How do I protect my possibly developmentally-challenged brother in law who is intent on getting married to someone we barely know?
August 23, 2012 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I need help in guiding my brother-in-law, who may be developmentally challenged, with some important life decisions. I am pretty much his only family contact, am at a bit of a loss, and not quite sure where to start; (slightly lengthy) details inside.

My husband passed away in 2002. His only (younger) brother ("Simon", currently) has always lived nearby. Simon grew up in a very Orthodox Jewish, and sheltered household-- he only went to Yeshiva (never completed high school), was always a loner, and his parents never allowed him to have friends (he lived with them all of his life and took care of them until they passed away in 2008, leaving the entirety of their modest savings to him). While it's never been clinically diagnosed, I'm pretty sure that Simon is developmentally challenged in some way: he has difficulty communicating (very limited vocabulary, reading, and writing skills) and finds some basic tasks challenging (for example, I personally studied with him for the driver's ed test and he couldn't figure out how to answer multuiple choice questions). On the other hand, he is competent at handling his finances, has been able to hold down a (albeit very simple) job, and can be very secretive. IANAD, but from what I know, my guess is that he is somewhere on the spectrum.

Essentially, since my husband, and then Simon's parents passed away, I have been his closest family member: I helped him find a job and have guided him through all other basic living tasks (cooking, buying furniture, etc.). Simon lives and works in a very religious part of NYC. About a year ago, his coworkers introduced him to computers, and he caught on very quickly. Shortly thereafter, he met a woman in Florida through an Orthodox dating website, and went to visit her. This was the only time he ever mentioned anything of the sort to me. Three weeks ago, Simon revealed that he is getting married to this woman, went on to say that he'd been seeing her for the past year, has visited her three times, and actively lied to me during the times he went to FL. Additionally, an Orthodox Jewish matchmaker has gotten involved, and claims to have spoken to the woman's rabbi.

Bluntly put, Simon has zero experience, sexual or otherwise, with women and relationships. For example, I asked him what he thinks makes a good wife, and he told me "cooking, cleaning, and having someone to talk to." This woman, "Emily", is 49 and widowed, with three kids (the youngest is 16 and lives with her). I spoke with Emily over the phone, and it seems to me that she doesn't really know Simon--I asked her why she's marrying him, and she said he's "honest and a nice man," though "a little quiet." I asked her if she knew whether Simon had ever been with a woman, and she said that she knew he hadn't, but never asked why.

Obviously, I am not trying to insert myself or do anything to change this situation. However, in light of Simon's inexperience and condition, along with the fact that I don't really know this woman, I am concerned. In large part, I'm worried that she may be using him, though there's no rational proof of that--it's mainly that I am really the only one looking out for Simon and don't want to see him hurt, or worse yet, taken advantage of; he's already talking about buying a house, quitting his job, and moving to Florida.

I've tried to advise him to keep his apartment in NY, take things more slowly, and make sure he has a job before he moves. He has listened, but remains intent on getting married. As such, I would like to protect him. I have already told him to get a prenup, and plan on speaking with a lawyer in that regard (I also mentioned this to the matchmaker, who dismissively told me not to worry and said that he would take care of everything. I don't trust this guy either, and Simon is paying him). That said, I don't know what else to do-- is there someone with whom can I speak, or is there anything that I can do to protect him? I know that people here have had all kinds of experiences, and might be able to provide some good advice.

tl;dr my religious, possibly developmentally-challenged brother-in-law is hell-bent on getting married and I want to protect him. What can I do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does he go to shul (semi) regularly? Can you talk to his rabbi?
posted by rtha at 3:02 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just came in to ask what rtha asked. If he does attend religious services regularly, maybe they offer premarital counselling courses. You don't have to be developmentally disabled to benefit from these, and it might be more palatable to your BIL if the suggestion came from a neutral party (e.g. his rabbi).

I totally feel for you, because I would feel also apprehensive and protective of your BIL if I were in your shoes. However, it's tricky because he is an adult, and he is not in care or under guardianship. So...legally, he can do whatever he wants. But you know his background, so at the same time, you are well aware that he's in a position to be exploited.

I have to say, it's not unusual for people to want romantic and sexual companionship, and for a religious person like your brother-in-law, that means marriage. It's good that you haven't seen any proof that Emily plans to bilk him for his money or anything; I think maybe your best approach might be to maintain a good relationship with your BIL (and I guess your putative sister-in-law) so that he would confide in you if anything did start to go sideways in his marriage. Because to be totally blunt, I don't think you will be able to dissuade him from getting married. There is a good chance it will be absolutely fine. But if it ISN'T fine, you will want him to feel comfortable coming to you for help, and that is more likely to happen if he doesn't feel like you are judging him pre-marriage.

Good luck. You seem like a very caring person! Your brother-in-law is lucky to have someone like you looking out for his best interests.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:16 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was also going to say "Talk to his Rabbi." But to be honest, buying a house, quitting his job, and moving to Florida is what you'd expect someone to do when he marries a woman in Florida, yes?

The lack of sexual experience may not be a dealbreaker as he wouldn't be expected to have any prior to marriage. The developmental delay isn't necessarily a dealbreaker either; I remember Deborah Feldman in her book Unorthodox being frank about her father being developmentally delayed. Her description of her father sounds very similar to your description of your brother.

So their marriage may not look like yours did, but maybe that's not what either of them are expecting. Ideally, on her side she's clear on his delay, and on his side, he's protected financially. Beyond that, mazel tov.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:20 PM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

You should absolutely be reaching out to whoever his advisers are (locally,) preferably someone he knows and respects (rabbi would be the very first person on my list, but his employer or another adult male can fill in if it's appropriate based on their relationship with each other.)

I would focus on very basic self-protection stuff (certainly make sure he knows rabbis, etc., in Florida, and that they know he's going to be moving there) and on making sure he knows he can always talk to you. The biggest thing you can do is make sure he isn't isolated further.
posted by SMPA at 3:23 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

From your question, it doesn't seem like you are a member of the same ortho community your BIL is? This, and the fact that you are female, is likely why the shadchen is being so dismissive of your concerns, unfortunately. If you a similar experience when speaking with your BIL's rebbe, you might want to try the rebbitzen (his wife) instead.
posted by elizardbits at 3:30 PM on August 23, 2012

It might be nice to invite Emily up to visit you all for a weekend perhaps so you can all get to know each other on relaxed, friendly terms.
posted by bleep at 4:46 PM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Although given that Emily has kids and this is where Simon would be living maybe it would be nice to go down and visit her. I don't know if this would clash with the cultural considerations but I know that getting to know my long-distance SO in person went a long way towards my skeptical family accepting him.
posted by bleep at 5:08 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine married a man not too dissimilar from how you describe Simon. She was clear that being his caretaker in a sense was part of the deal. They've been married for awhile now, and it works. So, not necessarily the bad idea it might look like. A lot will depend on this woman. Anything you can find out about her background would be useful.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:29 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Taking a shot here, but maybe talk with one of the two adult children of his fiance?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:30 PM on August 23, 2012

I'm not sure if this will be useful here, and it's far from foolproof*, but in the ultra-Orthodox world where short courtships and engagements are the norm, it's also the norm for relatives of each person to "check out" the potential partner. The closest analogy would be job references--they talk to people who have known the person for a long time and can vouch for him/her, his/her family, personality, etc. I think this is often done with help of the matchmaker. In this case you or someone representing your brother in law might talk to the woman's rabbi, for example.

*my mom was fixed up with someone who "checked out" OK but whom she discovered was kind of a shitty person--not dangerous, but on the first date he told her how, for fun, he liked to put himself in a particular situation where he could embarrass someone in public.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:03 PM on August 23, 2012

Nthing the "talk to his rabbi" idea, but I'm wondering if maybe it's time to step back. As awesome as it is that you care so much about your BIL and are so close with him, even with a developmental disability, he is still an adult who has the right to make his own decisions and mistakes as he sees fit. From what you've described, he may be immature and inexperienced compared to people his own age and he may have a developmental disability, but he is not mentally incompetent or incapable of handling some adult responsibilities such as finances. You've voiced your concerns and now it may be time to let him do what he wants, all the while knowing that it may be a disaster or he may get his heartbroken. The most important thing may not be changing his mind, but making sure he knows that you are there for him 100%, no matter what, and there won't be any "I told you so"s waiting for him if things don't work out. Not that you sound like an "I told you so" kind of person, but if he thinks that you've made up your mind about this and believe it will never succeed, he may be reluctant to turn to you if he encounters obstacles or eventually fails. The fact that he's already lied to you about this relationship could be indicative of wanting to escape judgment or interference. Also, I'd allow for the possibility that this could be a good thing. It's not easy to be optimistic, especially when someone we love is at a disadvantage in some way, but finding a kind person who shares his values and faith, takes care of him, & is "someone to talk to" sounds a lot like most relationships, perhaps in simpler terms than we tend to think of them, but when you strip it down, those things are at the heart of most partnerships. While your concerns are understandable, this is probably not something you could, or even should, stop. The two of you are family and always will be, and the best way to watch out for him is to let him try whatever he wants and simply be there to cheer him on or pick him up, however things turn out. Best of luck!
posted by katemcd at 10:32 PM on August 23, 2012

By all means I think you should continue to be an attentive family member, and make sure that he knows you will always be his family.

However, your BIL getting married can in many ways be a happy thing. He will become part of this woman's family. He will have more people looking out for him, and a more explicit and conventional role in the community as a husband and a father.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:44 AM on August 24, 2012

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