[Two Pronged] Angel and her uncle
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
I hope you help me, I hope you will not judge my uncle or me.
My uncle took care of me since I was 16 (I am now 19). My uncle is the husband of the sister of my mother. My auntie took me in when I went to school in Manila. They paid for my schooling and everything else I needed. They have no children.
Something sad happened three weeks ago. My auntie died. My uncle then told me that he loves me, not as a daughter, but as someone who is his wife. He told me he said nothing while his wife was alive because he did not want to hurt her. But now that she is dead, there is nothing wrong with saying how he feels
I do not know what to do. He is not forcing me to do anything, not even to love him back. And for that I love him more. Also, I do not know where I can go if I leave this house.
Thank you for your email.
Let’s deal first with the subject of incest. The definition of and laws relating to incest vary depending where you live. For example, in some cultures cousin marriage is considered ideal and actively encouraged whereas in others it is subject to social taboo. It is also influenced by what religion, if any, you practice. It generally prohibits certain relationships based on consanguinity and affinity. You can read this for a clearer guideline, albeit in a different context.
It seems that the Philippines has no specific laws relating to adult incest, only incestuous marriages and incest with minors, and instead relies on the provisions on offenses against decency and good customs or grave scandal.
There is no issue of consanguinity in the case of your uncle since quite clearly he is not a blood relative at all. Furthermore, while it could be argued that he was related by affinity (having been married to your aunt, who was a blood relative), in many jurisdictions the ending of a marriage by death of a spouse ends relationships by affinity created by that marriage.
So while a liberal interpretation of your situation might lead to the conclusion that you are both free agents to decide your own future, a more conservative view might suggest a degree of caution. As Jeremy Bentham, the English philosopher, jurist, social reformer and founder of modern utilitarianism once said, "the power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law."
On the subject of your options for the future, you are ambiguous, to say the least. On the one hand, your uncle has told you that he is not forcing you to do anything, despite his declaration of love for you.
Your response is “for that I love him more” following which you say you have nowhere else to go. What sort of love is this? A love like his? If so, why leave; if not, a love based on a declaration of non-coercion?
It is ironic that you ask for advice yet are singularly unforthcoming with the information to ensure that the advice could be well founded rather than guesswork. After all, this is not therapy which is akin to mining: you chip away over time at the protective carapace until you hopefully unearth nuggets of golden truth. An advice column is a one shot deal where the answer is based on what is revealed in the letter received.
So based on the miserly information you have provided, it seems that your least bad option is to take your uncle at his word and stay, thus giving yourself time to explore alternative housing just in case.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter. I also thank Mr Baer for his insightful — though some might say quite pragmatic — responses to two situations inherent in your concerns:
Mr Baer says: “…while it could be argued that he was related by affinity (having been married to your aunt, who was a blood relative), in many jurisdictions the ending of a marriage by death of a spouse ends relationships by affinity created by that marriage.”
Does this therefore mean there is no betrayal of trust/no possibility of emotional incest even if for the three years he took care of you, you looked up to, and trusted him, as you would any member of your family?
(Let me not digress to the hypothesis that it was predominantly men who made this preposterous suggestion into law since they are the ones more likely to take advantage of death to avoid accusations of "emotional" incest. Well…not any more than I already have here.)
Mr Baer says: “your least bad option is to take your uncle at his word and stay, thus giving yourself time to explore alternative housing just in case.” Admittedly, I do not find this second suggestion merely pragmatic. To me it makes sense — if you are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that his behavior is not mere manipulation, then I too am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
I admit part of me wonders if I should. You are, after all, “merely 19,” who grew up considering your aunt and uncle as your surrogate parents (and for all intents and purposes behaved this way) at the very impressionable age of 16 and it is understandable if you automatically trust him.
I am a clinical psychologist who has been trained in the possibility of covert incest and thus should be more vigilant about its possibility.
However, I am also loathe to cast blame on an innocent person so let me just say that, as far as your uncle is concerned, the jury (of one—moi) is out.
It is possible that your uncle is well meaning, behaved to the best of his ability as an uncle (despite loving you as an alluring woman rather than a niece) and is just clumsy/self absorbed about when to express his love for you.
And yet, things you say in your letter make me wonder. For example:
“I hope you will not judge my uncle or me,” implying you are in the same boat—does that therefore mean you feel towards him as he does towards you?
“…now that she is dead, there is nothing wrong with saying how he feels.” Are you merely quoting him or is this how you also feel, Angel?
“…But he is not forcing me to do anything, not even to love him back. And for that I love him more.”
These statements suggest you have cast your lot with him. That you are not nandiri (grossed out) or outraged by his declaration of love. Since he merely shared his non-uncle feelings with you less than a mere three weeks ago (when your aunt died), I can’t help wondering if you too felt as he does way before then?
And if you do…what does this imply? Did you just suddenly have an epiphany about how much you, too, loved him in the same way he loved you? (and yes, this can happen)?
Or: Did you have to convince yourself you do so as not to hurt his feelings?
Or: Do you feel so bereft (of family) now that your aunt is dead that love in any form (from the other person in this once family of three) is welcome?
Or, finally: Did he send you subliminal messages of this kind of love way back, before your auntie died? Just because you did not pick upon these messages (or picked them up merely subconsciously) doesn’t mean he didn’t. And just because he, too, may have been unaware that his then inappropriate feelings were being broadcast does not mean they weren’t.
I honestly do not know what to tell you except not to make a decision about your relationship right away. I also suggest you see a professional asap to help you answer any questions, explore any other explanations for the seeming unexplainable, and push you towards a kinder, more compassionate, less demanding, less mere- emotion-driven paradigm to help you make your decisions. Please write us again if there is any other way we can help you.
All the best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email email@example.com with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.