He's Not My Brother, Dammit.
June 4, 2008 9:46 PM   Subscribe

How to tactfully respond when people comment that my partner and I look like "brothers"?

We are both lily-white twenty-somethings with an at-times overlapping fashion sense, and that's about where it ends. I'm several inches taller, different hair and eye color, different bone structure, etc. etc. than my partner. But often, in fact several times this week, people have asked if we're brothers or commented that we look like brothers or "twins." Sometimes this comes from people who KNOW we're partners, other times they are just strangers commenting. Often it is older people, but not always.

This bothers me for several reasons:

1. We really believe we don't look alike.

2. I feel acute vicarious embarrassment for the person when I have to explain that we're not related, because...

3. ...I think that's an offensive (or at least loaded) thing to say to a couple, and something that most people would NEVER say to a straight couple. (When a male/female couple look uncannily similar, I've found people say they "fit together" instead.) It implies that this is part of our attraction to each other, and taps into an image of the narcissistic or incestuous homosexual that I feel is inappropriate and inaccurate in this case. From the beginning, we have always noticed and loved our differences.

Here's a photo if you really must see (plus stepmother-in-law). But please limit your advice to dealing with the situation at hand; chiming in how alike we really may look to you isn't helpful (see 1, 2, 3 above).

What can I do to defuse these situations, for the sake of all involved?
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] to Human Relations (66 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think that's an offensive (or at least loaded) thing to say to a couple, and something that most people would NEVER say to a straight couple.

I swear to you, when I was a child, someone once said this to my parents in my presence. And I can recall saying it to a straight couple or two. I think you're wrong about people making judgment about the nature of your attraction (this is the people who know you two are romantically involved). I think they're just projecting their visual scan of you onto the relationship you have identified. It's just another way of people getting to subtly and unconciously express their belief that the world revolves around them (i.e. Of COURSE you two a special relationship, because in my mind, you visually fit together).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:54 PM on June 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, you guys don't really look alike. At least in that picture. To me.

I can totally see this being something my grandmother (older people/people who aren't around gay people ever) would say because she would be really out of her element talking to a gay couple. She would want to be friendly, but wouldn't know what to say really. I would liken this to people who ask straight couples when they are getting married or having babies. Not really appropriate, not their business, but something that people say when they don't know what else to say. Unless these people you encounter are saying it to you in an unkind way (body language, tone), they probably mean no harm by it.

There are (at least) two ways to approach this. You could be short and cool with them and simply say "no we are not brothers," letting the certain-to-be awkward silence afterward sink in (which might help these people to not say such a thing again, to anyone). Or, you could be really cheery/goofy about it and say something like "oh my god, I HOPE not!" and chuckle it away.
posted by phunniemee at 9:57 PM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

This used to happen to me with a girlfriend (I'm a dude). It is weird thing to say to people who are romantically involved, but you may be overthinking the homophobic connotation.
posted by mzurer at 9:57 PM on June 4, 2008

As for advice on how to handle it, I say, play it straight (yuk yuk). If someone assumes you're brothers or otherwise related, go right along. And then all of a sudden, make out like crazy, just to blow their minds.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:58 PM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

...I think that's an offensive (or at least loaded) thing to say to a couple, and something that most people would NEVER say to a straight couple.

um. i have said—and heard other people say—this to straight couples.
posted by violetk at 10:02 PM on June 4, 2008

Response by poster: Just to clarify, I don't necessarily see any such implication as overt, in fact it's subconscious at best. They don't know they're implying anything.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 10:03 PM on June 4, 2008

Okay, from the standpoint of an objective observer, you do look enough alike for it to be plausible that people would think you were related (it's the beautiful eyes and perky noses). Yes, it's presumptuous and rude for people to make unsolicited comments about your kinship, but people in general tend to blurt out untactful things all the time...

I think a cheery, "No, we're not brothers, we're partners! (capped off with a happy smile)" would be the best way to respond. It allows you to make an assertive point about your relationship while leaving the other person to ponder their own thoughts/reactions/etc. You can't control other people's thoughts about you (even the maddening ones), but you CAN control your reactions to them.
posted by amyms at 10:04 PM on June 4, 2008

In a same-sex couple it'd be easy to take an implied insult that the guy looks feminine or the lady looks masculine that way. I think that's one case where people say they "fit together," instead. However, I can also totally see where you're coming from.

Obviously people say silly things without stopping to think about how it would seem from your perspective. From strangers, they could be fishing for your status with a line like that I guess. From people you know it's a little different. To defuse that situation I'd laugh and say something similar to what you stated above about your mutual appreciation for each others' differences. I'd rather be optimistic about their meaning and give them that chance.
posted by empyrean at 10:08 PM on June 4, 2008

I meant "With a straight couple" in my first line there. In case it wasn't obvious. :)
posted by empyrean at 10:12 PM on June 4, 2008

I know a straight couple who are both pale redheads with blue eyes. They get told they look like brother and sister all the time. By people who know they're a couple. By a nurse in the hospital when they were there having their baby, even. So it's not necessarily meant in a homophobic or offensive manner - I think phunniemee has it - people say stupid shit when they don't know what else to say.

As for how to respond, maybe something like, "funny, my parents certainly don't think he looks like me!" Unless the person is obviously displaying some negative behavior and not just saying it as an offhand remark when they're just trying to make small talk, a casual chuckle will probably get the point across.

(For what it's worth, I don't think you look alike either. You do have a similar skin tone, but I am just as fair-skinned as you both are and I'm pretty certain that we're not related.)
posted by bedhead at 10:12 PM on June 4, 2008

My wife used to get this all the time when she lived in Taiwan (she's "white") with any other vaguely Caucasian person. It comes from a combination of people who a) believe it's true and b) don't realize it's a stupid thing to say in ANY situation. I mean really, even if it was true - so what? What would you say if you agreed? Is discussing how the two of you look really a useful conversation? You might as well talk about the weather or your favourite local sports team, both of which are more appropriate topics for small talk. Just pretend it never happened and move the conversation along. Anyone vacuous enough to bother saying that will be easily dominated in a conversation so just move 'em along.
posted by GuyZero at 10:20 PM on June 4, 2008

"Ha, ha! It's like I'm fucking my twin! That's Hi-larious."

Maybe not very constructive but it's the sort of thing I would be wishing I could say, see their reaction, then use my superpowers to spin the world backwards for about 5 minutes.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:21 PM on June 4, 2008

Selection bias.

Also, statistically speaking, two dudes hanging out together who look similar are more likely to be be siblings than a guy and a girl who look similar.
posted by blenderfish at 10:23 PM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

People used to always say this to my ex-husband and me. We don't look alike at all BUT -- we do look similar in a pale-skin-brown-hair-WASPy-New-England-y way, so maybe that was it. (My ex uses a wheelchair, and there may have been a bit of disability weirdness, so I know that ?? feeling.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:27 PM on June 4, 2008

If it makes you feel any better: when my mother and I go out together (dinner, parties, get-togethers, etc.), I'm often complimented on how beautiful my "wife" is.

So it may not be a completely gay thing.
posted by Avenger at 10:35 PM on June 4, 2008

Well if it makes you feel any better, people often say that my (m) husband and (f) I look like siblings. After being asked twice, "Are you sure?" after telling different people that we're not, I've changed my answer. *Now* when it comes up, I offer an amused, "Well, I don't *think* we are, but you know how wild the 70s were."
posted by headspace at 10:38 PM on June 4, 2008 [6 favorites]

My wife and I get this a fair amount- that is, "Are you brother and sister?" The first time this happened to us was early in our relationship and she had just finished telling me, "I don't know why we are together. We don't have anything in common." Then the cashier says....

I think people sense a deep connection and sometimes go there. This may be no disrespect.

I suggest gazing into each other's eyes with dreamy smiles and saying, "No."
posted by pointilist at 10:41 PM on June 4, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for your supportive answers, everyone. I know it's not really a gay thing (I was a bit hyperbolic when I stated that most people would "NEVER" say that to a straight couple).

I can't help but believe that there is an weirdness to it when one is gay. Partly that is in the eye of the beholder, as I clearly interpret things through my knowledge of gay psychology and issues, flavored with my own insecurities and the way I desire to be beheld. Partly it is because a man and a woman correcting someone to say they're actually married is a lower-stakes admission (in many places/situations) than having to choose that moment to tell someone that you are gay-- definitely an admission that elicits less of an guaranteed "Good for you!" than one of marital bliss.

Anyhow, lest this devolve into a pile-up of purely "that happens to us too" answers from straight people (no matter how well-meant), I'm more curious about how to address it when it happens than whom it happens to.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 10:44 PM on June 4, 2008

I agree with you. You don't look alike.

Here's how I'd deal with the situation.

Them: Hey, you guys look alike!
You: Do you think so? I can't see it.


Them: Hey, you guys look alike! Are you brothers?
You: No, we're not brothers.


Them: Hey, you guys look alike! Are you brothers? Are you having hot incestuous sex?
You: I beg your pardon?

The key to this is to remember they probably haven't thought of the incestuous angle, and won't, until 3 hours later when they will slap their forehead and go D'oh! and if you're gentle in your response, they can take away the belief that you missed that whole offensive connotation.

Or if they have (thought of the incestuous angle), you should make them feel like wankers, and I find the best way to do that is be calm, and polite, and absolutely incredulous that someone would be so obnoxious.
posted by b33j at 10:45 PM on June 4, 2008 [4 favorites]

I would never say that to a couple, but I sure say it about them whenever I see one of those look-alike couples. Gay, straight, whatever -- it's something that people notice and comment on.

However, as indicated by the comment above about the person in Taiwan, it's not necessarily coming from an informed or observant perspective. The people saying this to you -- do they get to meet a lot of other gay/same age/overlapping fashion/same race/etc couples? Or are they reacting to that set of overlaps? They might just be saying, in essence, that both of you fit into the same mental slot, and saying "wow, you look like brothers" is a way of acknowledging it without having to admit that what they are really wondering is "who is the wife?"

Regardless, unless you guys start dressing really differently, this is going to keep happening, and it will probably keep happening even if you dressed as differently as you can imagine. I have the opposite issue -- my partner and I look very much unalike, and guess what? Some people comment on that, joke about what the (totally theoretical) baby will look like, make inappropriate comments about our sex life, and so on. Some people just don't have any barrier between thought and comment, and whatever comes into their mind comes out their mouth with no hint of social grace. There's no changing it -- it's purely up to you to choose how to respond.

I think you should handle it just like any other situation where a person gets inappropriately intrusive and says something for which they should feel embarrassed. Stay polite, make a joke, move the conversation on usually works. Or being deadly serious and keeping a straight face while asking "really? how do you mean?" until they get it and start squirming with embarrassment. Or you pretend you didn't hear it (because any response is a reward) and just ask them about something totally unrelated.
posted by Forktine at 10:54 PM on June 4, 2008

I get those comments regarding my sister ("You could be twins!") about as often as I get the "you guys look nothing alike" comments.

My standard response is to either comment on the similarity if I think I know what they're getting at (in my case, I say "yeah, it's the hair", since that's the one thing we have in common) and then they all go "that must be it" and drop it) or just acknowledge the remark and move on ("Hmm... you really think we look alike? How odd; I don't really see that. Oh, well.") If they're really feeling like we look alike they'll offer evidence, but in most cases it's enough to end the speculation and move on to another topic.
posted by stefanie at 10:54 PM on June 4, 2008

For the record, I've also had people ask my brother and I (we do look alike) whether we're a couple.

WTF, you have two people, each of whom is an opposite-sexed counterpart of the other (with a slight variance in weight, height, and age), and that's your first guess?! So. Creepy.
posted by bettafish at 11:01 PM on June 4, 2008

I guess there's kind of a confounding array of possibilities here.

If they don't know you're a couple, then commenting that you look similar or asking if you are brothers is an honest question. "Nope." or "Nope, we're actually a couple", or "Nope, we're friends" if you don't feel like getting into it (straight people do this too.)

If they do know you're a couple, then commenting that you look similar is just idle, auto-pratter, like telling someone who is tall that they are tall. Annoying and meaningless, but not loaded with subtext. (I.e., just because I'm making idle chit-chat and I tell a tall person that they're tall, It doesn't mean that I think they're blind or too stupid to know that they're tall, it just means I'm an awkward conversationalist.) A suitable response might be "We get that a lot, but I don't see it." or "We get that a lot; but I think it's just that us skinny white dudes all kinda look alike." or, if you really want to bail on the line of conversation, something monosyllabic like "Hmm."

The only one I could see being offensive is if they _know_ you're a couple _and_ they ask if you are brothers. Has that actually happened?
posted by blenderfish at 11:04 PM on June 4, 2008

A few months ago I asked two straight men who looked nothing alike but seemed completely simpatico if they were brothers...no, but secure enough with themselves not to cloak their fondness for each other with snarkiness.
posted by brujita at 11:19 PM on June 4, 2008

um... people have asked whether my fiance is my brother and we're straight. His solution is to say "yes" and then starting making out with me.
posted by bananafish at 11:19 PM on June 4, 2008 [7 favorites]

Also, I think "Really? Man, I hope our kids don't come out with two heads!" would be funny.
posted by blenderfish at 11:23 PM on June 4, 2008

"Actually, I do happen to have a bit of his DNA in me."
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:44 PM on June 4, 2008 [7 favorites]

This happens to my partner and I all the time. We usually just kiss passionately then say "but we're not going to have kids, so it's okay!". This would be even more apropos for a gay couple.
posted by goo at 11:49 PM on June 4, 2008 [5 favorites]

From 1964:
Do you study the bridal photographs in your daily paper? You do, well I expected you would. Then I wonder if any of you have ever noticed how often the happy newlyweds resemble eachother in facial features. Just start noticing and you will be amazed at the great number of strong resemblances - the same wide or little mouths, big or little noses, similar eyes, cheekbones, etc. It really is a fact. Sometimes one would think the couples were brother and sister.
posted by slightlybewildered at 3:41 AM on June 5, 2008

They don't know they're implying anything .

If they don't know, then it's not implication at work here, but inference.
posted by Neiltupper at 4:01 AM on June 5, 2008

When people ask, maybe they are fishing for information? Dude, those guys are hot, just my (or my brother's or my roommate's) type . I wonder if that one is single? Are they even gay(straight)? If they are gay, they don't have to be gay together; they do have kind of similar features if you squint, right? I totally bet they are just brothers...

"So," the bystander said hopefully, "Are you guys brothers?"
posted by pointystick at 4:47 AM on June 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

"Well, I think he's better-looking than I am, so I'll take that as a compliment."
posted by box at 4:53 AM on June 5, 2008

"But no, we're not related."
posted by box at 4:57 AM on June 5, 2008

There are so many ways to go with this:

The polite but dismissive - "Hmm, I don't really see it?"

The polite accepting with a humor - "Really? He's cute so I'll take that as a compliment!"

The polite dismissive with a humor - "I always thought I was the hot one!"

Mincy - "Sisters more like it!"

Alternate mincy - "Oh we're definitely 'family'"

posted by Pollomacho at 5:06 AM on June 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

As a queer-identifying person myself, I completely agree that I haaate when this happens. The best advice I read in all of the above answers was: "Just pretend it never happened and move the conversation along. Anyone vacuous enough to bother saying that will be easily dominated in a conversation so just move 'em along."

I've never been able to come up with a sharp witticism at the moment of the insult, sadly, but going forward, if the commenter was being particularly vicious, I'd definitely use one of the aforementioned:

--"Actually, I do happen to have a bit of his DNA in me."
--"Really? Man, I hope our kids don't come out with two heads!" would be funny.

I have to speak from experience that you are justified, at least some of the time, in thinking this results from some (unconscious) homophobia on the part of the commenter. It may stem from a discomfort with LGBTQ folks and perhaps not knowing what to say/how to interact with us.

If it's someone related to you who says this, I think you can afford to be a little more snappy if you know how they'll react:

Aunt Jane: Wow, Dan and Mark really look like brothers.
Mark: I guess I just have the hots for my family. And, oh my, Aunt Jane, you're looking gorgeous today..... *wink wink*
posted by potatopeople at 5:38 AM on June 5, 2008

[NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] asked: How to tactfully respond when people comment that my partner and I look like "brothers"?

Say "Thanks" and move the conversation elsewhere. Tact is not having to explain or give a snarky response.
posted by JJ86 at 6:02 AM on June 5, 2008

My cousin and I, when we lived and hung out in the same city, would occasionally get, "are you brothers", even though everyone we know says we look nothing alike (and I'm vaguely hippie-ish, and he's button-down Republican). We also got, "are you a couple" on account of having the same mannerisms. On the other hand, my sister and I have never gotten "are you siblings" but plenty of "are you a couple" and we pretty much look like male-female versions of the same person.

I really don't think you ought to be offended. At worst, it's folks just reaching for something to say. There's plenty of real shit out there to be offended over.
posted by notsnot at 6:23 AM on June 5, 2008

I think also this is sort of societal growing pains. People are by and large fairly adept interacting with opposite-sex couples - most people (not all) know the big potholes to watch out for. I think a fair amount of, uh, the square community has less experience with same-sex couples. They don't yet know automatically what stupid shit not to say.

I agree with the people "say thanks and move on" people, but I would include a *tinge* of "you've said something that made me uncomfortable" in your manner, so they can at least have a chance at sorting it out on the car ride home.

Also, statistically speaking, two dudes hanging out together who look similar are more likely to be be siblings than a guy and a girl who look similar
posted by dirtdirt at 6:24 AM on June 5, 2008

I have a friend who I travel with and hang out with a lot. (We are both gay, but not a couple.) We regularly get the related question (even though I don't think we look alike.) Though for us because of our age differences (I'm 20 years older), we more often get father/son. However, also get asked from time to time if we are brothers. I think 2 males who are clearly together get asked if they are related this because it is one of the most likely frames of reference within heterosexual society for 2 connected males.
posted by hworth at 7:17 AM on June 5, 2008

My wife and I got this a lot.

In most cases, we merely said we're not brother and sister.
In some cases, we'd say yes, followed by an over the top PDA, occasionally followed by asking their opinions on incest, the Mormon Church, or some cult. YMWV.
posted by Chuckles McLaughy du Haha, the depressed clown at 7:21 AM on June 5, 2008

I (girl, here) got the siblings question with a boy I used to date. And every once in awhile, after we politely demurred, that person would continue to go on and on about how much looked like siblings. If it was a younger person, we'd lapse into WTF looks pretty quickly. If it was an older person, we knew that they were likely not thinking about the weird incest angle, and went with a variation on "nahh, just both young, blond, white."

I think that you're absolutely right that this is weirder if you're gay because every correction requires you to come out to another stranger. The only thing I can advise is to try not to let your annoyance show -- every time you can nonchalantly and cheerfully correct someone, you're hopefully helping nudge along a realization in other people that some of the "normal" folks around them are gay. Besides, even if/when our society progresses to a point where there is no risk of disapproval, discomfort, or worse when telling people that you're gay, you'll still be in a minority to the tune of 10%, and thus will still have to correct people.
posted by desuetude at 7:28 AM on June 5, 2008

Okay, I'll admit, I favorited some of the good snark upthread. But it sounds like you're looking for a non-snarky/non-angry way to respond that'll still make people question their perceptions a little. I do think you've got some options there, especially for people who know y'all are a couple. How about

"Yeah, I think people just aren't used to seeing two guys act this close when they're not relatives. You'll get used to it."

or maybe

"The funny thing is, once you get to know him better, you'll realize we're not all that alike. If we were really like brothers we'd drive each other crazy."

Anecdotally, yes, my first girlfriend and I got this a lot early on in our relationship. We were fifteen at the time, and honestly we looked about twelve, and I got the sense that the people saying it (mostly older women, for some reason) didn't want to acknowledge that such young kids were fooling around together. When we were still together at eighteen, and I'd grown a beard and started looking my age, the brother-sister comments stopped.

So it may be that these people are trying to think "innocent" thoughts about you (albeit with a skewed sense of what counts as "innocent") rather than going out of their way to think something creepy. I know that doesn't make it any better, but I thought I'd throw it out there as something to think about.

posted by nebulawindphone at 7:31 AM on June 5, 2008

Just say "yeah, we get that a lot" in a "huh, that's not very interesting" tone and change the subject.

(The guy who did our laundry used to say that to my husband and me all the time -- like, every week. Eventually I told him we were 8th cousins once removed. Which is true. And legal. And not all that odd, if you know what "8th cousin once removed" means. But it creeps people out and they shut up.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:38 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

the exact same thing happens to my girlfriend and i (we are both fat and have brown hair, so OBVIOUSLY we are sisters).

it pisses me off for similar reasons.

my general responses are as follows:

if it's an older person or if i feel a truthful answer would put us in danger of physical harm, i say "nope, just cousins." the old person grew up in a different time and they're not going to change now and it's just not worth the effort.

if it's some clueless sales clerk or whoever, i just glare at them and say "no, we're partners." this either makes them feel bad (good!) or they give me a dirty look and go away.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:55 AM on June 5, 2008

Well, if you want to make them squirm a little, ask them (sincerely and without attitude) "Really? Why do you say that?" If they were just floundering around for something to say, putting them on the hook to explain their dumb comment might be ... instructive. You can press them to keep explaining until you're satisfied that they realize what a stupid thing it was to say. This approach is not recommended if you want to stay on good terms with people. I use it a lot. I have very few friends.

Then again, they might have actually noticed some similarity that the two of you aren't aware of, perhaps something behavioral like body language or speech patterns, in which case the discussion might be interesting and even pleasant.
posted by Quietgal at 8:02 AM on June 5, 2008

I have this problem all the time with my partner, only in our case the assumption is father and son. It's awkward, but it's not that big a deal.

How do you defuse the situation? By being confident in yourself, assuming the best intentions in the person making the mistake, and telling them as much as you want to. A simple "no, we're not brothers", or maybe "no, but we're close", or just say "no, we're lovers". Don't overthink it.

The key here is to not get upset that someone made the wrong guess. I can assure you that in a casual contact they're not assuming some incestuous homosexual relationship; that's your baggage, not theirs. They're just trying to be nice to you and have figured out the two of you have a close relationship and made a guess. The social grace is in correcting their incorrect guess without making yourself or them uncomfortable. It's easier if you assume folks basically mean well.
posted by Nelson at 8:13 AM on June 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

My husband and I were told all the time that we looked like siblings, especially when we were younger. One lady even assumed that we were twins and asked us if our Mom dressed us in matching outfits. Don't be offended, people usually mean well. Just make a comment like, "He's lucky to look like me, I'm hot!!"
posted by pearlybob at 8:33 AM on June 5, 2008

When my partner and I first met and for the first few years of our relationship, we both had beards and glasses- now partner is beardless (w/ mustache tho) and had Lasik, but for that first while everybody (gay and straight) would comment on how much we looked like brothers, and yes we were asked more than once if we were brothers.

And we're DIFFERENT RACES. He's east Indian and I'm an Ital-Polish white guy who'd never be mistaken for Indian.

I had the out of saying "we're not even the same race," but when I tried that the questioner would look hurt and insulted, maybe rightly so- after that, I would just say no, we're partners but I take that as a huge compliment.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:10 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd be tempted to say 'yes... who would have thought narcissists like us could be so much in love?' or 'we've been looking around for a matching dog, but no luck so far.'
posted by jamjam at 9:15 AM on June 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't think you guys look alike at all, but I think being together and being in sync can make people look alike expression wise. Maybe people are picking up on that kind of thing, and even if they aren't, I'd reframe it that way and mention something about that as I smilingly blow off their comment if I disliked that comment as much as you do. Kind of a "Yeah," and then go in a different direction reinterpreting what they said.

Personally, I like that my partner and I look kind of like twins (though male and female and of different enough ages that we are obviously not literally twins, but don't get me started about when they have assumed he's my son). I even call him my twin because we feel like we are meant for each other -- my point is that you have an interpretation that causes you to feel bad about that word or observation, and it's not the only interpretation, as other responses here also show.
posted by Listener at 9:21 AM on June 5, 2008

Well, I can absolutely refute your statement that such things are never said to a straight couple. My girlfriend and I have on multiple occassions been asked if we're brother and sister by people who're (I hope) not aware we're together, despite the fact that we don't really look alike (aside from the pinchable cheeks.)

Does it bother me? Hell, no. In the grand scheme of things to be angry about this falls incredibly low on my list. In fact, I usually just say, "Thanks. I'm flattered", since my girlfriend is one of the hottest people I know.
posted by Rewind at 9:25 AM on June 5, 2008

Anyhow, lest this devolve into a pile-up of purely "that happens to us too" answers from straight people (no matter how well-meant), I'm more curious about how to address it when it happens than whom it happens to.

"Really? I don't see it. So, how about that local sports franchise, huh?"
posted by phearlez at 9:41 AM on June 5, 2008

The first time my mom saw a picture of my now-husband, she said "oooh, he looks just like Evan [my brother]!"

I was disgusted. Married the guy anyway, and now our sons look like my brother. Ha ha!
posted by pyjammy at 9:43 AM on June 5, 2008

Just putting this out there, but people say that to straight couples. I don't mean to say it happens aaaall the time, but it happens whenever they look like they might be related. I don't know if it makes you feel any better; it is an awkward thing to say to anyone.
posted by Nattie at 9:46 AM on June 5, 2008

Just to give you another perspective - Someone once commented that a male and a female they met at a wedding made a lovely couple. They turned out to be brother and sister. That's a worse oops in my opinion!
posted by pinksoftsoap at 9:47 AM on June 5, 2008

You can help the situation by stop reading so much into the things people say when they're making small talk.

Also, saying two people look as though they are (or could be) brothers is not the same as suggesting they are brothers.

If they say you two look like brothers, you can say "I appreciate the compliment, but he's not my brother."

If they ask if you are brothers, tell them you're not.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:19 AM on June 5, 2008

My ex-partner and I used to get this all the time. Worse, people frequently assumed that my dark-haired daughter (who looks nothing like me) was mine, and my blond daughter (who looks very much like me) was, in fact, her daughter, just because they had lighter hair.

I think it's mostly a matter of the mouth getting ahead of the brain, and as others have said, they register that the two of you are close and their minds jump to "family" as an explanation. Not so much homophobia as heterocentrism.

That said, we rarely bothered to explain or correct. It happened too often with people who were too incidental for us to care. When we could be bothered, we mostly went with a humorous approach not intended to make them feel awkward, and you've gotten some good suggestions for that here.

You could try to pick him up, grunt loudly, and say, "He's heavy. He's not my brother!"
posted by notashroom at 10:20 AM on June 5, 2008

People often say my stepsister and I look alike, when really our only similarity is that we're both on the chubby side. We have very different facial features, completely different colouring, (I'm pale with straight light brown hair, whereas she has very dark curly hair and an olive skin tone), and she's much taller than I am, despite being only sixteen.

It always takes me aback and I never know what to say. However, pointing out that we're not actually related always creates an awkward silence and sometimes offends people who were only trying to make polite conversation. So now I tend to go for a non-committal "Oh, do you think so?" and leave it at that.

Several people upthread have suggested you thank them for the compliment and move on, but I don't personally see why this is something you should thank someone for. If they said you were both attractive, sure. But related? I would vote just changing the subject quickly but politely. "Really? We don't think so. Another drink, anyone?"

That said, people commenting you and your partner look alike when they know you are a couple is very weird, and I personally would probably let rip with the sarcasm/witty retorts.

(And for what it's worth, from that picture you two look nothing whatsoever alike in my opinion.)
posted by badmoonrising at 10:47 AM on June 5, 2008

Couldn't you just decide not to feel offended by it? Because I really doubt that any offense is meant, or that the commenters need to be made to "question their assumptions." You do look related to me, so you probably do look related to other people, too, and some people can't help commenting on that kind of thing whether you're straight or gay. I used to get this all the time with a former boyfriend (I'm straight), and I just took it as meaning they thought we were a cute couple. They probably didn't, but whatever. It's not worth making them feel bad with a snarky comment when they didn't mean to make you feel bad. People are awkward. It's good to give them a little slack.
posted by HotToddy at 11:03 AM on June 5, 2008

Despite my Al Jaffee-inspired retort above, I've had the same thing happen, despite the fact that my partner's accent immediately identifies him as coming from another country. I try to assume the best about the asker's intentions, and parse it as, "I can tell you two are together -- elaborate for me."
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:26 AM on June 5, 2008

If it makes you feel any better I (straight female) have had this happen to me ALL THE TIME. Usually it is for no other reason then I have black hair and the guy I'm dating has black hair. That's really all it takes. You don't look alike, but if you are walking together and have 1 similar feature, people will assume.

It may happen to you more often than me though, because people don't assume as much that you might be a couple, and are therefore more willing to make that statement.

Sometimes I take glee in agreeing that my boyfriend and I are siblings and then acting creepily close in front of the person. It freaks people out horribly, until they eventually figure it out. Gives 'em a good warning not to make assumptions though.
posted by speef at 12:34 PM on June 5, 2008

Heh. I've had this happen with my girlfriend, especially from black pals (we're both caucasian). Which always gave me the out of "Naw, man, all white people just look alike." Also useful: "Nah, we're not from Virginia."

So, in that spirit, you could use either one of those, or go for "No, we're totally gay! High five!" or a cheeky "No, all gay dudes look alike."
posted by klangklangston at 2:11 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

This happens sometimes with my partner and me, perhaps because we are about the same age, have similar hair color, both have moustaches, both wear glasses. More often people say that our voices sound alike, but I do, in fact, see some resemblance. The big difference is that the males in my family are balding (me the most) and the ones in his family are not. If we wear caps, he does resemble one my brothers, the one who was an Army officer. But I digress...

I don't know how long you guys have been together, but I've seen that sometimes couples who have been together awhile grow to look more and more alike, whether they are gay or straight. Somehow, they look like they "belong together" and people recognize that on some unconscious level, even if they don't realize that they are a couple. I wonder if the people who say this don't really realize you are a couple.

Having said that, I do think it's rude of them to comment on the perceived resemblance. You certainly don't have to feel embarrassed for them. If you want to, you can explain that no, you're not brothers, you are partners. Or depending on the situation, maybe you can just give them a blank look and maybe say, "We're not". The thing is, it's the other person who is being rude. Your only "responsibility" here, if we can call it that, is to not respond with rudeness and, if you feel like it, correct their misapprehension.
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:22 PM on June 5, 2008

I dunno, I know a hetero couple who literally DO look alike. They have the same haircut, and have been known to wear the same/similar clothing even when they didn't get dressed at the same time. And I just SAID they look alike, to their faces. (Her reaction was to be embarrassed and swear they didn't compare outfits before leaving the house.)

You guys don't look alike at all to me, so I don't get where that's coming from. But I have something similar go on with my mother, because people swear up and down we look alike. My body obviously comes from her side of the family, but they are going on faces, and ours are totally different. Nobody seems to clue in on this unless they know/have seen any of my dad's side relatives, though. I can only assume that we ACT alike in public and that's what people are picking up on. Maybe y'all do too?

I like this and this suggestion :)
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:00 PM on June 5, 2008

Mmm... yeah I'm not seeing it.
BUT - how long have you guys been together? Do you mirror each other's mannerisms ect. ?

Perhaps you're just being too sensitive about it? :) Which would explain why people you know are teasing you about it by mentioning it? You pretty much look nothing alike so I'd have to guess your relationship has a very clear bond to it.
People often mistake my brother and I as partners... and we DO look alike. Ugh! We were laughing about something not making out! So all I can say is people mean well... but can just be a bit dumb?

My brother and I usually respond with "...um? that's my -" But you could really have fun with this and respond with "If he were my brother would I be able to do this?" and start enthusiastically making out :D ...or maybe not.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 3:01 AM on June 7, 2008

My response above was glib, but being asked constantly, by friends and strangers, if we were brother and sister did weird me out initially. You need to come to terms with the fact that, even if you don't think you look alike, other people see a resemblance. To be honest, it took travelling to make me accept it - people in other countries, with totally different cultural touchstones, said the same thing, so it must be evident to other people even if not to me (cos he's so much cuter than me!!).

It's only got worse for us the longer we've been together (of every new group of people we're introduced to, at least one person will ask), despite changing hairstyles and weights (in his case). All you can do is get used to it.
posted by goo at 1:01 PM on June 7, 2008

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