Carolyn Hax: Can the guilt card be played to force attendance at a wedding?

Carolyn Hax
Columnist November 28, 2013

Dear Carolyn:

A couple of years ago, when my two nieces married, I organized my two sons and flew cross-country to attend their weddings.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

This year, my son is getting married, and my sister is blowing it off. She said she’s too busy with her job as a teacher, but I note they’ve taken mid-year golf vacations.

I am considering phoning her to say it’s a family duty, but my son’s fiancee said if they aren’t enthusiastic, then she doesn’t want them at the wedding anyway.

Should I guilt my sister into coming or realize that our family isn’t as tight as I once thought?


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

R.

When you offer up “guilt [someone] into [something]” as one of only two choices, then you make mine the easiest job ever.

This is not an either-or question, though. Families are too complicated for that. So are people, finances, travel, careers and a few other relevant things.

Just for starters, while it’s wonderful and important that you and your boys rallied for these weddings — and while I completely get your hurt feelings — it’s not fair to unilaterally set “travel cross-country for weddings” as the bar your sister must clear to prove her family devotion. You give your way, she gives hers, and over time you both adjust your ends of the give-and-take as you deem fit.

Then there’s the fact that you can’t fully know what her circumstances are, nor can you extrapolate from those golf vacations. Maybe they’re broke now. Maybe cutbacks have her in fear for her job. Maybe she never expected you to rally for her girls’ weddings — appreciated it, but never expected it. Maybe you and she have different ideas of how important wedding attendance is.

Then there’s the fact that guilt drives people apart faster than just about any emotional choice you can make. If it’s so important to have your sister there or if you found her “no” dismissive, then call her to talk with, not lecture, her. Isn’t it your “family duty” not to draw hasty conclusions but instead to share your feelings (without blaming her for them!) and open your mind to hers?

If her answer is still “no” after further discussion, then decide which befits a “tight” family — to judge or punish her for it, or to choose not to. My advice? Keep the door propped open. Family priorities have a way of shifting with time.

Dear Carolyn:

My husband and I have a 2-year-old daughter. Ever since she was about 18 months, I keep getting asked when we will have another child. Family, friends, acquaintances and even strangers ask me. I’ve had relatives call me to ask.

Now I normally wouldn’t let this get to me, but we actually have been trying to conceive for a year, and we’ve been heartbreakingly unsuccessful so far. How can I put an end to people’s questions without being rude?

Trying to Wait Patiently

“Oh, my, what a loaded question.” It is, and it shouldn’t be asked — or answered — and this is a way of making both of those points that is as polite as you need to be. If they push: “Meaning, it’s not a question I’m comfortable answering. Excuse me.” Then leave. I’m sorry.

Best of luck to you both.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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