I got too close and got burned.
June 17, 2010 5:31 AM   Subscribe

I became too involved with my boyfriend's family and don't know how to escape his asshole younger brother. Here's the catch - we're all kids and their guilt tripping mother is involved. This is causing me a lot of grief and anxiety stemming from feeling trapped.

First of all, I'm sorry for posting another question without contributing much to the community. I've always been most comfortable as a lurker, but this time I'm desperate for someone to talk to.

I played a lot of World of Warcraft to numb my depression. It was there I met the older brother of a classmate I was gaming with who eventually became my boyfriend. Let's call my boyfriend's younger brother James. My boyfriend is 20, and James and I are 18 years old.

Socially, I became dependent on my boyfriend and his family after I lost my friends to depression. After a few unpleasant incidents with his younger brother, I know this was unwise.

---

The timeline went as following:

-Four weeks ago. James' neighbor wanted to come over, but James didn't want to babysit him so he lied that he had to go out. A second after he hung up, I told him his neighbor will see his car unmoved on his driveway because he spent a lot of time outdoors and would see that he was lying. James thought his neighbor was still on the line and heard me.

As a result, I was yelled at and spoken down to.

-A day later, James yelled at his mother in front of an audience composed of my boyfriend, a mutual friend, and I. We would laugh at him nervously, and he would take it as positive reinforcement to yell at his mother even more cruelly.

She was yelled at because she wouldn't allow him to keep a feral kitten in the house and the kitten didn't survive, never mind the fact that they weren't fit to take on the responsibility of a new pet financially.

-Two weeks ago. My boyfriend was given twenty dollars to pay off the debt on his CC that his parents used. I was given thirty dollars to safe keep for all of us because their mother did not want it to fall into James' hands to buy more violent video games and BB guns.

James used verbal abuse and yelling to bully my boyfriend into giving him "his" money. He said things in a smirky, "cool guy" tone, "What's wrong with you? Why aren't you giving me my money? What are you going to do with that money? Ha ha. Spend it on something stupid like ice cream?" He then flung a book across the room which scratched my knee.

Their mother forced my boyfriend to give James the money in addition to her buying him the game. What the fuck?

-One week ago. My boyfriend, our mutual friend, James, and I were messing around. James chased mutual friend with a needle, and we calmly told him that it was dangerous while trying not to ruin the fun vibe. I playfully threw a plastic, light ball slowly at James and it hit him in the nose.

Keep in mind that we too have gotten hurt by James playing around too rough. One incident was when he threw about five ping pong balls fast onto my bare skin and that burnt like hell. I handled it calmly, but when he got hurt, he went APESHIT stomping his feet, whining and nagging like a spoiled child. I wanted to apologize, but shut down at this point.

He then proceeded to talk down to me like I was mentally impaired to insult me, telling me to take physics class because I can't tell between "a big ball and a small ball", never mind the speed that it was thrown. I was yelled at in front of an audience of my boyfriend, our mutual friend, and their mother.

---

James is starting to become a very unpleasant guy to be around. The anxiety that had me spiraling down into depression in the first place that led to my eventual hospitalization is starting to spike up. I can't stay asleep at night.

His mother always wants my boyfriend and I to include James in almost everything we do. I brought up the idea of putting boundaries between James and I. She responded with guilt trips, like how nice James is, how having a lazy eye prevents him from making friends, that we're family and we fight sometimes, and to feel some sympathy for him because he's having trouble adjusting to life without his brother around 24/7 because he's with me.

It's true, James can be a nice guy like everyone else on this planet, but he's mostly asshole at this point. He's a jerk too often.

I've been dating my boyfriend for only 5 months, and I have no interest in becoming friends with James nonetheless regard him as my brother. This is taking a toll on my mental health, and my relationship with my boyfriend because I resent the fact that to be with him, I have to see James because their mommy makes or guilt trips us. I even brought up taking a break from each other, and played around with the idea of breaking up with him to escape his godawful brother.

So the question is this:
1) What can I do to preserve my relationship with my boyfriend and my mental health from James, while keeping a good relationship with his mother?

2) I may have to see my boyfriend less often. He sleeps late at night to spend time with James, and wakes up early to spend time with me. He almost ran over a pedestrian due to being sleep deprived. If I see him less, how do I cope with my immature emotions of feeling rejected and wanting to be with him all the time?
posted by Yasuo to Human Relations (22 answers total)
 
See your boyfriend outside of the house. If you, your boyfriend, James and their mother are all under the same roof, it intensifies everything, it seems.

Make it clear that you want to date your boyfriend, not James. If they come as a set, you'll have to decide if you can deal with that.

Don't try to manage your boyfriend's family's relationships. That's not your job. If James and your boyfriend don't get along, that's their issue to work out. If James and his mother don't get along, that's their issue to work out. Don't spend the mental and emotional energy digging into family problems that aren't about your family.
posted by xingcat at 5:45 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


First off, people 18 and 20 years old are not children. And much of your issue is related to your self-identification as a "kid" and your allowing other people to treat you as such.

Personally, I'd just break up with your boyfriend. He's got a weird, dysfunctional family that he's unable or unwilling to stick up to. It's making you feel bad in a number of ways. But, he's the only person who has any chance of making the family interactions better. The fact that he isn't doing something about this indicates that he probably doesn't place as much value on your happiness as you should expect from a healthy relationship.

So lay down an ultimatum to your boyfriend, "Either figure out a way to say no to your mother when she tells you to invite James on our dates, or I can't see you any more." And then, likewise, refuse to hang out at his house. If he complains, explain about his mom and brother and how uncomfortable they make you feel.

And if he can't or won't do those things, kick his ass to the curb and find somebody who can treat you with respect.
posted by Netzapper at 5:48 AM on June 17, 2010 [25 favorites]


Here's the catch - we're all kids

Nope.

When I read that on the front page, I was thinking, "How often do kids post to AskMetafilter? Well, I remember there was one 13-year-old Mefite who used to post great comments. This is going to be about people who are maybe 14 to 16 years old." You and your boyfriend are 18 and 20 -- you're adults. You can do what you want.

His mother always wants my boyfriend and I to include James in almost everything we do.

No no no no no!

I'm just going to copy and paste a paragraph from Netzapper's answer because it's exactly right and I don't think there's anything more to be said about the situation as of now:

So lay down an ultimatum to your boyfriend, "Either figure out a way to say no to your mother when she tells you to invite James on our dates, or I can't see you any more." And then, likewise, refuse to hang out at his house. If he complains, explain about his mom and brother and how uncomfortable they make you feel.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:27 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is some weird socializing for a group of people who should be functioning as adults. Why is the mother involved in your lives like this? Draw some boundaries. Why are you whining about being hit with ping-pong balls and being 'spoken down to'? Don't play with ping-pong balls like a little kid, speak up for yourself and/or remove yourself from these situations.

"James" sounds like just a generic young-adult jerk; either he'll come to his senses in a few years and dislodge the chip from his shoulder, or spend his life miserable, it's not uncommon. In the meantime it might help to frame his jerkiness in the same way you frame your depression. A social handicap that might require a little patience, or just an end to the friendship. Don't waste your time complaining about it.

It just doesn't sound like there's anything going on here that couldn't be fixed by growing up a bit.
posted by kmennie at 6:31 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the great answers! I think Netzapper is pretty spot-on. As for the kid thing, his mom always regards us as children and uses it as an excuse for James' behavior. I had no idea how suffocating it is until now.

The thing is, I thought it was normal that my boyfriend would put his family ahead of me because compared to them, he only knew me for a measly five months. Can someone explain more?
posted by Yasuo at 6:35 AM on June 17, 2010


Yikes. Yes, you are all adults. Move out, your bf needs to move out, at this point in your life you are only subject to situations that you put yourself in. So seriously, you and your bf need to each go get a job or three and quit fucking around with trashy shenanigans.
posted by stormygrey at 6:36 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


You might want to add something else good to your life; a boyfriend can be truly a helpful, wonderful thing, but maybe there's another interest you could develop? You're old enough to go join a hiking group, photography club (if you have a camera), writing group, whatever you want, if you can figure out the timing and whatever resources you'd need (sometimes, that's not much, so don't despair).

Seriously, this may seem like it's not answering your question, but it _would_ have the very desirable effect of getting you into new company and away from "James". It would also give you another bit of foundation to enable you to resist being pulled down by what sounds like a somewhat yucky environment.

Good luck; and be warned: James might be a little extra angry because he doesn't think he could get a girlfriend. If you have any friends that "like" him, it might be a good idea to set them up.
posted by amtho at 6:37 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


1) What can I do to preserve my relationship with my boyfriend and my mental health from James, while keeping a good relationship with his mother? -

They are not your family. This family is dysfunctional. The mother is an enabler. James is an abuser. Your BF seems like the "Good one" who tries to keep it all together. Let me guess the father drinks and is abusive as well. Do your mental health a favor and DON'T hang around them. They will just bring you down.

2) I may have to see my boyfriend less often. He sleeps late at night to spend time with James, and wakes up early to spend time with me. He almost ran over a pedestrian due to being sleep deprived. If I see him less, how do I cope with my immature emotions of feeling rejected and wanting to be with him all the time? -

Why does your bf need to spend more time with this douche bag brother? And why don't they have jobs? Again do your mental health a favor and DON'T hang around them. This family is completely dysfunctional. They have a set way of doing things and it is not normal. If you want to have a normal life and a healthy relationship, find a new BF. But from the way you are talking you won't. I just hope that this plants the seed of "get the hell out of there" and you actually make your exit. Also please for the love of God use condoms if you are having sex and/or/both get on birth control. If you know where to look this stuff is free. You DO NOT want to bring a child into that family.

Good luck.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:38 AM on June 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


The thing is, I thought it was normal that my boyfriend would put his family ahead of me ... Can someone explain more?

But what does "put his family ahead of" you mean? There's a context for everything. If the context is his entire life and worldview in the abstract, then OK, maybe his family does come before you. But if the context is the boyfriend/girlfriend time you spend together, the two of you come first.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:40 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


The thing is, I thought it was normal that my boyfriend would put his family ahead of me because compared to them, he only knew me for a measly five months. Can someone explain more?

Your boyfriend doesn't need to put you ahead of his family. What he needs to do at this point in his life is put himself first and establish his independance. One way to do this would be to not give in to his family's demands about James always hanging out on your dates. It doesn't mean he needs to tell his family to screw off forever. Your boyfirend needs to assert that he has couple time, family time, and everyone hanging out together time and its his decision as far as how much time gets devoted to each, not his mother's.
posted by WeekendJen at 6:49 AM on June 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


I thought it was normal that my boyfriend would put his family ahead of me

It is... but his family isn't normal. Family trumps girlfriend/boyfriend (at least until you're forming your own family unit*) unless the family requests are unreasonable. Expecting you not to blow off your regular visit to Grandma because you want to see your girlfriend is reasonable, expecting you to take your little brother on your dates is unreasonable (and also kinda creepy) even if he wasn't a jerk.

*and by that I don't mean necessarily having kids, just starting your own life together in your own home as opposed to casually dating and still living with mum & dad
posted by missmagenta at 6:50 AM on June 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


"The thing is, I thought it was normal that my boyfriend would put his family ahead of me ... Can someone explain more?"

By the time he is 20 years old, his parents should be helping him leave the nest, and that means that they should be sensitive to his realigning of priorities, where now a work thing or final exams may be more important than a younger sibling's birthday party, and where eventually he will have his own life and his own family (of whatever sort) that will be his first priority.

He will always have obligations to his "original" family, but the point of raising children is to make them functioning adults in society who create lives and families for themselves, and the parent must step back gracefully and become secondary to the child's life eventually. (I suppose we could be Biblical about it and say how a man must leave his parents and cleave to his wife or whatever the line is.) Ideally this isn't a sudden process of dislocation and abandonment, but a slow and gradual change and growth in the family relationships.

So, no, a girlfriend of five months doesn't "rank" ahead of the original family on the big grand-scheme things, but really throughout the teen years his parents should have been helping him make space for a life of his own, where he builds relationships outside the family and he and his brother become independent beings who do not constantly require their mother's input or each others' company. If he can't go on solo dates because his brother requires a mandatory playmate and his mother still arranges his social schedule, that is not healthy or normal.

His brother may be having a rough time. He may need a lot of family support. But your boyfriend should be able to make a CHOICE to support his brother and spend time with him, and he should also be able to set boundaries about it and maintain an outside life. There are no boundaries at all here -- boyfriend has none, mom has none, brother has none, and YOU have none. It's one big dysfunctional family where nobody's an adult and everyone's unhappy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:51 AM on June 17, 2010 [20 favorites]


1) What can I do to preserve my relationship with my boyfriend and my mental health from James, while keeping a good relationship with his mother?

Stop going to their house. See bf elsewhere. You're dating, not living together. Meet at cafes, parks, etc. It's way too early in your relationship with him for there to be so much interaction with his family. It may never be a good time to be close with his family, since his brother sounds like he has a lot of issues, and it seems Mom would much rather pawn him off on brother than deal with them herself. My opinion: she doesn't have either of her offspring's best interests at heart. She should be supporting her son's relationship and making sure he has some privacy with you instead of trying to force him into a caretaker role so she doesn't have to be bothered. She sounds like a less than ideal parent.

You knew James before you knew your boyfriend, so he probably feels "entitled" to some of your time. Just stop going to their house.
posted by iconomy at 6:53 AM on June 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't know, at 18 and 20, I'd say a lot of people aren't yet adults, that self-identifying as kids actually shows some self-awareness, especially given these circumstances. In a perfect world maybe every 18 year old moves out and tries to make it on his own if things are bad at home, but that's just not possible or realistic. Outside the US I don't even think that's the norm, and in the US I think that's rarer now than it was a generation ago. Whatever the case, the resources an 18 or 20 year old has at hand to deal with bad family dynamics or depression in this economy are limited.

The insight that this comes down to your boyfriend is spot-on. He's got to find a way to see you away from his house and without James. If he doesn't want to make the effort, or can't, you've got to move on.

You should probably move on anyway. It's going to be hard or impossible to redefine your relationship given how close you've become to his family. You'll find someone who interesting without all this baggage soon enough.
posted by vincele at 7:01 AM on June 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Whatever the case, the resources an 18 or 20 year old has at hand to deal with bad family dynamics or depression in this economy are limited.

It's not a lack of economic resources that's preventing them from spending their own time together the way they (or at least she) wants. It's a failure to stand up to the mom.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:05 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


What Eyebrows Mcgee (and others) said exactly. But the only part you can really control is yourself. In fact, even if he needs to keep spending lots of time with his brother, you could make a guideline for YOURSELF, like "I will only hang out with James twice a week," and/or "I will leave if James starts talking down to me or hurting me." You choose how you let people treat you. You don't have to explain yourself to the mom. You're not interfering with them spending time together; it's just that you're dating your BF and not James. Then, keep yourself busy, as amtho suggests.
posted by salvia at 7:09 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just spoke to my boyfriend, and gave him every reason listed here as a reason for initiating our one month break. He knows what he needs to do, and failing that, it'll be over.

I can't thank you guys enough for freeing me from this mess. Every comment was useful and gave me something to think about and consider. I'll mark this as resolved and will favorite each and every comment for your time. Thank you thank you thank you.
posted by Yasuo at 7:30 AM on June 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


I can't thank you guys enough for freeing me from this mess. Every comment was useful and gave me something to think about and consider. I'll mark this as resolved and will favorite each and every comment for your time. Thank you thank you thank you.

I'm glad you got some resolution about this, but remember -- you can give yourself permission to end something you think is a problem.
posted by runningwithscissors at 8:12 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


The thing is, I thought it was normal that my boyfriend would put his family ahead of me because compared to them, he only knew me for a measly five months. Can someone explain more?

Well, sure he'll put his family a head of you for now, but it's not an exclusive one or the other thing. He doesn't have put them first 100% of the time. Just tell your BF you don't want to hang out with James and that's that. Just hang out with him one on one for now, and don't hang out at their house. Hang out at your place. Do you have an apartment? Are you going to college?

Not seeing the brother for a month is good. After that time, just try to hang out with the boyfriend on your own time, not at his place.
posted by delmoi at 9:26 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


You may find this read enlightening which was the subject of an FPP yesterday.

More or less, it sounds like this situation has classic signs of emotional manipulation. I'm not accusing any party of malice or intent, often situations like these control themselves. Be aware that things like incremental rewards/ "good times", dotted over a long expanse of "bad times" does not equal a healthy or good relationship, even though it is compelling to keep riding the "bad times" out. A gambling addict plays for the wins, as frequent as they are, not for the losses.
posted by fontophilic at 9:59 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


That should read, INfrequent, of course.
posted by fontophilic at 10:05 AM on June 17, 2010


I think it's good you're taking a break. You really need to have other friends besides him, and after only 5 months, you seem to have been spending way too much time with his family.
posted by ishotjr at 10:16 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


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