My name is Sarah, I am tall and I am a journalist.

Exhibit A. Picture: My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

On the weekend, I went to New Zealand for a family reunion with almost a hundred relatives I have never met before. There I met my third-cousin Sarah, who is also really tall, and is also a journalist.

Let’s put aside the fact that this person had basically stolen my personality, and had made my little introduction speech a whole lot less impressive: “Oh, you’re a journalist? Yeah whatever I just met the other Sarah”.

Let’s also put aside the fact that apparently my family is descendent from Irish gypsies, a la “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding”.

Because what struck me most about the whole event was the fact that despite my obvious connection – and scary similarities - to a lot of these people, I am probably never going to see them again.

It was really nice to meet these strangers who were so excited to talk to me and we’re so ready to like me and be interested in my life, just based on the fact we share the same great-grandparents.

And it was really cool to meet these interesting people and notice traits in them that I could see so obviously in my brother or my mum or my uncle.

I would like to say I’m going to make an effort to keep in contact with my third-cousin who actually lives in Sydney too and is a 30 minute drive away. I’d also like to say that I’m going to write to my mum’s aunt who lives in Wellington.

But the reality is I won’t.

I’m going to spend more time working on relationships with my colleagues and people in the journalism industry that might help further my career.

I’m going to spend more time cultivating my Twitter followers.

And, to be honest, I’ll probably spend more time liking friends’ photos on Facebook than I will finding out about how my relatives lives are going.

Does that make me a bad person? Is there a retweet button where my heart should be?

Or has our extended family become less important than it used to be?

Listening to my mum talk to people at the reunion, they were sharing stories about the weekly dinners all the cousins and second-cousins used to have.

But now they haven’t seen each other in more than 20 years.

Have we all become a little bit more selfish, and stopped caring about keeping tabs with our family?

Or is it just a natural response to our social networks becoming increasingly less about family, and more about our careers, our friends, and our Twitter followers?

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST.

Twitter: @sarahmichael24

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33 comments

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    • acotrel says:

      06:29am | 25/10/12

      I have a cousin who is a dead ringer for myself.  My kids had never seen him until he turned up at my fathers funeral, and I had never mentioned him to them.  I still get a giggle from their reactions.

    • nihonin says:

      11:32am | 25/10/12

      Glad you cleared that up and told us, your cousin was a male.  wink

    • Kika says:

      03:23pm | 25/10/12

      That reminds me of the time I saw a picture of my Dad’s grandfather in his WWI army uniform - I was only 8 at the time (had never met his Grandfather) and I asked my Mum “I never knew Dad was in the army?”. They looked so much alike it was uncanny.

      AND I found a picture of my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. Holy Moly. He could be my father. We’re so similar. It’s so weird. He was Canadian which I’m not too happy about… but he left and came to Australia so that makes him ok. Haha.

    • Tubesteak says:

      06:48am | 25/10/12

      Unless you’re the type of person that likes cruising up and down George Street in a hotted-up hatchback your extended family doesn’t mean much to you. Just because you’re distantly related to them doesn’t mean you have to be friends with them. You can choose your friends; not your family.

    • Spacer says:

      08:52am | 25/10/12

      That’s an odd, dismissive way to look at it.

      I’m not that but I see a lot of my extended family, cousins, aunties, uncles etc. Just moved back to oz after a few years overseas and I’m loving all the family social events.

      I’ve got friends tho who don’t see much of their extended family. Bit of a shame, altho some families have a higher number of jerks so sometimes it’s for the best.

    • Rebecca says:

      09:43am | 25/10/12

      My immediate family and close extended family (including parents and siblings, first cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents) consists of 41 people. Keeping in touch with them alone is enough without having to worry about second or third cousins and great aunts and other random people I’ve met maybe once if at all.

    • Tubesteak says:

      10:43am | 25/10/12

      Spacer
      It’s rare for people to have much to do with distant relatives in this country. We don’t stay in touch out of obligation and we tend to choose people to hand around that we have things in common with. Most of the time that’s not family who may not even live anywhere near you.

    • TrueOz says:

      07:17am | 25/10/12

      Sarah,

      Family relationships are not what they once were. I had a similar experience to yours 12 years ago, and can tell you how many of those people I’ve manged to maintain contact with Zero.

      Fast forward to a family reunion today, and keeping up with people is as simple as friending people on Facebook. It’s just as easy to Like your third cousins wedding as it is your friend’s.

      Social media is now as fully integrated into peoples lives as newspapers, television and the Yellow Pages once were. There have never been so many low cost, low maintenance ways to stay in touch with family and friends.

      Time to stop making excuses and send some Facebook friend requests. Your extended family with “Like” it. grin

    • andrew says:

      07:59am | 25/10/12

      People move around more these days. My parents moved 5 hours drive away about 10 years ago now, I could count on one hand the number of times I have made the drive up to see them. The prospect of spending half my weekend driving up there and back to spend a day with them doesn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm. On the other hand my wife’s parents live about 10 minutes away, I see them nearly every week.

    • Woff says:

      08:30am | 25/10/12

      If the parents’ locations were swapped you’d be making the drive a whole lot more often - I’ll wager.

    • acotrel says:

      08:59am | 25/10/12

      If you ever get divorced, and your friends sympathise with your wife, you might become very isolated. But your parents will always be there when you need them, unless they die in the meantime.  And if they do, the missus will probably spend the inheritance before shafting you. It is always worthwhile contacting your remote relatives now and then.  You share a common family history with them,which is worth preserving for your kids, so they know where they came from. If you ever have the experience where you wife destroys your credibilty and shit-cans your parents and all of your side of the family, you find the kids become indoctrinated, and never see value in you and yours.

    • andrew says:

      09:01am | 25/10/12

      well my wife probably would be anyway ; )

    • Bomb78 says:

      09:35am | 25/10/12

      Probably says more about your relationship with your parents than your enthusiasm for driving.

    • Rebecca says:

      12:25pm | 25/10/12

      I saw a report recently saying that the majority of people in Australia saw their extended family several times a month. I couldn’t believe that was true - my immediate family is split between Sydney, Canberra and Gladstone, and my extended family is everywhere. Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, rural Queensland… is it common for other families to all live in the same city? Is mine the odd one out here?

    • Kurisu Sonsaku says:

      01:22pm | 25/10/12

      @ Rebecca

      No, a lot of modern families are becoming spread out. My Immediate family (children & my brothers) is;

      Bundaberg
      Sydney
      Melbourne
      Newcastle
      London
      Kobe
      Kamaichi (rebuilding from the tunami)

      We call each other a lot and meet up for either Christmas or new year.

      Growing up we started in the same place but work and marrying overseas changes a lot of things.

    • ibast says:

      08:05am | 25/10/12

      I came to the realisation, when I was a teenager, that the majority of my extended family are not people I would naturally form friendships with (or even like) in other circumstances.  The only reason I was there was some enforced and misplaced family loyalty.  So now I avoid family occasions whenever possible.

      Now, of course, I’m the weird cousin, which sits fine with me.

    • Rickster says:

      08:27am | 25/10/12

      ibast .....what a snob…“take care of those you call your own and keep good company”. Freddy

    • ibast says:

      08:52am | 25/10/12

      Rickster, I see it as hypocritical to be nice to relatives that you don’t like, just because you are related.  Obviously I’m not extending this theory to parent, children and siblings, but it certainly applies to uncles, aunts, cousins etc.

      Everybody draws a line.  Are you loyal to your 4th cousin?  I just draw my line closer to home than most.

      It’s not snobbery either.  I don’t see myself as superior.  I just don’t like them.

      Also there are some cousins I do get on with.  We see each other every 4-5 years, get on well, and then respect each others space in between.

      It really is hypocritical to sit through every Christmas, wedding, birthday, etc, pretending to enjoy the company of people you don’t like.  If you do that, you are not being honest with yourself.

    • andrew says:

      09:33am | 25/10/12

      I agree 100% ibast - I also don’t feel any moral obligation to associate with someone purely on the basis of being related to them. Honestly I think that is a side-effect of having a reasonably large physical distance from my parents and sister for a decade, in that it has made me independent to the point where I have realised that actually I don’t need them in my life at all.

    • Jeremy says:

      10:01am | 25/10/12

      I agree iBast, outside of your direct family, you have no obligation to befriend people who are of no interest or consequence to you. As it happens, I have an incredibly awesome extended family, which I see many times throughout the year either as individuals or groups. My cousin who lives about an hours ride way is one of my best mates - because he’s a good friend, not because he’s my cousin. Just like everyone else, I don’t make time for the whingy, negative, boring or ugly ones.

    • Cheeso1 says:

      08:11am | 25/10/12

      Perhaps as a journalist you should be more aware of the correct use of punctuation.
      EG; “write to my mum’s aunt” (my mum has aunt? my mum is aunt?).
            “and we’re so ready to like me”

      Maybe you could do a piece on the decline of journalistic standards?
      EG Blatant political bias passed off as reporting. Incorrect facts or just plain fabrication. And of course the reliance on computer spell checks, instead of proper education and proof reading.

    • marley says:

      08:39am | 25/10/12

      @Cheeso1 - “We’re” is obviously incorrect in that context, but I don’t see anything wrong with “mum’s aunt” - surely that’s a correct use of the apostrophe as a possessive.

    • Kika says:

      03:15pm | 25/10/12

      I agree with Marley - she’s clearly talking about her Mother’s Aunty. Why wouldn’t she have an aunty. My mum has aunties and uncles. Doesn’t yours? The possessive apostrophe made sense.

      Your pick up on ‘were’ was correct though.

    • difficult lemon says:

      09:03am | 25/10/12

      Hey Cheeso - nog fail on “mum’s aint”

    • Aidan says:

      09:39am | 25/10/12

      Relax - It’s an evolution! - people used to knock around with extended family more because social groups were smaller, people search for friends not family, family can be friends but are not necessarily so. No problem with that. In history and in some circumstances today people knock around with family if the family have millions and grin and bear it. So the evolution is away from the filial. More temperament, case by case, bespoke social groups. Same as more democratic and less a less hereditorial - I know that’s not a dictionary word but it’s an evolution and it contains editorial! -  government. So there is no problem in what the author described and today you can click friend on face book and follow the lives of distant cousins. The best of both worlds.

    • Jeremy says:

      10:06am | 25/10/12

      ‘Hereditorial’ could just be ‘dynastic’. I, for one, praise the end of filial obligation, and take pride that I have such good relationships with (a large, but select number of) my extended family because they are wonderful people.

    • neil says:

      09:47am | 25/10/12

      I have a first cousin who I have only met four times in my life, I am about 10 years older and we’ve always lived in different cities, but everytime we meet we are as thick as thieves.

      The best friend I never had.

    • Warwick says:

      12:18pm | 25/10/12

      Our country was established by people who made the decision to abandon even their closest relatives in order to come to a country fifteen thousand miles away. It is not unusual and it is not to be condemned.

    • Tell It Like It Is says:

      12:32pm | 25/10/12

      Oh I don’t know in many countries which are ignorant of or choose to ignore the reality of genetics, they are still marrying them.
      Welcome to the 21st century.

    • Tanya says:

      01:14pm | 25/10/12

      My sibling and I treat family reunions like anthropological field trips.  The last big one was genetically terrifying and an insight into the fact that dominant genes are often the nastiest, occur horizontally and hang in there for generations. We’ve never discovered or been told of similarities in profession or interests – just patterns of physical and behavioural traits that are most apparent in the female lineage such as similar body mass and shape, gait and vocal pitch. We have also observed a high occurrence of repressed husbands.  If you meet or are reunited with a member of your clan and you take to them (in the socially pleasant sense,) well and good. But being related is neither a basis nor a rationale for interacting with them above and beyond the call of duty.

    • Audra Blue says:

      01:14pm | 25/10/12

      I don’t know my dad’s side of the family very well because it’s even more fractured than my mum’s side and I only grew up with her.

      My dad, however, is HUGELY interested the ancestors and has spend years tracking them all down, including all their current living relatives.  He’s even visited them all.  And there is a village in rural England where our family is from and if you mentioned my surname there, they all know who we are.

      I couldn’t give a toss myself, but I have to pretend to be interested otherwise my dad gets his feelings hurt.  Seeing as how I’m his only child, it’s the least I can do.

    • Kika says:

      03:18pm | 25/10/12

      Hahaha I did the ancestry research for my Mum because she was pretty hopeless at it and didn’t have the same investigative mind as me. I find it pretty interesting actually. I don’t care about the living relatives (find it annoying if they contact me - YES you are somewhat related to my Grandmother. Wow) but it is interesting to find out your background. I never knew I was as German as I am - that was the family secret ancestry I was always wanting to find out about. I was hoping it was going to be something juicy like having some secret Aboriginal ancestry… no.. just south swarthy German - I forgot being German was taboo back when my Great-Grandparents were young. Haha. And I would have never have known about my Sephardi Jewish roots either. That was really fascinating.

    • Kika says:

      03:12pm | 25/10/12

      You are lucky. I am forced to mingle with my second and third cousins at least twice every year. This is my Irish side of the family and my Great-Aunt insists on calling me and my cousins, 2nd and 3rd cousins ‘cousins. Does anyone else with Irish roots have this? Or is it just my family? The funny thing is we always break up into our smaller family groups anyway so trying to get us to talk and be close is futile..  My husband on the other hand doesn’t even talk to his brothers let alone even knowing who his first cousins are let alone who his 2nd and 3rd cousins are. On that note I AM proud to say Wally Lewis is apparently a 3rd cousin of mine - have never met him. But he’s in the family tree somewhere. I think all of us Brisbane families who have been here since the beginning and aren’t Mexicans are related somewhere along the line.

 

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