Friday, January 2, 2009

Dining With the "Enemy"

Earlier this week, the CH and I had dinner with his brother and his Japanese wife. This is the brother-in-law whose behavior contributed directly to the demise of my former blog and is essentially responsible for the birth of a different blog. I've had problems with him during most of my time in Japan, but he suggested to the CH that we all get together and I wanted to at least try for the CH's sake.

To be honest, I was surprised that the brother-in-law suggested a get-together. Despite the fact that my back problems have kept me from working outside the house and have seen me be essentially bound to my immediate neighborhood for the last two and a half years, I think he believes our not visiting his apartment for social reasons is a personal affront, though hopefully my telling him that I haven't left a limited area for a long time will make him understand that it isn't personal. However, it's generally been the case that he hasn't believed my claims in the past and this is one of the reasons he hasn't suggested coming by our place much. I believe he wants the mountain to come to Muhammad as often as the reverse and he feels he's done more than his share of trekking to our particular mountain.

At any rate, he seems to be rather oblivious to how his behavior has affected me or has decided to pretend it all didn't happen now that time has passed so we all got together and tried to make the best of it. There were some high points and only one low one. The high points mainly related to the fact that his wife may yet "train" some of his more obnoxious behaviors out of him.

One of the problems I've had with my brother-in-law in the past has been with his tendency to treat possessions like they are part of a status competition. That is, he mocks and makes fun of old items in our apartment like our ancient 15-year-old CRT television, old computers, or even the speed of our modem. When he started in on that the evening of the dinner, his wife mumbled something about her not wanting him to do that anymore and him saying he'd try not to. I was glad to see that she was pointing out his bad behavior and attempting to get him to stop it, though he did say the CH and I were "family" so he could do what he wanted.

Rather than get angry at his competitive possession fixation this time, I simply said that I'd rather have an extra $2,000 in my savings account than a new television and that television quality really wasn't that important to us. Since he mentioned the T.V. twice, I responded with this twice and his wife was shaking her head in agreement both times. The brother-in-law has a fixation on high-priced man toys, and I have a feeling that his wife may not feel this is for the best. Clearly she is not the sort of person who cares how new your gadgets are when dealing with others and I really respect that. Another brief discussion of taking one's own lunch to work rather than eating out again seemed to indicate that they may not concur 100% on how money is handled in the relationship as she agreed with us that its fiscally more prudent to carry your own rather than patronize local fast food.

Generally speaking, my brother-in-law showed the same levels of opinionated selfishness that I have come to expect, but having his wife there really helped. She's clearly more sensible and down to earth than he. Though she didn't go out of her way to be confrontational with him (as would be expected), she also didn't hold back on agreeing with us on various points.

The "low points" for me included my slipping up and saying he was "close minded" about the effect of things like reiki treatments (which his wife studies and practices) and therefore it would never work with him as he would actively block any benefits to validate his strong view that it doesn't work. He contended that it came across as a generalized comment that he's close minded about everything and I asked the CH if this was so and he said he believed it could be seen that way. I apologized for having spoken in a manner which could be viewed as a big insult and got a very ungracious, loud and overly exaggerated "thank you" for it. It was clear that he felt this apology was some sort of victory on his part rather than me saying I misspoke and regretted the impression it created. Once more, it's as if this was a competition and he felt my apology was a "win" in his column and I got a bit of "victory cheering" from him for my troubles.

Other than that, we were treated to rants about how the public services, particularly the trash not being picked up during the holidays, were a major inconvenience to him. I guess the idea that these people doing these unpleasant jobs should be entitled to enjoy their holidays along with the rest of the country (including him) wasn't important to him. We were treated to arguments that the shops managed to stay open and that there was no reason they couldn't do some sort of rotation or temporary service so he didn't have to hold back his trash for a few days. My response that trash handling is probably more complex than post card delivery and that people want to be with their families while the family members are also not working fell on deaf ears. After all, he was being slightly inconvenienced.

I'd say the dinner went well. The food I made, pork roast and Welsh onion, potato soup, and carrot salad, was a big hit as was the wine choice we made, though my husband got a big headache later from the wine. They also generously brought us several gifts including cookies, bread, caramel pastries, and a cheesecake (though the cheesecake was real "cheese" flavor and not cream cheese so it's pretty weird). I don't know if I made any progress in healing the relationship with my brother-in-law, but I did learn that I like his wife and have hope that she'll file away some of his social sharp edges through time and, at the very least, I don't think things have gotten any worse.


Helen said...

I'm glad that you got through the New Year's visit relatively unscathed.

From reading his blog, I would say that you are right about "man toys". I think it's a bit of a guy thing, because my brother in law is a bit like that too. He likes to have the newest/biggest/most expensive whatever around.

However, I like my brother in law a lot and get on with him very well. In fact, I often get on better with him than I do with my sister! It could also be the 3000 miles between us though.

Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

You did survive but still at the cost of "your feelings", I like toys and gadgetry but does your BIL need to imply this each time he see's you?

I buy what I like, what I want and what makes me happy, I think some level of competition in life is good for our spirits but this lad.. truly has some SERIOUS issues and it is with you.. what I mean is he feel inferior to you, be it that you are well written and I am sure spoken that must intimidate him, but does he not KNOW how obvious it is... sorry he should be embarrassed. This reminds me of a friends husband... constantly telling me "why don't you speak or write more Japanese than you do"? And I hear this crap each and every time..

Anyway... not sure if it is possible but can you keep any negativity out of your life.. including family? I got a headache just reading what you had to endure..

Anonymous said...

BTW I speak and Write enough Japanese that is has royally screwed with my ENGLISH.. hehe "wink"

Orchid64 said...

Helen: I agree with you that men tend to be more into their toys then women, by and large. I actually don't have an issue with that at all. I think it's great if people enjoy their possessions and that they can have fun with them. I draw the line at it becoming a competitive thing where a person mocks another person for something as trivial as their possessions.

I'd probably be more offended if I were poor and couldn't afford the same types of toys. The truth is, and this is such a blessing and a luxury that I'm immensely grateful to even be able to say such a thing, I could buy every toy he has or better if that were a choice I wanted to make. However, I simply don't care about that sort of stuff.

I'm mainly just annoyed at the blatant bad manners of it all. It's just monumentally inappropriate behavior and bad taste to size up other people's possessions and compare them unfavorably to yours.

Girl Japan: One thing I forgot to mention was that I noticed that he scanned the room at least 3 times looking at what we had. I wonder if one of the reasons he mentions stuff so much is as fodder for conversations. It could simply be he doesn't know how to speak of more appropriate topics or is so fixated on "stuff" that he has no interest in asking about things like our work or health. He never once asked either the CH or myself about such usual topics of conversation. It could also be that he's too self-centered to ask us about our lives (or it could be a bit of both).

The CH and I were discussing the visit and he also believes that his brother may be intimidated by me, but that feeling may be not consciously understood. It manifests itself mainly in behavior which attempts to belittle, dominate (through scoring competitive "points" as it were), or dismiss me. I believe he has a real superiority/inferiority complex playing out. He's sure he's superior to me, but experience tends to negate that internal assertion so there's a real conflict between those two competing notions and that causes stress for him. I believe I am unconsciously "blamed" for that stress as he finds a way to attribute it to my behavior rather than to internal discomfort as his conflicting self-assessment battles with how he feels in my presence.

I think there's some deep psychology at work there, but I also think he'll never develop an awareness of any of it because he's not that introspective. I'm also hardly entirely innocent. On occasion, I've lost my control and said things best left unsaid (though I'd say not nearly as often as most people might have) and I was almost certainly too blunt about things in the early years, but I think that there is literally nothing I could do short of utterly sublimating my opinions and ideas in his presence to stop this dynamic from having developed. He has had issues with other people before (mutual acquaintances have told us stories of their experiences with him), so I'd wager the same internal battle and resulting externalizing of the cause of his stress has occurred with others.

I think it is impossible to keep all negativity out of your life. The main thing is to draw the line at "toxic". My hope is that, for the CH's sake, this situation can be salvaged in some fashion. I don't hold my tongue completely, but I am trying to not say things which make things worse. I guess only time will tell.

Thanks to both of you for reading and for your comments! I really appreciate them!

Kelly said...

I disagree with you on the Reiki comment you made. I'm a reiki healer also, and when i was initiated i was taught that reiki heals all levels, emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. It doesn't matter if the person does not believe in Reiki, the treatment will still work.

I hope that his wife will give him Reiki healing, she can do it on him while he is asleep if he won't let her do it while he's awake, she can also send healing to him without touching him.

It has made a great difference to my own husband who was emotionally barren, and he has begun developing slowly into a more compassionate human. I just use this as an example, but you BIL could very much benefit from Reiki.

Since i found out about your back pain, i have been sending distance healing to you. Sometimes people bring issues with them from past lives and while i don't mean to preach here, it could take a while for you to actually notice a change because of the healing on many different layers. :)

I hope the relationship with you and your BIL heals over time. If your BIL's wife is a Reiki healer i can only imagine she would be doing her bit to heal the relationship between you both.

I agree with you on the big boy toys. Thankfully my husband is of the same mind, he would rather have $ in the bank than the latest plasma tv. While all our friends are out wacking everything on credit, we are building up our savings and paying off our home loan so that we won't be burdened in the future.

Kelly Azuma
BTW if you want more concentrated healing, just email me your full name and i will put it in my powerful healing circle until you say when. :)

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Kelly, and thanks for your comment.

I'll admit that I know nothing about reiki and only go based on what seems right to me about energy. I'd be more than happy to be wrong about it! I also know that some people have the power to heal at a distance and some people can heal without touching, but I've never personally known anyone who can do it.

I appreciate very, very much that you're sending some healing energy my way. I believe in such things and I also agree with you that people can carry over damage from past lives. I've read more than a small number of stories about such situations. This carries a higher possibility for me since I was born with a defect. My husband had a book at one time which showed a variety of defects which were carried over from past lives. Some of them were remarkably similar to things like being bound by ropes or other very unusual defects. I know a lot of people don't believe such things, but I do.

I will e-mail you my full name. I'll take all the powerful healing that is on offer. Thanks so very much!

'badmoodguy' is mike said...

Here is to another new year!

I am pleased to hear that you got together with your brother-in-law and that his wife is working out his kinks. It will only be a matter of time before he's straightened out, just have faith that the strong-willed Japanese wife will take care of that.

It is quite clear that he is extremely intimidated by you. It is an epic example of an inferiority complex that manifests itself in trying to compete and win on whatever points he can manage. I think that it aggravates him, as well, that you show an astounding amount of self-control. I'm sure that he'd get off on a knock-down-drag-out fight.

It is a shame that people so close can be so far apart. I feel for you.

May you and the CH have a happy and healthy new year!

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post!!! I think the consensus say "he is suffering from an inferiority complex"

I think it may come with maturity too (that he'll stop be oblivious to his on-going meandering snobbery), when (a person) can look inside themselves and make the evaluation that "things must change"!

You have a lot of patience and maturity to sit through dinner.. anyone in your shoes would have been MORE than blunt!

If it bothers him so much.. he can BUY you a new set up.... ERR I am angry for you...

I hope you are enjoying the weekend, where is the Vallume (sp)? when you need it... "hehe"

Kelly said...

I forgot to say my email is azumarisan[@], just remove the brackets. :)

Emsk said...

Oh dear, here's me posting days after this chat has finished - blame it on time management! It seems as if the situation has improved a bit and maybe thanks to his wife. There's a lot to be said for having someone in your life who acts as that mirror.

It brings to mind a character in the book High Fidelity by Nick Someone(I've forgotten his surname, but he's English). In case you haven't read it, the main character works in a record store and he and his co-worker are always making lists, eg, top five bass players, top five guitar solos etc. If anyone ever makes the mistake of saying they like anything remotely poppy the co-worker goes into spasms and mocks them royally. Very boy, isn't it?

And when I was a young thing my new room-mate went through my record collection and informed me that there were only five out of a total of sixty-five that were any good. Seeing as he was considered pretty cool by out peer group, he said so with an air of authority. As you once remarked about charisma men, these types are also relatively harmless unless you have to deal with them on a regular basis!