Wedding Woes

Sad Bob, misplaced feelings, and bad ideas

Dear Prudence,

My brother-in-law, “Bob,” and I have always been extremely close for the 25 years I’ve been with my husband. He is now one of our only living relatives and lives in another state. Bob’s wife died unexpectedly five years ago. He just retired recently and became an empty-nester. As a result, he’s lonely and bored. Normally he visits twice a year, we get along great, and we even take vacations together. But during his last visit at Thanksgiving, I realized Bob has become overly enamored with me. He may even think he is in love with me. He didn’t do anything overt, but he dropped plenty of hints that set off some internal alarm bells. Last year he told me that he loves me more than anyone else on earth. I took it as a family-love thing, but now I don’t know.

I have no romantic feelings for Bob at all. I will also be devastated to lose Bob’s friendship if this all blows up. I am sure this is just because he’s lonely and bored. The kicker is that this weekend my husband told me Bob is planning to buy the house next door to us that is going up for sale. I asked why that house, since it’s the least attractive one in the area and plenty are for sale nearby. My husband said the point is to live next door to us. This would be a disaster if my suspicion is true. I can’t see any way this could end well. I ran this by my best friend to see if I was flattering myself and imagining this, and she doesn’t think so.

My husband worships his big brother. I dread bringing this up to him, but we are very open, and I will. He may not believe me. I have to have a talk with Bob before he makes an offer on this house, don’t I? I risk looking like I’m nuts if I’m wrong or Bob denies it. I’m willing to take that risk if ignoring it or staying silent would have serious consequences. It would be a big, complicated mess. I would actually love to be wrong! What if I am just misreading Bob’s cues? How do I know if I’m just nuts?

—Lovelorn Brother-in-Law

Re: Sad Bob, misplaced feelings, and bad ideas

  • Even if you are completely misreading Bob's cues I would push back on this.

    Yes, the BIL is legally able to buy any house he wants.   Hell, I grew up two doors down from my aunt and uncle.   

    But familiarity can bring contempt.   And I would be very up front with my H:

    "I have reservations about this arrangement.   Your brother is allowed to do what he wants at his home however if this is something that he is hellbent on doing I do think we should talk about how we need to set up boundaries for our home.   I am not comfortable turning the place into a Fuller House with the door always open.   We need both our own individual private time and private time for the two of us." 

    Beyond that, I would absolutely mention the times that you felt uncomfortable around your H's sibling to him.  He doesn't have to agree with you but he should respect your feelings. 

  • LW should absolutely talk to her husband about the things Bob did at Thanksgiving and how that raises concerns for her about his potentially living next door. She should not just say "Your brother's in love with me" because that's far more likely to get dismissed or cause an argument - and besides, regardless of whether Bob is actually in love with LW or not, his behavior made LW very uncomfortable, and she has a right to set boundaries in her family relationships and in her own home. While they can't exactly stop Bob from buying the house next door, it is essential that they make some things clear to him regarding privacy and so forth, and then stick to those boundaries if he does indeed move in so close by. Generally, blood talks to blood, so it's probably better if the husband, not LW, has this conversation with Bob.

    Especially if Bob is living next door, and even if he isn't, I think he should be encouraged to find some activities to get involved with to keep him busy now that he's retired and his kids are grown up, and maybe even to start dating again IF he feels ready to do so.
  • OliveOilsMomOliveOilsMom South Jersey member
    Ninth Anniversary 5000 Comments 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    LW needs to talk to her H and describe each thing that happened with Bob.  She should never say "I think Bob is in love with me."  It sounds dramatic!  LW should continue that if Bob does buy the house next door, that clear boundaries need to be set up by him for their house.  As PP said, it shouldn't be a revolving door!

    If H is fine with setting up the boundaries and standing firm in them, I think the arrangement could work out fine.  But the brothers need to talk first!
  • The first and primary conversations need to be with the LW's H.  I would also make a two-pronged approach because I think there are almost two separate issues going on.  1) The brother's potential crush and 2) His potential moving next door.

    She should bring up some of the discomfort she's had with her H.  But approach it lightly.  Avoid heavy words like "in love".  Phrases more like "worried he's developed romantic feelings" and "crush", I think would be listened to more carefully then more dramatic statements that would be more likely to be totally dismissed.  I also think a more factual recounting would have more mileage than her "feelings".  Not that her feelings aren't important, but it's easier to dismiss them as being mistaken.  She should give specific examples of actions and/or comments that made her uncomfortable.

    I also think it's a better strategy to talk about the downfalls of him moving next door, without relating it much or at all with her suspicions about his feelings for her.  Because there are other very good reasons why this is a bad idea.

    "Lonely, bored, and retired" is a REALLY bad combination for a close relative living next door or nearby.  Sure, you can (and should) set boundaries.  But you also have to be strong enough to resist the "guilt" you might feel because you have to say "no" or "not a good time" or just not invite them over as much as you know they'd like to come over.

    However, these conversations play out and for whatever Bob decides about moving, I hope they are encouraging him to get out more.  Join some organizations/clubs/hobbies.  Encourage him to try online dating, at least if he's open to dating at all. 
    Wedding Countdown Ticker
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