I can’t stop making out with my brother

Posted Jan. 20, 2013, at 2:58 p.m.
Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe

Dear Prudence,

My brother and I are having a physical relationship. Our parents are admirable people who took good care of us, but are distant and aloof, and I think that my brother and I turned to each other for warmth and emotional support. He’s two years older and looked out for me in high school, and I shared with him what girls are like, which made him more confident socially. After he went away to college, I chose a college in the same city as his, so we continued to see a lot of each other. I’m now a senior and he’s a graduate student.

About three months ago we were sitting on my couch watching a sad movie and when it was over we turned to each other, exchanged a look, and started kissing. Now we lie on the bed, clothed, and kiss and talk and hold each other. When I’m with him I feel loved and cared for. We have not had sex because there’s a psychological barrier that neither of us wants to cross.

I go on dates with other men, but I never feel the emotional connection that I feel with my brother. I needed to talk to someone about this so I went to a counselor at the student health service and in the first session she practically ordered me not to see him for three months. I left in tears and haven’t gone back. We want to lead normal lives and have families.

We both know intellectually that we shouldn’t be doing this, but we don’t feel the wrongness of it. Must we stop this immediately, or may we let it continue and hope we grow out of it?

— No Sibling Rivalry

Dear Sibling,

Since you’re both in your 20s, the trend appears to be going the opposite way of outgrowing your closeness. You say you don’t want to cross the ultimate line, but you continue to slow dance to the edge of it. If one day Jack’s resolve breaks, you, Jill, are likely to come tumbling after. You profess you two want normal lives, but if you violate this taboo you may never get there. If you do have an affair, or something pretty close, and you vow to forever keep this secret, you each will spend decades hoping your sibling stays silent. But if one or the other feels this is something a future romantic partner should know, don’t be surprised if upon hearing your confession your new love quickly backs away. I know I more or less gave a pass recently to a pair of middle-aged incestuous gay twins, but they had long ago made a physical and emotional commitment to each other, and were asking me about whether they should let their family know. I think even those two men would advise you two to stop the rubbing and get yourselves disentangled emotionally.

Your therapist should have had the training not to be so shocked by your revelation that she ended up barking orders. Go back to the counseling office, say your first therapist was not a good fit, and you’d like to talk to someone else about a pressing emotional issue. A good therapist should be able to hear you out, understand your situation, and help guide you out of it. For a window into how strange things like this can get if they go too far, read Jeffrey Eugenides’ wonderful novel “Middlesex.”

— Prudie

Dear Prudence,

Everyone in my family was baptized and raised Episcopalian. My brother moved away, got married, and had a daughter. He and his wife were attending a non-Episcopal Protestant church, so they baptized my niece there. When my niece was still an infant, my mother visited them and, upon her return home, proudly boasted that when my brother and his wife weren’t around, she put my niece under the kitchen faucet and performed an “emergency Episcopal baptism just to be safe.”

Everyone who heard this was horrified and thought what my mother did was crazy. My mother found our reactions overblown though she did ask us never to tell my brother or his wife, and we haven’t.

Now I am married and my wife and I are expecting our first child. My wife is Jewish and we have decided to raise our son in that faith. Since my mother felt the need to surreptitiously baptize her granddaughter for being the wrong Protestant denomination, she’s sure to try something with her grandson who isn’t even Christian.

To baptize him would be a gross violation. I’ve decided my mother will never be allowed to be alone or even out of sight with my son until he’s old enough to defend himself. Is this a reasonable plan? Should I tell other family members never to let her out of their sight with my son and why?

— Whose Rite?

Dear Rite,

As a theologian your mother is all wet, as a look at a guide to Episcopal baptism demonstrates. For starters, the Episcopal Church recognizes proper baptisms performed by other denominations. If someone has been baptized, the church frowns upon freelancers like your mother getting in something extra: “Under absolutely no circumstances can a valid Baptism be repeated.”

Then there’s the matter of the church insisting this sacred rite be performed by clergy in front of the congregation. As far as emergency baptisms are concerned, Episcopalians limit this to “impending death clear to all present.”

In other words, while your mother may have given her granddaughter a soapless shampoo, she did not perform a baptism. Sure, it’s rude of her to run her grandchild under the faucet with the idea of getting the kid some celestial leg up. But since your mother gets just about everything wrong about baptism, her little ritual doesn’t hold water as a religious act. What your mother did, and I agree probably plans to do with your son, is the equivalent of a personal superstition no one need take seriously. Your son will be Jewish regardless of what your mother does, so it seems unnecessarily mean to have your family act as probation officers to prevent Grandma from getting her grandchild near running water.

— Prudie

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Questions may be edited.

 

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