case his religion, your atheism, and the truth or untruth of his faith, are just the latest focal point for enmities and tensions that actually run far deeper.

Are you quite sure-- and has he explicitly told you-- that your joining his religion would lead to "all hunky-doriness"? Because otherwise, it's possible that you're fixating on this as a way to keep the situation in your own control-- to convince yourself that (a) your own actions provoked this distance, and (b) by reversing things, you could somehow make your brother love you. Sadly, that just might not be the case.

With all that said, the general consensus here seems correct-- your brother doesn't want you in his life, there are lots of good reasons for you not to want him either. Plenty of great advice above about other ways to help yourself get through this and heal these wounds. Good luck.
posted by Bardolph at 5:35 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ugh. Your brother sounds like an abusive asshole. I'm quasi-estranged from my mom and have almost no relationship with my dad and the half-brother I have on his side. Not focusing on them has allowed me to pursue meaningful relationships with friends, other members of my family, and my boyfriend's family.

So yeah. Give up your lifelong dream to be loved by this guy. He was selfish when you were born and no one took the time to teach him not to be. It's sad, but there are lots of people out there who will treat you well and you need to stop putting the mental energy into someone who won't, ever.
posted by lorrer at 6:30 AM on November 25, 2009

Not only is a good relationship with your brother impossible, you will be taking the high road if only you can avoid sending him a mean 'fuck-you and your church' letter every year for Christmas.

posted by General Tonic at 7:10 AM on November 25, 2009

You can't choose your family, but you can choose your friends. My friends ARE my family, and they have saved my life in many ways. Be sure that you continue forging your nearest and dearest friendships.

Everything above sounds right on: your brother is abusive and hateful (for whatever reasons), you can't force someone to love you, and you need to take care of yourself. Your happiness and safety are far more important than having a turd for a brother. I think that therapy would likely help you cope with this. I recommend it. A lot.

Good luck.
posted by cachondeo45 at 7:42 AM on November 25, 2009

Your brother didn't like you well before he became a war veteran [cf Yobananaboy] and well before you sent an email to him about his religion. You nail it when you describe the way he dealt with you from the time you were born: he was jealous, annoyed that you came to exist at all - and has never individuated from that position. He's fermented that egocentricity with his parents and you. He's angry with you, couldn't really name why all these years, but now finally he's got something! A trophy email as proof, - proof! - of what is so damned bad about you. You don't like his religion, ah, THAT's what it's all been about!

Just like the trophy of your mother's 'messiness'. I guess your dad 'did something' too, to warrant a smack over the head with a pan?

And SO WHAT about the email? You've listened to all the crap of his religion, had it held up as a possible route for you to find approval from him etc for years and years. That's ongoing, offensive, belittling, insecure, nasty shit. Much more damaging than an email [which probably had its own passive aggressive reasons for being - much easier to attack the religion than tell him how badly he has hurt you - and your mother] How come you don't hold that up as a trophy of all the shit things he represents to you? You're still wanting his approval and he's never going to give it to you.

You sent an email! You sent an email! OMG, YOU SENT AN EMAIL! Big deal, you sent an email. Stop being apologetic about having had a stab at expressing an opinion and start getting angry about how much nastier stuff has been heaped on you with no apology.

Cut the cord. You have, and always had, the right to exist and to have needs, and yes, even opinions he doesn't agree with. The brother you want, and have always wanted, is a fiction, he has never existed except for that one tiny moment years ago. And even then, was that good enough?
posted by honey-barbara at 10:47 PM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

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