Etiquette in a Modern Age
September 29, 2010 5:52 PM   Subscribe

What's the etiquette for contacting a cousin I haven't spoken to in eight years on facebook? How exactly to do it? Is it a bad idea? Unique circumstances inside.

I haven't seen or spoken to my cousin or her mother (my aunt-in-law) in about eight years.

I'm late twenties (and a guy if for any reason that's relevant). She's now, I think, 20ish. So the last time I saw her, I was about 20 and she was 11-13. I happened to be visiting Chicago at the same time as her parents (my uncle and aunt-in-law) and she were visiting, and we all had dinner and had a good time. Prior to that, I had probably seen her every year or two when my family would visit hers or vice versa and never spoke with her outside of those visits.

After the Chicago dinner, I'm told there was a falling out between my aunt and uncle. My uncle (the blood relative) may have had some issues (both as spouse and parent) - I have only heard vague allusions and know nothing more than that and that there is a lot of animosity between aunt/uncle. Since then, he and my aunt-in-law got a divorce, my aunt-in-law moved out taking her daughter (my cousin) along. My uncle speaks with my cousin (his daughter) only sporadically if at all, I think.

My father (uncle's brother) kept in sporadic contact with my cousin, sending birthday cards and gifts until a few years back when I think even that stopped, but I haven't talked to him about it so I don't know.

About a year or so ago, my father told me that my cousin was attending college about 3 hours drive from me. After chatting with a cousin on the other side of the family last weekend, I decided to look her up on facebook. Lo and behold, there she is.

I'm now wondering about the etiquette in contacting her, and whether or not it's appropriate or a good idea. I was thinking about just sending her a message without friending her saying hi and that if she's ever in the city she should look me up and we can get dinner. But should I just friend her with that message? Is it weird to contact someone without friending them? Might that lead her to think I don't want to be facebook friends (when in fact I would like to be)? I have several hundred facebook friends but am by no means a power user and I almost never take the initiative in friending people. Or should I not contact her at all because it's strange after all this time and I don't know the details of the relevant family drama? Should I speak to my father about this first (which I'd rather not do)?

Thanks in advance - and if it matters, I suppose I want to contact her because family is kind of unique, and she was part of my life and I'm interested in how she's doing, etc., but it doesn't really matter that much to me - I feel no lack of family or contact and I wouldn't expect or really even want to be good friends. I also find this question fascinating.
posted by slide to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)
 
"was thinking about just sending her a message without friending her saying hi and that if she's ever in the city she should look me up and we can get dinner."

That's what I would do. I probably wouldn't even 'friend' her until after I received a reply, though.

Same thing happened to me - and my cousin that I hadn't spoken with in 8 years sent me a message on MySpace asking how I was doing. I was glad to hear from her and then added her as a friend.

I'm sure it's not a big deal. Just go ahead and send that message!
posted by KogeLiz at 5:55 PM on September 29, 2010


I'd actually go the other route of friending her first. Its a pretty innocuous opening and if the accepts the request then reach out and say hello.

I get those kinds of friend requests from different distant relatives all the time.
posted by bitdamaged at 5:57 PM on September 29, 2010


This is eerie as I've been through pretty much the same exact thing. Blood Uncle, Aunt-in-law, cousin. Terribly bitter (putting it mildly) divorce and falling out. Aunt took cousin. Cousin won't even talk to Blood Uncle or acknowledge any of us. The last I spoke to him was at my wedding almost 14 years ago and before that we'd seen each other at least weekly. Last week I looked cousin up on facebook and there he was. What to do? I simply friended him. He accepted. I then sent him a quick message of "Nice to see you cuz! Keep in touch." I left it at that. Ball's in his court.

Here's the thing, you may be interested in how she's doing, but she may not do anything more than just "friend" you on facebook. So far my cousin hasn't sent me any messages or anything. But I think we're headed in the right direction, even if they are very small, almost meaningless steps.
posted by Sassyfras at 5:59 PM on September 29, 2010


If you want to contact your cousin, go ahead and do it. You're both adults now, and whatever transpired between her parents is neither your fault nor your problem. Just friend her--if you want to, and let things go naturally from there. Frankly it sounds to me like you're overthinking this and/or beating yourself up for nothing. Good luck!
posted by applemeat at 6:06 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a similar, though less dramatic situation. Long story short, as a kid I was never close with my cousins -- because the grownups weren't close with each other, and we always lived in different parts of the world. When I was in my late 20s, one cousin moved near me. I got in touch with her, figuring that once we are all adults, we can decide whether or not to forge our own friendships and relationships, regardless of what happened in the previous generations. Now she and I are real cousins again -- we know each other, our spouses know each other, our kids know each other. I say go for it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:10 PM on September 29, 2010


The worst thing she can possibly do is not reply. To a friending offer on Facebook.

Just do it. Being interested in having a public connection to someone is quite literally the only condition required before extending the friend offer to someone.
posted by SMPA at 6:26 PM on September 29, 2010


You can't possibly know how it will turn out with cousins you haven't seen in years but it is the most natural thing in the world to just friend them, with or with a note. After all, your father did mention her new location to you so it's a nice gesture. You can decide how much contact you want to have with her after you know her better. Family is family and some of them are very nice!
posted by Anitanola at 6:31 PM on September 29, 2010


Best answer: I'm now wondering about the etiquette in contacting her, and whether or not it's appropriate or a good idea. I was thinking about just sending her a message without friending her saying hi and that if she's ever in the city she should look me up and we can get dinner. But should I just friend her with that message? Is it weird to contact someone without friending them? Might that lead her to think I don't want to be facebook friends (when in fact I would like to be)? I have several hundred facebook friends but am by no means a power user and I almost never take the initiative in friending people. Or should I not contact her at all because it's strange after all this time and I don't know the details of the relevant family drama?

Getting in touch with someone at all might be a big deal. But once you've decided to message someone on Facebook (if you do), friending them is not a big deal at all. You're overanalyzing and overdramatizing things that aren't important. (Note: I am not saying friending her isn't important. It might be. I'm saying that any reasons not to friend her despite messaging her are not important.)

There doesn't even seem to be any animosity between the two of you, so what are you waiting for? Go for it.
posted by John Cohen at 6:39 PM on September 29, 2010


Go ahead and do it. My dad's mother stopped speaking to most of my dad's side of the family long before I was born, and I've developed relationships with relatives I had never met in my life (because of that mess a generation back) by first contacting them on Facebook (or MySpace, or Friendster... depending on the year!).
posted by amro at 6:50 PM on September 29, 2010


(And some of them contacted me first, which was always welcome!)
posted by amro at 6:51 PM on September 29, 2010


I'd send a message and then friend her if she responds.
I don't think sending a message to a family member after years of no contact is a big deal. It's not like you and she had a falling out, specifically.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:52 PM on September 29, 2010


Response by poster: Good point, John Cohen. It's the getting in touch with part that is the important and potentially fraught question; the facebook etiquette question is not particularly important, but I'm honestly interested in people's views and think there's probably a better way to go about it (though all ways are likely fine).
posted by slide at 6:53 PM on September 29, 2010


This happened to me as well. Lots of animosity between my aunts and uncles on my dad's side, all fueled by petty stupid shit. I hadn't seen my cousin in about 18 years, and she sent me a friend request on Facebook. I accepted, sent her a message saying that I hoped all was well with her. I'm so glad she contacted me, because she told me that she was afraid to approach me because she thought I might think she subscribed to the bullshit on her dad's end. I think Facebook is a nice and safe way to establish contact. Do it!
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:18 PM on September 29, 2010


This person is family. Send a message. I'd advise against sending a friend request right away, only because it's impersonal. Written words that show why you're getting in touch are far more important and probably more likely to gain a positive response.

Also, there's the possibility that she doesn't want your first impression of her in ten years to be her Facebook page. You don't know how she feels about you getting to know her online persona, so forget the awkward friend request thing and make an actual human contact first.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 7:41 PM on September 29, 2010


I contacted a cousin that, as far as I can remember, I've never even met because of stupid family drama. We both had a mutual cousin as a contact, and I just sent her a message saying, "Hey, it seems silly to me that we've never been in contact and I'd love to be Facebook friends with you at least." She accepted, and now we know a little more about each other than we did before. Pretty painless.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:22 AM on September 30, 2010


Done it myself. And I started with a "here I come, out-of-the-blue!" message and then see if they want the contact. Usually it's paid off, too, though no one is close enough to me to actually meet in person. :7) What have you got to lose?
posted by wenestvedt at 7:23 AM on September 30, 2010


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