Woe Is Me! “How Do I Tell My Brother’s Friend To Back Off Without Hurting My Brother?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
My brother’s friend acts really aggressive and overfamiliar around me. I told my mom, who said she’d scold him if he did it again. But now my brother is mad at me because, well, they’re friends. He thinks I’m overreacting because I go to an all-girls school. But even my dad isn’t this familiar with me. I think I might be wrong, but my intuition says he’s wrong. How do I navigate this?
— Hands Off
KB: Intuition is everything! Hasn’t anyone told you that? Sometimes, even though you can’t explain why, you know that something just isn’t right. And this sounds like a very good time to trust your intuition. The truth is, if someone is your brother’s friend and he still acts in a way that makes you uncomfortable — possibly in your own house in front of your own family — I’d be very scared that this person does not respect boundaries. It’s best to make sure you’re never alone with him and avoid contact as much as possible.
In the meantime, it sounds like your mom sees it or at least is willing to stand up for you; maybe she can speak to your brother and explain that his friend will only be allowed to come over if he minds his boundaries around you. As for your brother, he will get over it.
RD: Hey, so if you aren’t fully confident in your brother to handle the situation on your behalf, I think you should take matters into your own hands. Right now, it feels like you’re not completely speaking your mind because you’re afraid of what the others in your family will say. But consider this — it’s between you and your brother’s friend; if it were anyone else, like a classmate, wouldn’t you just ask them to back off (in polite or aggressive tones, whichever your personality prefers).
I think it’s time for you to prioritize your discomfort, and stop anticipating your brother’s or anyone else’s. Call this guy out, tell him it makes you uncomfortable, and that you don’t appreciate being talked to or touched this way. I’m not saying this straightforward approach will solve everything instantly, but I think it’ll be better than trying to beat around the bush. The problem is yours, with another person, who can be communicated with So do it. (And hey, if he takes it in the wrong way, your mother has your back anyway.)
SM: I’ve been in this position so many times, especially when I was younger. The important thing to remember is to trust your own intuition — if you think something is wrong, it probably is. I don’t think you should pay heed to what your brother says, and on the contrary, try and engage with him on why he thinks this is ‘overreacting’ and why he is prioritizing his friend’s potentially hurt feelings over your discomfort.
I’m glad that you felt comfortable enough to take this up with your mother, but an even better approach to navigate would be to try and tell your brother’s friend off yourself, the next time he’s aggressive or overfamiliar. It will prepare you to voice your feelings of discomfort no matter with whom and no matter where, in the future too.
As far as your brother is concerned, tell his friend off in front of him, and if need be, argue and debate with him about it. It might seem exhausting at first, but if he does come around, it’ll be worth the fight, and if he doesn’t, you will again learn to stand up for yourself and be unafraid against those who invalidate your feelings.
LG: Your intuition is right — in the sense that you should not have to tolerate behavior that overwhelms your boundaries. There’s no overreacting here; it doesn’t matter what the behavior is, or whether it’s common, or whether you go to an all-girls or coed school: what matters is that you’re made uncomfortable. You don’t do things to make your brother’s friend uncomfortable, so why should you have to accept being made uncomfortable by his friend’s behavior?
This might be the way to bring it up with your brother and make some headway: that it’s not a problem with his friend, but a problem with his friend’s behavior. A simple, casual but firm, “Hey, don’t do that, she doesn’t like it” would go a long way from him. If his friend makes him feel bad for standing up for his sister — maybe it’s time he reconsiders his friends?
If this is not forthcoming from your brother, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. Be straightforward and explicit: “Please stop, I don’t like it when you do [behavior]. It makes me feel [describe].” The response might be uncaring, or dismissive (“Relax, I’m just joking!”) given how you’ve described this friend. You can’t control how the friend responds, only what you can do to establish and protect your boundaries. Ask your mom to back you up — scolding the friend may only go so far. Insisting the friend’s behavior change before your brother can welcome him into the house again might go further. Regardless, good luck, you intuitive flower. Even if this so-called friend of your brother isn’t threatening, he’s at least rotten, and your instinct is spot-on.
DR: I’m so sorry you’re having to endure this. I like to believe there’s a special place in hell for people who don’t respect others’ boundaries — they’re the absolute worst! First off, I feel the need to remind you that it isn’t always possible to stand up for ourselves without offending someone or the other. It sucks when the person who’s offended is someone you care about, but that doesn’t make it not-okay to stand up — especially in a world where people refuse to adhere to the simple notion of ‘live and let live,’ not standing up for yourself can easily lead to people imposing their will on you without caring for how that impacts you.
In my opinion, self-preservation should be a greater priority to you than not offending your brother. Second, any relationship is a two-way street, and if your brother isn’t taking the way you’re feeling into consideration, then I don’t see why you must care about hurting his feelings.
Moreover, I think it needs to be made clear to your brother that he isn’t entitled to this friendship at the cost of making you feel uncomfortable, and that the world doesn’t revolve around him. Also, please remember that you didn’t wake up one morning planning to sabotage his friendship with this individual on a whim — you are simply reacting to the treatment meted out to you. If it’s getting in your way of existing peacefully and functioning comfortably, then you do have a right to protest, irrespective of what your brother may try to tell you.
However, if it’s absolutely imperative for you not to offend your brother, you can either sit him down, and explain the above to him — calmly, and probably without your parents being a part of this talk — so that he doesn’t feel attacked and get defensive. Or, you could have your parents explain this to him since your mother appears to be on your side already. And if he still refuses to confront his friend, maybe, you can convince him to ensure that this friend doesn’t cross paths with you. If he can’t do either and reach a middle ground here, then I don’t think you need to care two hoots about him either — just tell this friend to back off. Good luck!