Carolyn Hax: Family ‘extremely upset’ at guests who left wedding early

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My son was married last Sunday, and it was a wonderful day about a three-hour drive from where we all live. My sister and my son are very fond of each other, and my son babysat their now young-teen boys often. We knew they wouldn’t stay till the end. But we hadn’t expected they would leave directly after the meal, before any speeches, on the grounds their child “hadn’t done his homework” for the following school day.

My son was extremely upset, though later he said — through slightly gritted teeth — that he was over it. I said to him that I know my sister, her husband and her boys have had a tough time lately. Plus my brother-in-law doesn’t always understand the emotional connotations of what he says and is hopeless at time management. My sister was enjoying herself hugely, and said she wished they could have stayed.

There’s no way to change what has happened, and no amends or salvage to be made. The wedding was otherwise pure joy.

My problem is that I am still, irrationally, incandescently furious with my sister and brother-in-law on behalf of my son. I always find avoidable but irreversible losses disproportionately upsetting and the hardest to process. I’m not sure I trust myself to keep silent to my sister and brother-in-law forever about something that really hurt my son. Is there any way I can say anything, if only in response when she says at some point that she’s sorry they couldn’t stay longer?

Upset: Your son is upset, for real — and actually quite touching — reasons. But your sis and brother-in-law didn’t “hurt” him in the sense of showing malice or intending harm.

This is a hurt of failing to anticipate what your son might have felt, yes. For perspective, consider they may have felt “hurt,” too, that he/you booked a life event three hours away on a school night despite full awareness of their young teenage kids.

You also don’t know why they left early — or that it was “avoidable” — because “homework” could have been a botched excuse. There could be any number of things going on with their family that they had sufficient filters not to broadcast at a wedding.

Or they just made a shortsighted choice for reasons that seemed legitimate at the time, but now in retrospect would seem silly even to them. You’ve never been possessed by a thought that seemed urgent in the moment, and that only a few days later was clearly not the big deal you had thought?

Again, or they had something bigger going on and they handled it internally the best they could and their handling wasn’t that great. Or maybe it was great they attended at all — you just don’t know. Maybe (just a for-instance) one of the boys is struggling and their departure was to preempt a crisis.

Regardless: They came; they celebrated your boy. They maybe dropped the ball. That’s not the same as grievous emotional injury, is it? One you simply can’t prevent from becoming a grudge?

Why not just assume the best of them?

There’s ample room to downgrade this from injury to bummer. (And to consider whether this rage trigger is a proxy for something else.) I urge you to make that choice. Assume they had their reasons and life will balance things out.

And when it’s time to say something: “We were so sorry you had to leave. Hope everybody’s okay.”

Congrats to you and your son.