Digital Dating

Does 23andMe Have a Future as a Distant-Cousin Dating Service?

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George Michael and Maeby

A year ago, I drooled into a vial and put it in a mailbox. A month later, I learned that I have a 25 percent chance of developing psoriasis and that I’m 0.01 percent South Asian. This is the magic of 23andMe, the genetic testing service that informs its customers as to both their ancestry and health risks (although the latter results are currently suspended).

23andMe also takes advantage of its massive stores of genetic code to connect users who are likely related. I regularly receive invitations to share profiles with other members, including an adopted woman who told me that I — really, my thumbnail picture on the site — was the first person in her family she’d ever seen, which made me cry, because, come on. Most of the distant cousins I’ve encountered online also happen to be senior citizens. This makes sense, because that’s the same demographic that shares most of my interests (see also: history, proper sweater care).

But Monday brought a combo breaker. I opened a message from a predicted fourth cousin and discovered that a) he was my age and b) he was hot. Posting his photo here is too much even for me, but know that reactions from the many friends I Gchatted it to ranged from “I’d hit it” to “fully bangable” to “wincest.” I immediately Googled him — duh — and discovered that he’s a successful banker who lives surprisingly nearby. I’m in a happy, monogamous relationship (you can thank my boyfriend for contributing the word “wincest” to your day) and would never seriously consider myself attracted to someone until he’d demonstrated a convincing Randy Newman impression, but: this got me thinking. Why not date your fourth cousin?

You’re guaranteed to have common ground, given that you share a fraction of a percent of your genome. Assuming you met on 23andMe, you already know you’re both narcissistic nerds right down to your nucleic acids. Historically, royals — and Roosevelts — routinely intermarried to consolidate power. It’s now widely believed that the children of first cousins experience only a marginally increased risk of birth defects, if any increased risk at all. Personally, I’m a Western European potpourri of Irish, Italian, British, French, and more. In a very real sense, any generic white person I meet at a bar or bodega or sweater care workshop could be my cousin to the nth degree.

So we’re clear, I’m not condoning parent-child or sibling-sibling relationships (brb puking forever). And I fully acknowledge that for many, like Liz Lemon, dating a cousin is unacceptable no matter how distantly related you are. But look into your heart and ask yourself, “Is this weird?” When my heart answers — in Morse code via carefully timed beats, obvi — it says, “No, it’s not that weird. But kind of.”