Dear Captain Awkward:
Please help captain! (I really struggled getting my letter to around 400words – there is a lot more detail if you need it )
My brother-in-law ‘Hector’ is 36 and ‘Agnes’ is his first ‘girlfriend’. I’d known Agnes for a few years before setting her up with Hector– she’s now 40 and her only previous relationship was when she was a teenager.
Over the years I’ve known her she had displayed a lot of questionable behaviour e.g. stalking guys she was interested in, obsessively stalking old friends on social media and do things like go through people’s drawers and medicine cabinets and take photos which she’d share with her mother. I’d overlooked these things as she was fun company (apart from the strangeness) and I don’t have that many friends.
So basically I set my dysfunctional brother in law up with my dysfunctional friend and now I’m suffering consequences, and now it’s affecting Christmas.
My husband and I alternated Christmas – one year at my parents and the next at his. Agnes now refuses to spend Christmas day at his parents’ as she ‘has a niece’ (her ‘weapon’) and so spends every Christmas day with her family. She hates my in-laws – she refuses to let them into her house whilst she is there, and sulks whenever she is in a room with them.
So, 2 years ago my husband and I decided to host Christmas, either on Christmas Eve, or Boxing Day (thereby letting her spend Christmas day with her family). This worked well. However, this must have been going too well (as Agnes lives off drama) and so when I asked about Christmas (at this point we were relatively close and messaged each other every day) she told me that it was all arranged and that she and Hector were spending Christmas Eve with her family and that they had made arrangements to go to the in-laws on 23rd December.
I replied saying that I was upset that my husband and I were not asked. Since then I have not heard from her (this was back in August).
My husband and I have since decided to go ahead as we would have done, and are hosting on Christmas Eve –we invited Hector and Agnes, and the invitation was declined. However, I’m still upset and brooding about this. If she’d have just said ‘oh my sister has invited us to a meal on Christmas Eve’ I’d have given options and worked around her on the dates – but the fact that they’d just arranged it all without us… just hurts.
I was hoping for a script or some advice on how to handle this difficult relationship going forward?
Thanks for your letter. I don’t actually need any more details about Hector and Agnes and their relationship because here is what is happening:
A) You’ve invited them to do Christmas with you this year and they’ve said no.
B) They have not been cool about inviting you to their celebrations or working with you on alternative plans.
Ergo, you probably won’t see them or have to deal with them this Christmas, and you also have permission to “Invite once, listen to the answer, and then do your own thing that works for you” for all future holidays while they are a couple. You tried, you made a ton of effort to include them, and it failed. So, stop trying.
Agnes & Hector’s relationship is not your fault or your problem, and you are 100% not the ambassador between them and your in-laws. You are also not responsible for enforcing some kind of “But we’re all together at Christmas” family rules this year or any other. It’s actually okay for adults to change up how holidays are celebrated or to bow out of events. They did it rudely and without good communication, but they did it, and it’s done. Your in-laws are perfectly capable of saying “No, the 23 doesn’t work for us” or “We want to celebrate all together on Christmas Eve like we normally do.” They did not, but that doesn’t make it your job to fix. Learn the words “We invited them but they won’t make it” and “Huh, you’ll have to ask Hector about that” and “You’ll have to ask [Spouse] about that” or “You’ll have to ask Agnes about that” and say them as freely and as often as you say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. See also: “Whatever you want, Agnes” or “I don’t really care about scheduling around Agnes anymore, what do you suggest, Spouse?”
Now, Agnes is not behaving like your friend right now. It sounds like you are making a lot of effort to include her and schedule around her and getting none in return. You could spend a lot of time chasing her and trying to get her to behave, but you have a lifetime of evidence of how she behaves in conflict situations (not great!). You’ve already told her how you feel and what you wish would happen, and she didn’t respond well (or at all?) to any of it. So, maybe when all the holiday hubbub dies down in January it’s time for you to spend some time looking for new people to hang out with. People who don’t stalk their crushes, people who understand the RSVP. I think it’s time you mentally reclassify her from “my friend” to “Hector’s girlfriend, a person it’s fun to trade the odd meme or message with” and rock on with a holiday that works for you.
Sometimes annoying and inconsiderate people accidentally give you the gift of permission to stop considering their convenience and planning around them. Happy Christmas!
157 thoughts on “#1040: “I matched my dysfunctional brother-in-law up with a dysfunctional friend and now they are ruining my holiday plans.””
LW, when you get all upset you are giving her what she wants. If as you say she “feeds on drama,” then remove your part of the equation where you feed into it, and make it very boring for her when possible drama things come up. “Oh, you already have your holiday plans set. Cool, have fun, catch you another time.” This stuff only has the power to bother you if you buy into it.
This behavior is designed to make you feel bad and stir up drama. LW, you even note it in your letter when you wrote: This must have been going too well.. People who feed off drama change things up when the drama dries up until they get what they want.
Fortunately, you aren’t obligated to provide Agnes with her perceived RDA of drama! She won’t die if she doesn’t get it, after all (since the actual RDA of Drama is 0, unless you’re an actor/work in theatre).
You’re free to make plans that don’t include her, and when she tries to turn that into drama, you are free to say, “Yes, it is a shame our plans didn’t mesh.” (with as little emotion as possible if you can manage that). And then ask about Them Bears or other topic you enjoy sharing with her. Or the weather. Or anything else that takes your fancy that isn’t family and isn’t plans.
I don’t think it’s just Agnes who is stirring up drama…
Yup. What we have here is a complete non-drama issue provided LW refuses to participate. Agnes can’t come to the in-laws’ Christmas dinner – ok? Not LW’s problem, and probably going to result in less drama at dinner. Agnes can’t come to LW’s Christmas event – see earlier statement. As my mama used to say, it takes two to tango. This “she causes such drama – and why doesn’t she show up more often at my parties” situation reminds me of the old joke “the food’s terrible – and such small portions!”
Yep. The Christmas plans don’t mesh: it happens, especially when adult siblings pair up and have their own family obligations. If LW is used to being the only one with in-laws to consider, this can be a difficult transition, but it doesn’t have to be dramatic. It sounds like Agnes is a drama llama in other aspects of her life, but in this case? Sometimes it just happens this way.
‘This behavior is designed to make you feel bad and stir up drama.’
Based on the information we’ve got, that’s a heck of an assumption. I mean, ‘this behaviour’, in this case, is Agnes making holiday plans with her family well in advance and telling the LW about this when the LW asks. That’s… pretty normal behaviour, surely? I seriously doubt that Agnes’s goal in making her holiday plans is ‘must make my friend feel bad’.
I also notice it’s the *LW* who then responds to this with a message about how she was upset that Agnes didn’t ask her before making plans (at least, I think that’s what that sentence meant). That honestly struck me as the closest thing to ‘make you feel bad and stir up drama’ in the whole tale… and it’s coming from LW, not Agnes.
Now, clearly Agnes’s *past* behaviour as described by the LW is not good at all, and also clearly there’s a whole lot of backstory that we don’t know. However, the Tale Of Christmas Arrangements as given here doesn’t show drama-stirring behaviour on Agnes’s part at all, that I can see. If anything, she seems to have been trying to stay out of the way and *avoid* drama. (LW sends her a text saying she’s upset about what Agnes did when in fact Agnes doesn’t seem to have done anything wrong; Agnes, instead of replying to this, ignores it and ghosts on LW. That sounds more like the behaviour of someone who’s trying to back out of a potentially drama-inducing situation than that of someone who’s trying to create more drama.)
Since there *is* obviously backstory here, I do wonder to what extent this is a ‘bitch eating crackers’ kind of thing. Maybe LW has had so many legit problems with Agnes in the past that one small innocuous thing became the final straw. We don’t know. Either way, I think painting *this* incident as Agnes Causing Drama (Again) is unfair and unhelpful.
I was kind of wondering that myself.
Especially since this seems to be framed as not that new–she spends every Christmas Day with her family (and apparently her niece is her “weapon” because you…need an excuse to spend Christmas with your family).
Like… I guess I’m just a little baffled here, but what it looks like is that LW is expecting Agnes to spend Christmas with LW’s in-laws.
And…I don’t get why? Like, I’m all for big extended family gatherings, I’m Sicilian and Cajun, that’s what we do. But if I were dating someone, I don’t think I’d be up for spending Christmas with his sister’s husband’s family. I’m not even sure why I’d need to *know* his sister’s husband’s family. I sure wouldn’t spend Christmas with them over my own family.
LW says that Agnes hates LW’s in-laws. …ok? So why should she have to spend Christmas with people she hates. Shoot, why should she even be expected to let them in her house at all?
But the overall advice of “well, she says she’s not coming, so focus on having the best Christmas you can with the people who will be there” sounds pretty on the mark to me.
“his sister’s husband’s family” I don’t think that’s the relationship here? Hector is LW’s brother in LAW, not her brother–and I suspect by the way things are worded, Hector is LW’s husband’s brother. Ergo, LW’s husband’s family is also Hector’s family.
So basically, Agnes does not want to spend Christmas with her boyfriend’s family. Still not CRAZY unreasonable (unless she also wants Hector not to be able to see them for Christmas), but a very different situation from the one you’re describing.
Ah, yeah, I see, I mis-read it with the OP referring to them as “*my* in-laws.” My bad.
I mean…now I’m still pretty confused, for reasons other folks have pointed out more downthread. But at least it’s not quite as tangled as I thought it was.
Still. My shoulders are up around my ears over describing Agnes’ niece as “a weapon” (presumably because she’s the reason Agnes gives for wanting to spend Christmas with her own family?)
I didn’t care for the niece as a weapon comment either. I have a 5 year old nephew, and as a result holidays have become more important to me and probably will for the next 8 years or so. If I was in a significant relationship I would be plannin for Christmas to be spent with my family. Unless my theoretical partner also had children in his family I would make mine a priority. And if he did then we would probably be spending Christmas apart. I don’t think it is that the niece is being used as a weapon so much as people put more emphasis on kids and that is okay.
As I said below — I was taking LW’s story at face value. Do I see problematic things here on both sides? Yes, but Agnes didn’t write to ask the Captain for feedback about her SIL who needs everything to go her way.
Yes, I’ve been wondering exactly that–whether Agnes has just reached “bitch eating crackers” level with LW due to other behaviors, and the frustration has just accumulated to the point where this small thing (which, to be clear, I don’t see as an offense–grownups get to decide how to celebrate their holidays) has taken on the weight of a thousand other things and become the stand-in for everything Agnes has ever done wrong. It would explain a lot about why LW is having such a strong reaction to this disappointment. I agree, though, that it’s not at all helpful to conflate past wrongs with this one instance of Agnes not doing the thing LW would have liked for her to do. If LW needs to draw new boundaries with Agnes and/or Hector because they behave in ways that are hurtful to the LW, that’s a whole separate issue.
(Addendum to my previous post which will make no sense if it doesn’t show up: The “Drama” line re: actors/theatre is a joke, and I am taking the LW at face-value.)
Sorry it worked out that way, LW. The Captain is right on the money, same as usual. We’ll never know why some people thrive on drama, but it’s not our job to keep them fed.
I… kind of fail to see why this is an issue, LW. Agnes made plans with her own family. People are allowed to do that without your permission. It sounds a bit like you’re creating drama where there isn’t any.
Same. I was like “I, too, have an Agnes in my life. I wish she would opt herself out of my holiday party!”
I don’t even see that Agnes acted all that rudely. She and her partner made holiday arrangements that worked for them, and that presumably work for the people they are visiting (if they do not work for either set of parents, that’s on *those* people to speak up about it, not the LW, so it’s still not the LW/Spouse’s problem to handle), and she promptly declined an invitation that she knew she wasn’t going to be able to attend.
The LW/Spouse are not in charge of managing Agnes and Hector’s holiday plans, or Agnes’s relationship with the in-laws. They got a prompt response to their invitation, so now they should feel free to go forward with their plans without any concern about Agnes and Hector.
And conversely, Agnes is not in charge of managing LW’s/Spouse’s holiday plans, so…
She learned about the plan for the in-laws in the middle of the year. Instead of texting Agnes and saying I am hurt you didn’t include me why didn’t she just text her and say “cool, do you think it would work for you guys if Husband and I also come at that time so we can all see each other?” Also this entire situation involves her in-law parents and the brother. Why didn’t she text either of those 3 other people and say “I am hurt you didn’t reach out to include us?” For some reason she is putting a lot of the onus on Agnes when in reality, as the actual related family members, the other 3 should have thought to include her Husband, and by extension her.
Not sure if my comment got eaten…
The letter writer found out about the plan to see the in-laws in the middle of the year. Instead of texting saying she was upset why didn’t she text and say “Cool, do you think it would work if Husband and I come so we can all be together?” Also, there are three other people involved in this plan, the letter writer’s brother-in-law and her two parent-in-laws. How come none of them got a text saying she was upset about not being invited? She is putting a lot of the onus on Agnes being responsible for including when in reality the other three people should have been the one to invite since they are actually related to her husband.
She’s hurt because she’s friends with Agnes. She wants things to be better than they are with her. Of course she can’t force it, and it strictly isn’t on her (or even in her ability) to fix, but it still hurts. Let’s be kind to LW. I’ve been there 😦
This, honestly. I was confused about the actual issue. Some people prefer to spend certain holidays with their own family. An ex of mine always did Christmas with mine and Thanksgiving with his, because those were the two major holidays in each family. I’m married now (and living on a different continent from my family), so I can’t do this, but if I were able, I would always prefer to spend Christmas with my family. As it is, there will be some years where we’re with mine and some where with his. People don’t always spend every holiday hopping from family to family to make sure everyone gets some of their time—many people find that impossibly draining.
I just don’t really see the problem. People are not obligated to spend every Christmas with you.
I was always very grateful *not* to have to spend Christmas with my family; the whole thing about never having access to the TV remote control and having to abide by their curfew (lights and TV off, no noise after 9 p.m.) even when I was in my 30s just began to feel like a straitjacket … as well as the bit about my dad always eating too much and spending the next 48 hours writing in pain because he refused to see a doctor. If the Christmas (or other celebration) family get-together becomes more of an obligation than a pleasure, it’s time to do something else; we rebelled by taking a Christmas holiday one year, and have never looked back. (I also have a friend who just used to say ‘I’ve made other arrangements’ and take herself off for a few days in a hotel; disappointing everyone equally is sometimes a lot simpler than ‘taking sides’.)
Same. You have your plans. They have their plans. Their plans are different than your plans, but they are different people than you, so it’s to be expected that that happens sometimes.
I’ve never in my life seen both sides of my family at Christmas. One side lives on the west coast and the other lives on the east coast, so it’s not possible. Each side has group celebrations every year. Some years, my immediate family and I go to visit one of them. Some years, we go to the other. Some years, we stay home–or rather, my parents stay home, and my brother and I go to their place from wherever we are.
Our presence (or lack thereof) has yet to ruin either side of the family’s celebrations.
Now that I live in a different state to my family, I totally plan to spend alternate Christmases with them (alternating with my partner’s family) until I have kids, at which point I will see what works for those children and make what works for the kids happen.
Same. I would be very happy if someone who is known to go through people’s drawers and take pictures of their contents didn’t want to come to my house. Maybe the real issue is that Agnes is depriving the family from Hector’s presence at Christmas?
I’m assuming that’s what the objection is, but I think everyone involved might benefit from thinking about the situation differently. Agnes isn’t depriving anyone of Hector’s presence at Christmas. Hector is choosing to spend all of his time over Christmas with Agnes. If he wanted to, he and Agnes could have agreed to spend the holiday separately, or that Hector would spend one day with his family solo and the other day with Agnes and her family. Sometimes family members tend to blame the partner in cases like that, but Hector is an adult who has his own motivations. If people want to see him at Christmas, they should be talking to him about that rather than Agnes.
Blaming the nearest woman for a grown-ass man’s social failings, real or imagined, is a gross game with a lot of collateral damage that needs. to stop. yesterday.
Ohmygosh, thank you for saying this. That just gave me a whole new lens to see through – regarding a situation in my own life.
This is the best thing I’ve heard all week. I’m going to start quoting this.
I think the part about them being dysfunctional is just a red herring? And also I have trouble understanding who did what at which time, it’s all a bit confusing to read. I also wonder why Hector has apparently no opinion on all of it.
I wanted to add that it’s completely fine for Agnes to say that she doesn’t want to spend Christmas in a certain way; wanting to see her niece is, in fact, an excellent reason to favour one option over the other and not necessarily a “weapon”. The letter seems to imply otherwise, and although I can’t quite pinpoint why, something about the whole letter rubs me the wrong way.
It might simply be that the Christmas arrangement really doesn’t seem like a big deal and is still garnered with all those accusations and reservations – that might be true of course, but I can’t see them in the specific case LW described. So my best advice would be to not mix up all those other issues with this one, and also the reminder that just because they’re family, you needn’t be close to them.
I had a similar reaction re: the “dysfunctional” descriptor. Hector hasn’t had a “real” girlfriend, Agnes displays poor behavior, therefore *both* are dysfunctional? It sounds like “being X years old and not romantically experienced” = dysfunctional, which is not cool.
Being romantically inexperienced at my age, I’m now wondering whether I lucked out with my friends, or if they are secretly evaluating my “functionality” behind my back. It’s a horrible stereotype – it’s bad enough getting it from the media without our friends adding to it.
Especially since it doesn’t really matter to the LW – dysfunctional or just rude, Agnes and Hector have made their plans and have freed the LW to make theirs in turn. It sounds almost like they’re sorry they introduced one lonely acquaintance to another.
Yes, this seemed odd to me too. Hector is described as “dysfunctional”, but the only evidence the letter writer offers for this is that he has started his first relationship at 36. This seems pretty judgemental to me.
I’m 32 and haven’t had a relationship. so I’m 8/9ths of the way to dysfunctional I guess.
oh god I’m 32.
also I side eye “this woman has a history of stalking so I set her up with my brother in law”
33 and no relationship yet! It’s kinda reassuring to know that I’m not alone. I have my dysfunctions like anyone else, but I’ve never seen anyone’s dysfunction get magically erased when they got a partner.
Same here, 33 and longest I’ve dated someone is a month. *fist bump*
Met current SO at 33, who is my first “real” boyfriend, and he’s really cool and has a) not caused or erased any dysfunction and b) perhaps caused some friction around holidays because my family never had to take what I wanted to do into account before. Eyeroll that it took being partnered for my family to not just assume I’d do whatever they wanted. Our first Xmas together I went with him on a family trip to a warmer climate to meet his brother and gosh it was nice to not have the drama be my particular brand of parental drama. So I am kinda siding with the BiL here. If SO and I break up I would seriously consider taking a just for me vacation on the holidays.
33, no relationship, don’t want one.
Ace and demi people exist. We’re not sick or dysfunctional.
THEREFORE Agnes and Hector aren’t dysfunctional either (regardless of whether they identify this way or not) because “no relationship” isn’t a dysfunction.
I had my first relationship at 20, my second at 22…then went another 24 years without another. (Which, unlike the first two, is healthy and happy, yay!) I had to put up with veiled comments about what I “needed” to do, whether that was lose weight/”get out there”/see a therapist, etc., until I was about 35. At that point my family & some at the outskirts of my friend circle just wrote me off as some kind of permanent adolescent who didn’t deserve to be thought of as fully adult.
It’s only about reason #3705727 I love my current partner/relationship, but it was surprising and satisfying to see these people attempt to recalibrate when we got together. But I was just as functional and caring an adult before my partner, and it grates a little that these people see him as some kind of merit badge of maturity for me. NO. WRONG.
(And if you’ve never had a relationship or it’s been a really long time since one — it really can happen. I’m not going to tell you it WILL happen, bc you can’t know, but it can. Experience doesn’t matter nearly as much as some claim.)
26 and no relationship. This thread makes me want to cry tears of relief.
47 and no relationship. I’m well BEYOND dysfunctional, apparently.
43 and have only ever had one brief quasi-relationship.
*fist-bumps of solidarity to all in this thread*
First relationship at 26, and it was miserable — I bought into the ideas that it was probably my one chance for a relationship, so I tried to make it work. What Zara Thustra spake on being perceived as a functional, mature adult played a huge part of it — I wanted to be taken seriously as a adult, dammit! Lesson learned: being alone is so much better than being in a bad relationship. If people think less of me for living solo instead of putting up with shitty treatment, gaslighting, etc, from someone who is supposed to care about me, then they need to rethink their attitudes about maturity and dysfunction.
For all those who find themselves without a first relationship at an age above what is considered typical (and it’s always someone else’s definition of typical), and a relationship is something you really want: waiting for a good person who will make a great partner is not something anyone should be made to feel ashamed of. Some people are lucky to find that person earlier in life, but many are not, and many of the latter have learned that the hard way.
Also 32 and no relationship (and in my case not by preference). It’s always reassuring to know that there are other people in the same boat!
In my experience level of (dys)function doesn’t correlate strongly with amount of relationship experience anyway, and since that’s the only evidence LW gives of her brother-in-law’s ‘dysfunction’, it all seems pretty judgmental to me. It also doesn’t seem like she takes their relationship seriously. I tend to wonder whether Hector and/or Agnes has picked up on the opinion LW has of their relationship; if so, I can’t blame them for not wanting to spend the holidays with her.
I’m almost 25 and aromantic. How long til I’m dysfunctional? 😛
In my initial fast read, I saw that you were “aromatic” and – I wondered about that.
I agree – it kind of rubs me the wrong way too.
LW, I completely get that you are invested in celebrating together and it matters to you, and so it feels disruptive and disappointing to have this big change (and to have to communicated to you poorly).
But your friend’s niece is not a weapon. Your friend’s niece is her family and she wants to spend Christmas with her family, and that is fine and understandable. I mean, if your need to spend Christmas with your family is normal, hers is too, right?
I like Captain’s advice to let it go – let go of needing to fix it. You don’t have to, it is not your fault if things get bumpy, and try as best you can to just go with the flow and adapt to the change. Invite the people you want to invite to the celebrations you want to have, and accept invitations to other celebrations if you want to go.And breathe through everything else.
It rubbed me wrong at places too. The LW seems to place themselves in sort of a management role over Hector and Agnes’s lives in a way that seems overreaching – how Agnes and Hector should divide their holidays, what Agnes’s relationship with her niece should be, even the fact that this couple is together in the first place.
I think the LW would probably be happier if they practiced backing off from the other couple’s decisions. I suspect Hector and Agnes would be happier with that result too.
Yeah this really rubbed me the wrong way too. A lot of it felt patronising or paternalistic, like since LW has labelled them “dysfunctional” they’re not full adults who get to make their own decisions about their lives and in laws and holidays, but are seen almost like children who the LW needs to “manage” or something. And the level of ownership/investment in their lives/relationship just because LW introduced them is pretty odd.
To be fair, it sounds a bit like LW may actually have had to play that role in their lives, longer ago. It can be difficult to transition out of that mindset, to go from “they’re being obstinate” to “they’re being independent.”
That would make sense if this were LW’s grown up child we were talking about, but Agnes is an adult woman. And (I presume) has been an adult for all or most of the time LW has known her. I really can’t see how LW would need to take parental responsibility for a fellow adult.
But did the LW “have to” play that role? Did anyone really ask them to play matchmaker? And even if that were the case, did either of those people ask for LW’s continued intervention in their personal lives?
It does sound very patronising. LW doesn’t seem to view either Agnes or her husband as “real adults”.
I don’t know that LW was asked to play matchmaker–but we don’t know that she wasn’t. And while we know little about Hector, Agnes has in the past actually stalked people/gone through medicine cabinets/etc. She may well have needed a few hints/pushes toward acceptable adult boundaries in the past. In this particular situation, though, Agnes’ boundaries are fine. I’m just pointing this out bc sometimes this comment section gangs up on people with inadequate information.
(I know this bc I had a letter answered here years ago. The Captain and the majority of commenters were empathetic and helpful. But some people made up these elaborate scenarios out of thin air, based on NOTHING, just to come up with some permutation where I was in the wrong. I wrote that letter from a place of real pain. I will never, EVER forget the cruelty of some people on this board — but I have tried to use it to remind myself to be charitable where possible.)
Zara Thustra – I know what you mean. It didn’t happen to me, personally, but I witnessed that, where certain commenters made up stories whole-cloth to turn the letter-writer into some sort of horrible person who deserves to be beaten and left for dead in an alley, because they dared to have the absolute gall to expect to collect their scheduled child-support payment. Not here, but in another advice column.
I was absolutely livid about it, especially because when I fought back, pointing out that they had absolutely no proof, whatsoever, and everything they claimed could just as easily be explained by something utterly innocuous, and they just doubled-down and called me stupid (and worse), and yeah. Some commenters are really cruel, without any cause or justification, whatsoever.
Captain Awkward moderates comments, so it doesn’t usually get that bad, here, but I have had to just avoid Dear Abby completely in the last few years.
Yes, this. (Is Christmas a particularly loaded issue for LW or Agnes or others in the family?) I wonder how Hector or Agnes would describe this situation, and perhaps they’re figuring out their relationships with the in-laws. To the extent Hector is “dysfunctional,” I bet he has a complex relationship with his parents, that is probably different than LW’s husband’s relationship with them. Celebrating separately with them might change the group dynamics in a way they think is promising, or allow it to be a much shorter celebration, or have less of a focus on gifts or traditions or religion (ALL SO LOADED). As a younger sister, I’ve sometimes felt silenced or ignored or left out in a big family gathering; perhaps Hector or Agnes is trying to shift the dynamic.
LW, your relationship with your in-laws is different than Agnes and Hector’s relationship with them. If you’re anything like me, you are seeing the nice symmetry of formal roles here, you’re imagining the balanced family pictures and one-big-happy-family Christmas celebration with your in-laws, and it’s frustrating for that neatly wrapped up plan not to happen when it looks like it would be so easy. But, for some reason, it’s not happening, so you can release yourself from pushing that to happen.
(I imagine a lot of speculation is unhelpful, but one potential scenario to consider is that planning for the holidays five months ahead is a LONG time for a relatively young relationship. It might be difficult for Agnes to communicate with you if you’re prioritizing the nearly-sister-in-law relationship but she is still negotiating boundaries, etc. with Hector and his parents.)
Also, LW, I know you had only so much space. FWIW, whether I read into it a backstory for Agnes that’s she’s extremely manipulative, or really easily offended, or really shy, or mostly pretty normal, the Captain’s advice seems to apply well. Good luck,
Celebrating separately with them might change the group dynamics in a way they think is promising, or allow it to be a much shorter celebration, or have less of a focus on gifts or traditions or religion (ALL SO LOADED). As a younger sister, I’ve sometimes felt silenced or ignored or left out in a big family gathering
I have a great time interacting with one or two family members, but add a third and my wheels get wobbly. By the time the whole clan is together, I’m spending half my time in the corner of the least inhabited room and the rest in an empty room.
I gave this similar side-eye. Aside from the irrelevant “these are the ways Agnes and my BIL are kinda stunted” stuff, I don’t really see the offense.
Agnes and Hector made arrangements directly with Hector’s parents for when they’d see them for xmas. Well… and? Hector is a grown man and making arrangements for parent time directly with those parents is, if anything, the healthier scheme rather than leaving it up to his brother’s spouse to make it all happen.
Hector’s parents didn’t seem to think that LW had to be consulted before making this arrangement either. Really, why should they? Again, grown son.
Maybe LW has gotten used to setting the xmas arrangements/schedule by virtue of BIL’s long time single-dom, but that’s not on Hector to accommodate.
Maybe this is just a lost in translation problem. With the best possible read I would say LW has let him/herself get into a cruddy dynamic with Agnes even after recognizing that Agnes likes situations with conflict which get her attention. Part of dealing with folks like that is not just recognizing their personality; it’s important to correct the habits you’ve gotten into with them.
Agreed. I really like my sisters-in-law, and my spouse often *discusses* holiday plans with them, but doesn’t, like, *plan* with them. It’s more, “Are you going to Atlanta for Thanksgiving? “No I can’t get off work so I’m going for Christmas.” “Oh we’re spending Christmas with Belle’s family. Sorry we’ll miss you!”
The upshot being, we plan directly with the parents, not the siblings.
In my family we plan with siblings and parents together. Because we just as much want to spend Christmas with each other as with our parents. It is very important to us that our Christmas visits to our parents overlap so we ge to spend Christmas with each other.
Fortunately only one sibling is married so we don’t have as many different networks to interlock.
Maybe LW has gotten used to setting the xmas arrangements/schedule by virtue of BIL’s long time single-dom, but that’s not on Hector to accommodate.
That was my impression as well. It seems like LW sort of expected Hector and Agnes to just sort of… slot into the existing Christmas arrangements, or, failing that, to not make Christmas plans that are incompatible with LW’s Christmas plans. Sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn’t–and if it doesn’t, that doesn’t make either Agnes or Hector evil (also, it’s Hector’s business to manage his/his girlfriend’s relationship with his parents, not LW’s).
Basically, LW extended an invitation, and it was declined. That’s a perfectly normal social situation. These people might be dysfunctional and dramatic in other ways, but there’s nothing offensive or inappropriate about their behavior here that I can see.
“slot into the existing Christmas arrangements” — oh, this is a THING in so many families! My dad and stepmom still expect my brother, sister-in-law, and two toddlers to travel 1000+ miles to stay with them, in a house of insufficient space, with pets they are allergic to, for Christmas. And a couple of times, brother and family have done it! This is because my brother is so accommodating to our parents. My SIL and I are much more practical, but my SIL has to compromise with my brother as a normal part of marriage. Me, I’m not in the same situation, and well, I never did mind being the “obstinate” one.
Hmm, now I wonder how much Hector has been expected to accommodate everyone else at the holidays for years, and now that he has a girlfriend, they are establishing their own holiday routines whether others like it or not….
Yeah, that “weapon” comment rubbed me the same way.
On my spouse’s side, we have about a dozen nieces and nephews, ranging from newborns to teens. On my side, there are none. (I have some extended family, but only one close family member–my father.) So, yes, we make it more of a priority to do holiday things with *her* family, because there are kids. We see my father. We spend time with him. But it’s easier for three adults to decide we’re going to do our holiday celebration on December 27th than to move a holiday celebration that (a) involves 30-40 people, all told, and (b) involves a lot of little kids.
Agnes may simply love her niece and want to see her on Christmas.
OTOH, I may be completely unfair to the LW–that entire letter rubbed me the wrong way, to be honest, and made me feel like Agnes and Hector are not the problem here.
I’m guessing whatever the details are that the LW left out provide some kind of context that would make the letter less odd? Maybe not, though. Definitely rubbed the wrong way here too. I’m also a little confused by the quotation marks around “has a niece”. Is the niece fictional, or is that a direct quote from Agnes and there’s something significant about the phrasing?
There are also quotes around weapon, which would make sense if the LW was quoting something Agnes had said to her about the niece, but then why specific quote “has a niece”? I don’t get it.
The quotes around “has a niece” would only work, in my opinion is if the niece is an adult, the niece is fake, or the niece lives close and Agnes never sees her for the rest of the year but just trumps it up on Christmas.
This letter reminded me a bit if my own family, in which my mother thinks of herself as arbiter and center of holiday planning, and once got very upset when my sister and BIL planned a Christmas with his family and invited us to “tag along,” lamenting that our family bonds were being broken, though we were on our 30s-40s at the time and BIL also certainly didn’t feel the way she did. I’m wondering if LW’S family simply hasn’t had to work around multiple couples, significant others, and families before, and LW was just caught off guard or feels responsible for introducing Agnes into the situation (though we don’t know that anyone else minds this).
Anyway, yes, agree that LW and husband should think about what really matters to them about Christmas and plan without Agnes and Hector.
… do we share a mother?
Does yours also insist on hosting every holiday gathering (despite health issues that make it draining and very physically painful and 2/3 kids who are both willing and able to host, but no, act super offended when they say they’d like to because hosting every single holiday is somehow only for her to do..)
… I’m letting go. I’m letting go. Deep breaths.
Reading this thread, I am so very, VERY glad that we did not grow up with a lot of holiday traditions in my family. We just don’t fret about them that much, and avoid the drama. Nobody has a “claim” to hosting or not, and we have just incredibly low expectations.
On the other hand, all birthdays are celebrated, somehow, sometime close to the birthday, unless the birthday person specifically says, “Not this time for me, please,” in which case, we give presents whenever, and skip the party.
Some people think this is sad and pathetic, but I have no stress about the holidays, other than the “will I finish making the home-made presents in time?” stress that can be alleviated by (again) having low expectations and understanding that the thought really does count. And if we want something special, odds are we’ll save up and buy it ourselves. Small gifts, practical gifts, used gifts, are all fine with us, and it is GLORIOUS!
Not saying this to brag, but to put it out there that it is absolutely OK for a new couple to 1) establish their own holiday traditions, and 2) dump the old family traditions, and 3) do what is best for them, as a unit and as individuals. It is also OK for the long-established family groups to dump the old family traditions and start new ones, including a new tradition of doing whatever works that year, regardless of traditions, at all.
I don’t see where Agnes or Hector did anything wrong here, regarding holiday planning.
I certainly could be wrong here, but I read it that LW had been close to Agnes for some time, even introducing her to her current serious relationship. Also, part of the celebration of that closeness was spending holidays together. Suddenly, Agnes doesn’t care whether or not they get together for the holidays, and has been ghosting since August. LW’s feelings are hurt and I think she is asking CA how to get this across. I honestly don’t think it is as much about various dates and relatives, but that LW feels a bit tossed away. I think almost all of us have experienced that at times.
Well I could certainly believe that is the root issue. But it’s still not quite what LW asked, and it’s still not wrong for Agnes and Hector to do their own thing for the holidays.
If that really was what she meant to ask then it would probably start with “stop calling your friend dysfunctional because she can probably pick up on the fact that you think that about her and might be why she is withdrawing from you.”
i’m curious about both Hector and husband’s opinion, they are the brothers, right? it’s up to them if they’re upset that their family isn’t having christmas all on the same day/that their parents didn’t reach out to LW’s husband to check holiday plans. Sounds like it’s more on the in-laws than Agnes that LW + husband didn’t know about the Dec 23 plan?
Yeah, it is odd that the LW seems to be managing her husbands relationships with his parents and brother? Presumably he’s the one who particularly wants to spend Christmas with his brother, so where is he in all this?
There’s that old saw, “when people tell you who they are, believe them” that feels appropriate here. Agnes has given you a gift, a less stress filled Christmas. Treasure it. You can do that privately, if you like, if other family members would be upset at the idea.
Re: “Agnes lives off drama”
It takes practice, but I’ve found not putting to much thought into other people’s lives saves a lot of trouble here.
Most of what you mention LW doesn’t have much to do with you. You give an invitation and accept if others decline. Just say “I’ll miss you this year and love having you around. Have a great time with your niece!!”
How and how well Hector and Agnes function in their relationships together and with each other is up to them. You can have a one on one relationship with them. And see them at group functions.
They gave you a heads up about their change in Christmas plans. You were told in August. They’re spending time with her family and while it would be kind if they asked you, it’s not unkind to make their own plans.
If you want to make a new plan to see them during the holiday season (which you mention wanting but did not ask for out loud), you still have every option to say “Would love to do a day together around the holidays, I enjoy our friendship! I know it’s a busy time though. Any room in your schedule to have lunch?”
It would also be very freeing, LW, to get over the idea/rule/edict that “It’s a holiday so we all MUST be together or somehow it’s no longer a holiday.” I’ve got five siblings, all married with in-laws of their own that they need to spend some holidays with, and stepparent’s on both sides that bring their own traditions to the mix. We also have about 5 night-shift or weekend workers in the family. It is impossible for us to find a day where we can all get together. The host sets the day/time and whoever makes it makes it and whoever can’t just doesn’t. .
No hard feelings, just an understanding that between in-laws & job requirements we gotta do what we gotta do and make the most of it. One thing we do is to see if the people that can’t be there can Skype/Facetime in – even for a quick 5 minutes just to say hi and “:show their face.” This works great with my out of state & out of the country relatives. They’re “there” even though they’re not. Also, we also routinely have mother’s day brunch in June with my mom so me and my sisters can do mother’s day privately with our own kids. We sometimes celebrate Christmas in January or Easter weeks after the actual day. Sometimes the intent can matter more than the day you pick, if it means more of your bunch can gather together.
This. I haven’t seen my dad on Christmas Day since my parents divorced seven years ago – everyone lives far apart, we see each other when we can and we recognise that everyone has different ideas about how they’d like the holidays to be. I miss him sometimes but that doesn’t mean I get to summon him and be pissed off if he has other plans. In fact I asked if he wanted to come to us this year but he’d already booked a dinner with local friends and his new father in law. He didn’t ask me before arranging that, and I don’t mind that he didn’t. There isn’t One True Way of Christmassing, and someone having different wishes doesn’t equal ‘a weapon’ being used against you.
Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like some of Agnes’ behaviour is pretty questionable, but I don’t think her Christmas plans are part of that dysfunction.
LW, you have my sympathy and empathy. The holidays (especially Thanksgiving and Christmas) have so much meaning and expectation wrapped up in them, and the desire for everything to work out “just right”. But we all have different expectations for what that “just right” looks like; some people want big family dinners, some people want smaller gatherings with lower stakes, some people just want to hide under a rock until it’s all over (I’ve fallen into this last camp in recent years). It may be that Agnes and Hector want to make their own traditions, and this is their way of doing it. Maybe they don’t like the big family gathering thing, or feel somehow lesser because they’re not the ones who set the plans.
All of that just to say that it is okay for Agnes/Hector to not want to do what you want to do during the holidays. It’s also totally okay and natural for you to feel hurt and left-out by the way they “went around you” to make those plans. My advice (if you want it) is to take some time to process these feelings in a way that doesn’t rope in Agnes or even your spouse. Maybe start writing in a journal or 750words.com, and say all the things you want to say without having to worry about anyone’s feelings but your own. It’ll help to get these thoughts out of the spiral of hurt going on in your head and onto a page. Find a way to validate your feelings to yourself and process them.
Having an outlet to express yourself and process your feelings will make it that much easier to shrug off Agnes’ behavior in the moment. If she corners you or you have to interact with her, it will probably be easier to be really boring in those conversations when she’s trying to get a reaction from you and say “Whatever you want, Agnes”. You’ll probably have feelings about it in the moment, but I’ve found it’s easier to go “sure, okay, whatever” if I know that I can rant about the BS in my journal when I get home.
and although I can’t quite pinpoint why, something about the whole letter rubs me the wrong way.
You’re not the only one. I suspect LW is actually no less dysfunctional than Agnes or Hector, in the sense that she “collects” other dysfunctional people so she can make a big charitable production out of tolerating and managing them.
Isn’t it shocking when someone you look down on – who has little romantic experience, behaves embarrassingly, and is dating another loser – rejects *you*? The gall. The sheer unmitigated gall! If anybody is going to do the rejecting here, it ought to be you, right, LW?
Because seriously, why else would you be upset that someone you don’t like doesn’t want to spend Christmas with you?
Right?? From the nasty way the LW talks about both her brother-in-law AND Agnes, I’m surprised she’s so upset that they made their own holiday plans.
OMG I could not have said better. Thank you!!
I have had a friend who thought similar things about me — we became friends at a point in my life that I was really vulnerable but it didn’t take long for me to realize, with my growing self-esteem, that she saw me as “inferior” in many ways, and she needed me for an ego rub to make sure she felt better about herself. Putting an end to this friendship felt so cathartic (Agnes did much better, I just told her to shut up, left, and never came back).
Sorry, I can’t feel much empathy for LW the way she wrote this letter. Actually, it made me wonder who’s the actual dysfunctional person in this thing, and whether Agnes and Hector are actually that bad.
Yeah, they don’t seem to actually be friends. The LW doesn’t even seem to have respect for them, without which it’s a pretty big stretch to call them friends.
They are family now though, and presumably their spouses care about each other and want to maintain a good relationship? Question mark because there’s really no mention or hint of anything the brothers feel about each other or their parents, so I can only guess.
LW, I’m an Agnes in many ways (well, except for the amazingly inappropriate behavior). My niece and my nephew are the most important members of my family, after Booth. Period. I love my babies, and my sister, who is their mom. I do not love my in-laws, who are annoying, naggy, and enforce these ideas that Every.Holiday.Must,Be.Spent.Together. They are not cute children who treat me like a minor celebrity. They also love to bring up church, even though they don’t actually attend themselves, but that’s a whole separate thing.
If you were my SIL, and you accused me of using Thing 1 and Thing 2 as weapons, I would take that as a sign that maybe you weren’t worth negotiating with on holiday issues. Or any issues, ever again.
You know you shouldn’t have ever hooked up your weird BIL with your amazingly inappropriate friend. I can’t imagine why you hang out with her at all, even.
“they are not cute children who treat me like a minor celebrity”- coming here to comment on this. My nieces treat me the same exact way, and I don’t have words for how full it makes my heart! (and I have started to petition the rest of my family to greet me in the same manner my nieces do (jumping up and down whilst yelling the word YAY!!!!! over and over) but sadly have made no leeway)
Seriously I didn’t realize that I had such a capacity to love before my niece was born! We snapchat all the time, now, and recently had a hilarious phone call where she screamed (to her dad) “HEY I’M TALKING TO AUNT TEMPERANCE AND SHE REALLY LOVES ME”. To which, of course, I replied that I did, and she screamed WELL THAT’S THE BEST BECAUSE I LOVE YOU, TOO!
It’s weird how I want to spend time with people who make me feel good, and avoid people who are an obligation or chore. 😉
My teenage nephew still thinks I’m amazing and it’s really great.
I run a baby and toddler group and one of the perks is the number of tiny people who treat me like a celebrity. A couple of them talk about me all the time at home and then get so awestruck when I say hello to them that they forget to say hello back.
That is just so adorable! I’m a high school teacher, and it just warms my heart when parents tell me their kid speaks well of me. Kindness is an underrated superpower!
100%. My nieces (I have 4) are the number one priority for me when dealing with family.
“she had displayed a lot of questionable behaviour e.g. stalking guys she was interested in, obsessively stalking old friends on social media and do things like go through people’s drawers and medicine cabinets and take photos which she’d share with her mother. I’d overlooked these things as she was fun company (apart from the strangeness) and I don’t have that many friends.”
Just a quick note, in addition to this being some very big red flags as to what she might do to you in the future (this description strikes a lot of the qualities of a “missing stair”), this is potentially a very good way to keep from making more (and MUCH better) friends. There was actually a weirdly similar situation on Ask A Manager’s site where the letter writer (A) had a friend (B) who was harassing a co-worker (C). B went too far and was fired. A mentioned in the letter that they’d warned B several times, but the way A wrote made it seem like A was concerned about B losing their job, not C (or anyone else) not being harassed. They got called out HARD in the comments section, and a lot of people talked about how they would probably avoid being friends with A not because they don’t feel safe around A, but because they don’t feel safe around B, and they don’t want to deal with the hassle of trying to be friends with A while dodging the ‘friendship’ of B.
Oh, golly, I remember that letter!
It sounds like LW doesn’t respect either party very much, and is hurt that they might return the sentiment?
I…. don’t actually see the problem? Agnes and Hector bring drama that you don’t like. You invited them to a family thing and they said no. This feels like a win to me. You did your job. Though if she’s really drama-prone is there a chance she’ll just show up anyway?
There’s a lot of cultural pressure of togetherness on big holidays, but as others have said above me, it’s not always possible (and not always desirable either)
I agree. My brother in law used to date this completely miserable woman–one of the most boring, sulking people I’ve ever met. She ruined holidays at my SO’s house because she was so standoffish and rude to everyone. When my BIL broke up with her, everyone was super relieved because no one liked her… and the holidays are much more enjoyable without her Debbie Downer specter hanging over everything.
Similarly, my estranged brother is skipping out on Christmas this year to go to a cabin with his girlfriend, in the name of starting his own traditions. I’m also super okay with this because it means I don’t have to deal with the awkwardness that happens whenever we’re forced to be superficially cordial to one another during family events.
LW is casting Agnes as a similar type of person, whose presence at family gatherings feels resentful and miserable. So, this year Agnes won’t be at Christmas. This is a good thing! Count your blessings, LW: you don’t have to deal with her. If this bothers you instead of relieves you… maybe you need to re-examine some stuff. Agnes may indeed be a pain in the ass, and maybe she and Hector are dysfunctional, but none of that actually matters in the context of the story you told. This seems to be more about you feeling upset they aren’t following your personal script for How Things Should Be, even though that script demands drama you claim to want to avoid.
I think that, from now on, you and your husband should make your holiday arrangements in the way that best suits the two of you. Host or don’t, invite Agnes and Hector or don’t, and if you do invite them be prepared for the possibility they may not come. I think it might decrease some resentment if you don’t feel like you’re scurrying to accommodate their needs.
I think most of the rest of this probably goes under the “not my circus, not my monkeys” heading. If the in-laws miss not being able to spend Christmas Day or Eve with Hector? If Hector misses his family? If your husband is sad because he misses spending holidays with his brother? Well, then each of those people can express what their needs are and suggest compromises. If the result of that is that Agnes isn’t a very dutiful daughter-in-law or that Hector is one of those people who neglects his family of origin in favor of his partner, so be it. This isn’t really your fight, and I think you’d do better to invest your energy in relationships with people who you do enjoy and approve of.
“I think most of the rest of this probably goes under the “not my circus, not my monkeys” heading. If the in-laws miss not being able to spend Christmas Day or Eve with Hector? If Hector misses his family? If your husband is sad because he misses spending holidays with his brother? Well, then each of those people can express what their needs are and suggest compromises.”
This! LW, please don’t assume that you know all the story for all of the players. My husband is estranged from his parents and brother for reasons that have nothing to do with me. I do not like my in-laws or associate with them in any way and haven’t for close to 10 years. My husband’s estrangement started about 4 years ago. I cannot count the amount of emails and texts that my husbands has received from people who don’t know the whole story about why they don’t talk but who think it’s their place to step in and try to mediate things. If Hector wants a relationship with his parents then he will have a relationship with his parents. The only people who can make that happen is Hector and his parents. Do not get involved. It’s not your place. Respect Angela’s no. She doesn’t want to spend the holiday with you and your spouse. It sucks, but it is what it is.
LW: I’m really sorry, but that thing where someone tells you they can’t make it because $reason, and you promptly start working around their $reason so they can do the thing you’ve asked them to do (in this case, spend Christmas together)?
There are at least a dozen posts on this site that specifically involve the advice “if someone treats your reason to not do something as the start of a negotiation, stop giving them a reason and just give them a no”. Agnes just gave you a no. She gave you an implicit no when she didn’t present her plans as something that could be worked around, and she gave you an explicit no when she declined your invitation.
(Also, I’m going to assume that Agnes referred to her own niece as a weapon, and am choosing to read that charitably; e.g., perhaps Agnes finds the whole “Christmas as a big family event!” thing stressful, and flippantly referred to a lower-stress socially-acceptable commitment as her “weapon” against holiday stress.
I think Hector and LW’s husband are siblings, so what I’m taking away from this is:
– Agnes finds LW’s in-laws really stressful
– Agnes does not enjoy Christmas with LW-and-LW’s-inlaws (Hector excepted)
– Agnes and Hector made Christmas arrangements to see LW’s inlaws (without LW? unclear) on the 23rd, Agnes’ family on the 24th, and are presumably Doing Their Own Thing (mimosas and video games? That was one commentor’s Christmas family plan, right? I always thought it was awesome) on the 25th)
I’m really sorry your friend doesn’t want to spend the holidays with you, but she doesn’t. I’m sorry for you that the message wasn’t delivered more kindly.
I hope you have a good holiday with the people who want to spend time with you, and I hope you make friends with people who want to spend more time with you.
Booth and I have a new Christmas tradition of playing board games, drinking, and watching Bojack. It’s the best.
Read charitably, I could see the situation playing out something like this:
Agnes: “I HATE being at your in-laws for Christmas. I’d sooooo much rather be hanging out with MY family, who are way less awful human beings. Plus it’s really inconvenient for me. Ugh, is there some way you could make it so I don’t have to spend so much time with them?”
LW: *rearranges schedules, upsetting routines that have been established for a number of years and usually work well, puts up with complaining from other family members as she does so, and hosts a family gathering in order to make Agnes comfortable*
Agnes: *issues a huge number of demands during the entire process, repeatedly makes things more difficult, constantly makes herself the centre of attention, and sets fire to the dinner table two years running*
LW: So…I was thinking we’d do the same thing for Christmas this year?
Agnes: “The way you do things still sucks, so Hector and I are just not going to bother tagging along for it any more. Enjoy your boring-ass party, losers!”
In such a case, I can imagine being annoyed and seeing it as a way of Agnes spitting on a lot of hard work that’s been done on her behalf, that the efforts to make her feel welcome are being rejected, and that she’s not extending the same amount of goodwill.
Read uncharitably, LW sounds like she wants to be in control of where everybody goes and what they do during the holidays, possibly due to certain ingrained notions about what family and tradition mean, and considers it “causing drama” to do anything other than go along with the way things have always been. Her annoyance comes from the feeling that *she’s* made compromises and tried her best to fit in with her in-laws, so Agnes should do the same.
Either way, the solution would seem to be: Agnes is gonna Agnes. The LW is freed from going out of her way to accommodate her, whether what she expects is reasonable or not.
Lw here, thank you!! Your first version is absolutely spot on. I guess I was just frustrated that I’ve done everything I can to make everyone else happy and its not working anymore. But as other people have said, going forward I can just concentrate on having the best Christmas with my own family x
Yeah, the best part of being an adult is realizing you can’t and shouldn’t try to make everyone else happy. Do what works for you.
In that case, definitely do what is best for you and your husband, and family obligations can suck it. Do what you want, truly want, instead of fitting all of these people in because you feel like you have to.
More than that, NEXT xmas let go of the stress of trying to accommodate Agnes for the holidays at all costs.
Oooh, that reading really does put a whole different spin on things.
Yep, thank her for the gift of removing the burden from your shoulders, and just focus on pleasing yourself.
Well, don’t. Don’t actually thank her, in words, directly, for the gift of removing herself from your Christmas celebrations. That would be rude and hurtful. But you know, in your heart.
Oops, that was meant to be a new post, not nested.
“that thing where someone tells you they can’t make it because $reason, and you promptly start working around their $reason so they can do the thing you’ve asked them to do”
If someone says, “No, because (reason),” and does not immediately add, “So how about we do X, instead?” they really don’t want to do the thing. If they want to do it, and have a real reason not to, they will make a suggestion of their own.
Well, mature people act that way. Immature people “play hard to get,” by saying “no, because reason,” and then hope that the asker will keep asking, to show their persistence, but to me, it just shows a lack of respect for my “no,” so I HATE the whole “playing hard to get” game, that makes it worse for everyone else.
Sorry, off topic.
I will note that people can also be genuinely caught flat-footed (I can take weeks to organize a plan, so am unlikely to have a “no, but how about” response handy) or be shy and anxious and refuse by reflex, or honestly misunderstand a situation (“no, I don’t knit”) in which case some follow up can be nice (either “okay, let me know if you change your mind, love to see you” or, in the latter case, “oh, sorry, this isn’t the *knitting* retreat, it’s the movie-watching retreat!”). But yeah, since you can’t tell why they’re declining, best to limit it to clarification or kindness and not problem solving.
Even “No, but some other time,” is sufficient to show an interest when reasons get in the way. Pretty basic script that is handy if you can’t think of an alternative right away, but don’t want to shut the door, forever.
Alternately, when you think of the other time/thing, you can approach the person with, “Hey, remember when you invited me to do X? Is the offer still open, because my schedule is free, now,” or “Remember that invitation to X? I still can’t do that with you, but how about Y?”
In either case, it’s up to the invitee to show that they are interested, and not up to the inviter to show “persistence.”
I don’t see that anyone has yet addressed the thing that jumped out at me.
Agnes told LW four months in advance that she and Hector had Christmas Eve plans with her family, so LW then went and invited everyone to her place, including Agnes and Hector, for Christmas Eve?!?!
That’s just. Wow. No. Not acceptable.
LW can invite everyone for Boxing Day. LW can invite everyone except Agnes and Hector for Christmas Eve as she knows they are previously committed. But inviting them for Christmas Eve just makes clear how little respect LW has for Agnes’ prerogative to spend time with her family. It’s incredibly dismissive.
The bit about “Well, if Agnes had just asked me first I would have worked around her plans, but she just went ahead and made plans with her own family without asking MEEEE for permission and I’m so hurt!” No. Sorry, Agnes doesn’t need to ask your permission to spend time with her family as the price for her admission into family events involving Hector’s family.
I’m impressed that Agnes managed a polite declination before she started ignoring LW. Good polite spine and enforcing boundaries, Agnes.
I totally missed that but you’re right. Agnes told LW about their holiday plans, LW was hurt they weren’t invited/consulted, LW decided to go ahead and do their usual Christmas Eve thing anyway… then invited Agnes, who they knew had plans, and was hurt when Agnes declined? Maybe I’m misreading it, but not…what makes LW’s plans so much more important?
Agnes and Hector aren’t even “immediate” family. Both have families that are not LW’s family. LW isn’t really in the right to feel so hurt when they decline to spend family holidays with LW specifically instead of their own families….
I thought that at first but then I remembered that the 23rd isn’t Christmas Eve! It’s Christmas Eve Eve.
Whoops nevermind, I read it again. You were right.
This actually reminds me a little bit of my own sister-in-law and how she expects us to spend every Christmas with her. We have multiple other engagements to consider (my side of the family, my husband’s brother’s family), and frankly, although the Christmas with her family seemingly goes well and she probably thinks it’s always wonderful, there are multiple reasons why it’s not my favorite way to spend Christmas (e.g. a huge show over kids’ presents, the fact that if we go there we’re obligated to stay multiple days, her dictating the dinner menu and no chance for me to participate in cooking, which I’d like – call me ungrateful).
Because of this, we’ve declined her invitations a couple times, making other plans or even no plans at all – we rather like spending Christmas just the two of us. At this point, she often very subtly (and probably unconsciously) tries to guilt us about it – “Oh the kids will be so disappointed” or “but it’s a tradition!”
LW, there are multiple possible explanations for why Agnes and Hector turned down the invitation or did not include you in their Holiday plans. Some explanations might be because of something to do with you, but maybe they just want a small setting instead of a big family Christmas, or want to try something new? Maybe there was something in the last Christmas that you hadn’t noticed but that made Agnes uncomfortable, and she’s actually trying to avoid drama by arranging her own Christmas? As families grow, it’s only natural that the group of people who used to celebrate Christmas together changes as well.
I think what bothers me about this letter is what’s being said without saying those words. This is what she should have written: “I meddled in other people’s love life and made a match between my BIL and friend. They have been together for several years. My friend doesn’t like our shared in-laws as much as I do. She doesn’t want to spend time with us on major holidays and instead prefers spending time with her own family. I don’t like that she prefers her own family. I think she should spend time with us. I asked her in August what her plans for the holidays were and she told me, but I don’t like her answer. How can I get her to change her mind? Oh…and because I know that this question doesn’t make me sound reasonable here’s information about how they were lonely, dysfunctional people before I came into their lives and made this match! Yeah I know it has nothing to do with my question.”
LW, a lot of people don’t celebrate holidays with extended family. I am one of them. The idea of trying to coordinate this type of stuff with my family and my in-laws makes me sick. It’s very possible that Angela is a person who likes drama but it seems in this situation she’s actually being very clear about what she wants to do and is avoiding the drama. She doesn’t seem to be stringing anyone along, creating hope that she’ll show and then taking that away at the last moment. She’s said no, she is doing the holiday with her family and as she’s done this over the last few years it’s unlikely that this is a sudden, spiteful power play move. It sounds like she’s a lady who likes to hang with her family and niece.
It’s October, and there’s no way to go back to August and get Agnes to have invited you after all. The Captain’s advice seems good for now, but if you want everyone to get together for the holidays in some future year, maybe ignore any “I wish you had…” and say something like “I missed seeing everyone at Christmas Eve this year. When you’re making plans for next Christmas, Husband and I would like to be involved.”
Or you could step back and ask your husband to call his brother and sort something out, since this is his side of the family. It sounds like he’s been leaving you to do the emotional labor, and take on the stress when things don’t work out the way you’d prefer. Agnes doesn’t like Hector’s parents, and is unlikely to ever be happy about inviting them to her home. If Agnes, Hector, or both are tired of drama, them agreeing that she won’t be spending a day of the holidays with people she actively dislikes is a good way to reduce that.
“My brother’s wife doesn’t like our parents and won’t come to a holiday dinner” might or might not be something your husband considers a problem, but plenty of people want to get their families of origin together for holidays. “Someone I’ve known for years and don’t really like doesn’t get along with her in-laws, who are also my in-laws, so we can’t get all three families together for Christmas” sounds easier to let go of. Your family gets along with your husband’s parents, so why not have a quiet dinner for six, if Hector and Agnes aren’t interested and you and he have no other siblings.
I just had to say that I love how perfect your avatar is for this post. It’s like, the mascot of this letter.
I come from a family who considers Christmas a high-stakes holiday. Several years ago I taught myself to say “this is what we are doing on Christmas. You are welcome to do it with us, no pressure, and if you decide to do your own thing we hope you have a wonderful day”. Yes, this sometimes causes strife, but I DO NOT DEVIATE from that script. All this is to say, LW, your brother in law and his girlfriend made other plans for Christmas, and you should move forward with doing what makes you happy. None of the other details of your letter matter. It’s not important that Agnes wants to be with her niece, or that she doesn’t like your in-laws, or that she is a drama llama, and she does not have to ask you before she makes plans with anyone. I think that folks in this comment section are being a little hard on you, but in fairness, you seem to be creating a lot of the drama you are faulting Agnes for.
You’re my hero! I’m working on this but I get a acidic gut every time I think about this annual fight. (My mom makes it a fight.)
Ugh, believe me, I get it! Even though I hold firm to the Christmas script, it still causes me a fair amount of anxiety because I know that certain people (my dad, my MIL) will try to push the envelope, but, the tradeoff of getting to do whatever I want on Christmas day makes it all worthwhile. It’s hard to push back, I know, but every time you do it, it gets a little easier.
What if she made it a fight and no one came?
A shrugged shoulder is one of the most effective martial arts moves. Puts an end to the fight in moments.
LW, to paraphrase the Captain, Agnes isn’t makimg her own holiday plans and having Christmas with her family _at you_, regardless of how it may feel.
Also, if I may throw in my two cents about what seems so “off” about this letter, if we take LW at their word, then LW has admitted to fixing up a relative with a potentially unhinged friend who has a history of stalking behavior. LW’s regret, however, is not that Hector may be in any kind of danger or distress, but that Christmas plans have now become inconvenient.
Read the opposite way, it appears that LW may be cherry-picking a few instances of Agnes on less-than-her-best behavior in order to justify LW’s pique at Agnes for setting reasonable boundaries around making her own holiday plans. In which case, it does not appear that Agnes is the source of drama here.
Where the truth falls, I can’t say, but LW, some self-reflection may be in order.
LW, I confess I too don’t understand the problem.
Are you upset because you and spouse were not invited to spend the 23rd with Agnes and Hector at the in-laws’ or because Agnes made plans for Christmas Eve without consulting you?
Given that Agnes hates the in-laws and sulks, not being at the 23rd gathering sounds like a win to me. And bonus! Agnes won’t be at your place on Christmas Eve so you can have the in-laws over sans sulking.
If you’re upset that she made other plans for the 24th, I think you’re being unfair. Two years in a row doesn’t give you a claim to the evening. Even if you’d been hosting 20 years, she and your BIL can make other plans.
Unless you have reason to believe that Agnes made her plans at you, I’d say let it go.
If she made her plans at you, then this isn’t a holiday scheduling problem, it’s a relationship problem.
To be honest, I think it’s a relationship problem either way. You said an awful lot about Agnes’ behaviors that have nothing to do with the scheduling. That combined with what seems to be a very strong reaction to a scheduling mishap makes me think your problem is Agnes herself, not Agnes’ scheduling behavior.
Give yourself permission to do as the Captain says and ‘mentally reclassify her from “my friend” to “Hector’s girlfriend, a person it’s fun to trade the odd meme or message with.” ‘
If anything, it seems like LW made plans *at* Agnes. After being told that Agnes and Hector had plans for Christmas Eve, LW not only went ahead and planned a Christmas Eve gathering but also invited Agnes and Hector? Even knowing that they already had plans? I mean, it hardly seems helpful.
Re: “two years in a row”
I think LW and husband travel (?) to see her family every other year—so Christmas with husband’s family probably feels twice as important. In that light, LW seems to want Agnes and Hector’s plans to align into an optimal celebration with the in-laws, every other year. So, it worked well 2 years ago, and LW wants THAT to be a stable tradition going forward.
I’m starting to understand a little more why this feels so important for LW, but the advice from the Captain and commenters still applies well.
To be honest, I’m not sure what means, but at most, it means LW has hosted Christmas Eve for two years, which I don’t consider establishing a “tradition” much less an obligation.
By way of contrast, my sister has hosted Thanksgiving for going on to 15 years, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she were surprised if someone made big contrasting plans without talking to her, but still, no one is obligated to her festivities.
The most telling detail for me is that the LW doesn’t have many friends. So maybe LW is focusing on the *relationship* with Agnes and Hector (friend, brother-in-law, almost-sister-in law, family) rather than seeing either of them as individuals with individual, valid preferences that don’t line up with the LW’s.
So in the past, you and your husband have hosted Christmas “either on Christmas Eve, or Boxing Day (thereby letting [Agnes] spend Christmas day with her family).” This year, she told you that they were going to do Christmas Eve with her family, and see the in-laws on Dec. 23. And so your response, instead of hosting on Christmas Day (since it’s now free) or Boxing Day, was to “go ahead as we would have done, and are hosting on Christmas Eve –we invited Hector and Agnes, and the invitation was declined.” I mean, of course it was declined. She specifically told you that they weren’t available on that day.
I don’t think Agnes is the one who lives off drama here.
This really confused me.
“She and Hector were spending Christmas Eve with her family…. I was upset that my husband and I were not asked.”
What was it that Agnes should have asked? “Is it OK if I spend Xmas with my own family this year?” Does LW believe it is reasonable for other people to ask for her permission to spend Xmas with their own families?
Ok so… I am confused.
“I replied saying that I was upset that my husband and I were not asked”
As others have commented, what exactly did she not ask that she should have? Permission? For you to join them? Something else?
The idea that she would need to ask your permission to make her own holiday plans is shocking to me so… I’m going to assume the LW wanted Agnes to ask her to join them and the in-laws on the 23rd. In which case, I can see how that would lead to feeling left out and upset feelings. Not being included sucks. None of that has to mean drama, though, and it doesn’t stop the LW from making her own plans to see her family and Husband’s family.
But then there’s the bit about knowingly and deliberately making conflicting plans on Christmas Eve which I am REALLY having trouble reading generously. It’s certainly no surprise Agnes and Hector declined – they have other plans already!
I’m wondering if there are a bunch of underlying assumptions about how the holidays are Supposed To Be in the LW’s letter that many of us readers are struggling to see.
1. Don’t be friends with people you obviously don’t like and describe to others as being mad stalker drama queens.
2. Stop obsessing over other people’s relationships, it’s weird.
3. A family member wanting to spend Christmas with their partner not their siblings is normal and doesn’t require any response other than “okay.”
I completely understand feeling hurt when you’re not invited to things. Like the time a sibling organised plans with our mum and sibling’s best friends and their mum, on Mother’s Day and then the rest of us were invited as what felt like an after-thought. In that case I said, “hey, it upset me you did this. I’d appreciate a heads-up about your plans with mum on special occasions in the future”. I said my piece and what they did with it was up to them. So I completely understand your hurt feelings. But you’ve said your piece and now it’s up to them to decide what to do with that information. There’s nothing else for you to do except make your own plans and enjoy the holidays/special occasions. If you want to judge them for it, that’s fine I guess, but it’s usually easier to just let it go and do your own thing.
I have a slightly (slightly) different take than a number of people here. LW, if I may, I think what you may be experiencing is the very real grief and frustration of best-laid plans “gang aft agley”. When you played match-maker and when it looked like things were going swimmingly, you may have had an ideal future state play out in your head, whereby your family circle became larger and warmer, the Bingleys and the Darcys trading Christmas at Netherfield and Pemberley. Who wouldn’t want that? It happens enough in real life (at least based on the Christmas letters I have received, which I am sure were not heavily edited AT ALL) that it isn’t wrong to hope for such a situation.
I also don’t think it is wrong to be a little bit miffed at someone who knows that there is an established pattern to opt out of the pattern without informing others who may be impacted. The only way you found out was when you asked and it does seem kind of inconsiderate of Agnes (or Hector!) not to let you proactively know that the typical plans had changed. It’s good you DID ask in August, otherwise imagine going along with plans and finding out in mid-December that you had pre-ordered a too large turkey. So, I personally believe there was a bit of a social faux-pas on Agnes (and Hector’s—primarily Hector’s to be honest—why does HE get an out for not letting his brother know?) part. It could be an emotional intelligence issue, it could be that they assumed that you would still host the big get together on the 26th where everyone showed up or it could be something else altogether but yes, when there is an established pattern I think it is incumbent on the person changing it to give reasonable notice.
But, otherwise, I think that’s all you are really entitled to, notice of change. And you now have that notice. As much as it would be nice to have others’ wishes align with your own and as much as it hurts to give up a dream, it is unfair to make a third party responsible for fulfilling YOUR dream. A third party has enough trouble making their own life work. The great corollary news is that you do not have to fulfill Agnes’s (or Hector’s) needs either. So, give yourself a bit of time to mourn what might have been (recognizing that a number of those Christmas letters really ARE heavily edited to present the best possible façade) and take the Captain’s advice—start looking for people and adventures that align with your priorities and give yourself permission to step away from those that don’t. And if at some point Agnes and/or Hector decide that the new world order no longer works for them, you have no obligation to accommodate their wishes on any thing other than terms agreeable to you.
Maybe don’t befriend people who you don’t actually respect?
Thing is, when I think about it, I have several friends who one could call “dysfunctional”. As in, “untreated mental illness + not-that-helpful behaviour for managing that illness”. Or “terrible choice of relationships”. But – here is the point, they are amazing people. Amazing. They are cool, funny, dorky, nice, interesting, etc people – with a side note of a problem. They are fun to be around. I care about them, and they care about me. Sometimes The Problem gets bigger, and then contact gets less, and I get worried and reach out a bit more than usual, and they answer a bit less then usual. But they are friends, friends that I dearly love and that I have mad respect for them. Doing things with them is not a chore, it’s something to look out for. The Problem doesn’t change that.
I would never, never call one of “the dysfunctional friend” though, if you ask me, in the specific context of The Problem they are dysfunctional. But they are not “dysfunctional people”. They are great people with a problem. But mostly, they are great people.
Lw here. Wow. Probably my fault for cutting my letter drastically to meet the 400 words.
To clarify: the ages and lack of previous partners totally does not = dysfunction. It was just background info. There is a lot of evidence/ anecdotes for the dysfunction but again, was trying to be concise.
Using her niece as a ‘ weapon’ were her words not mine!!! I was equally as horrified when she gloatingly told me how this meant she would always ‘win’.
They’ve been together for 6 years now, so not a new relationship.
Well, I just have to scrape my chin on the floor, now.
You know, if you had lead with “she calls her niece a weapon,” I doubt anyone would have argued about dysfunction. More like, “And you want to spend holidays with this person because WHY?”
So, some of the comments have come over quite harsh. I’ve had my other sister in law read over them and she agrees a lot of it is down to context and knowing more details, which is how it goes, but it still stung. But then I
re- read the captain’s response and captain, you really got it and your advice is very helpful- thank you so much for this!
I find Frozen to be pretty useful, often… Let it go, let it go….
Do the holiday thing that works for your family and for the people who you can see. Let go of expectations, and doing work on behalf of the rest. Be kind to people who don’t meet your expectations, reasonable though they are, especially when talking on the internet. The tone of internet words is very easy for the audience to get wrong, and there’s never enough words to get reality through. We do so much communicating with tone and non-verbal, text just doesn’t cut it.
There’s also a *long* history on the site of ‘my family is pressuring me to Do.The.Holidays, how do I tell them no?’ You’re one of the few who have come on asking ‘I asked them to Do.The.Holidays, and they rudely evaded!’ so you’re getting some institutional backlash in the answers.
And yeah, we tend to side-eye personal critiques like ‘dysfunctional’ pretty hard.
Not dating until age 36 is unusual, but not really “dysfunctional”. Not dating since high school, likewise. By that criteria, I guess I’m dysfunctional, because I was very picky and didn’t want to waste my time or some guys time if it was clear there was not a good match.
I find it interesting that LW explains her continued friendship with this woman in terms of “Well, I don’t really have many friends, and she’s sort of fun” and doesn’t see anything the least bit dysfunctional about that.
Yes, this is probably another reason you got some harsh comments, LW. ‘And she was a virgin until she was 30!’ is NOT ‘background info’ when you’re talking about making Christmas plans. It’s just judgement and mockery, and doesn’t seem to have any obvious role in this letter at all other than as a personal insult to ‘prove’ that this person is immature. Maybe the letter was just badly written and that was not what it was meant to convey (I guess maybe that you feel she should be indebted to you for introducing her to someone??), but that’s how it reads.
In any large group of people (and captain awkward’s website is a large group) and perhaps (?) even more so in groups that are happy to call themselves ‘awkward’, there will be people with a wide range of dating histories. And you will immediately alienate quite a lot of people if you throw in judgemental comments about people’s celibacy or use it as background info to demonstrate immaturity.
LW, I am glad you are taking the Captain’s advice under consideration, even if you are feeling a little defensive while reading the comments. I think a lot of us have been on the other side of the equation, as Jules the Third pointed out, where we’ve been the ones trying to set boundaries or make our own plans, and have had to navigate pushback, especially around fraught-seeming issues like families, partners’ families, and holidays. I’d say a significant percentage of us have also had the experience of being labeled the “dysfunctional” family member or significant other (I am one of those), and you saw a lot of responses that reflect those experiences. I’m trying to be gentle because I think you are genuinely hurt and disappointed, but I think that re-setting some of your expectations for others, and especially trying to reset your own perceptions about how much you are obliged to manage other people’s relationships or emotions are all things that are really going to do you good in the long run.
Like some of the other commenters, I was not quite certain what you meant when you wrote that you were disappointed that you and your husband “were not aksed”. Not being asked whether it was OK for Agnes & Hector to make Christmas plans without consulting you? Not being asked to join Agnes & Hector with your in-laws on the 23rd? If it was the latter, I understand if you felt left out and excluded, but there may be a bit of Social Fallacy that’s affecting your response—the idea that you all have to do everything together every time because HOLIDAYS! or faaaaamily. Please try not to take their social engagements personally, LW. There are lots of reasons why Agnes and Hector might want to see just the in-laws on that date. Several commenters have mentioned how they feel overwhelmed and exhausted by spending holidays with larger groups—maybe Agnes, Hector, or both of them want to avoid that fatigue. You wrote that Agnes clearly does not get along very well with your in-laws, so I’m wondering if perhaps this smaller, more private gathering is a way that Agnes and Hector are compromising so that he gets to see his parents to celebrate the holidays, but Agnes doesn’t have to deal with them in front of an audience. Or perhaps this smaller gathering with Hector’s parents will allow Agnes and Hector to put a shorter time cap on the event than a bigger gathering that’s scheduled to sprawl over many hours (which is actually a pretty smart compromise, one that has been discussed by commenters on other posts spending time with family members who are difficult to be around). Since Agnes + In-Laws is known to be kind of an unpleasant blend, please try to treat this as a bullet you’ve dodged.
It’s fine to feel disappointed that your holiday celebrations won’t be configured in exactly the way you’d planned and hoped. What I think bristled a lot of the commenters here was that your letter made it seem like you’d taken that a step further and were trying to transmute your disappointment into something that Agnes—specifically Agnes, not Hector—had done deliberately to wound you, but the circumstances you described didn’t sound like something she was actually doing AT you (and, in fact, sounded like pretty reasonable actions to a lot of people, myself included). It’s okay to feel disappointed, but this isn’t a slight that calls for pistols at dawn.
If you’ve been hosting a celebration with the aim of better accommodating everyone, and that has become the new tradition for you, I understand why you’d feel frustrated, especially if you’ve come to feel that hosting is a responsibility you’ve taken on for other people’s benefit. Me, I have a very bad habit of going to what feels like Herculean lengths to try to optimize other people’s experiences, and then feeling slighted when they don’t seem to appreciate my efforts in proportion to what I expect, or want to change the plans—could this be part of what happened here? If that’s the case, and you’re wallowing in feelings of bitter martyrdom (believe me, I KNOW those feelings, and that can be a damn addictive wallow), I want to second the Captain’s advice about re-framing the situation in your mind. Stop thinking of this as a personal rejection of you and your efforts, and start thinking of it as the most beautiful Christmas gift of all—not having to manage any of these people’s emotions or optimize their experiences. Whatever other behaviors of Agnes and Hector have led you to think of them as “dysfunctional,” their decisions about their holiday plans do not seem to be a symptom of dysfunction—they’re reasonable decisions that grown adults get to make about their holiday schedules, and they may reflect a lot more thoughtfulness (in the sense that Agnes and Hector may have given a lot of consideration to what they want and are able to do this holiday season, and did so MONTHS in advance) than you’re giving them credit for.
I think the Captain’s suggestions here are golden because they don’t actually depend on sussing out Agnes or Hector’s motivations, or analyzing and diagramming all the ways in which the individuals involved are or are not dysfunctional. You are allowed to let this go. I hope you are able to get past this and have a wonderful holiday with people who are kind to you, and with whom you choose to spend your time.
I love this, thank you!
Hi LW! I think what you may be encountering with the comments taking you to task is that your perception of Agnes as a person is colored by a long history of inappropriate behavior that you left out for brevity, and you’re interpreting the specific actions about which you’re writing in through that lens. That’s completely understandable, and it gives you a very different read on the situation than many of us because in this particular case, Agnes’s past actions aren’t necessarily all that relevant, and the holiday-planning actions look mostly reasonable.
Agnes apparently hates your husband’s parents and “sulks whenever she is in a room with them”; perhaps her hatred is unreasonable in your opinion, but emotions aren’t necessarily rational or reasonable-looking to others, nor can we necessarily consciously control them, so visiting the in-laws separately looks to me (and, from the comments, others) like a drama-minimizing kindness to the rest of the family, such that you’re all spared Agnes sulking. She and Hector made their own plans and told you about them when you asked, well in advance of the holiday, which is a reasonable, responsible thing to do. Now, it may actually be the case that Agnes is doing these things at you becasue she knows that it will bother you, but someone trying to attack you by engaging in reasonable, responsible behavior is actually a bit of a win for you, since all you need to do for everything to go smoothly in that case is not rise to the bait and let the reasonable behavior (even if maliciously motivated) stand without further action or investment on your part. We usually say that intent isn’t magic in the sense that good intent doesn’t cancel out harmful effects of one’s actions, and here’s a case where I think we can apply this rule in the opposite direction: Agnes’s (possible) ill intent doesn’t mean the effect of her actions must be the drama and disruption she may be seeking; instead, you can let the positive effects of an action motivated by (possibly) ill intent stand on their own and not deal with the situation any further.
I suspect there’s a bunch of Geek Social Fallacy stuff happening here. Because LW (per their own description) doesn’t have a lot of friends, maybe there’s a feeling that all friends must be Best Friends, and Best Friends = Family, and Family = All Do Everything Together.
Not having that many friends isn’t necessarily a problem (I love me some introverts), but it can inflate the impact of perceived rejection.
This is more of a general comment but I have to say that each time I read one of these entries about awful family members or friends I put myself in the LW’s place and mentally compare my issues with theirs. I do this in hopes of finding validation, answers, whatever.
Today’s post really spoke to me. And the completely simple advice really hit it home. I took the Captains reply, copied it into a word document and change the guts of the grievances with my own. And I read it to myself. Her simple, matter of fact take on this situation made me realize that I’m hanging onto the hurt and humiliation I endured in my own person problem. Not because of real pain – but because of the drama factor.
Drama is easier to deal with than rejection. And more fun. But drama is a hollow bitch that only leads to bitterness. And I’m there. Bitter, angry and ready for a confrontation at the first sign of crackers. But the bitch in MY world has been eating crackers for years and I’m just seething – waiting for “the moment” when all will be perfectly revealed. The joke is on me – my person probably hasn’t considered me in years. Bitches do that.
It’s time to move on. Release the drama. Reject the bad and embrace the good. THANK YOU Captain for not only doing what you do. But for doing it so well. Sharing your talents with the world is a true gift.
Aw thanks for the kind words!
I think LW’s come in for a bit of a harsh time because it’s sometimes hard to fit complicated dramas into a word count; if Agnes has been a genuine headache about this all, I can totally sympathise with feeling fed up about it.
That said, LW, if Agnes really is a pain then I think the song you need to be singing this Christmas is this:
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Drama llama is not in my house
She’s gone elsewhere to fuss up and grouse
I can sit and rela-ax
I can just sit and relax.
That was beautiful.
Hello! Frequent lurker and first time commenter here popping in to say a couple of things:
Firstly, Lady Amalthea, thank you for coming in to respond to the advice and comments, especially since many of the comments reflected a different view of the situation than your own view. Thanks for providing a little more info on the situation without bogging down in self justification and denial and rejection of the input you got.
This site is a pleasure to read because if the awesomeness of the Captain, most commenters, and most LWs. Thanks for being one of the gracious ones.
Second, I know it’s part of the detail you omitted for brevity, but: Now it turns out there’s probably yet another family group involved: As well as your family, Agnes’ family, and the family your husband and Hector share, presumably their other sibling’s spouse also has a family?
How did your sister-in-law and her spouse handle the previous schedule? Were they always able to negotiate it with their own extended families, or did they have to duck out sometimes?
Oh, and of course there is yet another family we already knew about: the extended family of Agnes’ niece’s parents.
Sometimes I wonder how anybody does any gathering as an extended family at all. I suspect its by excluding some as less important than others.
I know a large amount of complication in my family has been avoided by virtue of the fact that my father is an only child without many cousins.
Thank Agnes for the gift of her absence at Christmas and let it go. There is no law to say you have to see all the relatives on that branch of the family tree at the same occasion. It is ok to meet with your parents-in-law separately from your siblings-in-law.
Is part of the problem a ‘ladies are the family calendar gatekeepers’ thing? Is it always up to the LW, Agnes and MIL to co-ordinate because FIL, LWH and Hector opt out of any and all holiday arranging because of Y chromosomes? If it isn’t, I don’t understand why LW’s H and his brother can’t figure something out amongst themselves.
Agnes may be inflexible and frustrating over holiday arrangements, but that’s Hector’s problem to manage… and he may not feel it’s a problem or a problem worth addressing. He might really enjoy Christmas with Agnes’ lot after a lot of single Christmases spent with his parents and alternately brother and sister-in-law.
My personal experience has been that “Ladies ARE the family calendar gatekeepers, and God help any man that tries to butt in.”, and this has been true both of my own family and extended family, as well as that of my ex-spouse and, to the extent it ever came up, families of ex-SOs as well as friends.
I will admit to not having a lot of anecdotes in this area, since when you get embarrassingly shut-down or sidelined a couple times, you kinda lose the appetite for more of the same, so you stop trying on your own, and go through the approved channels instead.
Anyway, my experience more or less boils down to either being told that I have to go through my SO, or friend’s SO, to get a firm committal, or initially just getting hemming and hawing, with no firm answers at all, until suddenly, sometime later, my SO tells me what has been decided.
Worse yet, not even my own SO seemed to find any fault with them going behind my back and cutting me out of the discussion until a decision had been reached, or for that matter, that she should at least have involved/consulted me before reaching a decision. Especially since she did not, in fact, have more than a superficial idea of what restrictions might influence the choice of date, and that the date she graciously agreed to would not, as a matter of fact, work.
I think I understand the problem. Agnes, LW, and their in-laws spent a few years celebrating Christmas in a certain way. Now, two out of the three of those groups have changed that celebration without including her. I would be a bit hurt too.
“Sometimes annoying and inconsiderate people accidentally give you the gift of permission to stop considering their convenience and planning around them. ”
I love this so much! And I wish that I had realized this when I was ten.
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