Dear Amy: Several years ago, my husband and I visited his brother and wife for a vacation.
We stayed with them and relied on them for transportation.
One night, we went out to dinner. His brother ordered some fried pickles as an appetizer.
My husband told him he had never had one and reached over to take one.
His brother slapped his hand hard and told him he would order him his own.
My husband, myself and his brother’s wife were in shock.
Because we were staying with them and at their mercy, we didn’t say anything. I tried to pay for our dinner after that, but his brother refused to let us.
Nothing more was said.
Since then, my husband and I agreed if we ever did visit again, we would never stay with them.
The problem is, we can’t seem to get closure on this.
His brother never apologized, nor has it ever been brought up again between the two brothers, even though they have stayed in touch.
Should we ask for an apology? Should we let him know how much we were hurt by his actions? We want to visit again, but we are not sure how to get over this experience.
— Disappointed Sister-in-Law
Disappointed Sister-in-Law: Many people treat their dinners like a freewheeling buffet — what’s mine is yours — but there are some people (and I am one of them) who are triggered by others taking food from them, without being invited or asking permission.
What your husband did (“Hmmm, I’ve never had that before; I’ll just help myself”) was also a very siblinglike thing to do, revealing behavior between the two brothers that probably goes back to childhood.
What your brother-in-law did in response was inexcusable.
Everybody’s reaction since then has been inexplicable.
Your husband and his brother have maintained a speaking relationship. He is waiting for an apology that will never come.
Unfortunately, bro code often suggests that the aggrieved party should just “get over it,” without an acknowledgment or apology from the aggressor. It’s possible that this twisted ethic actually contributed to the slapping incident, because when people don’t use their words (your husband didn’t ask, his brother didn’t apologize), they tend to lash out, instead.
If your husband wants to get over this, he will have to be brave enough to bring it up: “Look, this may seem like ancient history to you, but it has been weighing on my mind. That time you slapped me at the restaurant during our visit really shocked me. It still bothers me.”
His brother will probably diminish the concern. He might say he doesn’t remember it or deny outright that it ever happened. Be prepared. (c) Ask Amy
Well, that’s interesting.
It could’ve been a kneejerk reaction, but… I’d also posit that they were staying with the brother and his family, and extended stays can lead to stress and broken ties. I’ve spoke before of what happened when Granny Smith visited my aunt’s family out west–they got themselves disinherited!
(Random note: my mom loves that comic with the crotchety old man saying to his lawyer, “Now read me the part again where I disinherit everybody.” She keeps it on the fridge with a magnet.)
My dad says that it’s poor planning to ever visit family for more than three days, tops, and I have to agree. I think the stress might’ve come to the surface when the letter writer’s husband acted grabby for the food. His brother’s reaction was overkill and totally not cool, but you just shouldn’t help yourself to other people’s food. I’m not bothered by it (I don’t think), but I can intuitively understand how it would be upsetting to have someone grab your food without asking.
And it might have added up–the stress of hosting the letter writer and her husband. People in modern society don’t really blend well with other families. Everyone today does everything differently: when they wake up, what they make for breakfast, how loud they keep the TV on, and on, and on, and on. I suspect this visit just was more than anyone could handle. Gone are the pioneer days when everyone seemed to follow the same routine.
I don’t see any evidence that the slap-happy brother is a horrible person, because my sense tells me he was stressed to the max and had a kneejerk reaction to more of his brother’s grabbiness, and he just snapped. What I’d take from it would be that the letter writer and her husband shouldn’t, in fact, vacay with his brother, and that too much stress will kill familial harmony.
We want to visit again, but we are not sure how to get over this experience.
No, no, no, no, no. The letter writer needs to think back and analyze where things fell apart, but that’s optional. At a bare minimum, she needs to acknowledge that things can go wrong again. If you’ve put yourself in a bad situation, the takeaway is to not put yourself in the same bad situation. If they want to vacay, that’s fine, if they could get a hotel. That would solve everything. If they’re too cheap to get a hotel, then they might want to have their cake and eat it too. Not good.
I can understand how this would be a difficult thing to recover from. Dredging it up won’t help, and I’m not sure closure is really a thing, anyway. If the brother were to sincerely apologize, would it make anyone feel better? (I don’t know. I’m genuinely asking, not implying that it wouldn’t.) If so, then they could broach it, but this seems more like the sort of thing that should be swept under the rug and, more importantly, prevented in the future.
You all know I traveled with my mom once to visit her family, and then she and I backtracked to her house. She’d picked me up in town for the road trip, so there I was, without my car. Alone with her at her house. [Cue horror movie.]
She got angry. She started throwing my uneaten food and my dinner plate around and yelling, “I worked so hard to cook this meal for you, and you can’t eat it! You ingrate! Get out of my sight for your own protection.” (She meant it, too.) I’m no hero. I fled upstairs. She has a hard time on stairs, so that protected me. I tried to call my dad to come rescue me, but she picked up the downstairs landline to intercept the call. I got out my cheap flip phone, and it had five minutes of charge on it. Fortunately, the call went through.
The obvious lesson was to never be alone with her unless I had an escape route (i.e., my car). I could hold the incident against her (and why the freak not?), but instead I chose to just be grateful that I escaped, and I chose to prevent such a thing from recurring. In her defense, she has issues, and also, when we visited her mother, Granny Franny was clearly suffering from dementia and poor health. And I suspect that my mother was worried that she herself was also developing cognitive issues. But still. [Shakes head and rolls eyes.]
Oh, and can I just add one note here?
My husband, myself and his brother’s wife were in shock.
No, no, no. “Yourself” was not in shock. “You” were in shock. Thank you.