How to fly sister home for the holidays without ruffling feathers

Dear Carolyn:

My sister attends school overseas and lives with her boyfriend. My parents recently told me she can’t make it home for the holidays this year because she’s on a student budget.

I’m in a position to pay for my sister and her boyfriend to come and would like to offer that to them, no strings attached.

They may have any number of reasons to say no — other plans, family dynamics, not wanting to accept large gifts — and that’s fine if they do. I just want to offer in case money is the only sticking point.

The thing is, I’m afraid of ruffling feathers. My sister’s been sensitive to measures of success between us, and I’d hate to have her feel like I’m flaunting wealth, and I’m afraid my parents would be embarrassed if I paid and they didn’t offer. Do you have any suggestions on how to make this offer without people getting upset?

— Helping

Unless she’d find that upsetting, too, offer to go visit her for the holidays. And tell your parents you’re doing it, in case they want to join in.

That way you’re using your money only on you, which is so much easier on everyone’s feathers. If for any reason it’s not what your sister or parents want, then they can simply decline your offer. (Yes, simply.)

As a side benefit, the offer also serves as an invitation for your parents to make other suggestions — including to fly your sister and her boyfriend home. Which then might, or might not, come around to your offering to chip in as a gift.

If your going there (or even flying her to you at this point) isn’t feasible, then offer instead to visit her at a better time in the near future. That makes it clear being together is the thing, and you’re willing to devote your time and energy to that. An opening move that “flaunts” love, not money, sets the tone for everything else.

Dear Carolyn:

I would love to hear your opinion on sexless marriage … is it possible? Marriage is a lot more than just sex — it’s about a melting together of families and building a life together — but my husband’s absolute non-interest in intimacy is not changing, and I wonder if I’m greedy to think I need that?

— Married

Whether it’s “possible” is the wrong question. The right one is whether you’re willing to remain in your sexless marriage. You have to decide whether its benefits are worth staying for, or its deficits are worth leaving for — by your standards only, not by anyone else’s.

Meaning, not by the standards of people who know sexless marriages are possible because they’re in them, or of people who know sexless marriages are unbearable because they’ve left them. Because of course there are plenty of both.

Your facts, feelings, needs, values.

And, your partnership. Stay or go, your actions affect the course of your husband’s life, too, just as his “non-interest in intimacy” now affects yours. Admit to him that you’re at a crossroads and why. See whether your partnership can meet the challenge.

“Greedy,” though? That’s also for you alone to judge — but I don’t think it serves you or your husband to negate your essential self.

— Washington Post Writers Group

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