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:
89 thoughts on “#445: My brother is marrying a stranger!”
Aww, this is such a lovely response, Captain. Good luck, LW! I hope you enjoy getting to know your brother’s new partner and that he’s great.
My BFF married a guy she knew for less than two months, and it was a pattern of falling into bad/weird relationships with abusive guys. At the time, I said so, and was pretty emphatic that I thought it was bad news and super judgy and kind of an asshole about it. Alas, it was none of my business, which made it particularly difficult for her to come to me a few years down the line when it turned abusive. She was particularly uninterested in hearing my “I told you so’s” and “I wish you’d asked me’s,” and can you blame her? Who was I in this equation but some overly-interested, busybody third party?
Like the Captain says, he’s not getting married AT you. Be supportive. Make this about his happiness, and make sure he knows you are invested in his happiness, however that occurs. This guy could be The One, he may not be, but you want to be in your brother’s life regardless, yes?
I love the honesty of this comment. As a survivor of a few abusive relationships, I find the ‘I wish you’d asked me’ comments a bit of a red flag when working out whether a person is safe to talk to about my experiences or to go to for help in the future. I know they’re well meant, but it tells me that my friend is more interested in their role as a rescuer than they are in my well being and that at some point I will have to deal with looking after their expectations of how I should act/have acted instead of looking after my own actual needs.
I think Lauren’s advice about making this about the LW’s brother’s happiness is spot on. Being the super supportive sister who trusted him to make decisions for himself (whatever the ultimate outcome of those decisions) is a much better foundation for your future relationship than being the sister whose expectations about his life he has to manage so she doesn’t get upset.
Good advice, and I would also add, that if he notices you being a bit cagey and brings it up, you can explain your feelings without making it about him. “Yeah, I’m sorry about that. Your fiance seems great and I’m really excited about getting to know him, I was just a little surprised since you never mentioned him and I’m still working on adjusting.” Make it about your expectations, not about the relationship itself. You’re not upset about them getting married like the rest of the family! You just need a little time to catch up to where your brother’s headspace is.
Seconding. Having a concise, non-blamey explanation of my feelings ready for the right moment helps me to set my feelings aside without feeling bottled up. So, once you have congratulated your brother and met his fiance and things are more comfortable, you can say something like ‘actually, I admit I felt a bit blindsided when I heard you were getting married’ and then follow it up with something that shows you still support him anyway. Make your feelings about you. Be happy for him.
Yeah–it might even help to say something like, “This is such a wonderful thing, you being happy, and I feel like I missed out on it because it happened while you were traveling–tell me more stories about how you guys got to know each other.” I mean, I think it needs to be specifically framed as “I don’t want to miss out on this great thing in your life,” as opposed to “this is a terrible thing and I don’t want you to do it.”
Just as an anecdotal account on the “six-months to engaged” front, I knew Mr.Logic was going to be my Person forever within six months of meeting him, and vice versa. I even offered to courtroom marry him to get him insurance should he need it. We did NOT get engaged for a couple of years, but then, we didn’t have to. We could have probably cruised by on unwed Person-dom forever, but decided to get married because why the hell not? We were each other’s Person, ring or no ring, but having the ring and the ceremony and whatnot made a lot of bureaucracy move more smoothly (and made health insurance cheaper. romantic, no?).
As far as we know, your brother has found his Person and wants to marry him. There may be Reasons (visas, insurance, straight up loving the idea of being married, etc.). There may not be. They may be engaged as a trial period. They may not be each other’s Person after all. But whatever the case, six months is plenty of time to decide whether something is a good idea, and “engaged” is nowhere near as final as “married.” Get to know the fiancé! You’ve got time!
…having the ring and the ceremony and whatnot made a lot of bureaucracy move more smoothly (and made health insurance cheaper. romantic, no?).
Heehee, those are pretty much exactly the reasons my partner and I got married this year after being together for 16 years. Romance, schmomance, I say 🙂
I think Mr. Bells told his mother he was going to marry me after our second meeting. We hadn’t even had a date yet. I can’t say I *recommend* it, but it does happen.
All of this. Yes. The timing of my marriage was related to potential immigration difficulties if we waited any longer, though the marriage itself is related us being confident that we would like to watch each other grow and flourish, and then grow old and fall apart together. No engagement, just some flights to Vegas, ’cause we could.
Me and my husband had been a couple for half a year when he proposed, we moved in together (which was a very difficult-to-reverse decision, given the apartment market at the time), and then we got married (big church wedding, so it took some time to arrange everything) the next year.
We’ve been ridiculously super-happily married for twelve years now.
I don’t really get the idea that you MUST be a couple for years and years before you know whether it’s right to marry the person or not. Okay, you can’t get to know each other well enough in a couple of weeks, I’ll grant that, but six months – plenty of time.
So your brother took a well deserved trip and found love on the way. Good for him. I don’t think you have any right to be hurt by this. Maybe he wanted to tell in you in person. You don’t know his reasons.
Your brother is dealing with a lot of Big Stuff right now. Your ego shouldn’t be one of them.
I don’t disagree with any of what you’ve said per se, but I feel it’s a little harsh. No, she doesn’t get to put this shit on her brother but people are allowed to feel hurt by being sidelined by someone they’re really close to. They just don’t get to make it that person’s problem.
Yeah, I realized it after posting. I don’t mean to be judging. My heart goes out to the brother, not his relatives. Thanks for being polite!
Yeah, I’d separate that into “don’t have any right to act as though he has done you a terrible wrong and demand reparation.” But people always have the right to feel the way they feel. Partly since nothing’s more counter-productive than just telling yourself NOT to feel something because you SHOULDN’T feel it–because tough luck, you feel it anyway, and you have to deal with it as it is.
people always have the right to feel the way they feel
Another anecdote. My parents met in August and were married the following February. They are celebrating their 40th anniversary later this month.
Short engagements happen and they can work. Not that they always do, but how will you know from the outside?
More anecdata: With my parents it was meeting on July 14, get engaged August 6 and married the following March 29. 🙂 They were both older (39 and 43 respectively) and both content to be single forever. Their marriage lasted over 32 years, until my father passed away last July. And while my brother only got married last September (sadly my dad didn’t quite make it to the big day) 7 years into their relationship, his wife was his first proper girlfriend and he *knew* pretty much from the start.
Similarly to LW’s problem, I also had to adjust to not being the closest person to my brother. I’d looked out for him all his life, so it took some getting used to not being the person who knows him best anymore. However, seeing how happy his now-wife made him (even before I knew her well enough to realize that she’s pretty awesome) totally made up for this, and I’ve never brought it up with my brother. And even should their marriage not last (heaven forbid), I know being with her helped him grow into the man he is today instead of just my “baby brother”. However, I did lobby pretty hard to be his witness (equivalent of Best Man) at their wedding. 🙂
How much of this is you feeling cut off by your brother, or jealous of the closeness of his new relationship?
How much is skepticism that can be assuaged by spending time with him and his partner, or by the fullness of time?
How much of your concern is about expectations you didn’t even know you had about weddings and How Things Are Done?
I think the advice here is really good. The best thing you can do for your brother, and your relationship with your brother, is to remember how deeply invested you are in his happiness. It sounds like he really needs you as an ally in your family right now.
If you can build up an independent friendship with his partner, too, it’ll probably serve everyone better in the long run.
Once you’ve figured out your own feelings about these events, and reestablished yourself as Loving Ally, it’ll be easier to clear the air about the whole not telling you thing.
Oh yes, this is a very good way of thinking about things.
It is probably very annoying that it seems like all your brother wants to talk about is how crap your family is being to him. However my experience is that having your family reject the person you want to marry is utterly miserable (my mother doesn’t like my fiance and points this out regularly) and it’s not surprising that he’s preoccupied with this. I don’t have any specific advice but I’m sure someone else here (or maybe in another blog post) can offer advice on how to help your brother talk about this more constructively, or how to tell him that you support him but you’d like to talk about other things too?
I hope you and your brother get back on track and that his partner turns out to be a lovely person. 🙂
Oh, LW. I read through what you had to say a couple times and each time it read the same way:
“What can I do to make my brother go back in time and run his life the way I think he should? I think he owes me that much for not rejecting him when I learned of his sexuality the way the rest of the family did, because after all, his relationship is about me and my needs and not about him or his needs.”
If there’s a more charitable interpretation, I am open to it. Look, I know it is hard when a sibling with whom one is close starts to branch out and doesn’t make you their first priority any more. I was mad at my sister about her leaving home without me for years. Seriously, years. I damaged our relationship with my resentment. Please do not damage your relationship with your brother by holding him to expectations that he will live his life a certain pre-approved-by-you way. He’s not replacing you with this fiancee. He’s adding more love to his life. That is a happy occasion. Does he really need your A) presence and B) approval before making his own life decisions?
FWIW, Mr. 555 and I had known each other two weeks before we decided it was Forever, and as close as I am to my sister, I did not in fact bring Mr. 555 to meet her beforehand, nor did I notify her in advance nor seek her approval. 13 years later, no regrets. Six months is more than enough time to get to know someone when you are spending time with them every day. Your brother is in love. I understand that you are protective of him, but I have to ask, do you trust him to make his own decisions? Does he have some sort of pattern in his life that would give you cause to want to protect him from himself, or can you extend him (and his fiancee) the benefit of the doubt for the time being?
This. Also, I know we should take LW’s word about her being fine with her brother’s sexuality, but I can’t help wondering if she’d have felt so strongly if he were engaged to a woman.
LW: if you don’t want to come across as agreeing with your family, then make it absolutely clear to your brother that you don’t! Don’t equivocate, don’t let your separate issue of being hurt by the sudden announcement get in the way. Frankly I think it’s a hell of a lot more important to support him when he’s getting this sort of horrible shit thrown at him than to stew over your feeling sidelined.
Also, “being fine with brother’s sexuality” isn’t a heroic, amazing thing that deserves a permanent “U R Special” reward – it’s the basic thing that you should do for people in your family. So the LW pulling that out as a reason the brother *should* have told her is not gonna go over well, no way, no how.
If there’s a more charitable interpretation, I am open to it.
Well sure. How about: “My brother and I have been each other’s bulwark against our crazy family, and it feels as though he is shoving me back into the slot of You’re One Of Them and abandoning me for somebody I don’t even know, and I am kind of freaking out about it, particularly as I wasn’t exactly raised with a great model of how to deal with emotional things”?
Certainly that’s not a blank ticket for LW to treat her brother however she pleases, but FFS, I don’t think we need to assume that LW is a big hurricane of self-absorbed who needs a smack upside the head to just get over it.
OK, but the best way for LW not to be seen as One Of Them is not to act like One Of Them, i.e. not to make the brother’s major life decision all about LW’s disappointment.
Even still, being each other’s bulwark is not an automatic lifetime backstage access pass to the relationship decisions of a sibling, nor it is a get out of jail free card for making the sibling responsible for fixing LW’s feelings.
There’s nothing in the letter which suggested abandonment. There’s a lot in it which suggests some currently minor but potentially fraught territorialism on the part of LW. If that’s how LW regularly acts toward sibling, I sort of can’t blame sibling for keeping LW out of the loop on this one, if that’s what he is indeed doing.
Of course it isn’t. But pointing out to the LW that her behavior is problematic and counterproductive is very different from deciding the only possible explanation for LW’s behavior is that she’s a horrible person, no?.
I don’t know where you got the impression that I was calling the LW a horrible person. Even wonderful people can behave in manners which are short sighted and selfish from time to time, and them being wonderful most of the time doesn’t make those behaviors on those occasions any less self centered or hurtful.
Seconding neverjaunty here. I feel it’s unfair to judge LW for feeling sad and rejected. Her letter read to me as “how do I communicate all these feelings and also support my brother”. Captain’s advice seemed excellent; LW’s feelings are not her brother’s responsibility, but neither do they make her a bad person. Nor do they *necessarily* make her homophobic. Her comments definitely suggested that to me too, however given the family context I can see why she felt the need to specify her position. Consider this: if she hadn’t said the gender of the fiance wasn’t a problem, wouldn’t it have been questioned?
Just my charitable interpretation.
Even if he had been dating this guy forever and you had met several times, he still wouldn’t need your approval or permission to marry this guy. And even if they had been dating forever, and your family was all cool with it, and they had checked all of the boxes to “earn your approval,” it still wouldn’t come close to a guarantee that your brother wouldn’t be making a huge mistake by marrying him? So your fear about him getting hurt is also sort of irrelevant, because nothing can really stop people from getting hurt in relationships. Basically, as long as he isn’t signing up for an abusive marriage (which I assumed you would have mentioned), it is your responsibility to accept that this this relationship is about him and this dude, not you and him, and be the supportive sister that I assume you want to be. Even if you think it is weird inside, you know what? In a year, assuming they’re still together, it probably won’t be weird. And in a year, if it turns out to be a mess, it won’t be a mess that you could have prevented, or that a million other people haven’t pulled themselves out of before.
Also, while I do agree that there is SOME space here to feel hurt that he didn’t immediately run to the phone to give you a play-by-play on his romance and engagement, at the end of the day… it doesn’t really matter? Because, that already happened. He can’t un-not tell you. I think you’re allowed to calmly, respectfully let him know that you are kind of hurting right now that he didn’t tell you about it sooner, and probably he will feel kind of bad about it, but have excuses for not bringing it to you. But at the end of the day, he isn’t really obligated to give you romance reports. (and, for the record, in my book “travelling to a foreign country and having a whirlwind love affair” qualifies as a pretty good excuse for it slipping your mind to call home and check in.) I would let him know that you understand, and are going to get over it and be supportive. Then do those things, since your options are basically to get over it, or ruin your relationship with him by holding onto this grudge.
Ways to get over it include: hanging out with other friends, getting to know his hopefully-awesome new fiancé, trying to consciously redirect your thoughts (“why is he marrying this STRAN–wow wouldn’t going to the gym/playing Zelda/cooking a nice meal/daydreaming about boning [celebrity] be awesome right now. yes, that would be awesome, I am going to focus on doing that”)
My family is uncannily identical to yours, so much empathy on that. My brother was my rock growing up, but now works overseas and it is really hard to have our relationship that was so important and close become more and more distant. I know that if he ever does get married, it probably will be to someone that I’ve never met, and that feels really hard.
In my case I’m queer, not my brother, so I empathize with him too. Especially in a family that’s never really accepted that he’s not straight, “I’m marrying a dude,” is pretty charged because, well, it’s kind of officially the end of Maybe It’s a Phase (TM).
I guess I’m just commenting to say, dude, I feel you, and I know how important and special that kind of relationship is. Sometimes it’s important to just trust in that – remembering why you love each other and trusting the people you love to make the right decisions for themselves. Feel your hurt and maybe also recognize that your brother probably needs a lot of support right now and there might be a lot more stuff going on in his decision-making process than is apparent from the outside.
You feel your brother’s intended is a stranger now; only you can decide if he will still be a stranger when they actually marry. Please choose wisely.
This is both succinct and very wise.
LW, I want to highlight the very first thing you said in your letter:
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.
This thing, this broken-but-externally-shiny thing, that is a big deal. It might be the biggest thing you have to work on for a while.
The relationship you had with your brother growing up was created in part by the environment the two of you shared. If things with your parents hadn’t been so bad for him, if they weren’t so neglectful of you, the two of you would have a different relationship.
Now, your older brother has finished his Master’s degree, and is starting on the independent-adult stage of life. He has choices and options now that he didn’t have growing up. He may even have a support structure of friends and allies that he didn’t have growing up, above and beyond his sister.
LD;DR version: the relationship you have with your brother as adults is going to be very different than the relationship you had growing up. This is not a bad thing or a good thing, it is simply part of becoming adults. Your relationship with your brother will not be the same as it was, but you can shape whether it will be positive or not based on how you handle this change.
So much this.
I’m slowly reading and taking all of this in. The Captain’s advice makes a lot of sense and I will definitely be following it, but this in particular really sticks with me. I mean, I almost feel stupid because it’s so logical. Childhood SUCKED. Why would I WANT to have the same relationship with him that we had then? It’s like a little light bulb went off, so thanks for that 🙂
It strikes me as one of the best ways of supporting/ protecting your brother right now would be to get to know – and know all about – his fiance. What kind of man he is matters much more than how you got to hear about it.
There are no rules about happy and healthy relationship progressions. However, engagement is sometimes used as shorthand for, “This is the one, this is far more serious than anything that’s gone before.” And it seems likely that, unless your brother is planning to marry within a matter of weeks, this is what is going on here. He’s fallen deeply in love, and being engaged is the way of showing it, especially to your folks, “You’ve got to accept this now, because this man is going to be part of our lives, and our family, forever.”
Another boyfriend might have got whatever usual response from your folks, and maybe the hope that your brother would grow out of it or meet a nice girl or what have you. He may have thought it less painful to shock them now and let them come to terms with the situation it’s entirety than let them do gradual disparaging things that disapproval family members do to relationship they don’t want to blossom.
Your brother didn’t feel so strongly about any of the other boyfriends or girlfriends he introduced you to, although he had presumably gone on a fair few dates before he introduced them to his sister. Did you get to hear about all his dates and flirtations? How far along did you get to hear about it? And maybe in his excitement and amid the disorienting novelty of his travels (moving around in strange places can really throw you out of synch with contacts at home – time moves differently), he thought that this would be a great surprise for you.
So perhaps it is better not to think about this guy as the future brother-in-law you’ve only just met, but instead the extra-special boyfriend you’re brother is crazy about. Consider the engagement as a declaration of feeling, as opposed to one of a future he’s mapped out without your input.
I hope it works out well and that your brother’s fiance and you become good friends. A good sibling-in-law is a wonderful thing to have, and can even strengthen the sibling relationship. If he’s no good, the cracks will be more likely to show if your brother feels supported and comfortable – bad relationships thrive on isolation and having to defend yourself to others. If he gets wind of your disapproval at this stage, he may feel less able to confide in you that all is not roses in the garden.
A while ago I was in a similar position. My sister was in a very serious, probably going to get married type relationship to someone I didn’t entirely like due to a bad first impression (which I now realize was just that; a bad first impression. I’m now happy to call him brother-in-law). My family didn’t like the relationship for reasons more similar to your parents’ reasons for disliking your brother’s relationship. I emailed her explaining my reasons, and while I’m glad I was honest with her about my feelings I also regret not being more supportive. She’s my favorite person in the world and she felt a lot of hurt over the lack of enthusiasm her engagement was met with when it was announced. If you don’t see any reason other than the suddenness to disapprove of the relationship, I agree with everything stated above. He needs an ally right now. If it doesn’t work out, that’s okay. If it does, you want to be able to look back and say you were on their team when they needed it most.
Neglect can be abuse! Don’t do yourself the disservice of excusing your parents’ neglect if it was abusive. For a long time I excused my parents’ neglect until my therapist pointed out how psychologically damaging the neglect I had experienced was. Recognizing that it was abuse has helped me to cope with the feelings about it and the damage it has done. Children need parents to be there for them while they are growing up to help them develop and learn boundaries. Not having this from your parents can be extremely damaging. I know in our culture we tend to think of abuse as something your parents did to you, but sometimes what they didn’t do can be just as damaging.
Your parents are making your brother’s engagement all about them, because he isn’t doing it the way they think he should be doing it (in other words, he’s marrying a guy instead of the girl they had in mind).
You are making your brother’s engagement all about your, because he isn’t doing it the way you think he should be doing it (in other words, he’s marrying someone without telling you about it as he met and got to know the person, and in a timeframe shorter than you approve of).
In essence, you and your parents are doing the same thing: making your brother’s engagement into something he is doing at you. Sure, your hurt is more personal and theirs is more about their reprehensible politics, but the base cause is the same: an apparent desire to decide for your brother how he should live his life.
I suspect it’s exacerbated in your case by your ages. If your brother is early/mid 20s and you are a bit younger, then this is the time of life when you have to manage the transformation of your teen-aged and young adult relationship with one another where you were each other’s rock and bulwark into a new relationship where at least one of you has a life partner.
My younger brother was my best friend when we were kids. Now we’re great friends, and we love each other’s life partners, too, but it takes time and an open heart to manage the transition from being one another’s closest family member to being one’s sibling. No one else is his sister, but it’s unreasonable for me to expect to be his number one confidant now that he has a wife. I’m okay with that, but then we are in our 50s and we’ve had time to get used to it.
This kind of change is a loss, and it’s okay to grieve it, but his engagement is not about you, and your feelings of loss and hurt are not his to manage. Your best bet for a great relationship with your married brother is to spend time with him and his fiancé, and get to know them as they are now. The you can focus on what is, and less on what was or on what you fantasizes would be.
LW, it sounds like you’ve got a great brother there. And the Captain has given you some great advice. If it makes you feel better, my partner’s dad asked his mom to marry him after just a month of dating (it might have been shorter, but I’m not sure). She said she needed some time to think, took 2-4 months (not sure which it is, sorry) and then said yes. They’re still quite happily married, and have raised two seriously awesome kids.
So get to know your brother’s fiance because your brother loves him. He might be cold, or wary, at first (because his first experience with your family was them FIGHTING over him!) but your brother needs your support, and I bet his fiance is a great guy.
Jedi hugs for you, your brother, and his fiance.
LW, I get the feeling you and your brother have survived what sounds like a pretty bloody awful childhood and adolescence by forming and maintaining a ‘me and you against the world’ attitude. Your breakups with your friends probably only reinforced just how much you couldn’t rely on anybody but yourselves. Now he’s gone out into the world without you and brought back some stranger without any warning, and changed all the rules. Maybe I’m wrong but perhaps you feel worried and hurt and a little bit alone because your relationship with him is no longer operating in the safe, familiar way it always has. Maybe you feel that his failure to be forthcoming about his new relationship means that your relationship with him is something that can’t be relied upon either. But he might not have told you about the fiance for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps they fell in love unexpectedly during a messy night of drinking and doner kebabs and ill-advised tattoos. Maybe he couldn’t find the right moment to say to you, ‘Hey, think I found my soulmate in a hostel that smells like people’s feet. That’s ridiculous, right?’ Maybe he was scared that you might say it’s too fast when he knows right down to his bone-marrow that this is THE ONE. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think the speed of the relationship is necessarily an issue: my sister started going out with her boyfriend several days after meeting him and she is, I am delighted to say, more stable and happy than she’s ever been in any of her relationships. And let’s be honest, there’s always going to be a chance that a marriage can fail, no matter how auspicious its start. A couple could have a Love Destined In The Stars and it might still not work out because one of them clipped their toenails in bed.)
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter why he didn’t tell you THEN because you are still the one person in his family he does talk to NOW. He can’t, and won’t, talk to your parents about this because he knows they’re a disappointment at best and a potential threat at worst. You are your brother’s family, and potentially his fiance’s family as well. You’re one of the most important relationships in your brother’s life, and that’s not going to change. What is going to change is the way you frame your relationship with each other and that will probably be a learning curve of determination and love and and readjustment and occasional awkwardness, especially since you’ll be getting to getting to know his fiance at the same time. It’s okay to be concerned and a little hurt; it would not be okay to allow that to form your view of their relationship or colour your interactions with both of them.
I had a whole analogy here about cake mixes and folding your emotions in carefully so that the feelings!batter wouldn’t spill over the sides or turn into a soggy, sunken mess but given that my cupcakes come out denser than a neutron star it’s probably best that I abandon the baking metaphor. I will say this: your brother is in a new and serious relationship for which he is being bullied by his own mother and step-father. He is all stocked up on people being outraged and “concerned”. Even though your worry is legit and based in your love for him, it’s not going to seem much different when he’s under siege. I honestly believe that the best thing you can do is support him and Potentially Awesome Brother-In-Law and get to know them as a Potentially Awesome Couple. Your relationship with your brother is still there; it’s just that now it’s a Triple Layer Sibling Relationship filled with the Buttercream of Solidarity and covered with a Bittersweet Ganache Frosting of Unexpected Change. (I was determined to get that cake metaphor in there somewhere! Mm, cake…)
This is a good comment and you should feel good.
It can be really tough to feel left out of something, especially when you’re young (which the LW seems to be); especially when it’s a really important relationship. It’s okay to feel sad and hurt and a little jealous about that–it’s not okay to make that brother’s problem.
No no, “feelingsbatter” is awesome.
This comment made really perfect sense to me and I thank you for it. I think you really hit the nail on the head and the “us against the world” is something that we used to say to each other all the time, actually. I’m trying to do my best to accept his guy into our bubble as well, and it’s hard, but I think I’m making progress. We had some enforced time together, all three of us, thanks to the blizzard that just hit New England and I think it was actually really helpful in working through this stuff. But mostly, thanks for this comment. Some of them have been a little harsh (which happens, I know, when you write in anonymously and can’t include all the important details), but this helped tremendously.
Aww, LW. I feel you, I truly do. I got back from a year of travelling to find my brother engaged to a lady I had never met, who I only vaguely knew he’d been dating. They were married three months later. Compounding this was my brother’s age – he was only just twenty. I FREAKED OUT.
Quietly. In my room. I freaked out at my friends, I freaked out at my mother, I put a lot of feelings on my blog.
To my brother, I said “Congrats, amazing, can’t believe you didn’t tell me, so proud!”
To his lady, I said “Welcome to the family, we’re a bit mad, let’s get coffee!” And we did get coffee, and she turned out to be fantastic, and they’ve been married eight years and she still giggles at all his stupid jokes and he still chases spiders out of the bathroom for her and basically it was a great idea all around.
What I’m saying is, maybe get to know this dude?
This has probably already been said but LW if I were in your shoes I would say, “Hey brother, I am sure that the person you are marrying is great and the gender is a non issue to me. Regardless, I feel sideswiped and I feel offended that I didn’t get the chance to know this person before you decided to marry them because that is something that is important to me.”
You’re not going to make him dump this guy. You can’t say anything that will make it wipe the slate clean and start all over. So just let it go. Then suggest that you all three start hanging out before the marriage. Tell your brother you want them over for dinner at your place (without the parents), you want to come to their place, just go out and have fun together. Maybe the fiance is a really cool dude who will become a good friend to you. Maybe not. But at least this way you’ll be able to bond with them both and see what your brother sees in him. Which will put you in a better place to fully support your brother and his choices to your jerk parents.
I agree with you. There’s a way to simply express that while you’re still happy for him, it was weird and kind of hurt to suddenly realize there was this big important relationship you knew nothing about. Hopefully, he’ll realize that you are, in fact, on Team Him, and you guys can move past it, and you can get to know the fiance.
“Regardless, I feel sideswiped and I feel offended that I didn’t get the chance to know this person before you decided to marry them because that is something that is important to me.”
See, this rubs me the wrong way. The brother doesn’t need his sister to put the okay stamp on his lover before committing to him. It just reeks of entitlement. What, the brother dared to live his own life and make decisions for himself? The horror!
It isn’t putting a “rubber stamp” on it or giving him the okay. It is okay for her to tell her brother how she feels. Clearly, from the letter, she feels upset he didn’t tell her about his new fiance. It is okay to tell him it made her upset/shocked/offended because she thought they were close.
It is okay to tell him these things without it being her acting “entitled” because she feels them and her feelings aren’t “wrong.” It also shouldn’t drive him away, if they’re as close as she writes that they are, then he should be like, “You know, I’m sorry I kept you in the dark but I am glad you support me.”
You saying it’s okay to tell the brother that she got offended is completely baffling. She’s putting her feelings on her brother and telling him in a roundabout way that he screwed up and she’s waiting for an apology. If she said she was surprised, sure. No problem. Offended = resentment and if anyone should feel that it should be the brother. My 2 cents.
Someone can feel offended about something that they did. If LW is offended by it, which it sounds like it, it is very important that she get her feelings out some way. Not just, “Hey I want to get to know your fiance, I have no feelings at all! Weeeee!”
The brother didn’t do anything at all. I find it baffling that you’re suggesting LW act like she has no resentment at all.
I live my life believing that you let others know when you feel this or that even if you may have no “right” feeling it. Like I may get sad about something I have no right feeling sad over, I tell the person who is making me sad that I feel sad about it. So we can talk about it.
If I don’t and if LW doesn’t maybe it won’t go away? It probably won’t and it is probably just best to be honest about your feelings. I think it is a definite no, no to keep your feelings locked inside and not tell anyone at all because you might sound someway. People are allowed to be offended by things. Offended, hurt, upset, whatever word LW uses to let her real feelings out is totally okay.
He doesn’t owe her an apology but I feel like it is okay that she tell him her real feelings. All of them, even the good ones. Rather than sweep them under the rug and act like they don’t exist.
*The brother didn’t do anything wrong at all.
I think the LW should ask herself why she’s offended by him not telling her asap. We don’t even know, this could be as asap as it got. LW and her brother should have a conversation where she uses some variant of CA’s script. Not go in all guns blazing. “You offended me by not giving me a say in your lovelife” tends to be exactly that. That puts brother in a defensive position. Any way she put’s it, it’s not gonna sound good.
I agree with you that LW should share her feelings with her brother. But how she frames things makes all the difference.
I think this might be how far we’ll come, you and me. We’ll have to agree to disagree.
I think honestly, that me using offended is the problem. Offended/hurt are basically the same word to me. I feel like you can be offended by something that wasn’t meant to offend – without their being a big *guns blazing* to-do.
Saying your offended by something isn’t always a “word slap” in the face. Saying “Even though I know you didn’t do this AT me, I still feel hurt/offended, I just want to talk about my feelings – that aren’t your fault – just to let them out..” Is different than going, “I feel offended, you’re evil, you’re mean. You did this, You did that. Apologize.” I suggested she say option 1, not option 2. But you keep seeing option 2 for some reason.
I guess, I just have heard “offended” used in a multitude of contexts. Mostly I see being offended by things not intended to offend is okay. I can be offended that someone, who seemed really pleased with their service, duped me on a good tip when I wait on them in a diner, but they probably didn’t do it on purpose – they were probably short on cash. I can feel offended/slighted, I don’t need to chase them in to the parking lot and beat them up.
It also looks like, if you read below, LW did get to talk it out. So that’s good.
See this still comes off as gross to me. I could understand sad, as in “hey brother, congratulations, I am sad I haven’t got to know your fiancé yet, let’s get on to that” because sad is about you. Offended is about the brother, it’s saying that you think he did the wrong thing, when he didn’t, at all.
Also – it’s ok to say you need time out from hearing about the parent drama, and redirect conversations to more pleasant topics ie – romance and wooing! Or chocolate! Or Star Wars bought by Disney! Etc etc.
My brother used to live overseas and recently started dating a new person. We’ve never been especially close but it still hurt when the rest of the family knew who he was talking about and I didn’t. It wasn’t intentional – it just didn’t come up. So I have an idea of where you’re coming from, but in the end they’re our emotions and ambushing your brother with a FeelingsDump when he’s already under pressure is just kinda mean. The comments above include some great tips for working through this stuff so I won’t to into it.
But definitely take time out from family and give yourself some space.
Hi LW. I think what you’re experiencing is a little run-of-the-mill jealousy. You and your brother are veryclose and have been through a lot together, and now there’s this new PERSON you don’t know and you feel like he’s a that to your relationship.
It’s the same thing I feel sometimes when a really close friend gets a new squeeze, or when I think about my partner getting a new partner (we’re poly, but new to it). There’s not the sexual element, obviously, but the emotional element us just as strong and I’d argue more important.
I think you should follow the captains advice, but also I think you should address some of the insecurities that are causing the jealousy, namely that your close relationship is drifting apart. You don’t even bed to bring up how you’re feeling (in fact, you probably shouldn’t. Captain and Co are right on that score too) just ask for some small things you need, like:
” Hey bro, you want to hang out just me and you? You were gone for a long time and things are so crazy right now, it’d be nice to catch up”
” Yo, our parents suck and I’m p issed at them too, but let’s not let them get in the way of talking about happy things”
I really like the Captain’s advice. “I want to get to know the man you’re marrying” is both kind and practical: it solves the problem of the LW’s brother marrying a stranger to LW, and it’s also a good idea generally.
LW, I think it could also be helpful to think of this new person as a potential new ally in building a future family that is devoid of Bees. Your brother is awesome (it sounds like), and there is a good potential that he picked someone awesome as well! Get to know the fiancee keeping in mind that he could be really awesome, a great friend and brother-in-law, and another ally against your parents’ shenanigans for both your brother and you.
I agree with this advice, LW. It sounds like you’re making this about you in a lot of ways [“I’m pissed he didn’t tell me he’s marrying a stranger”]. That really isn’t cool. This relationship, engagement and, if it happens, marriage are about him and his fiance, no one else.
I’m not saying don’t be hurt or have an opinion, just that right now your opinion really isn’t the one that’s important here. It’s something that might be good to remind yourself of when you start focusing in on how hurt you are because he didn’t inform you of this development right when it happened, or decided to let you meet him before deciding he wanted to be married to them.
I should add – It’s not being done *at* you, and I doubt your brother actually thought about you too much when making this choice. So it’s a little silly to be taking it as a personal offense.
It’s not a story of quick engagement, and I’m not all that close to very much of my family…but there was a big, personal, and important (to me) thing that I did a while ago, and told absolutely no one what I was doing, including the people who *are* closest to me, until it was done. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust anyone or want them to know, ultimately, and I couldn’t probably even have explained, but it just had to be that way.
Sometimes it just does, particularly with subjects that have been contentious or even the target of abuse in the past, which it sounds like LW’s brother’s romantic life has been.
I dislike the phrase “[Person] is not doing [Thing] thing AT you.” It sounds snotty and judgmental to me. YMMV. Maybe it helps you. People are going to interpret your letter through the lens of their own experiences, and I’ve been going through a similar one with my bro, and with a good friend, so here’s my perspective…
You’re entitled to your feelings. Are you entitled to tell your brother how to live? Well, no, but it seems like your ultimate goal, rather than that, is to have your feelings of being left out acknowledged/validated by your brother. I’d recommend processing/venting to friends or in a journal before bringing anything up with him–sounds like this is still quite raw. The “this person is a STRANGER and invading my family/relationship” feelings? Yeah, that was totally me, that’s still kind of me in my heart of hearts. Now have I told anyone this but sympathetic friends? Absolutely not, lol. It’s my problem.
Anyway, once you’ve processed through the initial shock more, something like “hey, why didn’t you tell me about [fiance] before? I felt really out of the loop/left out” or “I’m feeling a little hurt that you didn’t tell me about [fiance] before” is fine, especially if he notices something is off and asks you what’s up. I am sure he didn’t mean to hurt you and seems like this can be cleared up in a short convo. I encourage you to do your best to be a friend to both of them, since they’re really going to need it with parents like yours. Sigh.
OK, this is a perhaps silly and personal button of mine that your post pushed, but I saw that you first mentioned the “fiance I never heard of” and then for the rest of the letter it was “boyfriend” instead of “fiance”.
That is exactly what my mom did back when the person who is now Spouse and I were engaged. And it infuriated the shit out of both Spouse and me, because it was a way to trivialize our relationship. Spouse and I got “serious” on a pretty rapid timeline: met in July, moved in together in October, had the “so we’re getting married, right? let’s start planning that” discussion in November, formally announced the engagement to the world in general on New Year’s Eve, and got married two days short of two years since we met.
Mom neither liked nor trusted Spouse when we got together. Some of her reasons, as it turned out, were somewhat valid – there were things she, not being all swept up in the wonderful romance, perceived about Spouse that I did not at the time and that DID in fact cause significant but not insurmountable Issues in our marriage. Some of her reasons, though, were patent nonsense – his being younger, holding a low-paying job, not having or being in pursuit of a college degree at the time, and just generally not being my gay best friend from college that she couldn’t seem to accept was, well, GAY. And that didn’t help with the valid reasons. (Then there was the part where she asked my ex-girlfriend, who despite being a horrible choice of relationship partner for me because we *cannot* share living space longer than a weekend is still one of my dearest friends and was in my wedding party, if I was maybe making a horrible mistake by marrying Spouse. Never mind that Mom thought every bit as badly of my ex-girlfriend when I was dating her!)
As has been said, your brother is not getting married AT you. Just like I didn’t choose Spouse AT my mom. And I don’t think it will do any good for your relationship with him or his fiance if you don’t take it as seriously as he takes it.
‘course, I could be reading way too much into this because of my own experiences. *shrug* Like I said, it hit a nerve.
I am going to share two stories of super fast engagements that were NOT GOOD THINGS and how I and others handled them. Not because I think your brother’s engagement is bad (and all the advice here is really good around managing your own feelings and sussing out more about the partner and relationship in positive ways), but because if after all this, you convince yourself that the relationship is bad, you STILL need to proceed with all the caution.
Story 1: My 18-year-old step-sister reconnected with someone she had dated briefly in middle school and not seen since. After SIX WEEKS, they decided they were totally in love and that they needed to get married before he joined the army so she could go live on base with him after he finished basic training. So I got a call on Tuesday they were getting married on Thursday. (If this wasn’t bad enough, those of us with darth-past-exes got major controlling creepy vibes from him.)
I freaked out to friends and close coworkers. I freaked to her mom, whom I’m close to. But to her, I said, “Uh, congratulations? You’re sure you want to do this? *Listens* It’s a big decision, are you sure it’s the right one? *Listens* Okay. Congrats and good luck.” Her mom freaked out at her, a lot, but when she failed to change her mind, went to the wedding and tried to be somewhat supportive (although they drew the line at letting them live with my stepmom and dad–I think they were trying to draw the line of supportive-but-not-enabling).
Fast-forward a bit. He’s been kicked out of basic training for being an unstable asswipe. He treats her like shit and she’s left and come home but then gone back to him a few times. We’re as close as we were before (not super duper, but on very good terms), and she talks about leaving. Her mom encourages her to leave him, but isn’t super pressury and lets her come home whenever she needs to. I think she will get there in her own time.
Story 2: My best friend of my entire life met and fell in love with with someone on fall. They started dating in December. At first I was super happy for her. She’s not dated a lot, doesn’t get close to people easily, and is a semi-ace. This guy is her first serious relationship since high school and her only more-than-first-base physical one, which is a Big Deal to her. Creepy vibes started to pop up in the way he talked to her, in the way he “didn’t-pressure”-but-totally-boundary-pushed-in-ways-that-upset-her, in the way he’d get upset and not let her sleep and the way he’d make fun of her in front of people. Etc. I tried to talk to her about some of it, but it was not successful. I spent a lot of time doubting that it was really that bad, feeling I was projecting my own shitty past on her relationship and that I was maybe jealous of him and that I needed to accept that she wasn’t relationshipping AT me… etc.
But it really was that bad. It escalated to physical violence. They broke up. They got back together. They took a break for him to get some counseling. They got back together and went to meet her parents. He charmed them but treated her like shit behind closed doors. She broke up with him the day they left. But they still had to spend a day in a hotel waiting for their plane. He bought a ring and proposed. Remember the part where they had already broken up? Yeah. They never reconciled that. They just broke up because he treated her like shit, he proposed, and she said yes. Oh, it also had only been about 5 months.
I tried the “Congrats… but what are you doing?” No luck. It escalated to physical violence again. They took another break, and she didn’t tell her parents. They got back together after he went to one counseling session. Wash, rinse, repeat. Finally, it got to the point that I didn’t feel safe in my own home, that I couldn’t even be in the same room to him or speak to him because I knew I would say something that it was not my place to say. It was wrecking me emotionally.
So she and I had a long talk about it, where I told her I respected her right to make decisions about her own life, but there was a difference in respecting and supporting. And I moved out. And I took all the blame in the social group for being the crazy one who hated her lovely fiance (who hit her and restrained her and physically tore off her clothes so she couldn’t leave but who could turn on the charm in public) so she wouldn’t be isolated and in an abusive relationship. And then I called her parents and told them, because someone who she couldn’t totally shut out needed to be aware to monitor the situation when it escalated (which statistics predict it sadly probably will).
And she hates me for it. To this day, she won’t speak to me. (And I get it, calling her parents was a major, major trust violation, but still one that I think I had to do.) I lost basically my entire social group in that city and strained relationships with friends in other cities. I spend way too much money managing the emergency move out and two-lease thing. And it all massively, massively sucked.
But you know what? She still married him. And although I have a lot of of guilt and remorse and wish it turned out differently, I did literally all I could personally do, given my own emotional needs and moral compulsions, and I feel I made the best decisions I could. (I wish I could have been stronger to offer more support from a distance so I could be there to catch her if it bottoms out, but I couldn’t.)
But they didn’t change the outcome. I couldn’t in either story. Not because *I* didn’t do enough or the right thing, but because *you* as a person outside the relationship have no control over the relationship, no control of another adult person’s life decisions, even if they are bad decisions.
Sorry for the long rambles, but I thought it was a perspective worth sharing. tl;dr I hope it works out for the best, but /even if it doesn’t/, /even if your fears ARE right and it is bad/, you still can’t do much more than a) offer support and love and be there to catch him when it ends OR b)do all you can to try to get him out, but sacrifice the relationship in a major way and probably not be successful. So proceed very, very carefully here and do some deep thinking.
Lots of Jedi hugs and best of luck.
Reana, I am so sorry you had to go through that. But the truth is, we can’t save our friends. All we can do is give them opportunities to save themselves. Re: Your ex-social group – good riddance! People who don’t even try to turn on their creep-o-meter and disbelieve accounts of abuse (from their friend, no less!) aren’t worth it anyway!
Thanks. Jedi hugs always welcome.
And that was the point I was trying to get across: You can’t “save” any other adult person. All you can control is your side of the relationship you have with them. I think it would be really easy to follow all of this advice, find out things really are bad, and decide, “Okay, then, I’ll disregard all this advice and tell him it has always been a bad idea and he’ll see it and it will all be fixed!” And people don’t work like that. If things are bad, you *still* can’t change your brother’s mind. You just have to decide how much you’re willing/able to be there as non-pushy support OR to play every card you have to try to help him and possibly destroy the relationship in the process. I think either are valid, but at the end of the day, there’s literally nothing you can do about your brother’s choice of partner, good or bad, except decide how to respond to it. Alas.
And most of the social group is full of good-meaning people who don’t have histories of abuse, and thus aren’t sensitive to the subtle red flags (and like many emotional abusers, he’s a good charmer in public), and to respect her privacy/make sure she still had friends on her side, I didn’t tell most of them. Those I miss. The one or two who I told that said since they (not living with the two of them like me) had never seen any indication of that behavior personally, I was clearly projecting my own issues on the relationship and was just jealous or some such can rot in abuser-enabling hell.
LW, one other opportunity you have here is to disengage from one part of your family dynamic — the part that says, “be who I want you to be/act how I want you to act or I will be hurt and angry, and I will punish you because I am hurt, angry, or scared — even if you have a perfect right to live your own life and be who you are.”
It’s possible to love people without being so enmeshed in their choices. It’s possible to love people AND let them be who they are and live their own lives and not be hurt or upset by EITHER of those things.
Living that way is very freeing and I hope you can find your way to it.
I can’t resist saying — though maybe it’s not worth posting since I’m not adding anything — how much the Captain’s answer and so many of the follow-ups are so much awesome-sauce, especially Lauren, CommanderLogic, ona555, and Foolsgame. You’re really just an all-around excellent community.
Am I the only person who thinks six months is, at best, way on the left side of the “enough time” bell curve? LW can be non-‘phobic and counterabusive and accepting and all that without having to endorse every decision her brother makes about his life.
But since he’s not beholden to her, and he’s an independent adult, she does have to let him make those decisions. Under the circumstances, it may be ill-advised for her to say anything to him, but if she does, she needs to be absolutely as clear as possible that her concern is solely about the timeframe — and if she’s not 100 percent positive in her own mind that it is what her sole concern is, she needs to stay out.
I don’t think the LW should feel badly about any of the feelings she’s having about this. Yes, her brother isn’t doing this *to* her, and she probably didn’t come up in the thought process at all about the guy he’s marrying, nor should she have. But emotions aren’t always rational, and considering her family’s history, it makes sense to me that she would feel a bit abandoned. No, he doesn’t *owe* her anything, but he still made the decision not to tell her, and that ‘says’ something different than if he had told her right away. There are a lot of different interpretations of what exactly it says, and not all of them (in fact almost none of them) are ‘I don’t care about my sister’. But it’s an illogical feeling I can understand.
Now, telling your brother you’re hurt about this won’t serve well, I think. It would likely just make him feel defensive and maybe-guilty and generally bad. So I echo a lot of people’s advice which is, get to know him and his fiance as a couple. And yes, vent to friends or the Internet about frustrations. I think the chance here is for you and your brother to be made closer to this, not cause more conflict. And unfortunately it does mean not saying everything you feel to him about this situation.
This might not be the case for your brother, but I can understand why he might have done things the way he did. I had a not-good upbringing (emotionally not physically) in a lot of ways, and getting out really felt like FREEDOM! Finally! My little brother and I had been quite close throughout, but I had a hard time even contacting him for awhile. I just needed to be able to live my life and make decisions with no shadow of my family over me at all. Even though it wasn’t my brother’s fault in any way. It’s hard to articulate exactly why. I *still* years later get strangely overwhelming ‘I’m free!’ feelings that I’m living on my own independently.
Hi Captain and Awkward Army,
Thanks so much for all the advice. As it happens, I was visiting Brother and Fiance this week and ended up snowed in with them yesterday and today. I’m starting to get to know Fiance and we actually have some things in common, which is cool.
Mostly, though, Brother and I had a chance to talk through some of this stuff. I did my best to be positive and to turn my concerns around into “I’d like to know your fiance better” and he admitted to me that the reason he didn’t tell me was because he didn’t know how to do it over the phone and he didn’t want to upset me. And, I feel silly even admitting this, but part of what helped clear the air was that, for the first time since he came back, he asked how *I* was doing and what I’ve been up to and I guess I didn’t realize how much I was waiting for a chance to just talk about stupid stuff with him. (I also asked if we could please limit bitching about mom and dad to fifteen minutes per phone call and he was open to that, so hopefully we can curb the two hour marathon bitching sessions that were stressing me out.)
Just over 48 hours together now and none of us have killed each other yet, so things will probably be okay. Thanks again to everyone for the scripts and ideas on how to talk about these things with Brother and Fiance both.
Glad to hear, good luck to you and your brother with everything, dear. 😀
‘I also asked if we could please limit bitching about mom and dad to fifteen minutes per phone call and he was open to that, so hopefully we can curb the two hour marathon bitching sessions that were stressing me out.’
That sounds great. Good to hear from you!
That’s so awesome to hear!
I think you were really smart to limit venting-about-parents. It can be really hard to do when the person’s complaints are legitimate, because you might feel like you’re saying they’re not. But no matter how real and serious someone’s issues with another person might be, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t drain you and wear you out to hear it. Especially in a case like this, where you can’t really do anything or offer concrete help.
And hey, now he’s engaged there’s another person who will hopefully be there for him to vent at and sympathize!
Hooray for happy outcomes! Thanks for keeping us informed, LW; always good to know things are going well.
As some others have noted, there are a few different issues/questions going on here.
1) You feel hurt that your brother didn’t tell you about his fiance before coming home.
There may be a lot of reasons, good or bad, your brother did so, but your feelings are still valid. You’re allowed to have feelings and you can’t change the feelings that you have.
2) You want to communicate to your brother how hurt you were that he didn’t tell you.
What purpose is this going to serve? It’s unlikely that he’s going to go abroad and get engaged a second time in his life and be able to do it all over again. Are you concerned he’s not going to tell you about other big news in the future? That is an understandable concern, but you can’t control how another person wants to communicate their news to other people, and in those “big news” moments it’s really not about you and how you want to be told. When my best friend got engaged, she told me via mass text. I was really hurt, but I didn’t see the point in saying anything to her about it. Later I found out exactly why she did it that way and I was glad I hadn’t made a big fuss about it, since it’s not like she could go back and redo it, and she wouldn’t have done it any differently anyway, because of reasons. The only thing you can do to increase the chances of being the first to hear big news is to maintain a close relationship with your brother, which leads to #3.
3) You are concerned that maybe you’re not as close to your brother as you used to be. Right now, you have one point of evidence for that, which is him not telling you about his fiance. You also have at least one point of evidence that you are close to him, which is that he’s calling you to share his feelings about how much your parents have hurt him. Where it goes from here is as much up to you as up to him. Be supportive. Keep in regular contact. Spend time with him regularly. As others have said, your relationship as adults may be very different than it was when you were kids, but you can still maintain or build a close relationship with him.
4) You’re worried about his relationship with “stranger” fiance (who, as CA said, is a stranger to you, not to your brother). This is mostly projecting your own fears about the likelihood of a quick engagement equaling a healthy relationships, and there are plenty of stories in comments sharing exactly how that’s possible. Take the time to get to know his fiance. Find out why your brother fell in love with him, and find your own reasons to like him. Choose a positive filter through which to view getting to know the fiance; that is, not “strange man who rushed things with my brother” but “man my brother loves and I want to know why.” In the worst-case scenario, this man will turn out to be abusive or they will turn out to have a very unhealthy relationship, in which case you’ll have to consult the CA archives for whether or not it’s worth saying anything (probably not, but you may have to distance yourself from them). But right now it doesn’t sound like you have any reasons to believe that will be the case. Your negative view of him has everything to do with the situation and not the person himself. Give him the benefit of the doubt and find a reason to cheer for this relationship.
You want to communicate to your brother how hurt you were that he didn’t tell you.
What purpose is this going to serve?
I think this is really key. LW, if you do decide to at some point bring this up, I recommend filling in the blank at the end of this sentence beforehand:
“Hey bro, I was pretty surprised and a little hurt that you didn’t say anything about Fiancé when you were traveling. I had the expectation that we immediately tell each other about the important things in our lives. In the future, I’d really appreciate it if ________”
And if you can’t think of anything you want him to change about his behavior, or of any reasonable request you could make, then let it go; it’s up to you to rejigger your expectations of what your relationship with your brother is like (he does tell you about the important things in his life, but sometimes it takes him a few months to do it) rather than it being up to him to adjust his behavior to meet your unspoken expectations (had you explicitly promised to tell each other about important things as soon as they happen? I’m guessing not).
An alternative, if you decide there really isn’t anything you need him to change but you’d like to know how much to change your own way of thinking about him:
“Hey bro, I’m feeling a little taken aback by the sudden appearance of Fiancé because I had the expectation that we immediately tell each other about the important things in our lives. Since you didn’t mention Fiancé until you introduced him to us, I’m thinking that was an unreasonable expectation. Can you give me a sense of what expectations I should have around you telling me about your future big life changes? I’m not asking you to change your behavior, just asking what I should expect.”
Also, do not even think about having either of the above conversations with him until you’ve put in at least a few weeks of being Awesome Accepting Sister, getting to know Fiancé (not Boyfriend), encouraging them to tell you stories of how they met (which may answer your unspoken question of why you didn’t hear about Fiancé sooner), offering to help with wedding planning, etc. Give your feelings time to settle, and give him time to know for sure that you love and accept him and his decisions even when he springs stuff on you like “Surprise, meet my fiancé!”. I’m sure he’s aware that that’s a pretty ballsy move on his part and your parents might not be the only ones having feelings about it. A conversation about that choice of his probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to him. That said, it’s a good idea to establish up front, in deeds as well as words, that you aren’t questioning the engagement itself, his orientation, or your affection and support for him; that way the conversation, if you decide to have it, will only be about his choice to make the engagement announcement the way he did.
I have a story and two things for you.
I just had a baby. That whole process was not only physically all-encompassing but really emotionally special for my husband and I and as such I wanted it to be intimate for just the two of us. My best friend somehow didn’t understand this and was deeply hurt that I didn’t tell her when I went into labor, invite her to the birth, and that I didn’t jump on my phone immediately after my daughter was born to tell her then. Can I just say that with a newborn in your arms, trying to figure out how to nurse, high on crazy hormones, while a nurse painfully “massages” your abdomen that there are no fucks to give about your cell phone?
She found out through a third party and was hurt by that. She gets to be, and I respect that. However, she’s translated what happened into a completely different story, choosing to believe that she’s not welcome at all in my life, which is so not true. All I wanted was for her to be happy for me and be a great auntie. Instead, we haven’t spoken for almost three months, despite my assertions that she is always welcome and my need to have a best girlfriend when having a newborn is stressful.
So the first thing: you get to feel however you feel about this. Own it, don’t apologize for it, and give yourself some space to deal with it however you need to. That’s why they are called feelings–there’s nothing rational about them.
Second thing: process your feelings privately, and do not bring them up to your brother. He has reasons he didn’t tell you he met someone that you may or may understand, but know that they aren’t even relevant. Be your brother’s best friend and share his joy, get to know his new person and help him plan a kick ass wedding if he asks you to. All he wants is for you, somebody he loves so much, to be happy for him. So if you have to, fake it till you make it, but you’ll make it eventually. Do not make this about you, because it’s 100% not.
I don’t think on person hiding they’re feelings because they’re not appropriate or convenient is a good way to go in an intimate relationship. If there’s trust between the LW and her brother, and they both care about the relationship, I think she can say she’s hurt and why, and he can get angry about that if he’s angry, and they can talk it out and appreciate each others’ positions.
Expecting other people to swallow their emotions for you breeds resentment, and a lot of the time it ends up with one person cutting off contact.
I don’t think that anyone has suggested that the LW should “swallow” her emotions. I do think that people are suggesting that she should work out her confusions with other people, so that when she talks to her brother, she can be calm, and not throw accusations at him, and not discover surprise-grenades of anger inside her. That will help her conversation with her brother go a lot better for both of them.
It makes sense to me that you’d feel threatened by this. It sounds like your brother is the most important person in your life. Now he’s got someone who’s going to be at least on a level with you in terms of importance, a fiance, and you were blindsided by it and didn’t even get a chance to know the guy. It’s scary when people you’re close to change the relationship in unexpected ways.
I think it’d probably be helpful for you to talk to your brother about this. It doesn’t have to be saying you’re not happy for him or making his marriage all about you like some people have said. You can tell someone you’re close to that you’re kind of shaken by what happened, that you’re feeling insecure and that you need some reassurance. He’s probably not thinking about your experience right now, since he has so much going on- new love, wedding jitters, getting attacked by his abusive parents- it takes up a lot of mental energy. But I’m sure you’re still important to him, and he doesn’t want you to feel abandoned. Getting to know the fiance is a good idea, but it might also be good to schedule some special brother-sister time for just the two of you. I think if he knows you need him to show you that you’re still important to him, he will.
My Dad did something similar. I’d at least met the woman, but only a few times (I was at college but still living at home). My siblings and I had only met her kids twice.
Then suddenly I’m getting a call at college to tell me they’re engaged (way to kill my post-Scott-McCloud-lecture buzz), and I’ll have to pack everything during my springbreak, oh, and EVERYTHING IS CHANGING AND THE PERSON I AM CLOSEST TO IS MARRYING SOMEONE I DON’T KNOW FROM ADAM.
Did they rush into it? Yes. Do I think they did right by their kids (specifically more my siblings, who were still living at home, and having a rocky enough time with their mother). No, not really. In some ways, I’m still really sad that the set-up resulted in my Dad and my sister never developing as close a relationship as my Dad and I had, since my sister spent most of her time hiding in her room after the move, and a lot of that resentment the three of us felt towards our stepfamily was a result of it moving so fast that we (and her two kids) were just caught in the wake of it all.
But…you really can’t change all that. My stepbrothers grew up into people I can get along with, my stepmother and I can have a conversation, and more importantly–my Dad is married to someone who makes him happy. I take a lot of comfort knowing he has that.
You can stew in the resentment, or you can move forward. Relationships change, and big changes happen–if the people in your life are important enough to you for you to want to keep in your life, you adjust your sails, just a bit.
My folks got engaged after six weeks, and married six weeks after that.
This Tuesday will be their 41st wedding anniversary.
Now, there are parts of his family that STILL haven’t accepted her, and sadly when my brother and his wife had a short engagement (about six months) my parents didn’t deal with it as well as they could have (I was pretty disappointed), but they have a good marriage. A person can marry someone who’s a stranger to their family and have it work out just fine.
Oh, and WRT my brother and his wife: I have a MUCH better relationship with them and with my new niece and nephew than I would have had if I’d freaked out about how fast they were moving, the way some parts of my family did. IJS.
I feel like the answer to this letter didn’t respond to what was said in the letter, or maybe responded to things not said in the letter. LW was not saying “I don’t think my brother had a right to fall in love without my permission,” she was saying “I’m hurt that my brother, with whom I’ve always been close, didn’t share this news with me before dropping it in a situation that he knew would be explosive.” Those are two different things, and while you can I guess say “LW, I think what you’re REALLY saying is that you think you should have had a vote in your brother’s relationship,” that doesn’t feel to me like a fair reading of the letter.
And it’s pretty clear Brother could have handled this better, rather than first treating LW like the rest of the family and springing his fiance on her in a situation where other people would predictably respond badly rather than talking to her ahead of time and recruiting her to be an ally in that moment — probably she couldn’t have helped much with what sounds like a poisonous family dynamic, but maybe, or maybe just having someone there who was prepared to be or at least act happy for them would have shifted the dynamic even a tiny bit. And then he followed that up by expecting her to be a sounding board for his hurt and upset. He did treat her badly. No, he didn’t owe her a vote on his relationship. But he owed her not being first treated like one of the lousy members of the family and then being expected to be his sounding board about said lousy people without any discussion of how she was feeling. And there’s a good chance he’d have had a better experience with the whole thing if there’d been one person who was going “I’m so excited to meet you, fiance” when they walked into the party.
This is where I guess I really part ways with the Captain Awkward ethos. Yes, we take care of ourselves first, we have boundaries, etc etc. But we’re also not islands, not as individuals and not as couples. We do better when we have support and community, and we don’t get that by treating the people in our lives badly.
>>he owed her not being first treated like one of the lousy members of the family
You know, the thing about homophobia and families is that you just never know. I had no idea before I came out whether my brothers were going to freak out, and then even once they’d been cool about me coming out, I had no idea who they were going to react when we got married, though it turned out they were cool. And if we have kids, I have no idea how they’re going to react to that too. If LW’s brother is a young-ish guy and grew up in a homophobic family, then *even if* his sister is apparently totally cool with his queerness and has met other boyfriends in the past, he’s still completely justified in worrying that she’s not going to be cool when he announces his engagement. And it’s totally rational to want to keep your lovely, happy, joyful relationship quiet a bit longer and not have to deal with it becoming a source of stress and pain as your family freak out.
The gay thing does make a difference. If you’re the straight sibling of a gay person and you want to be supportive of them, you have to deal with the fact that cultural homophobia means that your siblings might trust you less than 100%. I don’t think you get to blame us for that.
I think the Captain is really spot on with this advice.
I fall in love with people who aren’t very “typical”. I am a very “loving the inside” person- age, gender, and appearance are secondary to me. So you can believe that I have gotten lots of confused, judgmental, hurtful looks/comments regarding the people I’ve dated. It’s devastating to hear friends and family passive-aggressively inform you that someone you love isn’t right for you because of their weight/age/gender.
My sister has supported my relationships and I can’t tell you how much it means to me. And I mean it means a lot, a lot, a lot to me- because people say some screwed up things to relationships they don’t agree with. It’s a huge deal when you are being attacked all the time and having someone tell you that your love is yours to give without judgment.
LW, please do not reject your brothers fiancé. Perhaps you feel slighted that he hasn’t kept you up to speed with this major change in his life, but the fact he’s calling YOU and looking for support from YOU should be sending you the opposite message: I’m sure he loves and appreciates you, and he trusts you.
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