Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Dating a Widower

Dear Terry,

Love your emails. If you decide to answer my request for advice, feel free to share this question with your readers. Just don't use my real name.

I'm 47, he's 50. Met in March 07, he had been a widower for 6 months after wife's long terminal illness.

We got engaged in July and were going to move in together in Sept, we were both living in New York at the time. In August he breaks up with me, loves me, adores me, having anxiety can't do it. I move back to my house in S. Carolina.

In October we get back together. Long distance relationship now but we see each other every week. Go to France and Greece for three weeks in November, have the time of our lives, he says he can't live without me.

The next weekend, Dec. 1, he flies to S.Carolina and tells me he can't do it, we break up again.

Throughout, he text messages me and sends me emails and voicemails he loves me, etc. etc. I haven't seen him since 12/1. We just spoke briefly this weekend, 1/27. Continues to tell me he loves me.

I plan to surprise visit him in about a month. The plan is to show up at this house in the morning, pick up something he couldn't find to return to me. Be happy, looking like a million bucks, and then tell him "if you are not careful you will lose me forever." Then happily leave with no further conversation or when we will see each other next...

Is he commitmentphobic? Just emotionally not available and nothing can win him back?

What do you think?

Please advise.

Confused and hurt in S. Carolina

P.S. We are both highly accomplished people, very full lives. I adore him, have never loved anyone like I love him.

Dear Confused:

You're in a tough spot, and my heart goes out to you.

I do believe this man has deep feelings for you, but you haven't known him even a year. His wife died in September 2006, not 18 months ago.

For your sake (yes, for your sake), I beseech you to make a cup of tea, put your feet up, and relax. Please consider this situation carefully.

I don't know whether this man's marriage was happy, mediocre, or miserable, but I do know this: It takes time to get over the loss of a pet, let alone the loss of a human who shared your living space for a number of years.

I'm not a bereavement counselor, but I also know, having lost my mother to a long terminal illness in August 2005, that my father had a hard time the first year without her due to all the firsts:

His first Thanksgiving without her, his first Christmas, his first Easter, his first birthday. And each of those firsts was fraught with memories of the last (my mother suffered a siezure on her last Easter morning, and three of us screeched over to Lenox Hill Hospital with her in an ambulance). I suspect your former fiance is dealing with this kind of thing.

It's been my experience that widowed people need time to find their feet. Once they do, they're happy again and free to get on with their lives. But the grieving part is necessary.

This man proposed to you just 10 months after his wife's death, and part of him may fear he hasn't given her her due. His feelings may run deep for you, but he wonders if he isn't rushing things.

I'd like you to consider the same thing.

What happens if you do get married, and he wakes up one morning and tells you he's made a mistake? If you're confused and hurt now, you'll be far worse then.

This guy is truly doing you a favor by slowing things down; he says he's "having anxiety," which is absolutely normal, given his position. (I'd worry about him if he weren't a bit anxious.) If you're really worried about him, suggest he join a bereavement group or see a grief counselor, but do give him time to work out all his thrashing emotions.

Let me tell you another story:

Another widower, a relative, missed his wife's companionship. He started dating shortly after her death and soon became engaged. In July 2006, friends and family flew in for his wedding ceremony. In May 2007, he called around to announce that "the bird of happiness" had fallen from the tree, and he had filed for divorce.

I do not want this to happen to you.

Whatever you do, please do not surprise this man with a visit and tell him he's going to lose you if he's not careful. I suspect he already knows that, and that's why he leaves proclamations of love on your electronic devices. You don't mention if he has friends or children he confides in, but if you surprise him, they may tell him you're pushing too hard. They may warn him that you don't have his best interests at heart.

Take a deep breath.

If you can handle it, see him every now and then if the opportunity arises. By all means, look like a million bucks. You have a full life, so focus on it when you're not with him. Do your best to put him out of your mind. If you have to, go to a movie by yourself every night of the week to avoid sitting around thinking about him. If another attractive man comes along, feel free to date him.

Also, if the messages your former fiance leaves become too distracting or painful, ask him to stop. Say, "I respect the fact that you aren't ready to pursue our relationship. It's time to let me go."

To answer your last question, I don't think this man is commitmentphobic. I do think he's emotionally unavailable right now. He hasn't given himself time to get over his wife's death, and nobody can get him over it but him.

For the sake of your future happiness, let him do that.



B. said...

Terry, as usual your advice is "spot on". I was involved in a similar situation with a man who was divorced 2 years when we met up again. He still was not ready at that point (almost three years after divorce) even though I had spent nine months getting to know him again (we went to high school together), and he sent me many letters, emails, telephone calls, and texts proclaiming his love and adoration and future "plans" (and had also visited me on several occasions.

Finally after he cancelled trips to see me on several occasions, sometimes as late as the afternoon before his flight, I realized that I could not go through this anymore and that he was just not emotionally available to me.

Interestingly, after he EMAILED me cancelling yet another trip, I just never responded to him again and he has not resurfaced to date - it's been six months. I do not care to be with someone who can go from loving me very much to so easily be without me in their life. It's just N*E*X*T - and I thank him for releasing me to now find a man who is so much better for me.

Ronnie Ann Ryan said...

What a deep and insightful response. My heart too goes out to this woman because this is a heart-wrenching and difficult situation.

I applaud your wisdom and advice which are both excellent. Not easy to deliver, but needed and smart. Good for you for being able to voice your opinion in a direct, yet highly compassionate manner.

Susan at One-Woman Show said...

Terry, I agree with your response. The thing that struck me most after reading about this situation is how fast everything seemed to move -- including meeting and then becoming engaged in only a few short months. (And, as you said, not even a year after his wife passed away.) I don't believe in predetermined time limits for grieving, because we all grieve differently. However, this relationship seems to have moved very quickly and very intensely.

I have never dated a widower seriously; however, I once went out with someone who had lost his wife at a young age (about 30). They had been married for only 2 years. I don't know the circumstances of how she died, but twelve years later when he and I met I can tell you that it was still difficult for him in certain ways. I hope your reader slows down and, as you said, finds a way to focus on other things or to let it go.

Terry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry said...

B., Ronnie, and Susan- Thank you for backing me up. This woman is in such a difficult situation.

I especially appreciate your comments today of all days. It's been an interesting one.

Elaine Williams said...

Excellent advice. I'm a widow of four years and I can see all the telltale signs of NOT being ready to commit to a long term relationship, much less date. It's too soon for this widower and this lady should just step back and realize he hasn't grieved properly. We all do it in our own time and way. Unfortunately in the grieving process, we sometimes feel such an abundance of loneliness, we think dating or getting immediately into another relationship will fix the hole inside. Only time and loving support of family and friends can help do that.

Anonymous said...

Terry, you are excellent-as-usual. But we kinda winced on the words suggested about ongoing messages. Sympathy toward him today is toward herself on a future day if she looks back. Let's pray that she finds tenderly firm truth-in-love words to convey that message. BTW: Take glory in protesting routine "Valentine" moments because you offer an understanding heart (definitely) daily. Happy Valentine's Life!

Terry said...

Thank you, Elaine and Anonymous for your very insights! I value them.

Terry said...

Oops. I left out the word "important."

Anonymous said...

Just came across this post on a Google.

I'm also a 50 year old widowed male who lost his wife nine months ago. My spouse also passed away after a long terminal illness.

At this stage of my life I couldn't possibly fathom the idea of becoming engaged to someone.

It's only been in the last month or so that I've started feeling "okay" about the idea of dating...and just "flirting" a little bit here and there.

Unless some miracle happened, I couldn't see myself becoming "permanently attached" again for at least another couple of years.

The hole in my life is huge and drives me crazy at times. But I realize that "inflicting myself" on someone else at this stage would be a disservice not only to the other person but to myself as well.

Justified said...

Help me somebody ! I have been searching for advice on dating a widower for days now and this is the only one that truly hit the mark! EXCELLENT ADVICE.

Terry, how far do we step back to give him time to properly grieve? Realize that it all depends on the individual and our circumstance are slightly different.

After being the sole caregiver for over 10 years to my mom and he having cared for his wife while working from home for 8 years, we met through a mutual friend who saw that both of us needed to get out of the house.

We met 4 month after his wife passed and 3 weeks after Mom. We quickly became intimate within the first week of dating. Although our dates have mostly consist of going shopping at Lowes while redecorating his home. Sticky for both of us which is why I have stepped back to allow space for him to dismantle visible touches of his wife throughout the house.

He does not appear to be the least bit apprehensive about moving on. Its been 2 months since we met and we're planning a weekend trip this coming weekend, which happens to be his wife's birthday.

We both realize that we entered into this relationship from different places and that I desire more then he's prepared to give, yet my stepping back seems to threaten him. Hoping not to step back too far and give another the opportunity for this caring, loving man.


Anonymous said...

Now I'm really frightened. My "friend" lost his wife of 25 years after a long illness. She died 4 months ago also. Stan and I knew each other for years before she died, and I actually went to school with her and liked her very much. Russ and I have been dating for only a month, but it seems like the relationship is moving along in a nice way. We talk about his wife often, and I am very comfortable with it and his feelings. I have asked him several times if he thought he were emotionally ready to date since it's only been such a short time. His reply was that when his wife was diagnosed with cancer 2.5 years ago his marriage changed, that he became her partner, care giver, support system. That he has been greiving the loss of his marriage for all that time. Russ and his wife had a good marriage and I have no doubt would have been married forever had she not have died. Maybe I am fooling myself, but when we talk about her it seems very natural, healthy, Russ talks about everything, not like she was just a saint, but the not so great things about their marriage too. We laugh and we get sad. Russ says that some people don't understand that he isn't openly greiving, but that they don't understand about the greiving he has done for so long. When she was sick and I would run in to Russ, he would talk to me about her and the things they were going through at home, trust me he was greiving. I guess what I'm asking is, can he really be ready to be in an exclusive relationship, or am I to look forward to the backing in, backing out times, do I quit seeing him and give him the public greiving time he really doesn't want? Be his friend? Geezzz I'm so confused now after reading the other blogs. Please help me.

Terry said...

I don't like the idea of you being frightened, Anonymous.

You know what? He says he's ready. He's acting like he's ready. Maybe he really is ready.

The tricky thing about relationships (whether you're dating a widower or not) is that there are never any guarantees. Not for me, not for you, not for Brad Pitt. Some relationships work out, some of them don't.

There's some comfort in that.

So far this man has given you no reason to doubt him, so enjoy yourself. Take things day by day. See what happens.

Julie Donner Andersen. author said...

Great advice, Terry. Ae you sure you're not a bereavement counsellor, becuase I am! I've written a book for wives and girlfriends of widowers )whom I call WOWs and GOWs), and host a message board for WOWs and GOWs at my website, also host a blog at Feel free to send your readers my way if they struggle with widower relationships! And keep up the good work! :)

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting one for you.

1. Dated boyfriend for 3 years
2. Broke up after his 2.5 year divorce was finally settled (he wanted some alone time)
3. Started dating again 1 year later for about 6 months.
4. Broke up with him because I needed my space.
5. A year later found out he was getting married.
6. Three years later I receive an email from him that his wife is dying from end stage cevical cancer.
7. Six months later I receive an email that his wife had died (three weeks prior) and that he'd like to see me and "catch up".
8. Started seeing him on a regular basis and have been together now for 9 months.
9. A month ago he moved from the house he shared with her to a condo he now shares with his teenage son.
10. Didn't hang the poster sized portraits of them on their wedding day, but several 5X7's still dot the mantel in the dining room.
11. Feeling a bit left out as I hardly hear from him anymore, and when I do see him it's only for a few hours in the evening on a Friday or Saturday night. I've invited him to lunch during the week, or on ski trips, etc., all of which he has not said "no", but the time comes and goes with no acknowledgement of it by him.

I've tried so hard these past few months to believe that he just needs his space and time to grieve, and I've tried to give him that. But at the same time, it is I who hurts by not giving myself what I really need: a healthy, loving relationship with someone who is emotionally available and able to give of himself.

I love this man, have loved him since the day I met him 10 years ago. I want things to work out between us, but I fear that time is just ticking by and in the end I will lose him anyway so what's the point?

He "lost his soulmate" (yes, he stated it to me just like that. Me of all people!). How can one ever compete with soulmate status? I'm at a loss here and don't know what to do.

Anonymous said...

I am a widower of seven months. My wife died within three days of initial symptoms. It was very, very fast, and she was in a coma for the last two days of it. We had True Love with a capital "T". The real thing like neither of us had ever experienced in our combined three previous marriages. We'd had three years together before she died.

How can you move on after such a thing, people ask. And I will tell you, there are times that it seemed quite impossible. The unending tears, the gutwrenching loss, the blearying disorientation of literally not knowing what to do next. I don't recommend it to anyone.

But my wife and I also had an amazing relationship. There were no secrets, no agendas, no whould-could-shouldas at the end. Our first words were always, "I love you" and our parting words were always the same. We had no unresolved issues at the end because we dealth with them immediately, opennly and honestly. Like I said, the real thing.

A month ago, I met someone. And we are seeing each other quite often. There is the spark of something special, and a definite possibility for the long term. It's a wonderful thing.

But I am getting flak. It's too soon, or I'm disrespecting my wife's memory, or whatever. Everyone has an opinion, and the same people who were so supportive during my loss, look at me askance.

My points dear friends are these. 1. Everyone is ready when they are ready and not sooner...nor later.

2. When we are ready depends a lot on the relationship that was lost. So many I have seen still dealing with issues of their marriages, but with the guilt of not having resolved the issues while their partner was still alive, when it might have made a difference. But others, like me, don't have unresolved issues. Loss yes, definitely, but not things that would have best been dealt with in life with a counselor.

3. It's not easy from this end either. It isn't that there's a stigma, but people don't want to give you a second look as a widower. Most of the time anyway.

4. I say these things to tell the original poster, that your fellow is going through a lot. The fact that he's wrestling with it is good. It means he cared, and in time he will be able to care again, sharing that same devotion with you. And if you love him, truly, truly love him, it's worth the wait. He will be very appreciative of your patience. But impatience - showing up and delivering an ultimatum...well, I can guarantee that won't go over so well. Either he'll jump before he's ready, or he'll be offended at your insistence and call it off. Neither outcome is a good one.

Best of luck.

Dating said...

I applaud your wisdom and advice which are both excellent.