DEAR NATALIE: I ended things with a boyfriend (“Shawn”) because we were not compatible. We did live together, and during a six-month period when my brother (“Chris”) was homeless, he lived with us without paying rent or contributing to the household expenses. While my brother lived with us, Shawn and Chris became great friends. During that time, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and Shawn told me that it “isn’t a real condition” and to “stop having nightmares about your past traumas.” In general, he was very dismissive about my mental health. Once Chris moved out, things really went south between Shawn and me, and ultimately I accepted that he would never be supportive of me. So I ended things. This breakup happened almost a year ago.
I hadn’t planned on dating again for awhile, but I did, then meet someone (“Anthony”), and we really hit it off. We’ve been together for nine months now, and we recently became engaged. My whole family loves him, except my brother Chris. Chris thinks that I should still be dating Shawn. Chris thinks that Anthony is a mistake. Chris invited me but not Anthony to our family’s Christmas dinner, yet he did invite Shawn to this usually all-family-and-no-friends event. So, I did not go. Chris refuses to attend family events if Anthony is there, and what’s worse is that if he does see Anthony at the events he won’t speak to me or to Anthony. He won’t even say “Hello.” This even happened at a family member’s funeral recently.
I know that Chris and Shawn are still friends and that’s fine, but shouldn’t Chris’ loyalty lie with me, his sister? Shawn made me very unhappy, and he made me feel unimportant and unloved. These things that should infuriate an older brother!
I’m siding with my fiance here. If he is snubbed from an event, I don’t attend either. If my brother does not acknowledge us, we then ignore him. This can’t go on forever. Is there any hope that Chris will one day accept that Shawn did not make me happy and Anthony makes me very happy? -- SNUBBED SISTER
DEAR SNUBBED SISTER: Congratulations for putting yourself and your mental health before an emotionally abusive partner. The fact that you took in your brother was generous and kind when he was going through hard times, and he hasn’t exactly repaid you with that same energy. You have done nothing to warrant his dismissive and nasty attitude toward you. Stand your ground.
Talk to your family about allowing Chris to invite Shawn to events knowing that you two had broken up. Ask them, “What the heck was that about? Your loyalty should be with your daughter/granddaughter/niece/cousin/sister/etc.” Make it very clear to your family that you will not allow your brother to bully you or be put in a situation where Shawn is around. If Chris wants to hang out with him on his own, that’s out of your control, but in family situations, he is not to be invited.
Also, have a one-on-one sit-down with Chris. Explain to him that Shawn is not coming back into the picture and tell him why. Express to him that as his sister, you know that he always wants the best for you, so maybe he didn’t understand why Shawn wasn’t the right choice. Then, remind him that it is your decision who you choose to be with. Say something like: “I really want to spend time with you, but being around Shawn makes me very uncomfortable. I hope in the future you can be respectful of that and recognize that while I respect your friendship with Shawn, I don’t want to be around him.”
If Chris throws a fit, and he might, tell him that you love him, but that you hoped that he would be more understanding, considering how you helped him when he was down and out. If he still balks, get the family to say “no” the next time he wants to invite Shawn somewhere with you there. This may get messy for a while, and it may take time. But you are completely right in feeling how you feel, and it is up to Chris now to do what is right. If he can’t, well, he won’t be seeing much of you.
Natalie’s Network Tip of the Week: Do you consider yourself an expert at networking but seem to have hit a plateau in your contacts? Many times we end up socializing with the same groups of people because it is comfortable and fun. Get out of that zone and sign up for new events with people you don’t know, with people who look different from you, with people who have different interests. You may be surprised at how this expands your world for the better!
(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)