We are family

Pub date December 29, 2009

Dear Andrea:

Is it OK to ask out my ex sister-in-law? I always thought she was hot. Now we are both divorced and I keep thinking, why not? Is there some reason I’m not thinking of why I shouldn’t?


Free and 50

Dear Free:

What is an ex sister-in-law, exactly? An ex wife of your ex wife’s brother? Entirely doable, assuming that none of these people are still in close touch with any of your people, and I’d imagine they’re not. If, rather, you mean your ex-wife’s sister, proceed only if childless or post-emigration (both of you) to someplace suitably distant, like New Zealand or the International Space Station. In other words, you are adults and can do what you like, but nobody else is going to like you for it.

While I am a big believer in living an authentic life (come out if you’re gay, don’t promise monogamy if you’re poly, etc.) I’m equally dedicated to what Michael Jackson’s rabbi Shmuley Boteach flogs, catchily, as “shalom in the home.” (Boteach calls himself “America’s rabbi” but having been MJ’s best grown-up little buddy all over the media for years makes him no rabbi of mine, yuck.) Peace to you! Peace to your ex-in-laws! (“Peace to you and all your mailmen,” sings our own rabbi, who is a bit of a goof.) Do not go sowing discord and discomfort. Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Don’t date your ex wife’s sister.

Exes who were never blood relatives of former spouses are a big whatev, go for it. We must keep in mind, though, that there is no reason to believe that the ex wife of an ex wife’s sibling or whatever she has been thinking you were hot all the years you were thinking she was. She may never have noticed you because you are not the sort of person she notices. She may find you repulsive. It’s no different from any other “should I ask her out?” situation — nothing ventured nothing gained and all that. But in the case of an ex’s ex-ex, if she rejects you, word may get back to the people you are still in touch with, and they may laugh at you. But if you ask her out, she may have sex with you. Decisions, decisions.



Dear Andrea:

Can you marry your cousin? Is it legal, and is it a good idea?

I am just wondering because we used to flirt a lot when we were teenagers and I still find her attractive (and will see her on the holidays) but of course I would never do anything about it.


No Harm in Asking

Dear No:

You could have just looked it up! This is not obscure information, although it does manage to be continually surprising information. The answer to your first question, as to so many others, is “it depends.” Fifteen or so states (and not just weird little forgotten out-of-the way states, either, count California and New York) allow first cousins to marry without any restriction. A handful more have various hoops to jump through. The rest still have anti-cousin laws on the books but you know, it is not unheard-of to go to another state to marry if your own is still too bigoted to allow it. It’s also legal in Mexico and Canada.

What do you mean, “bigoted,” you ask? Isn’t marrying your cousin a good way to get a kid with flippers and three eyes? No, actually, it’s not. There’s a slightly — very slightly — higher incidence of birth defects, like 1 percent or 2 percent. If your (mutual) family suffers from a heritable genetic condition, you’re both going to want to get tested for that before having kids. But for most people, it’s just not going to be an issue.

What is an issue is: your families would hate you. Or hate one of you and consider the other a victim. Or not hate but be so horribly uncomfortable in your presence that it would come down to the same thing, as far as happy holidays and shalom in the home go.

I am not horrified or even bothered by cousins marrying. It seems kind of lazy to me — what, you couldn’t be bothered to meet someone else? — but it isn’t bad or wrong or gross or even dangerous. It is, however, Not Done. It used to be done (every article you read on this is illustrated with a picture of the Darwins, I think), but it is currently Not Done. And you are not the Jukes and the Kallikakses (look it up) and you are not pharoahs or European royalty. You do not, presumably, possess dynastic wealth that requires cautious and xenophobic husbanding. So you probably want to not do it.

And now I can’t get Dorothy Parker’s poemlet out of my head, so here, Merry Christmas:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,

A medley of extemporanea;

And love is a thing that can never go wrong;

And I am Marie of Romania.