Ask the grumpies: How to say no to trips with crazy people

For those of you who missed this question and following commentary in the last Ask the grumpies solicitation:

CPP asks:

My parents are very toxic people: judgmental, intrusive, manipulative, and demeaning. They behave very poorly in public, especially when it comes to service workers in restaurants, hotels, airlines, stores, etc, whom they treat like absolute shitte–as if they aren’t even fellow human beings. Because of all of this, PhysioWife and I drastically limit the time we spend in their company. They have gotten used to the fact that we visit their home in a sunny place only once per year, staying for four nights. We see them on average about once per month when they are in their other home in our city, generally spending a couple of hours having dinner.

Here’s the question: They are pressing me about PhysioWife and I going on a trip with them to a foreign country to celebrate a milestone wedding anniversary and one of their milestone birthdays. There is absolutely zero chance that we are going to do this, and I am trying to figure out how to tell them we aren’t going in a way that minimizes the hysterical shitshow they (mostly my mother) will perform.

Obviously, one extreme would be, “We’re not going on this trip with you, because you always behave terribly and it is misery to be around you, and thus we will never travel with you, especially to a foreign country.” Any creative ideas for scripts to make use of? Obviously, I can’t just say, “We aren’t available those dates”, because they’ll just propose other dates. One thing I thought of was, “Oh, it’s a nice suggestion, but we just really don’t like traveling with other people.” PhysioWife doesn’t think that sounds plausible, because we travel all the time with her family (who are totes awesome).

Anyway, any suggestions? I am sort of at a loss, and am feeling resigned to just having to say, “We don’t want to travel with you”, and dealing with the hysterical fallout.

We didn’t have any good advice, but folks in the comments did.  We bet more of our readers will as well!

Perpetua suggests:

There are a couple of other possibilities besides the ones you’ve mentioned. You could cite money as an issue (that is, you don’t have the money to travel, or to travel the way they’d want to travel), and if they’re offering to pay you could say this makes you and your wife feel very uncomfortable and you don’t want to go if you can’t pay for yourselves, which you can’t (either because you have no extra money or, if that’s not plausible, because you’re saving your money for X thing). If the milestone anniversary is one of yours (rather than theirs) you could simply say you’ve decided to celebrate another way – or if it’s theirs and you have a milestone of your own coming up in the next 2-5 years, you could say you’re saving for X special thing for that milestone. You could also develop a work or health related reason why travel in the timeframe they’re wanting to travel won’t work for you and you would be miserable if they postponed their trip because of you. (This kind of thing is one of the rare cases where having kids can be helpful – a handy excuse to get out of things you don’t want to do! Pets might work – my ILs excused themselves from visiting us for years because of their dog.)

to which Delagar adds:

I used a work-related reason when my toxic family wanted our entire family to go on a cruise together for my parents’ 50th anniversary. I was going up for full professor, said I had to work on that. It was even (sort of) true, and it worked like a charm. Don’t you have a paper or something? Could be very pressing!

Becca suggests:

Any chance of saying “Oh, we weren’t planning on traveling there this year, and we don’t want to ruin the romance of your *milestone wedding anniversary*. But we’d like to be part of the festivities by throwing you a small ‘bon voyage’/happy milestones party at our place right before you leave”. This would involve no more than the typical amount of contact with them, with the added bonus of you having the option to have the evening catered so you don’t actually have to go out in public with them if you don’t want to.

Similarly, from Rented life:

“Thanks but actually we had planned something special for you to mark the occasion” and then do nice night out with dinners and show (or whatever is appropriate–small party? Etc.). You’ve marked the occasion, met the family obligation and no one can say you ignored the big deal milestone.

Debbie M. with this advice:

I’m always a fan of true answers, but then I only rarely have to deal with unreasonable people. So the question is how to be tactful. I’m not so great with the tact. The truth you’ve mentioned is that you don’t like to see how they treat service workers, so watching that is something you don’t want to do on your vacations. The tactful route might be something about how y’all might ruin their trip by freaking out about how they treat service people, and you wouldn’t want to do that on their special trip. The best thing about true reasons is if they really do address them, it’s win-win! But they probably can’t treat service people with respect. And even if they suddenly could, I get the idea there are plenty of other good reasons not to accompany them.

I’ve also read many times that “No” is a complete sentence, though I prefer “No, thanks.” In this case, even, “No, but thanks so much for thinking of us. We wish you all the best on your exciting trip.” But don’t people always then ask why? “Oh, we’re not interested, but thanks.”

Bleh. Good luck.

Leigh notes:

One of the best excuses I’ve used is “I don’t have enough vacation days for that trip.”

And Steph points to Captain Awkward, which CPP should probably be reading on a regular basis, since they occasionally deal with questions about highly difficult people:

Captain Awkward might also be useful. The closest thing I could find quickly was this post about not wanting certain family to come visit:
but her archives are extensive and likely to have something

Grumpy Nation, what would you suggest?

15 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How to say no to trips with crazy people”

  1. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Looking forward to hearing more suggestions! And BTW, yes, Captain Awkward is awesome. I read her blogge avidly, and comment regularly.

  2. Thisbe Says:

    I’m going to second something along the lines of Rented Life’s suggestion. In my experience, avoiding the trap of giving an excuse (whether it’s a real excuse or a made-up one) is key. Even among socially healthy people it’s very tempting to start arguing when someone gives an excuse about why they’re not going to do something, finding reasons why their excuse is not valid and they can actually do it.

    You say your parents are manipulative and intrusive, so almost certainly any excuse you give them will start an argument, and then you’ll have to give more explanations and excuses. It will be simpler and more pleasant if you just start with, “Unfortunately the trip is not going to be possible for us, but we’d like to do [other activity] with you guys to celebrate your milestones, is that going to work for you?” And if/when they ask why you’re not doing the trip, just repeat “You know, it’s just not going to work out for us.” If they’re too persistent, tell them it’s personal and you don’t choose to discuss it.

    Some members of my family apparently talk to other members of my family about how “angry” I get when asked too many questions that I consider intrusive. When this intra-family gossip circles back to me, I just shrug – the “anger” they’re talking about is me saying, without a smile on my face but without a raised (or emotionally inflected voice at all, actually) “That’s personal and I’m not interested in discussing it.”

  3. Cardinal Says:

    It sounds like the challenge is not actually about minimizing the shitstorm, which is going to rage no matter how tactfully you phrase your refusal, because they want you to go on this trip and you are not going on this trip.

    So instead of worrying about how to keep them (her) from getting angry, instead concentrate on keeping yourself from feeling guilty about their/her anger. It’s a harder job, because they have conditioned you to feel responsible for their emotions, but you are not responsible for their emotions or their behaviour. You’re only responsible for your own decent treatment of them, and you get to decide what counts as decent. I, along with many others who’ve posted, consider a polite refusal and a local celebration to be perfectly decent.

  4. Liz Says:

    For the last several years I’ve been going on “Girls’ Weekend” birthday trips with my mom and my sister. It worked fine enough until we went to San Francisco, a place that was on my most-want-to-see list. My sister lives 2 hrs away, and my mom has been there before and travels to Cali often enough for work. And then they didn’t let me go anywhere on my own, even though I had a much higher energy level for exploring than they did. Worst trip of my life.

    So while I want to be the person who spends time with family because it’s Important (in our family)…. I will never travel to a new place with them again, especially not one that I’ve been dying to see.

    Maybe that provides another useable excuse — you and your parents have traveling styles that are at odds, and you’d “hate to ruin their enjoyment because you want to go slower/faster/different places than them.” It’s either that or pull one from my dad’s traveling-with-family book: conveniently “getting lost” at least once on the trip. Every. single. time.

  5. First Gen American Says:

    Just say no.

    With family, either they tell you how to live your life or you make up your mind that it’s your life and not theirs. Eventually

  6. First Gen American Says:

    Oops I posted too early. Sometimes it’s a little too easy to be pushed around by family when it comes to your time. You just have to make up,your mind what you want and stick to it.

  7. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I think Debbie M’s suggestion in the point is perfect. Excuses are useless and I get a yucky feeling about lying. I think a “we’re just not interested” is good and then move on to Cardinal’s suggestion about not feeling guilty. I think that’s the healthiest approach. Good luck! Stuff like this drives me crazy.

  8. Revanche Says:

    I’m in favor of Rented Life’s suggestion – it redirects them to the thing you’re prepared to do instead of trying to engage on their issue. And if they say they’d much rather do [the trip/something else], maybe that’s when you stand firm on the “We’re not going, so we look forward to having this celebration with you before/after” thing.

    My dad isn’t toxic but he has terrible decision-making and so I’ve had to do similar things: No, I won’t be taking the baby over to expose hir to your smoking/Terrible Sibling. I would like you and Aunt to meet hir, though, so let’s see if Aunt is free on this day that you’re free and we will meet there at a good time.

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