Ask Riley: Bullied siblings and roommate troubles

Riley Brands

Editor’s note: This is an advice column written by in-house know-it-all Riley Brands. All answers are based on personal experience. Brands is not a licensed professional. Questions for Brands can be sent to [email protected] 

Dearest Riley,
My roommate doesn't have a car and never pays me for gas so I stopped taking her places. Now she's taking public transit everywhere, should I feel bad?
Running on Empty

Dear Running on Empty,
Taking the bus is hardly the torture some make it out to be. While on a hot summer day the tightly packed quarters of a city bus might not be the most pleasant surroundings, I’m sure your roommate is holding up just fine.

Don’t punish yourself for cutting off the free chauffeur service. If she had the money and still didn’t pay you, she clearly didn’t appreciate it, or else she would have gladly coughed up the cash. If she didn’t have the money, I can see why you might feel insensitive for putting her on the bus, but ultimately, it’s not your responsibility to foot the bill for her transportation needs.

As long as you didn’t make the decision rashly, which I take it from your email you didn’t, you have no reason to feel guilty. Besides, both you and she can think of it as a learning experience for her. I find the bus to be great for people-watching and zoning out, what with the snail’s pace at which it generally inches along in Austin traffic. It also gives plenty of time for reading and writing; there are a number of things you can occupy yourself with on the bus.

Dearest Riley,
My sister is getting bullied and I want to help her but I don’t want to approach her about it for fear it will make her uncomfortable. What should I do?
Sympathetic Sibling

Dear Sympathetic Sibling,
There’s often a temptation in these cases to go around the victim and seek help for them without their knowledge. I want to take this opportunity to advise against that course of action; the victim generally finds out and is rightly aggrieved.

Simply tell your sister you’re worried about the treatment she’s receiving and offer your support, but don’t frame your concern in terms of her helplessness or inability to deal with the bully herself. Instead, focus on the unacceptability of the bully’s abusive behavior. She probably already feels insecure enough as it is, so there’s no need to rub it in her face that the bully has succeeded in exerting control over her.

Where to go from this point is the tricky part. I’m of the opinion that it’s better to give your sister the option of taking or leaving your offer of help, unless the situation calls for immediate action. Encourage her to take steps against the bully, but don’t force it. It hurts to see someone you love suffer, but this is a battle she’s going to have to fight for herself.