Dear Ann Cannon • I have a question about a family situation. I don’t want to give too many details, but I have a family member named Pat who is married to Chris. Pat is generally happy and eager to participate in family events, Chris is not. It has become normal to expect Chris to not show up to dinners, trips, outings, etc., with the family, even if it would benefit Pat and Chris’ kids to have Chris there. Sad for the kids.
Anyway, because Pat likes to be with the family, Pat will invite the family to their house for various activities and events. However, whenever we are at their house, it is obvious that Chris can’t wait for everyone to leave. There was even a time when the gathering took place outside their house in their yard and everyone was told that they could not go into the house! So you might just say we should politely decline invitations to activities at their home, but there is pressure from other family members (who have seniority over me) to keep the family peace. I am just getting a little tired of playing nice when others in the family don’t have to do so. What would you do?
— Tired of Playing Nice
Dear Tired • Would it surprise you to learn that a lot of families have at least one party-pooper, too? When it comes to the in-laws and the outlaws and everyone in between, the good times just never end!
As always, you have options. Here are a few:
- You can defy the wishes of senior family members and decline invitations to Pat and Chris’ home.
- You can decide to confront Chris either directly (in person) or indirectly (via text, email or a letter) and tell him/her how his/her lack of hospitality makes you feel.
- You can also choose the tone you want to use with Chris if you confront him/her. Angry? Angsty? Amiable? Aghast? Apologetic? Assured? Accusatory? It’s all up to you.
- Or you can just go to Pat and Chris’ home and ignore Chris while deliberately focusing on the family members you DO enjoy. Don’t respond to Chris’ social cues. Don’t let Chris dictate your behavior. Leave their house when you sense that Pat wants you to leave, not Chris. And, of course, you can always leave when you’ve had enough, too. (BTW, the maximum time I can spend doing anything anywhere before my inner alarm clock goes off — even if I like all the people involved — is two hours. Not that you asked.)
Meanwhile, you should ask yourself a couple of questions before settling on an option. What’s your end game? In other words, what do you hope to achieve if you draw a line in the sand? Are you OK with the consequences (intended and otherwise) of your decision? How will your decision affect others? Does it matter to you if your decision affects others?
I don’t know any of the players involved here, so my advice might not be very useful. But family togetherness appears to be important to Pat and for that reason alone, I’d proceed carefully where he/she is concerned.
Now that I think about it, maybe you should talk to Pat. Ask Pat about Chris’ response to your family gatherings. We have a person in our extended family who finds it physically and emotionally painful to be in large crowds. The fact that he/she avoids family gatherings — or any kind of gathering — isn’t personal. Maybe something like this is behind Chris' behavior. Or maybe she/he is just a jerk. I’m not ruling out that possibility either. But talking to Pat might give you some helpful insight.
I’ll also say this. As time passes, Chris’ behavior will probably bother you less and less, assuming he/she and Pat stay together. It’s possible you’ll get to the point where you’ll roll your eyes and go, “That’s just Chris.”
Meanwhile, move forward with kindness. And good luck.