National Sibling Day. But he's a buttmunch.
April 10, 2016 8:26 AM   Subscribe

The "political is personal" and vice-versa with my younger brother during this election season. It has sort of hit a boiling point via social media recently and I need some strategies for how to manage this - both in terms of my feelings and as a practical matter.

My younger brother and I (we're both in our 40s now) have always held very divergent political and social views. Peter was a loud-and-proud Donald Trump fan in the late 80s and early 90s. I was writing letters with my Amnesty International group and protesting US involvement in Central American governments.

As years have passed we've mostly kept our distance personally and politically - he lives halfway across the country and we see each other pretty rarely, but exchange the occasional text or interaction on Facebook. He's mellowed a bit, and is no longer a Trump fan, but very much a conservative. He voted for Bill Clinton and has worked with the Rahm Emanuel people - he lives in Chicago He's gone on to get his MBA and is a C-level executive in insurance making a pile of money. I'm an academic and single mom doing mostly ok, but no piles of money. I'm about to finish a degree and the job situation is dicey, at best. I also was diagnosed with cancer last year, and am dealing with about $6k in medical bills that my insurance company didn't cover.

Last year I also traveled with my kids to participate in his wedding. A trip (with clothes, hotel, and car rental) that ran us about $3k. My credit cards are about maxed out.

Peter recently got hired at a new insurance firm with a significant bump in salary. His signing bonus allowed him to pay cash for a new BMW. He and his wife are now headed to Maui for their third beach vacation (after Bali and Mexico) since their wedding. (Good lord I sound bitter and jealous...) He posts about all of this fairly explicitly on social media - fairly to oblivious to the fact that many of his family and friends are experiencing financial difficulties. Some of those difficulties directly linked to insurance stuff...not for nothing.

Generally, I just ignore him. He is who he is and is not going to change. I would block him entirely, but he is my only sibling, our mother is widowed and older, and we have a pretty big network of cousins we try and stay in touch with. Lately, though, it's come to a head with his pretty aggressive mockery of my support (which I try to keep on the DL as much as I can) for Bernie Sanders. I've tried to keep politics out of social media as much as I can, since living in Texas I've learned pretty well how to make peace across political boundaries just to keep life livable. I've worked for Republicans in state government here and play well with others.

But Peter's eye-rolling at Sanders and attempts to publicly explain to me the sexism faced by Hilary Clinton (really dude?) have nearly made my ovaries burst into actual flames. I feel like this has crossed over into my actual personal life in a way he maybe doesn't realize. (He's also fiercely Catholic and supports the kind of restrictions on reproductive health care that have made my cancer treatment in a Catholic hospital system super difficult...anyway.)

I know askme is full of "how do I deal with my family" kinds of questions when different politics are involved - and many of those answer have been helpful. But I'd be appreciate of any more specific suggestions. Block him and practice meditation? Try and have a "come to Jesus" talk with him? Give up entirely on any kind of relationship? Thanks, mefi.
posted by pantarei70 to Human Relations (22 answers total)
Best answer: I don't understand why you can't block him on social media? You're not telling other people to not interact with him, you're just taking a vacation from him until after the election season because he is being a jerk to you. Another alternative is just literally to delete his comments from your social media engagements with other people and otherwise keep him sort of on mute. Have a list on facebook that is for talking about politics which is basically everyone but him.

But yeah, you sound like you're hurting and are in a hard place and I feel for you. But the money/job/wedding stuff has nearly nothing to do with how to handle his terrible behavior towards you and it may help if you try to dig down to what's really pressing your buttons about your interactions with him that may not be the same for someone else who is not him.

Maybe it might be helpful to talk to some other family members who you can share your feelings with who will tell you "Yeah he's an ostentatious jerk"? Sometimes for me it's just important that I feel supported in my feelings of "This is bad behavior right?" and not really need them to change or anything else.

So I'd ghost on him for now and if he makes a thing about it just say "Hey Peter I'm taking a break from politics fighting til after the election, love ya, bye!" Don't start a fight. Don't make it about something it's not. You're allowed to talk to who you want to about what you want to and that list does not, for now, include him. It's totally okay to just not engage.
posted by jessamyn at 8:49 AM on April 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: "I don't want to talk about politics with you and get upset when you mock the candidate I support. Please respect that and don't keep bringing it up."

Unfollow his posts on Facebook. They won't show up on your newsfeed but you won't have to block him either.

If he doesn't respect you seeing limits, back away from him significantly until the election season is over.
posted by Amy93 at 8:50 AM on April 10, 2016 [19 favorites]

I think that the first reply is a little harsh. However, it seems to me that the effect this is having on you possibly relates more to the very real struggles you're having in your life, rather than explicitly to your brother. I guess what I mean is that there are lots of people saying fairly dickish things about both Sanders and Clinton supporters right now, and mostly the only response is to shrug it off.

However, your brother shouldn't be mocking you (or anyone else) for your political beliefs. I am a bit unclear on what form this mockery is taking, however. Is he persistently making comments at you about this stuff? If so, does he imagine that it's good-natured ribbing?

I guess I feel like I need a bit more information. The reasons that you're finding it upsetting are clear, but it's not yet clear to me what the behaviour you're upset by is. Would you be in a position to clarify?
posted by howfar at 8:52 AM on April 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

He's not going to change even of you have a reasonable conversation with him. Shield your posts on FB from him (you can select specific people to hide a post from) and try not to see his stuff if you find it upsetting. You already know he's got some very greedy and non-compassionate bones in his body. Just accept that and try to focus your relationship on things you have in common. Draw clear boundaries and enforce them. Don't get baited into arguing with him on social media. He enjoys picking at you and you reacting. Teach him that it's a fruitless pursuit.
posted by quince at 9:00 AM on April 10, 2016

Yeah, definitely unfollow him and then don't check his page- he won't know you did this.

I also have an incredibly obnoxious brother and I never responded to any of his posts and just didn't engage. Now I quit Facebook all together and guess what? I meant to go back after a few months but I didn't miss it at all. Not one bit.

As for the money you spent for his wedding. You had a choice there and you decided to spend that money. You really could have said no. Don't waste any more time linking your financial situation to his...

It's good to focus on yourself and see others' good fortune (even the undeserving) as a sign of hope for what you might have too.
posted by catspajammies at 9:01 AM on April 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have come to fully embrace Facebook's groups. Which means you can still be friends with people on Facebook but can control the posts they can see and comment on. Add him to a group so that he can see life updates and other family stuff, but hide your political posts from him or anything else that could cause tension.
posted by Brittanie at 9:04 AM on April 10, 2016 [7 favorites]

You can block people on Facebook without them knowing you've done it by simply hiding all their posts. Click the little arrow in the top right corner of one of his posts & hide all posts by him, no one will know you are no longer following what he says.

Seriously do it, it will help with the jealousy & anger.

My life has gotten so much better since I've done that to the people in my life that make me angry, but that I can't piss off the rest of my family by actually blocking or unfriending.

Repeat to yourself over & over again the main thing you should know about sites like Facebook & Instagram. Don't compare someones highlight reel to your worst moments.

That is not his whole life, no ones whole life is happiness & sunshine, he's not posting the fights with his wife, the fact he works long hours & doesn't see his kids, that he's only leasing his shiny new car & might not have a job when the end payment comes, the worrying pains he's been getting in his chest or whatever.

Hide his feed, mentally wish him luck & then move on.
posted by wwax at 9:06 AM on April 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

Just unfollow. I don't see that he's doing anything really wrong that you would need to confront him about.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:20 AM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I feel you, I have some Trumpers in the family. Not a surprise, he's an insurance executive who likes Clinton? People like him have done very well under the current system. People like you haven't. Things will get a lot better once you are in a paying job, I'd block him for a while. I feel no shame at blocking people who do nothing but post humblebrags / Christmas card versions of their lives.
posted by benzenedream at 9:43 AM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I feel like you buried the lede here which is your cancer treatment. Has he been supportive of you during what must be a tough and scary time? Have you asked him for help (emotional, financial)?

My sister and I have a similar dynamic -- she is the c-level rich one -- and I have seen her many posts about her massive beautiful homes and lavish lifestyle, and although sure I have the odd twinge, it doesn't stick in my craw. She not posting *at* me, that's just her life. We've never agreed on politics much either.

But even though we're not close-close, I am pretty sure if I called her and said I am exhausted from worry over debt relayed to cancer, she would at the very least hear me. Would your brother? Have you asked?
posted by warriorqueen at 9:46 AM on April 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: However, your brother shouldn't be mocking you (or anyone else) for your political beliefs. I am a bit unclear on what form this mockery is taking, however. Is he persistently making comments at you about this stuff? If so, does he imagine that it's good-natured ribbing?

I guess I feel like I need a bit more information. The reasons that you're finding it upsetting are clear, but it's not yet clear to me what the behaviour you're upset by is. Would you be in a position to clarify?

We had a back-and-forth yesterday (which was absolutely my fault for engaging in) about the Sanders-Clinton "unqualified" remarks. Peter was making a lot of hay about Sanders being sexist in his comments about Clinton (I had tried to say that mostly this was a media-driven diversion - they've both been clear in saying each other is well-qualified, IMO.)

He responded to me with:

When someone calls an 8 yr senator, and very accomplished SOC "unqualified" (who also happens to be a woman) I think we need to stop and consider this a little deeper beyond semantics. In most cases, the internet social justice warrior class would have taken this up as another example of "Mansplaining" by the "Hetero-normative, Cis-Gendered-White Male- Patriarchal- Phallocracy - Power Structure" or something. But because he's the current mascot of these folks it is getting a pass.

The "internet social justice warrior class" felt like a jab at me. And And the "mascot of these folks" pretty much displays his tone towards any progressive politics. He failed to see any irony in explaining "mansplaining" to me. But whatever.

Thanks for the comments. I've already unfollowed and hidden my own posts on FB.

Also, jessamyn, thanks for your points. I think a lot of what going on is feeling resentful about his being MIA during the past couple years for me. Divorce, cancer, and a kid with a mental health diagnosis in the midst of a dissertation and job worries has left me way stressed. And it's totally off his radar. I didn't hear from him for months after I told him about my diagnosis. But, I am fortunate to have good friends for support.

There is a lot of his life I don't see, and I'm certain he's got his own share of troubles too. So thanks for the advice to hide, wish him well mentally, and move on.
posted by pantarei70 at 9:48 AM on April 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hi, you're absolutely correct about this I had tried to say that mostly this was a media-driven diversion but this little dust-up did start with Sanders saying "I don't believe that she is qualified" at a rally. I'm personally proud of both candidates for pretty quickly (within 2 days) getting ahead of this and stating unequivocally that they consider the other qualified and hopefully putting this to rest.

Point being, this was a tempest in a tea-kettle and it sounds like both you and your brother were saying true things in your conversation.

Politics are hard. Family is hard. This is all very tough - I have a bunch of friends who differ with me politically and, like you, live in the South - I'm able to stay a little detached from it by geeking out on it. Mr. Arnicae likes to say "politics is our football". I like to talk to people across the political spectrum about their ideas and always find it interesting. I feel deep gratitude by how much people care about this - and think most folks across the political spectrum at the most basic level want the same things for our country. We just differ on how to achieve it.

If you can, perhaps try to think of your brother's political ideas in that light? Try to experience gratitude that he cares about the future of our nation and probe whether, at a fundamental level, both of you share some similar ideals for the country? This might even be an opportunity for you to think about how you'd welcome others in if your chosen candidate is the nominee for your party...

If you can't, that is TOTALLY ok. Like the posters above, I think the easiest way to do this is to step away from conversation. Protect yourself - block his posts on facebook. You don't need to tell him you're doing it, you just ghost on him for a while.

Good luck with the insurance bills, the unemployment, etc.!
posted by arnicae at 10:32 AM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I thought a bunch of things reading your AskMe that turned out to only be half relevant after your update. These thoughts were:

- I thought he should have paid for you to attend his wedding, but I'm an overly gracious host like that.

- You're both wasting effort arguing about political party politics when that has very little to do with how policies are decided or how our tax dollars get spent... but whatever....

- His vacations are none of your business.

- I was also confused why you don't simply "Mute" him on social media? He'd never know with the right settings.

But then I read this:

"I didn't hear from him for months after I told him about my diagnosis."

I want you to silently drop this person from your consciousness, be polite if he crosses your path, but essentially forget he exists. Re-focus on yourself and your children.

You have very important and wonderful things in your very precious life.

I'm sorry the world is not perfect. Sometimes (OK, at least once a week, maybe more on occasion) I break down in tears over that. I wish everyone was kinder and more honest, and cared more for each other and for nature. But they don't. And I'm able to tell you this by typing on a computer with components and elements manufactured at least in part involving slave labor, theft of natural resources via coercion or outright violence, and probably death. If you include the effects of toxic manufacturing run-off, then definitely death was involved. And I don't think any of that is OK. And I'm going to hold a space for when we can have communication and commerce without negative or deadly impacts, because I believe that is possible for us....

In the meantime please go hug your children and spend some time with them. Every time you feel like interacting with your brother... Instead take your kids to the park, or take them to the library or soccer practice. Go on a hike with them. Or make dinner together! I'm entirely serious.

Fuck your brother and people like him. He's doing zero for your life and your family's wellbeing. From now on he's a casual stranger in your life. Hold him no malice, but please don't waste a moment's effort good or bad on him. Focus on yourself and your children. Every laugh and great memory you guys share together is a victory and energy well spent. This also creates positive energy going forward! It makes facing tough times tolerable.

Imma put the computer down now and take my kid to the park. Thanks for the reminder :))
posted by jbenben at 11:55 AM on April 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

Facebook has a way of concentrating your experiences of people into the very best and worst versions of who they are. I ended up leaving Facebook because I found myself feeling a growing dislike for people that I had always gotten along with in person. If you actually saw your brother once in awhile, you would get an opportunity to experience his "middle ground," which is probably less strident and more polite and considerate due to the nature of how online communications work. So it's probably a good thing to just hide his posts and avoid online interaction. However, I do think you have some work of your own to do.
He posts about all of this fairly explicitly on social media - fairly to oblivious to the fact that many of his family and friends are experiencing financial difficulties.
It's not your job to manage the feelings of other people where your brother is concerned. The people in your family who struggle may be just as annoyed by your brother as you are. It doesn't matter, though. All that matters is your own jealousy, sense of abandonment, feelings of being hurt by his insensitivity and blase manner, etc. By trying to project these feelings onto others you're just searching for justification. You don't need any. You feel how you feel. Now the only question is whether you want to discuss this with him or distance yourself and let go. Hanging onto resentment is not an emotionally healthy thing for a person who is struggling with disease, financial difficulties, employment worries, parental responsibilities, etc. You have enough on your plate and this is a gift you can give yourself.
Lately, though, it's come to a head with his pretty aggressive mockery of my support (which I try to keep on the DL as much as I can) for Bernie Sanders.
When I was on Facebook, I had an extremely strict "no politics, social justice, or religion" rule for my own activity. These are the same rules I have in place for interpersonal interactions with family and casual acquaintances with whom I know I disagree. It's very easy for me to see a meme reshare by Uncle James that bristles with ignorant racism and just say to myself, "Well, that's Uncle James for you." But if I post something and get into a debate with Uncle James, it's much harder to depersonalize that and even tougher not to think about it the next time I'm sitting across from him at Thanksgiving. It's possible, but difficult.

A second rule I had was "no 'you're wrong' posts" unless it literally could mean life or death. If someone in my family posted something like "Most people on disability are fraudulent gubbermint teat nursers!" I would just ignore it. If, however, a new mom posted about her reluctance to vaccinate her child due to concerns about autism, I would send her a private message.

I know where my safe spaces are. I can completely disagree with my best friend about something and I know he won't attack or belittle me. Facebook, if you haven't segregated your friends into groups to manage what content they get, is not a safe space. Take some time to re-arrange Facebook to your liking if you absolutely must post about hot-button topics. Or ask yourself if these conversations are even worth having on that platform. There might be other outlets where you can scratch that itch.
posted by xyzzy at 11:59 AM on April 10, 2016

This does not seem like it's about politics. When I disagree with people I care about, I try to focus on why I value our relationship and what I like about that person, then look at whether something like social media is bringing us together or pushing us apart. I have hidden a few friends on Facebook because I like them and they are good people but the stuff they share on a day to day basis annoys me. Based on that, I think hiding your brother is the way to go.
posted by kat518 at 1:00 PM on April 10, 2016

I'm off Facebook until this election is over. I feel so much better since I decided this.
posted by feste at 1:22 PM on April 10, 2016

The "internet social justice warrior class" felt like a jab at me. And And the "mascot of these folks" pretty much displays his tone towards any progressive politics. He failed to see any irony in explaining "mansplaining" to me. But whatever.

Thanks for the update. Yeah, I agree with the general consensus here. He seems like he is being fairly dickish on social media, but not in a way that there is any merit in challenging. It's probably mainly hurting you so much both because of your own struggles and also the way that your brother has conducted himself in relation to them.

Withdrawal seems like what you want, and it seems sensible. I guess all I'd suggest is make a note in your calendar for 12 months from now, to remind yourself to review whether you want to look at connecting with him more at that point. That way you can put him entirely out of your mind at this time when he's making you feel really bad, without feeling the pressure of having to think about whether this is the end of your sibling relationship. You clearly need as much energy as you can to focus on your needs.
posted by howfar at 4:26 PM on April 10, 2016

Okay, on further reading, the real issue here is not Facebook or politics. Those are small issues with an easy fix. Hide him. Don't engage. I'm a huge Bernie supporter and I didn't find his remark about Clinton and sexism unreasonable at all... I actually found it thought-provoking. Any resentment you feel over his living situation is your problem and not his fault.

The issue, however, from what I have read, is your understandable resentment over him disappearing from your life when you needed him most. This is entirely reasonable. Now the question is what are you going to do about it? Holding onto resentment that manifests itself as anger at a Facebook exchange isn't going to make this any better and you know this. In fact, it will likely make it worse.

Have you told him how you feel about him disappearing from your life? Does he know how upset you are? Have you been there when he needs you most? Do you make a point to check in with him, to make sure he's doing okay in life?

If you really want to address the root of these issues, you need to talk to him. It's perfectly okay to bring it up. It's perfectly okay to want your brother in your life. But if you're not saying anything and he doesn't say anything the blame cannot fall on one person.

And, please, let go of the resentment over his life circumstances. He can't exactly take a lower posting job to appease his sister, and it's not doing you guys any favors.
posted by Amy93 at 4:29 PM on April 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

I agree with Amy93 - I think the other stuff is really a huge undercurrent here. Like jbenben said, what he did to you when you had cancer? That was, like, win asshole of the year award level stuff. Really horrible. I mean, people treat acquaintances with cancer better than he treated you. That's frigging ridiculous.

As for this comment about the Sanders-Clinton qualification dustup? Boy, if you think that's "fairly aggressive mockery" then you better not venture out into the rest of the internet! I'd call it pretty tame. I'm behind Sanders all the way. He is my mascot! Yeah, it comes off as pretty condescending that he mansplained about mansplaining to you, but I could have a laugh about that if I didn't know about all his gross behavior in the past and already think poorly of him.

I've got a family member who overtly calls me a SJW, even though I'm nothing of the sort. I see people all the time online constantly devolve into personal attacks over politics along the lines of "all Trump supporters are idiots!" and "you'd have to be evil to vote for Clinton!" I kind of agree that he had a legit point that no one else but Bernie could get away with the implication that Hillary's unqualified. It's a far more nuanced response than that of my family member, who says things like "if you don't vote for Bernie, you are a modern day slaver and a fascist!" He didn't directly say anything about you, and honestly although you interpreted what he said as being jabs at you, I wouldn't have read it that way- I know that the internet SJW class does probably, on the whole, support Sanders but I don't feel that reflects personally on me. I'm glad you unfollowed him on Facebook... I'm just sharing this to add perspective. It could be a lot worse.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:50 PM on April 10, 2016

Block him and practice meditation?

Yeah, I think so. (I don't often agree with jbenben on family stuff, but I do here, would favourite multiple times).

Your brother's lack of empathy, and his judgement of your life (betting dollars to donuts he sees you as having suffered from poor "choices") aren't going to change soon. Your fundamental beliefs and ways of living are opposed. I bet that at this stage of life, he sees himself as having "won", and doesn't miss a chance to shove it in your face. Unless he has some kind of personality conversion, being vulnerable and truthful with him will make you feel worse, because he'll make you feel worse - he'll just use it as ammo, because his heart has hardened. Let him go - or, let go of hoping for a non-painful relationship with him. He doesn't even have to know. You can dodge political talk, any meaningful talk at all, in the ways people have described. You can see him at an event, talk about the weather, and walk away.

So sorry. This is a big loss. Expect to grieve. Look to friends for support.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:03 AM on April 11, 2016

One thing I wonder about - not so much the emotional support after you told him your diagnosis, people react to that in weird ways, especially family. But so much o your resentment centers around money, way more than the politics.

Does even a corner of you resent him not financially assisting you, since he is making so much money and you are struggling? Ie does part of you think, "nice BMW, asshole. I can't afford anything nice to help cope with this, why don't you give your sister some of that?"
posted by corb at 10:21 AM on April 11, 2016

Response by poster: {if this is chatfilter delete away}

But YES about the the money. We come from a fairly dysfunctional blue collar background and we both have enough money issues to fill a book.

And to be fair, when I divorced three years ago there was a period before my child support kicked it and when the university bungled my fellowship funding where I was about to miss a mortgage payment. I asked Peter for a four-week loan to take care of that and he loaned me the money without question. So he's not ungenerous.

It's not so much that I want him to *give* me money, but just maybe have a little bit more empathy for what it's like when $500 here or there is a huge difference. The wedding thing stirred up that resentment a lot for me - it was his second big fancy wedding and there was more than a little grumbling among my middle-class family about "We're now expected to fly somewhere again buy him a second set of crystal off the registry?" This snark comes through me and my mom, because that's the passive aggressive way (and it's women's work, I guess). No one would criticize him directly.

But NONE of that is my problem - but I see how I resent some of his financial assets and the fact I'm the "receiver of complaints" about it from the larger family.
posted by pantarei70 at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2016

« Older What's the best bird seed for my bird feeder?   |   How can I tell if you'll be reliable and not... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.