Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I’m Scared to See My Estranged Family at an Upcoming Party”

I withdrew myself from my family ten years ago after I was excluded from my older sister’s fiftieth birthday celebration. I had stopped by the morning of her birthday with a card and gift and asked her if she had anything special planned. She said she didn’t. My brother-in-law and nephew were present at the time. Later that evening, I tried to contact my brother and my younger sister only to discover that they had gone for a birthday meal to celebrate my older sister’s fiftieth. I was distraught.

I was surprised that my younger sister and brother, both of whom I thought I was close to, had gone along with this. My husband and I were the only family members not invited, and I have no idea why. I telephoned my older sister the following morning to ask her why and she hung up on me. After much consideration, I decided I no longer wanted to be a part of their lives. I no longer trusted them and couldn’t believe they would treat me so badly. I still don’t know why they did this.

Four years ago, my younger sister rekindled our relationship and we are now closer than ever. I still have no contact with my brother or my older sister and her husband or their adult children. My younger sister’s son is having a house party and wants me to attend. How on earth do I do this when many of the family members I don’t have contact with will be attending with their mutual friends?

I really don’t want to let my nephew down as he wants me to be at his party. He understands how difficult it may be and said I can bring some friends. Can I still get through this? Any tips would be most welcome. — Partying With Estranged Family?

I find it hard to believe that your older sister excluded you from a birthday dinner that all your siblings were invited to and you literally have no idea why. Harder to fathom is that you cut ties with your younger sister and brother simply for attending the dinner that you were excluded from, as if they made the call not to invite you. Did you ever think that maybe they didn’t know you weren’t invited until they got there? Or that they did know but were put in an impossible position of, essentially “choosing sides”? I can understand being hurt that they didn’t skip their other sister’s fiftieth birthday dinner out of loyalty to you, but to cut them — and their kids! — out of your life for years because of one dinner that they attended is, frankly, nuts. It speaks to a level of immaturity, irrationality, and lack of compassion that I have to assume might be the basis for whatever reason your older sister had for excluding you from her birthday celebration in the first place. What a lucky thing, though, that your younger sister hasn’t held your treatment of her against you, and that you are now closer than ever.

My advice is that, if you want to keep that close relationship you’ve built with your younger sister and if you have any interest at all in maintaining ties with her son and perhaps rebuilding relationships with other members of your family, you will go to that party, with or without a friend in tow. You will show up because showing up is the most important thing you can do for the people you love even if it is sometimes inconvenient or uncomfortable for you (especially if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable for you). Have a glass or two of wine (but not more than that) if you’re a social drinker to help you relax. Volunteer for a task — like passing out hors d’oeuvres, serving as bartender, tidying up throughout the night, greeting guests and showing them where to put jackets, etc. — that will keep your hands and mind occupied and give you something else to focus on besides how nervous you are to see these estranged family members and their friends.

Attending this party may be the fresh start you need to rekindle some other relationships you let die ten years ago (with your brother, for example, who didn’t deserve to be cut from your life for a decade for attending his sister’s fiftieth birthday dinner). But whether it’s the start of something new or not, one thing is certain: If you don’t attend, it sends a very clear message to your nephew about where he stands with you. He made it clear he wants you to show up. He’s extended an open invitation for you to bring friends if that will make you feel more comfortable. Your skipping the party tells him that he’s not important enough for you to step outside your comfort zone. You were once sent a clear message from a family member that hurt you deeply. Let’s hope your nephew, if he’s in the same boat, has more compassion than you did ten years ago. But it would be best if you don’t put him in that boat…

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

17 comments… add one
  • avatar

    ktfran September 13, 2016, 10:23 am

    Wendy nailed it. And I’m intrigued. I want to know why you weren’t invited!!!!

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    SpaceySteph September 13, 2016, 10:53 am

    Yeah there’s no way you don’t have some inkling as to why. You’re either lying to us or lying to yourself. Wendy is spot on with this.

    As a personal side story, your family very much reminds me of my grandfather’s family when I was younger. My grandfather had 3 sisters. He had a falling out with the family and stopped speaking with his parents and 2 of his sisters, only maintaining ties with the third. Years later (when I was in I think high school) his father died (they never reconciled) and he reconciled with the other two sisters… but after all those years they hadn’t been involved in our (his kids and grandkids) lives at all and still didn’t make the effort to show up. They were strangers to us– they missed weddings and births and birthdays and bar mitzvahs and graduations and… the damage was done. My other great aunt who we were close to (and one of the ones we weren’t) died several years ago so my grandfather has just the one sister left… and there’s no relationship between her and the rest of the family. My sister and I didn’t even invite her to our weddings.
    But your nephew WANTS you there. You may have blown it with your generation, but you still have a chance with the next generation. Show up. Paint a smile on your face and get through a couple hours of awkward conversation. Then do it again and again and again as much as you’re invited. Decide to let bygones be bygones, before you wake up and you’re 80 and your few remaining relatives want nothing to do with you

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    • avatar

      freckles September 13, 2016, 4:40 pm

      My family is exactly like this. My grandfather had four younger sister, and my grandmother had two older brothers. And for various reasons, neither of them talked to ANY of their siblings. I didn’t know them or their families at all growing up. And on that side, I have no first cousins, and I have no siblings, so it really would have been nice to have some more family around. Oh well. It’s too late now. But it’s something I’ll always be regretful of.

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  • avatar

    RedRoverRedRover September 13, 2016, 12:11 pm

    I don’t know, my sister did something similar to my mom, and none of us know why. She stopped coming to holidays and was all pissy to my mom. And at her wedding she snubbed all of us for no reason that we could see. Over the years, we’ve gotten some clues. My mom thinks it might be because my sister apparently had anxiety in highschool and she’s mad because my mom didn’t get her any help. But my mom had no idea. Neither did I, and we were really close and shared a bedroom. If she had anxiety beyond normal highschool stress, she hid it well.

    Plus, my sister didn’t do that to my mom until after she got engaged to her husband and knew she’d be financially secure. Because before that, she was always asking my mom for financial help. Then she got engaged, and bam, my mom was on the shit list. So my mom had no reason to connect my sister’s behaviour with anything that happened in highschool, since the cause and effect were separated by about 10 years. And it definitely wasn’t her husband causing the issue, which is what we thought at first. At their wedding he seemed embarrassed at how she was treating us, and he tried really hard to make us feel welcome. He’s a great guy, there’s no way he was influencing her to do that.

    Anyway, you never know. It happens. Although it does seem odd that the LW cut off her other siblings too. Unless she knew for sure that they were “in on it” somehow, that was a bridge too far.

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    • avatar

      artsygirl September 13, 2016, 12:24 pm

      Red – The whole family dynamic is strange in this case. I agree that there are people who let things fester and then they lash out much later. The fact that not only did the LW cut her elder sister out of her life but also her brother and younger sister and they apparently did nothing suggests that perhaps the family had deeper problem well before the party.

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    • avatar

      Rebecca September 13, 2016, 4:26 pm

      I know a narcissist. He does stuff like this when he figures out that you know that he’s not perfect. He can’t have anyone around who thinks he’s less than perfect, so he picks a fight about nothing and then cuts people off. I’m calling bunk on people who think the LW must know what’s going on.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant September 14, 2016, 2:12 pm

        Maybe? If the older sister were a narcissist though, it’s odd to me that she’d talk the rest of the family into shunning the sister. But maybe she still has them under such a spell she can manipulate them easily.

        But even so, now that’s she’s reconnected with the younger sister, couldn’t she tell the LW why she got shut out? The omission of such details I think leads lots of commenters to believe that the LW knows more than she’s saying.

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  • avatar

    artsygirl September 13, 2016, 12:17 pm

    LW – Like Wendy and the other writers have mentioned, I feel there must be some backstory regarding your sister’s 50th birthday party and the various family dynamics at play. That being said, even if the lack of invite was completely out of the blue, you need to move on. You and your family are getting older (your elder sister is 60 likely putting you in your 50s), and time passes quickly. Move on and make peace since your self-imposed isolation hurts no one but yourself. Go to your nephew’s party and be polite to you brother and elder sister if you talk to them.

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  • avatar

    MoeP September 13, 2016, 1:11 pm

    Another idea: Maybe the dinner was spontaneous. Maybe you weren’t invited because it didn’t occur to anyone.

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph September 13, 2016, 1:33 pm

      Eh, I mean LW does say she stopped by that morning and asked if anything was planned and the sister said no. Either the sister lied or, if it really was spontaneous, it didn’t occur to call up her sister that she talked to a few hours ago and say “hey we’re having dinner.”
      It’s not like her invite got lost in the mail.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros September 13, 2016, 1:42 pm

    Have you asked any of the family that you are speaking to what happened? Depending on their reason for not inviting you, I could empathize with this. But I think that whenever you cut out family, you are going to have to live with the consequences. Every action has tradeoffs. In this situation, maybe you got the satisfaction of spurning someone who made you angry or possibly prevented yourself from being hurt in the future. But the tradeoff is that if you encounter them later, it’s awkward. Not much you can do in this situation. I do think it was an overreaction to cut out people who were not to blame (you can’t expect someone to refuse invitations or force someone to invite you when there’s an issue between you and another person), and I think it’s best to not let your animosity between you and your one sibling to affect your ability to be a good family member to someone who isn’t to blame.

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  • avatar

    csp September 14, 2016, 7:10 am

    If my sister was mad at me, I would do whatever it took to try and talk it out. One time not invited and it is over? I would have fought a lot harder for the people I love.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros September 14, 2016, 10:54 am

      Yeah. Either there’s a lot of baggage we weren’t told about or the LW is really hot-headed and impulsive. If someone is avoiding you, it’s always good to check and make sure you haven’t done something to upset them or something else is going on. Especially if it’s a family member or someone else that you wouldn’t necessarily want to cut out unless you had to.

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  • avatar

    MiMi September 14, 2016, 11:04 am

    Just as folks are always being advised to not make a wedding the site of a difficult reunion, how about reaching out to your estranged family members BEFORE your nephew’s house party? Even if only to let them know you plan to attend, acknowledge that there has been some negative history amongst you but you hope they will join you in making the day a happy memory for your nephew.
    Also, not knowing how old your nephew is, please recognize that your family dysfunction has now translated to the next generation where a child? teen? young adult? is trying to moderate the expected bad behavior of his aunts and uncles. Y’all need to grow up.

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  • avatar

    Ale September 14, 2016, 11:45 am

    The fact that she is “scared” to see her family means to me that she did something wrong. She may know she overreacted with the whole dinner thing (assuming that her siblings did nothing wrong before that). Why would you be scared to see someone who did you wrong? I would be scared if I had done something to them.
    Anyways this all sounds so dramatic and dumb, fighting over some dinner….

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  • avatar

    wobster109 September 14, 2016, 1:28 pm

    Hey LW, any chance your younger sister might know something about it? Ask her if she has any ideas, but only if you can actually listen. Don’t argue or punish her. So if she says “you were really cranky at Aunt Tilda’s wedding”, don’t say “but I had a headache” or “why are you taking their side”. Say “thanks for telling me” and leave it at that.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark September 15, 2016, 1:00 pm

    People who go NUCLEAR — like this LW — over petty silly bullshit routinely end up all alone and complaining loudly about it. They somehow NEVER know what they did wrong and are constantly the victim of everyone around them. 9.5 times out of 10 it is utter bullshit…
    .
    Grow the FUCK up, LW. This woe is me shrinking violet act is getting old.

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