I slept with my brother's roommate!

He told me not to, but we got drunk and did it anyway.

Published December 16, 2008 11:11AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm seeking advice on a problem that I just cannot find the solution to. I am so ashamed and don't know what to do. This summer I visited my brother whom I hadn't seen in over a year. He is 23 and basically trying to figure out what to do with his life (and not doing a good job at it). I stayed at his place for two months. At the beginning of my stay, he explicitly asked me not to befriend his 26-year-old roommate -- he basically just said that he believed the guy didn't respect women and that I should stay away from him. At first, I agreed; I wasn't attracted to him at that time and wasn't planning on sleeping with him. Well, one drunk night we had sex. I had been deliberately flirting with him for the past week or so, and I basically came to his room at night. It's not like he had to talk me into it.

I was sure my brother wouldn't find out and that this would be our dirty little secret, but, boy, was I wrong. I think he overheard us having sex! The next day, the first thing he said to me was, I asked you for one thing and you couldn't do it. I didn't know yet that this was going to turn into such drama. I thought he would be OK with it in a few days. But I have never seen him this upset.

Words can't describe what I went through after this. It wasn't even arguing, it was him feeling disgust toward me and insulting me in the worst possible way. I cried every day. I felt I was being attacked for no particular reason and that he was totally overreacting. It wasn't about me wanting to date this guy, it was more like me not wanting anyone, especially my younger brother, interfering with my love life and telling me whom I am supposed to date. It was crazy, I felt like I had done something really bad, such as prostituting or sleeping with a married man. But all I did was have sex with someone I felt physically attracted to!

We ended up dating for the next month until I left. I had absolutely no feelings toward this guy, but I just didn't know what to do. I didn't want my brother to feel that he was controlling me; I felt he was overreacting and that he had no right to tell me whom I am supposed to date. I regret this decision now, but then I was not capable of evaluating the situation.

Well, it's been almost three months now and we still haven't spoken. He recently told my father that this was his worst summer vacation ever. I don't think there is anything I can say or do for him to forgive me. We tried talking so many times, but it's like we're speaking two different languages; we just cannot come to terms with this situation. He keeps saying that I "promised" him to stay away from this guy and that I broke this promise and that he feels betrayed. It makes me so sad. He really had never been this upset about anything. It's like during the month I stayed at his place it was the only thing he could concentrate on. I am sure he cried countless times, and I am deeply sorry for hurting a person I love so dearly. It was stupid and should have never happened -- but it did. I know my brother is not one of those people who can "forgive and forget" and he will carry this sorrow with him for a very long time if I don't do something. But I don't know what to do -- and it's not like he didn't hurt me! He made me feel like the worst person ever; he insulted me and argued with me all the time. I forgave him for that (and trust me, he said some nasty things to me) and would be willing to forget it.

I don't know what to do. He is coming home for Christmas, which would be a good time to talk and finally make up, but I don't want to get too hopeful about it. It just makes me deeply sad and frustrated. Most of all, I wish I could take away all the suffering he had to go through, but I can't.

What should I do? Should I try talking to him again? Should I apologize -- for doing a perfectly normal thing?


Dear Hoping,

Well, I'm still just writing without editing. The advantage of this, I am beginning to see, is that I absolutely must think before I type. (No jokes, please!) So let's see how I do with this one. I will concentrate on just one area. (This particular effort will be complicated by the fact that my wife is watching a program on BBC about a nutritionist who analyzes peoples poo. Strangely compelling.)

So: My one observation about your attempts to make up with your brother is that you may be making the mistake of coupling your apology with an accusation. I note that each time you admit what you did, you include a qualifier, or disclaimer. So I surmise that you may be doing this in your conversations with your brother as well. For instance, you say, "Should I apologize -- for doing a perfectly normal thing?" You say, "It's not like he didn't hurt me!" which is true, of course, but not something you want to include in your conversations with your brother. You also say, "I felt I was being attacked for no particular reason and that he was totally overreacting." It's possible that he is overreacting, but if you want to apologize, the best way to do it is to limit it to just what you have done.

What did you do? You promised him you wouldn't do something, and then you did it.

If you can somehow decouple your own feelings about whether your brother's feelings are justified or not, perhaps you can prepare yourself to do what you have to do. What you have to do is completely and utterly apologize to him, without expectation, without condition, without straying into other areas where you think he has been unreasonable or has hurt you. You have to be willing, in other words, to just give him something. Can you do that? It may help to think of it as just giving him a gift. When you give someone a gift it is not a trade, or a negotiation; you're just giving something. I think it is your only chance of getting right with him. I don't make any promises. I have no idea if it will work. But I think it is the only possible action that has any chance of working. He may not immediately forgive you. You must not ask for that. Don't ask for anything. Just go to him and tell him that you are completely, utterly, 100 percent sorry for what you did. End of story. You are sorry. Leave it at that.

Do not make any promises you can't keep. If he asks you to make promises about the future, tell him you don't think you are capable of doing that. Tell him all you want to do is admit that you were wrong to do what you did.

There are many underlying principles at work here, and all kinds of subtleties to be explored. But for the moment, as I continue this experiment of attempting to write straight through without editing, I think we will leave it at that. You need to go to your brother and make a clean, disciplined, focused apology, and let it go. He may or may not change right away. He may not change at all. You cannot control that. This is all you can do.

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By Cary Tennis

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