What can I do to make my 18-year-old female cousin's life better?
July 8, 2011 1:29 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to make my 18-year-old female cousin's life better?

I don't know that much about my cousin, we grew up in different cities, I'm about 10 years older than her, I'm male, she's female. We've hardly ever talked. We're both maybe on the shy side--me not so much anymore, but I probably was at least as shy (and, from appearances, troubled) as her when I was her age. What I know about her I know mostly second-hand through my parents and from checking out her Facebook page once in a while. I also just spent about an hour looking at her blog.

What I do (sort of) know: she's 18, I hear she doesn't do that well in school, she seems to have body image issues (what 18-year-old girl doesn't, I guess?), she seems somewhat preoccupied with the divorce of her parents/her dad I guess she doesn't see that much. She seems very close to her mother; she lives with her mother when she's not away at boarding school, which she's been for the last 3 years. She posts a lot of image macros on her blog related to cutting (though I have no other indication she does that), and lots of general "everything in the world sucks"-themed stuff. She's currently in the summer between high school and college. I hear she reads a lot of fan fiction. Maybe writes it.

I myself am a writer. So I'm sort of interested in drawing that part out in her, but it doesn't have to be about that. I've invited her to readings I've done in the past, in the city where she lives, but she hasn't shown up. I've asked her if she wants to get coffee once or twice in the past, when I was living in the city she lives in, and she expressed some interest, but it never happened.

The current situation is that I'm in town, where she lives, off and on for the next month or so. I'd like to, I dunno, reach out to her somehow. I'll probably ask her if she wants to get coffee again, is what I was thinking. So my question, I guess, do you think that's a good idea? If she says no, should I just lay off? Or could you recommend another approach? The idea of simply "recommending cool stuff" to her occurred to me. I'm not sure how that would be received. Any suggestions for if I did that? In short, if you were an 18-year-old girl like the one I've described, is there anything you would appreciate your older cousin doing for you? I think about this comment sometimes when I think about her.

I realize she may be on some level "doing just fine"--I don't really know how she feels about herself or her life, since we've barely talked. So I'm not assuming this will be a "saving her from her terrible darkness" situation; it might just be a bit of a connection neither of us had before. I imagine myself at her age and think how much I would've liked having a slightly older someone who could tell me things would be okay and it gets better after teenagehood, etc. Speaking of which: my motivation in part for doing this is because it seems like it might be sort of fun for me. But I don't want to intrude where I'm not wanted.

Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total)
 
"Hey Cuz. I'm gonna be in YourTown next month. Wanna grab a coffee?"

If she says no, she says no.
posted by k8t at 1:38 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've invited her to readings I've done in the past, in the city where she lives, but she hasn't shown up. I've asked her if she wants to get coffee once or twice in the past, when I was living in the city she lives in, and she expressed some interest, but it never happened.

Have you tried inviting her to do something she would enjoy that is less one-on-one? I like a lot of family members, but I don't know if I could go out for coffee with someone I barely knew outside of a family connection. That sounds like a lot of awkward silence and staring at a wall to me. Bowling, or going to an amusement park, or a museum... something that spurs action and conversation outside of "how are you feeling" at first will be far more interesting in productive. Also, you can't just jump into "how are you feeling." You're going to have to win her trust first.
posted by semp at 1:40 PM on July 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


When I was 18 I would have loved to have been invited to [cool thing] to hang out with my cousin's cool friends (obviously not at a bar), especially if you have friends between her age and yours. Or heck, tell her to bring a friend of her own. You can do the one-on-one SRS BUSINESS conversation later, after she's had some fun and has come to trust you.

But if she says no thanks, back off and tell her she's free to contact you anytime.
posted by desjardins at 2:06 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pay a little attention to her, is what I suggest. For several years when I was a teenager, I carried a Walkman with me to family gatherings, because the adults in my family basically felt that children had nothing to say and they all ignored me. Of course, having my headphones on earned me the reputation of being stuck up or withdrawn. To this day, I feel like my family is less a family than a group of strangers that gets together once in a while. So if you see her at any family activities, sit down and ask her how she's doing... make an attempt at some serious conversation.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:19 PM on July 8, 2011


Yeah, make it something that's less scarily person-to-person, less demanding of her, because you're not really much more than a stranger at this point.

I have older cousins (only older, as a matter of fact), and I love them, but we rarely talk. But when I turned 18, I moved to Boston for college almost exclusively because two of my favorite cousins lived there. We almost never did anything with each other - one time I forced myself to go to their house and have dinner, but that was pretty much it - except a few times, when I needed rescuing from a crappy neighborhood or big scary growing up adult advice, I called them and they helped me tremendously. Just knowing that they were in the same city as myself gave me tremendous peace of mind.

So I suggest that what you aim for putting yourself in *her* world for a couple times until she's grown used to you, and casually letting her understand that you can be depended on as a non-parental older person. If it turns out that you two have lots in common to talk about, that's even better, but aiming to be another node of familial support is just as admirable.
posted by Mizu at 2:22 PM on July 8, 2011


listen. Pay attention. works with pretty much everybody, esp. people who have some troubles.
posted by theora55 at 2:49 PM on July 8, 2011


Group stuff is a good idea, and I'd also be a bit careful to keep it obvious that it's not going to be uncomfortably date-like. If you can invite along a female friend, that would probably be best.

I know, you're her cousin, and you're not thinking that way, but unfortunately that might be a concern for her if she's been subject to inappropriate sexual advances/attention in the past.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:14 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


But if she says no thanks, back off and tell her she's free to contact you anytime.

It sounds like OP has already received a few polite thanks-but-no-thanks responses. If we consider this situation for a moment, hypothetically, without the distant and arbitrary familial relation, it's a grown man pursuing some sort of relationship with an 18-year-old based on a wealth of information found in her online diary.

I understand the desire to help, but I really think OP should just move on to other projects.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 3:48 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


tapesonthefloor, you're probably right. OP, at this point, all I'd do is make your presence known in her town. In other words, post on your Facebook status (not her wall) that you're in town from X to X dates, and give the kid's parents a call just to say hi. She'll figure out how to get in touch if she wants to.
posted by desjardins at 6:06 PM on July 8, 2011


"I imagine myself at her age and think how much I would've liked having a slightly older someone who could tell me things would be okay and it gets better after teenagehood,"

I don't think that would be helpful, or even that it's necessarily true. It could come across as presumptuous and patronizing. So I'd try and scrap that idea completely.

Being really helpful takes patience. You care about her, so you don't want to rush in and be like "I read your blog and felt really inspired, and I happen to be in town for a few months, so lets become good buddies!" She may not want that from you this month, or this year, or next year. But it's okay because you're still going to be her older cousin.

Just let her know that you care how she's doing, and invite her to things that you're going to if you think it might interest her. Then wait and see. If you can stay kind and interested for a long time, I think a good connection between you will happen.
posted by Net Prophet at 7:37 PM on July 8, 2011


Uh, everyone else is reading this differently than I am, but I would extend an invitation, be prepared for her to say no, and then leave it at that. She honestly doesn't seem particularly interested in fostering the connection. The 10 year age gap can be cool, or it can just be too large a gap; I had nothing in common with my cousins when I was 18 and they were 28. (This was very different 10 years later, for the record.)
posted by DarlingBri at 9:09 PM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Another thing that might be holding her back is the fanfic. There's a culture of privacy that surrounds writing fandom- it's not something you discuss with non-fen, as a general rule. Many people think it's weird, and we try not to draw attention to it least the powers that be swoop in and shut us down.

On top of that, not all, not even necessarily most, but a lot of fanfic is NC-17. And while I personally had no problem discussing it with my friends, if my older male cousin had been like, "So heyyyy, I hear you write fanfic," I would have been as twitchy as if saidsame cousin said, "So heyyy, I hear you have a porn collection!"
posted by headspace at 9:49 PM on July 8, 2011


I think an unhappy/moody 18 year old might not be capable of meeting you at some reading. She may love the invitation, but she could have a million reasons why she doesn't think you "really" want her to be there. She sounds insecure and distrustful.

"I've asked her if she wants to get coffee once or twice in the past, when I was living in the city she lives in, and she expressed some interest, but it never happened." Did you arrange a time and a place to see each other or offer to pick her up?

You are her cousin, and you have very good intentions in developing a better relationship with with her, and you are a grown up. You don't have to ask - go see her. Bring her a book you think she might like. Talk to her about your writing. Don't pressure her to "open up". Tell her you would like to hang out in a few weeks, and follow up.

Just show her that you are truly interested in seeing her, that you like being her cousin, and that you are a true friend, only the way a family member can be.

She'll either warm up, or do something much more obvious to indicate that she doesn't want your friendship. Once she warms up, you´ll both be happy you stuck around.
posted by Locochona at 11:18 AM on July 9, 2011


I agree that you should ask her to something more interesting than coffee. It's just not what 18 year olds do. You've read her blog, know some of her interests, is there something you could invite her to to that you know she would probably want to do, but just can't afford/has no transportation to, etc.? Also let her know that she is welcome to bring a friend if she likes. That would build trust and a connection.
posted by Vaike at 12:13 PM on July 9, 2011


In my experience dealing with teenagers, it's a lot easier to propose a specific date, time and place for meeting up, rather than a generic "let's hang sometime" (though you could get good results by asking her to show you her favorite spot). Also, seeing a (chill, sit down) concert or show might be a good way to have bonding time rather than dealing with the intimacy of the face-to-face coffee-drinking kind of setup, at least to start with.
posted by lhall at 5:51 PM on July 10, 2011


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