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The Non-Expert

Can We Date?

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. A reader wants to know if it’s OK to date a distant relative. We answer by way of flowchart.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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?

Thank you,

Answer: Michael,

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?

Obviously you wouldn’t need our advice to know that there’s practically a frat’s-worth of third base coaches waving you in.

And aside from this religious perspective, how about the scientific? As this chart from Wikipedia demonstrates, if you’re planning on making babies, hooking up with your blood relatives is, genetically, not so bad. A first cousin shares only 12.5 percent of your own genetic ancestry, and based on various studies, it would seem that the chances of producing an offspring with serious abnormalities are about the same as whatever percentage of genetic ancestry is shared. Furthermore, based on genetic studies of nearly all peoples of the world, Mitochondrial Eve is theorized (in the scientific sense; not in the sense of, “Evolution is only a theory, and what about intelligent design?, and I’m a stupid jackass!”) to be the matrilineal ancestor of us all. Which means that even a total stranger, from another country, race, and ethnic group is at least sorta related to you. Can incest really be that wrong?

Yes, it really is. That was a test. But you can see how, with a little bit of rationalization, even the most disturbing of practices can become commonplace, even if legal in Alaska. It’s wrong because society says so. Now, don’t get me wrong, we’re just as permissive as the next East Coast, liberal, media elite, but there are lines even we recommend not crossing. Which is why here, once and for all, we’re going to outline whom you may socially acceptably date.

Degree of relation determines the acceptability of relationships. Like, even if you’re not related by blood to someone, there are, as I reckon, about three levels of relations that should be considered when deciding who you can date: “personal,” “professional,” and “other.” Of course a lot of that “other” is going to be concerned with instances, like, say you’re at a kegger and you meet a Japanese foreign exchange student and you’re both really drunk. Obviously you wouldn’t need our advice to know that there’s practically a frat’s-worth of third base coaches waving you in. The following flowchart, then, is intended specifically for cases like your own, where the higher degrees of relation come into play and the other cases are more problematic. Commence flowchart!

Illustration by Jennifer Daniel. View full-sized image.

If that flowchart doesn’t address your quandary, then either you’re looking at a clear-cut and socially acceptable “Go for it,” or you’re sicker than even I can imagine.

Good news for you, though, Michael. Based on the chart, we find that it’s actually OK for you to date your brother’s wife’s cousin. While it may toe the line of acceptability, it certainly doesn’t cross it. Those friends of yours who think it’s “weird” have probably given little thought to how strange all the social particulars of dating can get, and how often some of those practices we would consider social suicide actually happen. Finally, they’re probably just not getting any right now and are jealous of your hot brother’s wife’s cousin action. Kudos!


TMN Editor Erik Bryan is living the dream. He grew up in Florida, but he’s from all over. He likes playing chess, making cocktails, smarting off, and not freezing to death in Brooklyn, where he currently resides. More by Erik Bryan