Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Elderly Cousin Reaches Out

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have an older cousin who has always been very kind to my siblings and me. She is an only child, and now that she is getting up in age I’m noticing she is pushing to get closer to us. She texts me periodically and has asked that I visit with her every time I come to town. At first, I thought of her request as an imposition. When I come home, I head straight to see my mother. Mom is the priority. Because two of my siblings help to care for my mom, I see them as well.

I was thinking about this the other day, and it occurred to me this cousin doesn’t have her mother anymore -- or anybody else. She’s a senior citizen, and who knows how long she will be around? I want to be more inclusive, but I don’t want to promise something I may not be able to deliver. How should I manage my relationship with my cousin? Sometimes I don’t want to widen the circle. -- Keeping it Close, Jackson, Mississippi

DEAR KEEPING IT CLOSE: Family is important. It’s good you are thinking about your cousin and how to incorporate her more in your life. What you may want to do is begin to communicate with her when you are not in town. Call her from time to time. Check to see how she’s doing and share highlights of your life. If you both have smartphones, consider using FaceTime or Skype, so you can see each other. Whenever you can, make time to see your cousin when you come to town. She knows your mother is your priority. Maybe you and your siblings can organize a family meal when you are in town so there’s a central location for everyone to come together.

Read more in: Family & Parenting | Etiquette & Ethics

Friend's Troubled Past Causes Concern

DEAR HARRIETTE: My neighbor, who has become a friend, was incarcerated a few years ago for a white-collar crime. She did her time and is now living her life. She is very kind to me and would do anything she can to support me. She can be a little rough around the edges in the way she communicates, but so what? She’s loyal.

The problem is one of my business colleagues learned this woman and I are friends, thanks to social media, and she confronted me about it. She said it was bad for my reputation to be friendly with someone who has been in jail. How do I manage this situation? -- Dredging Up the Past, Denver

DEAR DREDGING UP THE PAST: Do your research to be clear about what crime your friend committed and how it was resolved. If you feel comfortable about where she is now and the substance of your relationship, maintain your friendship. You can say to anyone who challenges you that she has done her time and, as far as you are concerned, she is a good friend. For business purposes, whether her reputation can affect yours depends on what field you are in. It is possible.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

Read more in: Etiquette & Ethics | Friends & Neighbors | Work & School