O Brother, Where Art Thou? Getting Him to Mom’s Big Birthday

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Social Q’s

My older brother, who is 30, and I were never close. I had hoped we would be as we got older. But his relationship with his girlfriend of three years has only made things worse. They live in Washington, D.C., and only visit her family in Florida. We’re lucky if we see him once a year (and always with her). In January, I asked him to save a weekend in May for our mom’s 60th birthday. He said: “May is busy. We may not make it.” I exploded. If it was her mother’s birthday, they would make it. We haven’t spoken since. Was I wrong?


Let’s skip right and wrong. You blurted out your feelings, which is understandable but often a magnificently ineffective strategy. When children fly the nest, they return for often-overlapping reasons: They miss their family and want to see them, or they feel too guilty staying away. Your brother seems immune on both fronts. So unless you calculated that yelling about unfair visitation would ratchet up his guilt, it was destined to drive him further away.

The better course? Make him and his girlfriend feel more welcome. You seem to resent her ride-alongs on these visits. But they’re a couple; couples travel in pairs. Call to apologize. Say: “I’m sorry I lost it. We just miss seeing you, and we want to get to know Nancy better. Can you find a time to visit?” When they pull into town, make a fuss over the girlfriend as the newest member of your clan — which she is. Why would a couple spend time with people who aren’t warm to one of its members? (No guarantees, but it’s got to beat screaming.)

Public-School Standoff

I switched to private school this year for sixth grade. Recently, a couple of friends were talking about which public junior high school in our town is better. When I joined in, one kid said: “What would you know? You go to private school.” It was as if he was questioning my intelligence to talk about schools I spent six years assuming I would go to. What should I say?


This is a tricky one because that kid was (sort of) right: You don’t know, firsthand, about the public schools your friends are now enrolled in. But what really made him prickly, I suspect, is something that went unsaid: That you think their schools are lousy, so you left for private, greener pastures.

My recommendation: Don’t make a fuss when friends seem insecure. Just keep being you (and weigh in on matters you actually know about). Your friends will soon see you’re the same great guy you always were — no matter which school you attend.

Hold Your Bark

I live in a large apartment building that is dog-friendly. One morning, I tried to step onto the elevator with my dog, when a woman inside began cowering and asked me to wait for another because she was “scared of dogs.” I asked her why she chose to live in a dog-friendly building. (There are plenty that aren’t.) I suggested she might be more comfortable elsewhere. That infuriated her. I waited for another elevator. What would you have done?


I would have smiled at the woman, while thinking grouchy thoughts, and said, “Of course I’ll wait.” Inconvenience is never fun. But fear of dogs, like fear of flying — hello, Erica Jong! — is a real thing. So, no eye rolls or protestations: “But mine is a sweetheart!” We may not understand other people’s fears, but it’s only decent to respect them.

You also seem to misunderstand the term “dog friendly.” It means that dogs, often excluded from buildings, are welcome. It doesn’t require that all tenants sign a “love ’em or leave” oath. Undoubtedly, there is inefficiency in housing those fearful of dogs among dog owners. But apartment cost, location and building services probably rank higher in selecting housing than pet policies.

Invariably, you and your dog will be on the elevator when this woman wants it — and vice versa — and the other will have to wait. That’s life in large buildings. But telling her that she never should have moved in in the first place was neither neighborly nor a real solution.

Best-Man Blues

My oldest friend asked me to be best man at his wedding, which involves planning a bachelor-party weekend. I have grown apart from our high school friends and deplore many of his college friends (politically and ethically), so the thought of spending a weekend with these guys bothers me. I don’t think I can manage it. What should I do?


You can — and should — manage it, for the sake of your oldest friend. In my experience, you only need one pal to make it through a weekend like this. So invite him if you don’t see him on the guest list already, and stick to him like glue. It takes ages to make an old friend. Don’t hurt yours for the sake of irrelevant third parties. Besides, you may hit it off with the strippers. (Kidding, sort of.)