Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Family Gossip

Generally speaking I don't like to use my blog as a soapbox to gossip about people who aren't present to defend themselves. Except for sometimes, when I'm really, really peeved. Like now.

I figure that venting my spleen anonymously is better than blowing up at family members or having a nervous breakdown.

There is always tension in the air when my mom's side of my family gets together. We are a sensitive lot, and moody. At any given time there's usually at least one person feeling upset about something or other. That's why it's hard to know where it all began, exactly. But let's begin with my wedding.

Ken and I only invited siblings and parents to our wedding. That's all Ken has for family anyway. On my side, it meant that quite a lot of people were excluded. My maternal grandparents very graciously gave me a card and a gift cheque, with their best wishes. My younger aunt didn't give me any Things, but did call the night before the ceremony to wish us well. My older aunt and her husband didn't call or give a gift, which was what I expected, and felt to be perfectly reasonable.

My mother, who has had lifelong conflicts with my older aunt and her husband, felt this was selfish of them. She thought that they should have at least given me a card. She communicated this sentiment to my step-dad (yes, the very one she's currently divorcing). He works with my uncle in a family business, so he did us the big favour of passing this tidbit along to my uncle. Unfortunately, a broken telephone effect occurred, and my uncle ended up with the impression that I was that one who had taken offense. Which he, of course, found offensive.

When this all came back to me, again courtesy of my well-meaning but meddling step-dad, I thought I'd better set things to rights, so I called my aunt and uncle's home straightaway. I spoke to my uncle. We worked out that they weren't offended by either my conversion to Christianity or the lack of wedding invitations, so that was all good. But he did still have a bone to pick with me.

I moved into my current condo three years ago. It's not big enough to hold my entire family for a sit-down meal at one time, so once I was settled in, I invited them over in two batches. The first group to get invited was my mom, my grandparents, and my mom's single younger sister. That made six of us around the table.

It was a very busy time for me, not incidentally because I was working a lot of stressful overtime for my uncle's business that year. I was very devoted to that job because of my strong value for family connections. In any case, it took me a few weeks after the first dinner to find another clear date in my planner, at which time I invited my aunt, uncle, and my cousins for dinner.

My aunt and uncle claimed to be too busy to commit to a dinner date. I told them to let me know when they were free to come over, as they were welcome anytime that I was available. They never called me back to set a date. I was mildly put off by this apparent lack of interest in my hospitality, but I frankly find hosting dinners, especially family dinners, to be a source of anxiety, so I didn't chase after them.

Last night I found out from my uncle that he and my aunt have been holding a grudge against me for three years because of those events. Here is my crime in their eyes: I didn't call them when I invited my mom, grandparents and other aunt to dinner, to explain to them why they weren't invited at the same time. I "went behind their backs" (my uncle's words) to invite the other family members first, which made them feel that they were "on the B list" and this was highly offensive. So offensive that they deliberately refused to come over for dinner.

I tried to explain that I meant no offense. But that wasn't good enough. My uncle accused me of being insensitive. Later I received an e-mail from my aunt echoing his sentiments. Neither of them were interested in accepting my apologies for unintentionally hurting their feelings. They would rather hold a grudge. Not only that, but each of them also managed to get in a few choice judgements on how I live my life and how they feel I've been a failure to my family.

In fact, my uncle was so enthused about telling me all my wrong-doings that he repeatedly interrupted me during our phone conversation, only allowing me to finish around half of my sentences. Eventually I just gave up.

I have some judgements about their lives that I could have thrown back in their faces. But once I started down that road it would be like lighting the fuse on a bomb that would blow up the whole family for months to come. These things always affect my mother much more than they affect me, so out of respect for her feelings and out of a desire to protect her from unnecessary pain, I zipped up my lips and said only positive, soothing things.

Of course I was hurt, and furious.

Since then I've been wrestling with the pressure of things left unsaid seething around inside my psyche. But time does pass, and this is only a tempest in a teapot that will seem sillier with each passing day. I hope. I did write an e-mail back to my aunt that was an attempt at being conciliatory. I said that I hoped we could just try to focus on each other's good points, and enjoy each other's company, so that we could have friendly family gatherings in the future. Knowing my aunt, she may find something to take offense at in my message. She's an expert in taking offense.

Finally, I should add that both my aunt and uncle did say that they love me, and that no matter what we'll always be family. I got the feeling their version of love consists of them feeling that they need to work to tolerate my difficult and ignorant behaviour, but they are such good people that they will try to be brave and put up with me. I didn't say it, but the feeling is mutual.


unsigned said...

Wow they sound like a bunch of assholes. Why would you ever want them over at all. I'd let them stay mad so you never have to see them again.

Problem solved.

Vanessa said...

Wow! I can sort of relate, which is why I basically did what "unsigned" above recommended, and now it's no longer a problem for me and life has been pretty peaceful in that regard.

Most don't respond that way though, and still want to maintain some semblance of a family relationship. And clearly your mother's feelings mean a lot to you.

Is it possible that instead of hosting dinner parties in your place, could you maybe take the whole family to a restaurant or something? Or perhaps just a dessert and coffee at your place instead of a full course meal?

Of course, family relationship are a 2-way street, and ultimately you're not responsible for their actions. If they choose to hold a grudge despite your apologies, then that's on them.

Jenski said...

Arg. That stinks that your aunt and uncle are so unwilling to let go misunderstandings from 3 years ago. Weird that you could clear up recent events and this is what they are focusing on. I hope they eventually can let it go. I hope venting helped you!!

Jameil said...

ha! the last part seems to sum it up perfectly! serves them right! i have so much family i just get tired of all of them sometimes. even the ones who haven't done anything. i don't get crazy with them. i just disappear or ignore their (what i deem as fake) quests to "get together next time i'm home." wack.

darcknyt said...

The more I read this, the more I was convinced we're from the same family and just don't know it. I have to remind myself you're Canadian to break the spell -- it's that freaky.

On the other hand, you don't add in the alcoholic rages and fist fights, so it's just my imagination.

Still, as Vanessa said, I've addressed my family issues in a different way than most people would, and she did too. So while most people shrug and say, "They're my family, what am I going to do?", we shrug and say, "Hey, I wouldn't tolerate this from people I don't share DNA with; what makes it different from people with whom I DO share DNA?"

I hope things work out to your advantage. You're much too nice a person to have to be tormented with these sorts of matters.


Warped Mind of Ron said...

I find myself agreeing with Unsigned. The people that seem to find joy in taking offense and then holding onto it will never be happy until the world is as miserable as they are. I have a feeling you're to nice to take the F-them route I would follow so I will just wish you the best :)

wigsf said...

You can't pick your family. You're born into a family and you're stuck with them.
If your family are all welcoming, gracious and friendly people, there's never any problem that can't be settled over a cup of coffee and some cake. (That's what Italians do; it may be a different beverage and food for Jews, I wouldn't know.)
But, if you're born into a family with an asshole, you're stuck dealing with that asshole for the rest of your life. And I can certainly understand what it's like to be born into a family of backstabbers, cheats, low-lifes and assholes.
All you can do is be the bigger person and swallow your pride and listen to their insults, greivances and displeasures with your honesty and sensitivities.

Dianne said...

that last paragraph says so much - that is how most of my family operates

it has been difficult but over time I have let go of a lot of them

I have even gotten to the place where I tell those I still have a relationship with to not include me in conversations or gatherings

my "family" consists mostly of people I'm not related to ;)

unsigned said...

Looks like it's almost unanimous!

powdergirl said...

My Goodness!
The day my family wants me to jump through hoops just to hold onto their love?

They can take a flying f**k

I know love is work, but it's not that much work. They're lucky to have and they should figure that out : )

SoMi's Nilsa said...

I think a lot of people have family members who misbehave in one way or another. The thing we have to remind ourselves is just because they are family does not mean they have to be friends. We do not have to love nor get along with our whole family. However, we have to respect that others we love do get along with those members. Many years ago, I learned I am not obligated to spend time with those family members who bother me. And since I started acting on that realization, my life has found a new sense of calm and peace.

Sparkling Red said...

Unsigned: I wish it were that simple.

Vanessa: Very true. I'm going to take a middle path between the two extremes. They're not getting another invitation, but other than that I'm going to act "normal" around them. It's for the sake of my grandparents, and my mom.

Jenski: Venting helps, but not half as much as all the supportive comments! :-)

Jameil: Events like this make me wish that I didn't live in the same city as my entire extended family.

darcknyt: Thanks! :-)
There is one alcoholic in my family. Rage was commonly and abundantly expressed in my childhood home... but no fistfights. Just the occasional smack to the face. Living with the threat of violence is nerve-racking, but not as bad as living with a lot of actual violence. Anyway, it does sound like our families of origin were very similar. Shall we adopt each other as cousins?

Ron: Thanks. Actually, once my mom's parents pass on I will have a lot less interest in "keeping the family together". As I expect we all will. I'm not always so nice. The other day I took great pleasure in imagining exactly what my aunt will look like dead. That's not very nice at all.

wigsf: Your family must be similar to mine. That's pretty much what I do most of the time. It's only once in a while that I get fully riled up about the family madness. Usually I can just shrug it off.

Dianne: I have some good blood relatives, and also some great "adopted" family. I feel lucky to be surrounded by so many people who care about me, including my Blog Family! ;-)

powerdergirl: Woohoo! You go, girl. Truly, sometimes I'd like nothing more than to give them the finger and never talk to them again. One day I just might.

Nilsa: It's good to hear that you've worked out a liveable relationship with your family. That gives me hope and encouragement.

Scarlet said...

What a mess and how horrible that they don't want to move past this.

There is a wonderful book by John Bevere called "The Bait of Satan," which talks about offense. It's all about it...and it helped me tremendously in my Christian walk. You might want to take a peek at it.

Good luck!! Your heart is in the right place and you've done the right thing!

NicoleB said...

One of the reasons I have nothing to do with any uncles and aunts.
All it does if they ever get in contact is, produce a lot of trouble.

LL Cool Joe said...

This sounds so familiar to me. Families fighting, then not talking for years, normally over something pathetically small too.

Last time it happened it was my mother and her sister. Sad thing is they only sorted the problem out when my mother found out her sister was dying of cancer. All those wasted years and then it was too late. Sad thing is they didn't even remember what it was they originally fell out about.

That says it all. Life's too short.

Sparkling Red said...

Scarlet: I've added that book to my wish list. Thanks for the suggestion; there are thousands of spiritual books out there and it's hard to know which ones are really good.

Nicole: You're a wise woman! I'll keep being nice until my grandparents aren't around to care anymore. Then I'll be happy to let my aunt and uncle fade out from my life.

Joe: That is so sad! I suppose the saddest thing about fighting with my aunt and uncle is that their daughter (my cousin) is a pretty decent person. I wonder where she'll end up in all of this...

Queen Lindsay said...

Geez, talk about some drama. Don't worry you're not alone, my family has the crazies also..that's why I live an hour and a half away from them. *snicker*

Aurora said...

That sucks. It's human for them to be offended, but how mean and rude of them to refuse your invitation, and now to refuse your apologies.

I can see why you apologized: for your mother, and to avoid conflict. But what do they get out of holding that grudge, practically? Is it some kind of bargaining chip when they talk to your dad or mother?

Sparkling Red said...

Queen Lindsay: 1.5 hours is a good, safe distance. I need to start looking for a job in St. Catherines. I hear that's a really nice little town...

Aurora: What do they get out of it? A sense of superiority I guess. And power? Or the illusion thereof. :-p

Katie said...

i understand what unsigned is saying but i have to say that in the end it really does hurt not to have your family around. most of my family and i do not get along thanks to my mother and i have never set the record straight because i feel i dont need to defend myself. also because i think that being almost 27 my family should see that i am no longer the 17 year old my mom complained about and adult enough to have a conversation. i am sorry that your family acts like that. at one point when i was considering getting married i didn't have anyone in my family that i would invite.
most days i like that i don't have to deal with the headache of my family but then there are some days when i am overwhelmed with sadness that i can't go to my mother for help when i need it.
i hope it gets better for you!! you have more restraint than i do, i would have opened my mouth lol and given them a piece of my mind.