Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. A reader wants to know if it’s OK to date a distant relative. ERIK BRYAN answers with the help of a flowchart by JENNIFER DANIEL.
Question: Dearest Non-Expert,
I recently reconnected with my brother’s wife’s cousin, who I originally met in college before my brother’s wedding. Back then, I was a directionless drunk with weight issues, and was not much of a catch. Now I’ve got all that sorted out, and we have great chemistry. However, my friends are divided on the matter. Many say it’s “weird,” while others tell me to go for it. To make matters worse, we live in Alabama. I’d rather not contribute to any negative stereotypes. Can I date this girl? I know it’s legally allowed, but is it socially acceptable?
We have often wondered the very same thing, or very nearly the same thing. After doing a little research, we are surprised to find that, in about half of the U.S., it’s perfectly legal to marry a first cousin. (To which, gaaaaaahhh!) Apparently, according to this related article, a little over 10 percent of all marriages in the world are between second cousins or closer. Of course, your question does not concern the legality of your prospective union, but what society will say. Fact is, that’s why these kinds of things are regulated. Because society kinda has a responsibility to weigh in.
As we all know, society is both 1) the tie that binds and nourishes our common humanity; and 2) the bullies that made my prepubescent stature and my early aptitudes for all things academic take the long way around the back of the middle school between classes, just so “society” wouldn’t get any ideas in the halls and single me out for a beating. In other words, it’s rough, and aside from the act of cannibalism, no single reflex of the hive mind triggers such a deep-seated, troglodytic response as whom we choose to couple with. Which is funny, you know, because even with all of our proscriptions against incest and such, if you read your Bible you’ll notice that humans started with just one man and one woman, so clearly their children would have had to hook up to propagate our millennia-crossing, evolutionarily dominating species, right?