Your Call: Can She Ask Him to Cut Off Contact with a Past Love?

We get a lot of advice questions coming in at EMandLO.com, but sadly, we just can’t answer them all. Which is why, once a week, we turn to you to decide how best to advise a reader. Make your call by leaving your response in the comments section below.

Dear Em & Lo,

I have been dating my boyfriend for two years. We are both so in love with each other and talk of marriage in a few years. He is Pakistani and I am white. His religious Muslim family approves of me.

A few months ago, I found out that him and his cousin who lives in Pakistan were writing love letters to each other for two years before we met. I confronted him about it and we settled issues for the most part. He claims to have never loved her. I believe him for the most part, even though the only reason he tossed the letters was because he knew I’d not tolerate or be with him anymore. He is very clingy to things of his past. It hurt so much that he wanted to save these letters because it’s as if they meant something to him.

Since then I have gotten over this issue for the most part because we talked about it many times and he promised me he never loved her. I don’t want to sound like a stupid girl, but I believe him. I really do.
The problem is, they still talk. And her being his cousin, it’s difficult for me to tell him that I don’t want him talking to her, because she is his family. I know he has plans to go to Pakistan on vacation and I am extremely hurt and mad because I know they will see each other. I don’t think I’d be able to be with him anymore even though I love him deeply. I know that if he were in my shoes he would not want me to see someone I wrote love letters to or talk to them, even if I really didn’t ever love them.

I have been avoiding this talk because I can’t bear to be without him, I love him so much. I know that him going to Pakistan is somewhat out of his control because it’s his parents choice, but I don’t know how to handle or approach this situation. I trust that nothing will happen between the two of them while he is there. But I know they will be hanging out a lot, and I cannot bear the thought of him being near her, the girl he thought he loved for two years.

What do I do? I don’t want to break up with him, but I don’t want to be that stupid girl who gets hurt like this either. Ideally he would never talk to her or see her again. Am I being unreasonable for wanting this? I don’t think I am considering he has told me that he does not want me talking to guys from my past. But then again, they were not my cousins.

— Dating a Kissing Cousin

What should D.A.K.C. do?


  1. Holly – Whilst I respect what you are saying you are quite wrong. I am English and in the UK, Pakistanis marrying their cousins has become a problem. More than 50% of British Pakistanis marry their cousins and their offspring are 10 times more likely to suffer from recessive genetic disorders. In fact, a third of all those born in Britain with recessive genetic disorders come from the Pakistani community. You are right that in many cultures marrying a cousin is preferred but many Pakistanis feel pressured into marrying a cousin when that is not their wish. I’m sure this young man in question was encouraged to pursue a relationship/potential marriage with his cousin despite not being interested.

  2. Just read what Jillian, Miss Hattie, and Holly said. Repeat. And again.

    Dear god, girl, get over yourself. This is a non-issue. Is it a good relationship or not? Focus on your relationship with him, not what happened in the distant, irrelevant past.

    Just read what Jillian, Miss Hattie, and Holly said. Repeat. And again.

  3. If his family accepts you and they know about you then do not worry about his cousin. It must have been a huge step for him to introduce you etc. I know.

  4. This gets much more confusing than the whole, “Should he still be friends with his ex?” issue… Yeah, of course he can’t cut off contact if the ex IS HIS COUSIN! It’s never appropriate to limit an SO’s connection with their family, but it’s normal to have some boundaries with regard to exes, and no one would be comfortable with their BF having the amount of intimacy and contact with their ex as they do with family members. Why? Because family members are assumed to be off limits, so we don’t tend to worry that one thing will lead to another with them. Exes, clearly the attraction was there, so we do need boundaries sometimes.

    In this case, you do still have to worry about that, and that is a big problem. I guess you need to decide if you really think he could develop feelings for her or that anything would happen between them. If this is totally out of the question, then let it go. But I don’t know that it is, if he had feelings for her in the past. If it were me, and the person was just an ex, I’d never go visit them or meet with them in an intimate context, without my current bf along. That’s just about making the other person comfortable, even though I know I’d never cheat. What he needs to keep in mind is that this person is sort of like an ex to you. There are a lot of things he can do to make you more comfortable with their relationship, and you definitely can develop more trust over time. But he can’t act like it’s just a family member and your feelings aren’t valid. You clearly do have valid concerns, and he needs to address them and make adjustments if that is necessary, like not staying in the same house with her or being alone with her. I think you are within your rights to request this, and if he cares about you, he will hopefully work on this issue with you so that you don’t have to worry. If he can do that, this clearly means he is putting you first, so you really should do your part too with trying to trust him and get comfortable with her.

  5. Since part of the issue here is the clashing of two totally different cultures, I think a little cultural relativism is in order. People in our society may consider marrying a cousin “gross,” but it’s actually very common in other cultures; in fact, in many cultures marriage to a cousin is actually preferred. And contrary to popular belief, cousins do not have a significantly higher chance of producing offspring with genetic deformities than unrelated couples. It’s unfair to judge the man for wooing his cousin just because it’s not what we consider normal in our society.

    This situation is one that I’m actually somewhat familiar with; I once dated a guy who, years after we broke up, became my cousin when his mother married my uncle. My husband knew about this soon after he and I started dating, and it’s never been a problem. He understood that my ex might be around sometimes, but he was confident enough in our relationship to know that it wouldn’t matter. If D.A.K.C. can’t see that her boyfriend loves her and accept the fact that the cousin isn’t going away, they’d both be better off apart. Regardless of who she’s with, though, she needs to understand that the level of jealously she’s showing will smother anyone and it really has no place in a healthy relationship.

  6. ^ Holy crap, New York is one of those states!?

    Ok, whatever. It’s also legal for sexual partners to poop on each other, but it’s still pretty rarely done because almost everybody thinks that’s gross. Do you know anyone who’s actually married a cousin? Have you heard of anyone doing it? Would you think it was normal if your sibling married your cousin? Do you know anyone who would think that was normal?

    If you object to the term “perversion” because it’s judgemental and pejorative, fine, I concede that I used insensive language. Although “perversion” is a word that I’m fond of, and that I frequently self-apply. Frankly if two consenting, adult cousins want to marry each other I think it should be allowed. I also think it’s freakin’ weird. Come on, drop the Devil’s advocate thing and admit it: if someone you knew married a cousin you’d think it was freakin’ weird too.

    As for the “actual” differences between East and West, I’m not sure what you mean. I’d say arranged marriages to blood relatives counts as an actual difference. One of a million differences. Some of them are very minor. Some of them are huge.

  7. Are you kidding me? It would be ONE thing if he was sending and receiving love letters to her WHILE you were in a relationship. But you wrote they did so TWO YEARS PRIOR to dating you. You either trust him or you don’t. End of story. Frankly, if you’re so paranoid and angry that you would break up with him over some love letters in his past, it sounds like he might be missing a crazy bullet by you breaking up with him.

    By your standards, you could only date and love and marry someone with ABSOLUTELY no dating past. This is the real world – some people stay friends after a break up. In this case, it’s his cousin. He says he doesn’t love her. GET OVER IT or move on and save that poor man from you. You are being completely unreasonable.

    PS to Johnny – while Western Americans don’t have a tradition of ‘marrying within the family’ I don’t think it’s such a huge perversion or strange thing and i think you’re doing a huge disservice to the actual differences between East and West. I mean, look at how many States in the US have it legal to marry your first cousin. It’s actually a lot.

  8. Wow, that is some messed up shit. Honey, either you trust him or you don’t.

    If you trust him, then trust him. You should have let him keep the letters, but whatever. So what if he DID love her? The past is in the past. The older you get the more you will realize that everyone has a past. It’s what makes a person who s/he is. If you love the person, you love his past.

    If you don’t trust him, you have to leave the relationship. Give him a chance to find a woman that isn’t as fucked up and jealous as you. Give him a chance to have something healthy. And then spend some serious time fixing your own personal problems.

    PS, if he doesn’t want you talking to men from your past, that is equally fucked-up, and he deserves the same lecture.

  9. She *can* ask him to cut off contact, but it may destroy their relationship. If she’s unable to get over her fears and insecurities about his cousin it may destroy the relationship anyway.

    I dated a woman who hated one of my ex-lovers that I remain good friends with to this day. Early on as conflict arose I explained ‘If you make me choose between you and that friendship there is no way you won’t lose.’ To her credit she didn’t force it then, but we wound up having fights every time I talked with the ex, and the conflict did ultimately kill the relationship after a few years.

    “Love is a rose
    but you better not pick it
    Only grows when it’s on the vine.
    A handful of thorns
    and you know you missed it,
    Lose your love
    when you say the word ‘mine'”
    -Neil Young, Love Is A Rose

  10. If you’ve ruled out major perversion as a possibility, I can only think of one reason a guy would woo his cousin: pressure from a traditional family.

    My guess is that the cousin-courting is part of a set of cultural traditions, going back two thousand years, that you can’t possibly fathom. Seriously, East and West are MAJORLY different. There are some things you’ll never get about them. There are some things they’ll never get about you.

    I think you’re actually being pretty chill about this, and culturally sensitive, considering how outrageously deal-breaking the “cousin” thing would be to most white Westerners.

    In fact, I bet this guy is probably pretty damn relieved to have a non-related girlfriend of his choosing, rather than an arranged marriage to a relative. AND his family approves of you? Sweet.

    If you had reservations about his faithfulness, my answer would be to just dump him. But it sounds like you trust him. So just eat crow on the cousin thing. Outlandish shit like this is just part of what we sign up for when we date people from radically different cultures. Try not to torture yourself or him about this. Sounds like you’ve got a good thing going.

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