About five years ago I discovered that if I didn’t want someone in my life, I had the ability to say “Nope!” and walk away, even if that person was faaaaaaaaaaamily. Since then, I’ve exercised this option four times with family members, never lightly but without regretting the decision either.
Three of the four family members were people I did not have a good relationship already who exhibited patterns of incredibly inappropriate, harmful behaviour (with myself and other) and showed zero insight or awareness into why their behaviour was awful. I feel safer and happier with these people out of my life.
The fourth was…. different. A beloved cousin turned out to espouse absolutely terrifying, hateful beliefs, the kind that conjure up associations with white supremacist groups. I don’t know what the hell happened there (it came up on Facebook one day, it’s definitely not something my cousin talked about when we still lived in the same city several years ago), but living three timezones away and having no regular means of contact with this person, I didn’t feel able to intervene. After trying to challenge these beliefs and getting a response that *I* was the one who wasn’t seeing clearly and if I just would read these various resources I too would see the light and understand [insert horrifying white supremacist conspiracy theory garbage], I bailed. I cannot countenance having any more contact with this person. According to my mother, my cousin is sad and confused by my reaction and subsequent blocking on Facebook. I am agog.
Anyway, none of these estrangements is likely to resolve, ever. I’m okay with that (sad about the beloved cousin, but I can deal). The challenge is what next? My grandmother is having a milestone birthday in a few months, and I’m already planning to avoid the group celebration (which will have 3 of the 4 in attendance) and do something special with her one-on-one (mercifully living out of town makes this possible with minimal awkwardness–I’m just not “available” that day!). Which will disappoint her, but hopefully not too much. My mother is supporting me completely, but she also wonders what the hell I’m going to do about things like funerals, which is something that will very likely come up within the next few years at my grandmother’s age.
Also, what do I tell people? When I was first contemplating just making a brief appearance at the birthday party and then bailing, my mother agreed but also asked me for scripts for how to handle the resulting awkwardness, and I honestly blanked on anything but, “[Child] loves their Granny but doesn’t want to be around Aunt/Uncle/Cousin”, which seems… undiplomatic, to say the least. And not helpful at dispelling awkwardness when the rest of the family are unlikely to be sympathetic to my reasons (very “but faaaaaaaaaamily”).
At least with my dad (estranged family member #4), I feel much freer to say “He’s a shitty person and I’m glad he’s out of my life forever”. But with the extended family members, it feels like I’m not allowed to judge them or be open about why I don’t want to see them. I feel good about my boundaries, but weird about the on-going awkwardness of having them. Help?
-Stranger in an Estranged Land