< SWITCH ME >

Today, we consider ourselves to be tolerant and understanding, yet we keep hold of many prejudices and judgments from the past. Who are we to decide who can have sex with whom, whose love is unnatural or sinful? Well, this is something many people still do. Let us have a look at two kinds of “wrong” relationships from a different angle.

Keeping it in the family

We might not think about it often, and we might grimace when we do, but there are people all over the world who have fallen in love with a person they happen to be related to. Cousin relationships have been the talk of the town for as long as there have been towns. Depending on culture and religion, the views on them can differ drastically. For some, it is the most preferable form of marriage, because this way you keep the wealth within the family. Historically, it has been a mean of politics and bringing fighting parts of families closer together. Others just find it plain wrong, an incestuous genetic hazard that should be prohibited. In today's western world, relationships between cousins are not considered the norm, but marriages between first or second cousins still account for about 10% of marriages in the world.

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Image: surrealuv (CC-BY-SA 2.0)
What happens when you develop sexual feelings for forbidden fruit?

Matilde (21) and Jonas (24) are a young Norwegian couple who agreed to share their story.

E&M: Tell us about your family.

Matilde: Our family originally comes from a small town near Oslo and that is where I've lived my whole life. Our fathers are brothers and when they were young they had a huge fight, which resulted in them not speaking for nearly 20 years. Jonas's father moved away and everyone went on with their lives, had families. I have a brother and a sister and as a child I knew I had an uncle somewhere, but not much else. When I was 16, our fathers were reconciled and out of nowhere I suddenly had this whole new addition to the family. They stayed with us for the whole summer - my uncle, his wife, two daughters and a son – Jonas.

E&M: How did the romance begin?

Jonas: At first, just the thought of having to get to know these new people, supposedly my family, was strange. But that didn't last for long, soon all of us kids were hanging out together, spending time at the lake, going hiking in the woods, having Playstation marathons. All of us connected really well. However, Matilde mesmerised me the first time I saw her. She was just so unbelievably beautiful, but not some kind of a prissy princess who'd never crack a joke.

As time went by we found ourselves alone more often, just talking. I started to realise that what I was feeling for her kept growing stronger, our connection more deep. Finally, one August night, when we were walking back home from a party, I couldn't keep it in anymore. I had to tell her how special she was to me, but instead of telling her, I kissed her. It was magic and fireworks and every other cliché you can think of. To my amazement, she returned the affection and there never really was a way to go back after that.

"We tried to hold back, not be so obvious and lovey-dovey, but soon my sister confronted me. My guts froze to ice when she bluntly asked me if I was in love with my cousin."

Matilde: We became inseparable. Others were starting to notice that something strange was going on. We tried to hold back, not be so obvious and lovey-dovey, but soon my sister confronted me. My guts froze to ice when she bluntly asked me if I was in love with my cousin. From my reaction she knew the answer. She didn't tell anyone but the others were not blind. Before the summer ended, our parents had found out.

E&M: What was their reaction?

Matilde: They were shocked, not utterly disgusted but definitely not approving. Everybody was really uncomfortable about it because such relationships are not considered normal where we come from. We were told to keep a distance from each other. They thought that the summer ending and the 200 kilometres it would put between us would bring us back to our senses.

Jonas: But it did not. Our feelings only increased as we were talking on the phone and e-mailing all the time. Thinking back, it was quite a romantic time, arranging secret meetings, sending letters, getting the most of each other when we could. It went on like that for about two years, though the family did calm down later on. When Matilde was 18 we moved to Oslo together, which is where we're living and studying now.

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Image: G.Richmond, paintings of Charles and Emma Darwin (PD)
Charles Darwin and his wife Emma were first cousins

E&M: What were your own reactions to the feelings you formed?

Matilde: I was so consumed by the force of the emotions that I hardly spent time worrying about them being wrong. Nothing outside the two of us mattered. It still doesn't. We didn't grow up together so I don't consider us as family of that kind, I just can't. While I know that many people look down on our relationship, that doesn't bother me and I refuse to let anyone make me feel bad about our love.

Jonas: My upbringing was a bit more conservative and I had a tad more difficulty with allowing myself to feel what I felt. At the beginning I sometimes did get the feeling that we were doing something wrong, something not quite normal. But whatever stigma had been given to me by society, our love was much stronger than that.

E&M: What about your friends and other people around you?

Jonas: We have the same surname and that usually leads people to think we're married. That can result in some awkward silences when we have to explain that we're not. But those whose opinions really matter, our close friends, have been very understanding and supporting.

Matilde: I had trouble in high school because of it, people whispering and giving me funny looks. It went on for some time and though it was uncomfortable, it wasn't that devastating.

"The Norwegian law does not consider our relationship to be illegal so we plan on getting married at some point."

E&M: What was your opinion on cousin relationships before, if you had one?

Jonas: As much as I had heard about the subject before, I didn't find it very natural and I can completely understand why some people don't.

Matilde: If someone had told me a story like ours before that summer, I would've probably raised an eyebrow but I don't think I would have considered it to be a mortal sin.

E&M: What are your plans for the future?

Matilde: Well, we've been perfectly happy for nearly five years, we love each other. The Norwegian law does not consider our relationship to be illegal so we plan on getting married at some point. Our family has become used to our relationship and they accept it. All in all, our future is bright and full of love.

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