Dating your Cousin in the UK

As if there weren’t enough incest threads on this board already … :wink:

As the Master pointed out, people in many countries are more relaxed about romantic relationships between cousins than the average American. I’m curious about the prevailing attitudes in the UK.

For one thing, there are close ties between British and American culture. For another, I understand that the UK has many immigrants from African and South Asian cultures where marriage between close family members (say cousin/cousin or uncle/niece) is acceptable or even encouraged. I’m not sure how that would influence attitudes in the rest of the population - seems to me it could go either way.

So let’s imagine a couple in the UK, first cousins, in a serious relationship, of age, male/female, fertile, from a family in which such a relationship has not occurred in some time and not part of an immigrant culture in which such relationships are commonplace. What would be the most common or likely reaction of the family and other people? Would there be easy acceptance? Raised eyebrows? Concern? Shock? Disgust?

I’ve seen such relationships in several British novels, and nobody seems to find it particularly remarkable.

First off, I have to say marriage/relationships between cousins is not incest. Incest is between those related in the first degree - parents and siblings.

Getting to the nub of the OP, as a Brit, I feel the general attitude would be a raised eyebrow and probably snide jokes about Deliverance :smiley: but not disgust or shock. I don’t think it is common in the majority of the population, perhaps Chronos’ novels were about the aristocracy? With absolutely no evidence I associate inbreeding with titled Hooray Henrys!

An interesting light on this is advice to health professionals on an NHS website that warns them not be judgemental - presumably not necessary if there was no perceived stigma.

She won’t date me here, so I don’t see what difference a spot of tea and crumpets will make.

Okay, thanks Chronos and Marcus. I’d read a story written by an American in which British characters were very upset about a relationship between first cousins, and it made me wonder.

Not titled aristocracy, but gentry, at least. The specific examples I was thinking of were The Secret Garden and one of the later Harry Potter books.

Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!

A pair of middle-class/upper-class first cousins gets hitched in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814).

Another pair of first cousins in about the same socioeconomic bracket become engaged in the same author’s Persuasion (1818), and in the same work there’s yet a third pair of cousins who consider marriage but don’t go through with it, for reasons not involving consanguinuity concerns (in fact, there are actually two sisters contemplating marriage with the same male cousin, so that’s a pair and a half).

Mr. Darcy in Austin Pride and Prejudice (1813) is expected to marry his cousin, but doesn’t.

There are probably more instances of first-cousin pairings in Austen’s works alone, but that should suffice to show that anyone in the UK with even a slight acquaintance with 19th-century English literature would probably not be horrified at the very idea of first-cousin marriage.

Sez here:

So maybe first-cousin marriage is more shocking to the British nowadays than it was in Jane Austen’s time. Oh, those crazy hippie Georgians and Victorians!

I am British and while I never heard of any first cousins marrying or dating, I also never heard any comments or jokes about the situation. Whereas when I moved to the US, it was clear that there is a taboo here.

As a straight American man with only one girl cousin (who is ten years younger than me), I must say that I have never faced the temptation to date a cousin. Back in the days when we were closest, it would have been completely unacceptable for an 18 year old man to date an eight year old girl, cousin or not.

This country is pretty diverse and apparently cousin dating (with compatible ages) is considered more acceptable in some regions and populations than others, though it isn’t really condemned anywhere, just discouraged in many cases. The stereotype is that cousin marriage is popular among rural yokels in e.g. Appalachia.

My mother was actually engaged to her cousin, back in the late 1960s (in Scotland), and I don’t think there were too many eyebrows raised. Whether this was because my mother was adopted (and so they were not related by blood), or because it was not seen as particularly shocking, I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask her, as it is not something that has been discussed in any detail in my family (she didn’t marry the cousin, instead getting married to my father a little later). I have to say that if this were to happen in my family today, there would be plenty of raised eyebrows (within the family), so maybe times have changed. I certainly couldn’t imagine being attracted to someone that closely related to me.

Clearly you’ve never met my cousins.

It was quite common practice to marry cousins in times past but these days I think it is far less common and certainly hasn’t happened in my own family. However, there’s also the case that now it is more common for parents to marry more than once and create more step-families, the “cousin” could feel like a much-removed relation rather than a close family member.

Even so, I don’t think it would be treated with anything more than a passing raised eyebrow.

I’m actually surprised at the responses to this OP so far. In my opinion any romantic relationship between first cousins would be heavily frowned upon in most British families and by the wider community. I can only put the responses here down partly to what Amarone says here - generally speaking first cousins do not date or marry in modern British culture, so it’s not something that most people have an opinion about, but if it were to happen I can’t help but think most people would be at least a little shocked about it.

I’m glad someone already pointed out that pre-20th Century literature is not really a very good indication of modern British mores.


It definitely seems to be more prevalent a few generations ago than now.

Two examples from my own experiences.

My wife’s parents were also first cousins (they got married in the late 1940s), they are Canadian of Scottish extract (they can go back about two generations and hit Scotland). Nothing really wrong with the bloodline after that (except for the fact that it gave my wife the inclination to marry someone she really doesn’t deserve)

While not my particular branch of the family is involved, I remember from a large family reunion about 10 years ago, everyone was given a name tag with a sticker in one of 5 colours corresponding to which one of the five brothers that sailed over from Norway in the latter half of the 19th century they are descended from. I noticed that several of the people had two stickers on their tag, so I asked about that. Apparently, not long (relatively) after the landing, two cousins managed to hook up with each other. (Or, as the person I asked about it said, “sometimes, during a storm, your cousin’s house is closest.”)

There’s nothing inherently attractive about cousins per se in Appalachia, but in earlier times, before roads and cars, the mountains were geographically isolated and hard to get to. Life was a struggle there anyway, and uneducated young men and women could hardly be expected to just up and leave their homes and travel to bigger towns to find new romantic partners. It was a practical matter; it was easier to marry amongst your own kind, including cousins…In England, in fact in all of Europe, isn’t it true that all the kings and queens and ruling families were all related, and there were arranged marriages to keep the wealth and power ‘in the family’? And didn’t this result in severe inbreeding? Because the king of whatsis could hardly be expected to marry a servant girl, or the queen of whosis marry a stableboy!

That’s code for Pakistani immigrants, where cousin marriage is extremely common (often bringing the cousin from Pakistan to do it, or in the case of a female, sending her to Pakistan to do it). Arranged marriage often happens in this instance, not choice.

In another universe maybe. She was incredibly cute, but we moved away when I was 11 and I never saw her again. The best part is that, being adopted, I wasn’t really her cousin. :cool:

Charles Darwin married his first cousin, and their kids had some serious health problems. I don’t remember ever hearing that they were ostracized due to consanguinity, though.

How much marital sex are British aristocrats going to be having, anyway?