I’ve lately started to notice that my sister will give me a compliment that can also be construed as an insult. She’ll point out my choice in home decor by saying ‘what a lovely couch, it’s a daring color to choose’ and then smile prettily at me, waiting for me to thank her – which I inevitably do. Another example is when we met up for dinner and she said ‘that blouse looks beautiful, not very many people pull it off.’ The statement trailed off unnaturally as if implying I am also not pulling it off.
I began to notice these compliments are not actually compliments because she never says anything of the sort when talking with other people. Yet she constantly gives me a half compliment followed by an insult. I don’t know whether I should confront her or continue to smile and drink my tea.
Sister in Sussex
Dear Sister in Sussex,
Siblings – there is no greater enemy or ally on this earth! Over the years I have had the chance to view the complex sibling dynamic while watching my Mommybeast verbally spar with her brothers during their visits. While everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, it doesn’t sound like you are having the same experience with your own sibling. This usually indicates one of the siblings is a jerk. For the sake of my readership, we’ll assume your sister is the jerk in this relationship. (Though it could very well be you for not handling her joking nature in the manner she intends it. Think about this at your leisure.)
Your proposal to confront or ignore these attacks is foolhardy.
First off, you are British. Based on my viewing of Very British Problems on Netflix, I can only imagine how mortified you would become in a confrontation. You would end up apologizing and bursting into tears, undermining your ability to get the upper hand in this relationship. Second, smiling and drinking tea as a fire rages inside of you will diminish the love affair you have with your beverage of choice. One day you’ll happen upon a pot of tea and instantly become irate, throwing the pot into a wall and laughing as you smash a scone into your mouth for comfort.
If there is anything I’ve learned about the British, it’s that tea time cannot be compromised.
Instead, I think you should turn the insults up a notch. Think about what insecurities your sister has from childhood. Any suppressed feelings of uselessness, embarrassing moments where underpants might have been shown, the time she disappointed your parents. Even better, find a youthful indiscretion that your parents don’t know about…yet.
Prepare to embrace your inner American.
Unleash those insults in front of other people and watch the shit parade march along. Fight the need to apologize as you rain verbal hellfire down upon your unsuspecting sibling. Time your barbs perfectly for maximum impact – having an elderly Aunt near at hand during an embarrassing poop story guarantees your sibling’s mortification is complete.
Never underestimate the power of a smile to throw off witnesses to your insults.
Now I would like to caution you of the potential blowback. As an American we’ve learned this through years of trial and error – time that you do not have. Your sister may expose embarrassing things about you that you’d rather left unsaid – prepare for retaliation based on the information she could potentially expose. You are also in danger of looking like an asshole if you don’t time these insults perfectly. Always remember the cardinal rule of insulting someone directly to their face –
Never be the first to attack.
The worst case scenario will be spending your future holidays alone after being banished as the black sheep of the family. Frankly, that could also be interpreted as a positive if they give lousy gifts!
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