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#344: Visiting distant family is becoming a strain.

Hello Captain Awkward,

I’ve been reading your blog for the past while but now I feel like I have a question to ask.

My fiance’s family is fairly close on his mother’s side. His mom remarried a few years ago and through the process of it all, Fiance has three step sisters to add to his two younger sisters and his younger brother. Big family.

Through the course of my degree, I had to move from city A to city B, which happens to be about three hours away from where the rest of his family is situated in city C. City A was located in between B and C, and at that time, going to visit wasn’t so bad time wise and planning wise. But now that we are in City B it is much harder to travel to City C to visit, especially when taking the 6 hour round trip into account as well as our lives becoming socially more demanding as our circle of friends has grown. Despite this difficulty, we make an attempt to travel up to visit every 2 or 3 months to visit for a weekend at a time and we have made a point to travel up for almost every holiday that is hosted in City C.

So I come to my problem. While we make the effort to travel up to visit fairly regularly at this point, only Fiance’s mother and stepfather have made a point of coming down to visit us in our home. While we don’t have a ton of space, we’ve made an effort to have a spare bed for visitors and we are always constantly reminding people that they are more than welcome to stay at our place if they should be in the area.

Furthermore, when we do travel to City C, we make a point of letting everyone know we are coming, but unless it is a holiday, it seems like no one makes a point to see us even when we are in their city. This wouldn’t bother me if it weren’t for the fact that eventually someone we didn’t connect with makes a point of pointing out that we didn’t visit THEM individually and they miss us and to please let them know when we’re back in town.

After two years of dealing with this, I’m starting to get frustrated.

 

It is a time and financial stress for us to make the trip (We’re both dealing with student loans), and while I understand everyone in City C has their own lives and finances and time demands, it feels like we’re the only party willing to sacrifice our time for the relationships. When we are unable to make time for everyone, I feel guilty, but at the same time I’m beginning to resent them because I feel like they’re not willing to make time for us.

This frustration with Fiance’s one side of the family is compounded by the fact that his father hasn’t made the time to visit us either. When he makes a trip to our city, he tends to choose a meet-up location that is out of our way (on the other side of the city if we are lucky and all the way to City A, for the most part) despite the fact that we have more than enough room for people to sit, visit and drink a coffee. And Fiance’s father tends to be more vocal about us not making time to see him, despite the fact that he is more financially sound than us, and with more free time on his hands. I know this situation especially makes my Fiance feel guilty because of his close relationship with his dad, but once more I feel frustrated and resentful because we are the ones putting in the majority of the effort and it feels manipulative to make us travel all the distance while not putting some effort back in.

I realize its immature to score keep these kinds of family moments, and I try to make an effort to give everyone reasonable doubt, but at this point is has been two years with us constantly giving our time and energy. Is there some way I can rationally explain this to our family members, with out making it sound like I’m keeping score or whining about the situation? And what is a reasonable expectation for this kind of situation? Is it even reasonable to expect anyone to come and visit us?

Thanks for your insights,
Trying to go the Distance

Dear Trying to go the Distance:

I do have a suggested solution to your problem. It will involve some negotiation and readjustment, and maybe some whining and guilt-tripping by your partner’s family, but all of that is survivable in the short-term and will put you in a much less stressed-out place over the long-term.

First, let’s talk about the whole: “We never see you!” guilt trip. While we’re on the subject, here is how NOT to start a conversation with someone who is calling or visiting you.

Hi Mom! Hi Dad!”

“Wow, we haven’t seen/heard from you in a while. We were starting to wonder if you were dead! Why don’t you call us/visit more often?

Everyone needs to stop doing that shit. If you don’t get to see your family all that often, why waste the time you do have and set everyone’s teeth on edge by guilting them about how you wish you got to see them more? Enjoy the time you’re seeing or talking to them now. First, it’s just annoying, especially when you have made the effort to call or travel and they have not. Second, guilt is not the motivator people think it is.

I know “We never see you!” or “We never hear from you!” is a pretty automatic thing to say and it’s meant to express “We miss you and love you!“, but if you’re not actually beginning a detailed conversation about how/when to make that happen and what your part of that will be, I suggest a blanket replacement with “I’m so glad to see you! We missed you! I’m really glad you’re here!” and focus as much as possible on the now. Your point will come across.

So, Letter Writer, here is what I suggest you do.

Part One: Make the plan. Sit down with your fiance and make a travel budget that is about both money and time. Four to six weekend visits + various holiday celebrations adds up to a lot of logistical planning and money, so do a full accounting of how much you spend on trips in a year.  You’ll want that number before you make any decisions.

Script: “I love seeing your family, but I am feeling stressed out both about time and money. Can we sit down and figure out a budget for how we can see them but also not overextend ourselves?

Now figure out how many times you actually want to visit and how much money you want to spend. It helps to be as specific is possible. Mark out those dates on the calendar and maybe also mark down the trip budget amount so it’s on your radar. And make an agreement between the two of you: Those are the trips. Unless there is a funeral, a wedding, or another emergency, those are the set times you are both going to City C over the next year, and you will jointly refuse all other requests.

It will be interesting to see if you get into a “How can you talk about money when this is about family and love?” discussion.

Two points you can make about that:

  • While it may seem unromantic, putting the effort into budgeting, planning, and logistics is how you get to have quality time with the people you love. Don’t marry anyone who doesn’t value your skills around that, seriously.
  • Would it be cheaper and less stressful but allow him more family time if he went solo for some of the trips?

Part Two: Communicate. It’s his family, so he should be the one to tell them when you’re planning to come. “We did some planning ahead for next year, and these are the dates we’ll be in town.”  He can respond to any additional pressure or requests with “We’d love to see you! We’ll be in town on (dates) so let’s make a plan for then, or as always, you’re free to come stay with us anytime – just give us a week or two notice so we can be ready for you, or, even better, why don’t we nail down a time while I’m here!

It’s his family, so he can also take on making individual plans with people he wants to see. “We’ll be in town next month on these dates. Are you free to have breakfast with us on Saturday? We didn’t get to hang out with you last time, let us know!

People are bad at “We should totally get together sometime!” and good at “We should totally do x specific thing at y specific time/place“, and it sounds like his family is no exception, so do a little more work and nail something down. Remember that the perfect time, date, and place that works for everyone doesn’t exist, so don’t get sucked into the “Whatever’s good for you!” “No, whatever’s good for you!” trap. Pick something that works for you guys and invite them to join you or not as they can.

He doesn’t have to tell them about your decision-making process or justify it in any way if he doesn’t want to, and I would let them be the ones to notice that you have planned fewer visits and bring it up rather than acting as if there is anything to apologize for. If it does come up, he can say “We did our budget for next year and this just seemed to make the most sense to both of us.”  He shouldn’t use you as an excuse or make you the bad guy, but since it sounds like you are in graduate school, go ahead and use school. “We got a little overextended last year, so while LW is in school this just made more sense.”

Part Three: Let the Guilt Go.

I think that you would benefit from some realignment of expectations and giving yourself permission not to worry about certain things.

If people really wanted to visit you, they would. All you can do is invite them and make it clear that the invitation is sincere. They have to do the rest. So if they don’t, give yourself permission to never, ever, ever worry about it, and if they guilt you about not visiting more, smile and say something innocuous and let the moment pass. Inside your head you know that they probably won’t visit. Let it be a pleasant surprise if and when they do. Have a great time with fiance’s mom and stepdad when they do come. Know that fiance’s dad is a slippery bastard who makes things difficult when he visits, and let your fiance handle it however he wants to.

The fact that people are not making plans with you guys when you do visit tells me that they are also busy and don’t feel like dropping everything in their lives just because you are in town. So you visiting less often might be a good thing for these relationships. Right now they assume you will be there again in a month or two, so it’s no big deal if they miss you. If you come less you will be more of a priority when you so visit. I think you can solve some of this by making more specific plans with them, and you can solve the rest of it with “Sorry! Maybe next time!” and then not worrying about it.

Good experiment when you need to renegotiate a relationship: If you’re making effort, and the other people aren’t making effort, and you’re getting sick of making the effort, and you’ve taken the step of telling them how you feel and asking them to make some effort, stop making the effort and see what happens.

You’re perceptive to realize that keeping score is stressing you out and making you angry. This is stressful stuff, because it is about your fiance negotiating an adult relationship with his family and figuring out how to align their expectations for how things have worked in the past with what he wants from the future. It’s also about the two of you negotiating how you handle his family, how you decide to spend your time, money, holidays, etc.

Finally, let me shake a little dash of feminism on this stew for you:

His family is his to manage. It’s his job to remember birthdays and anniversaries, send cards and presents, take the lead on planning things and interacting with them, act as a buffer when necessary, and manage his own emotions and connections with them. That is not a job you automatically get issued because you are a lady. You don’t say anything about your own folks, and you obviously love his family and want a close relationship and will naturally work with him on some of this. But it’s okay for you to say “I want to go 4x/year, max, and they can visit us the rest of the time if they want” and let him figure out how to make everyone happy. Making you happy has to be a part of that equation.

 

 

 

 

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43 comments
  1. Jake said:

    His family is his to manage. It’s his job to remember birthdays and anniversaries, send cards and presents, take the lead on planning things and interacting with them, act as a buffer when necessary, and manage his own emotions and connections with them. That is not a job you automatically get issued because you are a lady.

    This. 1000 times.

    I’ve fallen in to the trap in previous relationships where I worried about managing BOTH our social lives, because I worried that it would, I don’t know, reflect badly on me if my partner forgot someone’s birthday or something. But no more. My sweetie’s sister is getting married four days before my final post-defense submission deadline for my thesis this month. I’ve made it very clear that my responsibilities for this wedding are 1) figure out my own outfit and 2) show up to events I’ve agreed to show up to. His job is 1) give me lots of notice of events so that I can say whether or not I’ll attend them and 2) everything else. Because it’s HIS sister. The social responsibilities are HIS.

    • neverjaunty said:

      Oh yes, seconded. So much this. And if his family is blaming YOU for not managing your joint social life because you’re the lady? They’re doucheloaves. (Even if it’s got some thin veneer of not-sexism like ‘but you KNOW how forgetful he is’.)

      Sometimes, to be charitable, the guys don’t even realize they’re doing this if they were raised in a family where the ladies just swooped in and handled all of those things. But if you’ve been clear that Social Secretary Duties do not automatically accrue depending on whether one pees standing or sitting as a general practice, and you still get pushback or accidentally-on-purpose ‘forgetting’ or leaving plans in your lap, that is a problem in and of itself.

      • zuzu said:

        My brother’s mother-in-law was incensed, absolutely incensed, to find out that he had written thank-you notes for their wedding gifts. And he’s not a feminist of any kind.

    • Keks said:

      But how do you do that? Honest question, from someone who’s been falling into that trap even when I told myself and my partner that he was in charge of contact with his family and i wasn’t go to pick up the slack for him. I’m quite inattentive even if I try because maintaining my social life takes huge chunks out of my energy – introvert – but I do care a lot, and I seemed to care a bit more than my partner. So if we visited his mother for her birthday and I had to ask whether he’d thought about a present, and he hadn’t, I felt awful. I felt that it reflected on me, too, because we came to visit her together. But I also don’t want to be the manager of both our social lives. I can’t even do it if I tried.

      Practically, how do you draw the line there?

      • Britt said:

        I’ve fallen into that trap in a past relationship, and I got out of it by being extremely clear with my partner, first of all, that I was not going to be responsible for any of it. I wasn’t going to remember holiday or birthday gifts or cards or ask when the last time a phone call was made was or remember to pick something up for her club potluck or any of that. And then the hard part? You have to actually follow through with it. If your partner doesn’t remember a birthday gift for his mom? His problem. It’s his mother, so it’s his problem. There will probably be awkward situations for a little while where something doesn’t get handled because he either forgets or doesn’t entirely believe that you really won’t take care of it, but it’s just awkward. It won’t destroy any worlds, and the end result is that you’ll have a lot less stuff on your platter that’s not even really yours.

      • Ali said:

        He’s an adult. If he can’t remember to bring his mom a present–maybe they don’t do presents? maybe he just doesn’t care? maybe a lot of things?–then that reflects on him. You are not his trainer, mother, or manager. His failures are not yours, and you are not required to give your boyfriend’s mom a birthday present, particularly not FOR him. If anyone comments, I think being frank is the best choice: “Since this is Boyfriend’s family, I left the planning to him.” You aren’t selling him out, you are stating a fact. If he needs you to do things like buy presents, that’s something he needs to use his words and ask/negotiate for WITH you rather than assuming you should just do it.

        I’m much more like your dude in this situation: I come from a family who don’t do celebrations, so I don’t really think to do things like presents (for them or other people). This used to stress my girlfriend out intensely. Her family give lots of presents and there are dinner parties and I find the whole thing so stressful (she does too, but likes presents). Our solution, after talking, was: you handle your family your way, I’ll handle mine my way. She buys things I consider extravagant for her family, signs for both of us on the card (which she hand makes) and I sign both our names on the e-card I send two days late.

        • Marianne said:

          I just want to say I love this comment. Where is the Captain Awkward “like” button?

      • Lauren said:

        Boundaries. If you don’t want that responsibility, don’t do it, and be comfortable with the fact that stuff might get missed.

    • Marianne said:

      I was seriously just getting ready to copy the same quote! Thank you Captain Awkward! I have been married fifteen years, and I so wish I had known and understood this simple piece of wisdom right from the beginning. Since the letter writer is still just engaged, she is lucky to be getting the advice now, and hopefully she will follow it.

  2. General Assortment said:

    I just wanted to make a quick suggestion for dealing with a lot of friends and acquaintances that you’d like to see but don’t have the time to plan them all individually. When my out-of-town friends visit I receive a quick mass text or a Facebook invite that they will be at a X place (a bar or a pizza place that we all love) at a Y date and at T time.

    If I show up when I can, and so do other friends. If not the couple will have dinner and a beer and a good time without just the two of them. It really takes the stress off of trying to plan outings with friends, and assuages any guilt you might feel for not making an effort to see friends because it puts the ball back in their court.

    Good luck to you!

    • stephanie said:

      I do this every time I visit my home town, and sometimes I might arrange one on one / smaller group visits. Often other people will contact me before I get to town, asking for one on one time, and if I have time for it I will agree to it, but if I don’t I will just emphasise that I’d love to see them at Group Event. It’s a great way to see everyone, and often I miss the more one on one time I used to spend with people, but it definitely reduces the stress I feel about arranging time.

    • Anorak said:

      I’ve got a friend who occasionally visits his hometown and wants to keep up with quite a few different circles of friends. Long ahead of a visit, he emails them more or less “Hi, I’ll be in Hometown from date X to Y, I would love to meet with you all, please find some time when you’re free and mark it in this shared online calendar/agenda”. (He uses Google Calendar, but there must be a ton of others.)

      His friends get to pick times that work for them. They pick reasonable places because if they don’t he’ll just ask them to change them. They get to see in the same calendar if someone else has already “booked” him for some specific time slot they wanted. He never has to explain and juggle “I’m seeing other people that evening, how about the day before or, um, the next morning or…”.

      Best of all, specific circles of people will spontaneously self-organize because they can see stuff like “mutual friends X, Y, Z are meeting him for a coffee that day, so it looks like I can invite myself too”. They’ll sometimes do active coordination legwork on their own, “Hey, want to meet up with Friend-out-of-hometown together with me and A, B and C? What’s a good day for you so we can book it in his calendar?”

      I do see some ways how this could misfire, but for that guy it works great.

  3. CL said:

    This is a very common problem for people who move away from home. Family and friends almost never visit — which I think is understandable, since everyone has limited time and money — but they expect the person who moved to visit them, and to spend those visits driving around the area visiting everyone individually. The person who moved is expected to put all of the work into making visits happen. And if they find out the person was in town and didn’t make time for them specifically, they get offended. I have experienced this personally, and I know a lot of my friends can relate.

    My mother moved away from a small town where everyone else has lived their for their whole lives, and they not only act like she’s the only one who can visit, they act like she’s the only one capable of picking up the phone to call. They make zero effort. People have *died* and they don’t call to tell her. If she didn’t call them regularly, she would have lost touch completely. And yet, last time we visited, they guilt tripped my mother about not visiting more. I was furious.

    This dynamic can make it feel like relationships aren’t mutual and reciprocal, which can really be a drag. In my experience, people who aren’t inclined to visit you are never going to change their minds, especially older people who have lived in one area their whole lives. They have the mentality that “you’re the one who moved, so…”

    This situation is a bit more complicated because of the finace, but my general advice to anyone in this situation is to visit less often. They’re pulling back on their relationships with you because of distance, and if you don’t do the same, you’re going to feel like you’re the only one making an effort — and that never feels good.

    I think the Captain’s advice to come up with a budget and a plan is perfect. Decide on your limits, and stick to them. Unfortunately, you’re going to be making most of the effort, but you can put limits on what that effort will involve — and when people complain, tell them they’re welcome to visit you anytime. If they won’t even consider doing that, they have no right to bitch that you don’t visit them. Making a trip to see someone is a generous gift, and they should be thankful when you give it and understanding the rest of the time.

    • gmg said:

      Fellow small-town girl here, and this nails it. These kinds of relatives (I’ve got some in my family too) seem to think individual visits are the penalty you have to pay for having quote-unquote deserted your family by moving away. That said, the LW says her in-laws are in “City C” so the small-town mentality may not cover it — more broadly, though, I’d note that the harsh truth covered by all these guilt trips and ideas about you needing to be punished for leaving town and so on etc is this: Some people don’t want to be bothered to go out of their way in any way, and they will go to great lengths to rationalize that.

      The Captain’s four-point plan is, as usual, excellent. When you tell your family very concretely, “We will be doing family breakfast at X restaurant on X day,” or “We are grilling in the backyard w/mom and stepdad on X day, come on by,” then when they give a flimsy reason for saying no, or dither about it before not showing up, you are MAKING them admit they don’t want to be there. I concede there may be a good reason for that beyond not wanting to be bothered, but that reason is their issue, not yours (and if they want to see you, instead of the guilt trip they can try being up front with you about that reason, bringing us back to “Part 2: Communicate”!). You and fiance already drove 3 hours to be there — you have put in your end of the bargain.

      (Can ya tell I have some recent experience with the not-wanting-to-be-bothered thing? In my family’s case the event some relatives didn’t want to be bothered with was my cousin’s WEDDING. At least two people weren’t there because their questionable excuse was that they didn’t want to see … each other. Whoops! And by the way, folks, this is what tables on opposite sides of the reception were made for.)

      • Lostlastdaughter said:

        I had this experience in June. My son got married, and only 1 of my siblings could be bothered to come. And, it was the sibling with the farthest distance to travel, and had to spend the most (flights/hotels/rental car, etc…).

        I live about 4 hours from my hometown. 3 of my siblings still live there, as does my mother. In the 25+ years since I moved here, only 2 siblings have been bothered to travel here to visit us. Once. We used to go home all the time for every event; however, when I had children, and my family switched to having events on Sundays, we stopped going. I refused, totally and completely, to have my children miss school for these events, and they knew it.

        My relationship with my siblings has always been a rocky one (ask them – I ruined their lives by being born – youngest of 5), but until my son’s wedding, I truly thought they’d be there for good times or bad. Well, I was very wrong about that. I was really upset, and very angry, but as the months wear on, I find myself finally accepting that I am not wanted, and that’s really ok. I have a wonderful network of friends here, and my children are here. Sure, it still hurts a little to hear about friends getting together with family, but then I remember my family hates me, and doesn’t speak to me anyway, so it’s no great loss.

        The sibling who came to the wedding flew in from AZ to PA, got my mother (who has dementia), drove here, stayed for the entire wedding/reception, then drove back to PA, and flew back to AZ. The siblings who live 5 minutes from my mom? All said no.

        More on topic – LW, if you’re visiting City C, you’ve let people know, and they’re not making any effort to see you while you’re there, time to re-evaluate. I like CA’s suggestions for the conversation with your fiance. I also like the “I’m going to be at X at Y time, let’s meet up”. If they aren’t responding/showing up, no need to stress yourself, or feel guilty, about not seeing them. They made that decision for you. As has so often been pointed out here, you can’t control what they do, but you can control how you respond, and how you feel about it.

        Good luck with everything!

    • guest said:

      I can completely relate to this, and I didn’t live in a small town. When I moved halfway around the world nearly 10 years ago, I definitely had the attitude, ‘I’m the one that moved, so it’s incumbent upon me to do all the work of continuing to maintain my relationships with the people I left’, but after many years of seeing marginal to zero effort on their part to even respond to my contacts I finally gave up. I’m sad about it, but I couldn’t continue giving that level of effort indefinitely with virtually no response from the other end.

    • Rosa said:

      Visit less often, 100%. Because if you get married, this will only get worse, and if you have a baby, it will get MUCH worse.

      As a sample: partner’s large extended family planned a baby shower for me. In their town. 6 hour drive from here. When I was 7 months pregnant. Who makes a woman 7 months pregnant ride in a car for 6 hours?

  4. Esti said:

    I’m a little confused by the problem you’re having — is it that you don’t want to go visit them so much but feel that you have to, or is it that you want to see them more often but feel like it’s not worth the trip because they don’t make plans with you while you’re there? Or a combination of the two?

    If you feel like you’re obligated to visit a lot even when you don’t want to, then I’d definitely just schedule fewer trips home and let your fiance explain that (not enough time/money/etc.) as he sees fit. If it’s that you really want to see his family but even when you make the effort of going to their city, they don’t make time for you, I think that’s a separate issue. Fiance may need to specifically make plans with different family members before you commit to a visit, or may want to ask his mother to host a big family dinner (or schedule one at a restaurant) when you’re going to be there. I’ve found the latter strategy particularly helpful for seeing lots of family at once without being overwhelmed by trying to set up a dozen separate meals or coffees or what-have-yous.

    And if the issue is that you two feel like you put out all the effort as far as traveling and the rest of the family should come visit you instead — well, that’s probably best addressed by talking directly to people you specifically want to see more of (presumably your place is not big enough to host the entire family at once, so hosting a holiday isn’t an option for you but asking Sister #2 if she wants to come to your city for X Cool Weekend Event would be) and then letting go of the issue. You can reduce the amount of time and effort you put into going to see them if you don’t feel like it’s worth it for you, but you can’t make them come visit you.

  5. unagi said:

    I totally agree about not guilt-tripping people who make the effort to visit you.. In fact, I visited my parents every other week for over a year when I first moved away, and stopped when I realized that visits were totally devoted to guilt-tripping me about how I should be there the weekends in between (ignoring my full-time school, 2 jobs, 6h round-trip etc..).

    But I mostly want to support the feminist sprinkle. It sounds like LW is totally taking on the burden of family relationships. The first thing I’d do, if I were in grad school and short of money and time, would be to not only make a schedule of planned visits as suggested, but also to abstract myself from half those visits. Go visit your own family instead. Or if that’s not pleasant or possible, stay home by yourself, and have a totally relaxed weekend, catching up on your studying and/or going out with your friends. You may find that your relationships improve, both with the inlaws and with the bf himself, from having a bit of space to yourself. Take yourselves out for a nice dinner together with the money you save on travel expenses.

  6. “Roads do work both ways.”
    – my godmother

  7. Sheelzebub said:

    ITA with the Captain, LW. And I’ll add–what about your family? Are you close? Do you see them often? Do you want to?

    Your partner’s relationship with his family is his. Don’t make it yours. You don’t have to make the superhuman effort to see them, and if someone like his dad complains while not making an effort themselves, don’t engage. You will not change people like that.

    • Ldubs said:

      I was wondering about the LW’s family, too. I definitely have a low tolerance for my in-laws who behave like the LW’s, because my family is SO accommodating and low-pressure. It’s been 7 years, but it is still hard for me to shake my idea of what family visits *should* look like in order to accept his people for who they are.

      Also, I know my husband’s mom gets irritated when she thinks we’re spending more time with MY family than his (which we do. They are closer, have a place for us to sleep, and are much more pleasant people). We don’t engage in those comparisons with her, but I have made an effort to not mention my family around her unless directly asked about them.

      • Ugh it’s very hard for me with my sweetie’s family. I’m used to my parents who love to see me/us and will help make it happen one way or another. His family…doesn’t usually even tell us if they’re in town. His mom moved back to our city a month ago, and the last time we saw her was a year ago.

        Neither of us expects anything much from his parents. So if we do see them, that’s nice. But yeah. Low expectations.

  8. Ldubs said:

    I have had this problem with my husband’s family. About three years ago we started hearing rumblings from his siblings that his mother was less than happy with the amount of time we were spending with her, especially over the holidays. My husband works a third shift retail job part time, as well as a day-job making travel difficult. For years we massively over-extended ourselves only to get the same complaints. We were making ourselves miserable running all over the multiple states and it did not matter.

    LW, I realized (after having an exhaustion-induced minor freakout once at 2 in the morning while driving in terrible weather after almost zero sleep and his mother being HOURS LATE TO SOMETHING WE SCHEDULED AFTER COMPLAINING THAT WE DIDN’T SPEND ENOUGH TIME WITH THEM!!!!!) that this was a blessing. It quite literally did not matter what we did or how much we inconvenienced ourselves, nothing short of my husband moving “home” would appease these people. Since that is NOT going to happen, we can do what we want. We are not responsible for their bad attitude. So, now we do whatever works best for us and our schedule (usually scheduling a weekend in January to see everyone) and make sure we give PLENTY of notice of our plans. I’m sure there is still some grumbling behind our backs, but they know that there are negative consequences (we spend even less time with them) when they make our trips there even more stressful than they have to be.

    Another thing that has worked for us is badgering people into coming to see us. Its nice to see people without having to make that long trip, but that really wasn’t the motive. It was great because when his family was able to really see how big an inconvenience that 6 hour drive (and being away for the whole weekend!) is, they were less likely to get on our case about visiting (and the siblings were more likely to stick up for us when his mom would start complaining). I think its hard for people to really understand the toll traveling like that takes, especially for working folks.

    • unagi said:

      That’s a really excellent point Ldubs.
      I’d also second the badgering people for visits in that it’s the only way you get to spend significant amount of time with them. If you go “home” (not), you’re totally fragmented and scattered. If only a couple of them come see you, you spend a whole weekend interacting with them, and only them. Beside, most people are nicer if you can cut them from the family herd :-).

  9. I would strongly second the advise about making explicit invitations. One reason folks are very bad at taking advantage of open-ended offers is that they are open-ended, but another is that they can sometimes seem like a social nicety, of the “It’d be great to see you sometime.” variety. It’s quite an imposition to stay with someone who isn’t 100% keen to have you there, so folk don’t want to take the risk. Invite someone you want to see, explicitly. Identify a birthday, holiday or perhaps a show that’s going to be in town (probably cheaper than you travelling to them) and say, “We’d love to see you, X is happening next month and we wondered if you’d like to come and stay with us for that?”

    I’d also suggest that your frequency of visits to City C might be part of the problem – I wonder if you’re being taken for granted because you’re there so often? If they miss you at Christmas, then they’re not too bothered because you’ll be back in a few months.

    My sister and I have both lived away from my folks, but I’ve noticed that (apart from now, when I stay with them for big periods of the year) the person living closest gets to see them least. When I lived in the next village and my sister was three hours away, they made an effort to go see her and didn’t worry about me because they could pop in at any time – which meant sometimes, I’d see them for a couple of hours over a couple of months, when she’d get an entire weekend. When I lived six hours away, I got to see them more because they could, at a pinch, visit each other in a day without too much planning, whereas if they came to see me, they had to stay over and if I came to them, I had to stay for several days.

    For similar reasons, it’s probably worth considering how much you’d expect and like to see these various family members if you all lived much closer together. It sounds as if you’ve slipped into an expensive, stressful and unrewarding routine here, which is very easily done with family, but needs some working out.

  10. Lilly said:

    Totally loving the solution given in the comment above about letting everyone know you’ll be in X place between Y and Z o’clock and asking them to pop along and join you for as much as they’d like/ are able.

    It takes the pressure off both you and them – everyone wins (plus you get to have a fun time no matter who shows up).

    I also totally second the advice about stopping making the effort for a while and seeing what happens to take the pressure off yourself.

    The feminist sprinkle is very true – my boyfriend did have expectations that I would be the one being the social secretary with his family (calling grandparents, taking his mother out for coffee, remembering social engagements etc – FOR HIM, going along to EVERY family meeting even with distant cousins) and while it’s not like I was against doing some of these things it did feel like I was expected to do it because I am the lady, whereas it’s HIS family… so LW don’t feel bad if he makes solo visits home if that’s what you’d prefer.

  11. You can just as easily schedule time when other people can come see and stay with you, too. As CA says, people are bad with “sometime,” and it can even be an effort to be courteous to you – a lot of people make open-ended offers they don’t really want you to take them up on. It’s not entirely impossible the family is making an effort to not impose.

    So be explicit. Send certain family members a note/email/whatever and say “hey, we’re looking at all these work and school obligations coming up this fall and we don’t want to miss our chances to spend time with you in all the mess. How about we carve out weekend XYZ in month ABC and you come stay with us? A lot of our weekends are booked with these other obligations or a need to study for an exam but right now that one is totally free. Can we put it on the calendar?”

    You establish that you don’t have carte blanche to do anything you want anytime, you make it clear that you’re taking clear control of your calendar, and you make an outright statement that you want them in your life and are willing to devote time to them. It’s also good for you because it sets up those times in advance and reduces the sense of dread that unexpected time obligations create.

    • tirzahrene said:

      This is what I was going to say too. Invite them. To a specific date. When you put an actual date on the invitation it’s much more serious. I have friends I’d love to go visit but feel shy about inviting myself to see them because, well, I’d feel more comfortable with a hard invitation.

      • JAT said:

        Yes. A year after my sister married a man with a huge, close family (great for her! Stressful for me at their many gatherings!) I took a deep breath and contacted a friend who is also single and lives in a cool place, to see if I could take her up on her oft-repeated offer to put me up if I visited. It felt really intrusive to ask. I’ve gone there for two Thanksgivings now, but I still feel odd when I ask.

  12. I get some of the managing-in-laws with my spouse’s family, but I don’t think it’s because he’s putting it on me. It’s more that the in-laws have noticed that I am more responsive when they communicate in particular ways. Everyone seems to do just fine when I divert them back to Mr. Wit, and I don’t mind being the one who remembers certain niceties.

    I think people have the idea that if you don’t have kids, you can easily afford the time and money to travel. Some think that once you do have kids, you have the responsibility to deliver them to relatives.

    You can’t win, sometimes, so you just have to figure out what’s best for you and roll with it.

  13. Tosca said:

    Take it from me: when people flake on seeing you, then later complain that they never see you, that is just them projecting their own guilt at not making you a priority back onto you. It’s really not about you, or your frequency of visits. They rewrite it in their heads so they feel like less of a total flake.
    Signed, someone who has a lot of experience with this aggravating phenomenon!!!!

  14. SadieBlake said:

    It might also be possible that the reason folks don’t come by when you’re in town has nothing to do with you, LW. If other family members have gotten guilt trips (for visiting/not visiting/ other reasons altogether), it may be that they’re just avoiding someone in the place where you’re staying.

    For instance: I love spending time with my parents, but some of their friends are ultra-vocal about political and religious opinions that are completely counter to mine and Mr.Blake’s, and they totally rub us the wrong way. So we’ve turned down plenty of invitations when we knew abrasive friends were also going to be there – rather than making my parents choose between their friends and their kids. We were happy to spend time with them outside the group, before or after the event, or on a different day – but we weren’t going to subject ourselves to their jerkwad friends.

    Not that I’m internet-diagnosing family dynamics here – just trying to say, keeping situations like that in mind might help you to not take it personally. And all the better reason for “We’ll here here at XYZ time and place, join us or not,” and let them know that if they can’t make it, but still want to see you, it’s their job to suggest other plans that fit YOUR schedule and comfort zone.

    Also: seconded, thirded, fourthed, and fifthed vis-a-vis It’s Not Your Job To Be Social Secretary. I fell into that trap for a while with Mr.Blake (and others before him) before finally being like “You know what? I don’t need to be the middleman here. You have opposable thumbs – YOU call your mom and set up lunch. Let me know when we’re showing up.”

    And damn, that felt good.

  15. Virginia said:

    Hi, LW –

    I am the Vagabond in my immediate family unit, and I tend to collect groups of friends and then migrate halfway across the country every 10 years or so, leaving piles of letters and Skype dates in my wake.

    (1) Like General Assortment and Lilly, I have had GREAT success with the whole “I’ll be spending the day at Screamin’ Sally’s Coffee Haus” thing. I usually set aside an entire day just in case, and I haven’t had a bad time at one of those things yet.

    (2) There is no law that you have to always travel together. My honey and I take lots of separate trips. He gets to go to Seattle and hang out with his cousins and spend 9 million hours taking photographs of architectural detail without worrying about my going cross-eyed with boredom or getting desperate for a bathroom. I get to go to Vermont and hang around with sheep and no cell service without his having an allergic reaction to the lack of technology. He’ll go with me to visit my mother, but not every time, because sometimes I need to go and be able to just talk at my mom until my voice gives out. He stays home to eat cereal and play hours of Xbox.

    This works out really well for both of us.

    (3) When I began the first leg of my Ever-Westward Trek Across the US, I got a lot of pushback from family members. Part of that was the fact that I was young and they were not used to thinking about me as A Person in Charge of My Own Destiny yet. I found that cheerful stubbornness (sadly, I was not always great at the “cheerful” part) served me really well – acting as if I was neither bothered nor going to give in, until they got used to the idea that I would be running around off in the ether or whatever.

  16. Gine said:

    I had this problem with some friends of mine (who were not all friends of each other, so there were multiple instances of this) for awhile. I live in a really small town in the middle of nowhere, and they live in a medium-sized city about a two hour drive away. They were always inviting me up, doing the whole “It’s been SO long, we never see you!” thing, but even though I made it clear that they were always welcome to come down and visit ME, I could tell they never seriously considered it.

    I understood to an extent because there really is less to do in my town, but there are still stores and restaurants and places we could go, and I got really resentful about always being the one expected to make the effort (and therefore the one responsible for the lack of contact), especially since, like the LW, I was more strapped for cash than most of them.

    I finally made it clear that this wasn’t okay, but still, one group of friends has only visited me one time. The others have comprised by scheduling regular meetings in the town where we went to college together, which is at the halfway point between us, and that’s fine with me because it’s fun to go there, but I’m still the one who’s expected to travel for the most part. I’ve just decided to let the guilt go and say no when I can’t spare the time and money. My friends are generally pretty great (which is why I put up with this for so long), and they’ve been understanding.

    • dawnofthenerds said:

      I know that feel!

      For me, it hasn’t been that bad because I’m only 45 minutes outside of the city I usually meet my friends in, but it gets really annoying when I have to make the drive every time and they won’t come out to my wheat field every once in a while. However, it got better when I started having BBQ’s and hot dog roasts out at my place, because you can’t do that in an apartment. It also helps that that group of friends is no longer all living together. A concentration of people exerts a great deal of social gravity.

  17. Quinrue said:

    ““Wow, we haven’t seen/heard from you in a while. We were starting to wonder if you were dead! Why don’t you call us/visit more often?
    Everyone needs to stop doing that shit…”

    Yes, this so much! My husband’s extended family (aunts, uncles, grandma, etc.) always do this EVERY SINGLE TIME we visit. And none of them would ever think about coming to visit us. It is definitely like other posters the One-who-moved-away syndrome. Nearly his entire family lives in town (15 minutes max from each other), the only folks besides us live ~1 hour away, we have the audacity to have move 5 hours away! So we are always expected to do the traveling and berated every time for not showing up to every other family event the rest of the year, including Sunday dinner every week. Ridiculous, but so true, anyway needed to vent a bit. Thank goodness my husband’s immediate family is not like this. They don’t get out to visit us often for various reasons and honestly since they are all there and we are the only-lonelies out here I don’t mind doing most of the traveling, but they don’t berate us for not visiting more.

    So yeah, the Captain’s advice is spot on. Don’t visit more than you want to. My personal rule is the only family obligations are weddings and funerals and emergencies, maybe a few other things like Grandma’s 90th birthday, everything else you do because you want to, not because you think you should. Making a plan for the year or next six months and presenting it as a team is great, it makes sure you and your partner are on the same page so if there is any fallout you can be strong together and remember all the good reasons you had for making the plan. (And that’s my personal rule, other folks I’m sure have different limits they have to set depending on their family.) But yeah, planning ahead is vital. My husband and I have learned that the hard way from my well-meaning but overbearing family, if we don’t have a plan, it is much more likely we will just meekly agree to whatever plan my family presents and then regret it later.

    And I agree that scarcity of your visits will encourage those who want to see you to make it happen, but that yes it also helps if you suggest a specific time/place. Everyone does better with that. But again, make plans because you want to, if you don’t really care if you see Aunt Em, don’t be the first to reach out, let her and you can even say no if the plans she suggested don’t work for you! I know this may sound obvious, but it is something that I have had to work on so much and still am, that it is ok to say no to family. I also liked the suggestion of a casual invite for everyone to meet at X place between Y-Z time to save yourself the hassle of driving to everyone’s house. I find this to be a great way to reconnect with folks you haven’t seen for awhile that makes it pretty low pressure for everyone.

    And the guilt, I’m still working on this, but yes let go of it. At least give yourself permission to let go of it, even if you can’t right away.

  18. Jillian said:

    I understand this issue so much. I live a roughly 8 hour drive from my family and closer to a 10-12 hour drive from my husband’s family, We do fly sometimes, as do my parents, but his mother refuses to fly, making it even harder to get up here to visit. We get this kind of stuff a fair amount from his family in particular. They say they want to see us and even say they want to visit, but haven’t made it to our city the time we’ve been here. Some of the reason I get frustrated by that is because we moved for me to go to grad school and I think they (his mom in particular) blame me for the situation. Like, if it weren’t for me, we would still be living down in our home state. Maybe true, but unfair nonetheless. Is there any kind of dynamic like that at play here that is adding to guilty feelings? If so…see part 3 of the Captain’s advice.

    I was also wondering if maybe you and you fiance are flexible enough that you could do schedule collaboratively way in advance with the people you *really* want to see? It wasn’t clear to me if you just pick times to go to City A without any particular plan but to see people or if you go with a particular agenda in mind, but it seemed more like the former. Maybe the people who want to see you already have plans that weekend or for some reason it doesn’t work for them? Is there a way you (or your fiance) can call them up and say “We are thinking of coming X, Y, OR Z weekend- does one work better for you?” I know you can’t do this for every single person you might ever want to see there and it may not work out, but perhaps letting them in some on the planning would help ease the burden. That is, if they can be trusted to not see this as an invite to claim all your time or invade boundaries. Or does this just sound like trouble?

  19. “Everyone needs to stop doing that shit. If you don’t get to see your family all that often, why waste the time you do have and set everyone’s teeth on edge by guilting them about how you wish you got to see them more?”

    THANK YOU. Both my mom (12 hours away by car) and one of my friends (who lives in town, but used to be a housemate) pull this, and it absolutely drives me up the wall, tapping as it does into my well of I Will Never Be Good Enough. It’s lovely to get this reinforcement that it’s not Just Me.

  20. Why don’t they come visit you? You make it too easy for them not to.

    My extended family does a family gathering every year. For the last three years, It’s been really difficult for me to go. Arrangements need to be made, arrangements that require backup arrangements, and they can all fall apart abruptly (long story). The last two times I went, I think I didn’t know until literally the day before that I wouldn’t have to cancel.

    Everyone batted around the idea of holding the gathering where I live this year, but it didn’t happen. I understood. If it weren’t for my weird arrangement-needing circumstances, I would have preferred to travel to the other place. And other people had valid reasons to choose the other place, which was easier and cheaper for them.

    So, that was fine. But as it happened, my making it out there was going to be even more impossible than previous visits. Maybe if I twisted myself into knots like before I could’ve done it … but I was tired. Just didn’t want to deal with it, as much as I love seeing my family. So I sent regrets and let the big party happen without me.

    Next year, they say they’re coming to me. :)

  21. I completely relate to your situation. About 5 years ago, I moved halfway across the country (from NJ to WI, about 900 miles) for graduate school to a city where I had no friends or family. I met my now husband here, and we plan on settling down in the area for a while. I’m quite certain that if I didn’t make the effort to go back home to visit family and friends, I probably wouldn’t have seen anyone within the past five years. I have TWO friends who have made trips out here to visit. Our wedding was here as well, which was an extremely difficult situation for me because 95% of my husband’s family attended (they all live within the area), while I had about 10-15% of my invitees show up. My dad has also moved from NJ to FL, and I have yet to make the trip down to visit him because I honestly just can’t afford multiple trips around the country each year. It’s been difficult to deal with, but I agree that if people want to visit with you, they will make the effort. I am done going into debt to visit people who make me feel guilty for not visiting with them enough or making time for them. It’s a two-way street.

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