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Auntie SparkNotes: My Brother-in-Law Is Dating a Big Fat Liar

Hi Auntie,

I’m in an interesting situation. My husband’s brother, with whom we are close, is in a very serious relationship with a really nice, absolutely gorgeous girl. Let’s call her “Jane.” She seemed very sweet from the start but I kind of just sensed something “off” about her even though she was kind to us and we had things in common.

Jane has told us she suffers from around 7 different medical maladies, several of which didn’t make sense; she also told us she had a “secret government job” (keep in mind she is just barely an adult). She mentioned multiple different sexual, mental, and physical abuses from multiple people (such as being shot at, beaten with tools, etc), but many parts of her stories didn’t add up. She then told us very firmly “not to tell her parents” about any of it, because they didn’t know. She still lives at home with them and they are very controlling. This was all disclosed with a very flippant tone and kind of like it was funny; she told us she’d never sought help for any of it. We had no idea how to respond because it was very sudden and we had met her only briefly a handful of times before.

I felt super odd about the situation, like perhaps what she said might not be the whole truth, or at least a cry for help if it is true. We talked to my in-laws, who said they were concerned too.

Should we very gently tell our brother-in-law we’re a little concerned about his girlfriend? He isn’t aware of any of this and is super head over heels in love—they’ve only been dating for 4 months. He plans to propose to her soon, and we’ll accept Jane into the family with love if he does. I’m just worried about hurting his feelings (or Jane’s, if he might tell her). What do I do? Does the situation sound strange to you as well? We care very much about Jane and don’t want to discredit stories of abuse because victims are almost always telling the truth, and trying to invalidate her potential experiences would be awful.

Potential experiences, huh? Funny, I thought we were still calling this type of thing “alternative facts”!

But all kidding aside, darling, we’re all adults here, so let’s cut to the chase: If Jane isn’t a pathological liar, then she certainly does an incredible impression of one. There’s a through line to her questionable claims that is typical of compulsive fabulists, who lie to get attention or sympathy or both. And as much as you are clearly good-hearted and kind and endeavoring mightily to be sensitive to her situation, I’m guessing that this is not lost on you. Her statements are setting off your radar for self-aggrandizing baloney; you’re just too nice to say so outright.

Of course, there’s also a valid discussion to be had about whether saying so would do any good, at least to her. People who lie compulsively do so for a variety of reasons—mental illness, personality disorders, a lack of maturity in combination with an abundance of insecurity—but the one thing they all have in common is that it’s largely useless to call them out (which is such an awkward proposition to begin with that most people don’t even try.) What I keep getting stuck on is this: you say your brother-in-law (BIL) has no idea about any of this, but… how is that possible? He’s dating her. He must have been present to hear at least some of this stuff — and even if he wasn’t, it’s wildly unlikely that she hasn’t been making equally if not even more fantastic claims when it’s just the two of them.

All of which is to say, it seems like there should be a very easy opening here for whomever is closest to BIL (just one person) to say, “I’m sure you realize that Jane has told us some things about her life that are somewhat hard to believe—and if they are true, they’re deeply concerning. What’s going on there?”

As previously noted, I think it’s unlikely that BIL is truly unaware of this issue. What’s more likely is that he knows it’s happening, and has decided—for whatever reason—that it’s not a deal-breaker. (The other possibility is that his love for Jane in combination with an overly credulous nature has blinded him to the fact that her claims don’t make sense, but in that case, this conversation at least opens the door for him to develop a little awareness.)

But regardless, you’ll have done your part to address what’s troubling you—and even if nothing changes about BIL’s relationship with Jane (which is sadly his prerogative), you will at least come away with a better understanding of what to expect moving forward. And since you’ve already determined that you intend to welcome her to the family with love in the event that they do tie the knot, you can certainly start making a game plan now for how to react when she says something outrageous—which can be anything from a subject change to a gentle rebuke (e.g. “I really hope that’s not true, but if it is, I really think you should talk to someone about it”).

And hey, depending on how young she is, she might also grow out of the habit of confabulating as she grows up and gains more confidence—or your bro-in-law might grow into a less-charitable understanding of her character and break up with her as a result. But regardless, as in all cases where someone is engaging in weird and troubling behavior over which you have no control, the best thing you can do is focus on your own reactions and go from there… and do your best to keep a straight face the next time Jane claims to be a member of Mission Impossible.

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