Each week, Prudie discusses a tricky letter with a colleague or friend, just for Slate Plus members. This week Jenée Desmond-Harris discusses her response to “Get Me Out of Here” with fellow Slate writer (and also her husband) Joel Anderson.
I haven’t spoken to my brother in seven years. His then-girlfriend cheated on him constantly, so when they got engaged, I was honest—I told him it was a mistake and that he needed to have some self-respect because no one deserved to be treated like his girlfriend treated him. So he cut me out of his life—wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t see me, wouldn’t even be at the same family event if I was there. He skipped our father’s funeral because I was there.
Recently, out of the blue, he called me several times and left messages about catching up. I called our mother and low and behold, his wife had left him for her rich boss and is pregnant with this guy’s baby. Mom says he wants to reconnect. I have no desire to. My mother is begging me to reconsider—for her sake at least. I told her I would be polite if my brother wanted to show up at family events while I was there, but that was it. She cried harder than when our father died. I feel awful, but my brother chose this route a long time ago. How do I get my mother to understand this? And what do I do if my brother wants to talk?
— Seven Years
Jenée Desmond-Harris: I know I say there’s always information missing, but there’s definitely information missing here. I feel like the letter-writer’s confrontation was the last straw for her brother. I cannot imagine they were getting along fine, she did one thing, and suddenly he disowned her.
Joel Anderson: Agreed. “I was honest” is the tell for me. All too often, I think people pride themselves on “honesty,” when what they’re actually doing is providing a cover for their own cruelty.
Also? I really, really hate when people say “you’re better than this” or “you deserve better than this.” How the hell do you know? Maybe I don’t. Or maybe I don’t want whatever you consider to be better?
Jenée: Yeah, I guess he also decided he was better than a sister who assaulted him with unsolicited advice and judgment.
Joel: Heh, I feel like at least one of us has been in this situation before but I’m not gonna say any names …
Jenée: Guess what, I actually talk about it on an upcoming episode of the Dear Prudence podcast. I’m not ashamed to say I’m HUMAN and was once in a crappy relationship and got mad at a friend who pointed that out. She was right!
Joel: So wait! We started off being skeptical of the LW, but are you—notoriously stubborn about accepting the people’s will—open to seeing their side of things?
Jenée: She was right about the content but I still think she made a wrong choice about the delivery. Now, I think that’s a super common and well-intended mistake. So I don’t think LW was trying to be terrible. But she should have kept her opinion to herself and just said quietly to friends “I have to go to my brother’s wedding for his starter marriage.”
Joel: For sure. I don’t see where the brother asked for her advice, and so getting pissed at her for attempting to sabotage his relationship as it moved toward marriage was appropriate. Thing is, she didn’t ask us about that. She wants to know what to tell their mother.
… And to be honest, it really depends on how much they value rebuilding this broken sibling relationship. I can’t imagine this was the only time they had a disagreement that spiraled out of control. This, in fact, seems like it was probably the final straw.
Jenée: Twinsies! That is EXACTLY what I said in my response. So aside from you holding former bad dating choices over my head, we’re on the same team here.
Joel: Don’t pretend as if you don’t do the same, but it sounds like so much in this family is already broken, and their mother is understandably trying to salvage it. If this was the only instance of them having a falling out, I’d say reach back out to your brother and at least hear him out. It’s been seven years! A lot can happen in seven years—I mean, clearly, he’s getting divorced and their father died. Maybe he wants to do the hard work of apologizing and rebuilding their relationship. But if that and blood ties truly mean nothing to the LW anymore, then I think she’s come up with a decent compromise. Being polite at gatherings!
Jenée: And as far as getting mom to understand: You won’t. And you kind of just have to deal with that.
Joel: Right. And hey, the LW can go into overdrive to maintain and nurture their relationship with their mother. Just explain that a line has been crossed and this isn’t a boundary they’re ready to reevaluate, just yet. But that she’s willing to at least be in the same place as their brother, and that’s a start. Then just work on being the best daughter she can be otherwise.
Jenée: And maybe think about keeping opinions about other’s life choices as inside-the-head thoughts, to avoid this kind of thing happening again.