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.

-Terry