Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I are empty nesters approaching retirement age, with the last of our children starting college this year. I have a brother who is 10 years older and is single and childless, not entirely by choice. He is a genuinely kind person and is a successful professional, but he has a difficult personality. He’s a bit of a recluse and a hoarder and doesn’t have hobbies, so he works long hours and then comes home and watches TV. We get along fine, but don’t have much in common—we don’t have any similar interests and are at opposite ends of the spectrum politically, so our conversations tend to be stilted and awkward. He lives several hours away, so normally this isn’t a big issue, although he does tend to plan all of his vacations around whatever we’re doing (which my husband hasn’t minded up to this point).
However, when my brother was in town for a visit recently, my husband mentioned that we were thinking about downsizing and buying a small lake house to live in when we retire. My brother immediately responded that we should let him know the location, so he could buy a lot next door to us.
My husband and I were both caught off guard, so we deflected and then changed the subject. I love my brother and can understand that he doesn’t want to spend his retirement years alone, but to be honest, my husband and I were really looking forward to enjoying this time together after so many years with a house full of kids. My brother doesn’t know anyone else in our area, so I’m worried that the two of us would end up being his default social network. Also, his hoarding behavior is a big stressor for me—even if it’s his house and not mine, seeing him live that way brings back a lot of painful childhood memories.
Is there a kind way to tell him that he needs to come up with a different plan for his retirement? My husband thinks we should just keep our plans a secret until after we move, but that seems cruel. I tried gently suggesting to my brother that he might want to live closer to the city so he has more options for activities, but he didn’t budge.
Dear No Neighbors,
Honesty is usually the best policy, but I agree with your husband that there is not really a way to straight-out tell your brother that this level of retirement closeness doesn’t appeal to you. I’d suggest possibly finding a house that has zero free lots on either side of it, in an area where there aren’t many houses to buy. Given the level of difficulty entering the housing market in many places, it seems like this shouldn’t be too hard to find. Basically, let the scarcity of real estate act as your shield while, yes, being a little vague about your plans, letting your updates to him be few and far between and lagging behind reality at least a few months each time. It’s a little unkind, but I’m not sure you can be totally transparent here.
More Advice From Slate
Before having children I obtained a master’s degree and worked for a well-known law firm. After becoming a parent, I fell in love with the role of raising my children. The legal profession, in retrospect, was not right for me anyway, and I happily became a stay-at-home mom. Now my children are in preschool. I started a part-time job as a secretary. I am happy in my job as I’m not looking for any career progression but simply some low-stress work to do in my free time away from the kids. My problem lies with my friends and relatives. I regularly get comments that I “wasted” my degree and that I should look for a “real” job.