Friday, August 28, 2009

Talking to Brian

First, thanks everyone for all the comments on the previous post. Perhaps I should make a point of pleading for comments more. It really was all very interesting and helpful. I also talked with Roland about it all. Together we realized that degree to which Brian is upset has a whole lot to do with going back to school and being sleep deprived. He's been sleeping until noon and suddenly he has to get up at six. I've tried in years past to get him to re-set the week before school, but it doesn't work and I've stopped trying. In addition to all that, he also forgot to take his medication a couple of times and that alone can cause for an emotional dive. So that is part of the reason why he was so upset, although it doesn't change the basic of the situation.

And the basics are that they have had a relationship which was incredibly positive, in which Brian talked and shared with Gary like he had shared with few others. They have, and recently, had a good time doing things together. And they, like the rest of us, have character flaws which annoy the other. Something happened slowly, started last year, mostly took a break over the summer, and then came back. They went from being annoyed with each other (sometimes) to noticing that the other was annoyed with them and feeling hurt and angry about it. Then each boy felt something like outrage that the other boy was angry at him for being annoyed at the other boy's very obvious character flaws.

Each complained to at least a couple of friends at school, and since Gary's friends are almost all sophomores who were Brian's friends first (and still), that was bad.

The root behaviors on Gary's part would be bragging and having a surprisingly difficult time initiating friendships, particularly with boys. This has resulted in all of his friends being either girls who have approached him, or Brian's friends who have accepted him into their group. And of course there is the part about being handsome and charming to girls and adults and seeming to get by on that alone. I completely get how this can be frustrating to someone, but mostly they are not things that one can ask Gary to simply change. He isn't going to abandon the one strategy that has worked for him (being good looking and charming), and even if he acknowledges that it would have been easier for Brian if he, Gary, had made friends among his class instead of among Brian's friends, it isn't like we can reasonable expect him to just stop hanging out with people that he has now developed relationship with, or even to suddenly develop the skills to initiate friendships with other young men.

Brian's root include a low tolerance (or maybe a medium tolerance that gets over-loaded?) for things like bragging and a sad tendency to periodically make biting sarcastic remarks, or even to inform Gary that is really isn't as good at something as he thinks he is. He doesn't do that very often, I don't think, but Gary can remember pretty much every one. Gary really doesn't see how the bragging can be annoying and perceives the comments as completely unprovoked attacks. Brian also does not communicate well when he is angry. He doesn't talk. He just gets furious. He wants other people to comfort and figure things out for him. I want so much to emphasize how much better he has got over the years, but I admit it is still there and it comes back with a crash when he is exhausted and crashing from forgetting his meds.

So, we had a long talk with Brian yesterday. We did our very best to make him understand that we did understand how difficult it was having someone come in and invade all parts of your life, especially someone who gets on your nerves. But we wanted him to think about two things.

First, how things seemed to Gary.

Take the example of the girl he is now dating. She was and is a friend of Brian's. "You liked her. She flirted with Gary. Gary started dating her. We get that sucks and it makes sense that you feel angry, but Gary didn't do that to be mean to you. It makes sense to him that you would be a little upset about it, but not that you would stay mad. And Gary really didn't do anything wrong when that other girl drew a picture of him and put her phone numbers on it. When you get angry and don't talk to anyone over that, you just look bad."

Then we talked about the singing with the band thing. Brian wanted it, and Gary got it. Gary didn't do it to be mean to him. He just did it and was happy. We asked Brian to think about what it felt like for Gary to have something that he was excited about and for Brian to be so angry that he wouldn't even talk to him. From Gary's perspective Brian already has jazz band, drama, a choir, and Gary gets this ONE thing and Brian is angry. From Gary's side it must seem like Brian wants everything and wants Gary to have nothing.

Brian insisted that wasn't what he was thinking at all. He wasn't angry at Gary (he was, but we will let that pass), he was angry at the people in the band who said he could sing with them and then just gave it to Gary. We pointed out that Gary could hardly be expected to know that. We asked him to think about what it would have been like if he had been able to sincerely congratulate Gary, and tell him that he was angry at the band leader, but not at him.

I told Brian that when a relationship gets to this point, where two people are each upset at each other, the only thing that will change it is for one person to commit to a campaign of niceness. "It isn't enough to do it once and expect a change. If Gary were to decide to be nice to you, you would wonder what he wanted and you would probably blow him off. Then Gary would think, 'well, I tried.' If you want your relationship with him to be different, you will have to spend weeks behaving differently. No sarcastic remarks when he brags, even if it annoys you. Say good things when good things happen to him. Never complain about him to any of your friends. When you feel angry but not at him, tell him that he isn't the one you are angry at. It will take time."

Brian's response to this was, not surprisingly, that it wouldn't work because Gary this or Gary that. We listened and then told Brian that he had a choice. He could either commit to a long term campaign to make things better with Gary, or he could just accept that he had a lousy relationship with Gary and concentrate on his own life. He said that he guessed he would just have to accept that he had a horrible relationship because nothing else was possible.

And then later he came out to the living room where Gary was watching MMA. Brian sat down with his homework and said something to Gary about the fighters, Gary engaged a little in the conversation. It was sort of tense, but Brian was trying to make an effort. After a bit Gary turned off the television and left the room without saying anything. Brian just looked at me a minute and then worked on his homework.

That doesn't sound like much, but what I noticed was that Brian didn't say, "See Mom, I tried to be nice and he just walked off." Brian didn't even look like he wanted to say that.

I want to go on the record as saying that I predict there will be minor improvement in their relationship. Brian may might decide to make an effort. If he does, then at some point I will point out to Gary that Brian really has been trying to make things better and it would be nice if he would give him a chance. If it happens, the result would be that Gary would stop feeling like Brian is mean to him, jealous and resentful if he gets anything, and Brian might stop spending so much energy on feeling resentful. I'm not going to try to talk to Gary much before hand though. As much as I understand Brian's feelings, there isn't a whole lot that Gary can reasonably be expected to change.

So I don't know if there will improvement or not. I sort of expect that over the years there will be. Whether we will see anything over the course of mere weeks, I don't know.

On a related note, I'm not sure what is going to happen with Gary and school. His PO is going to insist that he switch schools if he gets a grade lower than a C, and he is finding that Choir and Guitar are both much more difficult than he expected. Choir isn't just singing and Guitar isn't just learning chords to play with popular music. Both classes have quizzes on musical notation, styles, terms. These were classes he thought were going to be the easy ones. At a regular high school they might be the "fun" electives. Here though they are part of the core and they are serious and difficult.

If hope he can make it through this year and then I think he may be able to finish up his high school degree with at home-classes, or something. He might be persuaded that half days at the big public school wouldn't be too bad. We'll see.


  1. Yolanda I just love how you talk about your kids and the decision making processes you go through to either talk with them or let them deal.

    You give me hope that I may someday soon get a grip on this parenting thing, though I am not sure I have the patience you have. My daughter we adopted from foster care is 3.5 and she is already proving to be a challenge to parent.

    I have been a longtime reader (3 yrs) but hardly able to comment for some reason I can't see the log in stuff on my computer lately.

    I would like to be able to read your other blog if that is still possible. Thanks for posting so regularly and from your heart. I feel like I know you and your family!

  2. Martha,

    Thanks for the comment and the kind thoughts.

    I had considered moving the blog to a different service, other people have had the same problem and I don't know how to fix it. I have been told that using Mozilla or Google Chrome instead of IE works.

  3. Well all of a sudden I can post here and am I ever embarrased I spelled your name wrong! actually had it completely wrong. I know its your webname still! how embarrassing Yondalla!


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