The Washington Post

Family’s overtures unwelcome after early shunning


Dear Carolyn: As the youngest of seven kids by a fair margin, and who didn’t resemble anyone on either side of the family, my father always ostracized me and made it very clear to everyone that I was not his. My siblings followed his lead, and the only vaguely familial relationship I’ve had in the past 30 years has been with my mother and my husband’s family.

Recently, in a twist worthy of a soap opera, one of my brothers needed a transplant and surprise, surprise, I was the only compatible donor.

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

I guess that was enough to prove paternity to them, because now I’m receiving invitations to family gatherings, but no apologies, as though we’ve always been close.

It would have meant everything to me when I was younger, but after years of being treated like a non-entity, I’ve made my peace and have no desire to associate with them. I wasn’t going to let my brother suffer, but wonder if they would have done the same for me.

How do I tactfully tell them to leave me alone? I don’t want to hurt my mother (or any of them, really), but the thought of pretending the past 30 years of neglect never happened is incredibly annoying and pretty hurtful. — Anonymous


I suppose it’s glib to say you’re all set, you gave at the doctor’s office.

Fortunately, your phrasing here seems ideal: “[These invitations] would have meant everything to me when I was younger, but after years of being treated like a non-entity, I’ve made my peace.” It allows you to make your point while choosing not to say — out of what is clearly an ingrained sense of decency — that they’ve shown you their souls as they’ve shown no one else, and you want to get no closer to people of such low quality.

As a proponent of inclusion and forgiveness wherever possible, I’d usually turn now to an argument for accepting these invitations anyway.

But there’s nothing to work with here. A freshly minted adult could be excused for not yet connecting the dots that you were an innocent being punished for your mother’s real or imagined transgressions — but the next oldest is, what, 40-ish? Not one of them has stumbled upon shame as the proper emotion with which to greet you?

I don’t mean now that the “truth” is out; I’m talking about long ago, since the truth of your innocence and fundamental human worth has been out for 30 years.

If your family members were capable of grasping their role as your unwitting moral tutors, then surely they’d be proud of the way you turned out. Your thanks-but-no-thanks stance isn’t hurtful, it’s a right they helped you earn.

* * *

Dear Carolyn: Since my ex-girlfriend broke up with me, we’ve hung out a couple of times. I figured I’d give trying to be friends (or at least not enemies) a shot. But, I can’t do it. Not only is it impossible for me to move on with my own life, but I also have some serious trust issues with her. Also, if she put forth some effort to keep in touch with me, I might think otherwise, but she doesn’t.

What’s the best way to handle ending things once and for all, once the relationship has ended? It will probably be the last time we see each other. Do I owe her an in-person meeting, or would a phone call suffice? — Moving On for Good This Time

Since Exie’s not matching your effort, your “best way” is there for the taking: Stop getting in touch with her.

You apparently see this as deserving of milestone treatment — and it’s certainly fine to say goodbye with your own needs in mind. However, please do so only with full awareness that Exie might not play the role you’ve mentally scripted for her. Imagine arranging an evening of The Last Time We Ever See Each Other import, and she responds with an eye-roll or a shrug. Are you ready for that?

Clearly, I’m partial to the just-let-go goodbye. If that feels too much like leaving the thread of Exie dangling, then try the milestone treatment without her: 1. Realize you’re not two friends, you’re one guy hanging on; 2. Hold your own goodbye ceremony, in which you . . . hmm, box up stuff she left behind and mail it back to her, or donate some gifts she gave you to charity, etc.; 3. Take a symbolic first step in your post-Exie life. Making plans with a friend of yours she never liked can work well, but I can also argue for steps that are pro-you vs. anti-her.

It’s not quite as memorable as taking her hands in yours and wishing her a nice life. But what do you need more now — to say goodbye to her, or to break free for you?

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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