Dear Prudence

I Still Don’t Know Why My Brother Stopped Speaking to Me Years Ago

Prudie’s column for Sept. 7.

A brother and sister facing opposite directions with their arms crossed, looking upset.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,
Over seven years ago, my brother abruptly stopped speaking to me. I have not seen him since. We had always gotten along fine, and there was no argument or inciting incident that prompted the estrangement that I know of. I’ve sent messages asking what went wrong and proposing that we meet to discuss it, but he never responded. I’d occasionally message him on holidays or his birthday to let him know I was open to a reconciliation if he ever felt ready. I live abroad but still talk to my sister and father. The last time I visited was three years ago, and my father proposed we all get together for Thanksgiving. I said it might be better if my brother and I could try to meet first and work out whatever was bothering him, rather than all getting together and pretending like nothing had happened. My brother said, through my father, that he “didn’t mind” if I came, but that he “doesn’t want any kind of relationship” with me. That hurt deeply, so I declined the dinner invite. My dad was upset and acted like I was the one being difficult. He canceled Thanksgiving and uninvited everyone. Strangely, my brother messaged me on Thanksgiving, asking where I was spending it and asking for my phone number. I was surprised but sent him my number. He never called.

Now I’m about to go back for another visit. My sister just sent a group email, proposing a family dinner to celebrate my brother’s birthday during that time. Again, my sister and father expect me to show up and act like everything’s fine, but I have no sign from my brother that he even wants to see me. I know that if I object or try again to propose a one-on-one, I’ll be seen as “the difficult one.” So, am I being difficult? What should I do? I don’t expect an apology from him for the way he’s treated me, though I think I deserve one, but I want him to at least talk to me before I can agree to hang out and just pretend it’s all fine.
—Disowned Without Explanation

This is really painful and bewildering. Your challenge here will be to remain loving and open to the possibility that you may have harmed your brother in some way without assuming this estrangement is entirely your fault or forcing yourself to attend strained family dinners that depend on pretending you and your brother have a relationship. I think all you have to do here is let your sister know you’re looking forward to seeing her but that you won’t be able to attend your brother’s birthday dinner, for the obvious reason that he does not speak to you. And I don’t think you should propose another one-on-one. You’ve made it very clear over the years that you’re available for that, and if your brother hasn’t taken you up on that offer, it hasn’t been for lack of trying. It may be that you never find out exactly why your brother has stopped talking to you or that any justification he offers strikes you as incomplete or insincere. If your sister or your father object to the idea, call you difficult, or try to punish you by calling the whole event off and blaming you for ruining everything, you can decline to shoulder that responsibility with a clear conscience.

Dear Prudence,
A few months ago I finally cracked and had a wee mental breakdown. Fortunately I was able to keep up appearances well enough to keep my job, but I did need to see my doctor and a psychiatrist more than once. I was diagnosed with a somewhat serious mental health condition for which I am receiving treatment. This has meant I’ve had a lot of appointments lately that interfere with work, and I’ve been taking off a number of afternoons in order to attend them. The time off hasn’t been a problem so far, but I feel self-conscious. I worry what my boss may be thinking—that I’m secretly looking for another job, or dying, or something.

So far no one has asked about all the appointments. Should I tell my boss that I’ve been diagnosed with a chronic condition and that’s what all the appointments are about, or do I not need to say anything? I really don’t want to discuss this with anybody at work, and I refuse to go into specifics, so I’m nervous that bringing it up will invite more questions and undue concern. I will continue to have many doctor visits for the foreseeable future. How should I navigate this?
—Should I Tell My Boss My Diagnosis

You do not have to tell your boss anything, especially since you’ve been able to get the time off approved with no problems so far. If you trust that your boss is a generally reasonable person and you want to make sure you’re both on the same page about your workload, you might say something like this: “I wanted to check in about my afternoon appointments. I’ve been seeing a doctor lately for ongoing treatment. I’m fine, but these appointments are likely to continue for the next [number of weeks or months], and I’m available to discuss adjustments and workarounds we might need to make to my schedule.” Again, you don’t need to say what these treatments are or go into any detail about your condition, and your boss or colleagues can’t make you disclose anything. It may be that you need to provide HR with documentation that these doctor visits are medically necessary for the treatment of a diagnosed condition, but that’s a confidential process establishing your need for reasonable accommodation like time off, not a conversation you need to have with co-workers or supervisors. The good news here is that it doesn’t sound like your boss or colleagues have been making pointed comments about your appointments, so I think you have reason to expect they’ll be professional and polite about your new schedule. If you get the sense that’s not true, you could meet with a lawyer who specializes in employment and labor law to get a more thorough sense of what the legislation in your state looks like, what you’re entitled to, and what your employer can (or can’t) ask of you.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

I am a woman who didn’t lose my virginity until I was 30, to my first boyfriend whom I ended up living with for almost five years. We broke up last fall, and I haven’t even considered sleeping with someone else because I don’t feel physically or emotionally ready to start a relationship, which is the only way I would be interested. But I do miss the regular sex and have been masturbating much more regularly, which was something I had never done before I met my ex. My problem is the only way for me to really enjoy it is to imagine that I’m with him. Even when I watch porn, I tend to go for videos where the man resembles my ex: tall, dark hair, dark eyes. I find myself muttering his name just the way I used to when I was with him.

I am 100 percent over the loss of our relationship, which was great at times but a bad fit in a lot of different ways. I think my issue is that I don’t have much of an imagination, and on top of that I am incredibly shy, so the thought of intimacy with someone other than him is more a source of terror than pleasure. I know that eventually I will feel comfortable enough to start seeing new people and find someone with whom I can build that same level of trust, but for now I just feel like a loser who fantasizes about the guy who dumped her. Is it common to fantasize about an ex instead of the much hotter guy in the porn? It’s not like he was some dynamo in bed, but sex with him was comfortable and pleasurable and the only thing I have to compare to. I’ve had brushes of intimacy with other men and I’ve tried to focus on those memories instead, but in the end, it’s always my ex’s name that I’m calling. Any advice on how to learn to enjoy myself without fantasizing about him? Or is this not as pathetic as I’ve made it in my head?