Why Didn’t My Sister Include Me in Her ‘Family’ Birthday Party?


My sister and I live in different parts of the country. We’re not close, but we are cordial and visit each other every year or two. She is about to turn 70, so I offered to fly halfway across the country to help her celebrate. She declined, saying that “all her family” — her kids and grandkids — were coming for a party, so it wasn’t a good time for a visit. I stay in a hotel when I visit her, so it’s not a matter of putting me up, and there are no hard feelings between us. I am hurt not to be included. I thought I was family, too. I might have accepted a white lie (“I’m not doing anything special”), but telling me I’m not invited to her party seems hostile. Thoughts?

SISTER

I’m sorry your feelings are hurt. I’m also struck by how readily you placed yourself at the center of your sister’s birthday — in the same breath as reporting you aren’t close to her. (I get it, of course: We are all the starring players in our lives.) I agree that your sister chose her words poorly, but it doesn’t take a big leap to decipher what she really meant: She wants to focus on her children and grandchildren when they visit.

Many siblings drift over time (and distance). And your “cordial” relationship with your sister is not uncommon: You may have been central to each other — formative, even — in early life but not so much today. That doesn’t take away from the warmth you feel for each other. She was simply being honest when she said she wanted to give her undivided attention to her children and grandchildren on her birthday. She may not get to see them as often as she would like.

Your visit probably constitutes a different kind of special occasion: more nostalgic and rooted in the past. And a gentler reading of your sister’s response is that she didn’t want you to fly halfway across the country and feel neglected. So, I hope you can get past your hurt feelings and find another time for a sisterly celebration.

In college, my best friend and I dated another pair of best friends. After we graduated, five years ago, the other couple broke up, but my partner and I are still together. My friend’s ex was unkind to her during their breakup, and she still resents him — even though they are both in other relationships now. The problem: The ex is moving to our city. My partner would like me to spend time with his friend and his girlfriend occasionally, but I think my friend would be hurt if I did. (And my partner will be hurt if I don’t!) Advice?

COLLEGE FRIEND

I admire your loyalty. But who among us hasn’t been “unkind” during a breakup — much less a youthful one from years ago? In the absence of egregious behavior, try hanging out with your partner’s friend and his girlfriend to see how you mesh as a foursome. (You may not!)

Tell your friend about it. But remember: You are not asking for her permission. That gives an old grudge more oxygen than it deserves. You are merely supporting your partner’s friendship. And for the love of rom coms, please don’t try to engineer a rapprochement between the exes. Some things are better left in the past.

My husband’s 80-year-old father died two months ago. Their relationship was strained for most of my husband’s life, but they managed to repair it in recent years. My husband helped with caregiving during his father’s final months and grew closer to his stepmother. During his final weeks, my husband’s father mentioned a will, and his wife told my husband that he and his sister would receive equal bequests. But his stepmother hasn’t mentioned the will since her husband died. (She is the executor.) Is there a tactful way to ask a grieving widow about this?

DAUGHTER-IN-LAW

I respect your (indirect) humane question here: How soon is too soon? That depends on the widow, of course, and her grief. But it may be useful to know that, in many states, executors have three months to notify beneficiaries after a will has been filed with the court — which your husband’s stepmother may not yet have done. So, try to be patient and frame your question as an offer of help: with her house, the will or anything else she may need during a difficult time.

A dear friend self-published a book with Amazon. She asked me and other friends to let her write fake rave reviews under our accounts. I refused! But I see obviously fake reviews online praising her book. We have been friends for decades, but I am turned off by her behavior. Any advice?

FRIEND

Start with some compassion for your friend. One of the hardest parts of creative work, in my experience, is discovering how little the world cares about it. (“But I slaved over that novel!”) I doubt that many people will be taken in by a rave review from “Burt in Des Moines,” and eventually, I hope, your friend will learn that the only reliable reward for writing is the pleasure of writing itself.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on X.





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