I’ll be visiting my sister and her family this fall (again, I’m making the cross-country trek). My niece is engaged to a man who seems to be calling all the shots and needed 18 months to start a ring fund. I imagine they will tie the knot next year. Whenever I ask my sister, she mentions that the couple are saving for a house (despite receiving a seven-figure sum for it from the groom’s uncle) and gives the impression the guest list will be small. If I’m invited I’d like to bring my adult daughter. I won’t go without her. Thoughts?
A.J. / Cambridge
I think you dislike these people and shouldn’t go to the wedding. Is it too late to change your autumn travel plans, for that matter? Because here’s the thing: Visiting family (or friends) and celebrating life events with them is supposed to strengthen the relationship. If every single thing your sister, niece, future nephew-in-law, and his extended family do is going to irritate you like a mosquito bite under a plaster cast, well, that’s not really going to strengthen anything, is it? Except for the Pavlovian association of your family with resentment, annoyance, and suppressed rage. That relationship will probably get nailed down even more securely.
As far as the potential lack of an invitation to your daughter for a not-yet-planned wedding, you could simply tell your sister that it would mean a great deal to you if she were included on the guest list. Don’t make an ultimatum that you won’t go without her, Sally Field-style (I write, dating myself). Doing that would introduce an unpleasant dynamic in which not inviting your daughter comes off as a deliberate provocation, while inviting her feels like capitulation.
Does that dynamic sound familiar? Because something is obviously amiss between you and Sis. Work it through, either with her or in your own heart, or learn to enjoy the ritual combat (as my mother and aunt did). But keep it away from the next generation. Your daughter and her cousin deserve a chance to make their own relationship with each other. And if you really can’t get there, then really don’t go there (to the wedding). No wedding couple deserve to have guests who are perched in anticipation of some faux pas worth taking umbrage at. That’s just mean. Don’t celebrate with people unless you’re actually happy for them.
Now, a travel tip: If you’re staying with an out-of-town friend, or just visiting one, a mug from their favorite local coffee shop or deli makes a delightful gift. No one ever buys themselves a mug from their fave local place, but most people want one. Get one for yourself, and then you’ll have matching mugs. For gifts to bring home, nothing beats fancy tea towels: packable, regiftable, available in a near-infinite variety of styles.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.