Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kissing cousins

Dear ESB-

I have been engaged for 5 months now and am getting married in the summer. Since I have gotten engaged I have been constantly worrying about the guest list. I am not very close to my dad's side of the family and I have always felt uncomfortable around them, my cousin especially. I only have one cousin on that side of the family and he is mentally disabled. Since we were kids he has always insisted on sitting as close as possible to me, he is always trying to rub my back and kiss me on the lips, even when it is quite obvious it makes me extremely uncomfortable and I dodge him when he tries to do this. His mother, my aunt, never said anything to him. I finally mentioned something to my dad last year because I now avoid family events like the plague. It has gotten a little better but I still feel nervous around him and I can't relax.

To get to the point, I would really like to NOT invite him to my wedding. But at the same time I don't have an excuse to give to my family if I don't (since they think his actions are perfectly normal).  I am not having a small wedding either so i can't use that as an excuse. I feel like I am being a little ridiculous and I think I just need to get over it but I want to be able to relax at my wedding and not worry about what he might do.

Am I being unfair and if not do you have any thoughts about how to best handle this situation?

-Kissing cousins


Try to keep "mentally disabled" out of the scenario. If you had an agile-minded cousin who had been sexually harassing you since you were kids, you'd leave him off the guest list, right?

So leave him off the list. No apologies, no excuses.

(I have a feeling your aunt -- and the rest of the family -- are more aware of his behavior than they are letting on.)


Masquerade by Saul Steinberg & Inge Morath via modern nostalgic via Vejde Gustafsson


  1. I agree with ESB, the family probably does know what's going on.

    I feel for you. If you sat that side of the family far away from you, do you think he would still be coming up to you throughout the reception?

    It depends on how much the saying 'family is family' means to you. Best of luck with your decision and wedding.

  2. Couldn't agree with ESB more.

    APW is always saying that weddings tend to bring up difficult situations, particularly with family, that had previously been easier to avoid than to deal with, and that engagement gives you the impetus to deal with those things. It sounds like this might be one of them. Setting your own boundaries is really important and it's completely ok to say that you don't want someone - anyone - who is likely to harass you (even if they don't mean to) at your wedding.

    Also - what does your fiance think? Does your cousin's behaviour make him uncomfortable too? I would imagine that it might.

  3. I agree with the ESB as well, its your wedding and I'm sure everyone will understand that it makes you feel uncomfortable and I also think that when asked its ok to say so.

    Pet peeve though... what the hell is "mentally disabled" supposed to mean. Such an offensive term. Does he have an intellectual or developmental disability or a mental illness?

  4. I am not sure about this one. If I were in your situation I would be afraid that the rest of the family feels sore. Like Eliza said: "engagement gives you the impetus to deal with those things.". So maybe you should talk with your family about this problem. At least they'll be aware of his bad behaviour.

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  6. sorry, last comment was too personal. cut it down to- you can't leave someone out who is mentally or physically handicapped that causes uncomfortable situations if you don't also leave out the perfectly healthy creepy uncle, alcoholic aunt, or bitchy mother in law.

  7. Similar to ESB, I say, leave out anyone who makes you uncomfortable, regardless of their mental state.

  8. You have an obligation to be diplomatic with your family around the wedding, but you do NOT have an obligation to be harassed. No invite for him.

  9. I'm with you prac, schmac. You can't leave "mentally disabled" out of it. If this person didn't have a developmental disability he might not exhibit that behavior. It’s important to differentiate the person from the behavior. If you could work on it between now and your wedding you could come up with a consistent strategy to avoid those behaviors that make you uncomfortable (point out your personal space and offer to shake hands instead of kissing). He can't help that he has a disability but doesn't deserve to be excluded because of it.

  10. true that. i bet your family sees and doesn't really want to believe that it's as forward as he's being, that he's just playing.

    i agree.

  11. I work with mentally disabled people and found this question and answer to be ridiculously over simplified and ignorant!

    Your cousin is mentally disabled, but it doesn't mean you can't tell your cousin that you need "personal space" and that you don't want to be touched by this person. Tell your cousin why it's creepy for cousins to act this way with each other. Make it about the "cousin" thing, not about him.

    And is your aunt make a big deal about that, point out the fact that she has been remiss in teaching her son about appropriate behaviour. Mentally disabled people sometimes don't understand social cues and need to be taught life skills, such as this. TRUST ME, say something directly, maybe with aunt present and invite your cousin. Don't be ignorant.

    Chances are, your cousin won't be able to be creepy with you at the wedding due to the size and the fact that you will be so busy.

    Good luck. Be brave. If you don't say anything, you will continue to separate yourself from that side of the family and your cousin will never learn how to act properly.

  12. I completely agree that this behavior needs to be addressed whether or not the guy comes to the wedding. As someone who has worked with developmentally delayed adults, I know how important it is to teach what is and isn't appropriate. It is just a shame that it's gone on so long without his parents or other family members clearly addressing this problem, and that you never felt comfortable addressing it yourself because of the silence of the rest of your family. I think if you decide to not invite him, it needs to be clear to the family and his mother why you are making that choice.

  13. If you are sure there was a sexual motive behind your cousin's overfriendliness then by all means have no qualms over not inviting him. Certainly your aunt ought to have made more effort to teach him about respecting your personal space.

    It seems possible to me though that your aunt thought (incorrectly) that you could set your own boundaries. Look, presuming he didn't have a sexual motive, these sort of cues and boundaries are quite complex and cultural i.e. learned from other people. For some reason perhaps he hadn't learned yet that you needed a wider berth than, say, his mother. If he had been a toddler would you have been as offended? It's possible his mother sees him as, in some respects, an oversized toddler. And I wouldn't judge a toddler by the same behavioural standards as I would an older child, they just don't know any better. Of course you correct them when they go wrong, and I'm not saying you have to put up with being uncomfortable, not at all. But a rub on the back and a kiss on the lips, I mean, it could easily be quite innocent for him, just 'cos he likes you. Look, I used to work in a special needs school and there was one kid there who was just very affectionate, he probably would've bestowed big slobbery kisses on all and sundry had he been allowed, it didn't make him some sort of sexual deviant, more of an innocent to be honest. I don't know your cousin and if this is the case with him but could it be?

    If you do give him the benefit of the doubt, you *can* take control of the contact you have with your cousin, you can give him a little hug to show him that this is how cousins greet one another and say hello. And if he crosses a line (though perhaps he's no longer that naive) you can gently but very firmly, tell him no, that's not what cousins do, it's not appropriate.

    I just lack esb's conviction that you ought to be judging your cousin by normal standards, and indeed that he *was* intending to sexually harrass you. I mean it's obvious you were uncomfortable and I'm very sorry for that, your aunt *should* have stepped in, but perhaps he just couldn't understand the signals you were giving him of your discomfort - understanding of the feelings and behavioural cues of others can be very difficult for some - and he isn't so nefarious after all.

  14. I do agree that this behaviour should be addressed, but asking a cousin and a bride to take it on, when it could have (and should have) been dealt with years ago is a little much.

    Does he have a primary caregiver? Someone to be his plus-one? Maybe setting up a meeting with the people he's closest with and saying, "Look, I want my cousin at my wedding, but I'm going to ask you to monitor his behaviour and talk to him about why sexualized interactions aren't okay, ever, and especially at a wedding. And if you can't do that, then I can't invite him."

    Put the teaching moments back on the people who should have been giving him guidance years ago. And by all means, invite him - but with clear boundaries. If the boundaries aren't in place, the invite isn't in the mail.

  15. Lady, I feel like you have every right not to invite your cousin. If your aunt or anyone else has any beef with it, tell them that they should have taught him that his behavior is inappropriate when you were kids. The bottom line is that it would be wrong if he didn't have a disability, difference, or delay of any kind.

  16. Thanks everyone for your comments. I would like to point out two things though, I know some of you found the term "mentally disabled" offensive and I should be more specific. The reason I use this term is because I don't know what specific disability he has, my family has never talked about it and it is not a clear disability that I am aware of such as down syndrome, etc. I do agree my aunt does view him probally as a tolder and everything he does is sweet and innocent to her. And that could be perfectly the case, however he does not do this with any of the other females in my family or males. I know I am an adult now and I should talk to him about this but its hard when I am in a family where nothing is talked about and there is no sense of right or wrong. I feel almost as if my family would be offended if I brought something up about his actions. I just want people to know I don't blame him for his actions and I know it is something that should of been taught to him of what appropriate touching is, but I can't help the feeling that I still feel very uncomfortable and nervous around him.

  17. I sympathize but agree that the only way to deal with it maturely is to openly address it. Not inviting him seems frankly passive aggressive. You can address it and, if that goes less than wonderfully, not invite him.

  18. This is an incredibly difficult situation, and my heart goes out to you in having to navigate through such complicated terrain. If this was me, and the cousin made me feel THAT uncomfortable, I wouldn't want him at my wedding either. However, lets face it, you are not simply dealing with a 'family' issue but also a larger cultural sensitivity towards 'disabled' individuals (sorry, I really don't know what term to use here, either). Like a few of the other comments above, I also feel that the kissing cousin thing really needs to be addressed, but perhaps it is something that should be dealt with after your wedding? Raising the problem with his mother and the rest of the family could create more tension than what you were originally trying to avoid and, seeing as this has gone on for so long without anyone talking about it, you could be opening a can of worms.

  19. This is still rather confusing. What are his mental abilities? Does he take care of himself and is capable of living on his own or does his mom take care of him? Is he functioning as a five year old or as a very strange man his own age?

    There's a big difference between someone who is mentally a child and the appropriate way to deal with that and someone with the intelligence of an adult but with mental issues that make social interactions difficult.

    Either way, if you can handle having a face down with your family over this... you're going to have to invite him. I don't see how you can imagine a senarior where you don't invite him and avoid the discussion you're afraid of.

    Now, I agree 110% that your family is extremly wrong not to have addressed this and I fear your fears of them being "offended" by you bringing it up are true... people suck. There is a reason abuse of children is so common and so rarely dealt with when done by family members (not that this is child abuse! sorry if this offends but it just came to mind as another circumstance were people you'd swear are normal inevitably look the other way).

    But since unless you invite him you're going to have to deal with the issue anyway you might as well deal with the issue first and then you might be able to invite him after all.


  20. This is a difficult situation. I was creeped out at my own wedding by the son of an old family friend (who is a grown 30+ year old man). He basically cornered me and gave me a few very inappropriate compliments and could not look me in the eye (only in the chest) at my reception. He asked me to dance several times, each of which I politely declined with an excuse about finding my new husband.

    As unfortunate as these type of instances are, I think that it is important not to alienate anyone. Especially if that someone is not aware of his behavior (i.e. has a mental disability). I was lucky enough to have a large enough reception that it was easy to stay away from him (and I actually didn't have to even worry about him-I could concern myself only with enjoyingmy wedding and new husband). If your reception is going to be large, I would say that it is appropriate to say a quick hello and move on. You will be so busy with dancing, eating, chatting with other guests that I think it can easily be done. And you won't offend your family.

    In short, invite him and ignore him. Trust me, it can be done.