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

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

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.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project