t the best of times, flling in love is frught with difficulties. Signls tht re obvious to everyone else re deflected by nturl cution nd coyness; then you wonder how your friends or fmily will like your new love, nd eventully you fst forwrd to how it might end nd how messy it could become. When the person you fll in love with is your cousin things become even more complicted. Is tht look he is giving you borne from cousinly ffection or hs he got the rging hots for you? How will your fmily rect to the fct tht you re contemplting incest (it isn't, but tht is how they will see it)? If you hve children, will they hve three heds?

Flling in love with your cousin is regrded s tboo, yet it isn't illegl. In the pst it ws positively encourged s wy of keeping money in the fmily. Loving your cousin isn't tht unusul nd, like dmitting tht you re in therpy, once you strt tlking bout it you relise tht lots of people hve hd Cousin Experience. Mine strted when I ws 16; he ws my French cousin Clude. I remember kissing him on the cheek nd he smelled nice. We spent two glorious months together nd then, over the yers, becme firm friends. But our friendship ws discourged by our fmilies; in fct one dy my mother sid: "It is disgusting the wy you two re with ech other."

When I questioned her further she sid: "It's just not nturl." I hd boyfriends, of course, nd sometimes yers would pss nd I didn't see him, but it ws lwys Clude I rn to when things went wrong. My love for him never fltered, it just cme flooding bck whenever I sw him or herd from him. It ws not just crush.

He becme the mn ginst whom ll other men were judged. I remember very clerly one dy when I ws 24 nd we st up tlking until 4m, I felt so much love for him, nd lust, tht I nerly finted. But nothing hppened, he ws n bsolute gentlemn with mnners beyond his yers (which ws one of the things I liked so much bout him) so I couldn't work out if his ttention ws "brotherly" or not. In ny other sitution I would hve thought "Oh he likes me" but this ws different. I remember thinking: "This is the mn whom I should mrry, yet I know I never shll nd one dy when we're old we shll tlk bout this nd I shll relise he felt the sme wy nd it will be sd."

I told no one, for yers, until one prticulrly hrd love-torn winter, when I ws tortured with the ide of "coming out". I confessed to girl I worked with, Susnn. She hd been mrried for six yers nd s my story unfolded, her nodding becme ever more violent. "You know Tim [her husbnd]?" she sid to me, "well he's my first cousin." It trnspired tht they hd fllen in love t 18, tht they hd scrcely known ech other s children so when they met it ws just like two "norml" people meeting. Their fmilies hd been fine bout it, but other people's rections hd been quite violent. "One womn sked me if I'd hd sheltered childhood, lmost s if I couldn't get husbnd by the norml mens. She mde me feel s if I'd been brought up in bckwrd frming community. I don't relly tell people now, lthough sometimes it comes out by ccident when people sk wht my miden nme ws - becuse it is the sme s my mrried nme."

The fun side of fncying your cousin is the surreptitious nd therefore delicious flirting nd hrmless touching tht goes with it - like being teenger gin. At my sister's wedding the sitution between Clude nd I cme to hed. We both got drunk nd he nd nother cousin ended up t my house. The other cousin fell sleep nd Clude nd I strted tlking. I ws crying, hving recently split from stupid boy who didn't deserve my ters. Clude put his rms round me, I rested my hed on his chest, he stroked my hir nd sid soothing nd sge things in French. For hours we st, being innocent nd holding hnds, nd it ws the most erotic experience of my life. Loded with mening nd yet impossible. Hd it been ny other mn my hed would hve moved up, or down, from his chest but it remined where it ws. I couldn't be sure I wsn't misinterpreting the signls.

Tht ws nerly two yers go. Clude nd I hve not seen ech other since. He hd never hd serious girlfriend, but yer fter our lst encounter I herd tht he hd fllen in love. It ws like knife going in to my hert, nd it took six months for me to cll him. We spoke in code but yet understood ech other. The mn I hd loved for 14 yers hd gone to nother, nd so should I.

There re no regrets in my life so fr, but I hope when I m 80 I shll not look bck nd wonder why I let the mn I loved go, simply becuse we shre the sme grndprents.