Dear Advice Sister Alison: My younger brother and I both live in Boston. We don’t see each other all that often, but until now, I thought we had a decent relationship. When I first moved to Boston and “Joe” was still in college, I arranged an internship for him. He stayed with me for a few weeks. When he graduated and wanted to move to Boston for good, I helped him find a job. He stayed with my wife and I until he found a place of his own. We helped him furnish it with many of our own pieces (which he still has), because he didn’t have any money. Later, when he started his own business, we gave him thousands of dollars as a no-interest loan, to get that off the ground. We have always been generous. I have never asked for, nor wanted, anything in return. However, recently, my wife and I (and our two cats) were in a situation where we needed a place to stay for two weeks. As luck would have it, my brother and his family were planning a vacation. Since they needed someone to feed their cat, water the plants, and take in the mail anyway, it seemed like a good plan to stay at his place. I was surprised when he wasn’t really enthusiastic about it, however. His main objection seemed to be that his cat wouldn’t get along with our two. His cat is wild and unsocialized , while ours are docile and friendly. While we expected a few days of territorial hissing while the cats sussed each other out, we felt confident that soon they would find their own spaces (which they have). However, from the moment we arrived, we began getting emails from my brother insisting upon status reports on his cat. He never asked how we were doing, if we needed anything, or how our cats were faring. No matter what we said, he became increasingly agitated, insisting that it was unacceptable for his cat to be a”stressed out” cat. Finally, on just day two, he demanded that ours be locked up for the two weeks (or boarded) so his cat could be “free to roam.” It would be cruel to lock any animal in a room for weeks, and we were shocked that he’d even suggest it. We gently tried to point out that two days is a nano-second to cats and that all would be well, but Joe was unrelenting. The bottom line was that we would have to lock our cats up in a small room, or board them ( at great expense, and they’ve never been in a cage), or leave. We (the humans) clearly were not welcome there, either. As I write this, we are packing up to leave. That will mean a four hour commute each day from the only other place I can stay. Don’t suggest a hotel because none in our area allow cats (pet friendly is pretty much a myth) and two weeks in a Boston hotel will run thousands of dollars. Needless to say, I am shocked, dismayed, and angry. After all we have done for my brother, don’t I have a right to be furious? Frankly, I”m not planning to speak to him ever again. Your thoughts? “Bummed Out in Boston”
This is a tough one. You can “unfriend” a friend, but you can’t delete a family member. And “forever” is a really, really long time. I am tempted, first, to say that no matter how angry you are the moment, the initial, sharp, intense feelings will pass. While you are this upset and angry, you can’t think clearly.
There is an old saying: “neither a lender, nor a borrower be.” We are socialized to be kind and generous, but there always seems to be a catch. There are no guaranteed “bonus points” for being a decent human being, but it does help you sleep better at night.You can’t give freely if you expect something back in return. Never do a kindness expecting that it will get bonus points, or something else you want or need. If you expect it, you will be disappointed.
Life is complicated. Sometimes you end up in a situation that leaves you few options. In this case, you have only two choices: stay and suffer the bad juju (and be unkind to animals), or leave and suffer, yourself. But the thing that is really making you suffer is the busted trust you had in your brother. It may seem natural that for all your kindness over the years, your brother would gladly offer you the one thing he had that you didn’t; a very temporary place to stay. By staying, it might seem that you are doing him a favor too, by feeding his cats, watering his plants, taking in his mail, and watching his apartment. But that’s seeing it just from your point of view. Maybe he doesn’t like your wife and your cats very much, or maybe he just didn’t want someone else sleeping in his bed (some people are very fussy about these things). From what you wrote, he knows he has a wacked out cat and no matter what you tell him, he is fearing some kind of bloodshed! It also appears that your relationship has been one sided, with you, the older brother doing all the “giving.” Over time, that’s what he has come to expect — one sided generousity that he never has to repay. Seeking sanctuary elsewhere should have occurred to you when you saw he was reluctant to have you stay when you first discussed it. But now, the ones to feel sorry for are the cats, who cannot possibly help being in this tense situation. I agree that your cats should not be imprisoned just because your brother feels justified in demanding it, but that appears to be what he expected all along, and you didn’t get the memo.
Even if it is massively inconvenient, I would leave. You’ll be sleep deprived and crabby for a time, but at least you won’t be sleep deprived and crabby somewhere that you’re not welcome. As to his cat, is there a neighbor or friend who could feed the pitiful little creature when you flee? If not, you must stay and fulfill your obligations. Continue to assure him that all is well, but as soon as you can get someone to handle the cat, run! And while you are stuck there, spend as little time as you can there. And don’t be a jerk when you go (since your brother is already filling that role so nicely). Clean the place up, grab your gear, and feel relief as you walk away.
After you’ve shut off the lights, locked the doors, and put the key in the mailbox, let some time pass and think about how things have played out. Have you really been that wonderful all these years or does your brother resent your success? Is there another person, place or thing putting pressure on him that might have caused him to respond as he did, or is he just truly uncaring? No one is perfect all the time.
Time does heal a lot of wounds. Do you want to start a family feud and find yourself eating Christmas dinner in a diner, instead of with your family? No one is perfect and sometimes we all act stupidly. Eventually, you may want to forgive, unless you’d rather have no brother at all.
To My Readers: The Advice Sisters are known for bringing the advice/into-tainment genre online and once again. I am opening up the Advice Sisters Website to reader questions. Send yours to: advicesisters at advicesisters dot net. Bit for everyone’s sake, kindly use a nickname and change the situation enough to protect yourself and others (I don’t want to invite lawsuits, although I do want to help)! You are also welcome to comment on the questions we post like the one above. Take a moment to be an advice giver, and tell me how YOU would handle it. Who hasn’t had a sibling who has disappointed them in some way? Please share your thoughts in the comments section, below.