Q: My sister (let’s call her Beth) and I have always had a rough go at our relationship. We’re not only complete opposites but she is notorious for her mean girl attitude and ability to make digs that hit you at the core of your being. In short, if she is in a bad mood, she will make your life a living hell.
When I announced my engagement to Beth, I was met with a bored and insincere, “Congratulations,” then an immediate excuse to get off the phone. We barely spoke afterward, and no one in my family (nor his) expressed outward excitement as it was apparently obvious we were going to get engaged within the year anyway. It was not what I expected, and my feelings were a bit hurt.
When Beth finally expressed interest in the engagement, it was outright controlling. She demanded we look at golf courses for a venue (neither of us like golf and it was out of our budget), and other venues and vendors that SHE had looked at but in the end didn’t choose. If I pushed back or thanked her but refused, Beth becomes condescending (“You don’t know the first thing about planning a wedding”), mean (“No one else is going to help you; no one else cares”), and downright hurtful.
I have been engaged to my fiancé for less than a MONTH and I’ve been in tears more than I have enjoyed the actual experience. I recently sent her a sweet card, as she lives out of state, asking her to be my maid of honor. I now dread everything wedding related, as I don’t want her toxic attitude involved. I feel as though something that I should be happy and excited about has been destroyed due to her nasty attitude, although I feel occasionally guilty, as she’s a stay-at-home mom with two young ones and perhaps these outbursts are due to the little interaction she has with adults.
Please help. I want to keep the peace, but I’m downright downtrodden.
—Sisterly and Depressed
A: Dear SAD,
I’m impressed that you asked your sister to be your maid of honor in the first place. I think it’s gracious of you to offer that she might be lashing out due to a lack of adult interaction, but it sounds like throwing that in at the very last minute is perhaps your “OMG, I’m asking the Internet about my sister” guilt talking. Also, between you, me, and the whole Internet, I don’t think having two kids gives you a pass on being a kind human being.
Now let’s dig into the real meat of the issue, which is that in less than a month, your sister has managed to wreck your good wedding vibes. It doesn’t sound like you’re wildly surprised by this, but you do sound a bit wounded by the overall lack of enthusiasm (or even good will) you received from her when you told her about your engagement. I think that’s fair, because we want those we love to celebrate the great moments of our lives. That’s a natural thing…. even with people where, deep down, we know better than to get our hopes up.
Since she isn’t acting happy for you (or hasn’t been so far) I think there are two clear paths to take. One is more drastic, and the other is more adult… so I’ll start with the drastic one: you could just cut her out of the planning process completely. I’m not suggesting you burn your bridges and toss her out of your life entirely, but if she doesn’t have or want to be part of the wedding… why keep her in it? If you asked her to be your maid of honor because of the love you share despite all of the ups and downs, or if it’s wildly important to you that she fills that role, okay. But if you asked her out of a misguided sense of familial duty, then there’s no shame in changing your mind. She can come to the wedding without being your right hand lady. And if your relationship has been as tempestuous as you made it seem, she might not care anyway.
The second, more adult route would be to call your sister up one evening for a heart-to-heart chat. Ideally, this would be after the kids are asleep and when you think she’s most likely to have a stretch of time on her own. Once you have her on the phone, start out by asking about her: how are the kids? What’s new in her life? Is anything extra hard or extra awesome lately? And then gently guide the conversation toward your wedding planning process and what you’ve been thinking about lately. Be honest and open and tell her everything: how she’s making you feel, how much you want her in the wedding, what her role means to you. I think you’ll know quickly if this is going to be helpful (either she’ll start really talking about it with you, or she’ll freak out and lose it completely). And hell, you might know without picking up the phone if this is a useful tack with your sister or not. But if you do make the call, depending on how the conversation goes, you might end up circling back to option number one. No harm, no foul.
Because here is the real deal. We don’t all have the dreamy family relationships pictured in bridal magazines, wrapped in fluttering bridesmaid dresses. And that’s okay. It doesn’t make your wedding, or your love, or even your life any less than.
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Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her husband, their seven year old metalhead son, and a crew of beasts. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and smiley faces.
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