DEAR CAROLYN: When does FaceTime become an intrusion?
My sister-in-law recently relocated to our area. We invited her to join us for our traditionally quiet New Year’s Eve celebration. About two hours before midnight, she pulled out her iPad and FaceTimed her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, and proceeded to talk for the next two hours or longer. Essentially three people were invited into our home, disrupted our evening and became a huge distraction.
Both my husband and daughter bemoaned the loss of our peaceful evening. We like the family she called, and I understand a brief phone call, but over two hours?
I’m for confronting her, but my very sensitive husband doesn’t want to alienate or upset her. Needless to say, we won’t be including her in future New Year’s celebrations, but what about other holidays?
Angry and Frustrated
DEAR ANGRY: FaceTime becomes an intrusion when the people surrounding the call are too distracted by it to carry on with what they were doing; and I can’t see how other holidays will be any different from New Year’s.
That answers your questions, but they’re the wrong questions.
What I hope you’ll ask — and what I’m answering whether you ask it or not: Is it really more “sensitive” and less likely to “alienate or upset” someone to skip right past talking to her and jump straight to icing her out? With “needless to say” certainty of your righteousness, no less?
Answer: No. It isn’t. Silently blackballing someone isn’t kind at all, it’s cowardly, and “confronting” days later isn’t much better. Both hit your sister-in-law after the fact when mid-fact was available to you all along.
If it wasn’t conceivable in the moment to respond in the moment and show her kindly to a room with a door, three minutes into FaceTime Part I, then make it so next time: “I’m going to interrupt you for a sec — let’s move you to the guest room where you can talk freely. It’s too chaotic in the family room. Hi [relative’s name] !! [smiley-waving at iPad screen].”
If your home is too small or thin-walled even for that, then, after a polite time allowance for calls, you step in with apologies and say you’re all unable to play with the calls going on — “thin walls, so sorry.”
It was in fact dishonest of all of you to allow the behavior to continue for two hours as if you had no objection to it, only to attach consequences that kick in a full year after the fact and that your sister-in-law won’t even know she brought upon herself, much less be able to address. With loved ones, you either voice your objection clearly or you waive your right to punish them for it.
As for what you do about it now, the short answer is, nothing. It happened, it tanked your party, it was as much a result of your failure to stop it as of your sister-in-law’s choice to start it.
But now you know.
Invite her to whatever you normally would as a forewarned, forearmed host. Be ready — as in, respectful enough — to speak your mind and to give her a chance to speak hers. And consider a no-devices-in-communal-spaces rule, since all of us should.
I think this is the beginning of a beautiful hostship.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.