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The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » The Vine

The Vine: July 29, 2009

Submitted by on July 29, 2009 – 12:31 PM56 Comments

Dear Sars,

My apologies up front for the length of this email and my thanks in advance for any advice you have for me.

I am a 32-year-old female. My brother (let’s call him George) and his now-wife (Amy who is from the States) met here in Not The States about four years ago. They had been together for three years by the time they left here, and married about two months into arriving in the States. (My brother broke the news of their impending wedding a month before the time with a text message to my mom reading “Amy and I are getting married — what do you think?” I shit you not.)

Recently they returned to visit Not The States for a couple of weeks. While they were away, I made a wholly reasonable attempt to stay in contact with them through email and Facebook and their response was mostly twice-monthly five-minute phone calls.

I’m not complaining or justifying; I’m just trying to explain that I guess because of the relative infrequency of our communication, in addition to the lack of being face-to-face, it completely slipped my mind that I don’t really like my brother. I don’t know how I forgot that but maybe (in addition to the previously mentioned reason) subconsciously I just hoped that having lived away from home for a year and having gotten married, that he’d have grown up a little (he’s 28 now). I mean, I love him, he’s my brother, but he is completely self-involved, self-entitled and arrogant and I just don’t like him. There’s no other way to put it, really.

Amy is lovely — we get along well and I consider her a sister and a great friend but George? Not so much a favourite person of mine. When, a few years ago, I realised that it wasn’t required of me to like my brother and that, in fact, (insert moment of glorious epiphany) I didn’t actually like him, I felt hugely relieved. It was enormously freeing for me to not have to feel constantly guilty about the fact that I mostly always wanted to punch him in the face. A lot.

Anyway, back to the visit. Prior to my brother and SIL arriving, I had arranged to take the second week of their visit off work so that I could spend some quality time with them. In retrospect, not the best idea ever. We had all arranged to go to a holiday cottage for five days. However, having spent four days before our departure to the cottage with them, I was done. Done. I don’t like causing drama so I had pretty much been biting my tongue at my brother’s crap for four days straight and I just fucking couldn’t anymore. I don’t deal well with stress or anxiety and by the time we were supposed to leave, I was a fucking wreck. So I quietly told my mom and Amy that something had come up and that I would only be able to join them at the cottage two days later than planned, just so that I could have some time to myself and breathe again.

I didn’t want to tell them what the full deal was because my mom would have overreacted, but Amy does know that I don’t get on with George (I’ve known her for four years — it’s not the sort of thing you can hide for forever) so I did briefly mention to her, when pushed as to the reason for my delayed arrival at the cottage, that I thought it best for everyone if I just keep my distance for a few days, and she said she understood. I also spoke to my dad and he supported me, saying that he thought I was doing the most sensible and sensitive thing I could, given the circumstances.

Later, however, Amy threw a shit-fit of note saying that she really wanted to spend time with me, the very least I could do was make time for them because they were visiting from so far away, she is supposed to be one of my best friends, couldn’t I just suck it up etc. I apologised again to her but didn’t go into detail. I felt wretched and shitty about the whole thing but I couldn’t see a way for me to spend more time with her and George and not explode. Which sounds overly dramatic, I know, but after 15 years of on-and-off therapy and medications (currently on), I know my limitations and I was barely hanging on to a sense of calm and rationality without the added pressure of having to deal with more of someone I don’t like and have a long, complicated history of disliking.

They left about two weeks ago and I still feel goddamned awful about the whole situation. I didn’t spend as much time with Amy as I would have liked, but I also didn’t cause a huge drama by having a massive fall-out with George, which is I’m sure what would have happened had I forced myself to spend more time with him.

I felt like I did the best I could at the time but then why do I also still feel so horrible and guilty? Why does the whole thing play in a continuous loop in my head? They’ll be back to visit again in a year and what if this shit happens all over again? I know I can’t expect George to change — people are who they are — but I don’t want to endanger my friendship with his wife, which I feel would happen if I can’t find some way to be around him without contemplating fratricide. I feel like I am being a complete bitch.

Am I being a complete bitch? What would you have done, Sars? How could I have handled the situation better? And how can I handle it better in the future?

Kind regards,

I Should Have Seen This Coming And Asked Your Advice BEFORE They Arrived

Dear Arrived,

I think we all grow up with the idea that Family Is Family — you love them, you defend them, wherever they are is home, and so on — and as a result, when you just don’t like a family member, it’s difficult to come to terms with it.

It’s also difficult to accept that, sometimes, it just happens; it’s not that either one of you is a bad person, or wrong.It’s not anyone’s fault.So, you probably feel the way you do because, you know, it sucks to dislike a sibling, and also because, if you can find a way in which it’s your fault, you can explain it, and maybe fix it.

The bad news, alas, is that you can’t really fix it.You can continue to do your best to get along with George for short periods when called upon to do so, which you’ve done; you can try not to involve other family members in the drama, which you’ve also done; the good news is that, under the circumstances, you’ve done pretty well, I think.You’ve done your best, and when you couldn’t take it anymore, you excused yourself as graciously as you could from the situation.

But both you and Amy need to do a bit better in acknowledging the facts here, facts you both possess, to wit: 1) you do not enjoy George, and should not plan to spend longer than 48 consecutive hours in his presence in the future; and 2) she is married to George, and cannot reasonably expect to spend unlimited time as a couple with people known to dislike her husband.

You wish the whole family could just get along, so you act like maybe it still can, when it can’t.Amy wishes the two of you could maintain a friendship irrespective of her marriage to your brother, so she acts like that’s possible, which it kind of isn’t.I know you feel shitty about Amy’s reaction, but try not to; she wants everyone to get along, which is understandable, and she’s blaming you for the fact that it’s not happening, which…well, I can understand it, but it’s not fair.You apologized, you didn’t bitch about George — you did what you could.

Next year, set things up so that you don’t have to spend as much unalloyed time with George as you did this time.Schedule work in blocks that you’ll have to come and go to attend to — or just say that’s the case.Make an effort to spend time with Amy just the two of you, outside the cottage, without George, so she feels attended to.If that’s still not enough for her, explain to her gently that you like her a lot and you wish the situation were different, but given that you and your brother butt heads, you hope she’ll realize that you’re doing the best you can to accommodate her.

And try to forgive yourself.

I’ve been having this issue with my boyfriend lately.I don’t know if he’s been doing it more, or if I’m more sensitive lately (I am totally stressed by exams) but we’ve had the same argument three times in the last two-week span and I need to talk about it.

Basically, he belittles my abilities.Not in an emotional-abuser way: he does it in a loving and indulgent way, and he does it selectively.For example, I’m in graduate school, so I can handle a fairly punishing workload and complex information, and he knows this — but it makes him say stuff like, “I don’t expect you to know about things like fixing cars.You’re smart in OTHER ways.”

This past week he has suggested that I shouldn’t take a seminar that meets for four hours at a time — I have mild ADD, and he doesn’t think I’ll be able to focus for that long — and a few months ago, he had a fit about me driving in a snowstorm.Yes, I hate driving in snow, and yes, I have visibly freaked out about it in his presence before.But I had to get to work SOMEHOW, didn’t I?If I FELT capable enough to do it at the time, and if it’s an action that normal people regularly take part in, what’s the problem?

So far this letter is making it sound like he’s just a sexist, but I know for sure that that’s not it, either.I really think that he has made all these judgments about ME, personally, and I think the judgments are the direct result of the fact that over the course of our three-year relationship, he has seen me at vulnerable and insecure moments, and has, like, memorized them and taken them to heart as how I really am, and how I really feel, all the time.

I finally exploded about this a few days ago.I’m looking for work right now, mostly in retail, and was pouting to him about not having much luck.Under the guise of comforting me, he started saying how I really didn’t want to work in retail anyway, because it’s so fast-paced and so much happens at once, and he didn’t think that I really had a realistic idea about what those kind of jobs entailed.

He cheers me on through graduate school, but he doesn’t think I have the wherewithal to succeed at Target?Not to mention that I spent three years working in retail before I met him (employee of the month twice, at that) and two years in fast food before that. And he knows this, but I’m not sure he believes it, if you know what I mean.

I think this is really his problem, not mine.I also think that his clinically-depressed mother is a major part of the equation.I won’t argue that he’s spent one too many nights in the company of a broken-down woman in his life — but I should be able to unload on him once in awhile without him thinking I can’t cope just because she can’t.He doesn’t believe that his being brought up by her has ANY effect on how he relates to me.That’s another story, I guess.

My question is, how do I make him see what this is really about?He’s not a terribly introspective person, and I really think he thinks he’s just being protective and honest.It’s pretty hurtful, though, especially when I’m already feeling insecure.What can I say to him that’s better than “quit acting like this, you’re making me feel bad” (which I’ve already tried)?

More Capable Than She Seems

Dear Cape,

Have you explained why it makes you feel bad?I mean calmly, parsing the sentences for him and pointing out the spots that make you feel condescended to?You say that he’s not introspective, and if he’s really trying to help, he may need you to help him understand why certain things he says make you feel like a child.Some emotional vocabularies do not come to everyone naturally.

On top of that, the central problem is apparently that he doesn’t take you seriously, which I agree is maddening, but let’s look at some of the verbs you use here: “freaking out” about the snowstorm, “pouting” about your job search, that you “exploded” at him.I’m not saying you shouldn’t have emotions or express them to him, but it’s possible that you contribute to this concept he has that you’re fragile — not least by reacting so strongly to these comments he makes.

I’d suggest switching it up by not taking him so seriously when he passes remarks like the not-knowing-about cars thing.That one’s ridiculous; take the piss out of it.”Wow, magical time machine — 1957 sure is neat!”I have had boyfriends tell me that they didn’t want me driving in the snow; these boyfriends were called “Dad,” given an eye-roll, and waved to through the flakes as I backed out of the driveway.I know you love the guy, but you don’t actually have to believe, agree with, or even care about every single thing he thinks about you.

The next time he says something that adds to your insecurity, take a minute before you freak out.Then, either explain to him that the comment is not based in fact (the retail thing); mention that, really, you’re just venting and you’d prefer it if he just listened; or rip off a sarcastic quip and move on.

You’ve got to take yourself a little less seriously, is the idea.Aim the “quit acting like this, you’re making me feel bad” at yourself, and stop basically giving him permission to dictate your self-esteem quite so much.

Hi Sars — I’m a longtime fan of Tomato Nation, and The Vine especially! I now have two questions about a yearly birthday beach weekend that I host, over my birthday.

The weekend is at a cottage owned by my extended family; the house is a bit “rustic” but sleeps 12. This coming summer will be the 5th year of the weekend. Sometimes someone makes a cake, but the feel is overall much more weekend-at-the-beach than continual-birthday-celebration (which is great — I’m excited to see my friends and spend time at the beach!).

My first question is about who to invite. When I first started hosting the weekend, I invited 11 people, a combination of local friends and friends from college who also live within weekend driving distance of the beach, and almost all attended. Over the years, however, most of those friends have gotten married, so I need to invite a smaller number of couples for everyone to still have a bed.

In general I’ve tried to follow the lead of who has attended in the past by inviting those folks first, since they have shown interest in going before. However, this often leaves me with a couple or two over capacity of the house (which gets pretty packed with 12, without a lot of floor space for sleeping bags, etc.).

In addition, I’ve sometimes had friends who have never attended (but who I’ve invited at some point) mention that “maybe this is the year [they’ll] finally be able to make it” before I have extended an invitation, and when I am not planning on doing so.

Can you advise me on how I should plan my invitation list? Is it better to vary year to year among people who have attended, and ignore everyone else? Should I go by who I am closest friends with, who is closest geographically? What about the folks who assume an invitation? New friends vs. old friends? And, could I give invited guests an RSVP deadline and — if there is a way this could be polite — then invite other people some of the first invitees cannot attend? Nobody hosts a similar event, so there’s no chance of me going by who returns this with a similar invitation.

My other question has to do with cooking and helping out in the house during the weekend itself. I feel that since I am hosting, I should generally provide food while we are there (we usually go out for one dinner, and everyone then pays for themselves). However, cooking several meals for 12 people can be a bit overwhelming, both in terms of cost and time. A few times I’ve had close friends offer to take over a breakfast or a lunch, which I always accept after one round of polite, “Oh, I couldn’t ask you do that!”/”But we’d love to!” (These people, of course, are always invited back!)

Is there a way to encourage the group do this, or is that in bad taste because I’m hosting? And if I decide to ask for this kind of help, should I initiate it with the email invitation, or wait until people have arrived?

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this letter. I hope you are able to help!


Grateful for a day at the beach, but not the planning

Dear Plan,

Make a list of everyone you’d like to invite — everyone you’d like.People who have assumed an invitation should not have done that, and should not go on the list unless you’d planned to invite them already.Ignore the space cap and write everyone down.From there, it’s like a wedding-invitation list; you have to gauge who’s likely to come if invited, which couples get along best with one another, who’s the likeliest to help out in the kitchen.

But it’s your weekend, at your house, for your birthday.Invite the people you want to spend that time with.If some of those people can’t make it, go back to your list and invite others.

As for help with meal planning, yes, I think you should initiate that in the first email.Some people have a horror of that sort of thing, thinking the host should have everything covered and wait for (but not count on) offers of help, but the presence of sleeping bags undercuts the need for rigid formality somewhat, I’d say.You’ve all known each other long enough that I think it’s not unreasonable to pick a couple of meals and ask for volunteers to prepare it.Maybe you want to buy the food for them if they give you an ingredients list; maybe you want them to pack in and handle it themselves.Either way, I expect that your friends have been waiting for you to ask for some years now, so go for it.




  • KTCanuck says:

    @Grateful – we do this sort of thing every summer too. The rule at our cottage has always been that meals are split up among those attending – one couple brings a lunch, another a breakfast, etc. When we were younger and poorer, we even did “Bring Your Own Meat” for Saturday night dinner. This also worked given various people’s dietary preferences. Then someone (or various people) would provide sides and dessert. Whoever is not cooking the meal cleans up afterwards. Slackers are not invited back. All my crew are used to it, and it makes for a much more enjoyable weekend for me as the host – I still spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen, and have to do the cottage cleaning after everyone has left, but it beats feeding 12 people for 2 days! Good luck!

  • Lucrezia says:

    Arrived – I totally sympathize because I feel that my boyfriend does the same to me and it can be maddening. Showing the occasional weakness or needing support shouldn’t get your vulnerabilities filed for future use against you. I think Sars advice is really good and I second really sitting down and going through why this bothers you with him. Also, maybe a sarcastic “I think I can handle it, thanks” and a pointed look, repeated often enough, would get through to him? Good luck.

  • cayenne says:

    Plan: Maybe it’s just me and my group of friends, all of whom have cottages & host weekends, but my experience is that food costs & KP are shared by everyone. As host, maybe you can try to plan the weekend’s menus & allocate the responsibility of shopping for each meal to your guests (individually or pairs). Also, you can take into consideration each guest’s cooking preference or expertise: if Joe is a grilling fiend but can’t be trusted enough at the stove to boil water safely, he can man the BBQ, while Kathy can do the bacon at breakfast; if Ed is a complete numbnuts in the kitchen, send him outside with a beer and a bag of corn and tell him to get shuckin’.

    I think most hosts are happy when they aren’t trapped at the stove and are thrilled to have offers of help; it certainly allows them to participate & socialize instead of getting stuck by themselves in the kitchen prepping food all weekend. It can even be a bonding event (especially when wine is involved) – cooking & eating are among the most social of activities. Most of my friends wouldn’t be my generous, helpful & gregarious friends if they left me stuck in the kitchen while they hung out on the deck or dock. They certainly wouldn’t be invited back!

  • ferretrick says:

    @Arrived: Number one, quit feeling guilty. Sometimes siblings don’t like each other. I do not like my brother, never have, never will…am polite and civil to him about once a year (if that) when he visits the family, but other than that we don’t speak. If you aren’t creating childish if he’ll be there, I won’t be drama, and forcing the other members of your family to choose between you, you have nothing to feel guilty about. You quietly excused yourself from the gathering, didn’t cause a big scene, nothing wrong with that. Not wanting to play happy family when that is in fact not how you feel does not make you a bitch.

    Amy is out of line-you handled the situation the best you could. I think the only thing you could have done better is planned to limit your exposure to George from the beginning. Given your feelings, it was predictable that spending most of four days before the cottage, plus the five days there of not just togetherness, but sharing living space was going to be a disaster.

    So, next time the way to avoid this…if they are coming for such a long visit, there’s plenty of opportunities to see them without spending days on end together. Just separate the activities and visits so there are days between each one, when you can rest and recharge your delaling-with-George batteries. Also, if Amy wants more time with you, plan a just girls activity (beauty salon, spa, shopping, whatever will interest Amy and will not interest George), or have your dad plan a just boys activity with George, or both. If you do the cottage thing again, save this day for one of the days there, so there’s not so much pressure. Or, little white lie and just say you can’t afford to pay your share of the cottage or something like that to get you out of it.

  • Bitts says:

    @Cape – THANK YOU for writing to Sars about this problem! And thank you, Sars, for answering it so levelheadedly. I have this SAME problem with my husband — and Cape articulated it exactly right: “I think the judgments are the direct result of the fact that over the course of our three-year relationship, he has seen me at vulnerable and insecure moments, and has, like, memorized them and taken them to heart as how I really am, and how I really feel, all the time.” Our relationship is 6 years, but that’s the only diff. I feel like since he’s seen me anxious or depresed or stressed at some point, then he thinks I am an emotional basket case at ALL times.


    Not taking myself quite so seriously has helped tremendously, when I remember to do it! Being a little more cavalier & sarcastic about both my stress and his dismissive reaction seems to work. When there are serious feelings at hand, they are addressed seriously. When it’s just a bad day of toddler tantrums and minor mishaps, I try hard to grit my teeth, roll my eyes and chuckle ruefully from behind the beer bottle, squashing the urge to whine, freak out or cry because I am trying to build up his image of me as competent and unflappable, except when flap is warranted. “Growing up,” I think it’s called. Whatever. It’s hard.

  • Lucrezia says:

    Oops, I was addressing Capable, not Arrived.

  • Dsayko says:

    Grateful – my family has done something similar for the last few years. We rent a big house somewhere, and pack all 13 of us in for a long weekend. Typically, once everyone arrives, the group splits up a bit – a few get the house all ready and settled, and a few do the grocery shopping. Breakfast is typically a grab your own affair – we buy cereal and milk and juice and bagels and whatever people want. Lunch is typically out somewhere, as part of an activity, but if it’s a lazy day, it’s probably sandwich fixings from the store of leftovers from dinner. Unless we go out, we cook dinner together. We plan on a few very easy appetizers to nibble while cooking, and then put together a dinner and dessert as a family. It’s lots of fun, everyone participates, and no one is left with the heavy lifting.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    Arrived – “Make an effort to spend time with Amy just the two of you, outside the cottage, without George” Amen, Sars.
    They aren’t attached at the hip, Amy can make some effort to spend time with you & not bring George along. Tell George you’re going tampon shopping or something. Good lord. YOU ARE NOT A BITCH, Arrived. It takes two to maintain a bad relationship, just like it takes two to maintain a good one, so dump half that guilt, at the very least! I think you did a great job not punching him in the face. A lot.
    Cape – “I have mild ADD, and he doesn’t think I’ll be able to focus for that long” Oh, that’s helpful, yeah, that’ll help your confidence & self-esteem. What a jerk. I think the guy runs you down because if you realized how strong & capable you are you’d see him for the loser he is, and you’d leave. (Maybe I’m projecting my ex-husband’s crap all over you, but your feelings sound very very familiar.)
    Plan, I’ve spent vacations with different bunches of friends & in each’n’every group there is goodnatured infighting about who GETS to cook so that we can show off & share our best dishes. And whomever cooks gets to sit on the deck with a beer while others clean up, it’s only fair. You must be a fantastic cook for your friends to want you to do it all the time!!! (Ten bucks says that if you ignore the dishes, someone will step up & do them.)
    Sounds like a fantastic weekend, I hope you have funfunfun!!!

  • KTB says:

    Plan: I organize a girls’ surfing weekend at the coast every year, and while I technically host, I assign a small group of girls to each meal and let them plan, purchase and cook that one meal for the whole group. That way, each girl is only responsible for one meal, but gets to eat the whole weekend. Aside from reminding everyone that we don’t want to have wraps for every meal, the girls are generally pretty creative, and we end up eating really well.

    What you might want to do is see if any of the couples wants to team up and cook a meal together over the weekend. I suspect that several of them will have ideas in mind to spare you all of the work.

    Capable: My husband used to do this to me, and I found that a combination of doing things myself and asking him to teach me how to do things solved a lot of the problem. To wit, I now know how to change my own oil, lamps, and some fluids in the car and do, but he recently asked me if I wanted to learn how to do the brakes in my car or just have him do it. I appreciated the option as much as I appreciated him just doing it.

    I second what Sars said about the emotional outbursts as well–I tended towards the dramatic before and now I try to give him a heads-up, like “Had a bad day, here’s why. I need to vent, and I don’t need it to be fixed. Thanks.”

    Lastly, he may also be a little intimidated by your ability to juggle so many things like school, work, etc., and this might be his way of reminding you that you still need him. Annoying, yes, but kind of endearing in a really clumsy way.

  • Pam says:

    Sars is spot-on with the advice to Plan.

    Most people are grateful to be invited and want to help in any way possible. The “bring a side dish to pass, your own meat/vegetarian fare, and bevies” meal plan almost always works at a group gathering. If the group is big enough, designate which portion of the meal the dish to pass encompasses: some get either cold salad, hot side, or dessert. The designation can depend on travel distance and/or expertise with a particular dish. Easier on the pocket and you can end up trying lots of different goodies and get recipes to boot! This is the way I get my friend Joelle’s kickin’ iced chocolate-fudge, please-pass-the-gallon-of-milk brownies every year!

  • Linda says:

    “Also, maybe a sarcastic ‘I think I can handle it, thanks’ and a pointed look, repeated often enough, would get through to him?”

    I actually would not try this.

    To be honest — and I want to say this as gently as I can — it sounds to me like this guy is trying to be supportive of you and is getting yelled at a lot. I know you feel bad, but I think you’re reading too much into it when you take something like not wanting you to drive in the snow personally. My mother is the same way — it has nothing to do with an assessment of your skills; it’s just…concern for you.

    I mean…all I can tell you is that I’m pretty sensitive to belittling, both of myself and on other people’s behalf, and none of this sounds like he’s belittling you. When I put that together with the fact that everything is kind of out of context (I have no idea what led to the comment about fixing cars, for instance) and the fact that you anticipated a lot of reactions I didn’t have (when you said you knew he sounded like a sexist, I have to admit I was…not there), it makes me think that a lot of this is about, as Sarah said, not taking everything quite so much to heart.

    While I agree that vulnerabilities shouldn’t be filed away to be used *against* you, there’s a difference between using it against you and knowing it about you. If you’ve spent a lot of time telling him how hard it is for you to focus (for example), then the fact that he might, while talking to you about classes, remind you that you often say you have trouble focusing is not belittling. It’s just…knowing you well enough to give you good advice, you know what I mean? No, people shouldn’t take your weaknesses and throw them in your face, but people who care about you are going to take what they know about you and what you’ve told them about you into account when they talk to you, and asking them to ignore that and just go on whatever you say right this minute is unrealistic, I think.

    I don’t mean to dismiss your feelings, which are obviously genuine, but I don’t think this is a situation where trying to make your point by glaring at him and so forth is the most effective option you have.

  • JanBrady says:

    Plan, my friend had us to her family’s cabin last summer for three days to celebrate another friend’s birthday, and we agreed in advance via e-mail to go grocery shopping the first day there to stock up the house. We split the cost of the groceries. The birthday girl requested Asian food one night, so she printed out some recipes she thought we could make (I volunteered to make my first ribs, and they were delicious!). Another meal, the boys grilled while the girls made side salads. Those who couldn’t cook were happy to help out where they could, and we all pitched in to clean at the end of the weekend. We kept things like chips, cold cuts, bread, and bagels around for munching when no one felt like making full meals. Much fun was had by all.

    Maybe it was easier because the birthday girl wasn’t the cabin host, but we all saw the birthday as being the happy excuse to have a weekend away, and we were all too happy to pitch in to make the weekend go smoothly. Making these arrangements clear beforehand definitely helped (plus having good people who don’t mind taking out the trash or doing some dishes). Have a great time!

  • JS says:

    I have some friends who have a house in the mountains, and they open it for weekend house parties a few times a year. The expectation is that each person supplies enough food/booze for at least one person, and then it’s okay to share from there, especially because it’s almost impossible to bring just three days’ worth of food (one person does not eat one loaf of bread in 3 days, but you can’t buy just 6 slices. So, I might not bring a loaf of bread — I’ll just steal a few slices of someone else’s. In return, someone who didn’t bring any chips will help himself to some of my can of fat-free Pringles). As the female half of the couple said, “If you bring enough food for yourself, I don’t care if you don’t eat ANY of it.”

    We fix our own meals and share, and then at least once over the weekend we usually have a big group meal (kabobs, fajitas, etc) that everyone pitches in to help prepare. Everyone also knows that the expectation is that you’ll help with cleanup when we close the house after the weekend, and that you’ll be asked to carry out at least two bags of trash (it’s remote enough that there’s no trash service).

    I cannot imagine being invited to a house for a weekend birthday party and then letting the birthday girl wait on me. I am a huge believer that you do not invite guests anywhere and them make them pay, but in this kind of informal situation, I’d think you’ve done your “hosting” job by supplying the comfortable house and extending the invitation for everyone to come and party and “fellowship,” as my mom calls it. If you want to fix one big meal for everyone, that would be lovely (“don’t make food plans for Saturday night; I’m making lasagna for everyone”), but no way would I let you flip pancakes for me every morning and fry chicken for me every evening.

    In your shoes, I’d DEFINITELY start dropping the hint that meals are now a shared experience. Perhaps in the invitation you can say, “What type of food would you like to supply?” If you’re not comfortable with that, you can step down to it by A) accepting without hesitation when people offer to help (“sure, I’d love a hand.”), and concurrently B) gradually assigning people jobs (“sweetie, can you get the brownies going?”). Get people in the habit of not letting you do all the work.

  • Melanie says:

    @Cape I’ve been getting some feedback from my best friend that I basically do the same thing to her that your boyfriend does to you. With similar results, such as the occasional blow-up, the belief that deep down I think she’s an idiot, etc. So, from the boyfriend’s perspective, I would say that he’s speaking out of love/respect, and is maybe just not saying it exactly right. There also may be a little jealousy there, or even a sense of emasculation, since you’re maybe doing better than him at school. Which is his problem and something he needs to deal with. However, I have to agree with Sars that letting him get to you is only exacerbating the problem, and that if you stop taking it so seriously, it will become less of a problem. You’re being overly sensitive, and he’s being obtuse. Discuss it calmly and rationally, understanding that you both have room for improvement. Meanwhile, I’ll try to be more aware of when I’m unintentionally condescending my friend. Thanks for another life lesson, Nation!

  • Philomena says:

    Arrived–it sounds like the only mistake you made here was in overestimating your tolerance for your brother’s company–understandable after a 2-year hiatus. Next year you’ll know better and you’ll be able to set some reasonable expectations for family togetherness up front while hopefully reserving some Amy-only time. Congratulate yourself on keeping it together the way you did and start making some plans for next year.

    Capable– I’m wondering if your boyfriend’s comments are in some way his attempt to keep things chill and head off drama so he doesn’t feel like he has to fix things. Some people deal with stress by having brief freakouts and then they’re OK. However, the people they freak out ON often don’t realize that they’re just venting and feel obligated to fix things or keep it from happening again. And then they feel like they’re being put upon and dealing with someone very high maintenance, when actually all they needed to do was say “Rats! That sounds very stressful!” and let their friend get on with things. If this is the way you deal with stress, you need to be very clear when you’re asking him for actual help and when you just need a few minutes to vent prior to getting your shit together and dealing with the problem.

    I agree that the best way to get someone to see you as calm and capable is to act like you’re calm and capable. And if you do tend to wig out in stressful situations, this is something you can work on. On the other hand, not everyone is a cool cucumber and it seems a little hard on you to just be like “OK, just be a lot more calm and capable!” if that’s not actually your personality. So if your coping style includes venting, explaining to your boyfriend what’s going on and what you actually need from him will go a long way.

    Finally, I agree with Sars that just because he doesn’t think you can focus for 4 hours at a time (and come on, NOBODY pays laserlike attention for the whole session during these things) or drive in the snow doesn’t mean you can’t say “Well, I’m pretty sure I can” and then go do them.

  • Kate says:


    We have great friends who rent a house on the Jersey Shore every year. They send out an email to all their friends (whom they want to come) and tell them the number of beds/sleeping spots available and the dates.

    They set up a Wiki page with the specific # of beds, a list of all meals needed, and a list of other items that might be needed at the house (i.e. who is bringing the liquor).

    Everyone picks out the bed they want (last one gets the sofa-bed or floor) and indicates it on the Wiki until there are no more beds left. Because it’s a week rental some people only come for one weekend and some only come for the other weekend. Everyone pitches in on meals, everyone brings their booze of choice (this year we ended up with a ton of leftover tequilla but we kept needing to run out to buy Vodka). Everyone takes a meal or another chore (I hate cooking but cleaned the kitchen routinely and bought booze). By the time everyone is in their late 20s there should be some idea of manners and people should volunteer to pitch in. If they don’t pitch in, then they don’t get put on the invite list the next year. Works very well.

  • Cath says:

    Plan: Invite your top 12. Anyone not on the list who makes a comment about being interested, mention that you had more RSVPs than expected and direct them to a nearby hotel with an invitation to join all of your festivities.

    Once your guest list is finalized, start an email discussion and nail down the menu beforehand. Tell everyone that you want to make sure you don’t waste any food and prepare a shopping list with reusable ingredients. People will most likely start mentioning dishes they’d like to create. They sound like close friends, and close friends don’t stand on ceremony. So just tell them that everyone prepares at least one dish, and this way you won’t get 12 pineapple upside down cakes.

  • attica says:

    Arrived: I wonder if there’s a chance you could stay elswhere besides the cottage during Amy & George’s visits.

    Even if it’s tradition for everyone to be all together under one roof, it might make it more pleasant for you if you stayed at a nearby hotel instead. This technique has permitted me to visit with disliked relatives and keep my sanity. Yes, it’s a budget issue, but advance planning will make it doable.

    And for all the noises people might make about you staying elsewhere, as if it’s offending, it’s not. Furthermore, they will likely be relieved by the daily break as well –even if they’re not aware of it. People breathe differently with other people underfoot. Even when the visit is cherished, the space will be appreciated.

  • Kari says:

    Plan: I’m not sure if you are concerned about bringing up the idea of having everyone share the cost of food, especially with many people who have come before and may expect that things will be the same as previous years… but I think it would be easy to say that, due to the economy, it would be great if everyone could bring a dish to share, etc… Everyone understands, and it makes an easy way to bring it up. Also, I LOVE the idea from Kate about a wiki page for the party/menu! I have also sent evites, and asked people to state what they’ll bring in their rsvp. Hope you have a great birthday, sounds like a fantastic way to celebrate. :)

  • Liz C says:

    On a lighter note, my takeaway message from this edition of the Vine is: vacation cottages are a potential minefield of family and friend issues. Phew, I’m so glad I don’t have a vacation cottage… at the beach… with room for 5+ people… who would bring tequila. Sigh.

  • Lucrezia says:

    In regards to Capable, I think Linda may have a point in that while I stand by what I wrote earlier about how it can feel to be on the recieving end of that kind of behavior, I don’t think it comes from an uncaring place. I’m sure he is trying to be supportive and loving. Still, I think helping someone push their barriers is more supportive than telling them they can’t do it, and that it is very demoralizing to believe you are perfectly capable of something and to have the person closest to you tell you you’re not. So I don’t think a certain level of irritation at that behavior is out of line either.

  • Jane says:

    To arrived :

    I have a variation on this issue. Briefly, a situation got out of hand three years ago and to sum up..communication was cut between my younger brother , his wife and me.

    After the angst and so forth , I realized that I was allowing people to judge me based on the entitlement factor of being family.

    Once I removed the family idea and simply asked I really like this person or want to allow this in my life, I decided

    Tough , indeed.

    Can I live my life bet.

    If you removed the family requirement from the idea of George, how would you feel about him as a person ?

    Best of luck with it .

  • Bea says:

    Plan ~ we take a big family vacation (about 12-15 adults and a couple of kids) every few years and like a lot of the commenters, we all take turns cooking dinner. For breakfast and lunch, we just get cereal or pastries and sandwich stuff and everyone eats when they get up/get hungry.

    Now for dinners, my mom sends around an email ahead of time, asking everyone to pick one night to cook dinner. You can pair up in any configuration you like and supply the food for your meal. Everyone in my family likes to cook though, so we have a blast with it. We pick a theme for each night and make appetizers and a themed cocktail to go around with it. This year, we posted a little sign on the refrigerator each day so everyone would know and anticipate dinner. (Yes, we’re dorks, but FUN dorks!) And then whoever didn’t cook trades off cleaning up. It’s a system that as served us well through several years and several different configurations of family. (Non-cooks could certainly provide pizza or takeout seafood, or whatever.)

  • Linda says:

    “Still, I think helping someone push their barriers is more supportive than telling them they can’t do it, and that it is very demoralizing to believe you are perfectly capable of something and to have the person closest to you tell you you’re not.”

    I agree. And because that’s what she said he was doing, I looked carefully for where he told her she couldn’t do something. I just don’t see it. The snow thing has nothing to do with anyone’s abilities, and the retail comment, as she described it, sounded more to me like “I don’t think you know what it involves, and I don’t think you’d want to do it if you did,” and nothing like “I don’t think you can handle working at Target,” which is the conclusion she reached. I don’t know why he said the thing about cars or was concerned about the seminar, because for both of those, she provides no context about what kind of conversation it was or whether she asked him what he thought, both of which are kind of important.

    The problem, as I said, is context. I think there’s just…there’s a very fine line between not wanting someone to tell you that you can’t do something and wanting to be able to complain repeatedly about the same thing (or get all upset about the same thing) without the person you’re complaining to ever being allowed to suggest you do something different.

    I just…I am sympathetic, but when you freak out or get upset about something, you change the way any rational person is going to look at the odds that you will get upset about it again. Put it this way: if every time we go to the movies, you get vertigo and complain the whole time, eventually I’m going to tell you I don’t think we ought to go anymore, and for you to sit there and say, “If I say I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine, and you should support me,” that’s not asking me to support you, really. It’s asking me to ignore things I know are probably true. You can ask me to support you if you decide you are determined to go, but you can’t claim I’ve insulted you by suggesting it might be smarter to stay home. I actually think barrier-pushing is highly overrated, in that it can be just as loving to help people accept their own limitations and learn how to work around them.

    I just…I basically throw out the snow thing, and I throw out the retail thing (because as I said, that sounds more like “I doubt you’d like it” than “I doubt you’d be any good at it”), which leaves just the seminar thing, which…you know, it depends on what he said. The fact that he doesn’t think she should take hours-long classes is his opinion. Sure, he could just be a dick, but it could also be based on years of experience talking her down when she complains that she can’t focus through a two-hour class. As for the cars, again, without knowing why that came up, there’s no way to know whether he’s telling her she can’t do it or just assuring her that if she doesn’t know anything about cars, he doesn’t care.

    All I’m saying is, before I advised anyone to employ sarcasm and snappishness to make a point, I’d want to make sure she was actually going to make a valid point rather than driving a potentially good guy out the door. I feel like talking to him about how she feels is much safer.

  • Lucrezia says:

    “All I’m saying is, before I advised anyone to employ sarcasm and snappishness to make a point, I’d want to make sure she was actually going to make a valid point rather than driving a potentially good guy out the door. I feel like talking to him about how she feels is much safer.” I won’t argue with that :-). Though I don’t necessarily think it needs to be snappish – I’m thinking of it more in the spirit of the being refered to as “Dad” and an eye roll comment that Sars made. And I’ll agree that without more context, and knowing what tone he used and what things she’s said to him, that probably any suggestion anyone gives will be somewhat projecting their own experiences.
    I’ve reread the original letter and, trying to look at it very dispassionately, the first few comments she described could be seen as having been meant innocently and I agree that she might have reacted to what she interpreted and not what he meant. However, I do think commenting that she doesn’t know what a retail environment entails when she has worked in one before would bother me no matter what the context. We all “pout” to our loved ones sometimes, even if we call it something different. Again though, not having heard the entire conversation it is hard to know whether she is being overly sensitive or whether he is truly underestimating her.
    Either way, I think having these different perspectives expressed here shows that we as people can’t read each others minds and while he may have seen things one way and it may be his way of being supportive, she did not feel supported. And that’s something they really need to talk about because he might be a great guy but if she feels demeaned and unhappy it is something they need to deal with if they stay together. And I just realized how long this comment is, so that’s probably it for me on this topic lol.

  • Liz says:

    @Linda: the working-retail thing is the one that sounds the most legitimately dismissive/condescending to me, actually. The other things, you’re right, without more context it’s hard to say whether they’re closer to “Don’t worry about it, you don’t have to be good at everything” (mostly sweet) or “I’m worried about you doing that” (sometimes sweet, sometimes annoying) or “Don’t be ridiculous, you can’t do that” (obnoxious), but… she worked in retail. For three years. She knows what that kind of job involves, and saying “I don’t think you know what that kind of job involves, and if you did you’d know you don’t really want to do it” is an awful lot like saying “I’ve decided that I know more about your experiences, knowledge, and desires than you do.”

  • Margle says:

    Just wanted to say a quick thanks, Sars. I often come away with some advice that’s helpful and personal to me after reading The Vine. This week, my GOD, I needed this one:

    “I know you love the guy, but you don’t actually have to believe, agree with, or even care about every single thing he thinks about you.”

  • Jacq says:

    Regarding the first letter: you’re totally right that you have no obligation to like your brother, but I think you and Amy are being unrealistic if you think you can maintain a close friendship when she’s married to him and you don’t want to see him.

    Regarding the second letter: not to justify your boyfriend’s behaviour in general terms, but if you don’t want somebody to freak out about you driving in a snowstorm, for example, don’t give them the ammunition by freaking out about it yourself. If you’ve behaved in a way which makes it seem like your can’t handle something, it’s probably not that surprising that he would remember that and assume that you couldn’t handle it. You can just put him straight by making a ‘yep, I freaked out about it that time, but I know I’ve got to do it and I’m sure that I’ll be fine’. If you project an air of confidence and competence it might make him realise that you’re not the victim he seems to think that you might be.

  • Andrea says:


    Yeah I kind of agree with you. I know we don’t have enough context to see if this guy is really demeaning her or just living within the confines of what she’s historically presented. But your POV and explanation reminds me of my ex.

    He has a lot of limitations in terms of life and coping. He can be very intelligent and capable but he hits certain walls again and again and the results are very drama-filled and can spiral into bad things. I’ve known him for 7 years and have seen a lot of this very close up and have come to know very well how his mind works. He talks to me about things and I suppose I behave much like Cape’s guy, trying to steer his thinking into realms that are in line with what he’s shown himself capable of.

    I know it sounds like I’m treating him like a child. But I’ve been there for the fallout of every bad decision. Whenever he ignores my advice on these things, it tends to blow up in his face and he admits I knew what I was talking about. I have no agenda of keeping him down or belittling him or diminishing his confidence. All I’m trying to do is protect him from situations he’s shown a lack of ability to cope with.

    Bad role for me to take, I realize now. But I’m just saying from the perspective of someone like Cape’s SO, it’s often just a desire to protect someone from things we’ve seen them blow up about/fail at in the past, to sometimes messy results.

  • Krissa says:

    I live with my best friend – we sometimes function like two old crazy cat ladies / a married couple. I have a tendency to…emote…stronger than she does. I finally had to just tell her, earnestly, that I needed her encouragement, not for her to “fix” things if I was having a bit of a moment. We almost immediately stopped arguing about these kinds of things, but it did take me acknowleging that I also needed to cool it sometimes when things really weren’t worth a freak out. Basically, we both had to grow a little.

  • Cath says:

    About the Cape situation, I’m not sure it matters if it’s coming from a nice place or a belittling place, or if she’s overly sensitive or not; when you tell your loved one that something hurts your feelings, the behavior should change, even if it’s an overreaction on your part. I’ve had success in showing the other person their own behavior: if you’re stuck in rush hour traffic and he gets huffy, grab the keys from his hand the next time and tell him you don’t think he can handle driving in traffic, a few minutes later, quietly point out to him that you don’t mean that, but you’d like him to see what you mean when you tell him that you hate it when he thinks you’re unable to do things just because you vent about them.

  • Jacq says:

    I’ve just re-read my last comment, spotted several typos and words that I should have written but accidentally left out of sentences, and would like to reassure everybody that I’m not actually drunk…

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Jacq: Why not? It’s 5 PM somewhere. GET IN THE GAME.

    (What do you mean “too much coffee”?!)

    I agree that there’s a lot we weren’t told in Cape’s letter. The retail comment in particular is hard to chalk up to simple cluelessness, IF he knows that she worked retail for three years and was EotM. That just reads as Captain Condescendo to me. It seems more likely that he DOESN’T know that, but: why wouldn’t he know that, in a relationship of this duration?

    If we select that instance out, though, I still think her best bet is to train herself not to care quite so much that he does this, and see what happens. It doesn’t apply to every situation or interaction, obviously, but subtracting the “now, don’t freak out, but…”/”WHY WOULD YOU THINK I’D FREAK OUT” conversational dyad from one’s life is seldom a mistake. Sometimes, the things people say to you, about you, are really about them, and like I said, you can’t take everything to heart and keep it there.

  • Ash says:

    @Arrived: I echo Sars, Jane’s and Jacq’s thoughts. I wanted to add that you aren’t alone and perhaps some of the reason why you still feel so horrible is that a part of you feels at fault for not liking your sibling. And those feelings of guilt are because you feel you aren’t fitting into what we are trained to believe is the ‘norm’. Which is, all families are warm, loving, nurturing units of comfort and cocoa. And everyone likes each other-even when they ‘pretend’ they don’t. Didn’t you know gosh darnit?! Cue in some Hallmark theme.

    I think this mythology really took off when television did. Dysfunction is used for either comedy or Drama (with a capital ‘D’!!) to illustrate “this is not how things work in the real world!!”. Somehow it has seeped into all of our consciences of how things ‘should’ work. It’s a distortion. Look at history, books etc and…hello. It don’t work that way. It’s not the norm. I’d say it’s a bit of a crap shoot-you have a 50/50 chance of it going by the warm and fuzzies, or going the other.

    Family members certainly have a longer rope in which to hang themselves with compared to non-family people but boundaries are boundaries. Relationships are two way streets, even with family. If people have close relationships with their families that is truly wonderful. It’s just not fair that if you don’t you are treated a bit like a freak. Until you get older and people start to get some life experience under the belt.

    It seems your dislike of your brother stems from the fact he doesn’t invest anything in having a relationship with you. Makes no effort. It took me a long time to realise this was what was happening with my own sister. I spent years trying to be ‘closer’ to her, blaming myself for the lack of relationship we had. Waking up each day hoping she had changed. Eventually things became so clear even I could see that I was the only one making the effort and having my heart repeatedly broken in the process. Don’t get me wrong, I went through a real grieving process over this-it’s hard to let go, this ideal. In some ways, because it wasn’t ever real, it made it harder. It was tough. But once I reached acceptance for how things really were as opposed to how I wished things could or should be, my life improved immensely for me. Chasing the fantasy wasted time and energy which only ended up hurting me.

    It took longer for other family members and friends to catch on. But many years later, even they see it was the right thing to do and they themselves have had to make their own ‘adjustments’ with their relationship with her. A strange sort of validation but truth does win out. We get together every couple of months, have a pleasant evening and that’s it. I’ll always be open to having that close relationship with her but until she wants it herself, there is no point flogging a dead horse.

    I only share my story so that you see that you aren’t alone. By any stretch. I know PLENTY of people in this same boat. Don’t feel badly about where you are at. It sounds like you are simply after truthful relationships, genuine connections. There isn’t anything wrong with that. It’s sad that is not with your brother but that’s all it is. Sad. And his loss. There isn’t anything else to be read into it, about you or your family.

  • RJ says:

    Arrived: I agree with everyone here. You did nothing wrong and nothing to feel guilty about. You DID do what you needed to do for your own sanity, and you did it very graciously. Please stop beating yourself up – or at least try, as Sars said. You did okay!!!

    Capable: I can see how that would annoy you. But it also kind of sounds like he’s trying to be supportive, but instead ends up rubbing you the wrong way. One thing I’ve always heard about men in relationships (generally speaking of course) – women need someone to listen, while men are always trying to “fix” things, and offer solutions. I agree with those here who suggest that you talk to your b/f, calmly, when you’re not completely stressed with exams and things. If you scream it at him, he won’t hear anything but the sound of your voice – but if you talk to him, explain it to him, he’ll at least have a chance to listen to you and maybe try to adjust the way he responds to what you tell him.

    Best to you!

  • Linda says:

    “when you tell your loved one that something hurts your feelings, the behavior should change, even if it’s an overreaction on your part”

    Would this apply if I said to a guy, “I don’t like it that you have women friends; it hurts my feelings”? That behavior should change, simply because it hurts my feelings? I believe that people who love you should care about your feelings; I don’t think it’s at all fair to assume you’re entitled to whatever changes in behavior you say are required to make you feel better.

    I’ll drop it at this point, because I think we just don’t have enough information to draw any firm conclusions. All I’m saying is that I strongly disagree with her proclamation that this is HIS problem and is not at all HER problem, and while it’s just a guess, I think if she tries the glares and the eye-rolling comments, the guy is going to walk. I would.

  • Ash says:

    I should add that when I say “we get together” I meant the entire family. I don’t see my sister on her own. Personal communication is very infrequent and short, every few weeks, if that. And yes, writing all of this was difficult. The thought “my sister hasn’t a clue about me, what I do, anything…isn’t that weird?” did go through my head after YEARS of having dealt with this! It’s all just one big ol’ learning process isn’t it?

  • Cape says:

    Thank you, everyone, for being so gentle. I’ve never been so terrified in my whole life as when I recognized my own letter.

    The rough patch I was going through with my guy had a lot of factors involved in it; I was at an extremely insecure point, and he was, for the most part, really trying to make things easier on me by downplaying the importance of things, or by gently trying to help me accept my limitations. This can be a real problem for me because I’m trying to be Superwoman all the time. I didn’t always take his breeziness in the best way–because I thought I HAD to be Superwoman, dammit, and if he didn’t think I was, then I couldn’t be–and that pressure made me super-intense all the time (as Sars shrewdly pointed out). And it’s absolutely not his fault if he expects a freak-out in the exact same instance where he’s seen one before. Logically, I know all this.

    This is all stuff I’m working on now, with a therapist, but all the same, reading all these comments has been truly helpful, so I offer everyone, especially Sars, a sincere thank-you.

  • Linda says:

    Ah! Cape. I exactly hoped you would show up and say exactly that, because it seemed entirely and completely solvable, since you were obviously not a jerk and it didn’t sound like your BF was either. Rock on.

  • tabernacle says:

    @Arrived: I empathize. And it does sound to me like you did everything you could.

  • Leia says:

    @Plan My friends have met for weekends at cabins, etc and we usually plan for people to bring meals. It can be complex or simple. People can pair up if they’re short of funds. If someone is super picky than they can scrounge up their own meal. Some times people bring extra snacks or extra beverages instead of a full meal (or if we have more people than meals). If someone can’t bring a meal due to travel or time constraints , they fund someone else’s fancier meal. It usually works out. We do this via email or message board. Sometimes there are slackers that don’t even make up for it by doing dishes, etc, but let’s face it, that’s life. Often these show up as people who were invited along. If you’re making the guest list, this is less likely to happen.

    In summary, if I spent the weekend somewhere, I wouldn’t be put out by bringing a meal (or contributing money) unless there were some sort of crazy rules applied for it like having to cook for a variety of special dietary needs or meeting some minimum fancy-quotient.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    Capable, the one thing that seems to me to be LEAST able to be taken in a good way is your SO’s “I really didn’t want to work in retail anyway, because it’s so fast-paced and so much happens at once, and he didn’t think that I really had a realistic idea about what those kind of jobs entailed.”

    You say that you had done three years in retail BEFORE you met him, and two years in fast food BEFORE THAT. Is it possible … that either you never told him about your retail background? Or that you told him about it once or twice, but long enough ago that he’s forgotten, because, well, sometimes people do forget. Or weren’t paying as much attention to what you were saying as they were to the moonlight in your hair. Or the sports score on television, whatever. I mean, I’ve had jobs in my past that I don’t expect my SO to know about, because, eh, it was a job. Although I would mention my employee-of-the-month equivalent, because, honestly, that rocks. I would say, at the very least, it merits a calm, “Hon, have you forgotten the three years I worked in retail? And the two years in fast food?” Then either he antes up an embarrassed “…Oh. Yeah. Right. Oops!” or he says “You never told me!” and depending on whether or not you did, you can do the Yes I Did No You Didn’t dance for a while, until you get tired of it.

    From what you’ve written, it sounds as if at least two out of the three instances are Worry/Supportive generic; most of us don’t want the people we care about driving in the snow, and the feeling is mutual. The fixing cars crack … eh, it IS a little 1957. I don’t know how to fix cars, as a matter of fact, but the “I don’t expect you to know how to fix cars” does have a certain head-patting dismissiveness to it. But if he grew up with drama, and you present the things that annoy you in a dramatic manner, it would not be surprising if a) that is how he thinks of you, because that is what he sees and hears; and b) he internalizes and transforms what you are doing or saying to what he saw or heard growing up. There are a lot of us out there with baggage, and often our SOs have baggage, too. A calm “What you heard is not what I said” can help. So can letting your SO know that you need to vent, and don’t expect him to do anything about it, except listen, or say “there, there” at appropriate intervals. I do think he needs to hear more calm responses from you, though, spiking his remarks about How You Can’t. A response of “I’m in graduate school. Why do you think I can’t manage a four-hour seminar?” so that he actually has to TELL YOU why he thinks what he thinks, and says what he says. If he says that the ADD is why he thinks you can’t (anything), point out that you have always had the ADD and are nonetheless in graduate school, so WHY DOES HE THINK YOU CAN’T MANAGE A FOUR-HOUR SEMINAR??? Either he’s really not thinking through what he says, and his comments to you are based on that … or he’s trying to control you. Which do YOU think is most likely, based on the way he treats you ordinarily?

  • Tanpopo says:

    @Capable My husband can sometimes do the same thing where he questions what I want to do because he has seen me get overwhelmed or freak out before. Since sometimes I can bite off more then I can chew I take it as a chance to reevaluate my plans. For instance if he says, “Driving through the snow that far seems kind of dangerous since you don’t usually do well driving in the snow.”
    I would try and evaluate if it was necessary for me to go and if there was something that I could do to make it safer like taking my cell phone or a different route. He doesn’t take it personally when I don’t take his advice and I think he sees it as making sure that I have thought about all the options and consequences when I am making decisions.
    I think where your boyfriend becomes unsupportive is if after he gives his advice and you consider and reject it because you know more about the situation (like the retail job) does he accept your decision as an equal adult? If he does then I think you should not worry about it to much as it shows his love and concern for you, but if he does not respect your decisions then he sounds like a condescending jerk.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    LaBella says “A calm “What you heard is not what I said” can help.” and that is totally true with most people.
    I know calling my ex “Captain Condescendo” every f’ing time did not make one whit of difference. He STILL thinks he knows better, but now he can do it all by himself. (Sars, I can’t tell you how hard I laughed when I saw that you had written his “pet name” here!)
    I’m glad you’re doing better, Cape. Thanks for letting us know!

  • Diane says:


    Apropos of nothing but my desire to throw in a few keystrokes of my own, JUST TODAY I read an article about Wilt Chamberlain, discussing his “20,000 women” stat. Someone who knew him well explained that his promiscuity was born of the fact that he needed to be Superman. And you can’t be married and be Superman. He apparently knew that “to be with one woman a thousand times” rather than to be with a thousand women was more rewarding – but understood that he wasn’t … erm, equipped (you should pardon the pun) to reciprocate on that kind of reward, and so took another (self-admittedly, apparently) extreme route.

  • Isis Uptown says:

    My husband and I were once talking about Wilt Chamberlain, and his “20,000 women.” I joked that, were that even half-true, isn’t it ironic that he was named “Wilt.”

  • amy says:

    I am constantly telling my husband “what you heard is not what I said” because he hears things all tied up in the trauma of his really-really-bad past (both childhood and previous marriage were abusive and dysfunctional). Admittedly, I’m not always the most sensitive or thoughtful when I do say things but I can tell you, it’s really hard to have to think about EVERYTHING you say because the other person may hear something that’s not even remotely related. Sometimes it feels like I say “Hey, it’s a beautiful sunny day!” and he goes off the deep end because he hears “You are a worthless piece of snot and now I am going to hit you” — or something along those lines.

    Oh, hello, off topic? Yeah. Sorry.

  • autiger23 says:

    ‘Also, I LOVE the idea from Kate about a wiki page for the party/menu!’

    I second that. Kate, your friends are awesome for that idea. I think I’m going to start using it with parties I have to plan. Makes it easy for everyone to see what everyone else is bringing.

  • Cyntada says:

    @Cape: Glad things are better and you’re working it out with a pro. Always good to have an experienced hand to help you find the balance.

    The first thing you related (“I don’t expect you to know about things like fixing cars. You’re smart in OTHER ways.”) gave me two reactions:

    Reaction #1: Oy, how condescending! How annoying!!! No wonder you’ve been peeved. In principle, very upsetting.

    Reaction #2: Brought out my rant about exactly why I just refuse to fix cars, other than tending to basics like topping off fluids:
    “I already fix computers, unclog dishwashers, de-leak refrigerators, de-barf rugs when the cat has a moment, magically restore stained clothing, hang shelving, replace door locksets, carry packages that even the UPS guy won’t lift without mechanical help, and so on and so forth, all day long. I do not need another learning curve! Somebody else can fix the damn car!!”

    Relevance to the topic, if he decides that fixing cars should not be your bailiwick… rejoice! Smile and go read an unassigned book while *he* crawls under there and bonks his head on something.

    @amy: I feel you. Similar situation, similar experience. I wonder if traumatized people don’t ever really hear what others actually say. I think they only hear their own reactions (to whatever-it-was that passed through their heads and ruffled their experiences.) It’s beautiful once in a while… and most of the time, just plain exhausting. Your patience means everything to him, I bet… most people wouldn’t last five minutes with that kind of craziness. Bless you for that!

  • Arrived says:

    I almost fell off my chair when I saw my letter on the Vine! Thank you so much to everyone for all the advice and support- it is much appreciated. You’re all right- I really must just accept the fact that my brother and I don’t get along and plan accordingly. Thanks again.

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