I wanna be friends with my brother
July 24, 2011 9:38 AM   Subscribe

How do I hang on to a relationship with my brother now that we aren't living at home anymore?

My brother is 2.5 years younger than me-- I'm 24, he's 21. We're the only two kids. Oh, and I'm a girl, if it matters. As kids we played a lot together, and we get along now (and have fun when we're together sometimes-- we have a similar sense of humor and music tastes) but we don't really ever talk except when we both happen to be at my mom's or my dad's at the same time, and that is happening with decreasing frequency (and I'm about to move 500 miles away, so it will be even less frequent soon).

I feel like I need to start being more intentional about keeping in touch with him. But we've never had the kind of relationship where I would just call him on the phone and chat. That would be weird and I don't think he'd be into it. Currently we post jokey stuff on each other's facebook walls every so often and see each other if we happen to run into each other because of the family.

I guess this wouldn't be such a big deal if I felt like he had a great support network, but I don't think he does. The year I moved away from home (so when he was ~16), my parents got divorced, and both of my parents kept calling me and telling me that they were worried about him and that he wasn't talking to them and asking for my advice about what to do etc and he still doesn't have a very open relationship with either of my parents. Now he's in his second year at a huge university which he doesn't like, I'm pretty sure that he doesn't have any friends or do anything besides work, study, and play video games, and he still doesn't really talk to my parents too much, although my mom thinks he's become less closed off. I just feel like he needs people to stay connected with. (But maybe all of this is none of my business and I should stop feeling like his life needs fixing.)

I don't know-- I guess I'm just worried that with the increasing fractured-ness of my family (all four of us are contemplating moves to different parts of the country currently and our dad in particular is increasingly more involved in his own life now than in ours-- which is fine and understandable given our ages, but relevant I think) that he will just sort of drop off the radar, and I don't think he has a lot of other people besides family that he talks to regularly. And I worry that if I don't keep in contact with him now, we'll be even less close in 20 years.

So yeah-- I guess I need to a) hear about other people's sibling relationships and find out if this is normal b) some concrete ideas about keeping in touch with someone when you don't have a touchy feel-y relationship with them c) For people to tell me whether his life is any of my business
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
When my little sister was a sullen, moody teenager and wasn't that interested in calling me to talk about her feelings or whatever, I started writing her letters. Real letters, on paper, through the mail. Not constantly, but once or twice a month. Sometimes I also sent a book I thought she'd like, or candy, or some other little trinket, but mostly, it was just a page or two about my life and what I've been thinking about. She didn't write back much, but I know she still has them all, so I have to believe that it meant something to her. And it was a great exercise for me to collect my thoughts and put them on paper, so I think I might have benefited as much as she did.
posted by decathecting at 10:03 AM on July 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Tell him you want more contact with him, especially since you're about to move, and set up a weekly time to do it -- a weekly phone call, or online Skype chat, or whatever. Plenty of family members have regular times they call or communicate in some other way. I had a longstanding weekly lunch with a friend for over a year. It doesn't always last with friends, but I have heard about family members who do this their entire lives.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:03 AM on July 24, 2011

a) my family doesn't have the same history as yours, but I'm the older sister, and my only sibling is my younger brother. He left the house for another state about 10 years ago, a year later, I left for another country. Only in the past two years have we started calling each other up and actually talking about life. Back at home we were cool, but once we each went our separate ways, it was like we just didn't need to be in touch. I wondered off and on if that was ok, but since the both of us were always in touch with my parents, I figured we were just taking a break from each other to grow into our adult selves.

b) We've never written emails or letters, nor do we even interact much on facebook. Now we talk on the phone. If your bro is not so chatty (mine is) you could email him about you and your life once a month, I'm sure he'll read it and feel good about you being in contact with him, whether or not he writes back much. Or you could just call him up, again, about once a month. Hmm... you could find a videogame he plays, and play it, or some other common interest, to ask him questions about. My bro (used to) look up to me alot, yet at the same time resented me for being older, happier and more sure of myself. I think asking him for some advice now and again evens things out a bit.

c) Like my mother has told me countless times: He's the only brother you're ever going to have. I'm not sure if his life is your business, but your half of the relationship you share as brother and sister is and will likely be for the next 50 years. Do whatever you feel good about, let him know you're there, and that you care, and let him be himself.
posted by Locochona at 10:18 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm just over two years older than my brother, too (and am also a girl). We were close as kids but a little combative as teenagers. In our 20s we became close again, but we're definitely not touchy-feely. I think we've hugged twice in the past ten years. But like you and your brother, we have similar senses of humor along with a few other shared interests.

When we were our early 20s, he was studying abroad in Denmark and I went over to visit him for a week. Having some adventures together really strengthened our bond. I don't know if you'd be up for visiting your brother at school, but maybe a short (weekend?) visit where you took him outside of his regular environment could end up being fun and valuable for both of you, even if it feels a little weird at first.

The main way I keep in touch with my brother now is through Google chat. Almost every day we share links, complain about stuff, ask each other for advice on little things, joke around. Our chats are unplanned and not necessarily continuous -- we'll just share something when it occurs to us and the other is online, chat for a few minutes, then both get back to whatever we were doing. It's very low key but it makes us feel connected and involved in each other's lives. In lieu of chatting, I bet emails could work well, too.

I definitely advocate for keeping in touch, though -- as your parents get older and you both have to deal with them and whatever issues they have, being on close terms will make things much easier. But it's also just good to have a family member who's also your friend.
posted by bethist at 10:25 AM on July 24, 2011

Except for the parents' divorce, you could be me.

My little brother and I are roughly the same ages as you and your brother, with a similar age difference. We played together a lot growing up but fought CONSTANTLY. Like, full-on kicking, punching, blood-drawing fights. Everyone thought we'd hate each other forever. (Really, we never hated each other. We were just really good at fighting with each other.) We're buddies now.

We had very little contact when I left for college (1000 miles away), and pretty much would only see/talk to each other when I was home for the holidays. When he left for college (far away from home and from where I live), we had even less contact. Things turned around when he started having a tough time at school. My parents would call me and tell me how worried they were about him, so I'd try calling him more often.

At first, he was pretty evasive. He wasn't doing well in school and was embarrassed and frustrated. He had always idolized me to a certain extent (I had excellent grades all through school), so I started opening up to him about some really bad grades I had gotten in college, and tried to offer him sisterly advice. He wasn't looking for advice, but it did help him to vent to someone who understood where he came from. It turned out we had a lot more in common (for example, with regard to the way we try to solve problems and the way we interact with others) than we always thought, and over time talking to each other became a lot easier.

We still only see each other once or twice a year, and don't talk very often (maybe once or twice a month?). But when we do we talk for at least an hour, usually more. He's a texting addict who barely even checks his email, and I tend to shy away from the phone in favor of the internet, but every once in a while I'll send him a text or he'll poke me on facebook. Both of us also always speak really highly of each other to our friends. A little mutual respect goes a long way. We've grown from having a strained, awkward relationship to being each other's best friends. One of the biggest changes is that I've started seeing him as an adult--he'll always be my little brother, of course, but we're equals now.

So, just call him and talk to him. Don't try to fix him or tell him what to do. If you're looking for an "opener", try asking him his advice on something, even if you don't think he'll be very helpful. It'll show that you value his opinions and hopefully will get him to start talking without being prompted, and he'll probably surprise you by having something insightful to say.

Remember, he's your brother. You grew up together. No matter how far apart you grow, you'll always have that shared experience, and no one will ever understand you better. Even if he's resistant at first, keep trying. Even if it's just a text every once in a while that says, "love you, bro!" it's still something. Don't give up!
posted by phunniemee at 10:25 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

My brother and I hated each other growing up. I did things that deserved his hatred, but he soon forgave me.

We've been close the last 10 yrs or so. Hes my best friend and my brother. I'm his best friend and sister. I just forced him to like me. We found common interest, video games, books and a common love for the herb. Now I couldn't live without him or him me.
posted by Sweetmag at 10:28 AM on July 24, 2011

I have one brother who is a couple of years younger than me. Sometimes we go several months without talking, sometimes we talk a few times a week.

I'd say go ahead and pick up the phone or write an email. If it seems awkward to say "Hey, I just wondered how you were doing and we haven't talked in a while," come up with a pretext: gossip, humor, advice, random info. I've used things of this sort:

- "I heard this awesome joke about drummers, and since you are a drummer you will love it! Here goes:"

- "What are you getting mom for her birthday? See I was thinking that she needs a new coffeemaker, but I'm not sure if she's really drinking a lot of coffee these days."

- "Did you hear anything about Zeb? No? Well, I hear that he's in jail. Seriously, I am not shitting you!"

- "I just read that the Bobby McGees broke up. Dude, what a great band that was. Remember that concert we went to? So awesome."

- "Man, I am trying to [something he is good at] and it's just not working. What do you think? Can you help?"

The call can be really brief if he seems rushed or awkward, but this way you can make sure you stay on each others' radar. And hopefully eventually some of these little gambits will lead to longer chats.
posted by bunderful at 10:35 AM on July 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

It is a bit strange when you transition from a relationship mostly mediated by family (ie living together) to being adult siblings. You said you don't think he'd like phone calls--but how do you know? One way to start this might be to text him that jokey stuff rather than posting it on FB. Then you can transition to calling him once in a while. You can make a joke of it, if it'd be easier: "It's your bib sis, checking in." That sort of thing.

Could you also make up some silly excuse about finding a new song he'd like, something like that?

It's definitely worth a few awkward attempts and efforts. It's good that you're thinking of this too.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:36 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just call him. It won't be as weird as you think. After all, he's your brother and you two get along fine. Ask him how he's doing, what he's up to, if he's seen the new movie that's out, etc etc.
posted by p1nkdaisy at 11:36 AM on July 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

There's a sort of natural evolution here; it may be that everyone needs to be out on their own for a while before coming back as adults to build adult relationships and be friends. My approach would be to keep the door open - post FB stuff, send post cards, call him on his birthday, etc. FWIW my youngest sister and I didn't really develop a "friends" relationship until I went to visit her (without my parents) at her college. With the middle one, I think it was a roadtrip of obligation that turned into a roadtrip of fun.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:11 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

My brother and I (a girl) sound a lot like the two of you, as well. We are only a year apart, but when we were about your age, we were the exact same way. We kind of had our own lives and didn't talk that often. I would say they we weren't very "touchy-feely", either. When we we were both more settled (maybe our late 20's), we made more of an effort to stay in touch and our relationship grew a lot from there. We live on separate coasts now and see each other about twice a year, but talk a lot and text often. I think at this point, you just make the effort to stay in touch, but don't force it. I don't think it's abnormal that you stay in contact via Facebook. But if you want more, do more. It may be weird at first, but it will soon become your new normal. I remember a conversation my brother and I had after he moved to the west coast....he said to me "You know, when we grew up no one in our family said I love you, why do you think that is?" This evolved into a long conversation about our upbringing, and long story short, our relationship became super awesome from there...and we always say "I love you" on the phone now. It's a process, but you'll figure it out!
posted by fresh-rn at 12:26 PM on July 24, 2011

My brother and I are about 2 years apart...and like everybody else, we fought ALL THE TIME growing up. We still have arguments occasionally, but very rare as we live states apart. But we do make it a point to call or email to see how each other is doing. We didn't grow up in a touchy feely family so we never said I love you when saying good bye or hug each other. My brother sort of started it when we started school and started seeing each other less frequently. I'll make an effort to give him a hug, even if it's still awkward for me. It's about opening up to the ones you love, cause they'll be there for you, and you being there for them, no matter what, unconditionally. You should continuously let him know that.

You know your brother better than we do and what he's going through, but what I've learned is not to act like a parent (which I've had to do for growing up, as we were left to fend for ourselves). Your brother is an adult, treat him like one. Don't make judgements, only give your two cents if asked, and if he opens up enough to vent, let him vent, don't try to solve the issue, be empathetic.

Send interesting articles that you find...funny ones, topics related to his interest, his area of focus/expertise, or ask him questions. My brother is very busy right now, but he makes an effort to write back as it gives him an excuse to think about something else other than his work even if it's for a minute or two. Always let him know that you're there for him and BE there for him if he ever comes around.

In regards to parents, my parents aren't divorced, but they, unintentionally, take sides, or pick favorites throughout times. Which is terrible for sibling relations...as if my brother says something to calm my mom when she's upset because of me, those words come back to me. This is something parents should NOT do, but I learn everyday that parents aren't perfect either, but we have to deal with them. Whatever hurt your brother had to deal with, alone (not your fault), probably had something to do with his sullen state...I think he'll greatly appreciate knowing that you are ALWAYS there for him, even if you don't talk every day. Communicating that should help him AND you.
posted by icollectpurses at 1:10 PM on July 24, 2011

Are the two of you on Facebook? My brother and I aren't big on just calling each other up simply to chat. We do, however, share links, articles, videos, etc, back and forth, which keeps up an ongoing dialogue. It's kind of inconsequential stuff, but we are essentially conversing with each other every other day. Then, when one of us does want to call the other one up to chat or to share some news, it doesn't feel like the phone call is such a big deal, since we've been having those little back-and-forths.
posted by Nightman at 1:59 PM on July 24, 2011

I think you can create the kind of relationship where you just call and chat by doing it, you know? Just tell him since you're moving away you want to talk on the phone more since you won't be seeing him in person. It doesn't have to be touchy-feely, like everyone said above just shoot the shit or gossip or talk about a movie or whatever.

My brother and I are the same distance apart age-wise (I am the older sister) and we are very close. We used to call each other when one of us was walking somewhere, or waiting for someone, or just had ten spare minutes--it wasn't like we had epic conversations every week, but we chatted briefly every few days. Sometimes it would be something like, "holy shit I just saw this [weird thing], isn't that wild!" (Now he lives on the other side of the world, so we have to make do with Skype and email; otherwise we'd still be doing the regular chats.) We were less close in our early 20s and the regular short chats really helped make us as close as we are now.

I value my relationship with my brother more than just about any other in my life. It is so, so worth building a close relationship with your brother now. It may feel a little awkward but I cannot imagine a reason why you would regret it down the road, but it sounds like you would regret it if you lost a relationship with him.
posted by min at 2:04 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your brother sounds a lot like me when I was younger; while my older sister and I were on good terms, we weren't exactly close or touchy feel-y. I think part of that was just something about our late teens/early 20s, plus the fact that we have always had vastly different personalities (she's quite outgoing, me not so much), plus we hung out with different crowds growing up.

Fortunately, we have become much closer these past few years. I think part of it was time, part was various events in our personal lives that caused us to start chatting more. Unfortunately we don't see each other in person that often these days (I no longer live nearby), but we do get a lot of use out of Facebook. We regularly send each other pictures, links, etc - she tells me what funny/disastrous thing my nephew did that week, I send her pictures from wherever I've been traveling.

There's a sort of natural evolution here; it may be that everyone needs to be out on their own for a while before coming back as adults to build adult relationships and be friends. My approach would be to keep the door open - post FB stuff, send post cards, call him on his birthday, etc.

I like this. Focus on staying in touch and keeping the door open, and give it time.
posted by photo guy at 2:56 PM on July 24, 2011

I am in a similar position and basically only talk to my brother when I'm at home for the holidays. I did accidentally end up on the phone with him once and had a nice conversation, and thought "I should talk to him more often," and then still haven't.

However, my mother, who is also an eldest sister and whose only surviving sibling is her younger brother, decided 20 years ago or so that dammit he was her brother and they were going to TALK. So she basically trained him into talking on the telephone. I think she even said as much to him. He is fairly quiet and reserved, and she told him he didn't have to tell her everything that was going on, but he had to listen to her stories, and answer a minor question or two, and just be on the phone, in contact. She may have started with like 10 minutes and worked up, or something. I think it worked -- he's still not chatty, but now talking on the phone and casual conversation come a little easier to him, and my mom established it as a Thing so it's not weird.
posted by little cow make small moo at 2:59 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

My advice is: keep it consistent; keep it low-key; but keep it.

I am very close to my brother. Our parents laugh about what good friends we are, but it's definitely one of the best things of my life, and I am glad that once we left home we invested time in being there for each other.

The number one thing that has strengthened our relationships as adults is email. We never talked that much as kids, but now we email each other regularly - maybe a line each and often it never gets much deeper than: "Man I am having the shittest day" "You think that's bad, listen to what happened to me today" (etc).

But we have had great conversations over a period of days just replying to each others' one-line emails and often end up talking about serious things like our future and our families, as well as random things that happened that day.

We also see each other a fair bit (we live in the same town) but are both busy and may go for months without seeing each other. We don't go for more than a week without emailing, though.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:40 AM on July 25, 2011

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