Yesterday, my younger sister called to inform me she had invited her stepson's ex-wife, explaining, "Well, she's family." Well, she isn't related to anyone there; I don't consider her family. I "slept on it" hoping to get over my annoyance, but still feel the same.
I certainly won't call her back and tell her to uninvite this person, but am I justified, or overreacting?
— Always in the Middle
Always in the Middle: It would have been a kindness for your sister to tell you of her intentions before she invited her ex-daughter-in-law.
But that’s about all the backing I can offer for your resentment, which I suspect is by proxy, but I’ll get to that.
You are the host, of course, but a reunion is not “I’m bringing us all together”; it’s “We’re bringing ourselves together, and I’m [graciously!] volunteering to house everyone.” So for one of you to widen the circle a bit to make room for an extra family member is not the violation it would be if you were having, say, a dinner party.
Plus, your sister’s plus-one is an inclusive gesture, well in keeping with the spirit of a reunion. Just because the law says this woman is no longer related to your sister doesn’t mean they can’t regard each other as family.
Given your generosity in offering your home, I suspect you’d have no problem embracing such inclusion if you: liked this sister more; liked this ex-relative more; felt less overwhelmed by the coming stampede; or felt better about your standing within the family pecking order. Or a little of all four.
Because taking issue with one extra person over a family-tie technicality? That’s so small. Especially considering this weekend is in part a celebration of this sister, so including “her” people would not only make more sense, but also be a lovely part of the surprise.
So that’s why you have me thinking proxy complaint: meaning, you were already generally and even subconsciously anxious, and so when this plus-one issue presented itself as a convenient receptacle for all those misgivings, you dumped them right in. We’ve all been there; it’s tempting.
Your signature is what got my attention most: “Always in the Middle.” In four words, you admit seeing this as the latest chapter in a long-running tale of frustration with the sisterhood, not as a onetime thing.
So. My advice about the extra guest is to repeat to yourself, “The more the merrier” until you start to believe it. Or, even better, “Blood doesn’t make families, hearts do.”
I also urge you to be clear and unflinching in delegating most — I repeat, most — of the hosting work; merely preparing your home before and reclaiming it after represents more than one person’s share. Huddle with both sisters to assign meals, cleanups, errands, expenses, all of it. One benefit of being house-not-host: You needn’t martyr yourself to everyone else’s fun.
And my advice for the extra resentment is to identify — or if you already know it well, acknowledge — the true source of your annoyance, and address that instead of dwelling on the plus-one. Or, choose not to address it! But do so consciously and for good, so you don’t spend the whole reunion (and thereafter) booby-trapped with old grudges, sore spots and pique.
Dear Carolyn: I over-drink just about every time I imbibe, but my personality changes in a "positive" way: I get really happy. My wife doesn't think I have a problem probably because of that, as I have stressful job and can be a bit of a crank (I acknowledge this). I only drink once a week at most, but I feel awful the next morning and hate myself the rest of the weekend. But I have no support. When I raise the possibility of stopping drinking with my wife or friends, they get defensive for me and tell me I'm fine. Am I an alcoholic?
Overdrinking: You don’t need a label, you need professional support.
Get some, please, by asking your primary care physician for treatment referrals. Treat both the alcohol abuse and those feelings you’re self-medicating with alcohol abuse.
And, explain to your wife that you hate yourself after you drink, so you’re stopping. Explain that her assuring you you’re fine and don’t need to stop is not helpful right now. Then spell out for her the support you do want. Then hope she hears you but expect her not to.
I realize this is short advice for a long journey, but it could really be five words:
I believe you. Get help.
And take care.