Family drama about to come to a head. Help me head it off
July 31, 2014 9:54 PM   Subscribe

I stopped speaking to a family member due to a unhealthy dynamic that had been going on for years now. We're both invited to a family event we both want to attend. What do I do?

[I've anonymized this because my sibling may read the green. I'm using a plural pronoun to keep sibling anonymous, too--sorry for any confusion].

I stopped speaking to my sibling a few years ago. Suffice it to say I lost the ability to trust my sibling's behavior, which can be duplicitous and vengeful in a way that led to some anxiety issues for me that were serious enough to seek medical help. I feel guilty for cutting my sibling off, but I'm also relieved that the drama is no longer in my life and I'm actually getting better. I do want to reconnect with them at some point when I'm better equipped to handle it. My sibling is understandably upset by this.

Here's the problem: a relative who lives near me is getting married. We're not close but we have spent a few holiday dinners together. I really like them and want to grow our friendship as I have no other immediate family in the area, so I'd definitely like to go. Plus it's not too far from me. At first my sibling said they wouldn't go, but recently they told our mother they are thinking of going. FWIW, sibling lives on the other side of the country, where a lot of our relatives live.

A family member is renting a big house for all of us to stay in for the wedding. That makes it affordable for me. If my sibling comes we would be staying in the same house. This would not be good. My sibling can be highly emotional, manipulative and boundary-breaking. I’m just not ready for this. I can’t afford to rent a hotel and I can't invite a friend. The only thing I can think of is to see if somebody in this small town will let me rent a room. Though then I’d still have to see sibling at the wedding and related events, and I'm not sure how I would handle that.

I don’t think any of our relatives know I'm not in contact with my sibling. Should I tell my relative getting married, maybe they have a right to know of the drama that could transpire? I'm really at a loss as to what I'm supposed to do. Any ideas, proper etiquette suggestions, would be really appreciated.

Here is my throwaway account in case you want to memail me:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sympathetic to you, but this is one of those situations where the right thing isn't going to be fair to you.

You need an emotionally safe environment; you can't afford to provide one for yourself; the housing situation is going to be unsafe for you. Even if you work out the housing problem, you don't trust yourself to handle seeing your sibling at the events, which means you may be bringing drama with you. You need to sort out in your head what you will do to handle seeing your sibling, because this isn't just a reunion or Christmas - it's a wedding, which means it's supposed to be about the people getting married. Even if there's drama, it should be centered around them and their incipient merging of two families. Upstaging the couple and their imminent in-law crises is really outside the pale.

If you tell your getting-married relative, be completely clear with them (and that means even more crystal-clear with yourself) that you are not asking them to get in the middle. If, after you do some advance thinking and some role-playing in your head, you're still in an emotional place where you think you can't control your own contribution to the drama, you really owe it to that nascent friendship to bow out.

I do get that this is all your sibling's fault, that they might even be considering coming mainly to stir you up. But you want to be friends with your other relative, so you are the one stuck taking the high road.
posted by gingerest at 10:16 PM on July 31, 2014 [13 favorites]

Once you ascertain that sibling is going, don't go. Tell marriage relative you can't go but you'd love to spend time with the newlyweds at Thanksgiving. If sibling isn't going, you go.
Missing this wedding isn't that big of a deal compared to sibling drama.
posted by k8t at 10:23 PM on July 31, 2014 [14 favorites]

Do not tell your relative who is getting married about any of this drama. Ever.

It is not fair to your relative.


Your sibling is playing chicken with you. Fuck them.

Here's what you do:

Decline the RSVP for the wedding. Send a lovely gift.

Separately, write your relative an awesome card and say you are sorry you can't make it, but after the wedding you would love to get together with them. After the wedding, reach out to your relative and make plans.

Do not mention the sibling drama to anyone at any time. Don't make up ridiculous excuses about not going to the wedding. Play it cool, like Fonzie. Play it all cool.


Your sibling is not going to the wedding, but the only way for you to cut off this drama right here and now is to send your regrets and not attend any events like this in the future. Ever.

Just stop playing the game.

AND P.S..... Stop triangulating with your mom & sibling.
posted by jbenben at 10:35 PM on July 31, 2014 [47 favorites]

i agree with jbenben here. sadly, you're going to have to remove yourself from the situation and not go to the wedding. send regrets and a gift and offer to get together at another time.

and do not tell your mother any of your plans regarding the wedding, because sure as hell, your mom is talking about your plans to your sibling, and your sibling is more than likely using them to mess with you. (ask me about my also fucked up sibling dynamic!). if she asks, tell her you have yet to make a decision and leave it at that.
posted by koroshiya at 10:48 PM on July 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

I try not to second-guess AskMe posters but since you're at such a loss and said that "any ideas" would be appreciated, I'll tell you that I always feel skeptical when I hear people who are between a rock and a hard place using the phrase, "I can't afford..." When people are being prosecuted or sued, they say this about hiring a lawyer. When they are having a medical condition, they say it about seeing a doctor. And in my experience, if you actually sit down with a person who has said this and you work through their budget, there are all kinds of items like cable television and Netflix, local concerts and movie tickets, and ooooh the alcohol you'll find. I don't mean to snark, truly. This is something that is very common.

Given what you've said about your sibling, my advice is that you view a hotel as a mental-health medical cost. In other words, a necessity. If you needed your leg amputated, you wouldn't be knotting over whether you could afford it, because you'd need it. Frame this hotel room in those terms. Now, if you truly can't afford it, then so be it. But if you're not already on a ramen diet and adopting one for two weeks would cover the lodging, then there's your solution. Box up a few of the household appliances you don't use anymore. See if there's a local bookstore that buys used books. Etc.

Personally I'm a drive-home-afterward person. I've attended two weddings in the past two years where most guests stayed over afterward, and instead I drove the couple hours home. That's just my preference. Maybe that's an option for you as well. Reading everything you've written, I would encourage you to find a way to comfortably attend the wedding. Good luck. I'm sorry about your sibling drama and I hope it works out amicably, soon.
posted by cribcage at 11:19 PM on July 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

The couple getting married will remember a thoughtful gift and letter with a nice dinner later on as a newlywed couple as much as your presence at the ceremony, and with far less stress for you. Definitely decline without citing the drama, just say work stuff and don't post anything to social media that weekend that contradicts that.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:37 PM on July 31, 2014 [11 favorites]

You have the rest of your life to reconnect with your sibling. There is no rush. When you are truly ready, you can choose to do so on terms that are healthy and safe for you.

This wedding has too many variables that are out of your control for it to be that safe, healthy opportunity. I agree with others who have said that it would be best if you declined, and made other plans to get to know these folks under less-stressful circumstances.

If this were just a minor spat between siblings, I might suggest going; but the fact that your sibling's behavior caused you such emotional harm that you had to seek help...I think being protective of your new-found health and mental balance is too important to risk.

There's no upside to forcing the issue. There will be a better time and place for a reunion, if/when you want it, at some point in the future.
posted by nacho fries at 11:40 PM on July 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

If the wedding isn't close enough to you that you can go home afterwards, it's not located very close to you at all - and this is sufficient reason to decline the invitation.

It takes two people for sibling to stress you out - sibling to do [whatever] and you to allow it.

Stop allowing it. By whatever means necessary, including avoidance.
posted by stormyteal at 12:06 AM on August 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hi Anon

I think the people telling you not to go, or to drain your resources to rent a hotel, don't understand how many times in the past you may have had to change your plans or reduce your expectations for joy because the presence of dip-stick sibling was going to ruin your experience anyway. But there comes a time when going and dealing becomes righteous rebellion.

I too have a shitty sibling whom I have to interact with on occasion and I remember reading a question like yours a few months ago... here it is. It may have some answers that help.

My advice. Go. Stay in the house and Ignore Ignore Ignore. Just leave rooms, conversations, even some of the events if sibling seems stuck on trying to engage you. If you must speak to sibling while amongst relatives, have three or four non-committal stock phrases up your sleeve. Say one, excuse yourself and leave the immediate vicinity; go to another part of the house, garden or my old faithful, the loo (seating provided). With calm vigilance and short steady responses, you may find that you can enjoy the wedding and engage with your relatives without really dealing with sibling.

All that said, stay as few days as possible. Good luck. Enjoy!
posted by Kerasia at 1:37 AM on August 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars in various therapists offices, messed up family don'cha know. I have a brother who had been a real turd, I couldn't stand him, was afraid of him, did not know how to deal with it all, so pretty much withdrew from my family. Then came an affair that was pretty much no way out of, and I decided to go.

The therapist I was seeing at the time told me that sunglasses were my friend; this gathering was outdoors. I kept those sunglasses on the entire of the day. Only once was I confronted, came around a corner in the house, F2F with turd sib. THe other piece that this therapist had given me was that if you look dead center of someones forehead, just above their eyes, they cannot tell that you are not looking them dead on. And that's true. And that's what I did. And then walked away, after some phrase I'd had stockpiled, as Kerasia spoke about.

I'm not saying to go. Lots of good advice pro and con in this thread. I just wanted to put in those two things -- sunglasses, forehead above center of eyes -- those two things which helped me.

Good luck.

Oh, and by the way -- your mother sounds like she is in on this; my father was in on our situation the whole goddamn way through, kept on shoving my sib at me. Total bs, I cut myself far from my family for many years. Anyways, could be your mother is in it, trying to be "a peacemaker" but at your expense -- just be aware. Families are bloody places, for real.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:41 AM on August 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

Do not go to the wedding, and definitely do not tell the wedding couple about your personal dramas, and how they could interfere with their wedding. It immediately implies you expect them to do something about it and that is a very inappropriate thing. The last thing they should be thinking about on their wedding day is some family nonsense.

It sucks, but you have to take your lumps on this one. I kinda feel like you are catastrophising this a bit - you don't have no options, you have an easy option: You don't go.

But do find out if your sibling is going first. If they are on the other side of the country, odds are pretty low I reckon.
posted by smoke at 4:16 AM on August 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

You go and pretend nothing is wrong. You avoid alone time with sibling and make all interactions polite and pleasant.

That's just part of dealing with family, IMHO.
posted by jpe at 4:50 AM on August 1, 2014

Your sibling has no right to stop you from living your life. If they wish to misbehave (even in the off chance they go), then you do not engage. You ignore. But don't let them keep you captive.
posted by inturnaround at 5:19 AM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Grow your relationship with the wedding couple some other time. Honestly, they're going to be so busy that you'll barely see them; this just isn't worth it. As other commenters have said, don't involve them in your drama, and send a gift and a sweet card.

And stop allowing your mom to triangulate.
posted by Specklet at 6:14 AM on August 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you decide that you cannot take the risk of seeing sibling -- it's impossible to be sure, in advance, if they are coming -- then you give your regrets to the couple. This is totally okay. You do not need to explain why.

If you decide that you would be okay with seeing sibling at wedding-related events, but not to share a house with them, you figure out if you can stretch your budget to find your own place to stay. If you cannot, give your regrets to the couple. (It is quite likely that if there is assigned seating, you will be sitting with sibling. Take this into consideration.)

You can also decide to take the risk, stay at the house and hope sibling decides not to go after all, while figuring out a plan for how to ignore. You can intend to stay at the house, but only be there to sleep and shower. But you cannot know in advance what your sibling will do, especially if they are malicious.

None of these choices are wrong choices. It is okay to decide that you are not ready to run into your sibling. It is okay to decide that you are.
posted by jeather at 6:49 AM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

How big will this wedding be? Are there other family members you want to see there that you aren't likely to see elsewhere, or for a while? If the answers are "medium to large" and "no," I'd suggest skipping the wedding.

Weddings are lovely, but they're crazy for the couple, who don't really have time to truly visit with all the guests. But they're also nice times to see other family and friends who might live elsewhere, and you don't see too often.

If you have family and/or friends you'd like to see who are also going, figure out a way to go, and if you're comfortable with it, find a way for them to help you, maybe sharing a room, and/or providing support for potential conflicts with shitty sibling.

BUT, if it's a big wedding and you don't really want to see other folks who are there, or can see them at other times, skip it and skip the stress. As others have said, go back and see the couple after the wedding, when they're more relaxed and they can actually spend time with you. The celebration may be nice and all, but if it causes you more stress than enjoyment, it sounds like a bad balance.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:09 AM on August 1, 2014

Should I tell my relative getting married, maybe they have a right to know of the drama that could transpire?

Absolutely. Not.

If you don't want drama, then don't prime the pump.

Sit this one out. The only ones that need to know you aren't going is the bride/groom. Let sister go all loaded for bear and then have to fizzle out when you don't show. It will be good for both of you. You avoid drama. She gets the wind taken out of her sails.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:30 PM on August 1, 2014

I'm the OP. I realize I can respond thru the sock puppet account I just signed up for. I appreciate everyone's thoughtful replies. I’m glad I’m not alone. Sorry for this wordy follow-up.

Unfortunately, I already RSVPed Yes. I could wait and see if sibling RSVPs Yes and if so I could politely cancel. Or I could put the hotel on a credit card. I’m unemployed but this is possible.

Having read the comments I’m torn about whether to go. If I go I’d get to see family I usually don’t see. I’d also be standing up for my rights to be part of the family (sibling tends to prefer I don’t participate, which was what I was like in the past.) And I’d get to defend myself against the narrative my sibling will probably spin.

But, if I go and just don’t engage with sibling, as some of you suggest, there are a few scenarios that I'm not sure how to handle:

1) If my sibling expresses their over-the-top “affection” for me when they see me, along the lines of “kewpiesock! I’ve missed you soooo much! (tears) And your nephews miss you sooooo much! (five minute hug)” Sibling has a PhD in eliciting pity. This can trigger anxiety in me because I feel totally voiceless about what’s really going on. Interesting sidenote: Another relative went no contact on sibling for twenty years. Relative has relaxed this policy and may be at the wedding (they have seen each other at a family event).
2) If sibling tries to talk to me in private. Saying ‘No, I’m not ready’ could trigger sibling’s vengeful streak. Sibling has done some pretty malicious things to make me look bad and my response has usually been silence because I dissocate or I’m too surprised. I have gotten better about this.
3) Yep the seating thing does worry me. I can’t really imagine sitting next to sibling for duration of wedding. I’d pretty much have to ask them to seat me next to another relative. Is this even okay? Also, if I tell no one about my rift with sibling and I stay in the house we could end up sharing a room.
posted by kewpiesockpuppetdoll at 8:51 PM on August 1, 2014

Unfortunately, I already RSVPed Yes. I could wait and see if sibling RSVPs Yes and if so I could politely cancel. Or I could put the hotel on a credit card. I’m unemployed but this is possible.

Yeah, no. Just send your regrets, something came up, you'd love to get together after the wedding etc.

In no way does it seem smart to add to your debt while unemployed so the hotel room is right out. Your sibling sounds like hell to deal with so staying in the rented house is also out. You say it's not too far from you, so perhaps you could get away with a very long day trip out to the location on the day of the wedding but that's if you want to engage sibling in drama where they clearly out-play you.

Sometimes, the only way to 'win' (or in this case, prevent lots of drama at a family event where the focus should not be on you) is not to play.
posted by librarylis at 6:23 PM on August 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I just wanted to thank all of you for your advice. It was helpful to know that it would be totally okay not to go to the wedding and, if I did go, some ways I could handle it. I marked as favorites the ones that were the most helpful.

I decided to tell my sibling, via my mother, that I would not go if they went. I also let them know that I would very much like to go since this relative is the only one living near me. My sibling responded by saying they will not go.

Regarding triangulation: yep, I think that's been at the root of our problems. It's something I plan to look into with a therapist. I'll see if the therapist is willing to act as the go-between, rather than my mom. Thanks jbenben for pointing that out.
posted by kewpiesockpuppetdoll at 12:13 PM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

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