Family dynamics can be a struggle. Trying to avoid slighting a relative can be even tougher when large family gatherings are organized but not everyone gets an invite. Being forthright and honest can sometimes minimize damage, but it doesn't guarantee feelings still won't be hurt.
A reader on the West Coast we're calling Nora had a sister who died about a decade ago. Nora's sister had a daughter (Nora's niece) who married and has two children, a son and a daughter (Nora's great-nephew and great-niece), each now in their 20s. Nora discovered through other family members that her great-nephew had a large formal wedding in the Southwest prior to the pandemic shutdown.
"He did not invite me or my mother - his great-grandmother - to his wedding," Nora writes.
When Nora asked her great-nephew about it, he told her that his wife's family was large and they were concerned about cost.
"Cost was not really an issue with him," Nora writes, noting that she and her mother might have decided not to attend the wedding, but they at the very least expected an invitation. How Nora knows that the cost was not an issue for her great-nephew is not clear.
"We have kept in touch with him throughout his life," Nora writes, "never having any problems with him or his family." She indicates that she is "devastated by being ignored."
Nora wants to know if her great-nephew was wrong not to invite her and her mother.
While Nora's great-nephew and his spouse might still be basking in the joy of their new marriage, they now face their great-aunt's hurt feelings over being slighted.
Did the great-nephew have an ethical obligation to invite Nora and her mother? Not really. It is entirely up to the bride and groom (and presumably whoever is footing the bill as well) to set a cap on how many people are invited.
Nora's great-nephew might have diminished the awkwardness a bit if he had let her know before the wedding that they were keeping the invite list small enough that he wouldn't be able to invite her. A difficult conversation, to be sure. But one that might have soothed some ill feelings.
If cost was indeed the reason, then Nora's great-nephew was right to provide that explanation. Whether or not Nora believes that is up to her, but it's reasonable that even if there were funds available the young couple might have wanted to limit wedding expenses. If Nora is correct, and cost wasn't the deciding factor, her grandnephew would have been wrong to lie to her about that.
While I can understand Nora's dismay at not being invited, the right thing to do now that she has expressed her disappointment to her great-nephew is to decide whether all of those years she and her mother have kept in touch with him are worth trying to continue. The slight may sting, but, ultimately, punishing the young couple by cutting off ties might hurt Nora more in the long run. That, too, is a cost she will need to weigh.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to email@example.com.
Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.
(c) 2020 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
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