Hello! I am in possession of some…interesting…information regarding my brother’s new wife, and I’m not sure what, if anything, to share with my family.
My brother had a pretty nasty divorce a few years ago and hadn’t dated much since, so we were all excited to meet his new girlfriend earlier this year. Within the next three months, they announced they were pregnant and got married. While it’s definitely fast, everyone seems happy, so yay!
Here’s where it gets weird: I got an email (to an address using my maiden name that I rarely use) this summer, from a man who claims to be my new sister-in-law’s ex-boyfriend from her time in another country.
It’s a pretty rambling, incoherent email with some screenshots of text messages between them — where she is clearly trying to brush him off. He asks me to tell her to “apologize” to him and “recognize what [she] did to me” by ending their (alleged) long distance relationship in favor of my brother. He knew about their marriage and the baby on the way, and knew that I was my brother’s sister. I was so disturbed by the email, and I responded, angrily, to say leave me alone and leave my family alone.
About a month later, he sent another email-o-nonsense Again, I responded, saying he was to stop contacting me, and I set up an email filter to send everything to the trash.
My husband and I talked about it, extensively, and decided to keep it to ourselves. The text message screenshots he sent me weren’t incriminating at all, and the only thing my sister in law was guilty of (if even that) was texting short answers to his questions.
However, I get another email this week. It’s from a different email address, but on the same topic, and the content of the message makes me think it’s the same person.
Now I’m struggling with my self-imposed vow of silence to my family. I see that this person viewed me on LinkedIn — and I’m connected to my dad on LinkedIn, and my maiden name is pretty unique. I’m worried he’s contacted my parents, and I have to admit this is setting off some alarm bells about my new sister-in-law.
However, there’s a baby on the way and they seem happy, and I don’t know if saying something about the emails helps anything except not having to keep this secret anymore. I do know that my sister in law has changed phone numbers recently with the explanation that an ex had been contacting her frequently.
Also, I know I shouldn’t respond, but man, these emails piss me off.
What to do, Captain?
This is a sticky situation, because this isn’t about anything your Sister-In-Law has done wrong or is keeping from anybody or that needs to be “exposed.” She’s allowed to have dated dudes before she dated your brother, to break it off with those dudes, and to send those dudes terse texts.
This is about how your sister-in-law’s ex is harassing her through her other connections and trying to mess up her life. Here is the most likely chain of events: He sent her many, many, many emails and texts like the ones he sent you. She got wise and began to totally ignore him. She changed her phone number and told you why. He obsessively searched for her, trolled all of her feeds, etc. until he found someone new to email: You. And then you responded, giving him the pellet of attention he had been craving for so long, and now he’s going to email y’all for another 6 months. I understand why you responded, it’s what a reasonable person who has reasonable expectations of others would do, and if nothing else it serves as documentation of his harassment and proof that you asked him to stop.
If you want to help your sister-in-law, your brother, and the rest of your family, the person you should talk to now is her. Don’t keep it a secret (secrets and everyone thinking they are the only one is what stalkers and abusers like, because they mean their victims become isolated from the people around them). I hate to recommend an intrusion on her peace of mind, and I completely understand why you wanted to shield her from this dude if you could, but this isn’t about passing on the messages from him or digging into her secrets, this is about coordinating a family response to someone who is harassing one of your own. And that family response should most likely be total silence. Sweet, cold, beautiful delicious silence. All of you should create a filter that sends his email to an archive folder or forwards it to another email account you set up just for monitoring purposes. That way you have a copy for documentation purposes if things escalate, but you don’t have to deal with it in the day to day. And you should never, ever, ever respond to him directly. You already told him to stop, repeating yourself only gives him more attention. Threatening him with legal action only gives him more attention and makes him feel justified and victimized. He will most likely disengage eventually. Help him by disengaging on your side. Script for talking to her (which you should do face to face or on the phone if you can, not by email): “I got some emails from someone claiming to be an ex of yours a while ago that seemed very strange. I told the person not to contact me anymore and deleted them. It didn’t seem like anything to bother you about. He’s started up again, though, and I wanted to talk to you before I do anything else, because I want you to be and to feel maximally safe. How do you want to handle this going forward?”
Having your family presenting a united front will help. All of you should tighten up your electronic security – change passwords and security questions, take another look at your filters, make sure that this person is blocked from seeing information about you on any social media service. Also, all of you should be alert to people calling up or emailing asking for information about her. Creeps often impersonate vendors or friends to get information, like “Hi, I’m an old friend trying to send her a birthday card, but I need her new address” or “Hi, I have an important package that needs signing for, can you verify the phone #” etc. All of you need to be alert to this and agree on a script of “Sorry, I can’t help you!” when it concerns her. She’ll miss out on a birthday card, maybe, oops! Depending on what law enforcement is like where you live and your likelihood of a positive response to them (calling the police is not right for everyone), your sister-in-law might want to talk to someone there to get the problem on their radar and help her assess the threat. How close is he? How likely is it that he would travel to where she is? etc. If he did show up, she would at least have a friendly person who is familiar with the issue that she could call, which might save her a couple of rounds of “Who did what now?” in a scary and time-sensitive situation.
This is one of those times I am going to recommend The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. It is not a perfect book, in fact, when you get the book, take the domestic violence chapter and just cut those pages out with a razor and then burn them so no one else will find them. But I don’t know of another book that fills quite the niche that he does, and his recommendations on how to “say no to people who won’t let go” are solid.