I’m writing regarding my 21-year-old brother, “Jason.”
Jason is a big-hearted person. He is creative, has a decent sense of humor, has good taste in music, and loves to cook. He’s also mildly mentally challenged. He is generally independent, though. He can manage his own money wisely, care for himself, cook his own meals, and care for our younger brother and their cats when needed. In fact, save for the fact that when he talks he has trouble getting his words out, most people can’t even tell that he’s any different. That, of course, isn’t why I’m writing. I’m writing because he wants a girlfriend. Bad.
He was seeing a girl a few years ago. I lived out of state at the time, so I never met her, but I heard from family members who did know her that she was slightly more — I’m not sure how to phrase this — severe in her disability. I don’t know if it was her or — more likely — her family who nipped it quickly, but he was banned from seeing her again. He was very broken up about it.
He is online a lot and he discovered a site called Omegle. If you’re unaware of Omegle, it is a one-on-one chat site where it is literally you and a “stranger.” He frequented the site a lot until I caught him passing out his phone number. I should note that, sadly, my parents were never the most attentive and didn’t ever give him — or me for that matter — many of the general safety talks that most parents have when it comes to the internet. So I explained to him in depth the dangers of looking to Omegle for a girlfriend.
There’s another social site that he frequents often. I’m on the site as well. The other night I caught him once again trolling random girls to ask out. Girls he knows literally nothing about.
I’m at a loss really. This isn’t something I can go to my parents about. They shame him for having screen savers of scantily clad comic book characters or even having an interest in women. I do my best to explain things and he gets it, but he’s just so very desperate, which scares me more. I’ve got a close friend who is rather desperate and I see the scum bags she winds up with. (No, setting them up together is absolutely not an option, by the way.).
Should I help him sign up for a proper online dating site? He goes out on his own weekly and meets up with an anime club and plays strategic card games with some people. I have suggested that he starts getting to know a few of the girls there in a non-aggressive and non-creepy way. Is there anything else that can be advised? — Worried Sister>
First of all, it’s apparent how deeply you care for your brother and want him to be happy and live a fulfilling and satisfying life. And I can certainly appreciate that, given his mild mental challenges, you want to protect him from the world. Unfortunately, part of living a full life means opening yourself up to a potential broken heart, embarrassment, and even worse, physical danger. If it’s the latter you’re most worried about, I’d say you need to articulate exactly what sorts of dangers you’re worried your brother might face. Is it robbery? Kidnapping? Rape? And what can your brother actively do, save from shutting himself indoors and never venturing online or out into the world, to protect himself from these crimes?
It may sound tedious, but making a list of each worry, followed by a list of preventative actions your brother can take — and that you can help him take — may go a long way in helping both of you feel more secure. Some suggestions: encourage him to meet people offline doing activities he enjoys; steer him to websites that allow him to see photos and profiles of people before interacting with them; look for online dating sites for people with disabilities; help him craft a dating profile that adequately conveys his challenges; instruct him not to give out his physical address to anyone he hasn’t met in person yet; tell him not to give out phone numbers to anyone he hasn’t exchanged at least several emails with—and to always meet dates at a public place, to tell others whom he’ll be meeting as well as when and where, to refrain from giving his last name to anyone he hasn’t yet met in person, and to take a self-defense course. Of course, none of these tips are sure-fire safety measures, but they can definitely add a level of security that it sounds like your brother is currently lacking.
If it’s a broken heart you’re worried about, there’s less you can do to protect him from that. Mental challenges or no, heartache is something that everyone who dares to “put himself or herself out there” faces all the time. You could share with him some of your own experiences with rejection or broken hearts so he better understands that heartache is a risk everyone faces and, if it’s something he has to experience, it won’t be because he’s “different”; it will actually be because he’s not so different.