Dear Carolyn: Please help me. My older sister and family go to the beach yearly for a week and stay together in a condo. Same location for decades. In recent years, I have rented nearby at the same time to see my family.
I must say, they don’t seem to care if we are there. We don’t eat together, and other than seeing each other on the beach, there is very little interaction. My ex always noticed they didn’t care; my current husband says the same thing. He feels sad for me that I am working to be connected to people who really don’t seem to care about seeing us.
Enter politics. Now, since we are of the opposite parties, it is more complicated. I do not discuss politics but they are flagrant in their beliefs. You know what a mess it has been since the election. Tension has brewed the last few years.
So this year, I do not want to be there. Just seems like too much stress to feel like we are bad people for having obviously different political views. My other sister won’t even try to go; she thinks they’re rude.
A few months ago, my sister said, “You coming to the beach?” I said yes. Nothing else was said.
Eventually it will come up again in one of our infrequent phone calls. Not that she cares if we are there, but what do I say?
You tell her there’s been a change of plan and you won’t be there after all.
The issue here isn’t that this situation is complicated; it’s that, for whatever reason, you won’t let it be simple.
Your sister doesn’t welcome you when you come to the beach, and the simplest conclusion to draw from that is that you’re not welcome there. Political differences are a red herring.
Your choosing to plant yourself alongside her on the same week as her annual trip could even be hurting your chances to get closer to your sister. You’re free to travel where you want when you want, obviously, so your sister doesn’t really have standing to say, “Hey, could you please not have this parallel vacation every year?” – so your being there puts her in an awkward spot. If I’m right, then you’re forcing her either to include you when she’d rather focus her attention on her family; to avoid you without being overtly rude; or to explain to you outright that she loves you and enjoys your company, but this beach trip is her time to focus on her spouse/kids/grandkids.
If I were advising her, I’d urge her to choose Option 3 and just explain it to you, because it’s not necessarily bad: She really could appreciate your company in another context, and you really could be unwelcome here while being welcome elsewhere at virtually any other time.
But since I’m advising you, I need to say instead that it’s your duty not to force her to explain herself. Again, let it be simple: This isn’t your beach week, it’s hers. Read the situation. Pick another way to bond.
And, pick a healthy approach: Suggest a gathering, then give her a chance to accept, decline or propose something else.
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