Social discomfort, family obligation
January 27, 2009 10:29 AM Subscribe
Cousin Zach is a sweetheart, but I don't have the time or inclincation to attend everything he invites us to. How to say no tactfully? Guilt is involved.
posted by frosty_hut to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Last year I was contacted by my cousin Linda (can't remember the fake name I used before). I hadn't seen her in about twenty-five years. She had cancer, knew she was dying, and -- though I didn't realize it -- had been feeling guilty all that time about her previous failure to contact me. My mother and father had died when I was pretty young, and I guess Linda had been beating herself up for keeping away from me during that period. I mostly wasn't bothered. I vaguely wondered where she was on occasion, but it wasn't like her absence ever made a real difference to me. She had never been around, so I suppose I didn't know what I was missing.
It turned out there wasn't much time to get to know Linda. Her house was just jam-packed with people toward the end. But I snatched a few moments with her, and she sent me some emails. She was tired what with the chemo, and it's too bad we didn't have more time. She passed away a few months ago, and I hope she's at peace.
In the meantime, there's Linda's husband Zach. He's a great guy. But you can't just be with Zach. He's always with about a million and five people. My husband and I are both socially challenged, and all of these people were a bit intimidating the first time we went over there. It's like I have no family for twenty-five years, and suddenly I've got four hundred instant relatives.
But except for my Uncle Morris (Zach's father-in-law), the most adorable 87 year old on the planet and a person who sets me completely at ease, I'm not jumping up and down at the prospect of a long term association with Zach and Co. I'm bewildered and alienated by the waves and waves of people that keep frothing up around me whenever I get within a few feet of wherever Zach's standing. My husband and I bowed out of one of the holiday-time gatherings he invited us to, but we felt bad and asked him if he could meet us sometime for lunch. He said sure, but it didn't happen and I'll bet it never will.
I'm starting to get cranky about it. Apparently Zach is the only one who can initiate anything socially. He only wants to do things his way, with his people, at his house, etc. When my husband and I suggest something, it's a no-go for whatever reason. Zach doesn't want to be alone with us I feel. It's an intimacy-avoidance thing. Or that's my gut sense about it. It's like he's got to be shored up by a cast of thousands. He can't just sit and chat and look me in the eye. He simply can't do intimacy, and doesn't feel the need to try.
Which is fine, but it's just the opposite of how I am. I love chatting with just one person. It's the only way I feel I'm ever encountering the person in a real way. Groups of folks don't do it for me as a rule.
So we're just different. And it's okay. Except --
Zach keeps inviting my husband to events we don't want to attend, which necessitates our refusal, and I'm starting to feel like a gigantic jerk. I do think Zach's urgency about it has something to do with Linda having pressed him for a promise to make things right with me after her death. Don't have hard evidence--it's just a suspicion. And I can understand the sentiment.
But it's so one-way. Why does Zach assume his family is so great? I mean, I'm not a kid anymore. I'm forty-something already. I've got a little life in place here. I've been put-putting along without this branch of the family for twenty-five years, thanks, and I haven't been irreversibly damaged by their absence. I feel there's an arrogance in Zach's attitude, and it rubs me the wrong way.
But I don't want to hurt Uncle Morris' feelings. He's the last living relative I've got that I care about. He's lost two daughters over the past fourteen months. He's bearing up, and I want to support him utterly. But how do I frame this to him? I can't just say, "Zach weirds me out. We don't feel comfortable over there. I won't see you there anymore, but let's you and I keep doing lunch!"
Is there anything else I can say, that would save my relationship with Uncle Morris -- and Zach? And if I'm being a total asshole, let me know.