Dilemmas: Can I keep my distant cousin at a distance?

A very, very distant cousin, who's met Emma only twice when she was tiny, has been sending her birthday presents. Now she wants to arrange Sunday lunch for Emma, now a teacher, and her boyfriend to meet her daughter, a banker. But Emma treasures her Sundays and weekends. What should she do?

VIRGINIA'S ADVICE

I have a personal code that I should have at least three people in my life whom I don't necessarily find very sympathetic - but of course some are - whom I take on in a minor way out of duty. At one point I had about six of these on the go - mostly, of course, elderly and lonely. For a few years I've had only the odd one, but I'm working on a couple. They may be distant relations, they may be lonely people who live in my street, they may be the children of friends who I feel are having a hard time.

However, I don't usually take on people with children, unless the children live abroad, because I feel that they have their own support system.

So I suppose that's one reason I feel that Emma should not feel so bad about her distant cousin, however generous she's been toward her in the past. Another reason why I feel sympathetic towards Emma is that if she's anything like me she'll have had a basinful of "Oh you must meet my son/ daughter, she's just the same age as you" ever since she was three.

There is a moment when the fact that someone is the same age as you or went to the same university as you, just isn't a good enough reason to meet. After all, you never introduce people of 62 to each other with the words: "Oh, you must meet, you're both 62", so why should Emma want to meet her distant cousin's daughter simply because they're of the same generation? Emma's a teacher; the daughter's a high-flying banker. Although it's possible, it's not awfully likely that they're going to become bosom buddies.

I imagine, too, that Emma is worried in case meeting this cousin and her daughter is going to start up a relationship that she really doesn't want and hasn't got the time to continue. And in a way it's easier not to start the relationship at all than to spend the next couple of years refusing further invitations - for Christmas lunch? Cold weekends in Kent?

And finally, Sunday lunch. There is nothing nicer than Sunday lunch with close friends. There is nothing worse than Sunday lunch with people you don't particularly like or know.

It is a complete killer of a meal. It writes off half the weekend. I very, very rarely accept invitations to Sunday lunch because they never end until six, and by then you're barely sober enough to drive home.

So - should Emma take up this invitation out of a sense of family duty to a lonely woman? No. Should she spend an entire Sunday with her? No. Should she simply say "No"? That would be too cruel. But (that horrible phrase, used to cover up so much cruelty and thoughtlessness) life is too short to start relationships with people with whom you have nothing in common. I think Emma should simply say that she's too busy correcting homework at weekends to go anywhere, and that when the holidays come she'd love to drop by for a cup of tea and will give her cousin's daughter a ring then.

And if she feels guilty, and hasn't already got enough lonely people to care for, she should take up the invitation of someone nearby whom she rings perhaps once a fortnight and sees sometimes for a cup of tea, who is really desperately in need of company and a continuing relationship. This would be a far more constructive way of spending any extra time she has.

READERS' SUGGESTIONS

They won't want to know you

If for no other reason, good manners dictate that you must humour this woman, from whom you have been accepting gifts all your life, in her wish to introduce you and your boyfriend to her daughter.

Once these women have met you, and formed their own impression of your character - so eloquently displayed in your letter - they will most certainly want nothing more to do with you, and will themselves put an end to this relationship, which is now proving as irksome as it has hitherto been profitable to you.

JAMES LOADER

Orpington, Kent

Do not give in to persistence

You have already sorted out in your mind sufficient and reasonable grounds why you should not feel obliged to visit this distant cousin. Her persistence in inviting you, despite the tenuous familial link, sounds to me as if she is doing it for her own ends.

If you give in and visit her then you are signifying a desire to strengthen the relationship and do not be surprised if this encourages her to make further invitations.

GRAHAM WRIGHT

London SE26

You owe her nothing

It feels as if you should recognise your own needs - you owe nothing to this cousin. She has chosen to give you presents and to invite you to lunch, and while politeness makes you feel "obliged", you still have every right to say "no".

I feel that you should consider politely telling her that you are over- committed at this stage in your life, but will try to get in touch with her when things become less pressured. In this way the ball is in your court, not hers.

ANGELA ROSENTHAL

Overton, Hampshire

It's only Sunday lunch

Of course busy people need relaxing weekends, but this is "Sunday lunch" - probably only four hours of Emma's time.

Her cousin has kept in touch over the years without making any demands, and it would seem only polite to visit to catch up on family news. It doesn't have to lead to anything further than an occasional phone call or letter and the high-flying banker may turn out to be an interesting addition to the occasion. After years of close involvement with immediate family and friends, to meet up with distant relations can be very rewarding.

CHRISTINE VOSS

London N6

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I have a friend who is a compulsive gossip. That's always fun, but I can't believe she's not gossiping just as much about me as she is about everyone else. I often confide in her, and she promises not to tell, but last week she started telling me something that she said she'd `promised not to tell' and I start to wonder if I can trust her. If she makes me promise not to tell, I keep quiet, then a mutual friend rings up and repeats the confidence, and I get upset. I've known her for years, but it's increasingly hard to feel at ease with her. Am I a prudish old bore, or is it time to move on?

Yours sincerely, Karen

Anyone with advice quoted will be sent a bouquet from . Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside at `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182; or e-mail dilemmas@ Independent.co.uk, giving a postal address so that we can send a bouquet

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk