Reasonable to skip a tricky wedding? difficulty level: mom
April 25, 2019 10:04 AM   Subscribe

An extended family member, who I am cordial with but not at all close to, is getting married in a multi-day event, far from where I live with very limited transportation. If it were anyone else I had a similar level of relationship to, I would have already sent regrets. My mother will be very unhappy if I do this, regardless of the logistical difficulty in doing so. Is there a way I can skip it? (more details inside)

Logistical issues: It looks like the only way to get there from where I live is take a flight, then a 90 min, $200+ taxi/car service ride from the nearest airport, then repeat the process to get back. I don't drive (never learned), there is no Lyft/Uber service in the area to get around locally, and at this point in my life I am OK with saying that I'm not comfortable being in a space where I can't control my own transportation easily.

If I had different family dynamics, the option to just go up there and be chill and everything would be alright and transportation would work itself out would be possible; unfortunately while my family likes to believe it is chill and pleasant in stressful situations, it is not at all chill, and also no one is supposed to point this out. We're all white Americans.

I'm most of the way to saying no, but I am dreading dealing with my mother about this, who wants the family member (step-sibling) and I to have a closer relationship, or at least go through the formal motions of one. Step-sibling and I see each other a couple times a year at our parent's house (who got together when we were both adults) and never talk otherwise.

I love my mom and our relationship has gotten much better in recent years (I'm in my 30's and married) as I have taught myself how to be more assertive. She can still, when she doesn't get her way on something she considers important, such as a family gathering happening a particular way that she wants, be very controlling and unreasonable. In various past instances where I expressed a preference that is not her preference, she has alternately steamrolled me, told me I'm unreasonable, tried to tell me what to do, and sometimes given me the silent treatment or told me I'm hurting the family dynamic by not engaging in some activity I don't want to engage in. (Don't worry, I'm in therapy!)

Generally, I have a strategy of appeasing her if it is not too onerous, and gently refusing tasks that are, but I think both about this wedding, and dealing with her response, with dread at least a few times a week.

There are still months to go before the wedding, so I am inclined to stall about an answer as long as possible (we have received a save the date, but not a formal invitation). So, am I being unreasonable in this wedding being too logistically fraught for me? And what's the best way to deal with my mother?
posted by socktastic to Human Relations (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How unfortunate that your boss is being a giant pain in the patootie by not approving requests for time off. Really, what with all that traveling and the extended festivities, which sound so lovely, but you're just not able to get out of work obligations that are suddenly over that particular weekend.
posted by Liesl at 10:16 AM on April 25, 2019 [46 favorites]

Wait for the invitation. Let your "no thank you" be genuine and conveyed with love. Congratulate your step sibling, as sincerely as possible for your relationship. Enjoy the thought of them celebrating with their people and of yourself doing something else that day.

When your mom asks, say "it won't be possible for me to go, I hope you have a great time, give them my very best wishes on their marriage."

Get off the phone! Smell a flower. Let your mom have her feelings somewhere else.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 10:18 AM on April 25, 2019 [53 favorites]

The fact that it is a step-sibling makes me want to say go, but it looks like a $600-$800 price tag (plus hotel)? In that case I would say it is too expensive to expect you to go (but then you get an offer to pay which you KNOW has strings). So, a polite fiction/white lie is the best way to go.
posted by saucysault at 10:18 AM on April 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maybe you should ignore your mother, get in touch with your step-sibling and explain that unless someone can give you a ride from the airport to the venue and back to the airport you won't be able to make it. Don't even mention a $200 taxi ride, nobody does that.

On preview, yeah, what Liesl said above.
posted by mareli at 10:19 AM on April 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

You sound perfectly reasonable, but there are no magic words that will make your mother accept your choice, I'm afraid. Some options that come to mind as ways of minimizing the drama:
1. Can you bring a friend (your spouse?) to the wedding to do the driving and to act as a bit of a buffer from family drama?
2. Can you find some other way to connect with your step-sibling in advance of the wedding that would please your mother?
3. Is there another family member going to the wedding that you can feel comfortable leaning on for transportation and support?
4. [super sketchy option I do not recommend] Say you are going to the wedding and then have some sort of "emergency" pop up that forces you to cancel at the last possible minute. There are many ways that this can go wrong, and it may make things worse in the long run, but it is guaranteed to make this drama go away for the next few months. If you do this, get your sibling a really nice gift to make up for bailing at the last minute (which will cost them real money).
posted by Rock Steady at 10:20 AM on April 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

You have a strong argument, in that this wedding will be difficult to get to. Your mother has a strong argument, in that this is your step-sibling’s wedding (the child of her partner), which might not feel like a close family connection but would be considered one by a lot of people (including her, it sounds like). Your mother/child dynamic sounds similar to mine. If you tell your mother that it’s too much of a time commitment, she might say “just come for the main event.” If you tell her it’s too much money, she might offer to pay for your transportation. She wants you to be there, so she’s going to try and remove all the roadblocks you point to as excuses for why you can’t come...but the truth is, you just don’t really want to go to this, in part because you don’t want to spend this kind of time with this group of people in a situation that’s going to bring out the typical dynamic. (And maybe you’re a little resentful/annoyed at your mom wanting you to have a close relationship with your step-sibling?) But these people are your family and it will mean something to someone you care about (your mother) if you make the effort to be there. Is there any way you can arrange to go for part of the events and make some time for you and your partner to do something relaxing and fun afterwards, like a nearby couple day vacation?
posted by sallybrown at 10:24 AM on April 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

Don't go. Do something else to signify a family bond with your sib-in-law, like sending a gift with a nice message and/or inviting them to dinner with your spouses next time you're all in the same place.
posted by momus_window at 10:38 AM on April 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Tough one. I'd say to RSVP politely that you won't be able to make it and send a gift, and then just deal with the fallout from your mom by ignoring it as best you can. No need to come up with elaborate reasons why you can't attend- just say no. The people who really matter in this situation are the bride and groom and presumably they'll be understanding. Not everyone can travel to a wedding that isn't conveniently located. The alternative would be to go with your spouse or arrange travel with another family member who you get along with and could drive you. Whatever you do, don't RSVP yes then cancel- that's really crappy to the bride and groom.
posted by emd3737 at 10:42 AM on April 25, 2019 [11 favorites]

The way you've described the situation, I doubt your step-sibling is deeply invested in your attendance and probably invited you primarily out of duty. Since you've gotten a save-the-date, go ahead and contact them and explain that you'd love to come but missing several days of work and the incredible cost of transportation make it not feasible for you. They will probably understand and be glad to have saved a plate/had a slot for someone else less "obligatory" open up. Then you tell your mom, and when she starts fussing, tell her that you've already discussed it with step-sibling and they totally understand, and that's all there is to it. Ultimately, if you're going to have these kinds of boundaries, you have to keep working on developing the refusal to discuss a topic past a certain point.

Send a slightly nicer present than average.
posted by praemunire at 10:43 AM on April 25, 2019 [38 favorites]

Step-sibling and I see each other a couple times a year at our parent's house (who got together when we were both adults) and never talk otherwise.

So this is a "sibling" in the sense of they are the child of your mother's partner, but you did not grow up with this person or share any bond other than your mother and this person's father marrying? It sounds like your attendance is not going to be important to anyone but your mother.

If you want to shift blame, Liesl's suggestion above seems like a good way to do it. Or some other obligation you have with your spouse, a close friend, a close friend's dog...

But I vote say no. Say no now, and if your mother has an issue with this, it is her issue and she can be left to deal with it. I'm not a fan of any of the behaviors you mention your mother using to attempt to dictate your actions, and if you're already working on being assertive against that, now is a great time to continue that trend.
posted by jzb at 10:43 AM on April 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

I generally support you in doing what you want to do. But when you ask "am I being unreasonable in this wedding being too logistically fraught for me?" I do want to comment that I think someone being a 90-minute drive from an airport, in the US at least, is not at the far end of the logistical-hassle spectrum. It's a pretty normal or even mild amount of hassle as far as weddings go. I'd say half the weddings I've gone to were more like a 2-3-4 hour drive from an airport. (The other half were more in town and accessible by public transportation.)
posted by salvia at 10:44 AM on April 25, 2019 [12 favorites]

I think it's not unreasonable of your mom to be very invested in your attendance at this particular wedding; but the cost issue is what it is.

So you can, perfectly reasonably, tell your mom: mom, I can't afford this. If it is so important to you for me to come, you're going to need to pay for my ticket and provide a ride. If you can't afford that either, then I'll send Phyllis a gift and my regrets.

Just like you, either she can afford to pay it or she can't.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:44 AM on April 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Don't go. One thing that might reassure your mom is making an offer to get together with your step-sibling at some later date to continue building your relationship, if that's something you genuinely want to do.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:44 AM on April 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

If your step-sibling is a reasonable person, I would recommend contacting him or her directly. Let him or her know that you got the save-the-date and based on logistics it won't be possible for you to attend, as much as you'd like to, due to cost. Express regret and a sincere intention to get together the next time you are both in the same place at the same time, acknowledge that your mom is going to take this hard, and let them know that it is not personal. Ask if the ceremony and events will be webcast or streamed in any way so you can witness from afar, and if they like this idea, offer to work with a designee (best man? maid of honor?) to help set that up as a show of good faith.

Then, when your mom inevitably asks, you can tell her, "[Step-sibling] and I have already talked. Unfortunately, while I can't attend, we have a plan so I can be included anyway." If she pressed, just keep repeating, "This is really between me and [Step-sibling]. We are adults and we've worked it out."
posted by juniperesque at 10:53 AM on April 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

I think someone being a 90-minute drive from an airport, in the US at least, is not at the far end of the logistical-hassle spectrum

If you don't drive, not only do you have to eat the $400 roundtrip for a taxi, but you can't go anywhere the several days you are at the place (without coughing up again for a taxi, which may or may not be obtainable when you want it). It's actually pretty isolating and disabling.
posted by praemunire at 10:57 AM on April 25, 2019 [45 favorites]

Does Mom care about the relationship with the step sib? (Oh, on a re-read, i see that part now. But also--) OP mentions that her mom cares about how family gatherings go and the broader family dynamic. Weddings often function as de facto family reunions. I don't know that "i hung out with step sis last month" would solve the problem from the mom's perspective. OP won't be in the photos! !1! Her cousins will all be there and will want to see her! Etc. And in fairness, I do kind of understand how it would be nice, at such an event, for Mom to have her own child(ren) there. Is it that without OP, Mom will be pretty much alone among her new partner's family and feeling second fiddle to step-sis's birth mom?

I'd try to figure out what's really driving mom so that whatever decision gets made can be made or communicated considerately. Weddings are one of those events that feel high stakes to people.
posted by salvia at 11:05 AM on April 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

(we have received a save the date, but not a formal invitation)

Here's an out for you. They haven't committed to wanting you there, so you don't need to commit to being there yet. So you wait.

Less than three months' notice for a wedding, in the summertime -- that's leaving it late. You can use that to your advantage, and come up with plans of your own (ideally, some demand on your time from your partner's family, who put out an invite first, and what could you do?). A 'save the date' is one thing, but a concrete invitation is quite another. It's not your fault their invitation came too late...
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:22 AM on April 25, 2019

The way you've described the situation, I doubt your step-sibling is deeply invested in your attendance and probably invited you primarily out of duty.

This jumped out at me: consider the possibility that your step-sib is acting under the same pressure to go through the motions as you are! I like the idea of calling them directly, and you might find that you bond over this Mom-quirk, or at least reach an understanding more easily than it seems you could right now.
posted by rhizome at 11:40 AM on April 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

I would send your regrets and a gift. I would offer a celebration lunch with step-sibling, spouse, mom, and whoever else next time you all meet. CC your mom on this message. Stand firm, but gracious. Going is just too much effort (insert your excuse, pick from above), but you can still give your mom that family moment she would like, and it will be a happy moment for all to hear about the wedding and couple.
posted by inevitability at 11:50 AM on April 25, 2019

This is the perfect time to say, as often as necessary, the beautifully polite response supplied by Miss Manners: "I'm sorry, but that won't be possible."

If you offer reasons why you can't go, your Mom will argue with you. Don't supply any reasons at all, just repeat the above over and over again (the broken record technique).

If she just won't hush about it, you can say, with warmth and compassion, "Mom, I won't continue to discuss this with you, so if you raise it again, I'll be hanging up the phone/stopping texting for today/fill in the blank" and then do it. If she starts up again the next time you're interacting, reminder her that you won't discuss the topic, change the topic, and then say "Good bye" and hang up if necessary. She will have had her warning, so it's fair play.

I'm not saying you'll enjoy it, but it will be effective.
posted by Amy NM at 12:03 PM on April 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

It sounds like attending this wedding would be more about doing it for your mom than anything else, which honestly is not the worst reason to go. I do stuff for my mom sometimes, not because she emotionally guilts me or tries to control me in anyway, but just because I know it would mean a lot to her and she has done stuff for me throughout my life.

The cost and lack of convenient transportation is a legitimate concern, but maybe you can ride up to the destination with your mother so you have a ride out there, or on the way back. Then you can pay for one leg on your own as you arrive later/leave earlier to cut down on having to be there longer than you want. Based on your question, it doesn't sound like cost is an actual issue, i.e. if you wanted to go, you'd pay for it. Sounds more like the annoyance is at the huge cost for something you don't want to do in the first place. But getting a ride could help ease part of it if you can figure out the rest.

I had a wedding I dreaded going to because of family dynamics, but I did it for the family member getting married. In the end, the anticipation of it was much worse than the actual thing. I cried multiple times even thinking of having to deal with it, but then when I went it was perfectly fine. You just have to decide if you are willing to do this or not, and then communicate honestly with your mom.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:11 PM on April 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

You are not being unreasonable.

Politely decline.

Demur from any extended discussion about this with your mother and don't let her bait you. Just repeat these phrases over and over in a pleasant tone of voice:
"It's not possible."
"I've already declined."
"I've sent my congratulations and (will be sending) a gift."
"I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time."
"It was nice talking to you, but I have to run."
posted by desuetude at 1:33 PM on April 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Capt. Renault: "Less than three months' notice for a wedding, in the summertime -- that's leaving it late."

I only see "months to go" in the post -- nothing about the summer or three months. Could be this fall or even this winter, I think.
posted by crazy with stars at 1:45 PM on April 25, 2019

First off, thank you for this:

while my family likes to believe it is chill and pleasant in stressful situations, it is not at all chill, and also no one is supposed to point this out. We're all white Americans.

You just perfectly articulated how my family operates.

Second, I don't think you should go, and while I totally understand your impulse to stall, I think you'll be better off getting this out of the way sooner than later. The dread of this conversation is likely taking up a lot more space in your head than the actual conversation will. What's worse, every time you have this conversation with your mom in your head it's painful and unpleasant and you haven't even gotten the actual conversation over with. If it's going to be painful and unpleasant, it may as well be painful and unpleasant and over.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:50 PM on April 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

thanks for all the responses—it is super helpful to see all these different sides of this situation, and that it resonates with people. Families are hard!

Some clarifications, in case it's useful or entertaining for anyone:

—Because of the timing, all other family members are planning to get there the day before I could manage to get there, and none of them live where I live, so I can't drive with them. I guess it feels kind of shitty to ask any of them to add 6 hours of driving to their wedding weekend (to+from the airport, twice) to do pickups for us. My spouse also does not not drive, which is pretty normal for various social and professional circles I have been in in various countries.

—The closest airports are 1.5 hours drive away, there is no local or regional bus service to where the event is or even near it, and the car service quotes I've gotten have been $180-$300 each way, not including getting around between hotel and the wedding site, which is not walkable, and not covered by any ride-sharing. Perhaps this is "not at the far end of the logistical-hassle spectrum" for some (congratulations?), but I've dealt with planning plenty of logistically difficult trips for my work and this is up there for me.

—The ~$1500 cost for two to get & stay there, while not an impossibility, does sting.

—On trying to be empathetic to my mother's motivations: I'll own up that I care much less about family by blood/obligation (and correspondingly, more about other types of connections by choice) than my mom does. I don't really understand why she cares so much, since she seems to find high-baggage events like this unpleasant and stressful herself. I already no longer go home for Christmas, in part because of this. We do see each other often throughout the year, and she's pretty great in low-stakes interactions.

—I'm a terrible liar, so while the various fictional excuses are a humorous diversion, I'm seeing that I need to man up and address this head-on.

—Thank you everyone who pointed out that I can, actually, address this with my step-sibling as cordial adults.
posted by socktastic at 3:08 PM on April 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

I don't really understand why she cares so much, since she seems to find high-baggage events like this unpleasant and stressful herself.

It might be as simple as it makes her feel better when you’re there and she’s proud of you as her kid, like she’s got one her best people in her corner for the family horror show. That doesn’t make her behavior toward you ok at all and shouldn’t impede your choices. But I bet your mom thinks very highly of you.
posted by sallybrown at 3:15 PM on April 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

another thing to keep in mind is that, when people care a lot about folks being able to make it to their wedding, they take this into account in the planning.

your stepsibling has planned her wedding in some place that is not only far from the nearest airport, but not covered by ride sharing or shuttle bus. This reads to me as a good hint that she does not actually want everyone she invited to actually attend. This probably won't change your mom's feeling (your mom probably wants you there for her own reasons, not having to do with your stepsibling) but it may make you feel better.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:19 PM on April 25, 2019 [10 favorites]

Airport shuttle to nearest small city and then a cab/ride is usually how I work this. If it’s really that out in the boonies I don’t think you’re being too unreasonable, but be 100% honest with yourself about how much is logistical/sanity and how much is not wanting to be bothered. Missing a step-sibling’s wedding is a pretty big deal. I guess they feel, to you, like extended family, but you’re going to be involved with these people intimately if/when your mother gets sick, or her husband gets sick, etc. etc. etc. Some effort to participate in something that is huge for them and huge from your mother is much more warranted than it would be for a random cousin.

And, honestly, this is your mother’s chosen family, and this is important to her. You don’t have to do this for her but she doesn’t want you there because she’s just too too thick or too rigid to understand that tradition doesn’t dictate emotions. She wants people she cares about to respect her wishes and participate in her big life events. That’s not silly or dumb even if you’re not interested. Acknowledging that this is going to be a legitimate source of hurt for her will relieve a lot of your anxiety about this decision. You’re either okay with hurting her feelings in order to avoid this or you’re not. If you are. then be as kind about it as possible instead of treating it like an unreasonable ask, and go with god.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:52 PM on April 25, 2019 [11 favorites]

I think it’s reasonable that your mother would expect you to go to your stepsister’s wedding. No matter what you think of your mother, I think it’s lousy to frame it as her being unreasonable.

A lot of your logistics problems are a little special to you: A large population of adult Americans drive, so that exorbitant ride share cost is an extra no-car tax. You also say you can’t possibly arrive when other family members are expecting to, which would otherwise allow you to get a ride with one of them.

I mean, you do what you need to keep your sanity, but your mother will be upset and annoyed. She will try to troubleshoot for you and be frustrated that you’re not flexible or open to her ideas. She will have to deflect questions about you and your non attendance at the event.
posted by vunder at 4:02 PM on April 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

another thing to keep in mind is that, when people care a lot about folks being able to make it to their wedding, they take this into account in the planning.

My brother’s wedding was a plane ride and several hours drive away for all of his immediate family. It was in his bride’s hometown. It’s unfair to presume that the event is intended to exclude someone just because it’s inconvenient for some. People have to choose a place, they have lots of things to consider.
posted by vunder at 4:11 PM on April 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

It doesn't matter if people think this is reasonable or not - they are not you, and also I suspect people with driving licenses may be underestimating the difficulty, and yes shame, and feelings of entrapment that non-drivers can experience in situations like these (for the record, I have 4 step siblings that came when my parents married when I was practically an adult, I don't know these people from a bar of soap and would never in a million years go to their weddings).

What matters is that you don't want to, you don't have to, and I think in in terms of consequences, it's highly unlikely this will affect your relationship with either step sibling or mother. Because step sibling will totally understand (flights alone are a deal breaker for many, many people), and your mother is your mother and will have to love you and get over it anyway, despite no doubt pulling out every trick in the book to get you to go before she gives up.

You don't have to "do this" for your mother. It's not her freaking wedding and I'm sure you do many things for her. I apologise for my strident tone, but your question resonated with me somewhat. I, too, have a family where there is an expectation that certain things are done because that's the way it should be, regardless of inconvenience, cost, and stress. For many years I bought into this horseshit, which meant putting my own needs and emotional wellbeing below this kind of weird, performative "Family Theatre" which no one really cared about except they felt that they should care about it, or took it as a cosign of love etc (like your mum is doing).

After reaching a minor crisis point a few years ago, I have been much more proactive about prioritising my own needs and desires. This has led to some conflict, ruffled feathers, and even more. However, despite the slightly increased external stress, my internal stress has been much lower around family stuff, and I am feeling better, and healthier for it.

Do not go to this wedding, and make it clear when communicate to your mum that it's your choice, and you've made it. Use the reasons to bolster your case, but don't set them up as blockers or she will work to clear them. You don't need a reason, you're not close to step sibling, and it would be an uncomfortable, stressful, and expensive weekend for you. Finis.

Best of luck
posted by smoke at 4:30 PM on April 25, 2019 [14 favorites]

Most has been said above, but I will add that I would politely decline (and I have step-siblings that became that when I was in my 20s and while I have a cordial relationship with them, that is it). However, I might consider telling my mom that if she wants this so much she can foot the cost and deal with the logistics.
posted by AugustWest at 4:45 PM on April 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

This wedding is not for the benefit of your mother. It is not her big life event. Obligation to attend a wedding comes from your relationship with the bride or groom. Your relationship to this person is that your mother married their father when you were both adults. I tend to come down a little more on the side of obligatory attendance than the average Mefite, but, barring some social connection that hasn't developed, that's pretty tenuous. I think that's something to keep in mind as you deal with her--as much as she may try to make it so, you're not actually doing anything to her. The only people who might have a right to be hurt or offended are bride and groom, and it doesn't sound like they will be.
posted by praemunire at 5:14 PM on April 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

she has alternately steamrolled me, told me I'm unreasonable, tried to tell me what to do, and sometimes given me the silent treatment or told me I'm hurting the family dynamic by not engaging in some activity I don't want to engage in. (Don't worry, I'm in therapy!)

Yay for therapy. I had a mom like this too. Was difficult. One of the things you will probably get to eventually in therapy (and yay for supportive partner, so helpful) is that your agonizing over this is part of the terrible dynamic that the two of you have and i's not that this is a difficult problem in some objective way It's not, you just don't go, it's fine, you're a grownup, grownups don't go to things all the time. But! It becomes a mess because your mom lives in your head and sometimes it's almost easier to deal with an incredibly expensive/taxing/complicated issue than have to deal with her bad attitude One. More Time. I feel you. I'm here to say "It gets better" but it starts getting better the more you start to say no. So waaaay back up to Lawn Beaver. "I can't make it" and then do not elaborate, do not give her reasons she can tear down, just do what a lot of people with parents-with-problems do is sort of go grey rock over it (i.e. really flat, low drama answers and refusing to talk about the stuff you don't want to talk about). I tend to call this approach Loving Broken Record.

"Yeah mom I know it means a lot to you but we just can't make it work"
"But why?"
"Just can't make it work. I hope it's fun and I'm sending a gift. Have a great time"
"You're being awful!"
"This is my life, my decision. Have a good time. See you next month?"
"I want you to have a better relationship with $STEP"
"Me too, let's plan something nice when we all get together at $EVENT."

Etc etc. Deflect. Do not engage. DO not make excuses. This wedding is a huge hassle, you do not have to go. Be gracious in declining. Send a nice gift. The end.

In sort of non-dysfunctional families, people who are behaving in controlling and rude ways like your mom's get frozen out and they can make a choice if they want to behave like reasonable people or just not be around people. Your mom already doesn't get you at Xmas (good choice by the way) and over time she can maybe learn that being more reasonable gets better results. Or she won't. In either case, that's HER problem and not yours. Give yourself a reality check that you're not just being avoidant because of family reasons and plan something nice with your spouse for this weekend and feel ok not going. Over time your mom will either chill some more, or it will become pretty clear that SHE is the one making it bad, not some sort of badness that you bring to the table. Best wishes.
posted by jessamyn at 6:19 PM on April 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

Agreed with those who don't think you're being unreasonable. It's not your mom's wedding, and you have every right to choose not to go if you want to (even if it's your own mom's wedding!). If you choose not to go, that's OK! It's your decision.

While it sucks having to deal with hurt feelings, conflict, and guilt trips, it's essential to remember that it's not you, it's them. Their guilt trips, that's on them. It's their feelings, their frustrations, their desires, shaping their behavior. Nothing related to you. One thing my old therapist said that stuck in my head for situations like this is... you can't control others' reactions. You can only control your reaction.

I know you said you're a terrible liar in your followup... how about this, if you don't want to be truthful and want an easy cop-out? Simply say on text or email that your boss wouldn't let you go, so sorry, but let me make it up to you. This way, they won't catch your tone or see your avoiding eye gaze. Then, this will "solidify" the white lie and make it seem more real, and next time you see them, pull a trick on your mind that you were indeed denied, act like it, and treat them to dinner or something, and if they talk about "OMG HOW TERRIBLE YOUR BOSS IS!" just laugh, shrug it off, and change the subject. This is my strategy when going through a white lie, because I'm a terrible liar in person, myself.

Otherwise, I'd just be honest, point to the logistics, and when pressed, pull a Miss Manners and keep demurring.

Sorry you have to go through this, but hope my two cents will somewhat help! Not that I encourage lying, but sometimes, it's okay to white lie, IMHO. It makes the "no" less hurtful and reduces conflict all around, especially with people who don't know how to accept a "no."
posted by dubious_dude at 6:26 PM on April 25, 2019

Speak with your stepsibling soon to politely tell them you cannot attend, and send a nice gift. Offer to take the new married couple out to dinner when you're in the same ZIP code sometime after the wedding, if you want; you are going to be thrown in with these folks more often as your respective parents age.

When you talk to your mom, it is a done deal -- you've already sent your regrets. Don't let her make her disappointment a production number, by cajoling her (aw, #stepsibling understood it wasn't do-able, we're good! and I still want to hear all about your own preparations and experiences) and/or firmly setting boundaries (yes, you will be ending calls early if she's stubbornly difficult).

Her spouse's kid is getting married. She'd like it if the stepsiblings were closer in general, but she wants you at this multi-day event as emotional support for herself when dealing with the spouse's feelings about the wedding, perhaps the stepkid's other bio parent, that whole extended family and its dynamic, etc. (She can't say so; while my family likes to believe it is chill and pleasant in stressful situations, it is not at all chill, and also no one is supposed to point this out. We're all white Americans.)

You can provide limited hand-holding from a literal and metaphorical distance, if you choose to do so.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:42 PM on April 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Would you be willing to go if it cost you zero money, that is if your mother agreed to pay expenses and actually came through? Then maybe put it in terms of finance and logistics to your mother, and give her that chance.

I say this while respecting that, one, family members who push you like this will often either not come through with promised help or-- as someone mentioned above-- attach a lot of strings to that help, so you may already know that giving her that option is a bad idea. And, two, even if it's not a financial burden, hanging out with step family you don't know that well can involve emotional wear and tear. I've been in the position of going out of town to social functions with my father's wife's family because it was important to my father. Even with my siblings there, it felt like an awful lot of time investment to be at an event where 99% of the people wouldn't have cared if we didn't come. I felt like I could do this once in a blue moon for my father, who was getting very old, but it was hard and my siblings and I would end up fighting, probably because of our isolation in a group we were not close to.

So I would totally support your not going. If your mother has issues with not seeing you enough herself, well maybe a dedicated trip to see her, or having her to your place, would be better. Vexing interactions with family members become more vexing, not less, in the context of another family.
posted by BibiRose at 5:39 AM on April 26, 2019

I agree with not going, but something I have found with extended family relationships is that sometimes the person in the middle (your mother) has a relationship with both people (you and your step-sibling) and assumes you two have a closer relationship than you do in reality.

For years my mother would talk to me about a distant cousin, and would share important parts of my life with her cousin but then was shocked when we finally met and we didn't have a pre-existing relationship together. She just built up an idea of a bond between us that simply didn't exist and still can't wrap her head around why we are not close friends even though her cousin lives hours away from me, has almost nothing in common with me demographically, and is at a very different life stage (but is a great friend to my mom, so yay).

So your mother's reaction may be extreme because she thinks of you and the bride-to-be as close siblings instead of the near-strangers that you really are. However, I have no words of wisdom to help you navigate changing her perception to reality.
posted by saucysault at 8:02 AM on April 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

So, am I being unreasonable in this wedding being too logistically fraught for me?

Yes, I think you are being unreasonable. In many families, not showing up at your stepsister's wedding will be seen as a Statement of disregard for your stepsister or your mother. It's not the kind of statement I would care to make if my relations with a stepsibling were "cordial". It'd be different if I actively disliked them.

I'm sorry your mother is so often unreasonable about family gatherings, but missing a major life cycle event is not the same as not showing up for Christmas and I would re-calibrate.
posted by grouse at 9:28 AM on April 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I feel like some of the responses saying, in effect, that a step-sibling is close family you should go to their wedding are making an assumption that doesn’t always hold true. You mention that your mother got to get her with her husband when you were an adult. I’ve been in the same position, although in my case I’ve met his kids once I think and they didn’t invite me to the wedding. Step-siblings, like in-laws and cousins can cover a whole range of degrees of closeness very easily, from completely out of contact, to as close as the closest siblings.

I agree with those who say that the best way of handling it is to speak directly to your step-sibling, and then tell your mother. And it’s fine to decide you aren’t going to go. Send a nice gift.
posted by plonkee at 12:06 AM on April 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks to everyone who weighed in with different perspectives, it definitely helped me reframe my thinking and get to a place where I didn't feel trapped, even the less sympathetic replies. As for those, I can say with certainty that it's reflective of reality as I have lived it, and not unfair or lousy to frame my mother's ideas and actions around our step-family as sometimes being unreasonable, sometimes baroquely so. My logistics problems in this case are hardly unique among New Yorkers, who comprise most of my social circle (and a decent amount of the couple's) and within which, most of whom don't drive. Lastly, the wedding site is not close to anyone's hometown and seems to have been chosen for the feature of being deep in the woods away from public transit.

But the real reason for this comment is an update for those curious—I decided to bite the bullet and talk about it honestly with my mom, which was a crapshoot but went better than I thought. She was surprisingly supportive, to the point of telling me unprompted that she understood that this whole thing was a nightmare for me, and we even talked about that I saw being there as a way of specifically being supportive to her. So, I'm going to fly in the day of, someone is going to drive out to pick me up, we do the wedding, I stay overnight, and I get a ride back in the morning. It will be stressful but I'm ready to be as positive as possible; it will make my mom happy and moreover she accepts I am doing it to make her happy, which I found matters a lot to me.

thanks for joining me on this emotional saga.
posted by socktastic at 9:01 AM on August 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

That's great. It's very natural to feel good about doing a favor for a loved one as long as that favor is acknowledged and appreciated. Then it becomes about a loving gesture, rather than a resentment-inducing burden.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:05 AM on August 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

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