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My younger brother is graduating college this spring. His college is halfway across the country from me, and graduation falls on a holiday weekend. I looked up travel options this weekend:

  1. ~$1000 for flight, hotel, and rental car
  2. ~$300-400 for hotel and gas, and spend 24+ hrs driving there and back (holiday traffic!)

That's a lot for me, although not impossible.

My brother and I are not close and I have no idea how important it is to him that I attend in person. (Technically he hasn't even told me when his graduation is - I looked it up online - so maybe not that much, but I don't want to assume.)

Another complicating factor is that I'm sure my estranged sister will be there, and for multiple reasons I will be very uncomfortable seeing her. On a couple of occasions in the past my family has gotten upset at me for being uncomfortable. E.g. before complete estrangement but after things had gotten bad, my family visited my area to help my sister move; I was told if I was "going to be awkward, don't come". I'm not sure if my brother would feel similarly and prefer I don't go and ruin the happy family get-together.

On the other hand, what if he is offended that I'm even considering skipping it? All my siblings went to my college graduation.. of course, they all lived with my parents within an hour drive at the time.. (and personally I wouldn't have cared that much if someone didn't make it, but I know that's not always the case.) Again, in the past I've been surprised by a family member's reaction when I mentioned possibly not going to some event that I (mistakenly) thought wasn't a big deal.

If it is all the same to him I'd much rather just watch the livestream, send a card, and save my money / time / mental health. But if it is important to him and he does want me there, I will go. I just don't know how to figure out how he feels about it, without hurting his feelings if it is a big deal to him.

How do I ask if he wants me to attend without offending?

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    What are your current methods of communication and how often to you use them/under what context? – Jesse Apr 5 '18 at 17:00
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    @Jesse, texting, IM, phone, email. He is typically not very responsive though unless I happen to catch him when he's already online, otherwise he might take a couple days to respond. – Em C Apr 5 '18 at 17:06
  • You may want to use this opportunity to get to know your brother better: how close a friendship he wishes to maintain with you, how often he wants to meet, and how often he is willing to visit you. You may also want to think about these questions in the other way round before you ask him. I think it's more important to build a good (useful, helpful, cheerful) relationship in which both parties happily participate rather than trying to figure out how not to offend him. – pts Apr 5 '18 at 22:09
  • @pts I am all for that :) I don't think there's any bad feelings in our current relationship, we just don't talk very often. We get along fine when I do see him though. Perhaps you could expand this into an answer? – Em C Apr 5 '18 at 22:27
  • Can someone who didn't invite you expect you to participate an event that you can't be supposed to know about? Did you invite your siblings to your graduation explicitely? Is it common to be invited or to just go there? All this could matter. – puck Apr 8 '18 at 10:08
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I would argue that you should actually speak directly to your brother on the matter. It's his graduation, after all. Talking to your parents or other family members about your attendance will likely revolve more around their wish to (for lack of better terms) "put up with" the tension between yourself and your sister, and less about what your brother truly wants.

When it comes to talking to him about it, instead of putting him on the spot with, "Do you want me to come or not?", try leading with something like the following:

"Hey! It's the big semester, and I saw your graduation date is set for XXX. Will they have a live stream I should watch from or should I come be there in person?"

This conveys the message that you care enough to have already looked up when graduation is for him. Furthermore, you've considered both options and are presenting them equally for him to choose from, while subtly listing your preferred choice first. This is the most forward and least on the spot way for you both to have this discussion.

I think your biggest challenge is starting this conversation in a way that won't offend your brother into thinking you are trying to get out of travelling for him, while also not locking yourself into travelling if he doesn't care either way. If that is a fair assessment, the above should accomplish that goal.

Afterwards, if, instead of just answering with one of the two options, your brother asks "Do you want to come?", you can then express your own reasons:

"Well, it's a bit of a trip, but one I'd make if you wanted the whole family to be there for you on your graduation day."

The emphasis is on hinting at what you want while still remaining neutral when presenting your brother with his options on your attendance.

  • Accepting this answer because it's closest to how things turned out. He finally called me back about something else and brought up graduation on his own, so luckily I didn't have to start the conversation. Leaving my preferences open-ended like you suggest seemed to work well :) – Em C Apr 10 '18 at 12:38
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The estrangement with your sister is a perfect reason to just ask your brother. Your concerns about cost and inconvenience are going to be much harder to communicate without causing offense.

Get on the phone with him and say that you're concerned about the possibility of conflict between yourself and your sister ruining what should be his event. Tell him that you think it is important for you to be supportive of his wishes, but that you're not sure of the best way to do that. Then just offer to attend remotely. Perhaps something along the lines of:

I want to make sure that your graduation weekend is about you, but I'm concerned that if I'm around our sister it will be awkward. When you all came to my area to help her move, {family member} told me to not come around in order to avoid drama. It's important to me that I am there for you, but I'd hate for your graduation to turn into a discussion of why {sister} and I aren't getting along. Would you be okay if I attended via livestream, and then you and I could celebrate at a later date?

The key parts are:

  • Tell him that you want to support him (i.e. as you said, if its really important to him that you be there, you're willing to go despite the cost and risk of drama)
  • Explain that the situation with your sister is cause for concern.
  • Point out that you've specifically been asked in the past to avoid family events due to the situation with your sister
  • Offer what you want to do (attend remotely) as an alternative

Adding an offer to celebrate with him separately is a demonstration of good-faith.

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    I really appreciate this answer - although it worked out without having to explicitly talk about this, it was clear from other things he said that he was sensitive to the situation, so I was glad to have this advice in my back pocket just in case :) – Em C Apr 10 '18 at 12:41
  • @EmC Glad it worked out well! – Beofett Apr 10 '18 at 13:15
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My experience with graduations is that the graduate is allowed only so many attendees. Your brother might not have mentioned it, because he's already reached his limit. He might feel uncomfortable telling you that you're pretty far down on the list, so there's no seat available for you. Food for thought!

I would just forget about it. If he contacts you, based on what he says, then decide. But if he doesn't give you enough notice, you have to tell him that. Based on my experience in similar matters involving graduations, that is what I would recommend

  • Letting us know your experience with graduation, with an emphasis on how it links to OP's scenario would be a big help – Jesse Apr 6 '18 at 6:33
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In situations like this I find it much easier to make the inquiry via a third party. Ask one of your parents (or a sibling you're in good relationship with if you have one) to find out for you if it's important for him that you attend.

It's much easier for a third party to ask about it without the risk of your brother being offended, it can even be done without letting him know that you consider skipping.

I was talking to EM the other day and he struggles finding an affordable flight to your graduation, is it important for you that he comes?

If it's important for him that you come he will say yes, if it's not important it's going to be much easier for him to say no to a third party (he might also be afraid to offend you buy telling you it's not important to him).

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    Thanks for the suggestion - unfortunately I don't feel comfortable asking my parents, but if the dynamics were different I could see this being a good option. – Em C Apr 6 '18 at 0:20
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I think it comes down to how you frame the question.

To take the extreme, if you were to say, "Making this trip would cost me a bunch of money, and you're not important enough to me to go to that kind of extent. How about if I just don't show up?", well, obviously that would be rude.

But something like, "Is it important to you that I attend your graduation? If you don't really care, I don't want to spend the money on the plane fare, but of course if it's important to you, your my brother and I'll come."

Also, what has your brother said to you, if anything? My family is scattered over a wide area, and there have been a number of times when we've had some family event and the person has called me and said, "I understand it's a long trip, but you're certainly welcome if you'd like to come", versus "... but I'd really like you to come". That is, the wording of the invitation will often indicate how much they care.

And, how well do you know your brother? You seemed to indicate that you're not sure if this is important to him or not. When my daughter graduated college, I asked her if she wanted me to attend her graduation, and she replied that she wasn't going to attend her graduation because she just didn't care about the ritual. Which I guess solved that question. :-)

Finally, how hard will it be for you to afford the trip? If it's, "this will cost almost as much as I spend on lunches for a WEEK", that's very different from "this will wipe out my life savings". There are times when I have told friends and relatives, "I'm sorry, but I just can't make it", because I simply didn't have the money (or vacation time or whatever). If a relative is going to hate me for the rest of my life because I wasn't willing to lose my house so I could be one of 500 guests at some ceremony, well, too bad. I'm not going to feel very guilty about that. I guess the hardest cases are when it's borderline, when you COULD afford it, but it will be a strain, or at least, more than it seems like it's worth to YOU.

  • I can afford it, although it will make me wince a bit (just made a major purchase and am saving up for a move, also not keen on spending that much time in a car if I go that route). I mentioned his graduation a few months ago and he was pretty vague about it - "so I hear you'll be walking, when is that?" "oh, yep, idk this spring sometime". Basically I just know he will be walking and other family members will be there (who all live much closer).. which I think is your hardest case, huh :P – Em C Apr 5 '18 at 22:33
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If your younger brother is aware that your attending his graduation could give your mental health a setback, I would suggest emailing him and telling him that it might be best for you to not attend his graduation -- and instead offer to celebrate with him sometime in the future. Your health comes first, and you need to be a little bit selfish here and protect yourself.

I was recently in a similar position, but instead of a graduation, it was a wedding. I, too, had enough money to attend, and that it was seeing other people that I really didn't want to see that was the issue - an issue that I knew would likely cause a setback in my mental health.

A close friend urged me to make this decision about me - that if I didn't want to go, for valid reasons, then I shouldn't be asking for permission to not attend.

I went against her good advice, rsvp'd, and attended the wedding - and I saw the people that I really couldn't stand to see. I managed to stay for about half of the ceremony, until I just felt so overwhelmed that I slipped outside quietly and just left without saying goodbye to anyone. In retrospect, I would have mailed a gift (or money) to my brother and his wife and explain to them that I wouldn't be able to attend.

I suspect that you're going to have a hard time managing your stay with your family through all of the graduation activities. It's a lot to have to put up with, when there are people that you shouldn't be around, because of your mental health. So again, feel free to be a little selfish here, and make your mental health a priority. I would bet that your brother would appreciate your honesty and is more than willing to see you at a later date to celebrate and catch up.

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Ask him. For example

How important is it to you that I go to your graduation?

Perhaps you could invite him to go on a nice vacation with you for a week or so sometime in early summer to celebrate his graduation with you one on one. If money is tight, you could invite him to a staycation at your place.

In other words, as you are taking a step back (re the graduation ceremony), you could balance that out with an invitation to celebrate it in a different way.

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    Do you have any personal experiences or references that can help explain why taking a step back and balancing out the invitation will be good for OP's situation? – Jesse Apr 6 '18 at 6:32
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    @Jesse - I don't think there is a need for an installment of my memoir here. The logic should be enough. If you withdraw from family member A because you're uncomfortable with family member B, then you may wish to spend time with A one on one, to prevent damage to that relationship. – aparente001 Apr 6 '18 at 14:01

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