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This week the column is devoted to the question many people ask after they read a particularly juicy letter: What happened next? On Monday we published a poll in which readers were asked to choose among five letters that ran this past year. (Beforehand, I contacted all the letter writers to make sure they were game.) Follow-up letters by the top two winners of the poll are printed here. It’s no surprise the No. 1 vote getter was “Brotherly Love.” This was the dilemma posed by a man in a long-term incestuous gay relationship with his twin. Their family accepted their homosexuality and wondered when each would meet a nice guy and settle down. The two were at odds over whether to tell their relatives about the twincest (thank you commenters for coining that term). I advised them not to tell all, but to reassure their family that as unorthodox as their living arrangement seemed, it made them happy. Here’s their story:
A lot has happened since then. The first thing I have to mention is that my brother didn't know I had written in to you. He noticed your column during breakfast and almost had a heart attack when he realized it was talking about us. After he got over the shock, we both started joking and worrying that someone we knew would read it and put two and two together. I guess I should have thought about that earlier! In the end we were both relieved to be talking about this openly and honestly. We did contact an attorney as you suggested, who told us that while incest is illegal in our state, our situation was unique and unless we paraded down the street engaging in public sex, there was no chance of prosecution. After that, talking about your column some more sparked a motivation to get the perspective of a professional marriage/family counselor. We found one who, over the past seven months, helped us not only think through the immediate dilemma but also, unexpectedly, deal with some long-buried issues from our childhood.
The way our relationship turned romantic and sexual when we were kids was that I was being bullied pretty badly starting in fifth grade for being a "sissy" and my brother (who was a lot more masculine, into sports, and therefore not bullied) was the only one I could turn to for support. I didn't feel that I could confide in our parents, who at that time made homophobic comments regularly (it was the middle of the AIDS epidemic). There was one night in our room when I broke down crying and admitted that I was gay. He saw himself in the role as my protector, and then one thing led to another from there. So in the therapy sessions we spent a good deal of time sorting through our conflicted feelings, then and now. I fully acknowledge that when we were kids the relationship was somewhat co-dependent, but we lead pretty independent lives now with separate careers, friend networks, etc. I know some of your readers think we're emotionally stunted, and maybe we are. On the other hand, I know plenty of people in unhappy relationships (gay and straight) with troubled families, so I guess in some way we're all a little screwed up, aren't we?
One of the more ironic parts of this situation is that the sexual aspect of our relationship faded away many years ago. We're physically intimate, but it's limited to kissing and cuddling for the most part. According to our counselor, this phenomenon is actually not uncommon among gay male companions, and from what I gather, even among heterosexual couples who've been together as long as we have. I know how weird this must sound, and often we both just burst out laughing at how our lives turned out, but it is what it is.
As far as what we should tell family and friends, after discussing it extensively with our counselor my brother and I eventually saw the wisdom in your advice. Over the summer when our mom brought up the subject (again), we were well prepared with a response. We told her that we both tried dating men and women (true) but never met anyone who made us want to give up the comfortable, happy life we already have living together (true). We said she didn't have to worry we would die alone, because we're committed to supporting each other to the end (also true). She wasn't thrilled, but at least the way we responded appeared to allay some of her worries. We gave similar explanations to a few of our friends and they seem to think it at least makes rational sense, even if it's not ideal from their perspective.
We'd like to thank you for providing such a nonjudgmental and compassionate response. I guess it seems obvious in retrospect, but at the time the solution didn't seem clear at all. And writing the letter to you set in motion a lot of other positive changes besides.
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The No. 2 vote getter was the letter titled “Bed Bug,” from a long-married woman whose interfaith minister husband had invited a young homeless woman to live with them. The wife wanted the woman out of the house, but the husband said tossing her into the street would violate all the principles they lived by. I suggested the husband might be ministering to this young woman in a very personal way; that if she needed social service help, he was not providing it; and that if the husband didn’t get the woman off the premises the wife should see a lawyer to initiate separation proceedings.
There were so many commenters who insisted that my husband is a philanderer, or that I am a shrew, or both! Some background: While I was away visiting my elderly mother, my husband did discuss with me his involvement with the homeless person during our phone conversations. It surprised me that so many of the commenters believed that the homeless woman was now legally considered to be living under our roof (which is a rental). She was in actuality doing everything except sleeping here: showering, receiving mail from social services, storing her stuff, using our computer, etc. But she was not sleeping here because I continually said no. That was the issue that was dividing me and my husband: Should this homeless woman be allowed to sleep in our home against my wishes and feelings?
Over the summer, my husband was producing a peace festival on a limited budget. He needed this woman's computer skills for creating flyers, writing letters, and acting in general as a secretary. His thought was that they could work a trade. We could give her shelter and she could do the secretarial work until the festival was over, then the agreement would end. He told her that her sleeping here was dependent upon my approval, which I never gave. He kept saying that she is a human being in need of help. I kept saying that I did not feel comfortable with her here and that her presence was a horrible imposition on me.
There was never any sexual relationship between my husband and this homeless lady. Of that I am utterly positive. My husband was trying to help her get away from her boyfriend, who physically and verbally abused her. I do think there was a lot of the "white knight" complex going on with my husband. But I took an instant antipathy to her even though I felt terribly sorry for her.
After I wrote, one day while I was at work the homeless woman got angry at my husband because he was preoccupied on the phone with festival business and she had had some emotional upset that she wanted to discuss. She flipped out, yelled at him, and stormed off. This happened twice more within the next few days. My husband told her that she could no longer work for the peace festival and that she had to move her stuff out. She did so in a tirade, and my husband realized how unstable she was. She is still living on the streets with her boyfriend. We see her occasionally and she doesn’t speak to us.
My husband and I studied for decades with an Indian guru and we try to live by our late teacher’s principles: Serve. Love. Give. Purify. Meditate. Realize. As soon as the homeless woman left, my husband and I agreed that we would let a different homeless woman stay with us until she found a place to live. This second homeless person was very different. She had resources: a car, phone, and laptop, and she had a desire to work again. She was a sane lady who had fallen on hard times and was looking to get on her feet. I couldn’t stand that she had been sleeping at the side of a church. This second homeless lady lived with us for five weeks (no sexual infidelity there either). She found a place that she could afford in a city 70 miles away and we have not seen her since.
Then a relative stayed with us for two weeks. When she left my husband and I have agreed, no more visitors or interlopers. We both need our privacy back.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“My Twin Sister Says I'm Fat: Prudie offers advice on twins entangled in family rifts, rows, and rivalries.” Posted Aug. 25, 2011.
“Give Grandpa a Kiss-Off?: A creeping suspicion tells me to keep my father-in-law away from my kids. Should I listen to it?” Posted Sept. 1, 2011.
“Longtime Companion: Is it OK to hide my gay affair since my wife doesn't want sex anymore?” Posted Sept. 8, 2011.
“Deadly Family Secret: My mother-in-law hid a life-threatening condition that could strike my child. How can I forgive her?” Posted Sept. 15, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Type "R" for Revenge: Dear Prudence advises a woman who got her cheating ex fired by sending a nasty email—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Aug. 29, 2011.
“The Nudist Next Door: Dear Prudence advises a reader whose new neighbor needs better curtains—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 6, 2011.
“Am I Dating a Swinger?: Dear Prudence advises a woman who craves a monogamous relationship but can't seem to find one—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 12, 2011.
“He'd Like a Virgin: Dear Prudence advises a woman who lied to her fiance about her sexual past—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 19, 2011.