Hypothermic trampoline sleepovers, unforgettably embarrassing family reunion talent shows, flipping over four-wheelers, building sketchy tree forts, catching crawdads, kitty funerals…
Ah, the stuff of childhood. Or at least mine.
And I know logically that my siblings must have been there for most of this, but my youthful mind must have blocked them out in favor of my much more loveable cousins.
That’s not to say I don’t have great brothers and sisters—I do. But there is something special about that cousinly bond that can’t be matched. And actually, science can prove it.
Cousins lie just enough on the fringes of “immediate family” to afford the connection and love of siblinghood without the constant teasing or drama.
According to therapist Larry Shushansky, "Relationships with cousins afford a certain space, a certain independence, that allows us to have different kinds of experiences with them. They can be a source of balance...affording the closeness and common bond that exists in families, as well as the psychological distance that is one step removed from the dependency that causes anxiety and conflict within immediate (family members)."
Meaning that, when fear of judgment or giving offense over differing opinions and experiences keeps you from relying on or confiding in a sibling, doing so with a cousin can feel like a safer bet. You can bank on the familial commonality and generational ties that link you together forever in a uniquely powerful way.
“[Cousins] become additional resources outside of our family of origin,” says Dr. Kristina S. Brown, Chair of the Couple and Family Therapy Department at Alder University.
In fact, while emotional support and damn good times (that are less likely to be held against you in the court of Mom) are well-known givens in the cousin realm, altruism (noun: the belief in or practice of selfless concern for the well-being of others) gets even more concrete.
A study published in the British Journal of Psychology showed that, even when controlling for emotional closeness—meaning you and your cuz may not be super tight—people coming to the rescue for their cousins is far more likely than for their friends. It’s called the ‘kinship premium.’ We instinctively want to help out and do actually follow through, even if we haven’t seen each other or truly connected in years.
Because cousins are simply the lifelong best friend + sibling hybrids the universe knew we’d all need.
So next time you’re in a bind, or simply feel like mentally running through your childhood’s Top Hits, give your favorite cousin a call. My guess is she’ll have been thinking the same thing.