I am from a conservative family, in a conservative area of the country and I am gay. No one in my family is openly hostile to me, however my sister has been the most critical. We have a relationship that can be described as cordial but she never really acknowledges that aspect of my life. She has two children and hasn't decided how she is going to explain my life to them, maybe because she hasn't come to terms with it herself.
Within the past year, she has reconnected with her former high school sweetheart, divorced her husband, and announced her engagement and wedding date to her new/old flame. She called me to invite me to the wedding and told me she really wanted me to be there. I have been dating someone for about 10 months and by the time of the wedding it will be about a year so it's not just a one night stand (this time). My sister didn't mention anything about my boyfriend, of whom she has to at least have working knowledge by now. I'm considering telling her that I won't come to her wedding if my boyfriend isn't invited. Is that okay?
Thatz okay. But you have to give your sister a chance to invite your boyfriend before getting yourself all psyched up to skip the wedding.
You say that when your sister invited you over the phone, she didn't acknowledge your boyfriend, but reason that she must have at least "a working knowledge" of him. From this, I take it you have never spoken directly to your sister about him. Mightn't it have been a little weird for her to say, when inviting you, "Oh, and I heard around town a while ago that you were seeing someone. I don't know if you still are, but bring him if you want – what's his name by the way?"
My advice is to phone her back — email, if you're worried that the conversation will devolve into an emotional fight. Explain that you'll have been seeing this great guy for about a year by the time the wedding rolls around, and you'd love for her to finally meet him. See what she says. (If she argues that she doesn't know how she'd explain his presence to the kids, she can always go with the classic "friend," used by unmarried people everywhere. Chances are her kids will not be very interested in the person their uncle brought to the wedding, anyway. Tell your boyfriend not to wear anything kids would find cool like a Spongebob costume or the skin of Selena Gomez.)
If your sister flat-out refuses to allow you to bring your partner of one year, it's perfectly fine to skip the wedding, if you want to. If you want to be catty about it, you can point out that you've already attended one of her weddings – to the man she dumped for her high school sweetheart. (Is her "something old" her new husband? Is her "something blue" the mood of the husband she abandoned? Something borrowed will probably be earrings.)
Furthermore, if your sister does deny your boyfriend-bringing request, you can take comfort in the fact that you aren't putting the man you love in an awkward situation in which his presence is regarded as a terrible but necessary burden; a concession in a negotiation with homosexual terrorists. Take the money you save by not traveling to the wedding and buy something gay with it.
Note: If your sister is keeping her ceremony very small, it's understandable she might not want someone there she's never met before. If other people are bringing dates, however, that excuse goes out the window.
I'd also like to point out that you're not a weak person if you do decide to go to the wedding despite your sister's Draconian guestlist maintenance. But you should be going because you want you (because you want to see the rest of your family, because this high school flame rekindling sounds scandalous as hell, because you think the food will be particularly good, etc.), not because you feel obligated.
Just because someone is a member of your family, does not mean they are not an asshole.
So, apparently my future sister-in-law sells Avon. Her birthday present to me was some samples and a catalog with the note "If you'd like to buy anything, give me a call!!!" Is that okay? (Would telling her to go to hell be okay?)
Thatz okay. (Thatz not okay.)
The beauty of receiving samples and a catalog as a gift is that now you never have to get this woman a real present. For her birthday, take her out for a fancy dinner of Costco samples and tell her to buy anything she wants. For Christmas, give her a takeout container filled with small hotel soaps. For the Epiphany, leave coupons for 65 cents off of Wheat Thins in her shoes. Even if your generosity makes her uncomfortable, never stop giving.
So we're clear, there's often nothing wrong with incorporating your work into the presents you give. If you're a carpenter, build someone a beautiful new home for Secretaries' Day. If you're a police officer, tamper with evidence that implicates your boyfriend in a crime. If you work in an office and are pressed for time, remember that standard office supplies (red pens, pads of Post-It notes, binder clips) become festive standard office supplies when stuffed inside of a piñata and beaten out with a stick.
The crime of etiquette here is not that an Avon representative sent you you an Avon catalog and told you to pick out a few items; it's that she expected you to pay for those items yourself.
I'll also add, though, that your future sister-in-law could have avoided this whole mess, by simply not sending you a gift. Would you have written in to complain "the woman whose sibling I will one day marry did not send me a birthday present"? Probably not, because it wouldn't have occurred to you that she should have. (A card or a phone call would have been nice, in a surprising "Oh, isn't that nice she remembered!" way.)
Have you previously gotten her amazing birthday presents? If so, you are no longer obligated to.
It seems to me that the main issue with your future sister-in-law's poor gift giving is timing: Avon samples are the kind of items that seem shitty when presented as "your birthday present" but awesome when presented as "some things I happen to have in my purse when we meet for lunch – do you want them?"
If she'd sent you an Avon catalogue on any other day, you could have rolled your eyes and tossed it in the garbage (or maybe bought something, I don't know! I have a perfumed bottle shaped like Betsey Ross from Avon and I think it's pretty neat). When she presented it as a birthday gift, she immediately set it up for comparison with all the other birthday gifts you received, which was unwise. (Though, even if you found it wanting, you must admit that mailing catalog takes more thought—certainly more postage—than writing a Facebook wall post.)
I would advise against telling her to go to Hell, unless your husband has previously expressed a desire to completely alienate his sister. If he has, wait to do it until you are all sitting down at a large family dinner, so that you can leave the room in stunned silence when you storm out.