This is the most "first world" problem I've ever experienced, but I'm hoping some folks with similar experience might have some guidance.
tl;dr: Wife's mother offered to pay for a big trip somewhere; We're worried the offer is self-serving. What's the best way to accept or reject this gift while minimizing damage?
My MIL (mother-in-law) lives alone and has recently become obsessed with the show "Doc Martin" (set in England). I'd prefer to minimize details, but I don't use "obsessed" lightly: this progressed quickly past "fandom" and has already detrimentally affected her relationships with us and others. She's gone to great lengths to get everyone around her invested in the show with her, but it's just not our cup of tea. She's taken this as personally offensive and it's been the source of a lot of tension.
During a recent visit, MIL pulled my wife to the side and told her that she'd like to send just the two of us on a vacation to Port Isaac in Cornwall, where the show is filmed. My wife, being cautious, asked for more details so we could discuss it. "I'll need your help finding out when they film so we can be sure you'll be there at the right time, and I'll get a list together of all the places you need to go and people you need to try to meet," was the reply. It turns out that she's been thinking about this for a while and has created a specific itinerary she'd like us to follow for the trip. She also asked that it be a private gift; my MIL & FIL are on good terms but live apart and lead separate social lives.
We're concerned that taking this trip contributes to my MIL's delusions around this TV show and puts us in the awkward position of enabling her isolation. It seems like this is a grandiose attempt to get us interested in the show, and a way to deepen her personal connection to the cast/characters. The "privacy" around the offer is a bit worrisome as well, and suggests that other family members might not look fondly on this sort of indulgence. My wife likened it to a free business trip (It's "all expenses paid", but at what cost?) while I joked that it'd be like sending my grandparents on a "Game of Thrones" tour ("HOW many people died here?!")!
On the other hand, this is a huge gift that she feels strongly about, and turning it down will likely do some serious damage to our relationship with my MIL. We travel often and have talked about England in the past, so we can't brush it easily off as something we're not interested in. Ultimately, our worry is that this isn't so much a gift for us as a gift for her that we're being used to fulfill.
A few other details affecting our decision:
- We're American, and this is not a trivial expense or trip.
- The area we'd be visiting is looks lovely but is not somewhere we'd visit on our own.
- My MIL explicitly said she's not mobile enough to accompany us - it would just be my wife & I.
- This gift wouldn't break anyone's bank, but the nature of where we're going and why might raise a few eyebrows.
We're less concerned about "stay or go" and more about "how to manage expectations". In particular, we're worried that she thinks we're going to become friends with the cast or that they'll know her personally from the letters she's sent. We'd love to take the trip and don't mind seeing some new sights to get pictures for her, but want to be 100% certain that my MIL understands that we're unlikely to be invited for tea with Martin Clunes!
Can anyone offer some tips on how we might approach discussing this offer while minimizing offense to our family? Does anyone have experience (favorable or otherwise) with taking a trip paid for by family? We're both a little flummoxed as to how we should proceed.