Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: I’m in my early 50s. When I was a teenager, I had a sexual encounter with my first cousin. We did not “go all the way,” but it was pretty intense. We were curious kids; I was naive and he was probably happy to “get some.” I have not seen him since then, but I have not been able to put it behind me. His parents (my aunt and uncle) are getting on in years. They will eventually pass away and I can’t tell you how uncomfortable I will feel having to face this guy when it’s time for the funerals. There is no graceful way to not attend the funerals, which, by the way, is the only reason I will have to ever be in the same room with him. My question is: Why, after all these years, can I not forgive myself? Having raised a family, I have dealt with my own children’s exploration and experimentation in many aspects of their lives. I understand it is a necessary part of maturing and becoming an adult. So why can’t I get out of my own way and get over it? If I do take the chicken’s way out, what kind of excuse could I come up with to politely avoid the whole scene?

Worried

DEAR WORRIED: Your encounter crossed a boundary, which many consider “taboo,” but which is probably more common than you believe. First cousins do occasionally behave sexually with one another, and sometimes fall in love, marry and have children together.

Based on your experience as a parent, you say you understand your own children’s sexual experimentation as an important part of the maturing process, and yet you won’t let yourself off the hook for engaging in this yourself.

Was there something about this encounter that, in retrospect, you believe was exploitative?

It seems strange that you haven’t seen this cousin in more than 30 years. If you had seen him, you might have processed this experience by now. Instead, it seems to have grown and assumed an overwhelming emotional weight.

This is an ideal issue to take to a therapist. You should forthrightly tackle the shame and embarrassment you seem to feel over this sexual encounter. Talking about it will help you, regardless of whether you plan to attend a future funeral.

If you don’t want to attend a funeral where this cousin would be present, then you don’t need to lie or make up an excuse. Express your condolences and memorialize the family member through flowers and/or a note saying, “I’m thinking of your family, and wish I could be with you all today.”

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DEAR AMY: My wife socializes extensively with a group of about 10 married, widowed and single women in the senior category. They gather monthly, with the available husbands attending. When we arrive, we all greet one another with kisses to the cheek for the women and a handshake for the men. This process is repeated when departing for the evening. For some time now, a couple of these ladies have been greeting me and departing with a kiss on the mouth, which I find uncomfortable. I consider this a rather intimate type of kissing. During my observation period for this uncomfortable phenomenon, I have noticed that these situations occur when I am temporarily alone with the other party or out of view from other eyes. Can you please tell me how to handle these encounters without offending the other person?

Kiss Averse

DEAR KISS AVERSE: Stating your own personal preferences and comfort level concerning a fairly intimate act should not be offensive to the other person. It is your right to establish a boundary.

This situation reminds me of one of my favorite lines from the movie “Tootsie”: “If you want to win me over, you’ll have to deal with my mind ... not my lips!”

If you can’t deliver that line and laugh it off, you can simply say, “I prefer a peck on the cheek, OK?” Make eye contact and grant a little hug. If this happens after you clearly state your preference, it means these women are either hard of hearing or being sexually aggressive. Repeat incidents should be handled more emphatically.

DEAR AMY: That question from “Sad Designer,” who was so upset because their “mentee” didn’t hire them to make a wedding dress? Clearly that person has never dealt with the nightmare of hiring friends/family members for wedding-related services. I loved your answer.

Been There

DEAR BEEN THERE: Exactly. A tulle-covered bullet was definitely dodged.