Forgetting family
October 31, 2010 6:18 AM   Subscribe

When you feel that you are no longer important to a sister, should you try to forget her?

I've always had a close relationship with my younger sister, although most of our adult lives we have lived very far apart and only visit once a year. I've been there for her during the joys and sorrows of her life, spent hours on the phone with her during her divorce and provided her with a place to live until she was on her feet again.

A year ago she met someone who seems very good for her. It is over that year that things changed between her and I. I heard very little from her, but understood that she was quite happy and busy with her new boyfriend, new house, new life. As the year progressed, I went through some very troubling times and wrote my sister about it. She replied with a few sentences or sometimes not at all! I never told her how hurt I was.

In August when I visited (a very expensive and 14 hour flight) she announced that she had taken a 10 day vacation from work. I was very happy about this, thinking that we would spend lots of time together. Instead she dropped her children off at my mother's house and left to "take a nap."

I think it is clear that I have no place in her new life. I am so hurt and angry that I want very much to just try to forget about her, the way that she has forgotten about me. Any advice on how I can handle this anger in a positive way? I'm not sure if mending a relationship with someone as selfish as her is a positive thing..
posted by striving to Human Relations (33 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I never told her how hurt I was.

It sounds to me like this would be a better place to start. If not for your relationship with your sister, then as a personal lesson in communicating your feelings. You might be surprised by the outcome.
posted by thejoshu at 6:23 AM on October 31, 2010 [13 favorites]

In August when I visited (a very expensive and 14 hour flight) she announced that she had taken a 10 day vacation from work. I was very happy about this, thinking that we would spend lots of time together. Instead she dropped her children off at my mother's house and left to "take a nap."

....for 10 days? Or did you see her at some point during the trip?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:34 AM on October 31, 2010 [11 favorites]

Umm, I don't think it's clear you have no place in her life. I think it is clear that her life is more full and more complex and requires more juggling than it used to. She may not make the best choices regarding you in that exercise, but you may also need to evolve and be much more clear about your needs. Not saying that you wanted to see more of her on your trip isn't how you get your needs met. Not saying that you need her support in your letters isn't how you get your needs met. Not saying you are hurt is not how you get your needs met.

How old are these kids? Children are exhausting. Work is exhausting. Managing a house and a relationship is exhausting. Unless this was a 10 day nap, what happened the rest of the days she had taken off?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:35 AM on October 31, 2010 [18 favorites]

Are you perhaps redirecting your feelings about whatever is going on in your life towards your sister? It sounds like she has a lot going on, too, even though it's good stuff. Can you find local friends to confide in?

In my book, you don't write off family for average levels of selfishness (and a new boyfriend is within reason; taking a nap when the kids are finally out of the house is within reason). I've heard some horrible family problems on ask mefi, but this sounds petty.

Siblings are for the long-haul. When you're 80, they remember when you were 10. They can't always be your #1 support in the short term, especially when you're young.

On preview, 1+ DarlingBri.
posted by parkerjackson at 6:36 AM on October 31, 2010 [7 favorites]

So you helped her out in the past and now she's now reacting to your situation in a way you don't expect. Does she even know this? If you are not getting what you need from her... fine, so be it. Get what you need somewhere else. But this notion, of completely forgetting her, sounds reactive and extreme. How to handle your anger? .... let it go, move on. Put that energy into something else.
posted by mrmarley at 6:41 AM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I'm feeling particularly lame, I read a grocery store novel thats marketed to young-ish to middle-aged women.

Using that as data, I can tell you that you and your sister will go through many ups and downs in your life. But towards your twilight years, you will have been glad that you were sisters...and then you'll have a "footsteps" moment when you realize that she was always there.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:46 AM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

If she's your younger sister, she may be used to you taking care of her, and she might not realize that she can act like your older sister sometimes and take care of you.
posted by amtho at 6:52 AM on October 31, 2010 [11 favorites]

Others have noted the curious aspect of your question in which you complain about your sister's nap as if she napped for your entire visit. To us, you're exaggerating and/or just focusing on that part of your visit that rankled you the most. Similarly, you complain that you "have no place in her new life," and that she's "forgotten" about you. All these statements are exaggerations, and just as you didn't tell us about the 22 hours and 9 days of your visit when your sister wasn't napping, I think you're not focusing on the place you do have in your sister's life, and exaggerating the degree to which your relationship with your sister has been ruined.

I don't mean to call you some fabulist drama queen, and it's clear you are feeling hurt, but think about the degree of exaggeration you're using to describe the problems in this relationship. After you've dialed back the problem to a degree of reality that both you and sister could agree upon, what if you called your sister up and asked her why these changes have taken place. ("We used to spend hours on the phone discussing the joys and sorrows in our lives, and now we only talk every ____ days/weeks/months. Why is that?" "I came to visit you, and on my first day with you, you napped for ___ hours. Why was that?") Listen to your sister's explanation. You might find she's dealing with a lot that you can help or share with her ("I'm so exhausted!" "I'm so in love!"), and in doing so, renew and deepen your bonds with her.

The truth is, to some degree, you're not a part of her new life. You're not her new house, you're not her new lover, you're not her new boyfriend, you're not her new child. But you will always be a part of her old life, and one of the great joys in life is integrating one's old life with the constantly changing parts of one's new life ("My sister loves my new boyfriend! My kids love their aunt!"). Are you sure your sister is entirely unwilling to do this?
posted by hhc5 at 7:01 AM on October 31, 2010 [11 favorites]

Communication issue.

Tell her what you have voiced in your post here.
posted by fire&wings at 7:21 AM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you still there? Did she just go take her nap?

Otherwise, seconding what everyone else just said.
posted by n'muakolo at 7:24 AM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oops - trip was August. What the heck else happened those other 9 days and 22 hours?!
posted by n'muakolo at 7:26 AM on October 31, 2010

It's not at all clear you don't have a place in her life. It is clear, however, that you don't have any idea what's going on in her life right now, anymore than she does in yours. She may be having relationship problems she doesn't want to talk about. She may be depressed. And there are a million other possibilities. You won't know until you ask, but in my opinion the last think you should do is jump to the conclusion that she doesn't want you around and write off the relationship.
posted by something something at 7:32 AM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry this is going on and nthing you absolutely should talk to her.

But here's my two cents taken from my relationship with my sister (which may be completely dysfunctional...I dunno): my sister is my best friend, she knows me better than anyone else, I can tell her anything and she won't judge me, she's my go-to person more than anyone else in the world (and vice versa)...BUT she and I very much take our relationship for granted.

It's hard to explain, but I KNOW she's always there for me. If I need help all I need to do is ask, but if I don't ask, she doesn't necessarily offer. And neither do I. It's this feeling of, "I'm your sister, OF COURSE I'll help. Just ask." There's no complex dynamic of trying to figure out what my sister wants and needs...we just tell each other. We both absolutely put more effort into other relationships than we do with each other, precisely because we're sisters...we'll always have each other.
posted by dzaz at 7:37 AM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I feel like I haven't seen someone much for a while, and the relationship is important to me, I tell them, "I miss you."
posted by galadriel at 7:41 AM on October 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

Don't forget about her and accept her for who she is. You can communicate your feelings but that is about all you can do.

She seems to be more self-centered than you. If you want to do things for her, then do them. That is who you are. Don't expect your sister to do the same in return or to act in the way you want her to.

I'm sorry things between you and her are this way; it sounds like a disappointing experience.
posted by Increase at 7:47 AM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

My brother has been living in Japan for a few years now, my uncle has lived in South Korea for decades, but our family is based on the east coast of the US. My brother and my uncle are very similar in their bad qualities, like being selfish, self-absorbed, and waaay too smart for their own good, socially speaking. They are both kind of jerkwads, really. But, I love my brother! We talk online a lot these days. We have our ups and downs, and in the past I've gone nearly a year without speaking to him. My dad has kept in touch and brotherhood with my uncle despite multiple arguments, bitterness on different issues, and a fundamental disagreement on lifestyles. These relationships are maintained through email, phonecalls, semi-annual visits and simply the knowledge that these guys will always love us and be our family no matter how far away they may be from us geographically speaking.

Siblings are a lifelong thing in my family. Unless your sibling abused you in a legitimate way, or is perhaps a complete psychopath, there's no reason for you to flounce away from a shared sisterhood. If you haven't told her how you've been feeling about things lately, do it. She deserves your respect the same as you deserve hers, right? So let her know what you're thinking. She isn't a mind reader! If she were livid at you, to the point of asking a bunch of internet strangers if she should forget you forever (gosh, quite dramatic), wouldn't you want to know?

Brothers and sisters ebb and flow in their importance to us. When I was a teenager, my brother barely spoke to me. But we were extremely close as younger kids. When I was in college I never spoke to him during the school year but we became really close over winter and summer breaks. After college I was the one who barely ever spoke to him. Now we're back on an even keel with each other. I know that I'm important to him just like he is to me, not because he needs me or even spends time with me but just because that's the permanence of family.
posted by Mizu at 7:48 AM on October 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

There's not enough information to assess that you need to cut her from your life, but that seems like an extreme reaction to her (to me) garden-variety shortcomings.

She may not realize you have hurt feelings. Like a poster above, I'd tell her you miss her and would like some time together.

If she wasn't your sibling, but a friend, how would you handle this?
posted by SillyShepherd at 8:04 AM on October 31, 2010

Sometimes you can't expect quid pro quo from a sibling or family member. Your sister's life sounds very busy and very complex. I'm sure she loves you but people have limitations. She has a lot going on, and being a good sister means understanding that she can't meet all of your emotional needs at the exact time you need them.
posted by anniecat at 8:50 AM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Two things stand out:

...she had some difficulties; you put her up. Now she's got a new house. Is it possible there is not a bit of "Sister has had her fill of me, what with me showing up on her doorstep. She would prefer if I back off a bit now that I am not so needy" in her head?

...she has children. You "want very much to just try to forget about her," and refer to the children's grandmother as your mother rather than our mother or as Grandma. I am going to guess there is little interest in these kids and some non-existent or poor-quality auntie-ing going on here. Otherwise, this question would include "So given our strained relationship, what's the best way for me to maintain contact with my nieces and nephews?"

I don't need my friends to like my kid, but I would be kinda disgusted if any of my siblings had turned out to be poor aunts/uncles. And my expectations are not high -- a birthday card in the mail, being pleased to see the tot when we all happen to be at our parents' house or out for dinner or whatever; that's all that's needed right now, just little gestures that make "I am family" clear to my child. Even if they went through a bad patch with me, I'd expect them to suck it up and continue to fulfill aunt/uncle duties. It is just what one does as a member of the aunt/uncle generation; these things are, in my view, not optional. Being there for children is just part of what one is obligated to do as part of a family. If she is bent even a bit like me on this, she may be busy seeing you as the selfish one for your lack of participation in this part of her 'new life.'
posted by kmennie at 9:11 AM on October 31, 2010 [7 favorites]

A year ago she met someone who seems very good for her. It is over that year that things changed between her and I.

There is something very seriously wrong in her relationship with her new boyfriend.

So wrong that she cannot face it, and dares not breathe a word of it to anyone else. She's cut you off because she knows it would come out if she spent any time around you, her most intimate confidant over her entire life.

If that's how she wants it, that's her right and there's not much you can do until it all blows open, as it inevitably will.

But she's not the only member of your family involved in her new relationship, and the others probably didn't get much of a choice in the whole thing.

Without betraying any particular concern before you know there's something to be concerned over, sound your mother out about how the kids are doing. From the casual way your sister dropped them off at you mother's house, I'd say your mom has more than enough contact with them to see signs if whatever's wrong is having any impact on them.
posted by jamjam at 9:53 AM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a somewhat one-sided relationship with my brother. He has a tendency to avoid me when he meets new people (especially girls!) for up to a year, but I know if I really needed him, and I make that abundantly clear to him in a non-argumentative way, he would drop everything to make sure I'm okay. He's used to me being the supportive one in our friendship, so he knows it's serious if I actually ask for his company or help. I suspect your relationship with your sister is the same way except you're not communicating with her and you're not giving her a chance.

When I give more than I should, thus making our relationship imbalanced and "unfair", I remind myself that I give because I'm able to and I want to, not because I expect a perfectly equal, automatic repayment for my services. Since learning the hard way I should never give more than I can handle (especially if I'm going to resent him for it) our relationship has been great. His support may not be as consistent as my support, but what I get from him intermittently more than makes up for that. It's sometimes easy to forget he accumulates all that energy for one big supportive moment. I try to remember those moments when I feel angry and abandoned.
posted by Faraday Cage at 9:54 AM on October 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

The younger/older sib relationship is one of those things that is a little... weird, generally. It does not reverse well. You are The Big Sibling. She is The Little Sister. When you've been that way for a lifetime, it isn't really going to be easy for her to take on the more comforting/guiding role that you'd like her to be able to take on. You're not wrong for wanting that, but the fact that she's had a hard time with it doesn't mean that she does not still love you and care about you and want you to be a big part of her life.

My younger brother and I have a very similar thing going. I have helped him out a lot over time. He's... well, helped me move a couple times, so I guess there's that. In my hard times, I look to other relatives (one aunt especially) and to friends. I can count on him sometimes for things like, "Hey, come over here and we'll get a pizza and play video games and I'll be more cheered up," at least if I'm paying for the pizza, but when I lived far away, we barely even spoke. No less love, though. And when he needs me, he still comes and asks for my help. And we still hang out and have fun. But now that he's older and married, we hang out less than we used to, and I've gone on to find new people to fill my needs for that sort of love and support--not all of your brothers and sisters are your blood relations.

There are other people out there who will be your friends who fill the roles your sister doesn't. You don't have to forget your sister, and you don't have to find some way *not* to be disappointed by this. You just have to love her anyway, spend what time you can with her, and broaden your horizons so that you have lots of people around who care about you so that you don't pin quite as much on her shoulders while she's got other stuff on her plate. It'll take some time to adjust, that's all.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:38 AM on October 31, 2010 [5 favorites]

My ex cared a lot about her family and friends but somehow couldn't find the emotional energy to do things like send cards, keep in touch. It was more an energy issue but she really cared.

On the other hand, I do believe that relationships can break if there isn't enough emotional giving/taking between people, regardless of whether they are family or not.

How much can one person handle?

How about family members taking advantage of you financially, not being there for the marriage, not being there for the divorce, never calling?

Sometimes its just a little too wrong.

I don't bother anymore. Its just too draining. I believe effort is not a one way street.

If they don't get it, they don't get it.

Sure it hurt but some people won't or can't learn.

You can't be the giver all the time. I find love in other ways now.

I'm ok with my choices if I die tomorrow.

I'm not saying that you should give up in your case though but just sharing my experience.
posted by simpleton at 12:11 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a similar relationship with my brother. We have such fun together, he is very charismatic, occasionally he will do something very caring and touching. He cannot be relied upon for anything and he is in his own world. This is all OK. I love him. I know he loves me. I feel glad for the time we spend together and try not to lament the times he is absent. I think one sometimes has to sacrifice reliability and stability in order to have exciting people in one's life.

On preview, what gracedissolved said. So good.
posted by maryrosecook at 12:17 PM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you haven't TALKED to her about how you are feeling you have nothing to complain about yet.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:18 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thank you all so much! I'm both relieved to hear that I'm making too much of it and to get lots of support and advice at the same time! So much to answer.... I was there about 3 weeks and did spend about 4 days with my sister, but with her 2 teenagers and my 3 children (slightly younger) we had no time to ourselves. No opportunity or actually, she made no opportunity to have a private discussion at all! During her other days off, she dropped her kids off in the morning and left (her own time, boyfriend time, who knows) and I returned them to her house, but wasn't exactly invited in when I returned them to her house. One of the commenters above may be right about something not being quite right over there. Like she wants a lot of privacy. I don't know... she is also a lot busier than me, she didn't have the whole summer off and so maybe I just need to learn to be satisfied with what she can give.

I do have some good friends here who have filled the void of not having her around to talk to. When I am troubled I call them my "worry buddies" so, I guess I should try not to expect too much from her, but let her know that my door is open with no grudges...just as soon as I'm sure that I truly have no grudges. I may need a little more time to get there.
posted by striving at 12:25 PM on October 31, 2010

The first act from this episode of This American Life touches on a similar situation and may be worth a listen.
posted by timshel at 1:19 PM on October 31, 2010

So I take it you stayed with your mother and not with your sister during your three week trip? You mention that she "made no opportunity to have a private discussion" and that you "[weren't] exactly invited in." Did you actually ask her for any private time? Or just wait for her to offer? (If the latter, I sympathize because I usually wait for others to offer instead of asking for what I want-- and I'm usually disappointed! It would be nice if others always offered first but sometimes you have to ask, even if it's not guaranteed they will say yes.)
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 2:19 PM on October 31, 2010

Life is complex and tough - you won't always know why people can't be there for you and sometimes there might not even be a good reason, but if they are people that you care about you should always assume the best, and that they will be there for you later, or always still love you even if they cannot be there for you. You sound like you keep count of things like favors and gifts - please try to stop as that is very destructive.
posted by meepmeow at 2:56 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

It can be hard to be a good friend or relative consistently, year after year, decade after decade. People are sometimes overwhelmed, busy, self-absorbed, and unreliable. Lives are cyclical. She might be going through a selfish time right now (or not--it sounds like you're not exactly sure what is going on with her), but that doesn't mean she won't be a close, loving sister in two years. Don't assume this is permanent.

That said, I would definitely reach out to her & ask for emotional support. In the meantime, focus on your friends and other support systems. I'm sorry you had a tough year.
posted by studioaudience at 3:13 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was this younger sister for a while. I got into a relationship and it was obvious that my older sister and SO didn't get along (not that I'm saying that's the case here at all - just my sitch) so I kind of kept them apart, and "chose" my SO, and very much didn't find the time to spend with my sis that I should have.

This went on for many years, until my relationship ended. My sister was the first and awesomest person there for me. She let me cry, eat, do laundry, watch bad movies, etc. and then, at some point, very simply stated that she hated that I wasn't around more when I was in my relationship. And I realized she was right, and said I was sorry. I also realized that a lot of that relationship was me learning lessons for my next one, and that I was glad we were hanging out more. Since then we've never been closer. She's also dealing with a major, life threatening, health issue and now I am the first person there for her and the first person she asks for much of the time (moreso than her husband) when she needs me.

And, honestly, I do wish I had that time back. I would trade spending time with my sister for that (admittedly failed) relationship any day. So, I guess maybe talking to her about it would be my advice. You never know what might happen.
posted by buzzkillington at 6:56 PM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

somewhat related to your current situation
This American Life - Frenemies - Act One: Chasing Amy
posted by abdulf at 7:52 PM on October 31, 2010

I'm the younger sister (not your younger sister, but a younger sister) in a similar situation. My sister just told me that in the past year or two she's felt like she hasn't had a little sister at all. We've both changed a lot in the past two years - she got married and settled down a little, I became more sexually open and daring (and moved into performance art). She said that she couldn't relate to me anymore and doesn't know how to respond to me.

I was so disappointed and hurt when she told me that because I felt she got taken in by my persona instead of recognising that there is a human being underneath that. There's more to me than being a performance artist! I have been going through relationship issues, career issues, general depression, life's crazy ups and downs...she doesn't need to identify with the subject matter, but just reaching out and saying Hello would have been good.

Perhaps your sister feels that you are distancing yourself away from her (rationally or otherwise) and is waiting for you to say something?
posted by divabat at 2:35 PM on November 1, 2010

« Older I can make about a dozen dishes with potatoes and...   |   DC personal trainer Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.