published Friday, July 20th, 2012

Leber: It's family bonding time, in person

I'm more excited for this weekend than I have been for one in a while.

My cousin Randi is coming to visit.

With Joe out of town to attend to family matters, Randi is leaving her fiance behind in Philadelphia and flying to Chattanooga for a ladies' weekend.

She and I haven't actually seen each other in about seven years, I think, since her brother's wedding. Maybe it's been eight. In fact, I don't think we've seen each other more than four or five times in the past 20 years, and two of those were at funerals.

The truth is, we didn't really know each other very well when we were growing up, not because of any animosity, but simply because our family paths didn't cross terribly often. My father has a large extended family (Randi and I are technically second cousins) and we tended to spend more time with my maternal relatives, largely because they were a more manageable size, I think.

We reconnected last spring, via Facebook (what else?), when I posted that I was looking for a Weight Watchers buddy. Email exchanges about the points values of chick peas versus black beans gave way to chats about significant others, family matters and career concerns. Somewhere along the line, we became go-to people for each other when we've needed someone to talk us off varying ledges.

"You're not dying, you moron," she informed me, within the midst of one of my bouts of anxiety-riddled hypochondria.

"Stop trying to be friends with selfish people who treat you like crap," I ordered her, when she had trouble accepting that, sometimes, childhood friendships do not necessarily translate to adult ones.

The development of our friendship, beyond the "we have to like each other because we're related" stage, has existed entirely on the computer and via text.

"Have we actually heard each other's voices in seven years?" she texted me last week. "We're such online daters."

Indeed. I'm not entirely sure why. Texting, other than for quick messages, is not usually my m.o. I do tend to be fairly email friendly, however. My 18-month stint as a receptionist in 2004-2005 solidified the disdain for the telephone that began back in college when I was a telemarketer for my school's alumni fund.

As a rule, I think there are certain conversations that ought to take place on the phone, or in person. Another friend and I recently established a list of "things that require a phone call." They include news of engagements, pregnancies, gender reassignment surgery and felony convictions. You know, just to cover all bases. And for the record, marriage proposals, breakups, and any conversations that include the words "it's your baby" ought to be had in person, if at all possible.

While I'm not a fan of online communication for a lot of forms of social interaction, I've found it to to be a good way to reconnect with people from the past, including family members. After all, I can say with absolute certainty that my cousin is actually the 30-year-old woman she claims to be, as opposed to instances where elderly creeper perverts pass themselves off as teenagers, or teenagers pass themselves off as adults.

(Dear future children, you are not touching a computer until you are 21.)

Emailing has been an effective form of communication for becoming reacquainted with my cousin and for becoming genuine friends. I don't have a huge amount of contact with my extended family -- again, no animosity, just laziness, mostly -- so I feel that having established a relationship with one relative makes me more connected to other ones by extension.

Does that make any sense?

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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