Can I marry my Sister in Law?
April 5, 2012 6:46 PM   Subscribe

Can I marry my Sister in Law? I have a question about second marriages that I would like to get some opinions on. I have been a widower now for 14 months. I am 61. My wife’s sister (my sister in law) has been a widow now for 4 years. She is 58. She and her husband and my wife and I were always very close. She has been an incredible friend this last year and helped me through my grieving process. We have been spending a moderate amount of time together. We get along famously and have similar interests. I have become very fond of her. Is it inappropriate for me to ask her about possible dating with a long term relationship and even marriage on my mind? Or is it appropriate? Oh by the way, neither of us has dated at all.

The reason I post this question here is that I love that metafilter members don't hold back. What I am looking for is lots of opinions to mull over.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any indication that she is romantically/sexually attracted to you and would be interested in pursuing such a relationship?
posted by quodlibet at 6:47 PM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is not exactly the same situation, but my two aunts married brothers. I never thought it was weird. I don't think this is weird, either.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:51 PM on April 5, 2012

I think it's lovely. I'd just take it super slow (sounds like you already kind of are).
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:51 PM on April 5, 2012 [19 favorites]

I know two couples who got married in the same situation. What was awkward (but was worked through) was the kids--it can be odd for one's aunt to become one's stepmother, even as an adult, or one's uncle to become one's stepfather. But in both of the cases I am familiar with, everyone became comfortable with the idea in time, and the marriages were (in one case) and are (in the other) happy.

See what she thinks. She may have irreversibly "brother-zoned" you--some people's minds and libidos work like that--but maybe not.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:51 PM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes, of course. As with seeing anyone you've known for some time, it is good to take it slow and be very careful so as not to screw up what you had before by dating.

Good luck!
posted by willie11 at 6:52 PM on April 5, 2012

I have a friend who married her husband's brother after she was widowed. It makes sense that you would share similar values. I think it speaks highly of the spouses that you both lost.
posted by kamikazegopher at 6:53 PM on April 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

You're not blood related to her at all? I would say there is absolutely nothing inappropriate about this. Just she may not think of you that way so don't come on too strong.
posted by cairdeas at 6:53 PM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sorry, I didn't meant to suggest that one pair of widowed former in-laws who married were unhappy in their marriage; their marriage seemed to everyone who knew them to be delightful and fun until one of them passed away. (Then the widow married for a third time, but to someone unrelated. I'll stop typing now because I've become irrelevant.)

Also, her great-nieces and nephews/step-grandkids called her "Aunt Grandma" which was adorable.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:54 PM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

1) Do you have other family? How would they react to this? Would they be accepting (and happy for you), or skeeved out? How much does it matter to you what they think? Are there boundaries there that you are willing to test?

2) You are close, and have helped each other through difficult times. You have shared pain. You have bonded. Don't mistake this for romantic feelings.

3) Personally, I would be somewhat shocked if this occurred with members of my family, but I would accept it. (Related, my 60-something yr old aunt just got married a week or so into a romance because of newfound religious beliefs. I thought it was weird, but typical of her. One of her daughters was happy for her, 2 were shocked but kind of "whatever" about it, the other was horrified.)
posted by DoubleLune at 6:55 PM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I worked with a woman who married her late husband's brother. It seemed to work out well. I don't think you even need to ask her about dating - that's for people who don't already know each other well. Just see where things go.
posted by lakeroon at 6:55 PM on April 5, 2012

I knew someone whose mom died fairly young, and her father remarried her mom's identical twin sister, and then had another kid, so this friend of mine had a half-sister who was genetically her full sister. She seemed to be fine with it.
posted by escabeche at 7:04 PM on April 5, 2012 [11 favorites]

It would be the opposite gender-wise but you might be interested to know about the practice of levirate marriage.
posted by XMLicious at 7:05 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

People married their sisters-in-law in the "old country" all the time. Before marrying my grandmother, my grandfather married her sister (this was in Italy). But she soon got ill and passed away, and then married her sister/my grandmother. It's often a very natural scenario for many people.

As long as that's what people want, then it's totally appropriate. Wishing you all the best!
posted by raztaj at 7:07 PM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

You are close, and have helped each other through difficult times. You have shared pain. You have bonded. Don't mistake this for romantic feelings.

Romantic feelings can be built on this kind of close, bonded, trusting relationship, so I'm not sure what this means. I'm not trying to call someone out, I just think this statement is questionable. Helping each other through hard times is what a marriage is about, really, when you boil it all down -- at least in my view; some people obviously differ on that opinion.

I say go for it, OP - if y'all are close, it should be OK. Take it super, super slow, don't push, and talk to her about it.

Also, I'm sorry for your loss, and for your friend's loss as well. Losing a wife or a sister is not easy.
posted by k8lin at 7:10 PM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Nthing the totally fine with it. Just make sure you broach the subject with a built-in out in case she just wants to remain platonic family.
posted by vegartanipla at 7:11 PM on April 5, 2012

I think it's unusual but not inappropriate, if she has similar feelings.

I would be very careful, however, because you do have a long friendship that it would be sad to lose.

Out of curiosity, have you sought any kind of grief therapy? I ask because--and only because--if you were a member of my family, I might worry that there's a chance that what you are attracted to is the continuity and the company more than the woman herself. That doesn't mean she isn't a lovely person, and it also doesn't mean that it's not a good reason to want to spend your life with her. But your loss is still relatively recent, and I can see how a relationship with this woman could help soothe many of the difficult feelings you must be experiencing.

Again, that's not a reason not to be with her--if you two want a relationship, I wish you every happiness--but if I were her, I might worry whether you loved me for me, or because I help fill a void. But then, people marry for all kinds of reasons, and that's a perfectly legitimate reason to be together. And you sound like a thoughtful person who isn't crashing into this blindly, which is good.

All this to say: Maybe speak to a grief counselor, if you haven't already, and consider dating, if you haven't already.

I am sorry for your loss. Whatever you decide to do, I hope you find happiness.
posted by elizeh at 7:14 PM on April 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

Is it inappropriate for me to ask her about possible dating with a long term relationship and even marriage on my mind?

Nope. I say give it a go. And as already mentioned above, you hardly need to date her for getting-to-know-her purposes, although she may actually wish to be squired around a little in the manner of an old-fashioned courtship (NOT saying you/she are old!)
IF she's actually into the idea, I mean.
Good luck!
posted by bebrave! at 7:32 PM on April 5, 2012

Not only does it sound fine, it potentially saves everyone the hassle of dealing with new in-laws :)
posted by foodgeek at 7:37 PM on April 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's not inappropriate at all.
posted by mleigh at 7:40 PM on April 5, 2012

I think it's fine. Granted, this was many years ago, but after his wife died my great-grandpa married her sister. I don't think anyone thought it was weird. If you think she feels the same way, go for it!
posted by McPuppington the Third at 7:44 PM on April 5, 2012

I think it's not inappropriate either, but I echo the recommendation of some counseling. Since neither of you have dated, it could be that a large part of the attraction here is safety and familiarity. You don't have to go back 'on the market,' as it were, because someone who is already part of your life is right here.

But it could also be fine for you to see and get to know other women who have no connection to your wife. There are so many absolutely wonderful women who are available because of a spouse's earlier death. Since you haven't tried any dating at all, I would recommend questioning yourself as to whether your feelings are very strong, or whether, in some way, this represents an easy way out.
posted by Miko at 7:46 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take it slow. Otherwise, just fine and ethical.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:01 PM on April 5, 2012

I would be very careful, however, because you do have a long friendship that it would be sad to lose.

This is my biggest concern, and I think it bears repeating. I would be very hesitant to discuss a romantic relationship with her unless you are quite sure she will at least be open-minded about it. She might be uncomfortable or offended by the very idea of it, and it could greatly affect your friendship.

In High School, my female best friend and I began dating, and it basically ruined our friendship. Several years later, she ran into my younger brother on the subway, they hit it off, and have now been happily married for 10+ years. It was a little weird at first, but now we get along well and it is just a fun story to tell mutual acquaintances: "Yup, my brother's wife and I used to date."
posted by Rock Steady at 9:06 PM on April 5, 2012

I think your age is a very relevant piece of information here. You have both been through a lot of life's circumstances and have earned the right to make your own decisions regardless of what others think. I would go for it slowly if I were you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:10 PM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

There is nothing wrong with this. Rather, this is wonderful. Grab this opportunity with both hands. Be smart. Be kind. Be brave.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:11 PM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is just fine. I wish you the best.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:25 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are asking about the legality of it, certainly in the UK it's perfectly fine. My grandmother married my grandfather's brother after he (my grandfather) died in the war. The only disapproval they received was from the church, but that's another story. There's no reason at all why you shouldn't go for this if you both want it.
posted by Decani at 1:08 AM on April 6, 2012

Do what makes you (both) happy. Life is very short, and it sounds like you enjoy each other. Just keep spending time together & see what happens.
posted by eleyna at 1:11 AM on April 6, 2012

There is nothing remotely wrong with this at all.
You are both responsible adults and are obviously fond on each other and enjoy each others company. You say you spend a moderate amount of time together but don't elaborate.
Have you asked her out to dinner? Gone to the movies or actually done something together, just like people on a date would? Of course you have to be careful not to do anything to break the friendship you already have but I am sure you are careful enough to be able to phrase a few comments to give her the gist of your thoughts. Starting with a marriage proposal would be freaky and probably blow it, that' s for something way in the future.
You know what you want so woo her. Sitting there thinking about it with no action from yourself isn't going to move this forward.
posted by adamvasco at 1:14 AM on April 6, 2012

Awww, you're a lovely, sensitive soul. Ask her if she'd be interested.

If it makes you feel any better.... it is totally accepted, and used to be expected in Old Tibet, that if a woman's spouse died, she would marry his brother. They also allow women to marry two brothers simultaneously. I keep threatening MrTaff that I'll marry his brother.... neither of them find this as hilarious as I do though.
posted by taff at 5:27 AM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

We have a very similar marriage in a distant branch of our family (though in our case it was the blood siblings who had died and their unrelated spouses who married; they were in their late 70s and each widowed for 20+ years). The thermonuclear issue was not "Oh, how could they!" but how the estates would be divided. One party was extremely wealthy and had children anxious to get their hands on "their" cash; they neither wanted to wait for a surviving spouse to die to access their inheritance nor did they want to divide spoils with their new siblings/former cousins. There was a very messy contract involved and all the children are bitter.

However, the bride and groom are happy, celebrating their 15th anniversary, and riding giant tricycles around south Florida.
posted by apparently at 5:30 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a tremendous amount of sweet answers and support for you here. I hope it gives you any courage you need to make the first move. Good luck to you both!
posted by onhazier at 6:28 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's perfectly appropriate to be interested in dating a good friend, even if she happens to be the sister of your former wife.
Be sure she knows that you're interested in her because she's herself, and not because she is familiar or "safe" or convenient, because she reminds you of your wife, because you want to be married to anybody who'll agree and she's the only woman you're close with, etc. I'm not saying I think this is your motivation, just that if she's feeling at all insecure, these may be things you'd want to look out for or be reassuring about.
posted by aimedwander at 6:32 AM on April 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't be as concerned with losing a friendship. The "just friends"/"girlfriend" distinction, which is important in establishing boundaries when you're younger, becomes less relevant over time. I don't see it being a helpful dichotomy for older people who are intereted in companionship.
posted by moammargaret at 6:41 AM on April 6, 2012

I don't see it being a helpful dichotomy for older people who are intereted in companionship.

My experience suggests that would be entirely dependent on the older people in question. My grandmother has Alzheimers and is still making that distinction so it must be pretty relevant to her (and her boyfriend) -- although the label of "friend/boyfriend" gets a bit conflated with older people - my grandmother said it just felt silly at her age to have a "boyfriend." However, the intention or meaning behind those boundaries isn't lost on any of us, evidenced by a long-term friendship she lost when it became apparent that he thought he was wooing her and she thought he was just being a good friend.

I don't think it's inappropriate to inquire but she might. How open is she to dating/new romantic relationships in the first place goes right along with how open she might be to doing these things with you. I'd be cautious.
posted by sm1tten at 7:58 AM on April 6, 2012

Go for it. This is how my grandmother and my great uncle eventually got together; their respective spouses had passed and they realized that they had feelings for each other. They never married, but had a very close romantic relationship for many years and had a lot of fun together. (I think my grandmother had a far better relationship with my uncle than she ever did with my grandfather, actually.)
posted by medeine at 10:10 AM on April 6, 2012

It isn't weird. In my family, I have a cousin who got divorced, and that cousin's ex married the widower of the cousin's sister. The new couple still comes to weddings and funerals.
posted by frecklefaerie at 1:20 PM on April 6, 2012

I had a high school friend. His dad had an affair with a married woman, then decided to divorce his mom and marry the other woman (who also divorced her husband). While dealing with the mess, his mom realized she really liked the husband who had been cheated on, so they started dating and eventually got married.

Basically, the spouses switched. They seemed fine with it.
posted by tacodave at 1:50 PM on April 6, 2012

Jane, I've always considered you a good friend. I'd like to ask you out to dinner(and a movie, or to a Nascar race, or whatever you would both enjoy). Just date, no need to mention longer-term intentions before you date a little. And, yes, it's appropriate for you to date someone you know well and like.
posted by theora55 at 2:49 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not quite the same, but after my friend's parents split up many years ago, he went on to marry his first wife's cousin, and they remain together 30 years later. It always seemed quite logical to me that he maybe had a 'type' and the two women were similar enough to both make him happy. Good luck!
posted by penguin pie at 7:04 AM on April 7, 2012

('he' being me friend's dad, sorry, that's a really poorly-explained paragraph.)
posted by penguin pie at 7:06 AM on April 7, 2012

Having been privy to quite a lot of recently-discovered family tree information, I am now aware that on two of four sides of my family (at least), there were sister-in-law remarriages to widowers at least three times, the most recent only three generations ago.

So it is old-fashioned, yes, and perhaps the practical need side of things is no longer a driver for such relationships, but if it makes the two of you happy, that's what matters, and there's nothing inherently wrong with it.

All best to you and her for your future happiness.
posted by davejay at 10:18 AM on April 18, 2012

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