#639: My sister-in-law’s creepy ex won’t stop emailing me.

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.

109 thoughts on “#639: My sister-in-law’s creepy ex won’t stop emailing me.

    1. the sense that “if you get hit once and you stay, it’s your fault if you get hit again.” An attempt to be empowering, showing you where you could reclaim control, but turns into “It’s your fault another person commits a crime of violence against you”

      Which is not a thing that is a true thing. Ever.

    2. Victim blaming. The author grew up in a household where both parents assaulted and seriously injured each other. He and his little sister were powerless to escape the situation, but the adults could have chosen to leave and didn’t. He blames them for not protecting their kids. Unfortunately he generalizes that anger and pain to say that any abuse victim who sticks around is “a volunteer”. As celette482 said, that is not a true thing.

      If you can ignore that bit, the rest of the book is really, really important.

    3. Thanks Celette and FlyBy, now the curiosity is answered, so please everyone keep future comments focused on the LW and their situation, thank you.

  1. Um. I think your advice is off here, CA. You seem to have totally glossed over the comments the writer has made about being in possession of “interesting knowledge” about her SIL and the comment that ” I have to admit this is setting off some alarm bells about my new sister-in-law.”

    So basically her SIL is getting stalked by an ex, the stalking has spread to her new family members, and this is somehow HER FAULT? Let’s just victim blame and slut shame all over the place here.

    I think the writer here needs to take a step back and think about why it is that she wants to badmouth her new SIL to her family for being the victim of a stalker ex.

    1. I didn’t gloss it over, I said, directly, this is not about having secret info ON her, it’s about protecting her from the dude in the first three or four sentences.

    2. Ouch. I hope I’m not bad mouthing my sister in law. I’ll admit I know very little about her, both because of the timeline of her relationship with my brother and the fact they’re both pretty reserved people. And I’ll also admit that with little to go on these emails are very distressing.

      I don’t want to bad mouth her. My brother’s ex wife hit him while I was in their apartment and she was very emotionally abusive, so I freely admit an overprotective blind spot where my brother is concerned.

      1. Yikes, that’s really awful. I hope that this current relationship is a considerable improvement for your brother and your sister-in-law.

        To reiterate Jennifer’s advice in a slightly different way:
        This is what you know for sure:

        The harassing ex ignored your clearly stated boundaries–repeatedly. He shared private communications with a partner, which barring illegal activity (in which case, bring that shit to the police, dude), I think is a huge violation. He created a second email address to get around your email filters. He stalked you online on a professional social networking site. He is trying to use you, a third party, to coerce his ex-girlfriend to apologize to him for breaking up with him.

        You know for sure that this guy is bad news. How reliable of a narrator do you think someone who stalks an ex’s extended family on LinkedIn is? I vote not very. Especially since none of what you said suggests concern for anyone but himself. He wants her to apologize. He feels wronged. Etc.

        Your new sister-in-law is not your old sister-in-law. It makes a of sense that you might be wary of anyone new. But everything you’ve described in your letter is firmly on the awful ex.

        What might maybe possibly somehow be true about a victim/target (in this case your sister-in-law) cannot be allowed to trump what is known to be true about a perpetrator (her stalker ex).

        I hope you can talk to your sister in law about this and that she, your brother, and the rest of your family are safe from this guy. I also hope in time you and your sister-in-law can build whatever type of relationship works best for you, but that you can know her well enough to trust her. I think that takes time, even without the complicated history.

        Best of luck to all of you. I hope you have the support and resources you need as you deal with this, because it’s not easy from any angle.

      2. The emails are *designed* to be distressing.

        I have an ex-friend who went creepy stalker seven years ago, but was pretty easy to shut down (block! block! block! yay for the smart phone that let’s me block with a single click!) and at the time, she only went after 1-2 of my friends. One of whom actually suffered much more than me because she kept showing up at that friend’s university housing.

        Recently, she reappeared. After 6 years of zero contact. No warning, created a new facebook entirely for the purpose of friending people who she knew know me. Before blocking her, I messaged those folks with a “She is stalking me. Do not pass along any information about me. I am blocking this new account.” message. 3 or 4 people responded saying that she just sent them a message that seemed odd because it was a rant about many terrible things I “did” in high school (10 years ago now). That set off alarm bells for them because who the fuck gets in touch with old classmates to rant about shit that happened 10 years ago! I suspect that the ranting was plausible, though inaccurate. And designed to be, specifically so that she could turn those people against me.

        Creepy stalkers are creepy. And 99% of the time, they know what they’re doing.

      3. I think it’s understandable that this would play into fears you already have about how quickly this relationship progressed. I’m sure it’s more ‘oh my god I don’t really know anything about this lady” than “it must be her fault she has this creepy stalker”, just make sure to keep the two things very separate in your mind.

        1. Yes, the “OMG I know nothing about this person in my brother’s life” is much more the fear. There’s a lot of subtext that doesn’t make it in the 450 word limit — it’s a combination of: I just met her and have had a hard time connecting with her, I’ve been extra worried about my brother and his happiness over the last few years so am basically suspicious of everyone (I really liked his ex wife, and we were getting to be close friends when that shit hit the fan), he’s kind of fallen off the radar since meeting/marrying her (and I understand the power of the early relationship sex haze!), and now this — which is a level of drama (for lack of a better word) that I am entirely unexperienced in.

          I don’t have any roadmaps for how to deal with this type of situation, which is why the perspective here is so helpful.

          1. I’m sorry this is all happening to you.

            I’ve started re-labeling the stuff other people do/say to influence my opinion of a third party as politics as opposed to “drama” because it’s about changing my mind rather than informing me and letting me choose.

          2. Maybe part of this can be a great prompt for getting to know her then? I think it’s totally understandable to be nervous in the situation you’re in: why not face that head on and do some hanging out with her?

      4. “Alarm bells” /= “bad mouthing.” I just read it as, “Uh-oh! Situation to keep an eye on, here!” Which sounds entirely appropriate, in the context.

      5. Nothing you’ve said reflects poorly on your SIL. If anything her experience with Creepy Stalker Ex probably helped her to have empathy for your brother, and show respect for his boundaries in a way that made him feel safe.

        Perhaps their mutual experience of getting free from awful people helped them trust each other and facilitated the accelerated timeline of their relationship.

        As SIL freely shared the reason she changed her number, I doubt any of this is a secret to your brother, and continuing to be secretive about serves no purpose.
        I’m guessing SIL will feel angry that CS Ex is creepy stalking you, and grateful when you bring it up in a matter-of-fact way without making it a drama.
        She’s had enough drama from CS Ex, and wants to focus on her new family.

    3. I think the Captain’s advice is solid, but I do agree that the LW’s wording is a little weird – I would like to think my response to finding out someone in my family was being stalked would not be feeling like I had “…interesting information” about them.

      1. I appreciate everyone’s POV on this situation and it’s been truly helpful. I honestly didn’t think of it as “stalking” before but more something just kinda weird and, well, interesting — because I don’t have context for being stalked, it’s never happened to me or anyone I’m close to.

        I don’t doubt that this person is someone creepy and gross with motivations I can’t and don’t understand. However, I’m also not going to lie and say that I wasn’t struggling with ambivalence/discomfort with this general situation before getting weird emails, which is what I think you’re picking up on.

        But this string of responses is rubbing me the wrong way. Frankly, I don’t think it would hurt for commenters here on CA to remember that LWs write in because they have questions they don’t have answers to and we may lack the tools/language to talk about it in a way that makes everyone happy.

        1. I suspect the reason people have reacted that way is that many readers have probably been the victim of stalking or other creepiness, so they are looking at the situation from your SIL’s point of view rather than from your’s. Sometimes women are unfairly judged as “weird” or “drama-prone” for being stalked, even though it is obviously a situation they cannot control and are not responsible for. I can see how a few phrases in your letter might have suggested to people that you were in agreement with those sentiments, and therefore drew criticism from women who have been stalked and would hate to be judged by the actions of their stalker. However, you have now clarified that isn’t what you meant, making the discussion unnecessary. I am sure no one intended to offend you with their comments, LW, just as you did not intend to cast judgement on anyone in your letter. It seems to me like one of those classic “tone/intent is hard to decipher on the internet” type situations, so hopefully we can all go back to being friendly. 🙂

          1. Really excellent points – among my circle of friends, most of whom happen to be women who date men, it’s actually an exception NOT to have encountered stalking and/or harassment, sadly. Of all the friends I know well, I think only one or two did not have to deal with having someone stalk or harass them after a breakup or because they were not interested in dating someone.

            So my reaction is not “what does this say about you?” but rather “not again! D: D: ” And we are not particularly drama-prone people – we live in a culture that unfortunately doesn’t exactly prioritize women having the autonomy to set boundaries about who they want in their life. (See also: basically every romantic comedy that involves some guy essentially stalking a woman for ninety minutes until she realizes he’s The One!(tm))

  2. Dear LW

    Your poor SIL! This donkey chases her pillar to post. Listen to the captain. The stalker is not a nice man. Join up with your brother and SIL. Keep him away from your family.

    1. It’s important because she might need to collect evidence or monitor the correspondence for signs of threat escalation.

    2. Because it’s possible the stalker is going to start targeting other members of her family (like her dad) and start up the same thing, and that could get dangerous. I’ve known stalkers to fabricate entire smear campaigns against their targets, convincing the target’s friends, family, and co-workers that the target is either a horrible person, or that the target is avoiding the stalker’s totally legit need to contact them. That can end up with the target’s reputation ruined or privacy compromised. SIL may, unfortunately, have to take proactive steps to stay safe.

    3. The ONLY reason, and I mean THE ONLY reason, is that I think it’s skeevy to talk about SIL while coordinating a family-wide ignorefest/warning the parents without talking with her. “Hey, this is happening, we are with you, we will shield you from it, we will handle it how you want us to” is better than “we all agreed you shouldn’t be told behind your back” when it’s a situation where she’s probably already feeling ashamed and helpless. I think that the LW should approach her once, the family should put some information lockdown procedures into place, and then they should go right back to ignoring/shielding her.

      He wants the LW to talk to the SIL and get his messages in that way, so I can see why it feels like playing into his hands, but his work is already being done here by seeding doubt in the LW’s mind, and I think closing ranks and facing it together is better.

      1. This is spot on. It’s very important to give her the control in this situation instead of deciding for her. That’s what controlling aholes/abusers do.

        1. They use shame and secrecy to keep the victim off-balance and make them feel alone and like no one will believe them. The LW has the power to break through that and actually help here.

          1. I agree 1000%. Close ranks and shut it down. Also keep in mind it’s likely not a coincidence that these emails are incoming after LW’s SIL was just married and before she has a baby..

          2. I couldn’t agree more. Allow her to have her own agency in deciding how to deal with him. She ISN’T at fault, so there’s no reason to keep it from her or act weird about it. Bringing her in on it in the right way shows that you support her.

      2. Yes! Exactly!
        She’s had already enough of Ex manipulating her life, she needs to know that her new family is 100% not going to engage in that kind of behavior.

    4. If I was in SIL’s shoes, I would want to know if my abuser was trying to contact my family members or friends, particularly if it was someone who had been harassing me so much that I’d changed my number. It could be worth adding to a harassment file with the police, at least.

      1. Yes! I mean, she’s probably going to be terribly embarrassed and apologetic that this guy is harassing her new family. It’s hard enough being the “new” member of the family. And then your brother’s been so badly burnt, she’s probably going to be worried about the family’s reaction to this (I am my husband’s *third* wife, so you can imagine how scared I was to meet his friends and family. Fortunately they’re all lovely.)

        But if she’s already got a police file or a protective order against this guy, she’s really really going to want this information. And it sounds like he’s way unbalanced (she has to apologize to him??) and she realizes that. Please let her know.

      2. For reals. My SO’s ex stalked and harassed him when we began dating, and eventually started contacting ME. I told my SO immediately, asked whether I should respond, etc. I could have talked to her and “found out” all sorts of ugly stuff about my SO, I’m sure. But I didn’t. I just told SO what happened, and he immediately confronted the Ex and threatened to call the police and file a report. For us, luckily, that was the trick. Ex was doing an amazing job projecting her shitty behavior onto my SO to all her friends, so having any kind of documentation of what she was doing scared her enough to make her back off.

        I think some people have a hard time framing things as abuse/stalking until it starts affecting other people too. In any case, SIL deserves to know. It’ll help her trust LW. it’ll help her trust her new family, and most importantly it takes power away from the Ex.

    5. So that she knows this guy is hunting down her relatives/friends, in case she wants to take further action against him, or thinks he might escalate his behavior, or has a specific way she would like the LW to respond. The LW also might not have the full picture here (perhaps the SIL has a restraining order against this guy in his country, or he has a habit of tracking her down to wherever she’s currently living and she would like to be warned about a possible reappearance). The SIL is the victim here and should be informed of a person stalking/harassing her so that she can decide how to respond.

      1. I also want to point out, for those worried about him possibly escalating, that contacting friends and family of your target is escalation. He is escalating, present tense. SIL needs to know that her stalker has escalated in his attempts to engage her so that can go into the police report if she has one, or into her other documentation if she’s doing that.

        At the very least, someone who’s a target of stalking needs to know they aren’t alone and they have a Team Them for emotional support.

        1. So much this. This *is* escalation.

          Also, we don’t know (and it doesn’t appear that LW knows) what SIL has done in the past to avoid this person. Maybe she’s already filed a police report or gotten a protective order. Without talking to SIL, there isn’t an accurate way to gauge the threat to SIL or to LW.

  3. Hey LW, I’m the sister of someone who has a stalker. He’s emailed and mailed things to both me and my parents as well. If you were to take his letters seriously, my sister would seem to be a heartless, fickle, unreasonable, and immature person. Needless to say, this is not the case. Stalking does not reflect the actual tenor of the relationship, nor does a stalker’s version of events ever need to be given credence in the least. It’s about them and their issues, not their victim. Please protect and support her while she deals with this awful and unwanted presence in her life.

  4. Please stop hearing alarm bells about your new SIL where there are none. The adage “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” DOES NOT apply to exes. Sociopaths and psychos are extremely skilled at putting on a normal face to lure in perfectly nice people. All your sister is guilty of is falling for the facade. Luckily for your brother, she was strong enough and smart enough to break free of this guy. Blaming SIL for the ex’s creepy behavior or holding it over her head as leverage, is victimizing her twice over.

    Follow the Captain’s advice in terms of addressing the situation. And then examine your own motives. You don’t like that your brother rebounded so quickly. Fair enough. But it’s none of your business. He’s happy. She’s happy. Unless they become unhappy, your job is to smile and support their family.

    1. Thank you for this. I have an abusive parent and I’ve been in abusive relationships and I’m afraid to tell anyone because I’m worried they’ll think I’M the problem.

    2. And really, even if you’ve never dated an abuser or a sociopath or anything… how many of us would like to be judged on the opinions of our exes?

  5. Ugh, I feel so bad for your SIL. I’ve been harassed and had them contact friends and family – it’s chilling to not know what the harasser is saying about you and how much of that your loved ones believe.

    I love the advice to bring it up directly to your SIL. Whatever your SIL needs, I’m happy you’re concerned about her and I wish you both the very best. Lots of Jedi Hugs

  6. Yikes LW, how scary. For you and for your SIL. This is something that I’m terrified of myself. I am unfortunate enough to have two exes who have “dirt” on me, and they are angry and inconsiderate enough to pester me and my immediate family. I’ve received many threats of blackmail, some death threats, you know, the usual. Although things have calmed down significantly since I contacted police and blocked them on every possible communication stream, there’s always a chance that they might attempt to stir up trouble again by contacting my current partner, or some more distant family members, or my friends. It sucks that other people are drawn into the “drama” but it’s not anyone’s fault but the abuser’s. As long as you keep that in mind, and focus on keeping yourself and your family members safe, you’re doing the right thing. I hope this creep loses interest and moves on soon.

    1. “I’ve received many threats of blackmail, some death threats, you know, the usual.”

      I can’t tell you how chilling I find this statement. Much love and jedi hugs to you.

    2. It is unbelievably awful that anyone is ever put in a position where she has to describe death threats as “the usual.” The wrongness, it burns.

  7. Definitely let SIL know what is going on. Stalker ex is being a creepy stalker, and creepy stalkers can go from creepy to dangerous when the mood takes them. For her own safety, and that of her new baby family, she needs to be aware that creepy ex has been making attempts to get to her through relatives.

    And then, whatever action plan she wants, support her. If she wants to be kept in the loop of any developments, do so. If she feels so freaked out by the whole things she just wants everyone to block/ignore him and never tell her anything, do so. But keep your own personal log of events so that, if things escalate, you’ll have documentation. But whatever you do, do not engage with the creepy stalker ex any more.

  8. Also… be careful for yourself. When I was 13 my friend and her mom had to flee her dad’s house because of abuse, and I became the target of stalking because I was the best friend. And 13 and therefore vulnerable. He came to my school and cornered me before I got the school involved. He wants to get SIL, but he’ll take you. Definitely talk to SIL and see what you collectively need to do to keep collectively safe.

    1. The good news is that there is literally an ocean between us (you bet your boots I looked at his LinkedIn profile after he looked at mine!) so I’m not as worried about physical safety as I am about emotional well being.

      1. Keep an eye out anyway. Oceans can be crossed in a few hours. I’m glad there’s a lot of distance between him and you, but don’t assume that he won’t try. Better to keep an eye out and find everything is fine anyway. Good luck.

  9. Yeah, this is great advice. It might be worth thinking about what you’re willing to do.

    I like to be in the loop somewhat, meaning that if there’s new contact (harassment) I want to know of it but no details please, unless they are 911-worthy. That puts some onus on my loved ones to sift through the BS and I totally get why someone doesn’t wanna do that.

  10. Great advice as usual; I hope that in a decade, SIL will recount this story fondly. “I knew y’all really loved and accepted me as part of the family when Auntie Filbert called to let me know that she hadn’t received any crazy emails from my stalker because she forgot her AOL password on the same day that Cousin Edward came by with flowers and a blank police report in case I wanted to press charges.”

    Seriously, while this is a terrible thing for your SIL to go through, it provides an excellent opportunity for you and your family to display some very strong family love in a very out-loud kind of way. It seems like you don’t know her very well yet, but as she is having your niece or nephew, she’s now permanently in the family. By choosing to show off exactly how loving and protective and respectful your family dynamic is – and choosing to be very vocally on her team – you’ll start your (decades long) relationship off on a good foundation, even if it comes from this crappy thing happening to her.

  11. Ugh, LW, I’m so sorry that your SIL is going through this and that, by extension, you are as well. Controlling people love it when they make the people around their target start giving that target the side-eye.

    My roommate moved cross-country in part to escape from a guy who had fixated on her, and he spread his narrative around so much that her family kept giving him her new contact information; he had all of them convinced that she got cold feet and broke his heart but would come baaaaack. (It shouldn’t matter, but: they were not in a relationship at any point.) It took a very snarly “She doesn’t want to talk to you, never call again” from me + absolute dead silence for him to finally get the idea.

    If her family had talked to her, and LISTENED to her, she wouldn’t have had those years of fear.

    1. Oh, that’s so awful for your roommate! How painfully avoidable as well. Or, at least, massively reducible in fear. That’s terrible.

      A good general rule that I follow for basically this very reason is that I will never, ever give out person A’s contact information when person B asks for it, no matter who person B is. It could be their spouse, their sibling, their child, their ailing grandparent. I will deny person B their request, without discussion, and instead happily offer to pass person B’s info onto person A, who is then free to contact person B if/when they want to and can. Having people passing out contact information without explicit permission is just scary in a world where not everyone is reasonable.

      I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for her to have her own family doing this to her. No matter how well-meaning they were, that’s a horrible situation to unnecessarily put someone into. as the Captain says, lack of communication is something stalkers thrive on. All it takes to avoid the horror and open up a conversation is just a simple, “Hey, Guy wanted your phone number, so I said I’d ask you to call him–he said his number is 123456. Is everything okay between you two? He sounded kind of anxious.”

      Having been in a similar situation myself, I simply cannot afford to be friends with or associate with people who pass out my information without my permission. It has nothing to do with how nice they are or how much I want a friendship with them or anything else, it’s simply not possible. It just isn’t worth another inter-continental relocation and the years of constant, daily fear that come with a stalker catching up to you.

      1. “Having been in a similar situation myself, I simply cannot afford to be friends with or associate with people who pass out my information without my permission.”

        This. It’s one of the things I struggle to get my family and a few other folks to understand: my contact information, whereabouts, what I’m doing now, etc. is not theirs to volunteer, no matter how well-meaning they think they’re being. It’s not only disrespectful and irksome when somebody does that, but it really creeps me out.

      2. I answer the phones where I work, and that is a policy that I adhere to 100%. I don’t give out any personal information at all, including confirming whether someone even exists. I’m more than happy to take a message, and I’ll pass the phone along if someone confirms that yes, it is their daughter and they want to speak to her, but without explicit approval, I officially don’t recognize anyone’s name. (People get mad at me for this. Mostly they’re probably just customers who wanted to speak to A Specific Person about a problem, but it’s company policy to not give out information and I don’t want to be complicit in anyone being stalked or harassed. People have threatened to get me fired over it, but I trust that management has my back on following this policy, so I really don’t care.)

      3. Yes, this. I was taught this as a basic privacy protection rule in childhood. I haven’t been the victim of a stalker, and I don’t think the people who taught me that rule were either, but it’s just a good rule for so many reasons. I strongly encourage everyone to follow it. Even if you are not aware of anyone in your social circle currently being stalked, you can prevent problems and awkwardness by simply saying, “I won’t give out someone else’s number/email address/etc., but if you give me your contact info, I’ll relay it to them.” Then maybe you will reunite two long-lost friends who want to be reunited and maybe you’ll prevent the really annoying person your friend thought had finally stopped contacting them from getting back into their life and you don’t need to know which way it’ll go to take a course of action that accounts for both.

  12. Hey guys! LW here. Thanks for the perspective on creepy stalkers being creepy. I’m ashamed that didn’t occur to me.

    This has been extra challenging for me to manage because I have very little to go on relationship-wise with my new SIL, both because it’s only been a few months and she is pretty reserved. I feel bad that a large part of what I know about her comes from these creepy emails. The advice to contact her directly is good and I hope to find a good time to do so soon.

    1. No need to be ashamed! Creeps can be really good at coming across as logical and charming, it’s a huge part of how they get away with being creepy and horrible for years and years without being called out. They’re often very good at casting doubt on their victims and putting themselves in a positive light (“just trying to help out by letting you know who she REALLY is” “just worried about her” etc etc). Especially if you don’t know your SIL well, someone like that can be very convincing. The most helpful red flag you’ve got is the fact that he’s contacting you at all, especially in the way he has – that’s grossly inappropriate, and no well-meaning person would do such a thing.

    2. Ah, I’d be hesitant about what you “know of her.” You know what her stalker says about her. It could all be bullshit. If you don’t know something directly from her then I’d go ahead and assume that you don’t know it about her.
      Creepy emails are not an authority on her.

      1. Also, 1) being “reserved” is not a character flaw 2) You know what makes a naturally quiet/unassuming person even MORE reserved? Being harassed by some dude and not knowing who you can really count on or tell.

      2. Absolutely. No matter how rambling and incoherent the creepy stalkery emails are, there is a very good chance that he’ll still be able to present her in an unflattering light. Stalkers are very good at that–it’s one of their main weapons: manipulating how people see others. They do it enough that even if they can barely write their own name, through sheer repetition if nothing else, they’ll get good at making people look bad if they want to.

        Phone texts and emails could be taken out of context, even if they seem to stand alone. Screenshots could be presented in an order that makes two things look sequential when there were actually twenty quite pertinent messages squeezed in between. And any idiot can doctor images and text juuuust enough that it still looks legit. Someone did this to me–they altered messages I had sent by just one or two words. They weren’t crucial words, so even when I read the doctored version I didn’t pick up on it for a good while, but it was enough to change the tone from neutral to snide. Added up over several messages, and suddenly I looked like the bad guy, and I couldn’t put my finger on why.

        Don’t let his rambliness lure you into the feeling that he isn’t capable of this. If he’s managed to track you down and is sending you feverish, harassing emails, then he’s more than capable. I mean, if he can turn on a computer and is ill-intentioned then he’s capable.

        What you know about your SIL from him is that she has a horrible ex who is harassing her, he has branched out, and he is now harassing you as well, and is putting effort into making her look bad to serve his purposes. That’s it. It’s pretty safe to assume that any specifics, no matter how clear they might seem from what he’s given you, have been exaggerated or otherwise misrepresented.

        And the thing is, we’ve all done stupid, bad stuff we’re ashamed of. Most of it’s trivial–cheated on a test when we were nine, or peeked at our birthday presents when we weren’t supposed to, or said something in a fit of poor judgement we later regretted, or spent time with people who turned out to be just horrible, or had habits we now know better than to indulge in. Whatever she’s actually done doesn’t matter. It has no baring on this. It’s an unrelated and separate issue, and is relatively much, much tinier. Stalking and harassing are humongous deals. I wouldn’t wish a stalker on the worst person in the world–not even my own stalker. No-one deserves it. Right not, focus on helping her through this first–it takes massive priority over what she might have done at some point in the past and what kind of relationship you want to have with her in the future.

      3. “Ah, I’d be hesitant about what you “know of her.” You know what her stalker says about her. It could all be bullshit. ”

        You can count on most of it being BS. I would assume _anything_ he says is a lie (“including the words ‘a’, ‘an’, and ‘the'”) until you get explicit independent confirmation. I wouldn’t even assume that he was really an ex, unless she says he was. Unless she’s told you she really had some sort of relationship with him, then for all you know he’s just be some creepy guy who saw her in a cafe — or a picture of her on-line — and made up an entire fantasy story about him and her out of whole cloth.

    3. I became very reserved after being stalked by an ex. It’s amazing how much you want to clam up when someone is trying to use everything they know about you and everyone you associate with against you. That might be part of why she hasn’t opened up to you much. It’s really, really hard to trust people after something like that.

      1. THIS. So much this. When every reaction and word is used as an invitation for invasion, you become a brick wall. And the stalker fills that silence with his own narrative with JUST ENOUGH of a kernel of truth to be believable. Consider the source. Every time. Look at who is behaving reasonably and who is jumping up and down, screaming, “LISTEN TO ME! LISTEN TO MEEEEEE!” all the while violating your boundaries. Which person has the negative motive there?

      2. I was thinking the same thing. At this point, someone who might have been much more confiding is likely to become more cautious, and someone who is naturally reserved can become even more so.

        1. Absolutely this! I was by nature a ‘reserved’ introvert, and being badmouthed by my ex-husband has only made my trust issues beget themselves some MORE trust issues! On the upside, being cast as the Bad Guy and Right Hand of Lucifer made my wardrobe choices appropriate–I did actually have some black hats to wear. No Evil Mustachios to twirl while I cackled evilly, though.

    4. Don’t be ashamed! The fact that the mindset of a creepy stalker doesn’t come naturally to you isn’t actually a bad thing!

      I think if I were you I would work on the principle that the person you know something about from all of this is the creepy stalker, not your sister in law… with a side order of realising that it would be nice to get to know your sister-in-law better, in a gradual and friendly way that takes into account her naturally quiet ways, and her possibly heightened state of caution what with the whole stalking thing.

    5. Hi LW! If your family is anything like mine everyone already has some OPINIONS about things. Maybe that isn’t the case, but your comments about her being reserved and your sortof… uhh.. exclusionary tone about her strikes me as maybe that is already a thing.

      I would really encourage you to consider trying to set up some kind of regular thing with your SIL. Like brunch if you’re local or a skype call or something, maybe an activity you both enjoy? or something you can do together pre/post baby, baby stuff shopping? Yoga? I don’t know. Because right now she is: 1. Being staked. 2. Going to have a baby 3. Trying to get to know a family that is already skeptical of her due to length of relationship and previous bad experiences.

      She could probably really use your support.

      I know that’s asking a lot for what seems like a kindof “Because yoU SHOULD”/Altruistic reason. But often this sort of thing has another side benefit. The more you get to know her the more you can help your brother, and your future neice/nephew. Your brother will have no “You didn’t even give her a CHANCE” leg to stand on if you give her a chance and really make an effort to include her, even just with some one on one outings.

      Keep your friends close, and possible genetic clones of Adolf Hitler closer. I meant… Uhh… In Laws.

      Because right now the only thing you know about her is that she has a creepy stalker ex. And if you let that be the thing that defines her you could be really missing out on an awesome person.

      1. You’re right in that we as a family has some underlying opinions. I think they primarily stem from a place of concern for my brother’s well being — without getting into tons of unnecessary detail, he struggled so much after his divorce and it was hard to watch, and none of us want to see him hurt like that again.

        I hope we have been open and welcoming — she came to my wedding and was included in photos, my mom and I hosted a baby shower, she’s been on a weekend trip with us, etc. I like your idea of doing something regularly.

        1. Setting up something regular with her will cement that feeling of being welcomed. It’s wonderful that you gave her a show and included her in those other things, but it will really mean a lot to reach out to her on a regular basis.

    6. I will second the “contact her directly; have a family plan” thing. One of my sisters had a not-even-an-ex (like, “went on a couple dates with guy”) who started acting like they were in a relationship, and then fixating on her, and then acted like she’d mysteriously and cruelly broken up with him/possibly cheated on him, and then turning up places, and eventually it became clear that ONE of the things he was doing was using the fact that his professional circle crossed over with my father’s and finding out if my father was going to be at particular events, since my sister often went with him.

      Cue family conference time, with me laying out the stuff this guy had done, and requesting that my dad stop telling him what conferences he was attending, and if he ran into the guy at conferences, to be strictly professional, vague, and noncommital — and to shut down any questions about my sister.

      The guy got the message SHOCKINGLY fast that his stalkee’s dad was onto his shenanigans, and backed way, way off. Some gross stuff about ownership-of-women probably came into play that wouldn’t necessarily work in your case, LW, but creeps thrive on no one knowing what they are doing, so being open about it can be like lancing an abscess.

  13. I know I’ve already responded to this twice, but I have Feelings about this letter and I wanted to share another thought. (Sorry!)

    I’m not sure what this douchenozzle is claiming your SIL did or said, but if it’s making you feel differently about your SIL, please consider the source: a guy who has ignored her stated boundaries, and your stated boundaries, and continued to contact both of you after you’ve both told him you are not interested in speaking to him. Even if he has “incriminating” screen caps of conversations between them, such things are easily edited or even completely made up, and the entire purpose is to make her look bad to you, so that you will pass along his messages and pressure her into communicating with him. Given that, I wouldn’t believe a word he says, and I would communicate that to your SIL. The last thing she needs is to have someone concern trolling her and thinking (privately or otherwise) that the guy has a point. You can’t possibly know if he does or not, all you can know is that he’s exhibiting alarming behaviours.

  14. I had an ex contact my dad once. My dad called me about it, and I’m glad he did, because he was about to respond to my ex, which I didn’t want him to. However, I wish my father hadn’t gone into the details of what was written, because knowing that just created additional anger for me and it took me a while to put it out of my mind. So I would leave it up to the SIL whether she wants to hear about the actual content of the e-mails – maybe it’s enough for her to receive they information that her ex contacted you. And of course you can still signal to her that you don’t believe the ex, whatever he’s writing. That’s a really important thing to signal I think. If your SIL wants to tell the rest of the family so you can develop a common strategy of shielding her (which is up to her, I think it can also be a legitimate choice to not inform others preventively), it might also be helpful to make it clear to the other family members that you don’t believe any of what the ex is saying and that you’re standing behind your SIL.

    1. This is a great point – I think it’s hugely important that SIL knows this is going on, but offer to keep the actual contents from her unless she specifically asks for them. As long as she knows you are keeping them as potential evidence she will know that you have her back.

    2. Like embertine, I 1+ to this addition to the advice!

      She really probably doesn’t need to know what is being said just that he’s doing this. And really emphasize, “I am on your side, what do you want me to do?”

  15. Echoing what everyone else has said – talk to your SiL. Talk to your brother too. It’s a possibility that creepy ex has ALREADY been in touch with him doing the “hey, just a warning man-to-man about what you’ve got into….” Stress that you’re not accusing her of whatever creepy ex said, don’t ask her to prove him wrong or explain the emails cos that’ll make her think that Creepy has swayed you to his side.

    The only reason I’d think to go behind her back is if the pregnancy is putting a lot of strain on her already. Then maybe go to your bro and say “I don’t want to upset SiL cos of the baby but I need yout to know this guy is targeting our family.”

  16. Your poor SIL.

    1000 times to not giving out information about someone to someone else without their explicit consent. Years ago when I was in college I was in an emotionally abusive relationship that turned stalkery when we broke up. My ex harassed my roommates, my parents, and called my work repeatedly.

    I will never forget the moment I was home from school for the weekend and he called the house phone and my father answered, and when I told him to tell my ex I wasn’t home, looked at me with this smug expression and said “I’m not going to lie!” and handed me the phone.

    That bought me several more weeks of harassment. My dad is not a bad person but I will never, never, EVER forgive him for that.

      1. I seriously have no idea what possessed him to do that. He was actually really helpful later on in getting that ex to back off, but I have NO IDEA what was going through his mind.

        A few days later his mother called and he asked me to tell her he wasn’t there, and I’ll admit I got a huge amount of satisfaction from handing him the phone.

        1. That might have made him change his mind about what he did! Ha!

          I’m so sorry to hear he was so unhelpful at first, though. That was a really awful thing for him to do. Yes, you say he got the ex to back off, but… still. Sheesh….

        2. I think even good dads (#notalldads) can sometimes do this joking battle-of-the-sexes stuff with their daughters’ male partners (in my case and others I’ve seen; I’m not making assumptions about your gender, Cmdr.) where it’s like “oh, you know what a handful she is– amirite, son?”
          Which is one (kind of grody) thing, but it’s quite another when there’s an underlying context he doesn’t know about. Like the time mine turned to the guy I was dating, whom he’d just met– and who had been for months in the process of trying to reduce me to a tiny pebble of myself through scorn and condescension– and said “watch out; he’s really got your number.”
          Neither of them understood why I burst out crying.

          1. Oh, KL, I am so sorry that this happened to you. And to Commander Banana too. So much sympathy. I had a stalker in high school that I didn’t know better than to ditch, and I kept trying to be “friends,” because he just wanted my attention so much! (VOMIT) In all those years, my dad never had my back, heckled me for not dating him, and at prom time, told me that the only thing I had against “the man” (he was seventeen!) was “his looks.” So much grossness in that! Years later, my dad’s old childhood friend (victim of a couple of closed-head injuries on the job) stalked me consistently, and even showed up very late one night on my porch half-naked, with some very oddly-chosen presents for me. And my dad accused me of being “a bad communicator.” I love my dad, but I will always be angry with him, I think; I do not forgive him for those and many other similar incidents; and I will never, EVER fully trust him when it comes to my personal safety. NEVER.

          2. I’m SO sorry that happened to you. 😦 My dad is in general pretty great, but every so often he will do something baffling (parents! they’re just like humans! 🙂 ) and I think this might have been one of those times. He also wasn’t in the country during most of this relationship and so I don’t think he realized how bad it had gotten. It just sucks that I remember my first two years in college as this haze of fear and bad feels because of that dickwad.

    1. I can’t lie for beans, but if my kid said they didn’t want to fall talk to someone, I’d say, “Sorry, can’t help you,” and hang up.

      1. This situation is going beyond deflecting annoying telemarketers and such, but I’ve always liked Miss Manners’ recommendation to answer these questions in the old sense of whether someone is “at home” to visitors. It’s not lying; the person simply isn’t available for the purpose of talking on the phone. 😉

        1. My mom had a rule for dealing with political calls (we got them in droves, especially during election season)- she and dad were not “at home” to them. It worked great when she had kids in the house because we always dove for the phone. After we moved out, she had to come up with a new method. 🙂

          1. In our household, the rule was to say someone was “unavailable.” Callers don’t really need to know which adults are or aren’t home with the kids, they don’t need to know if someone is at home but is in the shower/taking a nap/too busy watching the Star Trek marathon to come to the phone. All they need to know is whether they can talk to the person they’re trying to reach, or not.

            There’s nothing dishonest about letting someone choose not to take a call.

          2. An actual conversation that took place during the run-up to an election, as relayed by my father.
            Dad: “Hello?”
            Canvasser: “Good morning! I’m calling from the Conservative Party of Canada. Might I speak with a Ms. Laughing Giraffe?”
            Dad: “My daughter is a dyed-in-the-wool socialist and a night owl. As hilarious as it would be to turn her loose on someone who woke her up at 8 AM to suggest that she should vote for the Tories, I don’t want her to chew my ears off, so no, you cannot speak to her.”
            Canvasser: “Oh. Ah. Well. How about yourself, sir? Have you made a decision regarding how to cast your vote?”
            Dad: “Personally I think the NDP has taken a dangerous turn away from their core principles by selecting a former member of the Liberal Party as their leader. I may vote for the Green Party candidate.”
            Canvasser: *utterly defeated* “Have a good day, sir.”

    2. Sometimes parents can hurt way more than they help in these situations. A friend of mine in high school broke up with her stalker-in-training boyfriend. Her mother was convinced my friend would never get another boyfriend and was desperate for my friend to continue this relationship, even if it was unhealthy. Stalker-in-training definitely picked up on this and when Friend broke up with him, he went crying to Mom. Her mom told Stalker-in-Training, Oh, don’t worry. She was just mad. She didn’t mean it. I’ll tell her she has to make up with you.

      The next day, we’re sitting in the cafeteria and Stalker-In-Training plops down next to Friend and tells her, smugly, “You can’t break up with me, no matter what I do. Your mom won’t let you.”

      So needless to say, that made it very difficult for Friend to set boundaries and effectively shake this guy off.

  17. I get that you’re worried about your brother being hurt again, especially if you think they moved fast enough that he’s more likely to have overlooked something that will make them not a good fit. The Captain and commenters have already made the point that this is independent of her bad luck in acquiring a creepy stalker; you’re just dealing with the baseline bad stuff risk. And there’s really nothing you can do to prevent it.

    If it helps, though, welcoming her fully into the family and having her back against this creepy stalker will also put you in the best position to support your brother later on if he needs it for any reason, because you won’t alienate him by making him choose between you or by implicitly criticizing his judgment in choosing her. And if someday you feel you need to speak up about something she’s doing, you won’t have to overcome a history of judging her unfairly.

    1. You make a great point here. Supporting SIL is also supporting the brother. Showing trust in her and having her back through this stalking nightmare is a great way to show brother that he and his baby family are important, valued and welcomed. Worrying or digging into SIL’s past might have the opposite effect.

  18. Way back about 13-14 years ago I dated a guy who turned out to be psychologically abusive. After I crawled out of the relationship and pulled the shreds of my sense of self into some sort of order, I set up email filters to make sure he couldn’t contact me.

    Not long after I joined facebook, this ex also joined and started adding a few people we’d had as mutual friends, including a cousin of mine. I got creeped out and blocked him so that, at the very least, he couldn’t see me. That block is still in place.

    Late last year, my brother got a message from this ex, simply saying “Long time no see – I used to date your sister but she took it badly when I ended it. How are you?”

    My brother did the exact right thing: blocked him without a word then informed me about it. I put out a message to everyone in my friendslist warning them that this was happening and asking them to ensure radio silence. Thus far, there’s been no further contact. I felt immensely relieved and reassured that my family had my back and that I was being kept in the loop.

    So from my own experience: Captain has it spot on. Tell her what’s going on, let her know you’ve got her back, and radio silence that guy into oblivion.

  19. At this point, what you “know” comes from someone who clearly has no sense of boundaries and a serious problem with entitlement. If he contacts you to tell you the date, Google it and check a calendar.

    Definitely let your SIL and brother know what’s going on.

  20. I was stalked by an ex as well and while thankfully it only lasted for a short time, it was scary, like “I’m going to cry to you about my feelings for hours to convince you to take me back (he dumped me); I’m going to yell up at your dorm room window for hours about how I love you and then switch to how you’re a cruel-hearted b*tch for not taking me back; I’m going to harass all your friends and sorority sisters constantly; I’m going to threaten to harm/kill myself if you don’t get back together with me; I’m going to beat on your door so hard I frighten your roommates.” I look back and wonder why I wasn’t more scared and sometimes want to shake myself for not going to the police because not only was he interfering with my life and threatening my safety, but also doing it to people I cared about and loved dearly.

    When I was reading your letter, I cringed when you said you had responded to his emails. I did the same thing to my stalker’s texts and Facebook messages, if only to say “leave me alone,” and that would unleash another harassment avalanche onto me and my friends. Then I got wise like the Captain says and stopped responding and that’s when the behavior finally stopped. Never respond to a stalker’s communications ever. You’ll want to, trust me, I know. You want to tell them to shut up, to counter all the horrible things they’re saying about you and your loved ones, to give them a burn they’ll need an ice pack the size of Rhode Island for. But by doing so, you reward them with the attention they crave and they will continue to harass and stalk you because they got the attention they wanted, even if it’s negative attention like “go away” or “leave me alone.” They’re like dogs – you give them a treat when they follow a command correctly, so they will continue to follow the command correctly because they get a treat. It’s the same concept. You don’t give them what they want, they (hopefully) eventually stop the behavior. Thankfully, I disengaged and he found a new girlfriend, so he left me alone finally, but I still remember the fear, the anger of not being able to study or concentrate or left alone, knowledge that you’re being manipulated but being unable to stop it (the threatening to self-harm/commit suicide, the king of utterly horrible manipulation tactics, and me being terrified he was going to do it and it was going to be all my fault and that everyone was going to say how big of a b*tch I was for standing my ground and not getting back together).

    I am so sorry this is happening to you and your SIL. It is a scary, lonely place to be. But the Cap has great advice and we’re all here for you and your family.

  21. LW, apologies if someone has already recommended this, but a DV hotline could help a lot with assessing the threat and crisis planning. I’d do a search for your local (or a national) hotline. I’m sorry y’all are in this horrible situation.

  22. I’m currently in a slightly different situation; violated my abusive ex privacy in a childish way and got very violent threats in return(the police is involved now). However this really made me realize how important is to have people backing you and support you. The fact that her ex is writing negative about her to you must be very painful for her I imagine. Even if he has screenshots it can be hard to grasp the context. She’s a part of the family now and as more people said this is the perfect time to show support and love for your new family member. It might be good to look for sites what you can do about this situation. We have them in my country so I’m sure there are available elsewhere. What my family did was contact the ex giving him his chance to lie about what happened and put me in a very bad light. It would be great if you and your family could find a solution so that the ex doesn’t get the chance to spread any more negativity and possibly stop being able to contact any of you.
    Unfortunately the internet makes that hard these days and there is the chance of his behaviour escalating(silence sometimes enrages people) that’s why it could be helpful to look for help hotlines or places like victim help.

    I wish you the best of luck! I think it’s very good of you that you looked for advice here!

  23. Ultimately, LW, whether you actually find your SIL to be a really good person or not, it doesn’t matter. I once had a coworker I couldn’t stand. Working with her was like having my soul slowly and painfully sucked from my body. I honestly hate her more than anybody else I’ve ever dealt with personally.

    But she still didn’t deserve to have a guy try to drug her and rape her back in high school. She doesn’t deserve to have that same guy regularly get ahold of her phone number and demand forgiveness. Nobody deserves that.

    1. Powerful example! I completely understand the LW being a little wary of her new SIL given her brother’s history, but “Z was terrible to my brother” and “Y is being stalked” aren’t really related.

  24. Moderator note: The point that the LW missed out on the stalking aspect has been made. And made. And made. The LW has addressed & apologized for it. I’ve deleted several insulting “But let us point again about how wrong you were!” comments that contained no constructive suggestions, and now I am closing the thread. Stalkers and creeps can be charismatic and convincing. Their victims can come across as “off” somehow (because it’s wicked stressful to be harassed and stalked). It’s an easy trap to fall into (helloooooo Canadian pop culture this week).The LW knew something wasn’t right, and checked with an outside party (us). Quit piling on, there are no class participation points awarded.

Comments are closed.