Hello Captain and Friends,
I come from the type of broken home that looks shiny on the outside. The one bright spot in growing up with my neglectful (but not abusive towards me) parents was/is my big brother. We’ve always been very close and have essentially been each other’s best friends since some rather cruel fallings-out we had with our respective friends groups in high school. I wouldn’t say we tell each other everything, but definitely the important things.
My brother finished his Master’s last spring and decided to spend the six months after that traveling. He was doing the student-backpacker thing, so we didn’t keep as closely in touch as we normally do, mostly postcards and brief calls and the occasional email. So imagine my surprise when he came home at the end of December with a fiancé I’d never even heard of.
I’m pretty hurt by this and I think I’m justified. I’m sure that his boyfriend is a great guy, but our parents’ New Years’ party was the first place I met him and also the first time I’d seen my brother in six months. My parents went through the roof, my dad (his step-dad) especially, who has never really accepted that my brother was bi and who used to occasionally express that non-acceptance with his fists when we were younger. There was a huge fight at the party. My brother and his boyfriend left early. Ever since, whenever I talk to my brother, all he does is complain about how he knew mom and dad would react that way and tell me all the horrible things they’ve said to him since. (Apparently they’ve bombarded him with voicemails and even roped other family members into it.)
Obviously I mostly nod and tell him they’re jerks (because they are), but I also want to make it clear to him that they’re not the only ones upset and that I’m hurt too. I’m afraid that anything I say will be seen as taking their side or come across as homophobic or petty. (For the record, I’m totally fine with his bisexuality and have met and approved of past boyfriends. It’s the speed and being kept in the dark that are upsetting me here.) I mean, I know things happen on long trips that seem awesome and then you come home and things change. I don’t want him to get hurt, but also, yeah, I’m pissed he didn’t tell me he’s marrying a stranger.
How can I tell him all this without turning it into him accusing me of siding with my parents? I want to support him, but he’s been through a lot and I’m really worried.
Dear Wary Sister,
I understand that you are hurt and why this comes out of left field for you. Your brother and you are close, so when he brings home someone he’s never mentioned to you, it feels like he is saying “We’re not so close, and I don’t care what you think!” Feelings of hurt can be justified, without them being your brother’s responsibility to manage.
Your brother fell in love and wants to marry someone. He’s not doing anything he’s doing AT you, and none of this is ABOUT you.
Also, once someone says “I’m marrying this person!,” the ship where they wanted other people’s approval or opinions on whether/when/how they should do it has permanently sailed. The person wants you to get on the good ship “Yay!” with them or forever hold your peace. There are cases where you have good reason to not be putting on your jaunty sailor hat, like this one and one I’ll be posting about shortly, but even in those cases like abuse or fraud or extreme worry where you feel like you ethically must speak up it helps if you have very low expectations of how much the happily engaged person wants to hear it. Weddings, y’all. One reason they are so fraught is that I can think of so many examples of ”I am marrying this person! But not doing it in exactly the way you imagined I would! By all means, make me responsible for all of your shattered dreams & hurt feelings! I am totally making all the choices I make in order to hurt and confound you!” playing out, even when people love each other and want to do right by each other.
If you want to rebuild the closeness with your brother, get to know his new partner. Ask if you can spend time with both of them. Go into it with the attitude of “I want to find out what is making my brother so happy!” and not “Things may seem really great when you’re on vacation, but….” If red flags are waving, you’ll spot them, but treating this partner as someone who needs to be defended against or investigated from the start, or calling him “Some Stranger!” will not bring you closer to your brother or help him in any way that he wants right now. Keep in mind:
- He’s NOT a stranger to your brother.
- Sometimes people know each other for only a short time and then get married and are very happy.
- Your brother may have very different expectations about how and when you guys tell each other things. You guys weren’t in frequent contact, so he may have been saving big important news for when you were face to face again. You see this as a slight, but he might see it as “Boyfriend, I can’t wait for you to meet my sister! You will love each other! She will be so surprised!“
- In a country where marriage equality is still being fought for, in a family where such things are discussed with “fists(!)”, cut your brother some slack for being cagey and wanting to control the manner of delivering his big news. He gets to set his own comfort margin about this, as does his fiancé – they get to decide that together..
Whatever dream you had about how he would introduce you to the person he wants to marry, please do not let that become more important than the real relationship that is in front of you. Work on reconnecting with your brother. Get him to tell you all the stories about how they met. Spend time with him and his partner and do not take any of this out on him. Show your brother that you are and continue to be a safe, supportive sister and prove that you’re not like your folks by not being like your folks–who are ruining this opportunity to become closer to your brother by making his happy news all about their feelings of disappointment.
Give it some time and you may be able to have a good conversation about how you want to be involved in the ups and downs of each other’s lives. Your brother might tell you why he didn’t tell you sooner or bring it up himself, but he needs a chance to relax and feel safe first. This is a good time to say “this isn’t about me right now” and let go when you give love: