Ex-etiquette: Is relationship with stepsister OK?

Jann Blackstone

Q: I am falling in love with my stepsister and I have a question about how to handle it. Let me explain: First, we only lived together for a very short time three years ago, so we really didn’t grow up together. Two, we are now legal adults. I am 29 and she is 18. We make each other very happy, but our family and friends think there is something wrong with us. I think this relationship is worth fighting for, but at the same time I would like to have our friends and family on board. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: I think your big concern is that your relationship will be perceived as incestuous, so let’s consider what the standard accepted meaning of incestuous is: “When there is sexual intercourse between persons so closely related that they are forbidden by law to marry.”

We all know that some might think the relationship you describe is questionable, but you aren’t related by blood, so by law, you are not forbidden to date, or even marry. Truth is, relationships as you describe are most often frowned upon when the kids are raised as siblings — and they are still living in the home. That does not seem to be the situation in your case, but there’s more to consider.

First, the age difference. You are 29 and she is 18. That’s a huge gap when one of the partners is only 18. It might be different if you were 39 and she was 28, but you’re not. She’s very young and may simply find your age impressive, which could cloud her judgment and place her in a very vulnerable position. Although you’re both adults, you have experienced way more life. She’s probably never been to a club, can barely walk into a casino if you elope to Vegas. Even if you don’t drink, your social life will be severely impacted by the age difference, which increases the possibility of a break-up.

Second, should you decide to part, the break-up will carry a much larger penalty than the typical “I’m outta here.” If it’s nasty, even though it breaks all the rules of good ex-etiquette, it’s easy for families to take sides. Family get-togethers will be awkward — not to mention how your parting might affect your parents’ relationship should one of you be hurt by the other. If your parents have had children together, your break-up could affect your ability to be close to your half siblings.

My advice is to go slow and think long and hard. The skepticism you will get from people can easily be combatted with honesty, kindness (Ex-etiquette rule No. 8) and time will also help. Ironically, I don’t hear as much commotion when two adult children marry and then their divorced parents fall in love — which would ultimately create the same situation that you face now.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author founder of Bonus Families