I Can’t Make You Love Me, So Why Am I Here?

Photo by Lutz-R. Frank via Flickr

I don’t consider myself a saccharine person, but one thing I wouldn’t mind having a little bit sweeter is my family. We get together on holidays and birthdays, but there’s always a lot of dead air. Dead air, as in someone just sucked all the oxygen out of the room, leaving only panicked expressions on our faces.

It doesn’t help that my family has dwindled down to around ten people. Here’s a social math rule: the more people there are to spread out an awkward situation, the less awkward it becomes for each individual.

I love my family and appreciate the time we have together, even if it’s not what I always hoped I would have. Still, I was never able to get past my older brother’s aloofness. We’re six years apart, and we had what I’d describe as a less-than-average childhood. We both made it through extreme medical crises, but not even those brought us any closer. Now that we’re adults, I still don’t understand why he doesn’t want to associate with me.

I’ve tried joking with him, engaging him in conversation, and even asking his girlfriend to hang out. I got what could be best described as robotic replies, blank stares, and insincere offers of help when I need it. At his wedding, I hugged him and told him I loved him… to which he replied, “I know.”

You know?!

“You know” things like you need to eat your vegetables, pre-treat stains, vacuum more often, and floss every day. That’s not how you reply to someone who genuinely loves you.

Things have deteriorated to the point that he and his wife will not talk to or even look at me. They don’t address me, and when saying goodbye, they hug and kiss everyone and pass over me… repeatedly. To my knowledge, there was never a catalyst to our relationship being like this. I’ve discussed it ad nauseam with friends, and none of us can figure out what I did.

After having a door slammed in my face 1,000 times, I’m not going back for 1,001. At this point, I’ve decided that the door will stay shut on any hope for a meaningful relationship between my brother and me. I don’t pick fights with him, and I don’t ignore him when he talks to me. But I’m through trying to get him love or even like me.

I don’t know why it took me so long to apply this one piece of dating advice to the rest of my life: You can’t force someone to have any type of affection for you.

My real dilemma stems from the fact that, now that my mother and grandmother have caught on to what’s happening, I’ve been told to put a smile on my face. A simple fact of my family is that the women make excuses for the men: unacceptable behavior is brushed off with excuse after excuse.

But why should I condone and reinforce completely unacceptable behavior? I won’t do that. And since I won’t, I’m seen as an instigator.

It all came to a breaking point on Mother’s Day when our mom told me that she was fed up with the way things were, and to get “revenge,” I shouldn’t let him or his wife know that they bothered me.

Uh, right.

Mom, if you’d like to join us in the land of reality, we’re all over here *frantically waves hands*.

Tears and high-pitched voices ensued, and surprisingly, she conceded that both my brother and his wife had been treating me like garbage. I told her to talk with her son if she wanted to see any resolution to this stalemate.

I also told her that if a boyfriend treated me the same way, and I continued to chase after him looking for love and affection, she’d tell me to ditch him and move on. She agreed, but still thought that slapping a smile on my face would fix my woes. That’s like someone offering you a Band-Aid after you’ve been shanked. No thanks. What’s the point?

I don’t know if my mom ever talked with my brother. Either way, he’s never reached out to me.

This has been going on for years now, and I still haven’t figured out how to make my family happy without driving myself insane. So I’ve decided that, for once, I’m taking a stand. My sanity comes first. The crappy facade that we have a perfect and happy family comes in a distant second.

It’s crazy to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. So this girl has wised up and is done beating her head against a wall. No, I will never be able to make him love me, so I’m shutting and locking that door. And I’m not going to keep pretending that everything is fine.

My family may not understand this, but it gives me some peace of mind to go forward with a guilt-free and apathetic relationship with my brother.

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  • I don’t think I’m getting the full picture here. Please, don’t take this the wrong way, but there was no motivation for this behavior put forth. And you’ve only offered one-sided examples. How did you react when he said “I know?” Was there something that kicked this off?

    Ms. Fenn, you also mention that you are seen as an instigator, but only when reacting to the bad behavior. What exactly is he doing, and how are you reacting?

    I’m not trying to pick this apart, just trying to understand this behavior. It’s unclear.

  • How did you react when he said “I know?”

    I’m hoping the same way Leia did when Han pulled that line on her:

    “Put that bastard in carbonite now!”

  • @Jaber: No worries, there just wasn’t room with the word count to fit it all in. The reason I only offer one-sided examples is because that’s all I have. He, for whatever reason, refuses to interact with me, so I don’t know what’s going on in his head, how he feels about what’s going on. I’ve tried to get him to tell me what the deal is.

    I mentioned before that I have searched every corner of my memory to figure out what I did to him to spark this kind of behavior. I’ve even asked our mother, and she’s told me she doesn’t think it was anything I did.

    After the “I know” incident at his wedding I went along my way to the reception where he proceeded to do a few more hurtful things. I eventually had to go out to the hallway to make a sober, but tearful phone call to a friend to come pick me up.

    I could, honestly, go on about the things he’s done, and obviously I need to let go of them or put them on a shelf to move forward. Usually when I see one of his behavior “patterns” starting it causes me shut down with regards to trying to interact with him. Family gatherings are beyond uncomfortable for me, and I think the tension between us makes things uncomfortable for others.

    As far as specifics, there’s been promises of help for *years* with things that are health-specific, and the very first time I asked him for it he told me ‘no’ because he might have plans that night. When I talked to him the next day he told me he had stayed home all night.

    I had a party to celebrate the one year anniversary of making it through a life-altering event that could have taken my life, and he wouldn’t attend. He wouldn’t even tell me whether he was coming. This was a party that people came from out of town to attend, and RSVP invitations were sent in the mail. Not only was this not just a get together at my house, it was a big deal to me, period. There’s been a non-ending string of things for years. But I’ll stop there.

  • Ick. I’m sorry he’s such a tool. I think you’re smart for moving on. You can pick you friends, but you can’t pick your family. Time to focus on healthier relationships.

    And seriously, you should consider freezing him in carbonite. He’ll come out all blind, groping and needy. That’ll show him.

  • I think a common misconception about family is that they *have* to like and love you, or at the very least give you their support through hardships. Unfortunately, that’s just not true. As much as we might want to, common genetic heritage does not imply love and support. It facilitates them, but does not make them mandatory.
    My personal definition of family is: the people who genuinely like and love you, who will (and want to) be with you during both good times and bad times, and for whom you feel the same. It doesn’t matter if they’re relatives or friends.
    Of course, the lover/spouse is also part of your family (or so it should be).

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