#571: How do I get my brother-in-law to stop making me feel like crap?

Dear Captain,

My brother-in-law is a joker. He’s a very nice man who gets along with everybody, an extrovert. He loves to joke with people, and he usually gives nicknames or uses a personality trait for humor. This is fine most of the time, but the “thing” he chose to use with me hits too close to home and it has become very hurtful. He calls me “lazy ass” (in a loose translation) and makes comments about how I’m disorganized and basically do nothing all day. Just today, he came over to “inspect” my apartment and comment on my mess, talked about how they’re going to use my spare room for the baby (“you don’t need it”) and how I’m going to babysit for them to “pay things over” or something like that. My sister just called to invite me over for coffee, and when I hesitated because I was actually studying, he asked “are you doing anything useful for a change?”.

I’m not really a lazy ass. I don’t work as hard as my sister, but I do work all afternoons and Saturday mornings, and I go to school every weeknight. I’m not an organized person, but I’m trying to do better. I’m not sure if this is because he thinks that I abuse my sister’s and my mother’s help. I don’t pay for cable and wi-fi (my sister lives next door and shares with me), and I don’t pay my apartment’s bills either. I can’t afford these things, but my parents’ house is an incredibly toxic environment and this is the arrangement we made (my mother, my sister and I). I don’t like it – I hate it. When I left their house after a terrible crisis I wanted to support myself, but my mother insisted that I should stay in the family’s apt (it was empty).

The thing is that we (mother and daughters) do have this “system” where we help each other. We call when we are going to the supermarket to check if anybody needs anything, they call me to offer rides when they’re out and they know I’m leaving work, we borrow and lend clothes. My bother-in-law, however, pretty much raised himself.

I realize I get help more than I give right now, but I don’t know what do to. Should I offer to clean their house once a week? Do their shopping? Ask them to change their wifi password and cut the cable from my side? I *am* planning to help when the baby comes, I’m not heartless. He’s only here a few days every few weeks, as he works in another city, but it’s become something that bothers probably more than it should.

Lazy Ass

Your brother-in-law’s jokes don’t really sound like jokes. You know it. I know it. He knows it. If they were actually jokes he’d pick on you about something you have a big ego about, or something ridiculous and innocuous, not all the places you are most vulnerable. They only become jokes when you call him out on it, like, if you said “Hey, that nickname really hurts my feelings, please stop using it” or “I am confused by your comments about how I am not doing anything useful; I’m studying.” Then they will become jokes, he was just joking, his hands will go up, and he’ll back away from you because you’re so “sensitive” and “serious” and “you can’t take a joke.”

His jokes are belittling someone he sees as having less power than he does. I mean, so, you’re living in an apartment owned by your parents while you go to school and work part time. That doesn’t make you lazy, it’s actually quite normal. It doesn’t mean he gets to drop by and make fun of how you live whenever he wants to (speaking of doing useless stuff). It’s an incredibly frustrating way to be bullied, because he puts you in the position of looking like the mean/rude one if you resist.

Okay, let’s say he is really nice and clueless and he really means these to be jokes and doesn’t realize it hurts your feelings. Cool. Fortunately, the way for you to deal with the behavior for a “clueless jokester” and “verbal bully” is exactly the same. The scripts will tell you which kind you’re dealing with pretty quickly and give you some ways to respond. It is important that you respond; staying silent does nothing but embolden these folks.

Nickname Version:

Him: “Hey Lazy Ass!”

You: “Wow. Actually, I really don’t like being called that, so can you please stop?”

[[[[Clueless Joker, who is an actually nice, kind person will say “You know what? I’m really sorry, of course I will stop” and the conversation will end here.]]]]]]]

A bully will keep going: “Hey, no need to make a big deal out of nothing! I was only kidding! What, can’t you take a joke?”

You: “Cool, glad to hear it’s not a big deal. Then you won’t mind calling me by my name. Thank you!”

Him: “Jeez, why do you have to be so serious about everything?”

You: “Yes. I am very serious. So, call me by my name. Thanks.”

Whatever he accuses you of, re: seriousness, agree. “You are correct, I literally do not understand humor or jokes. So, my name, then?” Then end the conversation as soon as you can.

When He Drops By Version:

He knocks on door. You answer it but don’t open it all the way.

You: “Brother-In-Law, it’s not a good time right now. If you need to come by for some reason, can you call ahead and set it up? Thanks.”

[[[[Clueless Jokester, who is a kind, considerate person will say “Sorry to bug you, is it ok if I stop back by around x o’clock today or tomorrow?”]]]]]

A bully will say: “What, you’re not doing anything important! It’s not like you do anything useful! Your sister and mom don’t have to call ahead!”

You: “Well, I am actually busy right now, so, why don’t you call or email and we can figure out a good time for you to come by. Bye!”

A bully is going to go complain to your sister, who is going to complain to your mom.They should back you up, but if his persona is “Super-Fun Guy” and your role in the family  is ‘The Difficult One’ you can’t count on it. So be ready.

Scripts for your sister, when she approaches you:

You: “I know he is only joking, but it hurts my feelings and I’m tired of it, so I asked him to stop. If it is just a joke, then he’ll stop, right?”

Her: “He doesn’t mean anything by it/that’s just how he is/can’t you try to be more understanding, etc.” The apologist’s dance of “I know I’m living with a bully and I’d rather let him bully you than actually deal with it!”

You: I haven’t wanted to make a big deal of it, believe me, but it’s just gone on too long without me saying something. I need it to stop. Back me up, please? 

See also: “I am grateful for how you guys help me out with internet and bills, etc. but I’d appreciate advance notice if he needs to come by for some reason, thank you.”

Scripts for your mom, when she approaches you:

You: “I love brother-in-law, but sometimes his jokes are too much. So, I asked him to stop making certain jokes to me. It’s actually weird to me that he complained to you about that.

Her: “He doesn’t mean anything by it/that’s just how he is/can’t you try to be more understanding, etc. Dance, apologist, dance!

You: “I try to just roll with it, honestly, but it’s gone on too long and it’s really gotten under my skin. So I’d like it to stop, and I’ve asked him to stop. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, unless he keeps going knowing how much it bothers me and hurts my feelings. That would be kind of a big deal!

Her: Well, you can’t expect him to behave better/boys will be boys/you are sort of freeloading off of all of us and need to make certain allowances, etc. (Dance!)

You: “I am so grateful for all of your help! It would help me maintain some dignity in a difficult situation if I can have quiet and privacy to do my schoolwork without being called names. And I’d appreciate at least a day’s notice if someone is going to come by the place so I can straighten up and make sure I’m not in the middle of a project. I know this isn’t a standard landlord-tenant situation, but that’s a pretty basic landlord-tenant convention, can’t we try it out? I would be very grateful.”

If you have a friend who can help you practice saying the various scripts out loud, it might help you a lot in staying cool and calm when you do have to talk to him and your mom and sister. The Super Fun Jokester Bully thrives when you cry, when you raise your voice, when you do stuff that seems “irrational” or “crazy.” It is incredibly unfair and stupid and sexist, as if your desire not to be called names is irrational and his desire to call you names is rational, but in the sexist world we live in tears (yours) and raised voices are still a tool in this kind of bully’s arsenal. If you can keep a measured tone and just become a broken record where you repeat back “Yes, I am very serious and no fun. So please stop calling me ‘Lazy Ass,’ thank you” you will deprive him of the scene he wants and force him to escalate his behavior outside the “we’re all cool here, right?” plausible deniability field these dudes like to fly under. You want to make it a lot of work for him to keep talking to you this way.

It’s hard to stand up for yourself when you’re feeling vulnerable, but I promise, it is habit-forming. The first time it’s incredibly scary, and I’m not going to lie and say that people never push back or double down on their asshole behavior, but actually nice people will back off once they realize they have been hurting your feelings. Once you get through it a few times you will feel like you can do anything.

Your home organization skills and the financial agreements you make with your mom and your sister aren’t actually his to comment on (or trade upon for future free nanny service). You don’t need to be working at something other people consider sufficiently “useful” to have a right to dignity, privacy, and respect in your living space. If your brother-in-law is really kind, he will hear you and stop. If he is Stanley Kowalski, Jr., he can shove it where the sun don’t shine.

229 thoughts on “#571: How do I get my brother-in-law to stop making me feel like crap?

  1. I just want to reiterate that a good person stops making these jokes. My boyfriend used to make jokes about a couple things that sound like small things but that really bothered me (how often I hit snooze in the morning, that I don’t eat well when he’s not home) and when I brought it up he stopped. Like really truly stopped. He can still tease me about owning all the shoes and being online all the time and having dance parties by myself because those don’t bother me. They are just as small/true as the other things, but my sensitivity differs.

    If the brother in law knows that his comments are hurtful and continues then he is a bully. It’s not easy to deal with a bully, but I think CA’s advice is good, especially about trying to stay calm. It’s not easy, but everyone around you will react better and listen more if you are calm. Crying doesn’t make anyone unreasonable, but some people seem to think it does.

    1. Absolutely true. I like to joke around and am in fact rarely serious (although I would never, ever crack jokes about someone’s appearance, etc.). I once made a joke to a friend about something that I thought was extremely minor, and I could tell by the way their face just fell that I had made a huge mistake.

      My friend explained why my comment had been hurtful, and I apologized, immediately and sincerely. I felt like absolute dirt knowing that I had unintentionally hurt someone I cared about. We actually had a really good talk and it improved our friendship. I now think twice before shooting my mouth off (which is hard for me sometimes!)

      Anyway, you are absolutely right, a truly kind person will make every effort to keep humor what it is supposed to be: fun for all involved and never cruel. It is always okay to call someone on the carpet if something they say is hurtful. If they’re a decent person they’ll take it to heart and stop immediately.

    2. “I just want to reiterate that a good person stops making these jokes.”

      Yes to this!

      Spouse and I both come from “jokey” families, but our oldest child does not get that kind of humor. She was in preschool when she said she didn’t like those jokes because they are mean, so we stopped doing them about or around her.

      That started a dialogue where we were able to start setting boundaries with each other around what we shouldn’t joke about.

      People who aren’t jerks are willing to make everyday concessions for the comfort of the people around them as part of the social contract.
      I make my burned popcorn at home, not in the microwave at work. I’m not three, it can wait.

      1. “People who aren’t jerks are willing to make everyday concessions for the comfort of the people around them as part of the social contract.”

        I appreciate this formulation so much! I have a really close friend who sometimes likes to make comments in my presence (although not about me) that I find offensive and that make me really uncomfortable. When I have tried to ask her to stop, she turns it into this weird thing about how I am being manipulative and demanding that she change who she is by censoring herself. So, basically, I come away feeling like, just by asking for a boundary like this, I am doing something horribly wrong.

        I have been struggling to articulate why I think it is fine and not manipulative to make this request…..and here it is! Because people who aren’t jerks are willing to make everyday concessions for the comfort of the people around them.


        1. YW. Here’s hoping she grows out of that, and keeps the good qualities that make you want her as a friend!

          We all censor ourselves everyday. That’s how both societies and relationships work. They create an ever-adapting set of rules and conventions to regulate the behavior of their members.

          Asking someone to be polite is not the same as asking them to hide who they are.
          It is my right to marry the consenting adult of my choosing, regardless of how anyone else feels about it.
          But someone who objects to me and my partner showing up at their wedding, walking down the aisle, handing the officiant our marriage license, and asking him to marry us while they are adjusting their veil is not oppressing me.

          They are not being ‘irrational’ or ‘selfish’ because, “He was just standing there not doing anything, so why couldn’t he do us real quick? I mean, you have the whole day to get married, you can spare 10 minutes of it. Jeez!”

  2. LW, if your family doesn’t back you up, you might also want to start making plans for a different living situation. Not because you should be ashamed of how you live, at all! But because help with major strings attached is not OK and can make you feel like crap – like you don’t get to have opinions or needs because you’re supposed to be “grateful.” I hope you can work it out, but it might help to simultaneously start thinking about a back up plan!

    1. Although the bully might be planning on that. In my experience people this mean are out for number one. I have a feeling he has big plans for all the family resources he sees being “wasted” on sister in law. Why should she help him out on this, you know?

      1. I think sometimes when you’re dealing with a grade-A asshole, “right” goes out the window. Sometimes you can be right or be happy.

        1. This. Thisx100.

          There’s a time and place to try and stand your ground and not let a bully win. But if you’re living in a hostile environment where you have no backup from your family and you’re at their mercy in regards to living conditions, it does not sound to me like one of those times.

        2. “Sometimes you can be right or be happy.”

          Word. Sometimes, one needs to have a worst-case scenario, not because they are in the wrong, but because they are surrounded by bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling. Plus, at least for me, having plans for a variety of outcomes soothes my anxiety and makes it easier to manage any bastard-coated bastards I might need to deal with. Knowing that you have an out, should you suddenly *need* one, can be really powerful. Does this need offend my sensibilities? Sure, someone shouldn’t have to go out of their way when they are already being bullied. But, man, better prepared and able to move on than totally blindsided on principle.

      2. It’s entirely possible that LW moving out is what the BIL is hoping for, and yeah, it might feel like letting him “win.” But it could be that there’s another option out there — maybe something like an RA position through school or a group house/flat with friends? — that would be affordable for the LW and just healthier all-around. I definitely agree with Ruth that it’s at least worth looking to see whether there are other options available.

      3. I think in that case it’s like the situation where you abandon stuff at an abusive ex’s place because it’s too dangerous to go back. Sometimes, cosmic justice is less important than getting the heck out of Dodge.

    2. Oh yeah — LW, please have some confirmation that the way you are living is normal, unembarrassing, and fine! I spent a year and a half living with my parents after I graduated university — eight months working for my father and seven months trying to freelance. I didn’t really even try to look for a job other than short internships, because university had left me mentally and emotionally wiped out.. You do whatever works for you and your family, and anyone who tries to make out like that’s not okay is an asshole.

      1. Absolutely! Also, it sounds like you might be taking college classes? If you were living on campus in a dorm, no one would bat an eye at your parents’ paying for that. Obviously not all families can or do help their kids pay for college expenses, but for those that do, it’s seen as normal and even a good thing.

  3. LW, you might be surprised how effective sticking up for yourself and setting a boundary is with someone who is used to you doing the opposite.

    He sounds like a Lazy Ass in the sense that he is too lazy to consider how his immature “jokes” might hurt others.

    I used to work in a foreign country where I barely spoke the language because I had just arrived and there was one worker who was the Company Joker Fun Dude who thought my English accent was hilarious, just like on TV so he would speak to me in an exaggerated English accent and go on and on and on about Tea, The Queen, 4 O’Clock, Red Buses and all sorts of stuff that got tedious after 2 minutes. It got to the stage where I could not speak without him talking over me and mimicking me, and everyone would laugh and mock me and I hated it.

    Eventually he did it in a meeting when I was giving a presentation and the giggling and laughter and people saying “the Queen” over and over actually stopped me doing the presentation so I confronted him the next time he did it and told him that I did not like these “jokes”, that he had become a bully, that he was unprofessional, and so I expected him to stop immediately.

    I think he had not seen me as a real person before that, and me confronting him and stating how I felt and what I would not accept was like a bucket of cold reality water. Anyway, it stopped him. When other colleagues tried to make similar “jokes” I ignored it and if they repeated it I said something like “wow, that’s boring.” Maybe if your BIL tries to joke after you tell him to stop, you can say, “actually that’s boring.”

    1. I applaud you for standing up and wow, what a hostile and utterly unprofessional situation.

    2. I think there’s sometimes a good bit of overlap between honestly-nice-jokesters and people who tell mean jokes. The thing is, the actually nice person will STOP when you point out that it’s mean. They’re not being malicious, just thoughtless.

      As an example my partner and I tease each other a lot in friendly ways. Most of the time its fine and funny. But sometimes she “teases” me about something that’s a little too close to home, and I know she’s not really joking even if she doesn’t know. And it hurts. But when I tell her that the joke was actually kind mean she apologizes and stops teasing about that thing for good.

      So there’s your litmus test: a nice person may make a mean joke accidentally, but they will stop when you tell them it hurt.

      1. I am someone who tends to be very sarcastic. I sometimes describe myself as having a range where I’m normally 49% serious and 51% joking, but from time to time it’s the other way around.

        One of things I’ve learned, though, is that I should *not* make jokes about things that are really bothering me. People are actually incredibly good about picking up on that, and it is a horrible way to box them into a corner and make them feel awful.

        I suppose I slip once in a while, and there is the separate issue that I may occasionally joke about something that I don’t consider to be a big deal, but is sensitive for my friend. But if something is actually bothering me, I try to just say what I have to say without sarcasm (or, decide that it’s not that big a deal and truly let it go).

        I guess I started this comment because of Baytree’s comment “I know she’s not really joking even if she doesn’t know.” It struck home. But I’ll hot post because I think it gives a testimonial from the other side that the Captain is spot-on. There are a lot of us who occasionally put our foot in our mouth. But if we are coming from a good place, we don’t push it when we realize we are striking a nerve!

  4. Wait, he comes by to ”inspect” your home? For what, evil warlocks hiding in the corners?

    His shtick isn’t funny or clever. It’s not cute. It’s mean-spirited. Any ”It’s just a joke, geeez!” he may throw at you is about as convincing as me trying to be a floating purple unicorn. Any excuse of his is just that: an excuse. You have a support system with your mom and sister where you help eachother out. That’s great! If he has sour grapes about it, that’s his problem. If he doesn’t understand it then he should talk about that with his wife, not take it out on you.

    I would maybe check with your sister if she’s asked him to come by or if that’s his own idea. Just to be sure. FYI, I think it’s his and it’s a bad one at that. You have every right to be respected and enjoy the privacy of your own home without worrying about him creeping around, checking for monsters under the bed or whatever his excuse may be.

    I hope your mom and sister will back you up. Hopefully they’ll place all the blame where it should be: on entitled jerk-BIL. Good luck!

    1. Yeeah that part about him “coming by” made me go “Yeesh!”

      I mean it’s bad enough that A) Parental Home situation is toxic, B) LW hates her current situation, and now C) Douchecanoe BIL actually invades her personal space and rains doucheness on it.

    2. For reals. A person’s apartment is their home and not public property, and it doesn’t matter who holds the deed. It would not be OK for even Mom to drop by unannounced and let herself in, and it’s doubly not OK for someone not in a “landlord” capacity to do that. If he has a key, LW has a right to change the locks so that he no longer has one. And LW doesn’t even have to answer the door, let alone let him and converse with him. Letting him knock and knock and ring and ring until he gets bored and goes away would be a legit choice (yes, this would be irritating until he gets bored and goes away, but hopefully he would get the message after one or two incidents and stop doing it).

  5. I think the Captain’s advice is (as usual) spot-on, and I definitely second that it does not matter whether BIL’s asinine commentary comes from a place of deep stupidity or deep assholery.CUT THAT SHIT OUT, BIL.

    But furthermore: can we start a movement where “jokesters” do not get to assume that they have free reign to say anything nasty they want in the context of “humor,” thus shifting the burden of keeping social interactions un-hellish onto us humorless folks? This is (in my experience) a very gendered thing, wherein “funny boys” feel free to say whatever the fuck they want because they didn’t “mean to be mean about it.” Dude, if your joke is unfunny and vicious, that’s on you for being either a dipshit or an asshole, not on me for not laughing to make you feel better.

    Argh. I know I am repressed and uptight. I know it is kind of up to each of us to set and defend our own boundaries, but I wish that more people spent even five minutes thinking about where other people’s boundaries might be and cared enough to respect that.

      1. And in addition to that bullshit “my intentions matter more than my actions” stance, there’s the fact that I think a lot of humorists of this sort actually DID intend to be unkind, and somehow lots of people will side with their right to be “funny” over your right not to have people be randomly cruel to you. I don’t really understand where the social norm of “it’s okay to say anything as long as it’s a JOKE” came from. I guess it’s probably because if everyone is having a good time at your expense, then you’re EXTRA MEAN if you tell them to knock it off?

        Ugh the more I think about this the more I want to slap the BIL.

        1. “I think a lot of humorists of this sort actually DID intend to be unkind”

          …yeah, I think you’re on to something there. *broods*

    1. Well… I always thought that excessive personal jokes were kinda like touching too early/ without consent. You don’t touch somebody’s butt without their consent and you don’t jokingly insult people unless you are that close or you made sure they don’t mind.
      Yeah those who use it as a get out of jail free card are the worst. They get to say cruel things and then suddenldy it’s your fault for being to sensitive/humorless.

      1. I actually only make jokes like that with people I’m close to and where it’s mutual. I don’t know where these guys get the idea it’s cool to joke about people who aren’t “in” on it.

        1. Maybe they are trying to raise their social status this way? Sort of subtle telling that they get to judge others, “it’s just a joke” smokescreen allows them to be the charming, confident and a little above others?

      2. Yep. I dealt with people like this all the time when I was younger. And was always told to “get a sense of humor already, geez!” So much so that for years I pretty much assumed that I had zero sense of humor, I wasn’t funny, etc. No…I just don’t like sexist, racist jokes, rape jokes, DV jokes, and all that other crap. Nearly every day now my fiancé will start giggling at something I say and tell me I’m funny, but it’s always so surprising.

      3. The thing I would add here though is that even if you ARE close to someone, you have to be sure they are not just okay with personal jokes but okay with THAT personal joke, and I think you have something of an obligation to be attentive to the other person’s state of mind and what situation they are in.

        A former friend, P., had an ongoing thing about how I could never get a whole packet of sugar in my cup of coffee — I also spilled between 20% and 80% of it on the table. When I’m spilling because I’m overexcited and moving too fast, that’s an okay joke. When I’m spilling because I haven’t slept well for weeks and I’m so sad I’m dissociating at random, that’s not an okay joke.

      4. Hm. Not sure if this is the situation you’re talking about, but I have often tended (especially when I was younger, like college-aged) to use joking or teasing as a way to actively build relationships or seek out closeness. In the context of this discussion, it sounds awful, but most of the time, I don’t think it is. I think there’s an element of “only friends tease each other, so when I tease you, Person I Think Is Cool But Don’t Know Very Well, it’s code for ‘You should totally be my friend.'” (Childish, I grant you.) I think part of it is “I am calling out your minor bullshit in a way that allows me to acknowledge it in a loving way and a context of friendship.” And I think part (maybe a lot) is that I got joke-bullied a lot as a kid, and am perennially fascinated by/drawn to teasing that’s NOT damaging and hurtful.

        I think the key is to pay close attention to how people receive your teasing and respond to their cues.

        1. I get what you’re saying, and it I think is a fun way to form friendships for a lot of people, but it makes me feel like someone is trying to force closeness or relationship out of me. It’s like touching – it can help, but not in the very beginning.

          1. Same.

            Also, if you don’t know the person doing this very well (which you don’t, if you’re still at that “beginning” stage), you don’t know if they’re doing this because they like you or *because of just the opposite* because both is possible.

            So my reaction to someone I don’t really know at all trying to be all joke-y and tease-y would probably be a general feeling of unpleasantness (probably because I don’t tease or get teased by my friends or close family, either, so it doesn’t really have any positive connotations for me at all).

    2. A good friend of mine put it this way:

      If you tell a joke that is not funny and complain “oh it was just a joke.” Well did I laugh? Then I guess it wasn’t a very good joke and you’re just an asshole who should have saved your breath.

      And I think this sums such situations up beautifully.

      1. I had a relative who used to joke-bully me. Asking him to stop it or asking other relatives to get him to stop got me nowhere, so I started to address him as ‘ Hey! Assface*!’ , with a big, isn’t this jolly smile, in the next public, family meeting when he started to get going.

        I was told that women should watch their language by the bystanders but I replied that Fartsmeller* is okay with it and we are just joking around as always. I also thanked the the bystander for telling me to loosen up towards his jokes, and this is soooo much fun!!!! Thank you for making me realize it!!!!!

        Funny, he stopped it after that and we are no longer in touch.

        *in local language equivalents

    3. I’ve had the “but they didn’t INTEND to be offensive” conversation about a number of things (tv shows, books, etc, not just non-jokes) and it’s really hard to explain to someone who doesn’t want to hear it that intent actually doesn’t matter very much at all. If you say something offensive (or hurtful; I prefer to call it hurtful, actually) then it’s offensive (or hurtful) regardless. Intent doesn’t magically make that go away!

      I absolutely love “Yes, I am very serious and no fun” and “Yes, I literally do not understand humor”. Those are AMAZING responses to crap like this.

      1. I compare it to causing accidental physical injury. If you weren’t looking where you were going and stepped on my foot, you didn’t mean to hurt my foot, but you’d apologize wouldn’t you?

        1. That’s good. I like that. I’ll have to try and remember it for next time.

        2. Or, for that matter, if you meant to just gently tap my foot, sort of pantomime stepping on it, but you slipped and accidentally came down harder than you meant to, or you didn’t realize that due to an old injury my foot is very sensitive and even a gentle tap hurts it. I get it! You didn’t mean to hurt my foot! It might even have been funny if you hadn’t slipped! BUT MY FOOT HURTS.

        3. And saying that you didn’t mean to step on my foot doesn’t suddenly make my foot stop hurting, either. My ex had the hardest time with that one, as if “I didn’t mean to!” was a magic phrase that put us in an alternate dimension where he got to say whatever upsetting thing he’d said without the horrible burden of being informed that it was hurtful.

      2. “I’ve had the “but they didn’t INTEND to be offensive” conversation about a number of things….”

        The difference is in something being forgivable or acceptable. Offensive behavior from someone who didn’t mean to be offensive is more forgivable than the same behavior from someone who did. But in *neither* case is the behavior acceptable.

        A three-year-old punching me in the head is more forgivable than a thirty-three-year-old punching me in the head. In neither case is it acceptable.

        1. This rings very true to me. I’ve heard it discussed in the context of a neighbor who ran over your pet. If they *meant* to, jesus christ, what a fuckwit maybe report that shit. But if it was an accident? If they didn’t mean to? These things happen, and you have every right to be upset and mad, but they probably aren’t a horrible person and you probably shouldn’t hold it against them forever. But… your pet is just a dead regardless, and no intent will change that.

    4. You’re not humorless. You just don’t like being the butt of someone’s ill disguised malice.

  6. This sounds really familiar – you hope it’s meant in good fun, and that people are really just teasing you because it’s how they show their affection for you, and in order to keep that hope alive you play along and allow the “teasing” and your good-natured reaction to become a habit for everyone. And, in my opinion, even if it really was good-natured in the first place, the habit actually subtly teaches people not to respect you for real, so it becomes less good-natured even among good-natured people.
    I think the Captain’s advice is great (as always), and I also think you should plan now for setting reasonable boundaries around helping with your new niece or nephew. You want to be able to help out, but you don’t want to be the disrespected always-available-at-short-notice babysitter. You might want to pre-emptively offer a standing arrangement of babysitting every T/Th morning, plus offer your sister and bro-in-law a date night every alternate Friday (or whatever works for you, at whatever amount of time you can afford). That way you get to be the generous person offering her time, instead of the difficult one having to set boundaries after they assume you’ll step up at short notice regardless of your own plans.

    1. Can I change a few things in part of your post?

      and your good-natured reaction to become a habit for everyone. And, in my opinion, even if it really was good-natured in the first place, the habit actually subtly teaches people not to respect you for real, so it becomes less good-natured even among good-natured people.

      and your acceptance of teasing when you don’t really enjoy it to become a habit for everyone. And, in my opinion, even if it really was not intended hurtfully in the first place, the habit actually subtly teaches people not to respect you for real, so it becomes less innocuous even among people who enjoy a teasing style of interaction.

      The reason for my changes is that being good-natured does not require one to enjoy teasing, and that enjoying teasing does not require that one be good-natured.

    2. “You might want to pre-emptively offer a standing arrangement of babysitting”


      He shows up unexpectedly, interrupts her work (school is work), makes comments that put her on the defensive, says her space doesn’t belong to her, and is building a family narrative in which all the work she does doesn’t count as work and can be interrupted at his convenience.

      He is setting all this up so when he dumps the baby in her arms the day of an exam, and doesn’t show up again until 15 minutes before it starts, or leaves a screaming baby in her “spare room” in the middle of the night, everyone agrees with him that she is “overreacting” and “hysterical” for being angry.

      Besides setting a hard schedule of when she will care for the baby, I would talk with her parents about whether the apartment is hers, or is a communal family dwelling. If she will be expected to share space with the baby, she might want to look into a roommate situation.

      This guy should not be able to come in and out of her home at will. The amount of work her BIL is putting into framing her as unreliable puts the hair on the back of my neck up.
      If they aren’t going to support her on things like “My space and time are mine”, they are unlikely to take her side if this guy gets creepy some night after putting the baby down.

      1. Also, ad hoc baby minding outside the pre-agreed schedule requires xx hours/days/weeks notice and can be refused.
        And no unscheduled minding in the x weeks before or during the weeks of mid terms/finals.
        Schedule to be revisited each quarter/semester/whatever.

    3. ” And, in my opinion, even if it really was good-natured in the first place, the habit actually subtly teaches people not to respect you for real, so it becomes less good-natured even among good-natured people.”

      I think you’re on to something with this. People don’t intend for it to happen, but then one day your nickname among the whole family is “lazy ass,” and you can’t get rid of it.

      The other problem is that some people actually are mean, and not behaving in good faith, if that’s an appropriate term for this situation. My usual reaction to someone first making a mean joke about me is not to let them know how much it hurt, in the hope that everyone will move on and it won’t become a “thing,” because poking someone in their weak spot is perversely fun to a lot of people. (Even me, if I’m honest. I enjoy teasing my siblings, and I’m trying to break that habit so we can have a better relationship.) This probably isn’t the most healthy reaction, but I find it effective for the most part. The LW’s problem is that this wasn’t a one-off joke that everyone else forgot after it was first said, but a recurring thing, and she needs to set boundaries. Like the Captain said, how he reacts will be the litmus test for how to proceed. If she can’t change the BIL, hopefully she can get her mom and sister to support her in this way, too.

  7. Thanks for this question and reply. Hahaha oh god, the brother-in-law in this story is my actual brother. The “bother” typo I saw once in the original letter is so accurate. Mine not only does the lazy/useless bit, but also the “your life is so easy, you have no problems” song and dance. He wants me to listen to his issues and be supportive of him, but makes fun of me and undermines my emotions (in a cute, funny, why-can’t-you-get-the-joke, happy way of course) when I express anything personal in return. I don’t understand how people get like this, or think it’s okay to joke-bully others as a way of interacting? My mother always apologizes for him in a “that’s just how he is” or “he doesn’t know how to show affection well, so he teases” and it’s so annoying. A 37-year-old man should not be given passes like a 6-year-old boy. Thanks for giving scripts on how to deal with this.

    Good luck LW!! Don’t listen to this guy. Even if he does think you’re lazy and isn’t joking- that’s just his opinion. I discount the opinions of jerk guys like this. Just keep doing in your life what feels right to you.

    1. Completely seconding all of this, but I just wanted to say that I’m not sure 6-year-old boys should get a pass either. Teach ’em young, y’know?

      1. Absolutely. That was my first thought too. Nobody gets free passes on being an asshole. No matter what.

      2. Oh man, you’re totally right. I guess that treating kids as completely separate from their adult selves is a completely different issue right there. I agree entirely 🙂

      3. Once they hit toddlerhood anti-jerk training becomes part of the standard curriculum.
        “No hit!” “No bite!” “Leave it” “Share”

        1. I have many, many memories of getting down to my baby brothers’ level and asking “Was that a nice thing to do? How do you think it made them feel? Would you want to feel that way? Okay, go say sorry, and don’t do it again.” I like to think it helped somehow…

      4. right? my not-quite-5-year-old boy gets lectures multiple times a week on being a respectful goddamn human being.

  8. Oh, LW, I’m so sorry this is happening. Your brother-in-law sounds like a real piece of work.

    With regards to your last paragraph: if you WANT to clean their house, help with shopping, get your own wifi, or anything else, you absolutely can. But I wouldn’t expect that that will make your BIL’s nasty “jokes” stop. If he actually wanted you to help out more, he would ask you to do so politely instead of calling you names and insulting your work ethic. His “joking” has nothing to do with actually getting you to work harder or contribute, and everything to do with making you feel bad.

    It sounds to me like the bigger problem, on top of your BIL’s bullying, is that he’s managed to poke you hard enough in a vulnerable spot that you’re convinced you’re actually doing something wrong. I don’t think that’s true AT ALL. I completely agree with the Captain that it’s totally normal for someone to be getting a lot of support from their family while they work and study. Just because your BIL ~pulled himself up by his own bootstraps~ or whatever doesn’t mean he gets to make you feel awful about doing things in a different but completely fine way.

    So, if you really want to help out more than you have been independent of your BIL’s nonsense, and have the energy/time/funds to do so, great! You said you plan on helping out once the baby is born, which sounds like it will be a major contribution and really great for your sister. But do that in addition to the steps the Captain suggested. Your BIL’s real goal here is to make you feel guilty for something totally normal, so just helping out more isn’t going to make him stop being horrible to you; addressing his awfulness head-on is the only way to do that.

    1. “It sounds to me like the bigger problem, on top of your BIL’s bullying, is that he’s managed to poke you hard enough in a vulnerable spot that you’re convinced you’re actually doing something wrong.”


      Also, wtf is he doing all day that he has time to come over to harass you? Doesn’t he have a job? Why isn’t he helping his pregnant wife get ready for the baby? And there’s something kind of creepy about a guy with a pregnant wife coming over and hanging out with another woman, family member or no.

      1. Um, no. He’s creepy because she doesn’t want him there. He’s not creepy because he has a pregnant wife and is hanging out with another woman. Married people can hang out with people of any gender.

      2. Why is it creepy for him to hang out with another woman? People can hang out with other people of any gender, that does not make it automatically weird or wrong. No matter whether they’re married, have kids, etc.

        Now, he’s definitely being annoying, intrusive, pushy, and many other unpleasant adjectives. I just don’t think “creepy” is one of them.

        1. There’s nothing creepy about a man with a pregnant wife *hanging out* with another woman, but … hanging out is not what he’s doing. The dynamics of a man letting himself into a woman’s apartment (using the knowledge she’ll be on her own against her) in order to harass and abuse her does at least make “creepy” seem a possible reading of this, even it’s in fact “only” pushy, intrusive, etc.

          I’m a bit reminded of the time my downstairs neighbour ambushed me late at night as I was unlocking my door and started trying to get into my flat to “hang out” and I got *terrible* vibes and yet couldn’t make myself say hard-no to him and he was very blatantly ignoring obvious soft-nos and it was terrifying. And he’d just had a baby. Sometimes, if a man’s going to be a creep/harasser/abuser, for some reason he decides his partner’s pregnancy is the best time to do it.

          It’s probably just bog standard bullying, but I can sort of see why SLFisher might be picking up some additional disturbances in the Force.

    2. I would not be shocked if LW helping out with cleaning became another thing to tease. Like “oh are you pretending to be useful?” or “trying to trick your parents into thinking you contribute to the family?” or something like that. ‘Do you think a little sweeping makes up for you being a drain on the family?” If someone wants you to feel like shit they aren’t going to care what you do. It will all be fodder for making you feel like shit.

      1. “Where did you learn to clean? Oh, right, nowhere!”

        I agree: any special accommodations the LW tries to make are just going to be fodder for more derisive comments.

        1. Geeze, when I read that I realized how much this posts needs a gif of Mother Gothel singing “Mother Knows Best” because that’s exactly what it feels like he’s doing–picking away at her in “little friendly jokes” to make sure she “knows her place.” There’s no hoop to jump through that ends with him going, “Hey, you made it and I will treat you like a person now.” It feels like he’s very invested in setting her up to be the lazy/irresponsible one so he can always feel free to take advantage.

      2. Seriously, this reminds me so, so much of Allie Brosh’s Adventures in depression (warning for depression) where she’s bullying herself in her thoughts à la “Oh, look, you’re holding a fork. GOOD JOB, FORK GRABBER!” or “Wow, going outside? Is it fun making that stupid face outdoors?”.
        Seriously, BIL seems like jerkbrain incarnate.

  9. I’m willing to bet that LW is not the only person in Super Fun Joker’s life that he’s making feel like this.

  10. LW, you don’t mention your sister in your letter, at least not when talking about your brother-in-law’s behaviour; have you actually talked to her about it? The captain’s script for the sister talk seems to presuppose your sister knowing about what’s going on, but is that the case? I’m saying this because I wonder if your sister maybe isn’t aware of this happening? And I don’t mean in a “lalala ignoring you and your issues OH YOU’RE TALKING TO ME NOW BC YOU WANT MY HELP no come on he’s only joking” kind of way, but genuinely doesn’t know these conversations between the two of you exist. Like, does BIL do this in front of everyone or only when it’s just the two of you so your sister really isn’t aware of that dynamic? In this case, totally bring her into what’s going on and make sure she has your back.

    (Can I also say how horrible I think it is that he just drops by and INSPECTS your appartment? Please tell me he doesn’t actually have a key for it! Seriously, not even your landlord is allowed to just come by and wander your appartment without your admission so what’s his business there?)

    Apart from that, you say he’s only there for a few days every few weeks, how in the name of all that is holy does he have any kind of way to based on that judge what you’re up to all the time? Maybe it would be possible to also invoke that? Like “Brother-in-law, I’d really appreciate if you stopped making these ‘jokes’, especially since you’re really not in any position to judge what is going on in my life.” or something similar.

    As an aside: “I do work all afternoons and Saturday mornings, and I go to school every weeknight”; that doesn’t sound like someone doing “nothing”. Frankly, that seems like quite a few hours. Add to that going to school daily (also quite some time) and it seems like you’re doing quite a lot already.

  11. Also, no kind, reasonable person ever asks you to justify your boundaries, much less insist you shouldn’t have them. And no honest person asks for a pass on hurtful behavior because didn’t “mean it”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Focus on the behavior and what it is causing; worrying about his intentions will just cause arguments about what both of you are thinking, and that’s a waste of time.

  12. A side question: How do you deal with this sort of jokester the very first time you meet them and their MO (i.e. scattershot of outrageous statements aimed at various groups of people) is readily apparent?

    Last weekend I taught a short class at my university, and one of the women proclaimed, “I think people who attend school for ten years have something wrong in the head!” She continued in that vein, making lots of those kinds of “jokes” where the defense is IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE IT’S TRUE and your only defense is DON’T CARE I DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT. All I said was, “I try not to judge other people’s life choices,” but what I wanted to say was, “Really? This course is being taught in a UNIVERSITY LIBRARY.”

    So — when you don’t necessarily have an ongoing relationship with the jokester and they are bringing their unpleasant humor into a semi-public forum — how do you change the script?

    1. Personally, I generally just raise an eyebrow at them and go “Really.” ….and let the silence get awkward after they respond- but I also tend to only run across it one on one.

      In a situation like that maybe try something like “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t make baseless jokes like that in my class.”

      Also, I’m gonna admit I raised an eyebrow at the way *you* also seem to believe what that lady said – particularly since there are a number of reasons someone could be getting a degree ten years after they started. So it *isn’t* actually true.

      1. I don’t see how this writer agrees with the “jokes.” “I don’t care I don’t want to hear it” to me equals “we are not arguing about this, there will be no discussion, I don’t care about the justification because it is not relevant to the class.” Refusing to engage is not agreement. You can’t change a person’s mind in a short course. But you can make it clear that keeping such comments to one’s self is a real expectation during that day.

        Also, Jane, I would suggest being *no discussion* about something like this. It’s ableist and unclear on how universities work, and needs to stop and your job is to make sure that the learning environment is safe and civil for everyone. You can be polite and make it clear you are not asking. No “I appreciate” until it’s clear they’re going to quit.

        “Please stop making those comments they aren’t acceptable in this class.” “Your jokes aren’t appropriate in this class and I need you to stop, thank you for understanding.” “If you cannot stop making such comments in this class, I will ask you to leave.” “Please stop disrupting the class with the unnecessary commentary.”

        You can call out in the room in front of people or pull them aside, be as public or discrete as you like. But, as the excellent Lester Freeman says, “ain’t no ask about it.”

    2. I once met someone like this- he was a much older man who was a former mentor of my mother’s, actually, and the second he met me he started ribbing me in a really aggressive and invasive way. (Only me- this was in front of a lot of people, including his wife, children, and grandchildren.) At one point, in a totally calm, non-defensive tone, I said, “Why would you ask me something like that?” and he replied, “I’m taking an instant dislike to you.” And I said, “Likewise, I’m sure, jack.” I don’t even care. I call bullshit when I see it. And I have the driest sense of humor you’ll ever find, but my sense of humor is not mean, and I certainly don’t pull it out when I’m meeting someone for the first time and use it to make them squirm in their chair. Meanwhile his family’s sitting there like this O_O Later he came up to me and said, “I’m sorry, I’m just kidding around with you,” and I said, “Well, you’re not funny. Get new material.” He avoided me for the rest of the time we had to spend together.

      My mother was furious with me, of course. She was like, “He’s only kidding! He used to do the same thing to me! That’s just his sense of humor!” and I just feel bad that when my mother was young she would actually let some old asshole browbeat her into laughing off mean jokes at her expense.

      Point is, if you don’t know someone well at all, that’s all the more reason to call it out- you DON’T know if “that’s what they’re like,” but if it’s not, they’re making a pretty shitty first impression.

      1. “I’m taking an instant dislike to you.”

        WTF? Why would anyone ever say that to some person they just met who hadn’t done anything to them? And how is it even an excuse for behaving like an asshole? “I’ve just directed an uncomfortable number of unfunny, vitriolic “jokes” your way, but in case that wasn’t enough of a clue for everyone, now I’m going to explicitly state that I am a huge assface who doesn’t give a shit about politeness or other people!” WTF, seriously.

        1. “I’m taking an instant dislike to you.”
          I’m guessing that was intended to come across as funny/flirtatious. Clearly it didn’t.

          There’s a lot of entitlement on display in these stories – men in positions of power having “fun” tormenting women whom they perceive to be in weaker positions. Good on you for smacking him down hard, Lucy.

          1. Re: flirtatious: What I actually WANTED to say to my mother when she was saying how he used to do that to her too was, “Probably because he was angry he couldn’t fuck you,” but my mom hates the F word or me talking about sex.

        2. And the best part was that my whole childhood my mother was always pushing me to stand up to bullies and don’t let mean people affect my confidence, but I guess this only applies to OTHER CHILDREN. It’s totally okay to be verbally abused by nasty old men you don’t know.

      2. “Well you’re not funny. Get new material.”

        Saving this for later use. You are awesome.

    3. I actually find that a response like, “Really? This course is being taught in a University Library” works really well and can be totally appropriate. Just aim for an amused voice or some side-eye rather than full-on mean-sarcasm, and then move on right away so you don’t get caught in the trap of mocking them back.

      Sometimes what people need is for the inappropriateness to get pointed out to them, and a little, “Wait, but seriously?” can help with that.

    4. A lot of this depends on the crowd and your position – as a one-time guest-speaker it’s not your job to do classroom control and the regular prof should step in and ride herd. But that’s not always feasible.

      Some things I’ve tried:

      -I remind myself that it’s their issues on display, nothing to do with me or the lecture or the material, and that the people who have to deal with this person all the time are WELL AWARE of how s/he is.

      -If I can do so with quickness and humor, I agree with them. “People who spend ten years in school must have something wrong in the head.” “Well, we’re all mad here. As I was saying…”

      -Or, I disagree with them but without opening it up to debate. “You have some very unique ideas, huh. So, about today’s lecture…” or “Correlation I’ll give you, causation not so sure. So, about today’s topic…” Sometimes if you don’t address these folks they keep trying and trying to get you to break and pay attention to them, so it’s easier in the end to just address it quickly and move on.

      -If they are actively interrupting, I might say something like “For now, would you all mind writing down questions and insights as they occur to you? We’ll have more time for discussion if I can get through this next bit without losing my flow. Thank you.” I really do get distracted by interruptions and need to keep the class focused, so this is useful even when someone isn’t being a pill.

      -If they really won’t stop, is it something where you can make their question relate to THE question? “X has a strong hypothesis about a causal link between extended schooling and mental illness. How would we go about evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of that hypothesis?” Only do this if you are very comfortable intellectually with the material and can stand to hear it discussed by undergraduates in the abstract. Not every topic is good for this, but sometimes I have had to do this with real gearheads in film classes who are trying to challenge me on a technical point that has nothing really to do with anything. “Bob asserts that X (expensive camera we don’t have access to) is the only one that can do Y thing. How might you get a similar effect with the equipment we do have access to?” I teach a hands-on art form, so sometimes “let’s try it” is the way to deal with argumentative people.

      1. Yeah, as a guest in a class I think a soft touch is really important. If it’s a short course, and you’re responsible for the course and are the instructor of record, it can be important to shut stuff down before it goes anywhere. Especially if it’s 8 hours over a day or two days. I don’t think a comment like “that really isn’t necessary please stop” has to be a big deal or A Major Moment. Saying it in passing, to the person so they can hear but not necessarily anyone else, being really brief and moving along can dial down the behavior and keep it from escalating or continuing.

    5. That woman evidently has no idea how a PhD actually works. My brother has spent around ten years on grad school *alone.*

      You could point out that anyone who makes it past tenth grade of high school has technically gone to school for ten years.

      1. EXACTLY. I’m not exactly sure what she was going for with a such a comment at all?? I think she was criticizing anyone who has the temerity to continue with their education. I doubt the fact that some people take years off from schooling for reasons of illness or money even crossed her mind.

        At someone above who said I seemed to believe what she was saying — look, I am unwilling to defend my personal life choices (pursuing higher education, taking time off from higher education) even to intimate friends. I’m absolutely not having that discussion with someone I don’t know.

        Making this situation either more or less complicated (?) the course is an informal one on art that I am teaching every other week using my university’s facilities (we can reserve rooms.) It’s more like a workshop, I guess. The method is conversational, but I found her behavior a little much to deal with (also cornering the person who had the room after us and asking if she would buy the art we had just made?? WHAT???) I am not so concerned for my professional reputation, but I am concerned about the other students having a nice time and ME having a nice time without being pounded over the head constantly with this woman’s generalizations and “jokes.”

        Thanks everyone for the good ideas!

  13. I am like the brother-in-law in this scenario in that I like to tease and make jokes towards the people I love as a way to show my affection, and most of my friends/family hit back just as hard. I’m a sarcastic person by nature and I love a good banter. However, if someone tells me that I go too far, I stop. And unlike the BiL, I also can usually tell if I’ve hit below the belt by the way the person’s face or demeanor changes, which then prompts an immediate apology. I respect their boundaries and while I know I’m just joking, I can understand when it doesn’t feel like a joke to someone which is why I immediately stop and apologize. In this respect, it really doesn’t matter if a person is just joking or not, what matters is how that “joke” is perceived by the audience and the person who becomes the punchline.

    I’m hoping that the BiL is just clueless that this upsets the LW because that’s just how he is. A big part of me doubts it because he continues to harp on this one thing about the LW. To me, there’s a big difference between a good ribbing or “burn” and constant nitpicking or focused teasing. I see his actions as bullying and passive aggressive. It sounds to me like he has a real issue with the way LW lives their life and he is using his version of “humor” to vent about his issue instead of putting on his big boy pants and confronting the LW directly. Though, really, if the arrangement works for the sister and mother, and BiL is not adversely affected, I’m not sure it’s his business.

  14. I remember once when we were kids my brother would be all “joking” in this way. And my mum cut in and told him that if someone gets hurt it’s no longer a joke. A lot of “jokesters” out there need to hear that.

  15. LW, here is a list of things you don’t have to do:

    1.) You don’t have to be organized. Really! You don’t! If this is a skill you want to work on for your own sake, of course there’s nothing wrong with that. The only thing being neat and organized means is that you’re…neat and organized. True, they’re useful things to be. But sometimes people have a tendency to equate neatness with goodness, and I get the sense that either you or some of the people in your life (BIL?) are among those. If neatness and organization are things that don’t come easily to you and you have bigger fish to fry right now (and it sounds like you do), you could always give yourself permission to let it go for awhile and focus on them later.

    2.) You don’t have to live in the apartment just because your mom insists. You are an adult, and you can live where you please, so long as you pay your own way and meet whatever obligations you take on! Now, you don’t get to control how your mom reacts to that, which is the flip side of being an adult. But: you do not actually have to live in the apartment.

    3.) Like the Captain says, you don’t have to tolerate BIL’s nicknames, let him inspect your apartment, or do extra favors above and beyond what you’ve already agreed upon with your mom and sister or whatever has been y’all’s custom.

    4.) Babysit any more than you want to. (And I say this as someone who both is a parent and has multiple siblings.)

    5.) You probably don’t have to use the spare room for anything baby-related, although that may depend on how exactly the finances are being handled. (And of course their rights to the space and how big an imposition they’re asking depends a lot on how the finances are being handled and what they want to do there. “You’re paying rent, but we want to use the room as a playroom” vs. “We’re paying rent, and we want to store a few boxes of outgrown baby clothes in case we have another kid” are two totally different things.)

    1. “1.) You don’t have to be organized. Really! You don’t! If this is a skill you want to work on for your own sake, of course there’s nothing wrong with that. The only thing being neat and organized means is that you’re…neat and organized. True, they’re useful things to be. But sometimes people have a tendency to equate neatness with goodness, and I get the sense that either you or some of the people in your life (BIL?) are among those. If neatness and organization are things that don’t come easily to you and you have bigger fish to fry right now (and it sounds like you do), you could always give yourself permission to let it go for awhile and focus on them later.”

      This really needs to be stressed more in life. If you are getting done what you need to get done (homework, work-work, social and family obligations, etc), then congratulations, you’ve achieved a sufficient level of organization to function in society. You don’t need fancy folders or a bajillion pintrest worthy mason jars filled with supplies. Your home does not have to be super duper eat-off-the-floor-clean. No one will die if your spices aren’t alphabetized. Being really organized is nice, but not necessary in the grand scheme of things 🙂

      1. I’m trying to get away from that by attaching neatness to functionality. As in “it’s too messy/disorganized if it’s inconveniencing/annoying me in some way.” So, there’s too many dishes when I can’t eat without cleaning a bunch of stuff first; there’s too much stuff on my desk when I can’t find things easily; there’s too many clothes on the floor when slipping and falling becomes a risk. All very much ymmv, of course.

        1. This thread right here makes me really happy. 🙂 I grew up with a hoarder, so I don’t have very good organizational skills, and I’ve always felt really bad about that. It never even occurred to me that I didn’t *have* to be organized.

          1. I had to learn the same thing for the exact opposite reason. My mother is wonderful but incredibly neat and organized (I semi-joked to a neighbor recently that literally the only thing she’d have to do to open a bed and breakfast in her space is lower her standards), and I’m just…not. But I definitely grew up internalizing the message that making everything very neat and tidy was what adults do.

            My kitchen and bathrooms stay sanitary, and I keep up with laundry. Everything else gets done if and when it gets done. To be perfectly honest, I’m still working on letting it go, but most of the time I do OK with it. It does help to say, “Right now I am focusing on _______. Some other time, I will work on getting more organized.”

          2. Lizzieonawhim my mother was also a hoarder and I seem to be morphing into a minimalist neat freak…so that can go either way. 🙂 But yes – you don’t have to be neat and organised! It’s only a problem when it’s a problem, if that makes sense. Like Minuteye says you can define neat enough by whether or not the lack of neatness is causing hazards/delays/problems using your space. This is really the defining aspect of hoarding vs “clutter”. Hoarding interferes with your ability to safely and happily live your life in your own home. Clutter is just stuff. But then if you grew up around hoarding I suspect you already know that. :-/

            It’s enough to focus on functionality and forget about perfection unless you really get into it and *want* to be super neat for your own amusement. 🙂

          3. Honestly, until this thread, it never even *occurred* to me that clutter wasn’t a sign of some deep personal flaw, and that it was okay not to be very organized as long as you could still function. I spent so long being ashamed of where I lived, having family members and family friends and anyone who thought they could help come over and try to clean the house, only to give up after a couple of months when it became clear that nothing was ever going to change… I still have trouble inviting people over, even now that I live in a house with roommates and we have a cleaning lady every two weeks, because I’m just not used to the idea that I *can*, and that nobody’s going to judge me. So this thread was a light bulb moment for me, like: ‘Oh, wait — you mean I’m *not* subhuman because my dirty laundry hangs out on my floor a lot? You mean I can have people over without having to have things all perfectly shiny and clean? o.o’ It’s not something I dwell on a lot consciously, but it does drive how I think of my home and my social life (or lack thereof), and how I deal with letting people see my space if it doesn’t look the way I want to (which is to say I don’t) (and by the way, it almost never looks quite the way I want it to).

            I honestly don’t know if it’s ever going to be possible for me to deal with household chores the way I hear I’m supposed to, because upbringing and also because depression, so it’s good to hear that being less-than-perfect wrt housekeeping can be okay.

          4. Well, maybe this will help. Think about all the houses/apartments you’ve visited and about the friends who live there.

            Do you change your opinions about people’s goodness and character upon seeing how neatly they keep their space?

          5. Yes, my first step toward that mental freedom was to refuse to participate in the obligatory apology and shame dance whenever anyone comes to the house. My house is the way it is. That’s the way I live. I’m not going to apologize for the status quo that I’m fine with, despite the social expectations. And when I’m not fine with it? Why would I bring that into what’s supposed to be a fun social moment? I alsi try to quash others’ apologies when I step through their doors. I swear that this house appearance thing is the other angle of women’s diet/exercise/body image shaming.

          6. Lizzieonawhim when I visit messy friends I don’t judge them and think less of them. And I’m neat enough that I’ve passed rental inspections without lifting a finger to do any extra cleaning or tidying (I was busy one time, and couldn’t do my usual lunatic clean-a-thon). I don’t require friends to live the way I do in order to see them as worthwhile people, and someone who does is probably pretty shallow! And I’ve had friends where it’s necessary to move the takeaway box full of rotting food off the chair before you sit down.

            That’s a good point about the housekeeping shame dance BTW… I hadn’t thought about it like that. I might try to banish it from my conversations the same way I’m trying to banish the appearance/fat/grooming shame dance.

          7. sometimes I give out to myself for my lack of perfect housekeeping. In the main I think I’m fine and well within the lines of hygiene and livability (totally a word) but I feel I’m well below the abstract ‘womanly standard of cleanliness’ and sometimes I feel bad about that. Then I ask myself if I had a spare hour a day would I want to spend it doing housework: no. Is being an excellent housekeeper something I aspire to: no.

            So much of this crap merges with our worth and we don’t even think about it. A few years ago I casually said to a colleague ‘I can’t keep myself in clean socks, how could I ever have children’! Her response that I’d probably have perfectly happy children who would also never have clean socks, took me by surprise. It had just become so ingrained in me that I was essentially failing at everything, and horribly irresponsible, because I’m not 100% on top of household stuff. Stupid Brain – you didn’t think that one through logically, did you!

            It’s just another way of keeping us down, sistas! I want to do lots with my life, and it does not include cleaning my really dirty skirting boards, even if I had so much time on my hands that I got really really bored!

    2. Amen to point number 1)! The universe doesn’t give out cookies to people who are more organised than others. People have got to stop using organisation as a yardstick of worth.
      I have a hyper-organised friend who likes to try and assign other people ‘tasks’ or ‘homework’, sometimes without their knowledge, under the impression that they ought to ‘rise to the challenge’ and become more organised (ie, more like her), like it’s still highschool and you need to demonstrate your excellence to get awards from an external power or something. She’s still eagerly awaiting her Official Cookie of Achievement and Excellence from the Universe, unaware that the fact that being organised makes her happy IS the cookie, and that everyone she’s trying to ‘improve’ will continue functioning just fine and be just as valid and worthy in their own personal Vortices of Disorganisation.

      1. “I have a hyper-organised friend who likes to try and assign other people ‘tasks’ or ‘homework’, sometimes without their knowledge, under the impression that they ought to ‘rise to the challenge’ and become more organised…”
        That’s really controlling and annoying, particularly the “without their knowledge” part. Especially since “secret test of character” (read: how much like me are you?) are a few of my least favorite things. If everyone’s an adult, and she’s not your boss at work, or organizing some event at which everyone is volunteering, or teaching a class, there should be no “assigning tasks” among friends!

    3. ugh the things people associate with productivity/responsibility that have nothing to do with it! My brother freaked out at my once because I was wearing pyjamas. I was house/dog sitting for my parents when my dad’s car was vandalised. I was woken by the police, as it had happened to others on the street. The crime was reported and I called my dad and told him. I continued on my day, which happened to be working from home, as that was easier when minding the dogs. My bro just happened to call in later and totally lost the rag because I was clearly so irresponsible and in my pyjamas in the middle of the day when something had happened…. in the middle of the night (admittedly I would also have been wearing my pjs when the crime actually happened, although I don’t think this had any effect on it)

      I think people also have this attitude to people who don’t work in the morning. Even if you put in 8 – 10 hours working later in the day, as LW seems to be doing, not working in the morning is some sort of crime, and means you are lazy… and indeed untidiness.

      1. Oh, this. I don’t work well inthe morning at all, and even so I have trouble shedding the idea that virtuous people get up early.

        1. I spend the first part of the day dribbling on myself blinking slowly…. I can’t even see properly first thing in the morning. It has taken me YEARS to shake off my father’s assertions that 6am study/work is more productive than any other part of the day. This is just not true for me… and for lots of other people who are automatically tagged as lazy no matter how hard they work!

  16. “I realize I get help more than I give right now, but I don’t know what do to.”

    A couple thoughts on this – the most important one being, it’s okay to accept help and not be able to return it instantly. It sounds like you have a very supportive relationship with your mother and your sister, and right now, you are in need of some help. That is okay! People *want* to help their loved ones who are in tough situations, so right now, your mom and sis are trying to make your life easier by handling your living arrangement and wifi, etc. Accepting that help is totally fine.

    Further, as you said, you’re getting more help than you give *right now*. That doesn’t mean forever. It sounds like you’re in school and working, which are both stressful, time consuming things, but who knows what you’ll be up to in a year or five years down the line? Maybe in a much different (happier) situation, one where you’re able to help out with your family. Maybe someday they’ll need someone to lean on and you’ll be able to be the one who’s there for them. (This isn’t a quid pro quo, scorekeeping thing – it’s just how good relationships work. You don’t need to support them for XY months later because of what they’re doing now; they’re helping because they love you, and later if they need help you can give, you’ll give it because you love *them*.)

    As for what you “should” do (cleaning house, not using wifi, etc) – I think the more valuable question is, what are you able to do (emotionally, financially, time-wise, etc)? If there’s something nice you can do, like offering to do the shopping or to clean up, it might be a nice way to thank them for the help, but it’s not an obligation. (Another nice way to thank them for the help? Just say, “Hey, thanks so much for helping me out. I really do appreciate it so much.”)

    Anyway, good luck, LW. You are totally right to stand up against your BIL’s comments and you are totally right to live your life, arrange your apartment and your schedule, etc, as *you* want to, no matter what he thinks.

    1. This is a really good point. I think Stephen Fry has this lovely video where he asks something like, would you rather be the person who can give help or the person who needs it? If you care about people you really do want them to give you the opportunity to help them when they need it. And its not a quid pro quo exchange except perhaps in reciprocity of sentiment.

  17. “He’s a very nice man who gets along with everybody, an extrovert. He loves to joke with people, and he usually gives nicknames or uses a personality trait for humor.”

    Can I just say that I am SO sick of this person?

    It’s endlessly possible to be a riotously funny light-hearted extrovert without making other people the butt of your jokes. It’s also possible to be the life of every party and have a wicked sense of humour without making other people feel small and self-conscious.

    I’m sick of of the idea that we should put up with bullying for the sake of funny, as though one is the logical price of the other.

    If you remove the opening “very nice man” qualifer, this letter is about an abusive asshole who is bullying his sister-in-law because he has some chip on his shoulder about her living near/depending on his wife. Even if he’s not trying to be a manipulative bully or get out his bile out under the smokescreen of “BUT JOKES” – even if he is a genuinely sweet guy who crossed a line – I’m just so sick of living in a world where bullying can be so easily confused for humour in the first place.

    PSA to all self-professed jokesters everywhere: GET BETTER JOKES. Seriously, hilarious “nicknames” stopped being an indicator of a good sense of humour in like… kindergarten

  18. Dear LW:

    I think you will be happier when you are out of your family’s real estate.

    You won’t feel guilty.
    Even if your brother-in-law made a special trip to “inspect” or call you names — well, really! that seems fairly unlikely, but if he did — you’ll be on what you know to be your own turf and it will be easier to tell him to be polite.
    You won’t feel guilty.

    But that’s long term. And, because you indicate that “Lazy Ass” is a translation, maybe you live somewhere where unmarried young people (or at least, young women) are expected to live with relatives.

    If that’s so: what about aunts or cousins? Because if you do have aunts or cousins, maybe you can get your mother’s agreement to “stay” with them. Maybe it would be possible to transfer to another university, one which would require you staying with relatives?

    In the shorter term, the Captain’s scripts will be helpful. And really, even if your sister and mother push back, once you start saying “I know he doesn’t mean anything nasty, but it hurts my feelings and now that he knows, I’m sure he’ll stop” he is very likely to stop.

    Yes, he’ll call you a spoilsport. And yes you can be calm as the Captain (rightly) advises. You can even be a little less calm:

    Assorted family members
    But LW, you’re a spoil sport!
    So what? He’s calling me names after I asked him not to.

    As far as baby sitting and housework go, you’re busy. You. You have work and school. You’re busy.

    Also, calling someone names is not nice. Your brother-in-law is acting rude.

  19. LW, I really, really, don’t like the way your work and accomplishments are being devalued here. You say you “don’t work as hard” and then you say you’re working afternoons AND going to school in the evenings, and that is, like, the OPPOSITE of lazy. And this is on top of the stress of having left a toxic situation and dealing with a family crisis.

    (Even if you were doing less, that doesn’t excuse BIL’s behavior, which is wrong no matter what the circumstances. I just wanted to add that, in addition to being mean, he’s also WRONG.)

    1. Yes, this! Your schooling is a “job,” and the required time for study and completing assignments outside of class is part of that job. Going to school full time plus working part time is working a job and a half. That’s not lazy.

    2. If the LW’s BIL’s standard of “lazy” had applied to me when I was in school, then I’m not sure what her BIL would have called me–“comatose loser,” probably. I lived in a dorm, paid for by my parents. My parents paid for my food, and all tuition over and above my scholarship. When I was home in the summer, I worked on my father’s farm, so all spending money came from my parents, too. I went to school several hours a day, and studied, but I did not work. School was my only work, and I went to a whole lot of parties. And this was *completely normal.* I can only think of a few in my set of friends that had jobs in addition to school.

      Heck, now that I think about it, while I paid my tuition, rent and utilities for grad school, my parents supported me there as well since I continued to milk cows for Dad every weekend to pay my rent, etc.

      As for organization, our dorm room wasn’t organized any more than it had to be. In our little quad, we drew the line at “moldy food,” “dead fish,” and “underwear on the floor in the common area.” Other than that, the mess overflowed. We did NOT have inspections–and my parents, who were paying for the whole thing, never ever ever just dropped by. They would call first to see if it was a good time.

      LW, you are already doing more work than a huge percentage of American college kids. Your BIL is not only nasty, his accusations are baseless. Tell him to knock it off, but also realize that what he’s saying is totally baseless and perhaps rooted in jealousy.

  20. I would like to say to all unmarried and/or child-free women out there: you are not ever obligated to watch your relatives’ babies. Ever. They can ask, you can offer, you can work out something to help out but it is NEVER something you have to do. Ever.
    I get where the assumption has come from but it’s a shitty assumption. The whole “but you have time because you’re not married/don’t have to watch your own kids” thing is bullshit.
    Sometimes parents need help. I just don’t think it should be an automatically assumed requirement of the unmarried and/or child-free ladies in the family.

    1. Could we extend this to women with children also?

      “You already have (x number) kids (y number) more won’t be a big deal, they’ll play with each other.”
      “You’ve already had three babies, you know what you’re doing and we can trust you.”
      “We already bought the tickets and can’t afford a sitter, they’ll be asleep most of the time”


      Maybe I’d be happy to have your kids over, and maybe I’m doing my spring cleaning, netflixing, catching up on work/school, have a family activity planned, or just don’t feel like taking care of children that aren’t mine.

      1. Yeah… My uncle’s wife used to assume that because I was a stay at home mother that I would be cool with keeping her kids whenever she got in a bind. Snow days. When she had to work weekends. When they were SICK WITH CONTAGIOUS BUGS! Not true emergencies, just inconveniences. I got sick of the phone ringing at six in the morning any time we had snow, so I would log on to the computer (this was back in the days o’dial-up) and tie up the phone line for a couple of hours. She had the nerve to send me an e-mail nasty-gram complaining that she couldn’t get ahold of me because my phone was always busy and she had to call in to work! Mind you, she never asked if I was willing to be her fallback child care. If she had, I’d have told her no. She just assumed because I did it once. I forwarded her email to my uncle and that was the end of that. I was so happy when he divorced that entitled cow.

    2. True! And I also think we can simultaneously acknowledge the truth of both “parents need more help and support and it would be good for society to recognize that and for people to learn how to support them better” AND “no particular individual on any particular occasion is obligated to provide help that they don’t want to (unless it’s their job)”.

    3. Say it again for the ladies in the back.

      I once had to dial a friendship way back because of an attitude on the part of the friend that I was somehow obligated to be an on-call, unpaid babysitter (bonus: she lived way outside town in a house without wifi or reliable mobile phone signal) because I had once said I’d be happy to babysit occasionally when my schedule allowed.

      1. I think we had the same friend. The person I know has four kids and can’t do laundry at home! I gave her an African Violet after she started “joking” about moving her family into my house.

  21. One of the most useful things I learned in college was a technique for dealing with irrational requests or limits: saying “I don’t understand.” People don’t like being put in the position of explaining the unexplainable.

    In college I used it for irrational demands that I, say, drive across town to come to the registrar’s office for them to lift a hold. You have to come request that in person.

    “Ok, what form needs my signature? I’ll bring it with me.”
    “No, we do not need a signature or a form.”
    “I don’t understand; if you don’t need a signature why do I need to come in person?”

    You always run the risk of the jerky “you just do” sort of answer, but one hopes in your case that your sister and mom aren’t willing to say you just have to take your BIL’s abuse. When they try to justify it – or he tries to justify it where others can hear him – you simply say

    “I don’t understand why he would want to say something that hurts my feelings.”
    “I don’t understand why you would say something I told you makes me feel bad.”
    “I don’t understand why it is funny to say I am lazy.”

    You don’t have to help them make their case. Like so many things the Captain covers, this is not a dialog or discussion. It is perfectly okay to say “I do not like this” and force them to be uncomfortable when they attempt to justify things that cannot be justified. You do not owe them a negotiation about how bad something makes you feel.

    1. Oh wow, I really love this. It really puts him in the position of having to say something outside “just a joke” plausible deniability.

    2. I find that a fair amount of the time this sort of thing gets a non-answer; though; I’ve literally had conversations with representatives of something or other than consist of “Okay…why?” “It’s our policy.” “Okay…but do you make ‘policy’ by throwing darts at pages of the dictionary until you spell out a grammatical sentence, or is there some actual purpose this policy is supposed to achieve?”

      I haven’t literally tried “I don’t understand” that often. Maybe I should…

      1. “Okay…but do you make ‘policy’ by throwing darts at pages of the dictionary until you spell out a grammatical sentence, or is there some actual purpose this policy is supposed to achieve?”

        that just cracked me up!

      2. I normally love the “I don’t understand” but I really do hate the idea of using it on people for whom it “it’s our policy.” I *know* how irritating that is to hear, but for people on a public desk, or who have to deal with the public, but AREN’T the ones who made the policy (and you can be darned sure, if they’re the ones dealing with the public, they probably aren’t the ones who made the policy)…it’s policy. Maybe they can totally wave it if you bug them enough, or maybe doing what you ask will get them in trouble with their supervisor. Maybe the policy is stupid and unexplainable, but their supervisor likes it. And once you start challenging it, their thoughts go: “Oh crap, if they REALLY push this and take it to my manager, I’m getting in trouble no matter what.” Because places that have stupid policies are also the ones where the low-rung employees catch whatever runs downhill, which means either:

        1) You give the patron what they want to prevent a blow-up (maybe you would never blow up at a worker, but *they* don’t know that, because they’ve seen it happen quickly and over very little) which means that:
        —the patron will now expect this special exemption from the policy every time.
        —You risk getting in trouble for breaking policy.

        2) You DON’T give in to the patron, they ask to speak to the manager. If they browbeat long enough, maybe the manager gives in, but now she’s mad at her employee for making her deal with that, for not finding a way to make the customer happy right off the bat, etc etc.

        And then the next person walks up to the counter and the employee thinks: “Is it gonna happen again?”

        You, personally, might be a really rational person. But folks on public desks have to deal with so many irrational and just awful people that I just can’t find it in my heart to make their day any harder than it needs to be unless absolutely necessary.

        1. Yeah. Customer Service people really don’t have much power. Their entire job is to follow procedures made by people way higher up the chain than they are. They just want to get through a shift without being yelled at too badly, and are already doing everything they can to be helpful.

          Even if their are legitimate reasons for the rules, CS people are often not given that info so they can’t get into an argument with a rules lawyer looking to game the system. There are asinine policies that they would like to change just as much as you, but it’s not their call.

          Even the ‘manager’ or ‘supervisor’ you speak with is just there to let you vent your frustration more effectively. They can’t make more than minor changes.
          If you had heard those options first you would have felt like “That’s not very helpful,”

          That’s why they have long wait times, and low level CS who are essentially just data entry punching bags. So that by the time you get to a ‘supervisor’, even the smallest concession feels like a victory.

    3. Long ago and far away, I had a job that required reading old deeds from the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s. Some, although the ink was clearly faded, could easily be read. Some couldn’t. I asked an archivist who said the readable ones were written in black ink with minerals in it, and the minerals stayed when the rest of the ink faded. The unreadable ones were written in plant based inks that left no trace when they faded.

      Years later I had a job that included writing out birth certificates. They had to written out in black ink, and signed by the doctors in black ink. Any written out or signed in blue (or any other color) ink would be returned by the county clerks office to be redone.

      Most such “rules” at one time had a valid reason. Discovering that reason won’t usually make the silly rule go away – the County Clerk decided he liked everything to look uniform so they would still insist on black ink after I brought it up during a discussion of wasteful government at a county government meeting.

    4. This is really great for racist/sexist/homophobic/otherwise gross jokes and generalizations. Play dumb, make them explain themselves, watch them either fumble and give up or dig themselves an incredibly deep hole in front of everyone else.

      1. YES. Seconded. It’s amazing what people will tell you about themselves when they answer that.

      2. We do this together with a friend all the time. Someone says something gross, and we look at each other and say “I didn’t get that.” “Me neither.” Other people who just laughed get uncomfortable.

      3. I use this one on my MIL, the “polite old lady racist.” As in, she won’t come out and say anything too terrible, just make looks and such. So I just look at her all wide-eyed, “What?” like I have no idea what she’s indicating. She usually crams it after that, so that’s worth something, although I wish she’d give me something to really launch about. GRRR

    5. I’ve used the “I dont understand” response to great effect with offensive jokes – not necessarily mocking me as with the OP, but racist or homophobic jokes. People really dont like having to lay their offensiveness out and make it obvious rather than a “Everyone knows what I mean, wink wink” joke.

  22. Ugh. My mother is the brother-in-law, and I’m really, really DONE with this behavior. It’s not even teasing or joking, it’s straight-up manipulation disguised as such. With her, she hates the idea of me having any kind of life and ever leaving the house. So every time I make plans, I get “Oh, so I have to babysit your cats all day? When are you going to pay me for my services? Did you check with me to see if I wanted to watch YOUR cats?”

    And if I call her out on the manipulation and tell her it’s actually really hurtful and she can’t expect me to never go out (and…they’re cats. They DO NOT REQUIRE WATCHING), I get a song and dance about how she’s only joking. And there’s no way to get her to stop, because she just denies she does it (she does have memory problems, but it’s very convenient how she always forgets the shitty things she does.) She’ll even deny she said it literally twenty seconds after the words left her mouth. Those cats are very often the only ones who bring me joy in a given day, and it’s incredibly hurtful to have them used as a weapon in this manner.

    1. Wow, I’m really sorry you have to deal with that. This whole thing has me on edge because my mom was always “joking” like this when I was a kid, always in front of people so I couldn’t fight back without looking like I was overreacting, and when I got upset, it was “Leonine, you’re so SENSITIVE. It was a JOKE. Can’t you take a JOKE?” She used to do this thing where if I asked her for something (a ride somewhere, a new book, anything), her go-to response was “Well, what are YOU going to do for ME?” I always felt so angry and helpless when she said that. 😦

      1. “I’m going to decide what retirement home you go into, Mother dear. Want to try this again?”

        1. Right? I mean, if we’re being unreasonable, might as well go whole hog.

          Why do I feel answering “you can just say no, Mom” or “what do you want me to do?” would get a world of trouble. Oh! Because Mom here is pretending Leonine is on some kind of even level with their parent, when they’re not. What’s the difference between when a parent does things because it’s their obligation to because they are a parent, and when it’s a negotiation? Well, in this case, apparently the difference is WHEN MOM FEELS LIKE IT.

          Rage making.

      2. Ugh, the exchange mindset. You really REALLY shouldn’t think like that with your own children (I’ve got my own experiences with it).

    2. “Well, Mom, you’re free to move out.”

      If memory serves, she doesn’t acknowledge that she needs your constant care.

  23. My brother has done very similar things to me my entire life, so I know how absolutely shitty it feels. He’s also one of those people who will bring up incredibly hurtful, completely unrelated things (Me: “Next time can you call me when you don’t have time to walk the dog so I know to do it?” Him: “You’re crazy, that’s why you have all those drugs by your bed!” after I was hospitalized for severe depression. This exchange actually happened.) when you have an argument and also believes that anything he said while angry should be forgiven because he was angry, AND his version of teasing is to find the thing you are very self-conscious about and then mock you for it relentlessly.

    My brother and I don’t talk anymore. He lives with my parents, so I have to interact with him, but I keep it to the bare, bare minimum of hello and goodbye, and if he picks up the phone when I’m trying to reach one of my parents and asks how I am, my response is always “fine, I have to go now” before I hang up on him.

    I realized, at almost thirty, that nothing I did or said would change how he treated me. Unless and until he demonstrates that he’s realized how not okay his behavior is, our interaction is limited to only when I have to, out of politeness’ sake, acknowledge that he’s there, and I will not initiate any conversation with him. I’m actually completely ok with this, and I just want to let you know that it is also completely ok if you have to do this to your BIL.

    Keeping my interactions with my brother chirpy and surface-friendly gives me plausible deniability if anyone notices that I’m actually ignoring the hell out of him.

    The Captain’s advice is fantastic (as per usual, you fantastic advice-giver!!) and practicing scripts until you can recite them with as much emotional detachment as possible is excellent. I realized that I couldn’t talk my brother into understanding how Not Okay his behavior is, and if your BIL is the same way (and I suspect he is) then I highly recommend excising them from your life quickly and neatly. You don’t have to explain or justify this to anyone.

    1. Hugs for having a brother who is so hurtful.
      Love that you have defused his power over you!

  24. LW’s BIL is putting a lot of work into framing her as being unreliable, testing the families’ boundaries around LW, and establishing reasons to show up in LW’s home at will.

    This is putting the hairs on the back of my neck up.

    If LW’s family isn’t willing to support her setting boundaries with BIL, that home is not a safe place for her if (when) he starts creeping on her. Are there roommates she could move in with or other relatives she could stay with?

    1. Completely agree. Ugh. UGH. A male relative-by-marriage trying hard to establish his ‘rights’ over her space is not ok.

    2. YES I got a creepy vibe too. I also got a “ugh this guy is such a pain in the ass, who would want him in their space?” vibe but the boundary testing was pinging me like whoa.

    3. “LW’s BIL is putting a lot of work into framing her as being unreliable, testing the families’ boundaries around LW, and establishing reasons to show up in LW’s home at will.”


      “If LW’s family isn’t willing to support her setting boundaries with BIL, that home is not a safe place for her if (when) he starts creeping on her.”

      Oh, geez, good points. This now sounds less like him being a jerk and more like grooming and predation.

      Apologies if what I’m about to write sounds alarmist, but your post has me a lot more worried now. LW, save money now if you haven’t started and get out of that place. Find someplace to live with a lot of roommates who aren’t going to let someone in the house just because he says he’s a relative…. Am I overreacting if I think not giving the family the address would be a good idea?

        1. It’s usually used in reference to adults and children, but that process of establishing authority over someone while convincing the people around them to legitimize that authority is what it feels like BIL is doing.
          I think you used it correctly.

    4. I initially thought I was being alarmist in feeling this, but the more I read it the more I started getting the willies, and having other people here speak about it confirmed the feeling. This isn’t merely asshole japery, this is deliberate testing and wearing away of boundaries, especially with the unannounced “visits” to LW’s living space, and the combination of everything is just mixing up in a really icky way to me. I fervently hope I am wildly overreacting, and I think implementing the Captain’s advice will help no matter what; if this is terribly creepy, demonstrating that there are boundaries that will not be crossed could be enough to shut him down, and if he’s merely an exceptionally bad Clueless Jokester, laying out the rules will improve his behavior and remove the doubts. But yeah, if LW has some other options they might be able to pursue for living arrangements, I think those would be good to look at.

    5. I think you are absolutely right – and I’d like to point out that the SIL is going to be distracted with her new baby, AND more dependent on her husband than ever before after the baby arrives, which means the timing of the BILs behavior is super suspicious. I think we’ve all heard about people, especially women/girls, who are preyed upon by men in their families with positions of power because they’re breadwinners, and the abuse is ignored or overlooked because of (among other reasons) the family’s dependence on the abuser.

      Imagine: BIL frames the LW as unreliable, flaky, lazy, untruthful, etc., then assaults or attempts to assault her, and LW tells her sister, who has just had a baby with this man. Will she listen to the LW?

  25. The Captain’s advice is solid, and I just wanted to add a couple things. You mention this is a “family” apartment. Does that mean your mother or sister have keys to the apartment? Keys that your BIL could get ahold of? Is there a way you could quietly have the locks changed?

    Does the apartment have a chain lock as well as a lock in the doorknob? If so, I recommend not taking the chain off when you crack the door open to use the Captain’s script.

  26. Is it just me, or did anyone else get a little chill at the idea of a guy who has already demonstrated disrespect for the LW coming around when she’s alone to “inspect” her apartment? LW, do you feel unsafe when he does this?

    1. I Nope, not just you. The timing of this feels very unsafe.

      Most cultures have periods where a new mother is surrounded by other women and encouraged to focus exclusively on her baby. She is not expected to provide sex for husband during that time.

      Maybe he’s just a petty tyrant, and maybe he’s pushing the idea that LW owes him things he would expect from a wife (housecleaning, childcare, access to her personal space, deference to his opinions) because it’s a step on the path to the idea of her owing him intimate services while her sister is indisposed.

    2. i got the distinct impression that the “inspect” excuse was not an attempt to assert authority that is normal for family members in the LW’s culture, but was rather another “joke.” If the LW said “you have no authority to inspect my space,” he wouldn’t say “but I’m family,” he’d say “oh, I was just joking, stop taking things so seriously!”

      Which doesn’t make it less intrusive. More so. “Oh, here I am, surprise ‘inspection,’ hahahahaha, isn’t it funny, let’s pretend I’m not asserting power that I have no earthly claim to.”

  27. Just a little detail that I found vaguely horrifying. It sounds like BIL already invades LW’s space regularly. Turning LW’s spare room into a baby room does not at all sound like a thing the family “needs” to do – it sounds like an excuse for her to never have the right to lock her door (“How dare you lock the door when we might need to get to our baby in the middle of the night?”), for him to always have the right to invade (“How dare you say we can’t come in for any reason? THINK OF THE BABY.”), for him to be lazy himself (“How dare you not tend to the baby’s needs despite your schedule? Did you not hear him crying? We’re farther away than you are!”), and for him to always have the right to be cruel (“How dare you not keep your apartment up to standards we deem fit for our baby?”)

  28. I would also like to say: LW, it sounds like your culture might have some specific traditions regarding family stuff, particularly male-female family dynamics. (I mean, all cultures do, but a BIL coming into a single American woman’s apartment to ‘inspect for mess’ is pretty far outside our frame of normal. So it probably feels doubly impossible to challenge the dynamics, but, here’s the thing.

    You can do it anyway.

    It sounds like it’s the family apartment (rather than your sister and BIL’s apartment), and your sister lives next door. Does this mean your sister and BIL also live in family-owned property? Are they doing exactly the same thing you are doing, except paying more bills, which makes sense as there are two of them and they seem to be older? Maybe BIL should get off his high horse? But even if that’s not the situation, even if the apartment really ‘belongs’ to BIL:

    You can do it anyway.

    You can set up boundaries that make you feel safe and good, and one of those should be, “No one except an exterminator will ever inspect my home.” Another good one might be, “This is my home. BIL does not get to appropriate any part of it, regardless of how many children come into the world.” If your boundaries can’t be respected, then this apartment is a toxic environment, too, and you need to move out. But it seems like your family is invested in you staying there. And it might be hard to move out for reasons of money and culture. BUT:

    You can do it anyway.

    1. Yes. LW can respect her culture and herself.

      I come from a highly interdependent, familial, traditional culture. Boundaries are looser here, but they still exist, and there are systemic ways to deal with jerks.

      Here, a woman in her position would go to her mother and say she’s worried that BIL randomly coming into her apartment is giving the wrong impression.
      There wouldn’t be a direct confrontation, but BIL would be given the message to stop.

      Every culture has ways to communicate “Not cool! Back off!”

      LW’s family should enforce her boundaries in the way that their culture does that. If not, then she should have no guilt about doing so somewhere else.

      1. I think this and duck-billed’s comment are really helpful. I also definitely got the vibe from the letter that the LW may be dealing with some specific cultural assumptions regarding what her family is allowed/supposed to do re: intrusions on her personal space.

        That definitely doesn’t mean the LW can’t set boundaries, but it might mean there are particular ways of setting boundaries that are more likely to be successful. If it doesn’t raise any eyebrows in her family/culture that her BIL barges into her apartment to “inspect” it whenever he feels like it, I suspect it would raise MAJOR eyebrows if she responded by refusing to let him in, telling him to contact her in advance of visiting, opening the door with the chain still on, etc. Whereas going through her mother or sister and invoking reasons her family will understand might be more likely to get results.

  29. LW, the Captain and other commenters have great advice for handling your brother-in-law, but I just want to take a moment to recognize you for how far you’ve come already in a bad situation. You mention that your parents’ house was a toxic environment for you and you negotiated with your mother and sister to be out of that situation. Your description of your relationship with your mother and sister seems very functional and helpful — you stay in touch with each other, your offer assistance to each other, you share resources, you provide and receive help. You’re already on your way to as much independence as you want, and it sounds like you’ve done it in such a way that you’ve preserved your relationships with your mother and sister. That’s admirable, for real.

  30. LW, you mentioned that you originally planned to live on your own when you moved out of your parents’ house. If that’s still possible, I would suggest making the offer again when your mother starts doing the apologist dance:

    “What BIL is saying is hurtful to me. Do you believe I don’t contribute enough to this household? If so, I’d like to re-extend my offer to head out on my own. If you don’t agree with BIL that I’m not pulling my weight, then I’d really like you to back me up when he says that.”

    Are you in a position that would still be possible?

    I also get the clear sense that your sister is going to absolutely take her husband’s side not just in excusing his behavior but also in claiming that you’re “too lazy”. Steel yourself for that. Good luck.

  31. Ay. This one hits close to home. My mom bugs me regularly about being ‘lazy’ and about my ability to sleep in even as an adult. She’s been doing it since I was ten, and the really shitty part is that I started believing her. I think she’d be horrified if she knew that, because she really doesn’t mean to be mean. You’d think a grown ass woman would clue in that it wasn’t funny when I’ve never ever laughed at the ‘jokes’ though. In 14 years. Cripes, clearly I need to use some of these scripts myself.

    1. Coming to believe the negative things your family says about you (even jokingly) is really common, and so so shitty. It’s also so counterproductive on their part, because they end up trapping you in an identity based around a trait they disapprove of. What really kills me is that a lot of the time, the perceived defect is caused by some problem that is not in the full control of the person being teased, and is something they could get help dealing with, but they don’t because they have become convinced that their problems are the result of them just being bad, as a person.

      Example–my youngest brother has severe ADHD and some other learning disabilities that make some aspects of school really hard for him. In particular, he has a hard time being organized, keeping track of deadlines and papers, and doing the planning involved in a long-term, multi-step project. He also has nearly illegible handwriting (as a high school student) and is terrible at spelling. Because he’s a smart kid, he scraped by okay until about middle school, when the degree of planning and organization required of him became overwhelming. My family teased him about being disorganized and lazy and not trying hard enough, but refused to get him assessed/treated in any way despite several of his teachers practically BEGGING my mother to do so.

      I’m nine years older than my brother and was out of the house before he really started struggling–though as the resident babysitter and homework-helper in my house while I did live there, I’d been on the “this kid totally has ADHD and could use some help [behavioral therapy or meds, I don’t care which!]” bandwagon since he was pretty young. Now I go home to visit and it breaks my heart, because not only has he struggled mightily with school for years, he now calls HIMSELF lazy, and parrots many of the things my parents say about him. Some failed classes finally induced my parents to try ADHD meds in the last year or so, but it’s kind of too late–he’s now significantly behind in several subjects, and believes that he just can’t do school.

      1. Keely, have you talked to your brother about this? I mean one-on-one, a serious conversation? I’m just asking because I think it might benefit him to know that he at least has *someone* who’s on his side, takes him seriously, and wants to help him. I believe that even one sole person’s encouragement can help tons so it might not be too late yet?

        1. Oh, sorry to leave that out: yes, I have talked to my brother! Just about every time we spend time together, I try to find ways to reinforce that he IS hard working, smart, and capable, and that my parents have been unfair. The problem is that I live far away, and don’t see him often. I feel pretty guilty that I can’t do more, and sometimes beat myself up a bit for having gone so far from home, where I can’t help… but the truth is, I didn’t have that much power to change how my family operated WHILE I LIVED THERE, so staying around at the expense of my own life (and sanity–my parents aren’t bad people, they want what’s best for us… but this thing with my brother is far from being the only toxic dynamic in that house) is probably unfair to ask of myself.

    2. I got this vibe from the letter as well. It shines through that LW also believes they’re lazy and don’t work enough and aren’t helping out enough (at least a bit), which I found especially heartbreaking.

  32. I’d confront him and call him on it. Also, check out other living situations, or, failing that, look into changing the locks on your apartment so that he *can’t* drop by for unexpected visits except when you’re willing to let him.

    If you change the locks do *not* give your sister or mother the key.There’s too big a chance they’d let him have a copy. So give it to a trusted friend/family member who won’t lend it to him or make him a copy. This also goes for if you move out, btw, since I can’t really imagine him having that many problems deciding to do this if he still has access to a key regardless of if you’ve moved.

    Don’t get me wrong – changing the locks [or possibly moving out as a whole] probably will cause tension of the “But he’s faaaamily! You have to trust him!” [or “I’m faaaaamily! You have to trust me!” in the case of not giving them a key] variety, but it would give you a safe place to retreat to and get away from him, while also helping to give you the ability to limit how much access he has to your life as a whole.

  33. I work with young students, who frequently use the ‘it was a joke’ excuse. The line we use at my school for this problem is “It’s only a joke if everyone is joking.” So, talking to kids, it goes something like this:

    “Did you [say/do/etc.] this thing?”
    “It was just a joke!”
    “Was everyone joking?” Or, if it was between two kids: “Was [other kid] joking?”

    If they say no, then we re-iterate that everyone has to be joking for it to be a joke. If they say yes, then we tell the kid “It looks like [other kid] wasn’t really joking, so let’s stop with [thing]” and then re-iterate that everyone has to be joking for it to be a joke. Then apologies/makeups/separation of the parties involved/whatever else needs to be done happens.

    Obviously you wouldn’t use the script exactly like that, brother-in-law might get offended by it. But maybe finding a way to work that idea into a script of your own will help?

  34. Count me in as also wondering if there’s a cultural aspect at play here. I have a grown sibling who’s still living with parents for Reasons, and if my brother-in-law was making constant joking-not-joking remarks about it, he would be told to butt out because it’s none of his business. My family’s pretty clannish, but there’s no way a male in-law would have any say or authority over an arrangement between his wife’s sibling and his wife’s parents.

    Of course, maybe he’s pissed off that LW has this apartment and is sharing wi-fi and cable with her sister, and he’s griped to his wife and mother-in-law about it and been told “that’s my sister/daughter and I’m going to help her, don’t ever say this to me again”.

  35. Yikes LW – that sounds really hard!

    I agree with what the Captain and other commenters are saying, but I also wanted to add that this is a manipulation tactic that he’s using to get you to behave the way he wants.

    What he’s doing is gasslighting you. He’s trying to convince you that you’re lazy when you’re both working and studying, so clearly you are *not* lazy. He’s using “I’m joking” as a smokescreen of social acceptability. I would also not be shocked to learn that you’re actually fairly neat and organised, and he’s gasslighting you about this too. He’s also using your dependence on some family support to make you feel beholden to them.

    This is great for him, because he has you feeling like maybe you *are* lazy, and feeling guilty for accepting help and support from family. As a consequence of this, you are thinking of cleaning their house for them. You are wondering if it would be OK for him to put their baby in your appartment!!!!

    IT IS NOT OK FOR THEM TO PUT THEIR BABY IN YOUR HOME. The reason is, babies are noisy high maintenance creatures and someone will need to be getting up all night feeding and comforting that baby. The people who do that need to sleep fairly close to the baby. The people who do that should be the baby’s parents! But hey, I suppose if BIL can farm that work off on you then great, and also he gets to move the baby further away from him so the crying is less difficult for him. Just no. No no no no – house of evil bees!

    It *might* be reasonable for them to use your spare room for storage if it’s currently empty. But again, he’s manipulating you into feeling like letting them store stuff in your house and use your home like an extension of their home is “the least you can do” or something you owe them rather than a huge favour.

    It isn’t unreasonable for a young person who’s studying to be accepting family support. It’s in fact perfectly normal. Even if you weren’t young or studying family support is something people sometimes need, and doesn’t mean you’re a bad/lazy/entitled person.

    When people try to make you feel entitled and lazy, they’re usually trying to get you to do more stuff for them. They’re hoping you’ll try to prove them wrong.

    Blergh. It seems possible that the toxic home environment has sort of followed you to this appartment. I’m so sorry. I hope you can successfully set boundaries with this guy and that you don’t have to move.

  36. Let’s go through this whole “should I do [THINGS] to get him to stop making jokes about how I am lazy?” reasoning for a sec.

    You’ll help your sister out when the baby comes, because you are going to help and that’s great! You don’t need to do more to assuage your BIL’s complaints. It sounds like you are doing lots already and plan on helping more when needed.

    If BIL really is kidding, then he doesn’t mean that he thinks you are lazy. Therefore there is no need for you to take on extra work to help your family because there is no problem to solve with housework.

    If he thinks you are lazy, and uses kidding as a way to bring the issue up, then there is no problem. He doesn’t own the apartment. It’s not his money that pays the apartment costs. It’s none of his goddamned business what you do. Therefore there is no problem to solve with housework.

    If other people think you are lazy and think this is an acceptable way to tell you, they need to put on their big kid pants and tell you so. Therefore this is not a problem to solve with housework.

    Your BIL will either stop making fun of you because he is a decent person and doesn’t want to upset you and hurt your feelings. Or, your brother will not stop making fun of you because he is a bullying mean person.

    Setting boundaries is going to help- it gives you precedent to smile nicely and thank the room for the good evening and leave if he’s being an ass and won’t stop. But if you try and resolve his problem with you by rewarding the behavior, there will be no earthly reason for him ever to stop.

    1. I’d also like to say two things regarding the “should I do [THINGS] to get him to stop making jokes about how I am lazy?” thinking:

      1. As others have pointed out, I suspect that’s actually the reason he behaves like this (at least in part). If you constantly nag someone about how lazy they are, you usually expect them to not be lazy anymore, hence the nagging (unless, of course, you’re a mean person; then you just do it because you know it hurts the other person). So it might very well be a conscious strategy on BIL’s side to get LW to do stuff for him.

      2. I seriously doubt that, even if LW did everything BIL likes to “joke” about, he’d somehow be satisfied by that. Like other commenters said, he’d probably just use it as another reason for his “joking” (“Wooow, look at you all mopping the floor like a grown up!”) and/or still find things where you are, in his opinion, lacking. For these people, it’s never enough, and they’ll always find a way to further hurt and/or manipulate you. Because that’s what they want to do and they’re also getting a lot of good stuff out of it, so why stop?

  37. “Whatever he accuses you of, re: seriousness, agree. “You are correct, I literally do not understand humor or jokes. So, my name, then?” Then end the conversation as soon as you can.”

    This is brilliant. Thank you.

    …um. What do you do if the person in question then proceeds to spin it like not having a sense of humor makes you inflexible/unpleasant/generally a bad person, thus continuing to pressure you into accepting how they treat you?

    In general, what do you do when people take the fact that you want to be a good person and twist it into a way to hurt you and make you think it’s your own fault?

    1. Can you walk away from that person? Like, turn on your heel and walk away? Because this seems like a good person to walk away from because WARNING: HERE BE ASSHOLES.

      1. I mean, I was thinking of two different people — one per paragraph — but the person I’m thinking of most right now… well, sometimes? Sort of? Only we’re brother and sister, so it’s hard. And a lot of times, it’s in the context of a Serious Discussion of Our Relationship and he’s sort of apologizing? Only not, because he is very clear about the fact that he has no intention of ever changing his behavior. And there’s a lot of discussion of my personality flaws mixed in with these apologies. But not only is it hard to tell if I *should* turn and walk away, I’d end up looking childish.

        I honestly don’t know what to do anymore. I used to hero-worship him, but that was when I was younger and had a lot fewer opinions. And he’s done a lot of very nice things for me, like helping me buy a car and find an apartment when I first came to this city. And I appreciate that, I really do, but our most recent fight was so unbelievably hurtful to me that I don’t even know what to do anymore. I don’t want to have anything to do with him for a while, but our dad is in town, so we end up interacting quite a bit in that context because dad is working really long hours in a town that’s about an hour away, so it’s hard for him to schedule time. Plus, I don’t really want to make waves on that one. I can deal with my brother if someone else is also there; I just really don’t want to continue our status quo because our status quo is very hurtful to me at times.

        It’s hard, it’s so hard because I really love my brother for more reasons than just “he does nice things sometimes,” and I don’t want to hurt him, but I’m tired of being hurt. I just don’t know what to do. And it doesn’t help that I’ve been dealing with a really painful breakup lately, so all this is happening at pretty much the worst possible time.

        I don’t mean to hijack LW’s post, btw; we just seem to have *such* similar problems that mine came bubbling to the forefront. Let me know if I’ve done anything I shouldn’t by bringing all this up.

        1. This seems like a case when a lot of CA’s setting boundaries scripts would be useful, so you could claim some space from your brother to give you time to work this out. Since spending time with your dad + brother is easier for you than just brother alone, can you use it to your advantage? Something like ‘Brother, it’s great having family time while dad has been in town, but what with the scheduling issues it’s having an impact on my study / work / sleep schedule / time with other friends. Expect not to see me outside of dad time for the next x amount of time.’ He might respond to this with some variant of ‘You should make time for family’ / ‘You’re uptight about x thing’ or whatever, so you might have to do the CA special of ‘rinse, lather repeat’. (I think you can also totally just buy yourself some time by being ‘too busy’ to see brother for however long, but this would help you set a boundary if he pushes back on that.)

          This is not a long-term solution, but it sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now and getting a break from brother while you recover from your breakup and get some self-care in place might help a lot.

          At some point you might want to resume more regular contact with brother, at which point I think you need a really simple script in response to the ‘your boundary drawing makes you a bad person’ bs. Something like ‘I’m sorry you feel that way. Nevertheless, I don’t like it when you do x, so please stop’. Hopefully it will eventually sink in – siblings can be the WORST for pushing at boundaries in ways they never would with anyone else, so given that you value your brother in other ways it’s a case where I think it might be worth cutting more slack than you might with someone else. Although as has been said many times before on CA, there is NOT obligation to maintain relations with people who make you feel shit, even if they are faaaaamily. But you get to decide where the line is for you.

        2. I think “Being cordial, but not talking much TO brother in the presence of father” and “Otherwise dial back relationship to brother for now” is the way to go here. Dialling back could mean screening phone calls and not answering his if you don’t *really really* feel up to it. Insist on him contacting you only via e-mail e.g.
          I see dialling back as a first step to resolving this issue because it helps you a) not get hurt by him over and over again and b) gives you some space to think about your feelings and maybe figure out what kind of relationship you want to have with your brother if he stays this shitty forever.
          And just for completenes’ sake I want to say: You have the right to not talk to your brother for any given amount of time. If he’d wanted you to talk to him, he could not be a jerk. Really easy solution.
          Further thoughts à la the Captains recommendations: End meetings/phone calls when he’s starting to say mean stuff, so there is some visible cause-effect thing going on. And some people come around when they see that they won’t be in contact with you as long as they act like jerks.

          I wish you well, he doesn’t sound nice right now :/

          1. This is pretty much what I’m doing. And to his credit, my brother doesn’t call much now, unless it’s in connection with spending time with dad. This last fight was really serious, and we both said things along the lines of wanting to spend less time with each other. I’m hoping that’s how it will actually work out, and it does seem to be so far. The first time we saw our dad in town, though, we carpooled to go see him, and I think that’s something I’m just going to have to say “no” to from now on. Extended periods of time together in a small, enclosed space from which there is no escape is not something I need. That was really the only thing I’ve had an issue with since the fight, tbh.

        3. I have/had somewhat fraught relationship with only brother. I’ve found that dialing back can work quite well. We’ve had periods where we’re not ‘not talking’, but we’re not talking, especially after hurtful situations/conversations/arguments… and I would say that perhaps if he were not family, but a friend or something, then our relationship would probably have ended. However, we are family and so after periods of not talking we come back into contact with each other… indeed even in our periods where we were really talking we were sometimes around each other as part of our regular family interactions.

          Things are better these days and I would class our relationship as goodish. There have been two major changes. One is that he now has kids and has (over time… not immediately!) come to see how supportive the family (including me) are of his life choices, his children and partner. On just two occasions, over about 5 years, I obviously, vocally and indeed awkwardly pushed back against a situation when it became unacceptable (I don’t enjoy fighting, I don’t enjoy arguments and I’m usually the local peacekeeper who takes all the crap!!) … Once by having a total meltdown (I ruined Christmas… and I regret nothing!!) and once by just standing up from the family dinner table and saying ‘yeah I’m just going to leave’

          You can’t really do anything about your brother’s development, but you can set and enforce your boundaries. You can, at least, say ‘no, you don’t get to hurt me. I’ve had enough’. Time and space can give everyone time to consider their actions. And at least you are protecting yourself appropriately. I honestly think my family were so shocked when I did that, that it had enormous effect. I obviously prefer the instance where I just decided to remove myself, but I probably needed to go through the meltdown one to learn that awkwardness is ok! And indeed as the Cap says, if they’re not assholes, then when they’re confronted with your unhappiness with the situation they will try to change.

          1. This is a future that I think would work for the two of us. And yeah, if my brother weren’t my brother, I’d’ve stopped talking to him a really long time ago, but he’s my brother. He taught me how to throw a punch, and got one of his female friends to take me shopping when I finally decided I wanted to wear nice things (many years ago). He brought over ice cream the day after my breakup and we ate right out of the cartons.

            I think I just need a break from him. And when we start interacting again, we need to do it a lot differently.

          2. and stopping/ preventing the really hurtful things before they might be said really makes it much much easier to reestablish your relationship in the future.

            I have similar nostaligic fondness for my brother – we were great friends as children. Not so much as adults! but the boundaries made our relationship manageable I guess, and it means that we are more comfortable with each other now (although I’d never say we were super close) and I get to spend time with my niblings, and see what a good dad he is. We needed to change our dynamic. I think it could work for you too.

        4. As a sister with a truly shitty brother (he’s not only verbally abusive, but unlike your brother has never done anything for my benefit, or anyone’s benefit but his own), this is how I cope with family situations where he will be present along with other people that I actually want to see:

          – I keep chat with him at a minimum, and don’t try to discuss any engrossing topics with him. Anything that will hold his or my interest for more than 5 minutes between us is forbidden talk, because the longer time is spent addressing him directly, the greater the likelihood that he will say something wildly inappropriate and/or demeaning.
          – When I feel that he has begun to draw me into a conversation about anything other than banalities, I find a way to excuse myself and walk away. I do not make this about ‘walking away from you, specifically, asshole brother’, I make this about going to the bathroom/getting a snack from the kitchen/getting a tissue/petting the dog or cat/checking my phone messages/whatever.If he knew I had “strategies” to get away from him, he would almost certainly follow me and attempt to disrupt them.
          – This one is a benefit from being in a very large family with many siblings, but I have one sister who understands my difficulties with asshole brother and is my ally in escaping bad situations with him. She and I are going to the next family reunion together, and already have an agreement to leave together if either of us start getting frazzled (her difficulties are with another sibling).

          It should be noted that these are strategies I use this person because no amount of talking has ever prooved useful. I have realized, in fact, that my moving away from the same town as him, and developing a life he knows nothing about has helped my situation greatly in respect to his bullying. This is because he no longer has any understanding of the things I like and dislike or what I feel sensitive about: he doesn’t know where to poke me, so he keeps trying to use items that embarassed me 10 years ago. It’s so transparent now that it’s almost funny.

        5. How do you respond at the moment? I assume you try to stand up for yourself and argue back, or perhaps you just sit there feeling small and terrible. One thing I would suggest is just try … not doing that. Like, if you usually engage with the argument and try to explain why it’s not fair, just don’t say anything. Or if you don’t say anything, but shrink down in your seat and try to avoid eye contact and wish he’d stop, then focus yourself on sitting up straight, looking back at him, maybe with a vaguely surprised or amused look on your face – trying to make all your body language reflect the thought,”Wow, why are you even saying this to me?” – as if it was something brand new that you’ve never heard before. Or even a very bored, “of course you’re right, I am *negative thing*!”

          One of the things that happens with your siblings is that you have certain “tracks” you go on, and as soon as Opening Gambit A is invoked, Response B, Reaction C,Further Evidence D and Argument E all follow in close succession – and both of you go down that train track without really choosing to do it. Sometimes, even the tiniest departure from the script can jerk the other one out of it. I suggest things like not speaking or responding and just sitting there and waiting until he wears himself out, or concentrating on your body language saying, “why are you saying this?” because they are relatively low-energy things to actually *do*, so you get to conserve your energy for the much bigger task of simply avoiding reacting in the pre-programmed way you always do. But in some ways, what you actually do matters less than just *not doing the thing you usually do*.

          (It took me until I was in my late twenties to learn to do this with my brother: he’s been winding me up since we were kids. We haven’t lived together since I was nineteen and he was seventeen, but for the next ten years, whenever we saw each other, we would just end up rehashing these fights where he took the piss out of me; I reacted furiously because it just annoyed me so much that I had to live with someone who could enter my space and wind me up this way; he dialled it up; I dialled it up, etc etc. One day I realised that I didn’t live with him any more, and I could just *leave* that argument hanging without reaction. Once I’d learned that, I realised that actually his initial jokes were mostly pretty funny, and started reacting by laughing, and then next amazing discovery was that he was delighted by that, and actually he wanted me to think he was funny – most of the time, he wasn’t *trying* to wind me up, and it frustrated him that I immediately stepped into that role as much as it did me. Sibling relationships are really weird, but sometimes the first step to changing them is not trying to correct their first step, but just stopping yourself from immediately leaping onto the next.

          I’m worried that there might be some metaphors here that I’ve left unmixed.)

          1. (I don’t mean to say that your brother isn’t being hurtful, or that you should give him a free pass on being hurtful. Just that if you think there is a relationship worth saving and you’re not feeling ready/able to walk away yet, then those are kind of lower-level ways to change the conversation and set boundaries. It’s possible that your brother is still just stuck on “as elder sibling it is my job to provide correction to younger sibling” and that he can change that if you don’t take on your role. On the other hand, if you set those gentle boundaries and he demonstrates that he is really invested in having that role, and fights hard on your attempts to change it, then that is information you have which might increase your resolve to set harder boundaries or consequences, such as not seeing each other.)

          2. Have you heard of the political strategy of “answering the question you wish you’d been asked?” I use that a lot.

            “How was the hospital?” (said nastily in response to me having been admitted for severe depression)
            “I’m feeling much better, thanks!”

            “Are you and ExBoyfriend still hanging out?” (said nastily because I’m not dating anyone new)
            “He’s doing great. He just got a new bike.”

            “You should do more situps.” (he says stuff like this, I imagine because not having to work gives him a lot more time to go to the gym than I have)
            “I’ve been traveling a lot for work, I really like it.”

            It gets to the point of ridiculousness sometimes when all my responses are non sequiturs, but it actually works. Usually he just gets frustrated and goes away.

        6. For right now, I think “looking childish” is an okay price to pay, as long as you “look childish” somewhere else. If you “look childish” but “feel better because the person who thinks you look childish can’t see you” it’s a win. A small win, but a win.

          If your brother isn’t going to change, it’s the best you can do for a while, you know?

          A friend of mine who is a person who appreciates the Christian 10 Commandments put it this way, when discussing their parents-in-law, who aren’t very nice. “Sometimes the best way to honor and love your parents is by loving and honoring them from a distance.”

          There are a lot of cultural and religious traditions that put value on loving family because they are family. That’s okay! If you love your brother, he is a really lucky brother! But that doesn’t mean you have to tolerate being treated poorly by your brother, or accept that if you love him and appreciate his help, he gets special permission to be mean. You can say “love you, but you’re being mean, gotta gooo, byeeeeeee” and LEAVE.

          If he wants to know why, you can say “I love you a lot and admire you but I don’t like when you’re mean. So I am not going to be around when you’re mean. No hard feelings or melodrama or anything, just going to leave until you’re not being mean any more!!” Refusing to engage with the mean might make it easier to appreciate what you do love about your brother, and make the hurtful stuff less powerful. Like CA says, sometimes you have to manage (lower) your expectations, because it’s all you can do.

        7. I’m so sorry.

          My brother is very similar. We were never close as children. In my early twenties there was a brief period of time where we spent more time together because we liked some of the same music. That ended, and our relationship deteriorated more and more, although I’m not sure why. My brother is a now a mid-thirties, unemployed*-by-choice-and-inability-to-get-along-with-anyone, ‘libertarian’ conspiracy theorist who seems to hate most women who lives in my parents’ basement, gets money and other non-financial help from them but refuses to contribute to the running of the household, and owns a lot of guns (which worries me enough to limit my time in the house, because he’s an unpredictable, volatile, and very physically strong). He resents me, but I’m not sure why – for having finished school? Or having a job? Or being mostly content with my life? Who knows? And arguments with him are like a nuclear war – nothing is too personal or too hurtful to be off limits for him to bring up, even if the fight is completely unrelated (see my example asking him to phone me if he was going to be late to take care of a dog, and his response was to mock me for being institutionalized with severe depression).

          *being unemployed is not a negative reflection on anyone, nor is living with one’s parents or being supported by them; he is unemployed because he’s unemployable both by behavior and choice. Let me put it this way – I wouldn’t write a recommendation for him if I were asked because I think he has the potential and the weapons to be dangerous to the people around him.

          So. Not fun.

          I can tell you what I did and what I think might help you to do, but ultimately it’s up to you, and of course, a lot depends of if/what kind of relationship you want to try to salvage with your brother. I will say, someone who has Serious Discussions that are not apologies that include telling you they have no intention to change and what your faults are is probably, at least right now, a lost cause. There may come a time when your brother realizes what he’s doing is hurtful and decides to change, but I believe that that often happens for people independently of the person they’re deciding to hurt. To wit; you cannot talk or reason or logic your brother into treating you decently and humanely.

          You can love someone and still be hurt by them. You can love someone and still need to limit your interaction with them to protect yourself. You can love someone and decide you need a break, or time or distance away from them. Someone doing nice things for you doesn’t cancel out the bad things they do – how many abusers hit or verbally abuse someone, and then buy them flowers the next day? A lot.

          I would recommend reading Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? While a lot of it is about physical abuse, it’s also about how controllers control. I read it and saw a lot of parallels in my brother’s behavior. It was like a lot of windows suddenly aligning and realizing that so much of his behavior was about control – controlling me, controlling our conversations, “winning” an argument regardless of the cost or how much it hurt the other person.

          Here’s what I did:

          1. I stopped reaching out to my brother. I didn’t initiate calls or texts or emails. If I call the house and he answers and tries to prolong the conversation by asking me how I’m doing, I answer with “Fine! I have to go now.” and hang up immediately.

          2. I don’t directly interact with him around my family. I’m not rude and I don’t ignore him if he answers me, but I don’t speak directly to him, I don’t let him draw me into a conversation, and I keep everything extremely superficial. If he asks me about something, my answer is always “it’s fine.”

          3. I’m never alone in a room with him. I don’t go to my parents’ house if he’s the only one there; if he’s in the living room and one of my parents leaves, I follow them or go to their bedroom or office. I don’t go into his room. I don’t show any interest in what he’s doing and I don’t ask him about anything in his life.

          4. I don’t ask my parents about him and I don’t let them give me information about his life. I’ve also asked that they not share any information about my life with him, which as far as I know, they’re honoring.

          I realize this may sound harsh, and I’m not saying that this will be our relationship forever, but I’m actually much, much happier.

          Personally, I’d recommend that you completely stop all Serious Discussions of Your Relationship with your brother. I’ve learned that if you keep interactions breezy and polite, it’s actually really hard for someone to try to call you on ignoring someone else because you’re giving the appearance of not being upset with them. It may seem manipulative, but it’s giving you the power to control your interactions.

          I think you may need to dial back on interacting with your brother a lot right now. Distance (either physically or metaphorically) gives you the space and detachment you need to think about things without the distortion that being angry/anxious/in pain can cause. For me, it let me start thinking about his behavior without really thinking about being his sister. Now, he’s just another vaguely annoying relative I ignore at family events, not someone with the power to wound me.

          It does make me a little sad that I don’t have a sibling I get along with, but nothing was going to make my brother that sibling, and I’m ok with that.

          1. My brother’s not really like this. He’s pursuing a PhD, does not live with our parents, I’m not afraid of him physically, and I know that he loves and cares about me. I don’t think he *intends* to be hurtful, but as we’re always saying around here, intent is not magic. My siblings and I had complicated childhoods due to our parents’ messy breakup, and I think part of how it affected him is that he developed this really harsh edge to his personality. I’ve always been a very sensitive person, but I really looked up to him growing up, so oddly enough, we were actually really close when I was a kid. But things are changing now. They have a rather unsettling habit of doing that.

    2. What do you do if the person in question then proceeds to spin it like not having a sense of humor makes you inflexible/unpleasant/generally a bad person, thus continuing to pressure you into accepting how they treat you?

      I’ve actually had this very same thing happen to me and my response was twofold: First, I said “Wow, I’m very sure sense of humour (or lack thereof) can’t be solely responsible for someone being a bad person.” I’m someone who very strongly thinks in terms of “logic”, of how things make sense, how they’re related and dependant on one another, which is encouraged by my major at uni where I have to do exactly that, so that answer came pretty naturally to me; I can totally understand though if someone doesn’t think that’s a good response at all. It’s what worked well for me.

      Secondly: The person actually *disagreed* with the above reaction. So I repeated what I’d said before in a slightly different version: “So you’re saying someone who doesn’t have a sense of humour is automatically a bad person? I don’t think that is true or even makes sense.” Cue more disagreement, which made it pretty clear very fast that he just didn’t like me/my opinions/my way of speaking/whatever, concluded by a simple “You’re so weird, man!”. At which point I said “In that case, I don’t care if you think I’m a bad/weird person. I, for one, know that I’m not.” and walked away.

      Let it be said that this wasn’t someone I was particularly close to. He’s a friend of a friend, we’d met a few times at gatherings and he’s very much someone who always wants to be right and doesn’t like others disagreeing with him. Also, this was one of the very few situations in my life where I actually felt like I had a good comeback, I’m normally much more “Ack, I could have said THIS and THAT why didn’t I think of this?!” three hours later.

      I do believe, though, that especially the “Well, *I* don’t believe that at all!” response works really well, with everyone. I think it’s because that way, they don’t have anything to attack. They can tell you how boring/bad/ugly they find you all they want, if you answer with a cheerful “Well, I know I’m not like that at all!” there’s not much left to argue about.

  38. Something else I’d like to say about this whole idea that the LW is “lazy”: the amount of work your sister does has absolutely zero impact on the amount of work *you* do. Your accomplishments should be evaluated on their individual merit, not in comparison to hers. Working and going to school are both worthwhile endeavors, and I say you get kudos for both of those things.

    I feel like modern western culture has this weird workaholism competition going on, where she who has the most punishing workload is the greatest of us all. In reality, there’s wisdom in knowing what your limits are, and in choosing to do one or two things well rather than botching several tasks at once. For instance, I dropped my physics class this week, which takes me down to 9 credits and therefore part-time status. I’m not working, either, so I’m less productive than you are! But everyone I’ve spoken to has assured me that I made a good decision. My therapist noted that I seemed more like myself after dropping it than I had in weeks. Sometimes, cutting yourself some slack is the right thing to do. And it doesn’t even have to have anything at all to do with what I said about doing one or two things well; sometimes, lightening the load is just better for your mental health, and that’s reason enough to do it if you can.

    So don’t judge yourself in comparison to your sister. She has a different life, different circumstances, and different abilities and priorities than you do. That doesn’t make her *better* than you, just busier.

    (Now, someone please remind me I said this next time I start comparing myself to my four older siblings and feeling inadequate…)

    1. That’s something I’ve observed, too!
      People take this weird pride in being overworked and stressed out (NOT in working/accomplishing a lot, that’s something you can totally be proud of!), as if having the reddest eyes and the least sleep actually made your work worth more.

    2. So true!

      Re: your earlier response about your brother, you may just be hitting a spot in your relationship where a little extra space might be good. It doesn’t mean things will be like that forever, but as you and your brother change as people, your relationship may change. Sometimes it can be hard for someone to navigate shifting from relating to you as “my younger sibling” to “my younger sibling who is now an adult,” you know?

      1. Yeah, it may also be that we’re just both at points in our personal development where we just… clash. In any case, I’m going to do the space thing and see how it goes. Thanks 🙂

  39. Used to rent house from Parents-in-Law. We paid well above going rates for rent; we oversaw renovations that helped them sell for giant profit; we rented during a time when they were not able to deal with a non-family member renter (illness ect). They *still* thought they could pretend they were doing us a favor. And until we changed the locks, they would drive up from close-by city and come into the house whenever they pleased. Point is: sometimes the people “helping” you are getting more from the bargain than they let on.

  40. I’m a big fan of Turn-Around-Confusion, where you basically use the bully’s argument but reworded for your purpose (to the other people, not the bully):

    *Blank look of concerned confusion*
    “I just asked him not to call me names. I don’t know why that upsets him so much.”

    1. Oh, I really like this. Throws that “But she’s just being hysterical/overreacting” thing that called-out bullies do right on its head.

      1. Right! Basically anyone that (rightly) frames the bully as the irrational one for wanting to bully someone with impunity.

  41. I’m not sure I could pull off what CA suggests. I wonder if that has anything to do with ask/guess culture? Sarcastic ribbing feels like an accepted form of guess culture, and CA’s scripts seem too direct? My usual tack for dealing with this type is to joke back about how they are the opposite. If BIL is so independent and bootstrappy his kids will sing themselves to sleep and change their own diapers, right? Maybe his baby can do LWs housework for her.

    I really hope LW realizes she does not have time to add unpaid babysitting to her schedule. Like others I have nightmare visions of how much sleep or studying she’all be expected to forgo. I’ve had people with heavy study schedules accuse me of doing nothing, insisting I needed a break, and fail to understand that some of studying can look like staring off into space. If she can downsize, renting a smaller space near campus and renting out this apartment might produce extra income that would pay for utilities (and you can still use sisteres cable for online services).

    1. I feel you, I live in an Offer culture as well.
      LoL to Bootstrappy kids!

      I get a lot of success with just flat-out ignoring statements meant to draw me into a manipulation, even if it leaves an awkward silence.
      Not responding to someone is a powerful form of putting someone in their place in an Offer culture. I’ve already wasted too many words on fools.

      Another favorite is a variation of Thathat’s Confusion Method, wherein I am just as genuinely, cluelessly, literal as I can be, and don’t acknowledge that sarcasm or subtext exist.
      Offer cultures don’t work without subtext, and the person will either have to deal with you honestly if it’s really important, or more likely, get tired of being frustrated by you and let it go.

  42. Thinking on it, there’s one more possibility?
    You: “Please don’t call me lazy ass anymore, it hurts my feelings.”
    Him: “Ok, LAZY ASS. OOPS, I forgot, that’s not what I should say anymore. Right, LAZY ASS? Oops, slipped again. Haha. Lazy ass. Whoops! I just make so many mistakes!”

    Because that’s what my mother would do when you tried to ask her not to do a behavior, she would double down and mock you and then try to defend with “But I am trying not to do it anymore! I just keep slipping up! Every single time, I slip up. You can’t get mad at me for trying, and it’s so hard to break a habit, why are you being so hard on me?”

    I’m not sure what the best response for that would be, probably the same as the Captain’s for “But can’t you take a jooooke?”
    “I appreciate you trying to stop hurting my feelings, it means a lot to me. I know you’re a great person and you’ll get the hang of it soon.” Something like that?

    1. I think I’d go for “Try another time.” I.e. “As you know, this phrase hurts my feelings so I’ll leave you to your practice (of not saying it in my presence) and until next time.” and leave. Leave/end the phone call as often as necessary, so that the person learns there is a price to treating you badly.

  43. Once again, I agree. These aren’t jokes. If your brother in law told jokes, having him visit would be awesome. He would come in and lift your spirits, ease your mind, and you would feel happy about having him around.

    “Knock knock”
    “Who’s there?”
    *Insert something silly that makes you giggle* =Jokes

    *Knock Knock*
    *Open the door*
    “You’re lazy and you should feel terrible about yourself!” = fails as a joke in every aspect.

  44. Hey Everyone, LW here (I’m so sorry, this post will be gigantic)

    First of, thank you so much for all the comments, it really helped to put some things in perspective (and I’m glad it seemed to have helped others as well).

    Just to answer some things you asked, and clarify the situation a bit, my sister and BIL have their own apt, and the one I live in was bought by my parents years ago (we used to rent it) and it is on my and my sister’s name. That doesn’t mean it’s actually ours, that was more of a clever ploy by my mother to make sure we are aren’t left with nothing in case my father goes crazy and torches everything else the family has. He (and BIL) does not have a key to this apt, but my sister and my mother do. My mother and I also have a key to my sister’s place. When BIL is not around, we use the key to come and go, and usually leave both doors open so it feels like it’s just a corridor in one house. When he is home, however, I only stop by if I really need it, and I always knock instead of using my key. He never really comes over, I’m sorry if I gave that impression. It was actually a completely random and strange thing for him to do. Also, when he’s here, I don’t actually feel welcome in my sister’s home, and my mother’s told me she feels the same. I actually thought she may move in with me when the baby comes to help, but she told me she’s not even sure that she’d move in case she was free to – if my father magically dissapears tomorrow, I guess – because she thinks it’d be really complicated and uncomfortable for her.

    I’ve talked to her (my mother) after sending this letter, because liked ehugs guessed earlier, I’m not the only one he does this to. She said she had never heard him call me lazyass, but that she feels really hurt too when he says – over and over again, in front of other people – that she’s always around, always calling, always there. But, I don’t know – it’s just the relationship we have? Some people call their parents once a week, today I was driving with my mother and she called my sister to know if she had found a jacket she was looking for, and if she hadn’t she could pop by my apt and borrow one of mine. That’s a totally normal conversation for us. Maybe it’s overwhelming to him, but it’s fine for us. I’d understand if he complained about this to my sister, but a) my mother actually makes an effort to be less around when he’s here and b) he joke/complains about it in front of everyone. WHY?

    The thing about using the room for the baby REALLY worried my mother, especially because there’s another complication (aren’t you guys sorry you ever started reading this omg), in that my sister and BIL renovated an old cabin we have next to my parent’s home and have been using it as a weekend/summer place. Which is FINE, it was old and dirty and nobody was using it, but they didn’t *buy* and just like “my” apt is actually my mother’s, “their” cabin is actually my parents’. And yet he does sort of mark it as “his”, so much that even my oblivious father has told my mother that he will come and go whenever he pleases even if BIL doesn’t make them feel welcome (my mother often chooses to spend as less time as possible). A few days ago my sister made a passing comment about my cat loving the cabin and “whishing” I lived there myself – “but that’s not going to happen” she added. Which made me feel really hurt, because, you know, what the fucking fuck, that sounded way to definitive for me.

    My mother doesn’t think think we should take to my sister about it right now (first trimester/crazy hormones/they’ve been trying for 2 years), but as she has always choosen to keep her head down, I’m not sure if she will talk to my BIL. I’ll probably not be able to stand it if does that again, and will try to use some of ideas the Captain has given me. I know this is a crazy complicated thing and there is no simple solution, but just talking to all of you about it made things a lot less heavy on my shoulders! Sometimes you just need someone to tell you that you’re not crazy (and that it’s fine to be a little messy!)

    1. I’m really glad your mother is supportive. Hopefully you guys can help enforce boundaries for each other with your family.

    2. Thank you so much for checking in! It’s great that you and your mother have such good support from each other when dealing with BIL. And it’s great that the 3 of you have such a close, caring relationship. I can see how that might feel threatening to an outsider, particularly if it’s a man with a need to feel dominant to the women in his life.

      My mother doesn’t think think we should take to my sister about it right now (first trimester/crazy hormones/they’ve been trying for 2 years), but as she has always choosen to keep her head down, I’m not sure if she will talk to my BIL.

      This worries me slightly. First off, it’s not like it will be easier to talk about it later in the pregnancy, or after the baby arrives. Second, discounting your sister because of hormones is kinda an icky dodge to me. Third, that “not gonna happen” comment from your sister sounds like a possible red flag from her.

      I dunno, I tend to feel that married people owe first loyalty to their spouses, then their family, not the other way around. In that case, it makes sense that your sister over time is going to align more closely with your BIL and not be as much of an ally as she has been in the past. But what if the spouse is actually abusive/predatory/mean? Then that movement away from family members will be cultivated so that you cannot be an ally to your sister.

      Maybe have an exploratory convesation with your sister and pay close attention to her part of the discussion. See where she’s at and what her feelings are and how she’s being treated by her husband. Observe their dynamics together when he’s in town. Does it correlate with some of his behavior toward you and your mother? If so, a conversation pointing out his bad behaviors may backfire as she rushes to defend him.

      You might need to concentrate on defending your boundaries with BIL directly and offering as much support to your sister as you can while taking care of your own needs, rather than getting her to mediate or advocate for you, or otherwise handle your BIL from her role as spouse. In other words, model good boundary setting and reinforce her boundaries when you have the opportunity, and try to avoid situations that can be framed as her having to choose between husband and family.

    3. I’m glad you and your mother are close and supportive! That can only help. Your BIL sounds like a horrible person. He is probably using his awful scary manipulation and control tactics on your sister more than anyone. He sounds like a scary guy who doesn’t have good intentions but who knows how to hide behind a smokescreen of social convention. Resist his BS at every turn, and keep an eye on defending your stuff and your space and yourself – a guy who decides to just take over one family property might have designs on another in the form of your apartment, especially as it’s partly in his wife’s name.

      The part where he’s trying to push your mother away from your sister is creepy and scary and a giant red flag.

      Basically, it sounds like your family contains two toxic men, not just the one. I’m so sorry! 😦

      Read up on gasslighting – I got a lot out of The Gasslight Effect by Dr Robin Stern. Once you can see that sort of manipulation for what it is and understand how it works it gets easier to resist.

    4. I can’t add anything to the wonderful advice people have already given, but please don’t apologize for the length of your response! It’s great that you had the patience to fill us in with important details. I’m glad you checked in. Good luck with everything.

    5. Hi LW!

      I’m really glad that your mother is with you on this. Also, your family sounds a lot like mine, in that the women (my mother is one of three sisters, and there are five female cousins) are really close, with husbands marrying *in* rather than the women marrying *out*.

      Since you mention your sister wanting to keep her head down/stay out of it, I have to wonder if maybe he’s whined to her already, along the lines of “god, your mother’s always over here/why are we paying for your sister’s cable” and been told “OMG we are not having this conversation about my family, don’t bring it up ever again”. And now he’s joking-not-joking as a way to get your mother to come over less and maybe you to move.

      I can see where a close family can be intimidating to someone who hasn’t had that, or has the idea that when a man gets married and has children, that handful of people are his family then. But that’s his hangup, and there are ways to negotiate boundaries without emanating waves of concentrated resentment when your mother in law is visiting, or making your sister in law feel like crap.

  45. Part of me would want to turn it about on him.

    “Hey, lazy ass!”

    “Hi there, misogynist rude bullying asshole!”

    *angry face*

    “What, can’t you take a joke?”

    Probably not the best in this situation, tough. I am also male, and I think that responding to an insult with an insult is an aspect of male privilege. Men are more likely to respect another man responding in that way than they would a woman. I think, anyway.

    1. I think your insight about this being a very male mode of interaction is true, also, some people are Snappy Comeback people and some people aren’t, and you shouldn’t try to be one if you’re not because it just makes it more awkward when you whiff it.

      1. Yeah, if the LW was a Snappy Comeback Person the letter would have been very different, or not been written at all.

    2. I hear you on the insult-insult dynamic. I don’t know if it is male privilege so much as toxic masculinity (the “acting like a man” box). My dad follows this script, and I have watched the temperature drop sharply at family gatherings as soon as he arrives and opens his mouth, because his idea of social bonding is to demean the people around him.

      My brother has spent his whole life trying to win validation from our very passive and disengaged dad, and pretty much not only mimics him but steps everything up a notch or ten. And I am sad to see that he’s passing it along to my nephews, one of which is turning into a fine little bully.

      I already pointed out to my brother that he was teaching them to be bullies, which he didn’t get. Next time I visit, I’ll have a talk with nephew who proceeded to torment cousin at funeral a couple weeks ago. Should have spoken up in the moment. Still working on my intervention skills. It’s a process.

      1. As someone who has been bullied as a child – not by family members, thank god! – can I just say that I really, really appreciate that you tried to talk to your brother and want to have a serious talk with your nephew? I wish someone would have figuratively smacked some sense into my bullies before the teacher I told about it did. I’m eternally thankful for people like you!

      2. If you find it difficult to intervene and address your nephew, then a “softer” option which can still be really effective is to talk to the cousin. Having an adult say, “Hey, what so-and-so said to you didn’t sound very nice, are you OK? You are? OK, good, let’s go and get some ice-cream and you can tell me about [random topic of interest, if you can think of one]” can make a huge difference to a child who is being bullied or attacked.

    3. IME it really is different for men, I’m a woman who’s often quiet and withdrawn so I’ve had many men coach me, “You need to just jump in there, insult right back!” Buut the moment I do, guys get shocked and suddenly drop the jovial tone to tell me seriously that I’m being harsh and inappropriate, even if I’m reciting interactions I’ve seen happen successfully with the exact same men. It is way easier for me to get labelled “mean” and “bitchy”.

      1. This is 100% true.

        My uncle loves asserting his power by calling people names; I have tried both the “respond in kind” and “blank incomprehension” techniques to stop him. The former got everyone else telling me to stop being so mean to him; the latter at least raises the cost of his insults for him because if I pull the “I don’t understand, why is that funny? why do you think it’s okay to call me a name that isn’t mine and that I’ve asked you not to use? I don’t get it” card, he has to stick around and defend his stupid wordbombs instead of just launching them and dancing away, cackling.

        I would bet actual physical American cash money that if I had a brother (I don’t, so I can’t empirically test this), that dude would be able to respond to insults with insults and not be censured. Men can assert themselves in ways women can’t (without paying a social price). I have to go with a soft no because if I assert myself too “violently” (i.e., powerfully), I am breaking gender roles in an unacceptable way.


      2. Oh, you see this SO MUCH on mixed-sex message boards. Apparently they are male-dominated, it’s because women just can’t take the heat and men have a more aggressive style and so on. But if I identify myself as female and then use the slightest bit of sarcasm, it’s all hurt feelings and that-was-uncalled-for “Well, I’m not going to discuss this with you if you’re going to descend to personal insults!” Poor ickle babbies!

        1. The cut-off culture dude is publicly pouting because so many of the responses are “uncivil.” Like, why would people feel uncivil about an emotional vampire?

  46. If, and only if, you are physically safe and feeling brave, this works;

    “Hey, LazyAss!”
    “Please don’t call me that.”
    “Can’t you take a joke?”
    “Oh, sorry, was that a joke? It wasn’t funny. You must have a lousy sense of humour.”

    Then change the subject or walk away. It is the only thing which works on the Incredibly Funny Person in my life, because their fragile ego is so bound up in “I am Hil-ARIOUS” that attacking it is like a gut punch, and it gives you a breath to get away.

    It’s confrontational and I completely understand that not everyone feels comfortable with it, but sometimes the direct approach works.

  47. “Fortunately, the way for you to deal with the behavior for a “clueless jokester” and “verbal bully” is exactly the same.”

    Love this tidbit so much. It applies in so many situations of harassment and insensitivity as well. It’s hurtful and tiring when someone prioritizes their ability to tease you over your ability to feel good about yourself, and it’s great that often times, the response you can give DOESN’T depend on you misreading their intentions, it purely is about setting boundaries.

    That overall hurtfulness definitely gets compounded when you feel like the teasing has some grounding in reality, some legitimacy that you can’t shake. That said though, the living situation described here definitely sounds standard for a lot of people I know.

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