A question about (almost) in-laws

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Dear Meredith,

Is it reasonable to decline to go to a sibling-in-law's wedding? Let me clarify that this is all speculation; I'm not married yet or planning to get married. I've been with my partner for more than five years and we're in our 20s, so we've been talking about marriage and what it means to us. In the culture our parents come from, weddings are huge parties to celebrate families and the bride and groom's friend groups coming together. Both my partner and I don't really have "friend groups" because of our personalities, and I also have traumatic experiences with them to top it off. My partner also isn't that close with his family the way I am with mine.

My partner's sibling went to college with us and has a close friend I had a pretty bad falling out with. Therapy has done a bit to help with my anger, resentment, and trying to accept that college sometimes becomes high school 2.0, where people don't understand how they hurt others. I have talked to my partner's sibling about my problem, and they were understanding, and we've been able to do things together to get closer.

I've thought I moved on, but recently my partner's sibling posted pictures of her birthday celebration with a lot of friends at restaurants (they're all vaccinated). I had a hard, stressful week, and seeing that friend in those pictures made my brain almost go back into the habit of being angry again and beating myself up for not having the close college friend group I always had dreamed of. I ended up muting all of my partner's sibling's social media feed so I wouldn't torture myself further. It's unfair to ask them to curate what they post for my benefit since we're not THAT close. I haven't talked to them about how it's made me feel.

One of the reservations I have getting married to my partner is that if I do, and my partner's sibling gets married and has the stereotypical wedding, I'll feel obligated to go, even if it means I'll be at a wedding with a bunch of people I don't want to hang out with or ever see again. I'm afraid my resentment and anger will cloud the whole experience, so it feels like it'll be better to just decline to go. I know my partner's parents won't understand if I make that decision, and it's all about appearances in this regard, where I would be "part of the family." I also know my partner would definitely have to go, and leaving them alone to deal with their family is also unideal. I love my partner, and our relationship has the usual flaws that we're continuing to work on, but it's lasted so long because we have the same humor, goals, etc. I'm not trying to fix my partner's relationship with their family, but I also don't want to strain it further with my issues. I know there are a lot of hypotheticals, but thinking about this path worries me. Help!

– Worried

There are a lot of maybes here, but I'm happy to do some planning with you.

I'm getting the sense that you wish you were in a place where you could go to a wedding to support your significant other – that you knew how to avoid the people you don't want to see, and leave with a few great memories, having survived the experience as a couple. It sounds like you'd feel worse skipping an event than being present in some way, even if it's on the sidelines.

That's why I think it's time to get help from a counselor ... because it sounds like you're haunted. Seeing one group photo on social media opened old wounds and made you feel bad about the way you live now. I don't think any curation on your sibling-in-law's part can help that. It's better to figure out why this takes up so much space in your brain, and how to cope when you're confronted with the image of someone who makes you feel bad.

Obviously I don't know what this person did to you and the specifics of the falling out. If there's trauma here, I wouldn't want you to put yourself in a bad place. But if this is more about how these pictures make you feel about your life now, it's worth talking about it. You seem to desire more close friends, and maybe the pain is about that. Perhaps, with a counselor, you can figure out how to maintain your fantastic romantic relationship, discover new friends (even just a few), and build a life that's so happy you can show up at a wedding and shrug when you see someone you don't like.

The good thing about thinking about this now is that the work can start here. You can begin taking steps to move far beyond college by the time you're invited to any kind of wedding. Hypothetically.

– Meredith

Readers? Is it better to be present and unhappy or to skip an event but possibly offend?