My sister decided not to attend my wedding...
October 13, 2017 5:05 PM   Subscribe

...and I don't know why and it hurts me deeply. I am not sure how to proceed in this instance since we haven't spoken since about a month before the wedding. Do I reach out to her? Do I wait until she decides she should contact me (which may never happen)?

My sister and I (henceforth, "K") have never been terribly close or similar, but we always managed to get along alright as children and adolescents. Since both entering into adulthood, our lives have taken incredibly divergent paths. I moved far away and only make it home a few times a year; K remained in our hometown. She was married and divorced and has three children; I just married a few months ago and do not yet have kids. I doubt it matters, but she is 3 years younger than me.

That said, I thought we had both tried to maintain some modicum of familial care and love for one another. In our adult lives, I tried to contact her and her kids at least once a month; K had a habit of randomly texting or calling me every once in a while just to check in. I was there for the births of her kids and have always tried to remain a positive and consistent "auntie" figure in the lives of my niece and nephew. K and I were never close, but still stayed in touch.

I was married in June and the day before K was set to fly out with my parents and her kids to the wedding location, she bailed on attending altogether. My mother told me that she said she "just didn't feel like going". I have not spoken to her since then and still have no idea why she "didn't feel" like attending. My parents and my niece and nephew flew out together; it was heartbreaking to see my parents so overwrought with sadness/anger over her decision that it really put a damper on the weekend's celebrations. That said, I was so glad that my niece and nephew were there; I don't know what it must've been like for them to have to grapple with their mom's choice to sit out the wedding. We talked about it once at the beginning of the weekend and decided to just have a fun time regardless.

In the past four months, I've written her several letters that went unsent. I have thought about calling her. She has not bothered to even address her absence and has only texted me once--with a random question about our mother. I don't even know that I'm holding out for an apology at this point, but I don't feel like we can move forward as sisters without at least an acknowledgement of what she did.

So, I'll restate my initial questions: Do I contact her to express my frustration and to ask her why she decided not to come? Do I let it lie?

Part of me feels like if she cared, she would've tried to talk to me about this. But she hasn't, so maybe she doesn't. Either way, my heart aches over this. I want to have a relationship with my only sister, but I don't feel like I can.
posted by singinginmychains to Human Relations (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I know this may sound stupid but just call her and ask her. Then you'll have your answer and can move on with your life.

Seriously, your question as this stranger read it is kind of baffling, because you haven't done the extremely simple and obvious step of asking the person who did the thing why she did the thing. I'm sure there's all kinds of complicated reasons why you are resistant to the idea. Do it anyway.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:11 PM on October 13, 2017 [44 favorites]

I think she's not going to reach out to you and if you want things to mend or not mend but with closure you will have to reach out to her. Keep this about her and your relationship - leave the kids and whatever they may have been thinking out of it. If she doesn't respond and texts you some random question instead tell her that you'd love to talk to her but there is a matter to be solved between you first. Keep sending the kids birthday cards, etc. I'm sorry she's treated you this way.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 5:14 PM on October 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

+1. Call her. Either it'll be an opportunity to get past it or you'll know that you're not going to. Waiting and wondering seems like needless woe.
posted by Smearcase at 5:15 PM on October 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you do contact her, I doubt that you will get an adequate reason for her not coming to your wedding. As hard as it might be to accept, it seems that she's not interested in having a relationship with you. My suggestion is to forgive her, and then move ahead with your life.
posted by Dolley at 5:15 PM on October 13, 2017 [9 favorites]

It may really be that K is exhausted. Raising kids is a big, never ending job that people without kids do not understand. Traveling with these kids is an even bigger job. She may not have been able to face a weekend of no routine with three kids. This is pretty much like stabbing your own eye out repeatedly. Parenting is rewarding, but you don't get it.

Why didn't the single mom travel with three kids all weekend? Because she wanted everyone to be sane and alive on Monday. Give this person a break. It's not about you. It's about survival.
posted by Kalmya at 5:17 PM on October 13, 2017 [20 favorites]

If you do contact her, I doubt that you will get an adequate reason for her not coming to your wedding.

That would still be more of an answer than trying to psychically divine the answer from afar.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:17 PM on October 13, 2017 [12 favorites]

Unless you have reason to think that she was intentionally acting out of spite for some reason (in which case, why would she allow her kids to go?), consider that there may have been something about the trip or the wedding that was so challenging to her that even her love for you and good wishes for your marriage could not overcome.

Some conjecture: she's three years younger than you and has found herself divorced with three little kids. This is almost certainly not where she had expected to be in her life and is probably quite painful. Now her older sib (and don't all little kids look up to their older sibs?) is starting a new life together with a new spouse in a faraway place, far outside of the place she is now frankly stuck. How long ago was the divorce? How bitter was it? She may simply not have had it in herself to make it through a wedding.

It's fair that you missed her and feel hurt that she wasn't there. But you may not be the only one hurting here.

Call her and ask. Be kind to yourself and be kind to her.
posted by Sublimity at 5:30 PM on October 13, 2017 [120 favorites]

Maybe she can't cope with travelling and wrangling three kids.
Maybe she's depressed.
Maybe it's too hard to sit through someone else's happiest day of their life because it's a reminder of her own failed marriage.
Maybe she can't afford to send everyone.

There are so many reasons that don't involve you in this scenario that we couldn't possibly hope to guess. You know who does know? Your sister. I would try calling her with an open mind and heart and see how it goes. I bet it's not you at all, plus the longer you leave it, the more the break becomes entrenched and harder to get past. Pick up the phone.
posted by Jubey at 5:34 PM on October 13, 2017 [10 favorites]

You should prepare yourself for the possibility that this has nothing to do with you.

I don't suffer from constantly-life-affecting anxiety, but I have been at the point of "I cannot get on that plane." It is a hard place to be in.

The fact that your parents made a big suffering deal of it instead of getting over it and being joyful about your big day says a lot. It's a bit of a disappointment when someone misses a big event, but, I mean, y'all weren't even close and they see her all the time, presumably. It would have been a tragedy if you hadn't been there, but her absence was simply unfortunate. I'm sorry they did that to you.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:36 PM on October 13, 2017 [13 favorites]

+1 more to ringing and asking her. At the moment all you've got what she told your parents, filtered through how they understood that. It may be that there's a better explanation, which she may or may not be willing to share with you.

I get that this was really hurtful for you, and it feels like she needs to put your needs first and apologise/explain. Do consider that her feelings are probably also involved - you mention that she is divorced with 3 kids, does going to a wedding feel like being buried a connection that she longs for but thinks she will never have again? It would be nice if she could tell you what happened so you can understand a bit, but that might not happen either, depending on your relationship.

On preview, sublimity said it better.
posted by Cheese Monster at 5:38 PM on October 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes, you should reach out to her and ask.

For all you know, she is on the brink of mental health crisis and the thought of the plane trip plus the huge social event may have been too much for a depressed or anxious mind. I've never been quite that bad, but I've been on the verge of it, and I know friends who have genuinely had to abandon cherished plans due to flare-ups of mental illness.

Look at it this way: if it really was beyond her control, then you'll know and can mend the relationship. If, on the other hand, she just decided to stand you up, you'll at least have the comfort of knowing that you did the mature thing to try to salvage the relationship and won't have that regret going forward.
posted by praemunire at 5:40 PM on October 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

I would agree with just calling and talking to her, but don't do it with super high expectations that there's going to be some set of magic words that makes this better. Among other things, if your family isn't known to be spectacularly supportive about emotional and mental health stuff? You've not created the expectation that she would confide in you, and there's a ton of things that could be going on that would, to my mind, completely count as "good reasons" not to go to a wedding, even your sister's--reasons that AskMe would have told her in a heartbeat to stay home and take care of herself--that will not be things she'll be comfortable telling you any detail about. She could have medical problems of the sort that're embarrassing to discuss. She could have depression. Or panic attacks about flying. She could have just had something incredibly heartbreaking happen. She could be seriously overwhelmed by parenting. She could have had a huge fight with your parents. Many of the possible options, basically, have nothing to do with you, and more importantly, you guys were not close enough in that moment for you to genuinely expect that you'd hear about a lot of things that were generally a big problem.

I wouldn't say you absolutely have to talk to her or anything, but if you miss her, reach out. What happened can't ever change, but it's certainly possible to build more of a relationship for moving forward. You're allowed to express that you missed her and it hurt that she couldn't come--you just can't have a reasonable expectation that she's going to tell you something that makes that not hurt. The thing that'll make it hurt less, potentially, is building an ongoing relationship full of better memories than this.
posted by Sequence at 5:40 PM on October 13, 2017 [8 favorites]

Why didn't the single mom travel with three kids all weekend? Because she wanted everyone to be sane and alive on Monday. Give this person a break. It's not about you. It's about survival.

...this seems a little harsh to the OP? I think your sister bailing on your wedding last minute is certainly about you a little bit -- it was unkind to you and it hurt your feelings. I don't at all think you're making this all about yourself.

Having said that, my theory would be that she's having a hard time about her own divorce. Regardless, she should have called and told you this and not having done so is shitty and hurtful of her. I suspect that the longer it goes without her talking to you about it, the harder time she is having in reaching out to explain what happened. So, as an older sister myself, my suggestion is that you give her a break, take the reins, and call her and kindly ask her what happened. I suspect if you reach out with kindness, you guys will be able to talk it out.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 5:50 PM on October 13, 2017 [61 favorites]

Think about some of the "should I got to this big family event" questions that get posted on

The reason could be anxiety around travel or crowds, concerns about encountering an abusive or difficult family member at the event, personal stuff (relationship drama, money, work insanity, health stuff), concerns about being able to enjoy time with extended family when your life has taken a direction that some or all of them don't like/approve of. She could have gained or dropped some weight post-divorce, gotten up the morning of the flight and realized that her go-to wedding outfit didn't fit anymore and that she didn't have the resources to get it sorted out in time. She could have woken up with exploding diarrhea. She could be secretly trying to quit drinking and felt too vulnerable to be at a wedding which would prompt sadness over her divorce and booze would be flowing.

I bailed on two weddings last fall - for people I love very much - because I couldn't afford to go to both weddings and trying to pick one was too overwhelming. Plus I knew I wouldn't know anyone at either wedding besides one of the people getting married, and I know from experience how uncomfortable and awkward that is for me.

She may not think her attendance was important to you, and if you haven't been close that's not unreasonable of her. She may be thinking that if you really cared about her, you would have asked if she's okay. The way when, if you assume good will from someone and they bail unexpectedly, you assume something bad must have happened to make them cancel.

Ask her. If she gives you a straight answer, great. If she fudges around the answer but otherwise seems glad to hear from you, know that the real answer might be something humiliating/difficult to talk about and see if you can set it aside. Ask if you can get coffee the next time you're in town.
posted by bunderful at 6:01 PM on October 13, 2017 [9 favorites]

Like those above, I say think empathetically.

Do I contact her to express my frustration and to ask her why she decided not to come? Do I let it lie?

This third option lies somewhere in between. Start from the position of your expectations. If her attendance on your wedding day was seen as a privilege, rather than an entitlement, then you can view the whole experience through a more compassionate and respectful frame.

I was deeply hurt (and somewhat offended!) by an unexplained rejection by a sibling after I travelled 1000 miles to visit extended family in their town. I didn't say anything but it badly bruised our already acquaintance-like relationship and I was conscious of the hurt for a year or more until my next visit. Keen to bridge the rift the hurt had created in me, I intentionally engaged empathetically where I could, and found enough clues to suggest that my sibling had been previously been suffering severe anxiety around a part of their lives and they didn't want me to know. They weren't rejecting me, they were saving themselves. Realising that allowed a lot of compassion to blossom for my sibling and their situation. The hurt disappeared instantly.

Had I asked soon after the rejection, my sibling would not have told me about their severe anxiety and would have maintained their earlier flimsy excuse, extending my wariness. Had I 'let it go', it would 'not have gone' and it would be festering today. Thinking empathetically helped me realise that their engagement with me on my terms is a privilege, not an entitlement.
posted by Thella at 6:13 PM on October 13, 2017 [9 favorites]

Someone here lightly touched on depression and someone else mentioned anxiety. This whole situation just screams one of these two.

It seems very strange to me that you've written to her several times. I'm not sure if you mean an email or an actual letter, but either way these forms of communication have significant disadvantages when it comes to resolving issues between people who care about each other.

First, they can require a lot of attention and focus. You can talk on the phone and make dinner, fold laundry, exercise, walk, etc. Letters or emails require you to drop everything. There is always the possibility that they end up unread through no fault of the recipient, and you have no way of knowing for certain that she has received, read, and understood your letters. For discussing upsetting issues, writing can sometimes shield you from uncomfortable emotions, but at the same time it removes all tone and emotion.

Like other people have suggested, I would call her. But I would prepare for the possibility that something significant is going on with her. I would start by calling and saying something like, "it's been so long since we've been in touch. I'd like to have a talk with you and find out what's going on with you. Would you be able to chat..." and suggest a time. Don't launch into a full conversation right away. If she suggests having the conversation then, don't go straight onto the topic of the wedding unless she brings it up.

I'd focus on talking about what is going on with your respective families. I would let her know you still want to be present in each other's lives.

I understand you were hurt by her absence. I have to believe something significant was going on and may still be going on.

Also I know you said the question she sent by text was random, but perhaps it deserves a little further attention? Maybe there's a hint there of what's going on.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:23 PM on October 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

I like Deathalicious's advice to catch up and ask what's been going on in her world. That might give you some clues and more information than a direct question after months of not speaking (other than the one text).

I think the OP has written letters but hasn't sent them
posted by bunderful at 6:34 PM on October 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Deathalicious - she said "I've written her several letters that went unsent."
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:38 PM on October 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

It may really be that K is exhausted. Raising kids is a big, never ending job that people without kids do not understand. Traveling with these kids is an even bigger job. She may not have been able to face a weekend of no routine with three kids. This is pretty much like stabbing your own eye out repeatedly. Parenting is rewarding, but you don't get it.

That’s super harsh (and I have a 3-year old and a 5-year old so I “get it”). First of all, it appears she was traveling with two kids, not three, and with her parents, who could presumably help (she trusted them enough to take her kids for the weekend so they clearly aren’t hands-off). But even if those things were not the case, parental exhaustion is not an excuse to blow off your sister’s wedding at the last minute with no explanation or apology. Not by a long shot.

OP, the only way you will resolve this is to ask your sister why she didn’t come, as non-confrontationally as possible if you are hoping to keep the conversation low key. Best of luck.
posted by amro at 6:51 PM on October 13, 2017 [19 favorites]

Also, something tells me that the kids aren’t that young. OP says she doesn’t know how it must have felt for them to grapple with their Mom sitting out the wedding, but that they discussed it once and decided to enjoy themselves. This does not sound like young kids.
posted by amro at 6:56 PM on October 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Say you've been worried about her since your wedding and you want to make sure she's doing all right. because you missed her and were sorry not to see her, and if by any chance she skipped the wedding not because of a crisis but because she was upset with you about something, you had no idea and still don't but you want to talk it out and reconcile. this is kind of guilt-trippy but acceptably so, I think.

and then, if she's confused that you would think anything might be wrong just because she didn't show up or tell you in advance or explain or apologize, move on to expressing frustration and irritation. but only then, if she doesn't say something reasonable.

is it possible this is actually about money troubles and she didn't come because she couldn't afford to? if she changed her mind at the very last minute then presumably the travel expenses were already spent, but maybe...? and if she paid for her kids to travel to the wedding that's a substantial gift and token of affection even if she didn't make any other gestures. could she have the kind of procrastinating mindset where you can't apologize or mention the wedding until you've sent a gift, but the later it gets the better the gift has to be and the harder it is to find one that will make up for everything, and everything is terrible?

but if it is about money and you're not close, that could be a reason why she wouldn't ever give a satisfactory explanation but still not be a terrible person.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:52 PM on October 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

Somehow I misread the "unsent" as letters sent without a reply. I am sorry about not paying closer attention, anon. I still do think a phone call would work better.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:56 PM on October 13, 2017

I wouldn't call her right off. I imagine her emotions are running high, no matter her reason. A text might help ease into communication. And since she's texted you, that's probably her preferred method of communication.

Maybe you could text something like, "Hi, I hope everything is okay with you. :) It's been awhile! I was bummed that you couldn't attend the wedding, and am curious why, but I hope we can still have a relationship even if you don't want to talk about that. Or if I've upset you, I hope you'll tell me how so that I can understand. I miss you and hope whatever's going on won't come between us. Xoxo, YourName" Or something else true and kind.

Then, in a few days, text "hey, would you be up for talking? I'll try giving you a call later." And then call her.
posted by salvia at 8:08 PM on October 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your question is so wistful and disappointed. If someone is just too exhausted or overwhelmed to attend a sister's wedding, that's maybe understandable. But she didn't contact you to offer an explanation or good wishes, and that's rude and kind of mean. Maybe there's an explanation, maybe there's a big story. I might text or email to say I really missed you at the wedding and am concerned that something's going on. Would you let me know why you weren't able to attend, love, singing. A call might allow the option of arguing or more display of emotion than you might want, but if that's not the case, fine.

Crummy situation, best of luck.
posted by theora55 at 8:16 PM on October 13, 2017 [16 favorites]

oh hey also maybe this is just a typo but she has three children but only one niece and one nephew were set to come to the wedding (and did come)? what about the third child, what was supposed to happen with them when their mother & siblings were away all weekend?

this seems too obvious to be the answer, especially if three was a typo for two. but.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:27 PM on October 13, 2017

It's a huge deal in most families for one sibling to not attend another sibling's wedding. I can only guess that she has a mental health issue like depression ("not being up to it" sounds like code), unless there was a huge financial strain or some sort of sister-relationship stressor you haven't mentioned. If my sibling bailed last-second on my wedding, I'd be consumed with trying to figure out why.

I would say, get your head into a calm space and then write or call her. The script from theora55 sounds right. Be prepared for anything in terms of an answer--she might be silent all these months because she's embarrassed, or because she's angry about something and you're about to find out what it is.

Good luck.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 8:35 PM on October 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

If someone is just too exhausted or overwhelmed to attend a sister's wedding, that's maybe understandable. But she didn't contact you to offer an explanation or good wishes, and that's rude and kind of mean.

I think it would be quite common for a person who bailed on a social event they knew they really should have attended because of depression or anxiety to be too ashamed to engage with the situation further. I'm definitely not saying that that's what had to have happened, just that "failing" due to depression really eggs the demon on.
posted by praemunire at 8:42 PM on October 13, 2017 [9 favorites]

Congratulations on your wedding!
posted by AugustWest at 9:19 PM on October 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

My heart goes out to you because you really wanted her to be there -- or, at the very least, apologize and explain why she couldn't make it. My heart goes out to her because, clearly, she's dealing with some hard stuff and likely has shame about bailing at the last minute, so much that she can't even bring it up. I have a sister who is different from yours in terms of specifics but similar in terms of flakiness. She certainly means well but often doesn't understand how her behavior can be so hurtful: she just thinks differently. Like many (most?) families, ours had the good times and also bad things that last. My partner explained it well once: we both grew up in a dysfunctional situation and are doing our best in the present, it just looks and feels different because it is. I didn't get invited to my sister's wedding (really an elopement); I would have appreciated it but I was out of the country and I was happy for her from afar. When I get married in a few years (likely also an elopement), I probably won't invite her. However, I shared her joy and surely she'll share mine.

I am still disappointed by her on different occasions, mainly surrounding visits and/or the lack thereof, but I'm working on adjusting my expectations. Sometimes I will express my disappointment and she apologizes, which is good even if it's not a change; mostly I am working on treating her with compassion and appreciating where she is coming from. I'm sure you will also find a happy medium one day. I think you should bring this up with your sister eventually but make sure it is from a place of compassion and a want to understand her rather than seek revenge or let out rage. I'm sure your spouse can help you draft an email that would work well or practice a phone dialogue. Ideally, I'd offer to come visit her and see how she's doing. Chances are that when you see her and understand what she's going through, that anger will melt away into something else: you'll still be disappointed but also see where she's coming from. Clearly, she loves and cares about you and is doing the best she can to be a good sister to you despite her own challenges and shortcomings. I hope the conversation goes well when you have it, be it Monday or months from now!
posted by smorgasbord at 9:21 PM on October 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a friend who was in a situation not too different from your sister's, while I had some joyful things going on. My friend had done enough therapy at that to recognize her depression for what it was, acknowledge it to herself, and then actually gathered the strength to approach me and admit to me that while she was happy for me, to physically be present to witness my happiness was too much to bear, and she needed to pull back from me for a while.

Wow, that really blew me away. Prior to that no one had never demonstrated to me how to be so honest, so I had never done it before. If our situations would have been reversed I would have ghosted, and felt terrible about it, and would not have had the nerve to re-establish contact.

I understand that your feelings have been hurt, but I would bet good money that this is less about you and more that your sister is overwhelmed and has no idea how to dig herself out. Rather than call her and interrogate her about what happened and why she's ghosted, you might just send her a note saying "I'm thinking of you. Let me know how you're doing. ". Let her know that the door is open. I'm not saying that she's off the hook for hurting your feelings, but I think you can table it until you are satisfied that her mental and emotional health are stable.
posted by vignettist at 10:07 PM on October 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

There is a lot of speculation on the reason and justification on the decision, but I see no reason why your sister couldn't contact you in some way (phone, text, email, etc) and say three words, "I am sorry." That would be both sisterly and the polite right thing to do.

Rather than speculate, I suggest you contact her and say something along the lines of, "I am sorry you could not make the wedding. You were sorely missed. I know it might be hard for you to talk about, but one day when you are ready, please start the conversation. In the meantime, you will always be my sister and I will always love and support you."

Leave the door slightly ajar for her to open it when or if she is ready.
posted by AugustWest at 11:38 PM on October 13, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm sorry that your sister skipped your wedding. I would be deeply hurt too. The most generous explanation is that she had a mental health issue flare up, but even if she didn't do it at you, it's such an egregious thing to no-show at your sister's wedding without explanation and I can't imagine anyone not being upset. I think you deserve to honor your own feelings here, and let her know how you feel. I've got three young kids, and suffered from post partum depression after the third, and I could not fathom skipping out at the last minute without explanation unless I was in crisis.

I think you should email her. "Sister, I was deeply hurt that you didn't come to my wedding, and I've been really struggling with handling my feelings about it. I love you and I don't want this to have lasting impact on our relationship. Can you please help me understand what happened?"

Congratulations on your wedding, and I hope you and your sister can work it out.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:36 AM on October 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think the answers you've chosen as Best Answers absolutely outline the best path to take and I'm glad you appear to be inclined that way. One thing I wanted to articulate because I didn't see it clearly drawn out here is that while there will be plenty of opportunity to place blame, talk about hurt feelings, and have a fight, there will be only one opportunity to open this conversation with love and compassion.

In other words, I would not begin by telling her how you feel; I would instead open be telling her you are concerned for her and love her.

Because yeah, at one end she may have blown you off; in the middle she may have been exhausted or unable to face a wedding; but at the other end, there are other things that can happen to cause a woman to desperately need a few days to take care of herself and not tell other people about it, particularly at a happy family wedding.

Your feelings are 100% legit, but they're not going anywhere. Create an opportunity and ask what's going on with her before you tell her what's going on with you.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:45 AM on October 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

I also wanted to add my own story: I bailed on a close friend's wedding at the last minute because my boyfriend and I had a huge fight. I apologized afterwards, but didn't really elaborate or explain. It wasn't until I dumped the boyfriend a few months later that I was able to really open up about it. I'm so grateful she gave me time and space, but I'm also grateful she was honest with me about how much it'd hurt her. Depression also tells you no one cares, and having her gently call me out broke me out of my paralysis. We're still close friends now.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:30 AM on October 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

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