Question: My husband is extraordinarily close with his siblings and parents. They visit with one another at least four times a week. I feel pressure to attend, but usually politely decline. This prompts questions about my whereabouts and "we never see you" comments.
Frankly, so much sweet togetherness freaks me out. I grew up in a small, introverted family with few gatherings and a whole lot of conflict. My parents moved us 4,000 miles away when the local family got to be too much. I have a sound relationship with my parents now and am perfectly happy with bimonthly visits.
So you can imagine my panic when I learned my parents-in-law are moving across the street from us.
My husband isn't thrilled but acknowledges the home suits their needs. He has told them to keep their expectations low in terms of visits and home projects. One of my siblings-in-law may move to the neighborhood, as well.
How should I set new boundaries now with dwindling excuses to miss a gathering? I feel I can say no only so many times before offending, and the excuse of being stuck at work won't cut it when I've been spotted reading in the neighborhood park.
I get along well with everyone; I'm just the only partner who needs this distance. The others happily join these regular gatherings.
I am fighting the urge to flee the area myself.
Answer: As much as I sympathize as a fellow introverted reader in the neighborhood park, I'm going with this as a good development.
Possibly even great - and you can nudge it there by taking overdue steps toward owning who you are.
Meaning: No more excuses.
They never belonged in this relationship anyway. The aw-gee-sorry-stuck-at-work stuff is strictly for occasional use and/or with people you don't see often enough to warrant the effort to explain yourself. (If that; fibbing is hardly ideal.)
By using that approach constantly with your in-laws, you've left them to (a) conclude there's some bigger reason you're not coming, obviously, and (b) fill in the blanks themselves. This invites them to think the worst: "She hates us," "She's cold," or some unholy blend of the two.
The truth is that you do like them and aren't saying no because of who they are; you say no because of who you are. So say that.
"I am an introvert. I love you guys; I just need more alone time than most people. That's why you see me only about one visit out of four."
Deputize your husband to reinforce this message in and about your absence. "You know how she is, social in small doses." Follow-up version: "She says, 'Hi' and will see you Friday."
The ideal time to bring this up was when you first joined the family, but the parents' move opens a small, natural window to speak up now.
Consistency is what makes a message like yours feel true. Be warm, be confident your ways are perfectly normal, and - on your terms - be present: Choose a fair visit frequency, then stick to it.
The room for greatness lies in the helpful drop-by. "Here's your mail, need anything else? OK, gotta run." It's for close neighbors only and an introvert's dream. Five friendly minutes and out.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.