Ask Amy: Brother should not be a “fixer-upper”

Dear Amy: My brother “Bob” has dated his girlfriend “Ainsley” for four years. During this time, she’s asked him to get braces, get LASIK surgery instead of wearing glasses, and to change his hair and clothes to match her preferences.

Before these changes, his overall style was totally normal for a man in his early 20’s. He has not asked her to make any changes.

This hasn’t caused any kind of drama that I know of, but there are times when we’re socializing and Ainsley will casually say, “I’m so glad Bob fixed his teeth,” or “I hated those glasses he used to wear,” or “He looks so much better now.”

I love my brother and there was NOTHING wrong with him before. I find these comments hurtful.

The worst part is that he’s usually standing right there when she says these things.

What is a tactful way to respond to her when she criticizes what he used to look like? I just want her to know that Bob is — and has always been — a great person, and it’s shallow and hurtful to say those kinds of things.

I can only imagine what people would think if the genders were reversed, and he was talking to us about how much better Ainsley looks now, and that she wasn’t good enough before he took over.

What should I say?

— Sad Sister in WY

Dear Sad Sister: Partners can often inspire one another to shine up their personal style, but “Ainsley” seems to have asked “Bob” to make some expensive and fairly radical changes.

You portray her as being both shallow and domineering. You don’t say how your brother may feel about the changes he has made at her behest. You should ask him.

Ainsley’s critical remarks about how he used to look show a real lack of tact.

Generally, if you want to point out positive changes a person has made, it is kindest to focus on the result of their self-improvement, rather than the alleged faults that necessitated the effort. You don’t praise a person’s fitness journey by telling them what a mess they were before.

One way to respond is to keep it simple and say, “My brother’s great, no matter how he looks. I wish you could see that.”

Dear Amy: My mother gave me, through a reputable financial institution, a significant sum of money.

For two years after giving me this money she would refer to it as “the money I gave you.”

She has an ample monthly income from several sources, but gambles at casinos and gives money away to family, but denies both.

I know this because she had shown me her bank statements.

I have consulted attorneys and they say she is mentally incompetent.

Now she wants the money back.

I will not give the money back, but agreed to assist her financially if she gives me access to her financials.

I try to keep the lines of communication open, but she only wants to accuse me of “taking her money,” has threatened to sue me, threatened to “hurt” me, and cursed at me.

Do I continue to reach out to her or wait until she chooses to contact me?

— Mom, Money, Madness

Dear Madness: I’m not sure how any attorney can judge your mother to be mentally incompetent without meeting her or viewing a report from a qualified source.

Given the circumstances you cite, these funds might be safer in your control than in your mother’s. Don’t give the money back, but continue to assure her that you will help if she demonstrates a need.

Yes, I think you should continue to contact her to keep in touch. Stay calm, and if her paranoia continues, do your best to get her the help she might need.

Dear Amy: “Doing my Best in Oregon” reported that people frequently disparage her for using her handicap parking permit.

When I was 47, I was diagnosed with obliterative bronchiolitis. Essentially, my lungs don’t work. However, I look completely normal and healthy. The catch? I cannot walk more than about 100 feet without gasping for breath.

I, too, have a handicap placard and when I use it people make rude and disparaging comments. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!), I do not even have the breath to say a word in return.

Not all disabilities are visible!

— Invisible Disability

Dear Invisible: I have been somewhat shocked by the response to this question, telling stories such as yours. I’m sorry you are subjected to this.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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