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damage control

The question

A few years ago I sold my house in a large urban area and moved to a small community to be closer to my siblings. The move coincided with the start of my retirement and the need to rewire my life after the death of my wife. Despite inviting and paying for my sisters and their husbands to join me on two winter vacations and hosting dinners at my house, the only contact with the sisters occurs when I take the initiative. I have been told to find a partner and then, presumably, I will be included in activities. Is this just bad behaviour or the way things are done in small communities?

Our friend’s 40-year-old brother won’t leave the guest room. How do we kick him out?

My brother-in-law makes hurtful comments about my son’s weight. How do I deal with him?

I quit smoking, but my husband refuses to support me. What do I do?

The answer

The former, i.e., bad behaviour.

I’ve lived in small communities. Admittedly it’s a small sample size, therefore unscientific, and I suppose there are small communities where everyone is standoffish, snobby, uptight, superior and cliquey.

(Make a good TV show: Standoffish Junction, or maybe Snobby Acres.)

As a teenager, I went to live and work on a farm in Wanamingo, Minn., population 620.

Sure, they played pranks on me, the city boy. In the early days, I was very pleased and chuffed to find myself driving a tractor, pulling a “drag,” basically a fine-toothed version of a plow.

I pulled up next to the barn and said, perhaps a little too farmerishly for such a greenhorn: “Where should I put the drag?”

“We usually take it apart and store it in that tree,” the farmer said, straight-faced. “You climb up and we’ll hand the parts up to you.”

I climbed the tree and awaited further instructions. Down on the ground the farmer and his son kept it together for a minute, then cracked up, nearly splitting their sides laughing at my gullibility.

But I always felt warmly welcomed in that town. Pot lucks, dinners, barbecues, everyone in and out of each other’s houses and chatting in friendly fashion at the town’s lone diner – and if you ever had any kind of trouble, your fellow Wanamingoans flew to your assistance.

I’m also one generation removed from farm folk and thus have spent a fair share of time in small communities – so I would say: No, the way your siblings are behaving is not, as far as I’ve ever seen, typical of small communities.

It’s not even typical of decent human beings. I find it outrageous, in fact. They know perfectly well you picked up stakes, loaded up a van or truck, purchased or rented a new home in a new town, all so you could be near them – and then don’t invite you over?

They have accepted your generosity (the trips) and your hospitality, so we know it’s not simply that they can’t stand your company. And the only comment they offer is: “Get a girlfriend and maybe we’ll invite you over”?

It’s stunning: shocking, really.

But of course you can’t compel people to invite you. Whom they have over is obviously up to them.

In his cult-classic advice book How to Do Things Right, L. Rust Hills outlines various “social cruel rules.”

Social Cruel Rule No. 3 is: “Uninteresting people invite you to their house; you do not invite them back. You invite interesting people to your house; they do not invite you back.”

Let’s set aside all this interesting/uninteresting business for the moment and just say certainly there are people you invite over who don’t invite you back, and vice versa. I’ve been on both sides of that transaction.

It’s just a shame that in this case it’s your own flesh and blood, people you moved to be closer to. I think you should go ahead and tell them it’s hurting your feelings. Might not have an immediate effect, but maybe eventually they’ll scratch their heads and have a little compassion and say to themselves: “Hmmm, he is a widower and maybe lonely and did move to be closer to us. Perhaps we could invite him over even before he gets a girlfriend.”

But the real question in my mind is: Do you really want to hang out with siblings who are willing to treat you so shabbily? Maybe it’s time to get out there in your new town, play bridge, bingo, bocce ball, whatever’s on offer (not trying to be ageist/small-town-ist here, just choosing activity ideas at random), make some new friends who might actually have you over to their homes, maybe even meet a love interest, then when your siblings finally invite you over, say: “Hmm, I’ll have to check my schedule and get back to you.”

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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