My sister hasn’t been home in three years, but she’s coming back for my wedding. Is it wrong to worry that she might steal my limelight?

You have nothing to feel guilty about, but it might not be as bad as you think, says our elder.

Dear EWC

I have an older sister who is gorgeous, fit, hilarious and talented. Adored by all. Admittedly this has given me a bit of a complex, though we get along well and text daily. Sis got married when I was still in high school and was married for many years, living within five minutes of me and twenty minutes of our parents. Two years ago she and her husband suddenly divorced in mutual agreement; a complete shock to all who knew them. Sis then hops on a greyhound to Baltimore (we live near Pittsburgh) for a meetup with some friends. Immediately upon returning, boards another bus to Texas to stay with a “friend” who it is clear she has now begun dating. She reveals in a text to our parents that she is staying in Texas to start a new life. At this point, I am confused yes, but choose not to be hurt. It’s her life after all, and our eldest sister also moved out of state to start her family. The lack of warning, however, leaves our parents reeling and heartbroken. Only my father has been able to visit in the last two years and was given “the heebie-jeebies” by the new boyfriend and his family who he and Sis currently live with. He constantly makes it clear to her that all she has to do is pick up the phone and she will be on a plane back to Pittsburgh and in an apartment, but Sis isn’t having it and only gets irritated at the repetition. My relationship with her remains largely unchanged, though I do miss our shopping trips and laughing in person.

My issue is this: I am getting married a year from now and Sis will be traveling north to be a bridesmaid. I was the maid of honor in hers, and cannot imagine not having her in mine. I am visiting her in Texas for the first time soon and I am torn over whether I should tell her to visit before my wedding. She doesn’t have much money for frequent travel, but since she left home every family gathering has been an interview concerning: “Have you spoken to Sis? Where is she living? When is she visiting? Isn’t it crazy that she ran off? What do you think of the boyfriend?” If my wedding also happens to be the first time in what will be three years that she makes an appearance among family and friends she disappeared on, there is no way that my new husband and I will be the focus of the day. Between the general cooing that would normally occur, there’s the added layer of people trying to get her to move back home. I feel extremely selfish for trying to pull the focus off of her on what will be her last visit for a while if previous years are any indication, but sick with anger that my own wedding stands to become yet another episode of the “Sis show”. Even feeling this jealous over my own sister makes me so guilty I could cry.

I suppose if I had to phrase it as a question, it would be: How much of this do I keep to myself? Would it be unfair of me to ask her to do her own part to avoid this since she never asks for the attention? At first turn, my answer would be, “Just keep your mouth shut and let everyone do what will keep everyone the happiest overall”, leading to a lifetime of me looking back on a wedding in which I was overshadowed by the return of the prodigal child. The other option seems to be telling her that if she doesn’t visit a few months before the wedding, our family will be all over her the whole time and I will feel pushed aside, making me look like a bratty attention-seeking child. Please help me see if there is a third option. Usually, I would pick the self-sacrifice without hesitation (honestly, it’s kind of my signature move at this point) but that nasty entitlement muscle is dying for flex and I can’t help but feel like I should at least be the princess at my own wedding. Please don’t hesitate to tell me if I am the problem. That would serve as an explanation in itself.

Folk replies

I don’t think you should feel the least bit guilty about not wanting to share the limelight with your sister on your wedding day. As much as you love your sister, your wedding is your special day, and I don’t think it’s either unfair or selfish of you to want it to be about you and your new husband. That said though, I think your fears are probably misplaced.
I’m an old lady. I’ve attended well over a hundred weddings in my lifetime, and never once have I seen the bride overshadowed by anyone. Most guests seem to intuitively “get” that this is the wedding couple’s day and act accordingly. Longstanding grudges are temporarily suspended and family feuds are put on hold, and for a few precious hours, everyone comes together to bask in the joy of young love. Your guests may be happy to see your sister again, — but, trust me, you are the one they are really there to see.
Your worry shouldn’t be allowed to spoil your happy anticipation though, so if you think there’s even the slightest chance that your sister’s presence could steal your thunder, you may want to consider sharing your concerns with her when you go to Texas to visit. But since she never seeks outs the attention that is lavished on her, it’s possible that she doesn’t even notice it. If this is the case, her obliviousness may cause her to assume that your concerns are exaggerated. If you don’t want to tip your hand or risk seeming jealous, perhaps a safer course would be to plan some pre-wedding activities with family and friends that your sister, as a bridesmaid, could attend. To be kind to her pocketbook, I suggest holding them as close to the wedding as possible in order to save her the expense of flying in twice. These affairs don’t have to be anything big. Small, friendly, low key gatherings work just as well as bachelorette parties and large scale rehearsal dinners. If your sister comes home, say, a week before the wedding, she can join in all the anticipatory build-up, meet and greet the other wedding guests and parry their questions in advance of the big day. This way, by the time your special day arrives, your sister will be old news, and you will be the headliner.
That said, it’s worth remembering that one of the reasons weddings are so much fun is that they afford guests the opportunity to spend time with far-flung family members and friends they don’t often get to see. Weddings bring people together from near and far. Your sister, after all, hasn’t found a reason to come home for a visit in three long years. If it wasn’t for you getting married next year, who knows how much longer she would go without visiting. She is making the trek up from Texas because you are important to her and because wild horses couldn’t keep her from attending her little sister’s wedding. More importantly, you want her there. Can you even imagine your wedding day without your big sister present? You are going to be marrying the man you love surrounded by all the people you love who love you. If some of the good cheer and general goodwill from your wedding spills over on to your sister, would that be the worst thing?
I hope this helps. We are always here if you’d like to talk more about this. If you can, please write back and let me know how things work out. I will be thinking of you.

Letter #: 431555
Category: Family

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