#382: My sister probably isn’t coming home for Thanksgiving. How do I tell her how hurt I am?

Hi Captain Awkward,

So here’s my situation (long, apologies): I have one younger sister who I see pretty infrequently, as I live on the East Coast and she attends school in the Midwest (our hometown is also in the Midwest). We bickered quite a bit growing up and are fairly different people to this day, but as we’ve gotten older (and started living in separate homes) we’ve managed to get along better and like each other more. We talk on the phone fairly regularly (once or twice a week) and when we are in the same place we’ll do coffee, shopping, drinks, etc.

Since we see each other so infrequently (Thanksgiving, winter holidays and usually sometime during the summer) I’ve expressed to her that it would be awesome if she could come and visit me. I live in a major city with lots of free, fun things to do. Flights from our hometown aren’t super cheap, but they aren’t prohibitively expensive either. A summer or two ago I offered to chip in for a flight but we weren’t able to work it out.

I’ve been here 6 years and she’s come to visit all of one time, two years ago (pretty sure our parents purchased the ticket). This bums me out and I’ve told her so (sometimes in a relatively mature way, other times a bit passive aggressively). The main reasons for her inability to visit have boiled down to 1) finances, 2) work schedule and 3) long distance relationship.

I’m pretty sympathetic to all of these things given that I work full-time, am paying off student loans and have previously been in an LTR (wooooo those suck! And sister’s been in this one for close to 3.5 years). So basically: bummer, but I get that when it comes to balancing finances, big sister, and long term, long distance boyfriend, I’m going to lose out. I wish it wasn’t that way but such is life sometimes.

So, I’ve finally more or less made peace with this and then I find out that Sister wanted to spend Thanksgiving with her SO’s family in West Coast City. This was first mentioned to me this summer. I was up front and honest with her about the fact that while I wanted her to go where she’d be happy, I’d be pretty sad if she wasn’t with our family’s usual T-giving crowd because then I’d be going a full year without seeing her in person (summer visit home didn’t happen this year). Also, T-giving in our family is a Big Fucking Deal. She was kind and seemed receptive to what I was saying, which was a relief– I was a bit worried that she’d roll her eyes and dismiss me.

Fast forward to yesterday….I hear from my parents that sister’s SO’s parents have offered to cover sister’s flight to West Coast City. As far as I know she hasn’t officially decided if she’s going but I’d be shocked if she didn’t accept. Sister really likes this city, plus, you know, LTR boyfriend thing and she gets along with his family.

Now I’m trying to deal with feeling REALLY sad about her not being around for Thanksgiving. Again, let me repeat, this is a BFD for our family and I definitely will not be the only one who will miss her.

But for me the biggest thing is the kind of message this sends me about how she feels about our relationship. From my perspective it comes off as: “Big sister is sometimes fun to hang out with/talk to when convenient but I don’t actually want to make any sacrifices to maintain/grow our relationship.” Again, I totally understand that I am not THE #1 PRIORITY in her life, but at this point it feels like I’m close to the bottom of the barrel.

So how do I deal with this? I’ve already told her how this would make me feel. Do I purposefully avoid spending time with her when we are in the same place to make a point (seems immature, probably wouldn’t work)? Do I Use My Words, again? Do I just have to suck it up and deal with the fact that this is how things are between us right now?

Sage advice from you and the Awkward Army would be much appreciated.


Sad Sister

P.S.  If age is at all helpful, I’m in my mid-20s, sister is in her early 20s.

Dear Sad Sister:

My suggestion is that you stop short of pressuring or guilt-tripping your sister into coming home for Thanksgiving.

She cannot be in two places at once. She is choosing this year to celebrate Thanksgiving with her partner. As awesome as Big Deal family holiday traditions are, it’s also an awesome thing sometimes to make a new one and celebrate the holiday exactly how YOU want to. It’s exciting the first time you celebrate a holiday with your partner’s family. If your sister and this person get married, they’ll likely be alternating holidays between both families in some way, so this is just the first stage of the rest of everyone’s life and everyone will need to adjust and not expect things to always be like they were. From your letter it seems that your sister lives in your same hometown with your parents. If that’s true, look at it this way: YOU are the one who left. She is the one who is there all the time, who sees your folks all the time. Thanksgiving at home might not loom as such a Big Deal to her in that case, where the opportunity to have major time off and see her partner does loom as the big deal.

I also suggest that you stop seeing that time she spends with her partner as time she *should* be spending with you or as a referendum on your relationship. Finances, a work schedule, and a long-distance relationship are very good reasons to prioritize your travel in a certain way. It’s hard sometimes to miss big events – holidays, weddings – but it’s also hard to be financially squeezed or even go into debt so that you can make them.

I understand why you’re sad, and I understand why that little voice is saying “If you really wanted to see me, you’d make a way to see me.” You’ve used your words and let your sister know how much you want to see her. Now it’s up to her. If that creates distance between you, sure, that’s something she’s choosing. And if you close yourself off a little from her to prevent yourself being hurt, that might be a sensible thing to do. You may not have a choice about whether her decision hurts you, but you do have a lot of choices about how you frame this and how you handle it with your sister.

I think the decision you have before you is about whether to make this one Thanksgiving holiday the battle you choose, and about what kind of conversations you want to have with your sister about how you spend time together.

An analogy: A few years ago I read an advice column – maybe Miss Conduct, or Ask Amy? – that stuck with me. It was about a mom who was sick of fighting with her 17-year-old daughter about picking up her room. She nagged and nagged, the room didn’t get picked up (or got picked up grudgingly), everything was tense and horrible all the time, and everyone was always angry. Seventeen was OLD ENOUGH to learn how to pick up one’s room, surely?

The columnist said that even people who have messy rooms as teenagers eventually learn how to keep them somewhat in order (or at least hygienic) as adults, because of peer pressure from roommates/significant others or because it’s just nicer to have a clean room. So the mom should maybe stop worrying that if she doesn’t intervene now that her daughter was always going to be a slob, and maybe having some autonomy & privacy was more important than having everything be perfectly put away. Then the columnist asked: “What kind of conversations do you want to have with your daughter this last year while she’s at home? Do you want them to be about her room, or do you want them to be about other stuff? Because the room argument is poisoning & dominating all the other stuff you could be talking about.”

So, LW, I’ll turn it to you. What kind of conversations do you want to have with your sister? Do you want them all to be about how she should visit more and you are disappointed that she’s not coming home for Thanksgiving and you feel undervalued? You’ve already spoken up beautifully for yourself, and she’s going to do what she’s going to do, so how much do you want to belabor the point?

Full disclosure of biases: I’m the person in my family who lives far away. I’m the person who can’t afford to come home for stuff like weddings & holidays. I’m the person who disappoints everyone by sometimes choosing to go other places than home to see family when I *do* have money. Sometimes I don’t want to go home, because in the past Home for the Holidays was a profoundly uncomfortable place to be, with lots of yelling. Or because Christmas falls at my most stressful/sick/broke time of year and traveling just isn’t a good idea for me right then. In more recent years, I really want to, but haven’t always been able to for financial or schedule reasons. I’m sure from the other end it all looks the same, like I don’t really care.

What has never worked to get me to go home more:

  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Being told the holiday will be ruined if I am not there. TOO MUCH PRESSURE.
  • Lectures about where my priorities *should* be. “But we’re family!”, etc.
  • Being told how hurt everyone is when I don’t come.
  • Judginess about why my finances aren’t in better shape.
  • Disappointment.
  • Appeals to religion.

What has worked, if anything:

  • Kindness
  • Mellowing out about the whole thing.
  • Talking more regularly about good stuff we have in common, things we’re looking forward to doing together.
  • “I’m excited to see you!”  (vs. “Why don’t you visit more?”)

I think it would help as much as possible to take the long view. Your sister might not be in a place where she can travel to you right now. She might not be prioritizing your relationship as much as you want her to right now. But she is always going to be your sister, and if you can find a way to keep the lines of communication open and prioritize what you do have in common, you’ll come out all right in the end.

Finally, for you, I suggest what I suggest in any difficult negotiation when you really want to preserve the relationship. “Sister, I want to be close to you and see and talk to you more often. In a perfect world, how do you think we could make that happen? Now that we’re grownups and can sort of choose how we have our friendship, how do you want that to work?” It has the twin benefits of putting the most generous and positive perspective on what you want and also making the other person do some work of thinking through how to solve the problem at hand. You can leave her with that question and let her solve the problem (or not) in her own time and her own way.

Who are you most looking forward to seeing at Thanksgiving besides your sister? Who is going to be the most sad that she isn’t home? That’s where you put the extra love you’re feeling, I think, and hopefully everyone will have a good time.




211 thoughts on “#382: My sister probably isn’t coming home for Thanksgiving. How do I tell her how hurt I am?

  1. Great advice from the Captain as usual.

    Perhaps after Thanksgiving you and your sister could discuss a way to get together – perhaps you could visit her? (Maybe she really didn’t enjoy your city when she visited you before? Maybe that’s why she finds reasons – good ones – not to come back?) Perhaps you could meet up somewhere in the middle?

    Or maybe you are Sisters Who Skype or Sisters Who Have Weekly Phone Time instead of Sisters Who Visit Frequently. Which is OK.

    Just some suggestions.

    1. Disclosure: My sister and I live in the same city. We see each other maybe 8-10 times a year? Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, twice a year for family birthday dinners, and a handful of other times. (Usually when my parents have us over at the same time.)

      We email a few times a month and talk on the phone a couple of times a year. (More if there is a family thing going on or we’re trying to navigate birthday/Christmas gift-buying.)

      We are sisters and friends, and our levels of seeing each other suit us. Others’ mileage may of course vary.

      Just to say that it’s fine not to be super-close … it doesn’t make you Bad Sisters.

      1. Thank you for this… I recently moved back to my hometown after 6 years in a pretty close city, and my sister has been living here the whole time (I’m in my mid-20s, she’s in her very early 20s). We don’t talk on the phone much, nor do we see each other much outside of family togetherness time. I spend a lot of time feeling guilty that we are not super close, and it’s nice to see other people affirming that it’s okay to not be super close with siblings.

        1. And things might change between you are you get older.

          To be honest, my sister and I get along better with less contact.

  2. I can empathize, LW. My oldest sister is not coming “home” to our parents’ for Christmas this year. All 4 of us siblings live in different states than our parents’ Midwestern state, including Florida, New England, and the Pacific Northwest. It takes a lot of coordination to get together, and for my oldest sister to decide to put that massive energy/time elsewhere this year, it hurts.

    But, there are also multiple factors that add to the hurt, including that she just got married, I just got out of a long-term relationship, I don’t have many friends or any family nearby, and none of my family has come to visit the year I’ve been in my current location. So I’m working hard to remember that what I instinctively pick up from the situation (like, she doesn’t care about me, or I’m not as special to her as I thought I was) is probably more from how I’m feeling (alone, lonely) than what the actual situation is (like, my sister is broke from the wedding and just put a lot of energy and effort into a big event).

    The reality is, it’s a sucky part of growing up. People have jobs with different responsibilities and allowances for taking time off, people have partners and their families to consider, and people’s definition of “home” and “family” shift. It doesn’t mean my sister doesn’t love me enough, or doesn’t want to see me, it means that stuff is changing.

    Long story short, your feelings are valid and you are not alone in feeling that way. But it’s also a situation that is pretty inevitable, so all you can do at this point is recognize the situation for what it is and work through it.

    1. This. For my family Thanksgiving and Non-Denominational Present Day are big deals, but as we’ve all grown up it’s become harder and harder to come together. One of the reasons is that aside from my oldest sis, who’s got a 20 month old and a bitchy husband, we work in full-time-yes-even-holidays jobs and sometimes we just can’t get time off all together. If 1/2 of us can come down for a few days, the other 1/2 will have to work part of that time. I’ve missed 2 family reunions for work, and haven’t seen one gramma in like 5 years. Growing up sucks, because along with all your junk (kids, work, school, pets) you have to work with everyone else’s to do anything.
      I do think family time, however that’s defined for you, *should* be treated as important and sacrosanct, but also flexible enough to accommodate changing times. When I’m with my sisters and parents I’m WITH THEM, and when they call or email I am completely present for them, and they with me.
      LW’s sister is struggling just like the LW is to redefine “family time” as they grow up, but insisting on it still existing isn’t illogical or needy. If work is the problem, Thanksgiving is just a date; if it doesn’t work for everyone, pick an arbitrary LW Family Thanksgiving and do it then. that way LWS can do it w/ her partner’s family and then w/ her’s before or after.

  3. LW, the one thing that struck me whilst reading your letter was the complete absence of any mention of you visiting her. You come across as actually quite unsympathetic of the financial problems of her visiting you – students on the whole really don’t tend to have a great deal in the way of disposable income, and that’s not her fault or a shortcoming on her part – it’s a simple fact of life. You say that if she really cared she’d find a way to get the money anyway – but try throwing it around the other way – if you care as much as you imply, why haven’t you been to visit her instead. For every time she’s visited you, how often have you reciprocated? Because speaking from personal experience, being the one expected to do all the running around doesn’t make you exactly want to go out of my way to visit even more often. It makes you feel the undervalued one.

    And whilst the holidays may be a BFD to you and the rest of the family, that doesn’t mean she has to feel the same way. That doesn’t mean you have the right to guilt-trip her into changing her plans; she has the right to not be that fussed over the holidays and have you respect her choices. If you’re trying to pressure her into going along with your plans instead of hers, you’re not rspecting her as a person – and again, that really doesn’t dispose others towards going out of their way to see even more of you. Quite the reverse instead.

    You say “How do I tell her how hurt I am” but I’m wondering if you should perhaps be asking her how she’s been feeling. And maybe it’s time for you to be the one to put yourself out and show her how much you care instead.

    1. I noticed the point about the LW not mentioning her visiting the sister too.

      Also, if parents and sister both live in the hometown: Visiting the parents and asking the sister to also come while the LW is there is not the same as visiting the sister.

    2. LW, the one thing that struck me whilst reading your letter was the complete absence of any mention of you visiting her.

      I thought the same thing, and was about to comment but you beat me to it! I can understand wanting to show a family member around the city you love–there’s something really cool about introducing your family to your city–but if you just want to spend time with her, why not visit her?

      1. LW here.

        You all raise a fair point. I should have provided more context about this in my original letter.

        I live in a large East Coast city with lots of museums, restaurants, public transport, etc., while Sister’s school is in a small town with not a whole lot to do other than attend college parties and/or hit up a few bars. So to my mind, my city is the place with more options for fun, hence why I’d like her to come here (and again, I have offered to chip in for travel arrangements).

        That being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to visiting her. I haven’t offered though, and she hasn’t asked me. Might be worth mentioning.

        Thanks, all, for your advice.

        1. I love living in a big city, and hear you on stuff to do, but it doesn’t automatically trump where she lives, and maybe your attitude – “I live somewhere awesome and important, while your town is not awesome” is somehow leaking through? After all, her town contains HER. I just spent a weekend in the middle of nowhere with some of my favorite people. Who knows if there was anything to do in the local town – some fall parade? But it was great to play Cards Against Humanity and break bread with my friends.

          1. Yes!

            LW, is this about spending time with your sister or about getting her to do tourist stuff and see what a cool town you live in?

          2. I’d also like to point out some of the best times I’ve had visiting people had utterly nothing to do with the city they lived in. In fact when I’ve visited people or had people visit me (I’ve lived in Washington, DC and Oakland, CA) the urgency to SEE SOMETHING can make a trip sucky. A friend of DC visited me here in Oakland and what did we do? Order in, catch up on each other’s lives and watch netflix.

          3. ““I live somewhere awesome and important, while your town is not awesome” is somehow leaking through?”

            No one likes to feel like someone they care about is not coming to see them because of where they live. And, no matter how much more awesome your town is, it’s still unfair to expect her to visit you but to have never made the offer to visit her yourself.

        2. I will tell you, straight-up, that there is a decent chance your sister finds herself thinking, “If it’s so important to you, why don’t you take the trouble?” Not in an evil, hate-your-guts way, but in a busy-person, broke-student, figuring-out-new-relationships ways. This used to be a problem with my boyfriend’s family, who all live about two hours’ drive from us. They said the same stuff about wanting to see us and family being important, but it was always down to us to do the traveling, even when we had long commutes or stressful class schedules or shift jobs that really chewed up our free time. It felt a little bit like they were saying that stuff for show, so they would look like they really cared without having to actually do stuff. It felt like our time and money were not worth respecting. Again, “felt like,” I don’t think they were– or you are– secretly evil. They were just placing a burden inadvertently and it did eventually make us not want to drive down, because we felt like we were always rearranging our schedules for people who did not care. What fixed it was saying all that, pretty much that way, because it became a two-way street– har har– and they made more of an effort to respect our schedules and situations. Some reciprocity here might go a looooong way to smoothing ruffled feathers.

          1. I’ve had this with my in-laws, specifically my wife’s brother and his wife. What helped (because they had a little kid and we didn’t), was having them acknowledge and appreciate the fact that we were doing all the traveling.

            We also had to cut back our travel, and I do it rarely because I need way more self-care time than my wife does, and it’s not because I don’t love them or want to see them. It’s because time and energy and money are limited.

          2. Same here, my mother-in-law, in particular, will not visit us for REASONS (which I don’t think are as insurmountable as she makes out, but they are her reasons not mine). So we now factor into our medium term planning the fact that we have to visit them and I have a grumble about it and my husband makes soothing noises and then we get on with visiting them when we can (and living with the “Hello stranger” remarks) because that is the cost of having the good relationship that we value with his family.

        3. Maybe ask yourself if your feelings (which you frame as being about your sister going to her partner’s parents for Thanksgiving) are more about her not visiting you in your city? If it’s really about seeing her then maybe it shouldn’t matter if seeing her happens in her town, or yours, or somewhere else?

          Someone upthread suggested meeting in the middle – I think that’s a good idea. Or somewhere not in the middle, but neutral? Could you and she meet up in Miami/New Orleans/Chicago/Las Vegas/Montreal/Vancouver/Portland/WHEREVER for a long weekend? (Somewhere neither of you has been, maybe, to keep the playing field even?)

        4. Being one who just moved an hour outside one of those big cities – not by choice, my job is here and driving eventually gutted my finances – I can attest to feeling very, very lonely and unimportant when my friends at first expected me to do all the driving to the City with Everything and would dodge coming to visit like the plague. I live within blocks of the beach, and so several of them would sigh and say, “I’m sorry, the beach really isn’t my thing.” Finally, I blew up a bit and got a little shouty and said, “Yes, but *I’m* your thing, aren’t I?” Fortunately my friends really are awesome and started making pretty regular visits to my tiny but kind of awesome beach town. As a result, I mind visiting much less. It felt like if I quit making any effort I would lose my friends, which isn’t really much of a friendship, and now I know that’s not true. So your sister may feel like I do, that she’s not enough of a draw for you to visit. Show her differently.

        5. Of course I don’t know your sister, but maybe she’s not the “bond with loved ones while out on the town” sort of person, let alone the “fly halfway across the country in order to bond with loved ones while out on the town” sort of person. That sounds like hell to me, personally. I’m a “bond with loved ones in a cozy room with cookies and games and movies” sort of person, and feeling pressured to spend time and money I don’t have in order to travel halfway across the country to be dragged around a strange city is decidedly NOT enticing. Just a thought.

          1. Oh god yes. I’d rather visit a small town to spend time at home where it’s quiet with a family member and maybe go out one night to the one decent food place nearby. (Unless the city has like a super awesome museum, maybe.)

          2. Are you me? Seriously, the idea of “sister time” being one and the same as “being in a big city” time… yikes. Big ball of No Fun. I would be approximately a gazillion times more enthusiastic about getting together someplace less exciting so we could focus on each other.

          3. Yes. The majority of my visits home consist of me sitting on the sofa with my mother and sister, our legs tangled together, reading magazines and looking at cat pictures on our laptops or, in summer, lying on pool floats all day listening to books on tape. It’s awesome.

            Boringly awesome. Awesomely boring.

        6. I totally understand the desire to share your awesome new home with loved ones, especially if you’ve moved somewhere with lots of cool stuff. I’m sometimes bummed out that, despite having lived here 7 years, I still haven’t had the opportunity to show any of my friends or relatives the gorgeous, 2-mile-long coastal park/playground/barbecue/garden in my home town.

          But the thing is, if your sister makes a trip to visit you, she isn’t going to see you because you live near a cool museum. She’s going to see you because she wants to SEE YOU. She’d be just as likely to visit you if you lived in a dull, empty town in the middle of nowhere.

          I’ve commented below offering some perspective on the position she’s in, but definitely, definitely consider visiting her, especially if she lives with/near your parents – If you make the effort to travel once a year, and she makes the effort to travel once a year, there’s less pressure on you both, and you each get to see more of the other.

        7. LW, what comes across very strongly is this: “Sister, your boring flyoverland city is sooo booooring and backwards that if I have to choose between flying there to see you and not seeing you at all, I’ll pick not seeing you at all.”

          And, “I’ve decided that there are things here that would be fun for you, so you have to come see them. I’m not interested in asking you whether you would like them, though, because I can’t fathom you might think differently than me.”

          1. Added fun if the Big City Sister treats visiting sister like some clueless, naive country mouse. This letter rubbed me all kinds of wrong ways, because I’ve had more than enough big city sister issues.

          2. Again, more context: I know for a fact that Sister is more of a city person. It was something of a surprise when she opted to attend school in a small town. She enjoys doing many of the things available to do here. So this isn’t a “COME HANG OUT WITH ME AND DO THINGS THAT ONLY I LIKE TO DO” situation.

            I can see where you’re coming from in terms of how it might sound like I’m prioritizing my city over her town. That being said I’m really not one of those types that moves to one of the coasts and looks back at everyone Middle America and laughs at the flyover-ness. On the contrary, I miss it a great deal and wish more people would give it a chance.

          3. I don’t think it matters whether she is a big city person or a little city person.
            Where she likes to holiday is totally up to her and while she might enjoy spending time with you in your city, there are other places she might like to be as well and in this case, it’s about people.
            It’s also not as it she doesn’t want to see you, she just has to prioritise and as I said in my own comment, she will pick SO over family because she trusts her family to understand.

            While it may have been a surprise that she chose a small town, maybe she grew to like it?
            She might like both small towns and big cities in different ways. She also might like the lifestyle but does she have many friends to hang with in your big city?
            Consider this, for her to spend thanksgiving with you, she will be spending it with you and only you vs spending it with her family/SO’s family. Which would you prefer if you were in her place?

          4. I am going to float out a notion here, and you can do with it whatever you want, since I don’t know you or your sister from Adam. But my boyfriend’s sister has this Ideal Family in her head, and it doesn’t really match up with her Actual Family– which is not composed of evil, viperous, distant people, so we’re clear. It’s just that she wants this kind of TV family, and it gets in the way of her appreciating and not being stressed out and disappointed by her Actual Family. She wants X kind of closeness, and she has not learned (or will not learn, I don’t know what her deal is fully) to take her family members on their own terms, so that she can have a different sort of closeness. Instead, she gets less closeness, and more recrimination, anger, and avoidance. This is not ideal for anyone.

            So, is it possible that you are letting your ideas of What Good Sisters Do undermine your relationship or get your hopes up? Are you possibly hoping that Actual Sister will become Ideal Sister, if only you can find the magic phrase? There’s nothing horrible or shameful about it if you might be doing this; most people have a mix up with Ideal Person and Actual Person a few times in their lives. But if you are doing this, maybe trying to take your sister on her terms, as she is, is what is going to help. She may never travel as much as you would travel, or as much as you would like her to travel, but if you can find ways of staying in touch that work for her and you, you’ll be better off. You’ll be having a real, close relationship with Actual Sister instead of this sad, not-so-close, disappointing relationship with Ideal Sister. I may be off in left field here, so feel free to ignore all this entirely. It’s just how things look to me, in my situation, from this distance here.

          5. LW, I didn’t say that is what you are thinking. I said that is how what you are saying comes across.

            You’re getting crabbed at a lot in the comments here, and I think it’s because your letter gives the impression that you are seeing everything through this lens: I know what Little Sister should do better than she does, and I am confused because her actual behavior doesn’t fit that. (Example: you “know for a fact” that she likes cities, but she picked Smalltown U. Surely you don’t think that she just forgot she likes cities.)

          1. Exactly!
            I had to move to a big city to study at university and I HATE it!
            I love going home to visit because I love our small city/town.
            Sure, there’s not much to do or places to go but, I have friends and family there and I love the smallness of it.

            LW, you have to realise that you are pretty much the only thing that your sister actually goes to your big city for. Sure she can shop and see stuff, but in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t matter at all. I can imagine that she has very few, if any other friends or family in your big city which means that it’s probably not as attractive to her as a holiday destination.

        8. I’m going agree with most of the commenters here – go visit her! And try to be supportive of her Thanksgiving wishes. This trip to meet the whole family might be really stressful, and she could use her big sister.

          Also, I know many people who live in big cities love them, but…meh. And I know city-dwellers think that there is an inexhaustible list of things to do, and I’m sure that’s true. But, those things have limited appeal to me, and possibly your sister.

          She may also feel like one trip to Big City is enough for now, that Other Places have more allure, especially considering her limited budget and vacation time. I like the suggestion to meet her somewhere else. Could you pick a new city you’d both love to visit? I met my friend in New Orleans a few years ago and it was a fantastic trip.

        9. Just reading this again, and “I wouldn’t be opposed to visiting her” sends all the wrong vibes – like it’s an unpleasant chore that you might just condescend to, perhaps, if you’re forced to. What matters more, seeing your sister or your distaste for visiting the town/making the effort?

          1. I phrased that poorly– wrote it quickly while at work.

            I enjoy spending time with Sister and would be happy to do so in her town, mine, or some other place.

          2. Which is great, but it seems as though through your actions you have given Sister the opposite message. When you insist she come out to visit you, but you don’t make any effort to visit her – and I think you said you canceled one visit back for some reason – whatever your words, your behavior is telling her “I want to see you, but I don’t want to see you there.”

        10. Travelling costs more than money. There is an immense comfort that comes with being in your own home, with your own food, your own bed, your own EVERYTHING being normal, and vacations interrupt that. Plus there’s the actual effort of travelling; being in transit for a day or longer is no fun and exhausting. Even if she could find the money (or you paid), you’re still asking her to put forth a lot of mental and physical effort she might not feel inclined to make because it’s never reciprocated. If she only has the energy to do one big trip a year, she is going to choose her partner over you. She SHOULD choose her partner over you.

        11. I totally see how your choice of a place to live sounds much more interesting, and is probably just great for you. I’d much rather live there myself :-). But you know, when the point of a trip is to see someone, it really doesn’t matter how interesting the context is or not. Your full-time occupation is talking with the visitee, and sort of accompanying them with their life. So maybe their life’s kind of boring at that point, and its context is totally blah. But what you’re doing is getting to know them better, and demonstrating how much you’re interested in their life, the way they’re living it, how they feels about it, what their hopes for it might be. There’s something irreplaceable to that experience, something which often doesn’t fully come up in conversation. And a mad tourist dash through another town, fun as it is, is visiting someTHING, more than visiting someONE.

          I think you’re also losing track of your sister’s student status, the fact that she probably didn’t have a lot of choice about where to live (for financial reasons?) and that traveling is difficult for her. When you’re a student, it’s exceedingly rare to have paid vacations, and your school vacations are often times when you have to work hardest for money. So if you travel you not only spend money, but worse you aren’t earning any! I have vivid memories of people being totally insensitive to that when I was young “I’m paying for your ticket, you won’t have to spend any money, what’s your problem?” I’ll starve for 2 months afterwards was the answer to that one.

          1. Your full-time occupation is talking with the visitee, and sort of accompanying them with their life.

            This is a little off-topic, but…as an intensely introverted person, this made me cringe. This is one way to do visits, yes. But when I have visitors, I hope they’ll make plenty of plans that don’t involve me (including visiting other people)–and when I visit others, I do the same. “I’m going to go spend the day poking at this museum you don’t care about by myself, and then we’ll have dinner.” “There’s this play I want to see, why don’t you and your partner take some time to yourselves this evening?” Or whatever.

            I think it’s important that visitors and visitees align their expectations appropriately, pre-visit. It is possible a mismatch here is part of why Big City is seen as preferable to Small Town–because making that sort of escape is often difficult in Small Towns (although I can and have employed “Now I’m going to go for a walk in the woods/to the park to read/to shut myself into the guest room for a few hours” in the past).

          2. Oof. I ran into this problem last year when I went to stay with Beloved, Yet Not Seen In Many Years, Auntie who lives in Big European City. I assumed I’d have some time for family stuff, and at least one day to myself to poke around on my own, spend hours at a museum, sit with a book at a pub, etc. Auntie was horrified by the thought of me “having” to spend ANY time alone and so planned it that I had an “escort” every day: herself, her and another aunt, a cousin, etc. She meant well, truly, and everyone was very nice and accomodating and tried to take me around to everything I was interested in seeing/doing but I’m a huge introvert and not having a single moment of alone time outside of the bathroom was really draining. Plus, I wound up nixing things on my to-do list because I knew my escort of the day wouldn’t enjoy it and I spent a lot of time worrying about them having a good time and was I pushing them to do too much, and I know they hate X type of food but they’re going to eat it to humor me…and so on. It was lovely to see everyone but, honestly, wasn’t a great vacation for me in the end. I’d love to go back there (to see more of the city and to see the fam) but I’m not going to do it until I can afford to stay in a hotel.

          3. Oh yes, both of you are so right there, spending too much time visiting can be one’s version of hell :-). I was just assuming it’d only be a weekend, and with someone she very much wants to spend time with. I only do this kind of concentrated thing with my sister, but mostly because we see each other so relatively rarely.
            As in the Beloved Aunty story, there’s also definitely a strong component of cultural differences in the tolerance for visitation. I can easily feel suffocated on European visits, and I know I’ve been perceived as a cold unfeeling bitch by visiting European friends/relatives because I give them a bus map and tell them the good places to visit. Checking out expectations in advance is definitely advisable..

        12. I just finished a grad program in a small city in the midwest, with a reputation for not having a lot going on beyond bars and college parties. It turned out that while we certainly didn’t have the cultural opportunities of a major city, there was an awful lot more going on than just college parties. There were great restaurants, a few very good museums and gardens (not enough to keep locals eternally occupied but certainly enough to have something to do with a visitor), and really high quality and cheap performances, both by the grad students in the performing arts schools and outside groups brought in by the school. If your sister is in a similar place then I definitely think that even given your stated interests there ought to be enough going on there to occupy you for a couple of visits, even if the town isn’t big enough that you’d want to live there.

          It’s totally possible that your sister is in a genuinely small town with literally nothing going on, in which case feel free to ignore my advice, but if it is a bigger college town definitely try visiting and maybe make an effort to schedule a visit when the art museum has a display in that interests you, or when the school is putting on a play that you’re both interested in going to. Then if the visit goes well you can invite her to the big city for more fun times in different museums and at different shows, and offer to foot some of the bill since she’ll have less disposable income.

          If she’s used to getting into world class theater productions on a fifteen dollar student ticket, or getting into museums for free, or especially if she’s not budgeting for that stuff at all, big city adventuring might be way out of her reach right now even if it’s something she’d like to do. Reassuring her that you’re willing to help with the financial end of things could go a long way here.

        13. LW, what I’m reading here is that while you and your sister like each other, neither of you sees being together as important enough to prioritize your own time and energy and money that way. And that’s fine. You don’t have to. But it seems like your sister is okay with this fact about your relationship, and you are not. So I think that maybe you should spend time dealing with your own priorities. If you like not traveling and spending money and time on other things, then do those other things and let yourself have those priorities. If you want to see your sister more than you want to do other things, use your own time and money and energy to make that happen (as long as she wants you around).

          But recognize that right now you’re not actually prioritizing her any more than she’s prioritizing you, you’re just complaining about it more.

          1. I agree with this, and LW, I think that’s part of why people are reacting strongly and a little snarkily to your letter — you’re sad that your sister isn’t willing to make more sacrifices to build her friendship with you, but it’s not clear from your letter that you’re willing to make the same sacrifices you’re expecting from her. You’re pushing for her to visit you, rather than you visiting her, in part because your city is bigger and more exciting than hers — that sounds a bit like you’re not willing to sacrifice “being in my own home” or “spending time in a cool place” or “doing exciting activities” for the sake of a visit. Your summer trip home fell through this year — maybe that’s something that you would have sacrificed for but it just couldn’t be done, but hey, maybe some of the trips your sister’s offered and then canceled were similar.

            For the immediate situation of this Thanksgiving, I think all you can do is give yourself a little space to be bummed, then try to focus on the people you do get to see. But longer-term, maybe spend some time thinking about what sacrifices you’re willing to make to spend time with your sister, and which of those you’d actually be able to make, and whether that matches up with what you’re expecting from her. (Personally, my advice would be to ask slightly less of her than you’d be willing to give.)

    3. I’m the far-flung member of my family and I’d never ask or expect my brother to visit me – he did once, but his situation has changed since and it’s simply too far out of the way when he has enough stress. Instead, I try to visit him on occasion; since going back home for holidays already entails a plane flight and an train odyssey through half of Germany, it’s not such a big deal to detour to where he lives, stay over at his for a bit and then head back to the parents with him.

      One’s sense of what is feasible travel also seems to scale according to what one travels regularly. I’m pretty sure the UK-Germany trip seems much longer, more difficult, and more daunting to my brother than it does to me, since I do it several times a year and he mostly stays in the country.

  4. If your sister and this person get married, they’ll likely be alternating holidays between both families in some way, so this is just the first stage of the rest of everyone’s life and everyone will need to adjust and not expect things to always be like they were.

    Or even if they don’t get married. 3.5 years together is considered common-law in a lot of places.

    I was with my partner for almost 10 years before we had a wedding. We negotiated holidays for the whole 10 years. (And still do.)

    1. I think it can be really hard within families if expectations on this one are different. My expectation would be that until my partner and I have children, we’d spend Christmas with our respective families (but we’re of two different nationalities and live in a third country – neither of us get enough time with our families). My sister and her new boyfriend would already be in the point where they alternate holidays.

      So while at the end of the day, the Captain is right, it’s not something I can really control, but I think it can harder to understand when it’s siblings (who are the people you assume will share your values on these things.)

  5. Two thoughts:

    1) It is a common observation that kids are often worse-behaved for their families than for teachers, their friends’ families, etc., because they feel safe screwing up or being bratty or selfish with their families. So maybe your sister is not valuing your relationship lightly so much as she is taking for granted that it will always be solid, while her LTR feels like it needs more care and feeding. And while yeah, being taken for granted doesn’t feel good, shouldn’t she be right that you will always love her and not make tests for her? I have had insecure friends who made intermittent tests/referendums on our friendship, of the “if I’m really important to you you will do X for me, even if that’s not what’s right for you.” It was always BAD for the friendship.

    2) “Summer visit home didn’t happen this year.” Uh, that’s your summer visit home, right? You mean, “I didn’t prioritize going home to see my family (including my sister) above all other things!” So, that’s legit when you do it, but deserving of resentment when she does?

    Like Captain Awkward, I moved away, though my siblings did too. My mother’s attempts to guilt us into coming home as some sort of command performance always inspired feelings of resentment — despite the fact that I value coming to her house because that is where we can all be together.

    1. “Summer visit home didn’t happen this year.” Uh, that’s your summer visit home, right? You mean, “I didn’t prioritize going home to see my family (including my sister) above all other things!” So, that’s legit when you do it, but deserving of resentment when she does?

      Ding ding ding!

      1. Right? It didn’t happen for LW, but now it’s not going to happen for sis and that automatically means sis is putting on the Trousers of ACTIVELY CHOOSING TO HURT ME and pairing them with the Blouse of NOT VALUING OUR RELATIONSHIP. And possibly accessorising with the Necklace of RUINING THANKSGIVING.

          1. Hee. As long as no one puts on the Blazer of You Never Really Loved Me, we can get through this. (The shoulder pads on that thing – seriously out of control.)

          2. Sister has in years past said that she’d be able to come out during x time period and then subsequently canceled one or more of the reasons mentioned in my original letter. So this isn’t a first time thing. I’ve felt let down about this before.

            You all have very valid points about me going to visit her in her town or a mutually agreeable place but the snark is bumming me out a bit.

          3. *Psst* There may be a pinch of projection going on with that. I’d gently suggest that along with not taking it too personally, consider not taking your sister’s actions too personally either. Your disappointment is very understandable; but I get the distinct impression she’s not acting out of disregard for your feelings. I do think some of the comments here have been a bit on the judgy side.

            I have a younger brother who lives on another continent, and I along with our family miss him terribly. I used to be able to visit him occasionally, but the truth is, with everything life has thrown at me the last ten years or so, it just hasn’t been possible for me, and he understands that. And after a few tries at flying out for holidays, the stress overcame his enjoyment of family gatherings, and we all let him stay put then without a word of guilt. And he comes every summer for a long visit, and that’s been great. Life doesn’t always turn out like the ideal model tells us it’s “supposed to be”. The best thing we can do is value and enjoy what it gives us, in the form it gives us, and not make each other unhappy for it.

          4. Sister has in years past said that she’d be able to come out during x time period and then subsequently canceled one or more of the reasons mentioned in my original letter. So this isn’t a first time thing. I’ve felt let down about this before.

            I honestly can’t count the number of visits I canceled when I was in school. I think for some of us, it’s just part of it. At the beginning of semester you think, sure, reading week I’ll be free, I’ll go visit X then, and you’re excited and talk to X about it, and then as reading week approaches and the work is piling up, and you remember why reading week was invented in the first place, you realize that, crap, adding the stress of travel on top of everything else is just crazy! I can’t travel then, I have three assignments due the first day back! And then you cancel your trip. And then, if you’re me, the next semester starts and you tell yourself, “this time it will be different” and try to make plans again and oops, it isn’t different, and you cancel the plans.

            Which I agree is kind of inconsiderate, but life as a student can be crazy-making, so maybe cut her some slack on that?

          5. Very sexy on the right feet. At least if they’re not the Plimsolls of Shame. 🙂

  6. Great advice from the Captain, as always. I wanted to throw in that I think your ages are important. If she’s in her early 20s and in her first serious, long term, long distance relationship *and* is the one that lives near your parents, then it makes doubly more sense to me that she wants to head to the West Coast for Thanksgiving. She’s young! It’s a free flight! Boyfriend and family! And Thanksgiving is a really perfect holiday to meet the SO’s parents/spend time with them. Even if Thanksgiving is a big deal in your family (or theirs), Christmas is generally a *bigger* deal for people, which makes Thanksgiving the lower pressure holiday for a girlfriend meeting/spending time with her SO’s family. (no worry about gift exchange, etc.)

    Similarly, you are only in your mid-20s, which means you have a LOT of time ahead of you to build and share a relationship with your sister. (anecdata: my mom and her sister didn’t develop a close relationship until they were in their 50s; now they take a “yay retirement!” trip every year. It’s super cute) What I would do is propose a trip for her soon. You won’t see each other for Thanksgiving, so when is the next time you can do something? Is it worth inviting both her and her SO to come visit you on the East Coast? That way she doesn’t have to choose between you, and you can get to know him. Or, you could visit the West Coast with her? Propose something that kills two birds with one stone, so she doesn’t have to make difficult choices, re: finances & boyfriend.

    She probably already knows that you are disappointed, and I can imagine it was a tough choice for her to make. I doubt you need to tell her again. It also sounds like other members of your family might guilt trip her anyway. Like the Captain said, be the supportive one. Tell her you’re sad you won’t see her, but excited for her that she’ll get to go to the West Coast and have a new Thanksgiving experience with the SO. Propose a solution for seeing her soon. She’ll appreciate it, and it will make your relationship stronger.

    1. I really liked you mentioned your mom and your aunt not being close until their fifties. I was reading all these comment about women and their sister ONLY seeing each other a few times a year and ONLY talking once or twice a week on the phone and it was making me feel bad.

      My sister and I are decidedly not close. I talk to her once or twice a year to negotiate gifts for parents. I never talk to her on the phone just to chat or in email. I talk to her at home when we’re both visiting once or twice a year. I like her okay but we’re really different. I think if we keep our relationship out that antagonist place (that my mom and her sister are in), my sister and I could be close like your mom and aunt at some point. But for now we’re good.

      1. I actually think that this is something that the LW should keep in mind. According to my anecdata it’s way more common for siblings to only talk a couple times a year than once or twice a week. I think as adults most people stop being actively antagonistic towards their siblings but not everyone makes the transition to friends.

        1. I have four siblings, two live at home with me – each pair being a brother and sister. I spend most of my time with my at-home sister and see my at-home brother *most* days fleetingly; we get on better than we used to now that I’m grown up (he’s about four/five years older than me). The other two both live in the same city – moved-out sister comes home at least once a week, moved-out brother I rarely see. Big gender divide in who I spend most of my time with! But I’m an extreme introvert who can handle a smaller number of friends than a lot of people seem to, so a good relationship with two of my siblings and comfortable with a third is pretty acceptable to me. I understand some of the motivations of my other brother regarding why he doesn’t visit much and I’m sympathetic because oh god I totally freaking get it, I just… don’t have much in common with him.

        2. And even siblings who are friends might not see/talk to each other all the time! My brother and I actually *are* really close (and I’m pretty close to my sister-in-law too) but we don’t leave near each other and none of us are great at the phone, and I use email way more than they do. But we do what we can and really cherish the time we can spend together. Sometimes I worry that I’m a Bad Brother for not talking to him more, especially since we do get on well, but right now that’s just the setup that works for us.

          1. I think the difference, though, is that it doesn’t seem to work for LW. If both siblings find a method/frequency of communicating they like, that’s great. But if it’s two different ones, that might be harder to deal with. 😦

      2. It’s been really cathartic for my mom to grow closer to her sister this late in life. They had a rocky/competitive relationship for a long time (my mom felt her older sister got all the attention; older sister thought my mom thought she was better than her b/c she got a college degree/lived in the city + a huge layer of “aunt became a fundamentalist Christian in her 20s” vs. my mom the secular/hippie/single mom.), but that changed when my cousin got knocked up at 17 (whoops!)/my grandparents passed away. My aunt let go of a lot of her righteousness, but so did my mom. I think they finally realized they had way more in common than they had differences. The only sucky thing is that now my mom goes on cruises/jets off to Italy/France with my aunt while I sit at home/work/pay my rent. I’m so jealous! XD

        1. Hey! That makes me feel even better because we’re not even THAT different. My sis spends $100 a month on having her hair cut and highlights touched up. I cut my own hair. She peruses fashion magazines for hours and probably spends a quarter of her paycheck on clothes. I like to joke with my friends that I’m always worried that Gavin and Stacey are around the corner because she turned me into What Not To Wear. I practicing my lines now. “But I wear those socks over my tights because my feet are COLD. I don’t care if they MATCH.” I know exactly what ratty item of clothing I will cry over when they throw it away.

          But seriously, she’s in her mid-twenties and newly single. Her priorities will change as she gets older and maybe then we’ll have more in common.

          1. And even if you don’t wind ever having much in common, you can still have a good relationship. I have, like, NOTHING in common with my brother aside from a) we grew up in the same house/with the same parents and b) we both love bourbon. Now, that first one is kind of a big deal, and the second helps considerably with the getting along, but if we weren’t family we’d never be friends, you know? We don’t see each other often because I live far away and he’s got a family to keep him busy, but we enjoy what time we can spend together and we talk on the phone as regularly as is possible with the time difference and our respective schedules/busy lives. Our lifestyles, politics, and priorities are about as opposite as you can get but we love each other enough to make our relationship work in its own way.

      3. I have actually been contemplating writing a “how do I form a mature adult relationship with my brother, after a childhood of being the tag-along annoying little sister and a lot of unexpected things happening for both of us after we moved out, meaning we now have very different priorities and interests and nothing in common to talk about?” letter to the Captain, honest to god. I’d like to be closer but have no idea where to even start. It’s a bit of a relief that I’m not the only one and people manage to form a closer relationship with their siblings later in life.

      4. Oh, yeah, bearcatbanana, you are not alone! Also, these things change over time. My relationship with my sister has been all over the place, but in general life is easiest when there are a couple-three thousand miles between us and these days I’m in Philly while she’s in Seattle, so: win! I’m in my early 40’s now, and when I was LW’s age and my sister was her sister’s age, we got along much better, visiting back and forth in our respective cities, writing letters, sharing confidences, etc. Then we went through several years of not talking At. All. in my late 20’s/her mid 20’s, which was a choice she made when she ramped up certain demands she was making on the rest of my family and I refused to drink the Kool-Aid.

        Eventually I met someone, got married, and had the first grandkid; my sister didn’t want to be left out of the way that rearranged our family (for various reasons, kids of her own, whether bio or not, are unlikely to happen but she really likes the idea of being an aunt) so now we’re cordial at all times and I think she would like to be closer, but I am not interested and find that even though we no longer fight, I’m still relieved when she doesn’t come back East for a given holiday. If it were possible to exchange The African Violets of Broken Sisterhood with her, I would, but instead I just try to keep it so that other family members don’t feel like they need to do social-skills gymnastics around the two of us.

        I have to say, I see traces of my 20’s relationship with my sister in the LW’s letter, a sense that what is important about her sister’s role in her life is that her sister do what the LW wants her sister to do–I’m a big sister, so I may be projecting, but I got that vibe, that the LW was reacting to her sister’s choices from the place of “what about me???” And in fact, her sister’s priorities don’t reflect on the LW or her value as a person, they’re just the standard things that happen when two different people’s lives bump along in different ways as they leave the nest. I think this kind of confrontation with a sibling’s independence is pretty standard as after growing up in the same household–the model for the sibling relationship up until you moved out was “your lives are spent under the same roof and you are each other’s growth-and-talent yardsticks for everything” and then you don’t live together anymore, boom. It’s going to take awhile to figure out what adult life as siblings looks like, and you’re just starting. Let yourself and your sister live your way into it.

      5. My sister and I got a lot closer when our Mom died We liked each other fine before then, but we were so different! I mean VASTLY. We mainly communicated through Mom, and that was sufficient, but I would never have said we were close.

        It feels weird to say that anything good came out of the tragedy of mom dying, but my sister and I got closer. Just this year we took a trip together, just us. It was the kind of thing I used to hear about siblings doing and thought “that’s nice, but that’s not really my family.”

        I’m not saying you should start leaving banana peels at the top of the steps at your parents’ house or anything, but know that families change over time, and relationships can too.

  7. LW, I can see you’re really in pain over this. But I think that AT THIS TIME IN YOUR LIVES, you are at the bottom of the barrel in your sister’s affections. That may change; it may not. But as the Captain says, you aren’t going to be able to change your sister’s choices by pointing you that she “should” be spending more time with you. I’m sorry.

  8. I am having a hard time understanding why the LW is taking it so personally. LW, your sister is not choosing to spend Thanksgiving with her SO’s family to spite you. She’s doing it because she wants to spend time with her SO and his family. There is an opportunity cost associated with that, and that is that she doesn’t get to spend time with you and your family. She’s probably sad that she can’t do both. But if she spent Thanksgiving with you guys, she would miss out on seeing her SO. There’s really no way she can make everybody happy here, and I don’t think her decision is really about you.

    I also think that while it’s hard to stomach traditions changing, as people grow up, they often start to build their own holiday traditions and spend those holidays with their expanding families which evolve as people get into serious relationships, get married, and have children. It’s not that she doesn’t like spending that time with your family, it’s just that she now has more than 1 family to consider where she didn’t previously. This is hard, but this is something you need to accept graciously. In time, you may find yourself in the same situation.

    Lastly, I think that while you intellectually recognize that your sister has perfectly valid reasons for being unable or unwilling to visit you often, your emotions are basically writing off all those valid reasons and whining, “BUT WHAT ABOUT MEEEEEEE????” It sucks that she can’t visit you as often as you’d like, but guilt-tripping her about it doesn’t make her SO visits or lack of funds just magically disappear… she still has those barriers. Give her a break. If you want to see her really badly and you are the one that lives far away, I suggest you plan to go visit her instead. Don’t make this a game where she can only win if she shows you she loves you by plunking down the money it costs to come and visit you. I think there’s a bit of you that’s thinking “if she really loved me, she would spend the money for a ticket to see me.” I assure you that she can be lacking the budget or time to see you but STILL love you 🙂

    Sorry for the tough love. I know it must still feel hurtful but I think it bears repeating that she’s not stabbing you in the heart just for kicks.

  9. Wow. This letter could easily have come from my big brother, about five years ago when I spent my first holiday with my long distance boyfriend.

    LW, your little sister might feel totally differently then I did then, but I’ll tell you the three things I felt every time my big bro pressured me, even kindly, to come home that Christmas, and then I’ll tell you the one thing he did that helped our relationship SO MUCH.

    I would say things like, “I do want to see you but I also haven’t seen my boyfriend for months. This year I want to do things a little differently, okay?” He would say things like, “I haven’t seen you all year!” and “You know we don’t even talk on the phone as much as I used to!” and “You used to LOVE spending the holidays together.” And I would hear this and think:
    1. My brother thinks I’m a terribly selfish disappointment.
    2. My brother knows what I want but doesn’t think that it’s important.
    3. My brother is treating me like the child I was instead of the adult I now am.

    And I admit that in my early twenties? Yeah, my siblings were not in my top five priorities. I loved them, but I had spent my whole life with them and suddenly I had my own, real, grown-up life and I trusted my siblings to be there next year, or the year after. I know that’s not fair but it was what I felt.

    What eventually turned things around for us was that my brother decided to stop asking about that particular holiday and instead say, “I would like to come visit you this summer. Would that work?” And lo, it did. The conversation was no longer about how I had failed to make family a priority, or about how I should do what he thought I should, but how he wanted to see me, how he would pony up the plane ticket and move his life around a bit and I just had to be at home with an open door.

    I don’t know if something like that is feasible for you, LW, financially or work-wise or whatever, but it might take some of the pressure off this particular holiday if you can schedule another time for you to come home and see her.

  10. My sister is two years younger than me and we both hit the “I’m too cool for you” stages at different times in our lives. So, I’ve given her the “My friends are more important than you” treatment and now, it’s her turn. And it hurts, for sure.

    But, I guess my advice to you is that you’re not wrong for feeling slighted. I feel sad all the time when my sister goes home instead of here to visit me — I’m a 6 hour cheap bus ride away and the parents are a $500 flight. Also, when we were both at home she had her best friend from college come visit and I bawled my eyes out and fought with her and said “You’re my best friend, why aren’t I yours?”.

    This got me no where. Her friend still came. Things went on. Me stomping my feet and telling her how much I wanted more time/better time/alone time did absolutely nothing.

    Instead, I do what the Captain says- play nice. I call her to chat, ask about her, take what I can get, in a sense. Sometimes she doesn’t reply to my “Omg my bf is such a dick” texts, so I text mom instead for family support (or a good friend). Does it hurt my feelings? Ya, I love her to death and want nothing more than to be close to her and her advice resonates with me the most. Does she feel the same? I’m sure she does.. or at least she will eventually. She’s younger (not sure in your case) and she’ll come around, I’m assuming.

    Nurture the relationship you’re capable of having and just don’t expect anything, that way you can only be surprised instead of let down. *Shoulds* will get you the most in the end, because you only let yourself down when that *should* doesn’t come through.

    1. Do you take the cheap 6 hour bus ride to see her? Also, it may be cheap, but six hours on a bus sounds kinda un-awesome…

        1. Totally – it may be cheap in money but you’re paying for the remainder in non-finance related ways.

        2. Yeah. The first bit of my LDR with my girlfriend was by bus, because Greyhound was matching prices with the Chinatown bus companies on NYC-Boston. I am so glad that our budget now lets me take the train to see her–and that’s not mostly about the train being a bit quicker.

        3. I had to do Melbourne to Sydney on a bus (twelve hours odd) once when the trains were out. That sucked majorly. The trains are bad enough, but a coach where the driver plays his damn music the entire trip – and this at night – gakkkkk.

          1. Ouch, yeah. But try fifteen hours on a bus from Connecticut to Ottawa (going through bumfuck nowhere), where the person right behind you is talking loudly to hir SO on the phone about how carsick they are and are they going to vomit…for ten of those fifteen hours.

            Never, never doing that trip by bus again, ever.

          2. Aaaaaaaiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeee!

            “Bumfuck nowhere” wins you an internet. 🙂

          3. Actually, it strikes me that bumfuck is a kind of homophobic insult? Like, this place is so nowheresville people resort to this sneer-worthy activity?

          4. I’ve heard the phrase as “bumblefuck” before, which just seems funny, not homophobic. The shortened version, yeah, it rubs my queer feathers the wrong way, too.

          5. The worst part of those kind of long bus rides? (besides sitting next to people trying to get you to accept Jesus into your life, or talking on cell phones about puking, or loud music?) When your ride is done, you smell like bus. That smell…. UGH.

          6. Ooh, do we get to tell our bus-trips-from-hell stories? My worst was from Silver Spring, MD to Missoula, MT. A woman got on in MD, and didn’t get off until Bismark. She was drunk. She spent the entire time singing the Kyrie Eliesan, reciting bits from some play, and loudly trying to convince a 16-year-old boy (traveling with his younger brother) to go into the bus bathroom with her for sex. No one did anything. The bus driver didn’t kick her off for sexual harrassment of a minor, and I was a gutless 18-year-old. The memory still horrifies me. So yeah, bus trips aren’t a favorite.

          7. Yuck. My worst was a youth trip I went on that involved a twelve hour bus ride from northern British Columbia to Vancouver, a night spent on the church floor, and then a 28 hour bus ride to a town near Fresno, California. We stopped for food, but had to sleep on the bus. All with the same bunch of teenagers who would. not. stop. talking. so the rest of us could get some god damn sleep! And I am more than a little particular about getting enough sleep.

          8. My best/worst? coming home from a job in Jasper Alberta with a broken wrist by bus… where was home? a 50+ hour bus ride away in Toronto Ontario… i was lucky that I got two seats to myself, but there was a seriously annoyed toddler on one leg of the trip who didn’t understand that he couldn’t sit in the bus-driver’s lap or open the windows…

          9. LOL, speaking of Silver Spring: my own worst bus trip was pretty tame by Awkward Army standards, I guess, but it was a trip from Washington, DC to Wilmington, DE and about twenty minutes in, the bus driver goes: “Does anybody know how to get to Silver Spring?”

            (He did eventually find it. The rest of the trip was screaming baby and rush hour traffic through Baltimore, for a total of 4 hours that felt like 4 days.)

  11. Great advice as always, Captain!

    So, it’s possible I’m failing to read between the lines in some way, but…I don’t understand why the LW doesn’t visit her sister. Why is it all on Sister to visit LW? The letter suggests LW is more financially secure, or at least more generally stable. Sister is still a student. It might be easier for everyone if LW visited Sister. If there is some reason that’s not possible, perhaps that Reason also makes the reverse difficult.

    Also (with the caveat that I am myself an only child, but perhaps that means I’m objective?), your Sister will always be your Sister. A LTR, and his/her family–that’s new and also possibly subject to change. It’s entirely possible she’s simply taking you for granted without any awareness that doing so is distancing her from you. That’s kind of how family works, right? 1-2/week phone calls is pretty regular and suggests to me an interest and willingness to put in time and effort to the relationship. How often does she speak to and visit your parents?

    You don’t mention that your parents share your reservations about how she’s choosing to spend the holidays, which makes me suspect they don’t (seems like that would have come up when they told you about her plans). If they aren’t feeling slighted, I would ask yourself why you do. If Sister is taking you for granted that’s a problem and you will feel how you feel about that and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’m trying to think of any early 20s person I’ve ever known and how likely it is that they would have chosen a trip home to the family over an expenses-covered visit to somewhere warm with their LTR sig-o.

    As Captain said, you might need to distance yourself somewhat for your own emotional health, but it doesn’t seem likely that your sister is changing her plans AT you (hat tip to Captain). She has good reasons for her plans and none of them have anything to do with you.

    What is unfortunate is that she didn’t tell you of her plans herself and I wonder if that’s not what’s bothering you more. You’d told her X (seeing her at T-giving) was important, she decided not to do it and then you had to hear about it from your parents. There’s no acknowledgment from her that you’re disappointed and that implies that she probably doesn’t share the disappointment. That sucks, no question. However, I return again to the idea of family. You’re her sister, her OLDER sister at that. You’re a fixed entity of whose affections she is likely quite confident. She probably assumes you are equally sure of hers. I recognize that I (and possibly she) are making a lot of assumptions in this paragraph, but my understanding of siblinghood is that one if its joys is the taking-for-granted of the other person. I’m not saying that’s an excuse or that you shouldn’t–after Thanksgiving–try to speak to her again about this situation, but perhaps it can help you take this all a little less personally. If she thinks your love for each other is an undeniable, unchangeable fact of life, it stands to reason she would worry less about maintaining it than she might other more tenuous relationships. Also, she is very young. Self-absorption is kind of a symptom of that.

    If there is no good reason why you can’t visit her, and you can afford it, I would suggest it to her sometime soon. If all you want is to see her more, and she’s open to it, go to her.

  12. Wow, Captain Awkward is (once again) so right!

    Things will only get more complicated going forward, especially if you accumulate spouses, kids etc. But let me re-assure you that “change” does not always mean that you will “see each other less and less” however. Things will evolve. You might go through a stretch where you see each other seldom, but the pendulum can swing the other way. Maybe you will start hosting Thanksgiving. Maybe you & your sister will vacation together in the future with your respective families. Things evolve, and like others said before me, they are going to evolve in better directions if there isn’t a lot of guilt & resentment and obligation attached.

    1. OT but I love ‘accumulate spouses, kids etc’ – I have an image of a collection in glass cabinets, maybe needing to be dusted now and then.

  13. It makes me sad to read this letter. I have skipped a few Christmases home, and gotten a lot of sad from other family members over it. And even when I don’t go because I just plain don’t want to go, it has *zero* to do with my regard for my sister. I have gotten in my car and driven hundreds of miles on 10 minutes notice directly from my office to be with my sister when she needed me. I *love* that woman. But a big family holiday is not about my sister, and isn’t really that much sister time, so speaking as someone who would do a whole freaking lot for her big sister, there is a good chance this isn’t about you, LW. And honestly, if my sister told me how broken hearted she was that I wasn’t going to be at a family holiday, instead of trying to plan a time to come visit me (when I was broke/in a long distance relationship), I would actually be angry about it.

    1. If I could swing it, I’d stay at home in my one-bedroom apartment during big holidays, and fly home during some dead week with nothing on. I’d enjoy myself, and my family, so much more that way.

    2. That’s an excellent point about big holiday gatherings not being sister time.

  14. LW, it occurs to me that maybe this Thanksgiving your sister and her partner are doing the big Meet The Parents visit prior to make the relationship permanent, or at least move it up to a new level.

    Undoubtedly, she knows already how you feel about her not being there for your family. She may have withheld this information for various reasons, but what occurs to me is that she is already nervous and doesn’t want to deal with your feelings on top of her own and her partner’s.

    I’m so sorry you feel abandoned and left out. It’s a horrible feeling. But the more you can comfort yourself now without making her feel too bad, the more likely she will be eager to share with you later.

    I hope this all turns out to have a silver lining for you; you sound to me like a loving, caring sister.

  15. Also, when I read the caption for the letter I immediately thought “you don’t.” Pushing your hurt at people either to get them to do what you want, or punish them for not giving you what you want is not a healthy relationship dynamic. (Passive aggressive, much?)

    MUCH better to say “I’m really bummed it’s been so long since we’ve seen each other — partly my fault that I didn’t make it home this summer, I know. Lets get our calendars out and figure out a time and place we can get together, your choice of where.”

    1. Also, when I read the caption for the letter I immediately thought “you don’t.”

      This, so much.

  16. Ho wow.
    That kind of broke my heart.
    I was exactly in your little sister’s shoes a few years ago. Student, new shiny relationship, interesting-stuff-to-do-away-from-hometown-and-sistertown-and brothertown. My older siblings tried to keep in touch regugarly (my sister would call me once a week to talk to me about me, brother would email me every 3-4 weeks, offers to visit and do things together) but I didn’t feel like SPEAKING about important/significant things to them bc, you know, they were old town and childhood and I had better to do.
    Now they are still close to each other but not to me. I guess they changed, or I changed, or they felt like I didn’t care about them and stopped bothering (I DO CARE ABOUT THEM, but they weren’t my priority back then)
    I have the feeling I really missed a step with them when I became an adult. They aren’t punitive, or petty, but it’s obvious they don’t get out of their way anymore to call or to visit me (while they do for each other and my parents)
    I tried to talk to them and my parents about that, using my words and ackowledging that I behaved crappyly, but they didn’t really answer.
    Soooooooooooooo I guess nobody owns you a meaningful relationship, or a second chance.
    I wish I could talk to your sister, LW, and tell her not to screw up. Even once-close family isn’t a given. You have to take care of those relationships too.

    1. That really sucks, ljo, I’m sorry. It sounds like your family could have been more mature and forgiving. Never say never – they may get over themselves. There are often cycles where close family will be distant for years and then close again.

    2. Don’t despair ljo, it can be fixed, as long as you’re all still alive :-). I think if you make it a point now to call them regularly and talk to them, and ask how they’re doing and truly listen, you still have a chance. But they’ve been disappointed, so it’s not going to happen overnight, even if you talked to them openly about it. You now have to demonstrate consistently how important it is to you and how you’re willing to do all the work for a while. Hang in there!

    3. I don’t think this is anything punitive or unforgiving. If it’s anything like my situation, they did all they could, accepted the fact you weren’t interested, and went on with their lives. Your brother and sister sound like they were already close and they nurture that connection through phone calls, visits, etc. And they have their own friendships and families and romantic partnerships.

      It sounds like you’re upset that they don’t call you and email you like before, but–I’ll sound harsh here–that’s a two-way street. Have you called them? Emailed them? Made plans with them on their terms? It takes two to nurture a relationship, and complaining they’re not calling you anymore is not the way to do it.

  17. I’m going to sound kind of unsympathetic here, LW. So let me preface this by saying that I do get where you’re coming from, truly I do. HOWEVER.

    Your sister is an adult. She will not be able to spend every holiday with your family. If/when she gets married/starts living with someone/gets even MOAR MOAR MOAR SRS with someone, they will be a couple and will have to decide who they see on which holiday, since her partner has family as well. So I really suggest that you and your family let this go. It’s not going to make her all that excited to see you guys if you complain that she’s not going to be there for a particular holiday.

    Second, I get that you’d like to see you sister. But she’s declining. At this point, I think it is sufficient to let her know that the invitation is open, that if she ever wants to come visit you will welcome her with open arms and show her all of the awesomest hotspots in the city, and then drop it. She knows you want her to visit. For whatever reason, she has not.

    Third, you’re taking this as a horrible personal affront. It’s not. She has a life of her own. You talk on the phone, you get on reasonably well, etc. This isn’t a personal thing against you. This is a signal that she’s an adult with her own life and her own priorities. It doesn’t mean that she does not love you or that she thinks you’re not worth spending any time with–it means that she has a boyfriend in a West Coast city that she likes, a college life in the Midwest, and a life of her own.

    I learned the hard way that we cannot always have the relationships we want to have with the people we want to have them with.

    So. You may not realize you’re guilt-tripping her or pressuring her, but I got the vibe you come across that way from your letter. Just from what you said. Please leave this alone. It is not personal, it is not an insult to or against you, and she is an adult.

  18. If it matters to you, then why not go to visit her? Her city may not be all that- but it has her.

  19. I was the kid who went away to uni and when I started not coming home for holidays, I got all the guilts. You know what that made me feel? It made me feel like not seeing these people. I’d call my mother and the first words out of her mouth would be, “Why didn’t you call me sooner? I thought you were dead in a ditch?”

    It made me scream inside my head, “The phones work both ways, Ma!” And it made me inclined to call her less because I resented the flip out of it.

    LW, the roads work both ways. The airplanes work both ways. You may live in a cool town and she may live in a shitty one, (does she think so? She might have things she’d like to show you about where she lives). In any case, it sounds like the two of you are both prioritising what you really want – you, your cool town, and sis her relationship. Except in your mind you’re not rejecting her town, and she’s rejecting you.

    1. At almost thirty-nine years old, I’m STILL going through this with a parent. Happy effing holidays.

    2. amen. I moved across the country after my divorce. It is the best thing I ever did for myself — getting away from a toxic relationship and toxic friend group. Then I got too sick to travel frequently and it is a chronic illness (I have to continually remind my family that chronic means chronic, I’m not getting better). I have changed immensely and my family has not really noticed? Hell, they had my not yet exhusband as the best man my sister’s wedding while we were divorcing, which would be the start of me saying “oh fuck no” to taking the 7+ hour flight home for anything. The planes & phones do go both ways. None of them have gotten on one. None of them have made any effort to stay in touch with me, though they do shit talk my choices about budgeting and coming home and partner selection and life choices and what they perceive to be my medical condition (in absence of data).

      LW, I am older than you, I would guess. My sister and I are now estranged for a half decade because of stuff like this, and it started as bitchery about me not coming 7 hours and back to her graduation (which, ? I am not a ceremonious person; I skipped my own college graduation). She had my separated husband in her wedding party, which meant I was persona non grata. I no longer love her and I doubt I will ever see her again. I voiced loose plans to visit for Christmas because she’s dealing with a high risk pregnancy. I have had to make some really dark decisions about whether things ever could be resolved between us in the past few weeks and I have realized that no, maybe not in this lifetime they can’t, and it’s not any fault of mine that she is a jerk. This is the path you’re going down. It’s not innocuous. When you cast aspersions on who someone loves or where they choose to live, you are building a possibly permanent wall. We are, at the moment, a very dramatic cautionary tale.

      You have time she and I don’t.

  20. Man this letter makes me angry. I’m in a similar situation where I get on really well with my younger brother, we Skype regularly and can spend several hours talking but we don’t actually get to see each other very often. My parents moved back to America last year and for various reasons he moved back as well several months ago. I’m probably not going to be able to visit my parents for Christmas this year which means I won’t get to see him. I wasn’t able to go home for Christmas last year either so the last time I spent any quality time with him in person was almost two years ago. I miss him terribly and was very upset when I found out he was planning on staying in America long term. I do not know when I’ll get to see him again but I strongly suspect it’ll be up to me to fly out to see him.

    None of this is a reflection on his relationship with me or how much he cares about me or I care about him. He regularly shows me how much he cares (even if his brotherly code prevents him from actually saying it). He shows me every time I finish talking to him and realise it’s been two hours since we started the call, every time he listens patiently to me getting something off my chest that he isn’t really interested in and every time he trusts me with some piece of information he hasn’t told our parents. I’m sure your sister has ways of showing you that she cares even if you don’t recognise them as such.

    Other people have commented on the fact that you make no mention of you making the effort to fly out to see her. Maybe you think flying home for the summer covers your side of that but it really doesn’t. There are big differences between flying home to see family (including her) and whatever friends you still have in the area and finding the time and money to see her and wherever she’s living now specifically. You may have to live with only seeing her in person a couple times a year unless you’re willing to be the one to make the extra effort, especially given that while flights may not be prohibitively expensive for you they might well be outside her budget.

    You’ve used your words and she knows how you feel. You yourself say she was sympathetic towards you but using your words is not a magic wand that will make her change her mind about doing what makes her happy and while I definitely understand why you’re upset you will be unbelievably selfish if you do not drop it right now and do your best to be happy that she gets to spend time with someone (besides you) that she cares about.

    1. I also felt a little pissed off after reading the letter. Captain’s advice made me feel better though, as it always does.

      Everyone gets to decided individually what they want to do for the holidays. None of this BUT FAMILY! or BUT RUINING THE HOLIDAY! like that’s some sort of trump card.

      My large family flipped it’s collective shit a couple of years ago when my grandmother discontinued her 30+ year tradition of cooking a huge meal for all 50 of us and entertaining us in her house for the better part of Christmas Day. She was 88 years old! It took her DAYS to even prepare for such an event. She couldn’t do it anymore.

      “but, but, but where will we GO?!? It’s the holidays. We don’t have other plans and we really want to see the WHOLE family” Like an octogenarian is obligated to host this ungrateful hoard who did nothing more than table setting and dish washing. I was never more disgusted with my family. /RANT

  21. Something I picked up, LW, is that you’re thinking of this guy as “long-distance boyfriend” and not “committed partner.” Let me tell you, the emotional, physical and financial effort it takes to remain in a long-distance relationship for three and a half years is significant. She is super super serious about this guy or else she would not waste her time. And now she’s doing the Meet the Family – and from what you said about how she likes the city and oh yeah, she gets along with his parents too, you seem to think she’s picking a fun sightseeing tour over you. Nuh-uh. This is a big deal. She is probably nervous as all get out. And a thing she does not need right now is a guilt trip.

    The Cap’n was very gentle, which I totally get because you’re legitimately sad you won’t see her, but I’m feeling less gentle because I was Sis – three-year long-distance relationship and no one took it seriously! Why are you spending your money on airfare to see HIM? You’re just going to break up anyway! Long distance relationships never work! Well. We’re married now and it took a little while to forgive the way some of my family members and even a few friends just… could not get it. One’s partner takes priority. One’s partner has to take priority or else the relationship won’t withstand a damn thing. And it sounds like Sis has a partner and she’s starting up the Swappin’ o’ the Holidays, as one does.

    Think about it – what do you want from her? Do you want her to blow off her boyfriend and date someone closer to home so she doesn’t have competing priorities? If she and SO stay together permanently, do you want them to ignore his family completely and always come to your family events, or do you want her to come solo and not be with her partner over any holidays? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” – please, think harder.

    1. This comment has given me a lot to think about. It’s probably the most helpful one in addition to CA’s original response. Thank you.

    2. Very good point.. Just like we have short “dog years”, we should have long “LDR years”. Worth at least 3 calendar years. So think of it, it’s been almost a decade, and she’s still so young :-).

      1. Laughing! So true! Plus, that means I’ve been with my long-distance girlfriend for longer than my spouse, even though I met my gf seven years after I met my spouse!* That, um, actually feels pretty true, in a certain way.

        (*=not quite poly, but negotiated non-monogamy, anyway)

  22. LW, I sympathise with your position. I do think the Captain is right that there isn’t much you can do to make your sister change, and your best bet is to try and manage your own expectations and take care of yourself when you feel down about this. It might help to try and keep in mind her perspective. She does have obligations to see you, her partner, her partner’s family, your mutual parents (if she lives near, but not with them) and her own friends, and that adds up to a LOT of travel in a year. Chances are, she really genuinely wants to visit you, and EVERYONE else, more often, but simply can’t.

    I’m in a somewhat similar situation to your sister. My partner and I live in country A. My parents live in country B. Partner’s father lives in country C and partner’s older sister and nieces live in country D. The rest of my family lives in country A, but too far to easily/cheaply visit, partner’s one remaining grandparent lives equally far away but in the opposite direction. His mother lives somewhat closer.

    The truth is, if we were to make just one visit per year to each branch of our mutual family, that would amount to three international trips and three long distance domestic trips a year, and there is absolutely no way we can afford that. We are constantly trying to juggle visits, and because everyone feels they don’t see us often enough, everyone is always trying to make reservations on our time in advance. We try to balance it, but it causes a lot of drama and tension. But none of our family, aside from my grandparents, have ever visited us where we live. Not once in the 10 years we’ve been together. We often end up not spending holidays like Christmas together, because splitting up means we can cover more of our familial obligations and end up on the receiving end of less FEELINGSMAIL. But I don’t actually want to not spend the holidays with the person I’m in love with.

    And on top of that, when we do get a bit of time off, we do actually have places we want to see as normal holidays. But we feel so guilty thinking about taking a long weekend in say, the Lake District, or saving up to visit the Pyramids, that we either don’t do it or fret over hiding it from our families, in case they feel upset that we’re not using our time off and money to visit them.

    Your sister loves you. Chances are, she is just finding it quite hard to juggle what little travel time/money/energy she has to cover everyone, and it’s quite likely that her other half’s family have commented on, or at least asked, to have her over for Thanksgiving this year.

    1. Thats awful. they won’t die if you do your own thing for a while. And spending Christmas apart from your partner is really horrible. Personally, I wouldn’t do it.

      1. It’s actually not quite as bad as it sounds. I love my family, and I miss them as much as they miss me – until I left to study, about 90% of us lived within a 50 mile area, and while I was a child the entire branch descended from my grandparents lived in the same town, so I (being in another county) and my parents (having moved abroad) are noticeably missing from the half a dozen annual gatherings that take place.

        And with the FIL, it’s a combination of parental guilt being deflected onto us and low-level competetiveness regarding our more regular contact with the MIL.

        But it does just mean that, generally, if one relative or several relatives get missed out one or two years, it’s because we just couldn’t physically manage it, because there were pressing reasons why one relative was a higher priority. In any case, we made the decision this year that we’re not splitting up for Christmas again. Family will just have to put up with being on a rota.

        I really just wanted to show LW that, even with the best of intentions, when you live a distance away from multiple people – all of whom are important to you – missing visits to one or the other is something that just HAPPENS. That it doesn’t mean her sister doesn’t care about her.

  23. Do they not have skype in this special shiny Eastern better than the Midwest city?

    Not sure what the deal is. I live in America, my sisters live in Europe. Every Sunday we have a big long chat, while they make dinner and I make lunch. We’ve even watched Downton together over skype!

    1. +1

      I live in Australia and my dearest friends are in the US. Time zones are a bummer but Skype! We manage!

  24. Are holidays ever as good as we imagine they’ll be? What, at best, would you be able to spend with your sister individually in a big family holiday with a lot of other people you see only a couple times a year? A few hours? It is hard not to set yourself up for disappointment wanting these events to have a lot more emotional weight than they actually ever do.

    Also, is there an interesting neutral city you could explore together where both of you travel to it half-way? It can suck to be the visitor to the cool place. I know it seems like it should be great being the guest of fun older sister who has the place wired, but it can also just be too much that you have such an advantage (or it seems that way–people don’t have to be rational). Maybe somewhere in between would be fun and new to both of you for a weekend?

    I’m from a military family that just always marveled at people and their huge family holiday traditions. We could never be in one place at one time, so traditional holidays or birthdays could never be invested with huge weight unless you wanted tears and disappointment every single time. So we get together when any critical mass can be reached and you invent holidays when you find them. Getting invited to other people’s giant emotionally-fraught holidays was a fascinating anthropology project. Great leftovers, but some crazy shit.

  25. I really like the suggestions that say “Go visit her! Where she lives!” because it is probably as wonderful and important to her as your city is to you, LW, (it has all her friends, and it’s where she lives her life, so yeah, it’s important).

    If it’s really important for you to host her in your city again, so that you can show your city off, I suggest you use your words about that. If it won’t make waves/is something your family does/is something your relationship with your sister allows, you could also offer to pay part of the cost of her coming to visit–I know I’ve had several friends and family members whom I’ve wanted to see when I was flat broke, and being gifted a round-trip plane ticket to Dallas or DC or wherever is a huge and lovely present from someone you love, especially because you feel like you they get to enjoy your present too!

  26. Oh the holidays. They get so… overwrought.

    Try to let that heavy holiday burden go, if you can; tradition is important, but life is made of change, and so are family holidays. You could try to organize The Call, wherein she calls someone and the phone is passed around to everyone who cares.

    You might try to meet her, over the summertime, in some nifty Destination with cheap airfare, so you’re neither going to the other’s territory but going on an Adventure together.

    And also, yeah, visiting her does seem like the thing to do.

  27. I’ve gotten the “If you really love us, why don’t you spend more time with us?” AND “Why don’t you value us more than your S.O. and his family?” thing from 3 out of 4 members of my immediate family, sometimes explicitly, sometimes passive-aggressively, always guilt-trippily. All it does is make me pull back HARD and avoid them even more (and actively want to spend all my family time with the one person who doesn’t do this).

    The LW also says that she and her sister used to fight a lot and are still very different people, but get along better as adults. The same is true for me, and while I can only speak for myself, the reason I get along better with family members as an adult is precisely because we don’t see each other as often so the fact of our being very different people doesn’t have as much opportunity to rub anyone the wrong way. Distance is the main reason I can have a relationship with them at all.

    1. I’d react the same way if I had family doing that – they’d see a whole lot LESS of me.

  28. This letter rang true with me. I’m the little sister who has managed to travel to my big sis even despite not being able to afford it. This past September I missed her small wedding(actually, I wasn’t invited cos of financial issues) and it really bugged me. She has a family that she can’t easily travel across the country with very often. I am me and the huscat and rabbit.

    After sorting out why I was so angry about missing the wedding, I changed my expectation of the relationship I want with my sister. While I would like to be close and be best friends, it won’t happen. The LW can do better by changing expectation like JP suggested. Good luck.

  29. LW, you say:

    > I’ve already told her how this would make me feel. […] Do I Use My Words, again?

    No. Many people have this idea that if they just figure out the PERFECT way to say something, that everyone will agree with them. And so they keep arguing the point, convinced that they just haven’t said it Right.

    Try this instead: “Wow, enjoy the West Coast! I hope everything goes well! When can I call you afterward to find out how it went?”

    1. This is a crucial point. “Use your words” is about asking for what you want clearly and directly. But it is still a request, not a magic wand that overrides what other people want. Once you’ve made your clear and direct request, other people are allowed to say no.

    2. Oh goodness, yes. As a recovering chronic Let-Me-Explainer (and oldest sister who is the black sheep/visitation-and-contact-slacker), I know the temptation to try to explain and Use The Words one more time because maybe this time I’ll find Just The Right Words, but … no. It just doesn’t work.

    3. Oh, yes, so much! And it takes a long time to learn how this not only doesn’t work but can edge into bullying without you noticing you’re doing it…it’s especially hard to catch yourself doing it if you come from a family with lawyers in it! It’s just the water you swim in, then. (Probably clergy families, too, but that’s only observation, not experience.)

  30. I haven’t read everyone’s responses yet but the captain makes some very good points.

    Ultimately, and you know this, visiting LDSO will trump visiting family almost every time. I can relate to this because I’m in a LDR and if he did live far away from my parents, I would pretty well always choose to visit him.
    I can totally empathise the ‘my sister and I used to not get along but the distance/time has made us a lot closer’ thing because my middle sister and I are the same. She practically hated me because I was the uncool, nerdy big sister who stuck her nose in and offered unwanted advice all the time. Now she calls me and asks often for my opinion on things and we’re becoming really good friends.
    I still wouldn’t expect her to come and visit me and certainly not expect her to pay for a flight just to visit.

    You also need to consider that your sister’s SO’s family offered to fly her over for thanksgiving. That’s pretty generous and a huge opportunity to pass up. It is a big deal for her and nothing about her choosing to go there is to hurt you. I think she would appreciate it if you would be happy for her; she gets to spend time with her SO’s family who may one day be her in-laws.

    I know it’s hard but I think if you were to accept her decision, it would be better for your relationship with her in the long term.

    Also, I know you’re feeling like you’re ‘on the bottom of the barrel’ but think of it this way, she knows that you love her enough that no matter how long it is between seeing her, you’ll still have each other in the future. You’ll always be there and it’s a very comfortable thing to have.

    I’m also wondering, why not go to visit her at Christmas time or have her visit then? It’s not a super long time to wait and you can spend time together and maybe hit the boxing day sales together if she visits?

    1. Also if she did choose to pass it up there’s the possibility that her partner’s family might feel a little slighted too – after all, they’re going out of their way to put in the energy and money to welcome her into their family. (Totally agree that 3.5 years long distance is a big deal relationship.) In-law relationships can be really fraught, she probably doesn’t want anything to get between her and her SO’s parents.

  31. LW, family dynamics shift. You and your sister are both in early adulthood; your lives and priorities have changed. It doesn’t sound like you’ve ever been that close, yet your letter reads to me as if you think you, not her boyfriend (or other aspects of HER life which don’t include you), should be her first priority. Uh-uh. All that’s going to do is push her away.

    My sister lived in Queensland for twelve or so years; I live in Victoria (think the northernmost and southernmost parts of the Australian mainland). I never visited her there despite the odd invitation, partly because, unlike you, she lived in a very small and very redneck town, and I loathed the thought of going there (and that’s before we talk about going to the tropics, ugh). Now granted we had never been close – she’s nine years my senior – but we’d never had a bickering relationship, either. She’s since moved back to Victoria and we’ve got to know each other better, but you know what? We still only talk every couple of months or so, and see each other less often. As another commenter said, it’s perfectly normal for siblings not to be in each other’s pockets, and I’m starting to wonder if your sister’s felt pressured to visit you. Yeah, you live in a great town and she lives in a small town; but you’re still wanting her to do all the running, and she has other relationships and other calls on her time that, frankly, will come before a sister. I know I’m not being sympathetic here; I don’t much like family members putting themselves at the head of the queue, as it were. (I don’t come from a family where that happens, btw.) Your sister’s living her own life and you need to get used to that idea. She’s herself, not just Your Younger Sister.

    1. Amen to that.
      “She’s herself, not just Your Younger Sister.” No truer words.

      LW, if this was your best friend and not your sister, would you still be feeling the same way?

          1. I love Tassie! I’d love to visit there again one day.

            ::waves from across the suburbs and hides from the Captain’s derailing wrath::

          2. I do love it there, I intend on moving back once I have graduated and built up my career.
            Also, living in Clayton sucks. Just saying. Then again, I’m moving to either Prahran or Frankston… (Big difference between the two, I know.)
            -waves back and tried to hide the thread-jack-

          3. Gah, Clayton. Good for Monash, that’s about it. I’m in Pakenham. I’d love to live in Prahran or one of the suburbs around there, but the prices, oy!

            ::where’s my invisible ink?::

          4. I’d come south of the river if someone organises a meetup! I’m in Brunswick, and, yes, it costs an arm and a leg and I cry about it sometimes.

  32. I’m the older sister who moved away and rarely comes home for holidays. Families are great! I enjoy when I do visit! But the road goes both ways and I’m 40+ years old with a very stressful job and a life of my own. When Christmas (for example) rolls around and I do get a few days off, I just want to vege at home in my own space and relax for a while, not take on more travel stress and holiday stress and everything else.

    Her decisions are Not About You, LW, and she’s not making them At You. She’s feeling out the pattern for her adult life. Little birds leave the nest. Maybe your family will choose new occasions to be Very Big Deals in the future. Perhaps a summer holiday together every other year could become a new tradition?

    1. Her decisions are Not About You, LW, and she’s not making them At You


  33. Something else I haven’t seen brought up:

    It sounds like this is your sister’s first Thanksgiving away from home, no? If Thanksgiving is a really big deal for your family, she’s likely to feel a little sad and a little homesick, no matter how awesome a time she’s having with her BF and his family. The thing is, if conversations around this have mostly been adversarial, she’s likely to feel like she can’t admit to feeling that way because it would mean she should have just stayed home and therefore she loses the argument.

    So, in addition to chiming in on the chorus of GO VISIT HER, I’m going to suggest that you try something like “Wow, I can see how you would really want to take advantage of this opportunity. I’ll miss you like crazy, but I hope you have a really great time! Can we make a Skype/phone/whatever date for [specific time during Thanksgiving weekend that won’t overlap with planned festivities] and chat for a bit?” And then you can talk about what a good time she’s having and how his parents cook the sweet potatoes wrong, and how nice it is not to have to pretend to like that horrible congealed strawberry salad Aunt Annie always brings, and who’s planning to do serious Black Friday shopping and who’s planning on not even leaving the house until Saturday at the earliest. And then it can be about love and stuff, not reproach.

    1. An add-on to this:

      It’s coming from a slightly different form of personal experience. Christmas has always been a Very Big Deal for my mom’s family. The first Christmas I spent with my in-laws was difficult for me and for my mom & co. But nobody had given me any grief about it, and we talked on the phone about how things were in each place, and it made me feel better. If any of them had given me a hard time about it, I might have felt too defensive for that.

  34. The last time I visited my family for Thanksgiving or Xmas was in 2004. After that, I was working at a job that gave us no time off besides the Big Days themselves and didn’t have enough employees to really let anyone take days off around the holidays (and I guess finances were not terrible but it didn’t hurt not to have the expense of even a cheap plane ticket).

    That first year after I got the job, I was pretty nervous about telling my parents I couldn’t visit for any holidays. I think I was expecting some sort of big Guilt Bomb about it. We’d always done holidays together, and I felt kind of unsure as to my place in the family because I’d come out (in more than one way) spectacularly awkwardly and messily to my parents that summer and our relationship was still a little rocky. I didn’t want them to think I was avoiding them – I just couldn’t make it for work reasons.

    And their response really surprised me – my parents asked if they could visit me instead. The three of us made a vegetarian version of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, I walked with them around my town and introduced them to my cat, and we actually had a great time. They came for Thanksgiving every year from then until when we moved to the other side of the country; after that first year my partner was there, and my brother and sister-in-law eventually started coming too (and there was one year our friend/girlfriend was staying at our house for a few weeks so was around as well). I used to like Thanksgiving ok but in those years it was absolutely my favorite holiday.

    My point is that I was so afraid of my parents sending me guilt-waves but instead they tried to figure out a way to be able to see me and have some family time together, even if it wasn’t what we were used to. They also started visiting around New Year’s when I knew I could never get Xmas off, instead of saying “you’re never home for the holidays!” It went a long way to keeping things friendly between us and now that I actually *can* visit them for Thanksgiving this year I’m doing it because it sounds like a fun thing to do, not because they’ve piled so much guilt on my head that I feel like I have no choice.

      1. I’m glad to hear it!
        Things are definitely not perfect between me and my family (I got a text from my dad just after posting this that was 80% sweet “I’m checking up on you after your surgery” but also 20% “hey make sure you talk to your doctor about [thing any doctor to recommend this surgery would clearly be on top of]” which makes me bristle a bit, like I don’t know how to manage my health), but I think we’ve all done a good job of accepting and trying to make the most of where we all actually *are* right now and not forging forward as if things still are how they used to be, or how my parents imagined they’d be by this point. And overall I am really happy to spend time with them and feel pretty guilt-free in our interactions.

    1. I have a similar happy story—my family has a tradition of going to someplace tropical for Thanksgiving, usually somewhere in Latin America, which started in HS when I got the whole week off. We sort of put that on hold when I was in college, since I only got Thurs-Fri off, but when I went to grad school, they picked the tradition up again. Some years I could make it, some years I had to work, some years I wanted to spend the holiday with my friends-who-are-family in a different city. They never guilted me about my choices, and always made sure that I (and my partner, when I had one) was invited to whatever they were doing.

      This year, after a huge move abroad, I’m joining them in Mexico for the week, but told them if I did that, that I didn’t want to also travel to North America for Christmas. So they’re joining me in my city for that!

      My mom told me a couple of years ago, that that first Thanksgiving where I chose my friends over them made her really sad. But she didn’t show it to me, or guilt me about it, and I think that made a big difference. I know that I’m always welcome with them AND I’m always free to choose what I do with my time. And so they know that when I’m there? I want to be with them. Which makes the time we spend together so much better.

  35. LW, you’ve got a lot of comments advising you that you shouldn’t expect to be a priority to your sister, and you won’t have any success telling her how to manage her time – but I think you know that. You write,
    “So how do I deal with this? I’ve already told her how this would make me feel. Do I purposefully avoid spending time with her when we are in the same place to make a point (seems immature, probably wouldn’t work)? Do I Use My Words, again? Do I just have to suck it up and deal with the fact that this is how things are between us right now?”

    So how do you deal with it? LW, I struggle with this same question. I moved away, and my relationship with my younger sister deteriorated considerably. We rarely talk. Attempts to get into touch with her are, most of the time, met with silence or one-off responses. I rarely visit home, and she has visited me only once in the five years since I left, so we have little face-to-face contact, and we have not transitioned to other forms of communication well. In contrast, my relationship with my mother improved considerably (we talk a lot more) and I am still very close with my twin.

    I like to frame my relationship with my younger sister as something of a break-up. Take the time to acknowledge the hurt your feel! Mourn the loss of the relationship that was and the relationship that you hoped for! For me, this hurt is ongoing; it’s okay to feel this ongoing hurt. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling this way.

    Next, try not to think of all the ways you Could Have Made It Work. One, you’re not Dr Who so it’s pointless, and two, you can’t control how other people react anyway. Also it makes the hurt worse for me. All that emotional energy to no result.

    So then you’re still left with what you’re going to do going forward.
    Do I purposefully avoid spending time with her when we are in the same place to make a point (seems immature, probably wouldn’t work)?
    As you know, this won’t work. I’d suggest, when you know you’re going to be in the same place, to make (ahead of time) specific concrete plans to do a specific thing together. Go to coffee, see a movie, bake a cake/cook a meal together… whatever. Plan to have that one specific time as your Sister Time and then mentally block out all the rest of the time as Non-Sister-Time. This way you won’t be hurt if you don’t have any other interaction with her all visit. If she won’t make specific plans with you, take a bit of time to acknowledge that hurt and then mentally designate all of the weekend Non-Sister-Time. That way you aren’t constantly whirling through all your Sister Emotions.
    For example, the last time I went down to see my family, it was my birthday. We made plans to do lunch as a family. We had Family Time, which included Younger Sister Time. We chatted. That night my sister went out to spend time with her boyfriend, and the next day she slept in all morning so I didn’t see her before I flew back out. Previously I would have been so crushed that she was in the house and I didn’t see her. Now I didn’t expect to see her and and so there was no fresh hurt.

    Do I Use My Words, again?
    What are you using your words to ask for? In your letter you say that you don’t think you’re a priority. There are no words that will change that. (I know, that hurts.) I’d suggest, ask for small specific things. “I’d like to talk to you more; how could that work for us?” “I’d like to see you more; how could that work for use?” Perhaps you could talk more often for less time. Perhaps you could visit her.
    I think you need to ask for small things and build over time.
    I don’t think you express your hurt and sadness to your sister. For me, I have told her that once… nothing changed. I advise against it. Other people may have diferent advice here.

    Do I just have to suck it up and deal with the fact that this is how things are between us right now?
    I think so. You can make an effort to make changes to build a better future relationship, but right now? I think you are better managing your own emotional reaction around this before you start making any work at changing how things is. I think that’s the healthiest way for you to take care of yourself, and also that expressing your sadness to your sister won’t be productive and will only further damage your relationship.

    For me specifically. how I deal with my sister going forward: sometimes it feels like I have “broken up” with my sister and now we’re trying to just be friends and it isn’t working for me. I question if it’s worth keeping the lines of communication open at all, and I’ve shut down quite a few. In all my interactions I think, If I put in this effort and it goes nowhere because she has put other priorities on her time, can I deal with that? If not, then I don’t do it. I didn’t fly down for her birthday because I knew she’d be busy with her friends and boyfriend. Hence, I have no new hurt around not seeing her then. This means that the cost to me of trying to keep some form of relationship going is not too high. Still I question how sustainable that is in the long term. Maybe later we will both be in a better place to build a stronger relationship. I don’t know.

    I hope this comment has been in some way helpful to you; I certainly don’t have all the answers and still struggle with dealing with it.

    1. Thank you, this is comment was very helpful. I am a pretty emotionally intense person so it’s nice to have steps like these laid out for me.

      I’m sorry to hear that your relationship with your sister isn’t what you’ve hoped for– best of luck and I hope things get better as time goes on.

      1. What do you mean by “emotionally intense”? Because purposefully ignoring her would be pretty passive aggressive?

        1. Just that I tend to be a pretty sensitive person overall, especially with family. Historically I’m somewhat of a crier (not a fan of this trait), though I’ve gotten a handle on this.

          Having steps and suggestions like the ones apricity provided help me take a step back and process the situation better.

      2. Oh good, I’m glad it helped. When I read your letter and thought of my own sister I felt my sadness keenly. It is hard and I think natural to have a strong emotional response to it all.

        Thanks for the well-wishes. 🙂 Best of luck to you too.

    2. This is right on. I really agree hard with apricity’s point about asking for small, specific things. LW, I am an older sister and my younger brother has initiated some “we’re not close enough” conversations with me. It’s not an entirely similar situation, but saying things like “You should want to spend more time with me/be closer to me” made me (like most people) feel defensive, which is not a good place to be for this sort of conversation.

      I think that if you want to express you’re hurt, it can be done in specific situations (eg, “When you ___, I feel hurt.” General things like “I feel hurt that we’re not closer.” may not be productive.). AND I would recommend talking about only one instance at a time, not “When you stick your tongue out at me, I feel hurt, and I remember 25 other times you stuck your tongue out at me or here are the other 25 things you do that annoy me.” Try to avoid “you never” and “you always.” But it can be helpful to express that you’re hurt to someone, even if their behavior doesn’t change.

      Good luck, LW!

      1. Yes, you’re right on about focusing on the present specific interaction and how that particular interaction hurt, not the weight of all the past ones.

        1. This is such a hard thing to learn. You sometimes have to make yourself say “Self, what do I want to get out of this NOW?” and focus on the future. Not always easy.

    3. This is more about me than about your letter, LW, but I have been reflecting further on my family relationships and it occurred to me that as time has gone on, I find my feelings of love and pride and family connection to my younger sister cooling more, and the loss of those feelings is also something I’m mourning. I hadn’t realised that before and I think knowing that will help me come to terms with my feelings a bit more. So that’s a positive from our discussion for me.

  36. I’m the older sibling who moved away at 17 to go to college and stayed away working and exploring the world. When I left home, my younger sibling and I did not get along. I returned to my home state for grad school, in part to reconnect with family and friends here after a decade away, and I discovered that my sibling seemed like a nice adult but essentially a stranger. We have nothing in common in terms of values, interests, priorities, goals; all we have is some shared history. I can’t have kids, and my sibling has 3, all born in the 12 years since I returned. I would love to have a close relationship with the kids, and they’re the reason I keep trying to connect with their parents. Alas, this remains a challenge that I’ve mostly failed.

    I now live in the same state as my sibling’s family, but they’re almost 2 hours away. When I first returned to the area, I used to visit my mom almost every month, and my dad maybe 2-3 times a year, often coordinating these visits to also spend time with my sibling. Now I visit each of them maybe 1-2 times per year at most. And they pretty much never visit me. My dad simply won’t leave his home town. He barely leaves his apartment. My mom has a hobby farm and a busy work schedule, so the only time she visits is to attend an annual convention related to her main hobby and crash at my place. We do dinner, and maybe she’ll stay an extra day to spend time with me.

    Since my cancer diagnosis, my travel has greatly declined. Just being in a vehicle for a couple hours is exhausting. So I simply am unable and unwilling to make the trip more than 1-2 times each year. And the holidays are so fraught. Family drama and politics and negotiation about who, when, where, what for the gathering. So I am less inclined to even spend the holidays with family. My mom has made the effort to bring Thanksgiving to me, more than once. She’s the only relative who will do that. My dad will simply try to guilt trip me on every single phone call. I felt mildly guilty at first, wishing that I could visit more often, because he is lonely. But now I just shrug it off. It just goes along with all the other negative shit from him about my weight, my appearance, or whatever. More often than not now, my partner and I stay home or maybe visit friends for the major holidays. Last year, we stayed home and invited a solo friend in another city to spend the weekend with us. This year, we’re going to the East Coast to spend the week with friends. Friends from the West Coast have offered to visit us for Thanksgiving, but we might visit my partner’s sibling. In our 6 years together, we’ve never made the effort to visit her and her husband, or they us. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

    My sibling has a busy life, and the spouse arranges the family calendar. I am not a priority, and never will be. I get that. It hurts, but I can’t change that. They will never make an effort to see me. They will never return my phone calls. They never call me back although they say they will every time. They invite me to join them when they visit the in-laws in my area, and then forget about it entirely, or call me the day of to give me the details, after I’ve already made other plans. In other words, they will never meet me halfway. If I want to have the relationship, I am always going to have to do the work to maintain it. Always. That really sucks.

    But that’s just the way it is, and I have to accept it and deal with it. Even though it makes me sad. I get that it’s not personal, that it’s not about rejecting me as such. They have full busy lives, and family (outside their nuclear family) just aren’t a high priority. My mom, though, she takes it personal. I explained that their failure to return calls was pretty universal, but she insists on making it personal and being super hurt and upset. Well, that’s on her, and at that point, she’s the problem, not them. Don’t do that.

    The kids are getting old enough that I am hoping to develop independent relationships with them where they can reach out to me. But I have really dropped the ball on that too. I have no sense of time and a lousy memory. So I am very bad at celebrating those critical anniversaries of childhood in a timely fashion: birthdays and Christmas. Birthdays in July, and I finally figured out what to buy them as presents this week. Might get delivered later this month. Hardly a pattern to make me a favored relative. And sending postcards, cards, packages, etc. didn’t occur to me until recently as a great tradition to establish with them. I’ve been trying to arrange videochats since before last Christmas, but that requires coordination between me and my sibling, since I use Skype and my sibling uses Live Messenger and X-box, and I am not savvy enough to make the connections between those systems. And even once we solve the technical problems, months from now, belike, then I need to get them to agree to some sort of videochat schedule. Sigh.

    So there’s another anecdote. You can’t make people prioritize you any more than you can control their feelings. All you can do is meet them halfway, or more, depending on how important it is to you, and accept the situation for what it is. It may change over time, but again, you can’t really control that. Make your interactions with your sibling pleasant and positive and something to look forward to or remember fondly so that they inspire future interactions. Take an interest in her life and see what she’s focused on, what her dreams and ambitions are, what her daily life in that other place is like, who her friends and coworkers are, what her needs are. Try to be realistic about your expectations and establish specific, achievable goals such as a rendezvous in the next 3 months or regular Skyping. This friendship with your sister can take as much care and feeding as any other friendship. Your genetic connection and shared history don’t guarantee permanency or success. It’s a grave miscalculation to think so.

  37. LW, I’m late to this party and people have said many and significant things. I’m going to tell you something I’ve learned over the years as my brothers and I have grown into our 30s — and that is, your sibling relationship will grow and mature, and you will, for the rest of your lives, be continually growing closer and growing distant as your priorities and needs shift. When I was a teenager and my brothers were in their 20s, during the years that my dad was ill, my brothers and I were extremely tight-knit, because we were coming together to deal with the possibility of losing him (happily, we didn’t). Then there were years where we were all a bit more distant, and less likely to talk to each other more than once a month, if that, because we were all so busy with our blooming lives — significant others, cross-country moves, etc. Now that they both have kids and I’m the spinster aunt, we’ve come together again because 1) I want my nieces and nephews to know me and 2) My brothers want the cousins to be friends. If you are lucky, the relationship with your siblings will never break, but will stretch and contract as needed, and you will have new things to offer each other because you have these separate lives.

    That doesn’t mean that you can’t suggest that you’d like to see your sister at an upcoming holiday. Did I, a few years ago, call my brother who lived closest to my folks and say, “Hey, Easter is always tough for mom because grandma died on easter, and this year Easter falls on Mom’s birthday, so do you want to help me distract her from this bummer trifecta?.” I did.

  38. Also, there are times when people who love you and have known you all your life get in the way of things you need to do. Sometimes the downside of sisters is that they knew all the Yous you used to be. Which is great! But it can make it really hard to change into the You you’re becoming with someone nearby exclaiming in shock each time you do something different from how you used to and telling you that this new behavior is not at all like you. I’m exaggerating some, but it’s true that sometimes you really need to be around new people to grow and change. And it says nothing about your love for the old people or your desire to be in their lives and have them in yours. College is really a time for all those changes to happen, so she may need time to settle into her new self and figure out who that is.

  39. I think it’s premature to think your sister is Sending a Message to you by doing this. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand how you would see it that way, but she probably isn’t intending that at all. I know someone who was *incredibly* hurt and angry that her sister chose to not have a wedding, but do basically an elopement. To her, the message was ‘I don’t want to have my sister there for the most important day of my life’. The sister was not saying that at all. Her ‘messages’ were more like ‘We have no money’ and ‘I hate weddings’. She also didn’t place the same importance on ‘wedding day’ so to her it wasn’t about cutting the family out of something crucial.

    Maybe it’s not so much that *you* are not a priority for her. Maybe in-person visits aren’t ‘top priority’ for saying ‘family, I care about you’. She could place that lower down on the totem pole (either always or just at this point in her life.) People having different definitions of ‘extremely important to the relationship’ can cause a ton of hurt.

    It’s not that you ‘shouldn’t feel hurt’..people feel what they will feel, and I’ve sure had my share of unhelpful feelings. But I think in this case it *would* be unhelpful (to you and the relationship with your sister) to express that hurt to your sister. Cry, vent to a friend, absolutely. But your sister hasn’t done anything ‘wrong’ and I think for you to become upset to her about this would imply you thought she had, and feel like a guilt trip to her (even if that’s not what you mean it to be.) .

    And as an offside note, if I valued two people or situations equally (family vs relationship) and one was offering to fly me there,, and I had money issues at the moment..yeah, I’m taking the free ticket!

  40. The Captain nailed it. As you guys move more deeply into adulthood, the fact that something like Thanksgiving is a BFD is something that really needs to be reconsidered, at least in the way you view it. Holidays are great, parents create rituals and traditions for their children. But as the children grow into adults with their own families, partners and friends, the pressure of the BFD holidays for the original nuclear family really needs to subside. Everyone’s time is their own, and needing to drift away from time to time is going to happen. Pressure only chases people away. I am the sister who left home, married and started a family and my entire nuclear family has resented me for it. It doesn’t always make it easy for me to want to deal with them or go home at all. You don’t choose your family, and unfortunately different members of the same family need different things from each other. Doesn’t make it easy, but you just muddle through the best you can.

  41. As an older sister, I think there is still a big difference in just those few years that separate you two. Mid-twenties is grown-up, living on your own and making commitments on a larger scale. Early twenties is sometimes not realizing that people want you to commit at all. It sounds like, to me, that although you two get along and are close, you view your relationship differently. You are ready to have an adult relationship with your sister where you are committed to seeing each other outside of other family visits and in a situation where Thanksgiving is an important gathering event.

    Your sister does not seem to be living the same way. Although this kind of behavior can be unfeeling, remember that to a large extent she has only recently been able to exercise her right to do whatever the hell she wants. And sometimes that means blowing people off.
    As the captain pointed out, you can only keep your relationship with her open and maybe one day she will see things the same way as you, most likely when she is really beginning her adult life.

    This actually reminded me a lot of a habit of my dad’s. He really likes to give me advice, and often he has good advice to give. But he tells me over and over what he thinks so that I can’t stand to hear it anymore. Because he doesn’t just want to give me helpful advice, he wants me to do exactly what he’s saying except that he can’t actually tell me outright anymore since I’m older. What you and he need to understand is that even though you might tell someone how you feel about a subject over and over, they may or may not do what you say because they are their own person and you can’t control them.

    I think this is a lesson that is a lot harder to learn with family members because of the inherent power differentials in those kinds of relationships. You may not feel this consciously, but as an older sister you do have a little more power in your relationship to your sister. I know I feel like this with my younger brother, that I can tell him to do things that he can’t tell me to do. But his responsiveness has (and should) diminished with age but it takes a little longer for my mind to catch up.

    Basically, if you love her, let her go. If she loves you, she’ll come back. Hackneyed words, but true. I hope this helps! I know you wrote in asking for advice in dealing with your feelings of rejection and this response doesn’t really address that. But sometimes understanding why we have these feelings helps us to feel them, then move on. No one can make your hurt feelings disappear, and no one should. Acknowledge, understand and accept the fact that you’re hurting but it really seems to me like you’re doing everything you should. You told your sister how you feel and you’ve kept your door open for her response.

    1. I really like your point about how “Early twenties is sometimes not realizing that people want you to commit at all.” I am in my late twenties and only recently started realizing that I don’t have to just go with the flow or rely on habit, I am an adult and can actively choose which family relationships to commit to and invest more in. (Some of us are slower than others.)

  42. LW, it sounds to me like you and your sister have a really great relationship – that you have multiple weekly phone chats suggests to me you guys are more than usually close. It’s totally natural to be sad, but try not to be anxious, about how your relationship is changing. Your relationship and the time you spend together will naturally ebb and flow now you are both adults, but she’s your sister and I’ll bet she loves you a lot. I don’t think you need to worry about losing her completely. Make the most of the times you do have together and be confident that you’ll always be in each other’s lives. And I hope you have a great thanksgiving. Jedi hugs 🙂

  43. Here is a thing that my whole extended family does: One year, someone from my dad’s family hosts Thanksgiving. Next year, someone from that family hosts Christmas. (It alternates.) Everyone is expected to come if they can take the time off work, and more wealthy family members are expected to chip in for expenses for those who can’t afford the trip. It seems to work pretty well for us. Neither my father’s family, nor the families of various in-laws, complains that “you never come here for [Christmas/Thanksgiving]”. Grandkids (like me, or my cousins) can spend one holiday with one set of grandparents and one holiday with the other. My father (and his siblings, and everyone’s spouses) can spend one holiday a year with their parents and the other with their spouse’s parents. And no one has to plan two big holiday events in two months.

    LW, if your concern is about holidays, you may want to mention this system to your sister.

  44. I haven’t read all the comments here yet, so I hope I’m not repeating anything. But I just wanted to say that not everyone prioritizes visits with their family of origin the same way–even people in the same family.

    I love my sister. We have a good relationship–have never had any unhappiness or drama. I’m the family member who moved away (from MA to AZ). I visit my parents once a year, for a week, and everyone is welcome to come see me. I usually do some driving around, as well, but I appreciate it when people come to me because I have a lot of people to see in that one week.

    My sister has been to visit me 3 times since I moved here in 1993. She is childless and financially very stable. She and her husband take vacations regularly, so it’s not like they can’t afford it. The two times they came here together they spent most of the trip doing other things (hiking the Grand Canyon once, going to Vegas the other time). They only spent part of the trip with me.

    I don’t feel upset or hurt by that. We talk on the phone pretty regularly, and email each other. It’s just not a huge priority for us these days to put the time and expense into seeing each other in person more often than we do. Also, for many people (although certainly not all), at a certain point in adulthood their chosen relationships (romantic partners, close friends, the children they have) do get prioritized higher than family of origin. I think that’s pretty common and not necessarily a statement about their love for their parents/siblings. Just a natural part of adulthood for some people. I love my parents and siblings dearly, visits with them are pleasant and drama-free, but I don’t spend my holidays with them. I spend them with my husband and son, in our home.

    Not everyone wants to be like that, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do things differently. But it’s okay if your sister is *not* like that, too. And with such great communications options nowadays (chat, email, texting, skype, etc.), there are lots of ways you can still maintain regular and close contact.

  45. For what it’s worth, my mum has 2 sisters and is the oldest. With middle sister, they talk on the phone once every month or 2, and meet up at some mid-way point 2 or 3 times a year, and they’re happy with that.
    With Baby Sister, they talk on the phone at least once a week, see each other once a fortnight, sometimes more, and their faces light up when they see each other. They are incredibly close and have a strong physical resemblance. So much so that people often think they’re twins, which I think they enjoy.
    I do feel sorry for Middle Sister who gets left out a bit (partly because middle sis’s husband is rather odd and hard to get on with), but that’s just how it rolls in sibling relationships. Some are easy and awesome, some aren’t.

    LW: Your sister is in the early 20’s “FREEDOM!” phase of life. Leave her be for a while. If you stay the cool big sis who doesn’t hassle her, she’ll come back eventually. If you dig, dig, dig at her, you’ll just piss her off and that’ll make it harder to have a decent relationship in the future.

  46. Hi, I’m the big sister (and little sister, middles for the win!) that moved away. And then moved back, and then moved away, back, and then FAR away and will probably stay there. I think. I’m gonna leave the holidays out of it because other people have covered that way better, especially people talking about your sis and her SO and the reasons for the trip out to the left coast.

    I can kind of see where you might be coming from with wanting your sister to visit you in your city though. You say you visit home, which people are right, isn’t the same as visiting sis, but you also say that sis doesn’t live that far from home. I can tell you more or less how a visit to your sis will go/has gone. I bet you don’t get home much and that you have people there still that miss you like friends, extended family, etc. I also bet that when they here you’re going to be not that far from home the requests to visit them too start coming in. It’s really really hard to *just* visit her, right? And you live in cool city which you *know* she likes, I mean, she told you she does! If she came to you, you guys could hang out just the two of you, have special sister time, take her to that super cool vodka bar you know of and all the cool stuff like that without having to worry about Aunt June and Uncle Freddy (or worse, Mom and Dad) being insulted you didn’t swing by them.

    I guess what I’m saying is that you visiting her isn’t always the magic bullet and you’re not wrong for feeling hurt when she makes plans to visit you and then cancels, even if she has really good reasons. I don’t know how long you’ve been out on the east coast, but the longer it goes with no visits the harder it gets sometimes. I’ve been out of the country for 6 years more or less and only one family member has visited me, once, for a week and a half 3 months after I got here. And the reasons they haven’t visited are REALLY REALLY good ones; some of them are actually my fault because of my job. If I listed them all out you’d be like ‘oh, of course, yes. those are *really* good reasons.’

    I got hurt at first, and a bit frustrated, especially since my husband and I have made a yearly trip back to them a priority in our finances. Thing is, I bet they’re hurt that I moved so far away, even if it was for a really good reason. They’ve been very kind about it so far though, and eventually I let it go as much as possible too. At this point when someone says they’re going to visit me, I let them know they’re welcome and to let me know when they’re ready to book a flight so we can time things out. Really, that’s the best you can do. Regular Skype/gchat/hangouts/phone calls/email/texts/letters/cards are going to be both of your best friends for a while until you guys move closer or both get more disposable income in your lives.

  47. I also work and live in a big city other than my elder sister and my family. We meet about 5 times every year. My sister came to visit me once, but didn’t came to my house. She just asked me out for a while.

  48. Sounds so much like me and my sister! We live way closer than you two do because we’re in the UK and live all of about 140 miles away from each other, but we still only see each other every couple of months. Luckily her OH has family up near me, so she comes up quite regularly but I didn’t go home for Christmas last year because I went to my OH’s and did Christmas there.

    I never used to get along with my sister at all, sometimes even now it’s not that easy because we’re so different but I know there’s going to be next year to spend big holidays together. This year we’re working to see if we can overlap our time at home so we can have Christmas on a day that isn’t actually the 25th but we’ll be around together so it’ll feel like it! Maybe you could have another Thanksgiving as a silly sister time when you can see each other?

  49. I hear you LW, my sister and I have both been on either side of this equation at various points in our adult relationship. Neither side is much fun!

    Can I make a suggestion on the ‘find another time to visit her’ theme? Marking the holiday seems like quite an important thing for you so I was wondering if instead of just a generic visit, would suggesting a ‘fake thanksgiving’ at a different time work? If your sister and family are up for it, then just book your flights out to the Midwest for a different date when she will be around too and have your Thanksgiving then.

    My family were quite put out when I started wanting to alternate Christmas holidays, but this has been a good solution and we’ve had some really great fake Christmases in early December. This year my sister couldn’t afford flights home during xmas, so we’re having our get together in early Jan. Last year my SO’s military sibling was being posted abroad so we did Christmas with their family in November. My mum and her brother used to have big extended-family Christmases together, but after moving to different cities and with jobs where time off over xmas was hard to get, they created a new family ritual and now every year they drive to a half way point to have lunch together and exchange gifts a couple of weeks before hand.

    Family rituals can be changed if they are no longer working for you, and you get a choice in implementing new ones.

  50. I’m really enjoying all the comments here, especially from “those who left” and “those who stayed”.

    I’m one of those who left. I grew up in the middle of Alaska in a small town in the middle of nowhere. I hated it, and I knew I was gay, so I needed an escape. So I went to college in New Mexico (in an even smaller town, but at least Albuquerque was only an hour drive away). I got to learn a lot about myself, but I pretty much gave up on Thanksgivings at home. Flying for 10+ hours to spend a weekend in Alaska and then another 10+ hours back seemed ridiculous, so I learned to do Thanksgiving on my own/with friends. I went back for Christmases and during the first few summers, but after I got a job in Albuquerque, I couldn’t go back for prolonged trips like in college, and I couldn’t leave EVERY Christmas, so I had to learn to spend a few Christmases away from home with some close friends. Which kind of sucked, but I was happy to have found good friends to take me in.

    After awhile and coming out to my family (who was very supportive), I decided that I didn’t like being so far away from them, so I decided to make life choices to put me somewhat closer. So I applied for grad school (because also my job sucked, and I knew I needed to improve that). I moved to Santa Cruz, California. This was great because my parents had relatives in the area, and they went to San Francisco on business at least once a year so I got to see them relatively more often.

    During all this, my older sister stayed in Alaska. She went to college there, she met her husband there. She went to another town in Alaska for work for a year or two, but eventually got transferred back to our hometown. She’s still there. She has two kids now, and she sees my parents all the time. They do things together, and honestly, I did get a bit jealous sometimes. I mean They got to see each other a lot, and I was living somewhere else. Of course it was my choice, and my family never put any guilt on me, and I also knew I wasn’t ever moving back to Alaska.

    In California, I had two long-term relationships. The first ended, and while it sucked, I should have seen it coming. I went to Alaska for Christmas, and he visited his family. Our priorities in those cases were our own families, and we never discussed spending them together with either families. I met the second guy in August. Very soon after we started dating, he asked me what I was doing for Christmas. I told him I was going to Alaska, and he immediately said he wanted to come. It was kind of a shock to be honest. Given my last SO and I always spent our holidays apart, I wasn’t expecting a Christmas with the new guy. I said yes, so he went to Alaska with me for Christmas. And the year after that.

    Now my awesome partner is British, and now we’ve moved to the UK. So seeing my family is not easy now. Scheduling phone calls/Skype sessions. Trips are a lot harder. Two years ago we moved to the UK, and going back for Christmas was just going to be impossible. So we spent Christmas with my partner’s family. Which was alright, but not as nice as with mine (as my partner elegantly told me when he said, “We’re never spending Christmas with my family again”). He has two siblings, and they both chose to spend the day with their partners or their partners’ families. Last year it was Christmas in Alaska again, and while it’s a pain to get there, we manage (luckily my parents have so many frequent flyer miles they subsidize our trip with free tickets from somewhere in the US). This year we’re planning on it, but it depends on whether or not the UK government sends our passports back to us by Christmas…

    Anyway, I guess my point is while I know my parents and sister miss me and want to spend time with me, they’ve been nothing but extremely supportive of my decisions in life. And that has kept us close. My partner’s mother is very critical of all of her children, and they seem to put in the requisite visit every few months, but they also don’t seem to go out of their way to put an effort into spending time with them. So my suggestion is to be supportive of her sister and her choices. While they may not necessarily be ideal to you, showing that you love and support her is likely to bring you closer together than trying to force her to visit or guilt her into visiting. She’s likely to resent you over that sort of thing. I know I would.

    I asked my partner what we would do if we had to cancel our plans for Christmas this year, and he said we’d just have it at home together. Which I think is a great solution. Even though is family is about an hour drive away, I think we’d enjoy ourselves at home more than we would there. And a lot of that stems from my partner’s resentment of they way his mother treated them. He finally had to tell her that she needed to stop being so critical, or we would not spend time with them anymore. It’s seemed to worked for now, but I can’t imagine that you’d want to be the family member that your sister resents, I think you want to be that family member that you sister knows loves and cares about her and wants the best for her.

  51. This year, for the first time ever, I am intending to spent Christmas with my partner and his parents. My Mother predictably through a giant hissy fit about this; I find this attitude selfish in the extreme but also completely baffling – when I was a wee bairn we never went to my grandparents’ houses for Christmas, sometimes we had one or the other set come to us but we never went out to theirs; surely then she must understand that grown up children have their own families! But no, apparently my family doesn’t “count”.

  52. Oh LW… this is the letter that brings me out of lurkerdom. The commenters were quick to call you on your shortcomings here, and perhaps correctly so (it should never be all on one party to make the compromises or do the traveling), but I see a lot of myself in your letter; if this leads me to make incorrect assumptions, I apologize in advance!

    Because you see, I’m the older sibling who wants to be closer (not best friends close! not tell you all my secrets close! just, let’s go to a movie once and awhile close!) to a sibling who really isn’t interested in that. And I know likely won’t be in the near future. There are complicated family dynamics at play. I’ve been an ass. She’s been an ass. But whenever I have broken it down to the bare bones, “I want to spend a little more time with you,” she says (sometimes nicely, sometimes not) that she is not interested. She doesn’t want to come to my apartment and watch a movie. She doesn’t want to go out for dinner. The idea of taking a trip or anything together… not going to happen. And she’s on the verge of getting married, so I know that in the near future, I am only becoming less important here.

    The thing is… and the thing I read in between the lines of your letter… what really bothers me (and what it seems like really bothers you, especially give the advice you asked for was not only how to possibly change this situation, but how to cope with it) isn’t so much the lack of specific actions (watching a movie; coming home for the holiday), but what it represents to me: feeling like I love someone more than they love me. Wanting to spend time with someone because you love them and finding out that they don’t have that same level of interest in your relationship hurts; it doesn’t matter if it is a partner, a friend, or a sibling. But I think with family we kind of take it for granted that the people we love… they have to love us just as much as we love them. Not to mention, if we have a friend who never contacts us and doesn’t really want to hang out, or a partner who constantly prioritizes something else over us, it is a little easier to dump them. Unless you are willing to cause a drama or walk away from your family completely (which is it’s own drama), you will constantly have to be faced with the situation that hurts you.

    When I read your letter, what I hear (and I could be HUGELY WRONG here, and if so, this may not apply), is that you are hurt and that you feel you aren’t loved, at least not as much or in the way that you would like to be. As so many other of the commenters have said, there is no way to make someone give you the things you (think) you need from them, and even if there were a way… it would be wrong. People are supposed to give love and time because they want to, not because they have been manipulated into it. Even if you put all the guilt trips on your sister, and they worked, I don’t think you would be really happy with the result. I think you would end up spending the whole time you are together thinking about how much she doesn’t want to be there and looking for signs to prove yourself right. The end result would be that your relationship wouldn’t be any better and you would still feel like crap.

    And you shouldn’t have to feel like crap. What worked for me (and again, your mileage my vary here) was to lower my expectations. I occupied myself with other relationships and things in my life. I found small ways I could interact with her that kept us in touch (even though we live in the same town and definitely set eyes on each other more than you and your sister, our interactions are usually not significant); I text her about things we are both interested in: TV shows we both watch; dogs; and politics. When we are both in the same place with free time (like at our parents house), I might suggest we do something like walk the dogs together and sometimes it works. Things are not perfect between us, they aren’t even where I would like them to be really, but time has made me able to accept the way things are and appreciate what we do have. Maybe someday instead of texting me about who got kicked off on The Voice, she’ll text me and see if I want to get lunch or she at least won’t change the subject if I bring it up. But I also know that if she doesn’t, it’s okay, because I can make other plans. I also have started looking (yay therapy!) into my own feelings about relationships I have with people so that I can cope better with disappointments and be better at building solid relationships with people who want to build them with me.

    If I was in your shoes, I would not make a big fuss about the holiday. I would not tell her that I was hurt. I would allow myself to feel that hurt for a little while, but then I would turn my attention to something else awesome. I would text her or call her (if you feel like you could make that call without seeming upset) on Thanksgiving to wish her a happy holiday. I would test out the water in small ways. Give her a call just to chat (or see if she wants to set up a phone call or a Skype session). Send her occasional text messages just to say hi or tell her something funny. Tell her that you are thinking of planning a visit home during X time and see if she’d be interested in doing Y thing while you are there. If she is always welcome at your place, let her know that too, offer her invitations, but if she plans to go somewhere else instead, don’t pressure her; if the rejection of invitations is too upsetting, offer less of them for a bit. As you do these things you will be able to see how she responds. If she is receptive to something you do, you will know that this is a helpful part of your relationship. If she shies away from certain things or outright rejects them, then you know these are things that will not be part of your current relationship. Vent to an understanding friend or a journal or a therapist if this bothers you. Mourn for a moment that it won’t work out. And then make a plan for something that will.

    Good luck and I hope you enjoy your holidays 🙂

    1. I found this reply so interesting because in my family I am the younger sister who doesn’t want a relationship with her elder sister. Wow. It’s hard to say that. I think there is a myth out there of ‘family unity’ which says ‘it is always good for families to be close’. But I don’t think that’s true.
      My sister is a good person but we are not good people together. She is very extrovert, very money orientated, believes that I could overcome my medical condition if I stopped talking about it and tried harder, and holds very conservative politic views. She is also huge fun, hilarious, generous with time and money and a very vulnerable person under her super-competent shell.
      So she is both fabulous and incredibly flawed – like me and like everyone else in the world. But the problem is that our flaws – my occasionally-smug liberal views, my nerdy/geeky intellectually snobbish tendancies, obsession with Henry Thoreau etc (wow, Doesn’t I sound like a winner) + all that knowledge of each other mean that it is really easy for us to hurt each other.
      And family dynamics don’t help. There is a hige tendancy for older siblings to Know Best. And Know Best very loudly at times. So when I see her I am waiting for the kick – telling me how to fix my job, that my friends are rubbish and are ruining my life, that I should dye my hair (serious, she offers to pay for highlights all the time- which is very generous) etc etc etc. And I know that I am just as bad for her – when in doubt I generally Become Perfect – which means I am the most smiling, cooking, cleaning, passive aggressive bitch in town.
      Until recently I worked really hard to ignore how seeing her made me feel because Family Unity is Good. But then I started therapy, and started to believe that maybe it was ok for me not to do things which filled me with immense dread and caused tears, and started cutting back. And it is great and totally the right thing to do.
      And yes I think I have hurt her by pulling away but I still think it is the right thing to do.
      Now that sounds like it has precisely nothing to do with either the LW or Jae but I did think that it was worth having an acknowledgment somewhere on this thread that being close to your family isn’t always the best thing for you. And that sometimes people love their family much better from a distance.

    2. but what it represents to me: feeling like I love someone more than they love me. Wanting to spend time with someone because you love them and finding out that they don’t have that same level of interest in your relationship hurts; it doesn’t matter if it is a partner, a friend, or a sibling. But I think with family we kind of take it for granted that the people we love… they have to love us just as much as we love them. Not to mention, if we have a friend who never contacts us and doesn’t really want to hang out, or a partner who constantly prioritizes something else over us, it is a little easier to dump them. Unless you are willing to cause a drama or walk away from your family completely (which is it’s own drama), you will constantly have to be faced with the situation that hurts you.

      This comment really resonated with me, as did your point about testing the water and about redirecting your energies to things that do work for you.

  53. Because I don’t think it’s been mentioned much yet:

    We bickered quite a bit growing up and are fairly different people to this day, but as we’ve gotten older (and started living in separate homes) we’ve managed to get along better and like each other more. We talk on the phone fairly regularly (once or twice a week) and when we are in the same place we’ll do coffee, shopping, drinks, etc.

    Okay, so LW is aware that the improved relationship is partly the result of having separate homes and spaces.

    Could this possibly be one reason why the younger sister isn’t wildly enthusiastic about going to stay with her?

    However awesome the major city is, making a long journey away from your own “home territory” to somewhere unfamiliar and staying in someone else’s space can be stressful all by itself; some people really really dislike it.

    And it could be an extra deterrent if you remember years of conflict and argument when you were living together before.

    Honestly, I say this speaking as an elder sister, and one who fought a lot with my two younger sisters (one of them in particular) when we were growing up. Like the LW and her sister, we’re just very very different people, and sometimes it’s been hard for us to understand each other.

    As adults, with space from each other and room to get on with our own lives, we’ve built a really good relationship.

    But honestly, I would be very un-keen to go and stay with her (and I suspect she’d feel the same way about the reverse). Not because we don’t love each other, but because our relationship is best when we’ve got room to breathe.

    1. Your comment just gave me an epiphany, only tangentially related to this post, about the reasons why it’s bad for my partner to travel with my family.

      (Because my parents control the space, although they don’t admit they control it and they firmly believe that everyone traveling with them has an equal vote in what to do or where to go at any given time. Which is almost true. Except that when they want to go somewhere, they might agree with our suggestion of where to go, but we definitely have to go somewhere, right that minute, even if we might want to stay back at the hotel and relax instead.)

      It’s the same thing about leaving home territory and traveling into someone else’s space. If there’s ever a time that my partner and I can travel with my family but we can have separate spaces, over which individual subgroups can have separate control, it might work. I can handle traveling with my family alone, because I’m used to surrendering control and dealing with the unspoken rules, but she can’t.

      Huh. I knew that was a problem but I hadn’t articulated why. Thanks, Rydra Wong.

    2. I thought this, too. My brother and I are no longer downright antagonistic. We email every few months and talk more frequently on tumblr. But it took us living on separate continents (and, frankly, him finishing college and living by himself with our mom, which is not fun but has given him a lot of insight into why I am the way I am, as the focus of her ire throughout our childhood) to get there. I do not anticipate a time when we could comfortably visit each other. I’m okay with that and think he is, too.

      Sometimes distance is what siblings NEED to be able to get along.

  54. As someone who actually had to stop talking to my family because the only thing they’d talk about is how I don’t visit, I really endorse this advice. Every time I talk to them, I feel guilty that I don’t prioritize my money to be spending time with them, or that I don’t do enough to keep in contact, or that I should call more often.

    They’ve never visited me, they never keep in contact, and they have never called me.

    It makes me sick to think about it, because I have so much guilt and shame about it, and I’ve now firmly connected those feelings with talking to my family. It’s not a joy or a treat or even a mundane experience. It’s a grueling thing that leaves me feeling drained and sad for days afterwards.

  55. Agree x1000 with everything the Captain said here. It sucks not to see people you love as often as you’d like to. It sucks to choose between origin family and SO for a holiday. It sucks to feel like the only reason you’re seeing a loved one is that you or they were pressured into it. The good news is you do have the power to make some of those things easier for yourself and your sister by stepping back. As the Captain often says, your sister likely isn’t spending time with her partner AT you. On the holiday, try to focus on enjoying time with the family that is present, and maybe give your sister a call to tell her that you love her and you’re thinking fondly of her.

    I’ve been on your sister’s side of this dilemma and being caught between my mom and my girlfriend re: holiday expectations SUCKED. For everyone. You didn’t mention a partner of your own, LW, and it can also be weird when one sibling has a partner they want to spend extra time with and the other doesn’t (and perhaps gets different treatment from parents because of it?). The “but I’m the Good Sibling” hat sucks too, and you don’t have to wear it if you’ll be happier without it.

  56. Hi LW,

    I could have written this letter five years ago. At that time, I was 25 and my sister 21. We had always been close, but I had moved to Other Country and I felt we didn’t spend as much time together as I wanted to. There was a lot of crying and guilt involved — I would travel back to Home Country to spend time with the family and she would already have plans with Boyfriend that took her out of town and then we would argue about that and ruin what little time we actually did have together. It was a mess.

    But you know what, things don’t necessarily stay the same forever. Five years ago, there was an imbalance in our relationship. For me, the novelty of living abroad had started wearing off and I missed having a Proper Family. Meanwhile, my sister was still in the phase of making herself independent from the family and learning how to be her adult self. No wonder that we wanted very different things from our relationship.

    So, what happened in the past few years? Eventually I learned to back off a little bit, although this was really, really hard to do. My sister got older and started needing her family again. I get in touch with her more often than the other way around, but we’re both fine with this. When financial problems have stopped her from visiting me, I’ve said “Look, if you want I can buy you a regular birthday present this year, or I can get you cheap airline tickets to come and visit instead”. When we meet, we try to have one afternoon with just Sister Activities, where boyfriends or other family members are not around. All in all, we have a very good and laid-back relationship where we meet a few times a year without it being a strain on either of us.

    Ok, so I guess what I want to say is: This is not the final score of your sisterhood. Things evolve. Maybe try to maintain some minimum level of contact, but try to relax about visits for the next couple of years? That doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your sister forever.

  57. I have to brag a little on my family, because we used to be VERY dysfunctional and have gotten our acts together. I moved 3,000 miles away, so I’m the one “who comes home.” The first year I missed, my mom was CONVINCED I was planning to surprise her on Christmas Eve, and cried her way through Mass when it didn’t happen.

    Since then, 3 other siblings have been out of town for Christmas without ruining it for everyone.

    When my younger sister decided to host her own family Christmas at her house (1.5 hours away from Mom) instead of coming “home” for Christmas Eve/opening presents in the morning, the sky was going to fall. After two years, Mom admits it’s very nice. We get to see the kids, brother-in-law’s family can come, too, sister even makes a big dinner that blends our traditional ham with his turkey-and-stuffing!

    It DOES take a while to get everyone on board with the changes, but it’s not impossible. Like most things, pick your battles, get your allies in place before you announce controversial decisions, and hope for the best.

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