“He Dumped Me When His Mother Died”

I am a 22 year old college student, who has been on-and-off with one of my best friends (he’s 27) for the past 3 years. We met four years ago while working together, and we became good friends relatively quickly. I was seeing someone at the time, and deep down I knew he had feelings for me, but we never addressed it. A year later, my then-boyfriend and I broke up because my grandfather had passed away and he chose to not be there for me. However, my best friend was and helped my family out. Shortly after, best friend and I started seeing one another. It was definitely a significant relationship, not because of the length of time it lasted, but because of everything that had occurred throughout the duration of the relationship.

Towards the end of the relationship, his mother became sick with aggressive lung cancer. Obviously this was a difficult time in his life, and I was always there for him. As soon as he found out his mother was sick, he became depressed and very dark. He turned into a person that was far from the man I fell in love with. I tried my hardest to be there for him, but he kept pushing me away and putting up the wall. That fall he ended up breaking up with me because “he had too much going on, and couldn’t balance everything.” I was devastated to say the least, but I understood.

He and I stopped speaking after the break-up, and his mother passed away shortly after. I was the first person he called, and of course I was there for him. Following his mother’s passing, we started spending a lot of time together again, but then it stopped because he was still in a dark state of mind. A few weeks ago, he got back into contact with me and is trying to rekindle our relationship, but I don’t know what to do. I love him, but I just can’t put down my wall, because of my fear of getting hurt again. Should I MOA, or should I try to mend things? — Rekindling

If you really care for him, try to mend things, but keep in mind that he is still grieving and will likely be grieving for a long time. While he’s grieving, he won’t be able to give you the kind of attention he has given in the past and will need more support from you than average. And, yes, there’s always a chance you’ll get hurt again, but that’s a chance you take any time you enter into a relationship, whether it’s with an old friend, a stranger, someone who’s grieving, or someone who’s never experienced loss. If you do try to rekindle your relationship, be honest with him about what your emotional needs are and ask him to be honest about what he’s able to give you and what kind of room he has for you in his life. Remaining open and honest with each other is key here.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.


  1. justpeachy says:

    To be safe, I would attempt to rekindle the friendship first, not the romantic relationship. If you want to get back with this guy, you probably need to wait until he’s in a healthy-ish state of mind. By refriending him and being there for him as purely a friend at first, you’ll be able to gauge how well he’s recovering and hopefully be able to recognize when he’s ready to try this again for real, rather than a distraction or a replacement for the hole in his life.

  2. I’d proceed with caution LW. I dated a guy like this. I dated him 2 or so years after his mother died of cancer. He was in therapy for a long time, and insisted that he was OK with his mother’s passing, but he clearly had a lot of pain that he wasn’t directly facing. I went through a lot of him pushing me away and then begging to get back together. And ultimately I think it came down to him not being ready to attach to someone yet. He oscilated between treating me like beloved family and then obsessing over small details of what was wrong with the relationship. I let him know that I cared about him and that I was there as a friend, but I had to end the relationship because he was making me crazy. He was dating someone seriously while his mother was sick and he was with that girl when his mother died and from what I gathered he depended on her a lot for emotional support. They went through a similar back and forth dance until he dumped her in an abrupt way. She insisted that he was still hurt about his mother which was true, but he went ahead and slept with other people and had no problem doing so. This isn’t to say this will happen to you LW but I would just reccomend being careful with your heart. People who have lost someone that they are very close with can take a long time before they are ready to be in a steady relationship.

  3. I agree that you should be very careful. While grieving the loss of someone close to you is always very difficult, it often serves a mark of the strength (or weakness) of a person’s relationships with others. A friend of mine lost her brother very unexpectedly almost 2 years ago, and her relationship with her boyfriend became stronger than ever because she could talk to him and depend upon him. If you plan on staying with someone, you will most certainly have to face many difficult moments like this in your lives together. You need someone who won’t leave you every time circumstances get hard.

  4. Clementine says:

    I’m not offering advice. I’ll just tell you how it happened with me.

    I lost my mother to melanoma last year. I was 31, two years out of a divorce, and had two small children.

    I was angry at everyone who loved me, for various reasons, real or imagined. My sweet boyfriend (of 11 months, then) took the brunt of it. He was the most convenient outlet. I couldn’t rail at my father—he was heartbroken. Same with my brother and my children. My girlfriends were helpful, but I expected very little from them. In my not-quite-rational state, my boyfriend seemed removed enough from the situation that I could channel my anger and grief in his direction without feeling guilty. He didn’t always know how to be there for me in the intuitive way a woman would, and missed some opportunities to be supportive—I can’t fault him, though, because I wasn’t communicating my needs—and I was furious with him. It was hard for me to say, “I need you to be strong for me, ask me how I’m doing, and do little things for me,” when I was trying to be strong for my father and my children. I couldn’t bring myself to say, “Come just be with me,” when I was a just a puddle of snot and anguish.

    I became entirely focused on his actions and what he was doing that was bothering me, when what I should have been focused on was me. When I was so full of grief for my mother and my father and my children, it was painful to look inward–so I looked outward.

    Even when I seemed pretty together, I wasn’t. I wasn’t the same person I was before my mom died. The last nine years of my life had operated within the context of her illness. Suddenly that was gone, and there was a completely different, but pervasive, sadness to account for. My mother and I didn’t get along like I wish we had, and I mourned the relationship we never had. My entire family structure had shifted. It seems ridiculous to think of re-working my identity based on the loss of a parent that I had more conflict than harmony with, but that’s how it was, and it was largely outside my control.

    I was demanding and difficult and emotional and hard to deal with. I used our relationship as a diversion from the grieving I need to do, siphoning off sadness from this vast, visceral chasm of grief and redirecting it into manageable anger with him. It wasn’t fair. He didn’t deserve it.

    There were many times I thought about dumping him. I felt as though my emotional bucket was full dealing with my grief and the sadness in my family. Trying to be patient and trusting with him, trying to make sure I was communicating well, and just being loving enough to give him the benefit of the doubt seemed to be just too much. My bucket couldn’t hold any more; it was spilling. Decisions made when your world is so terrible and confusing are never good decisions, and I’m glad I had enough presence of mind to wait it out.

    Grief never goes away. You know this, having lost your grandfather. It lurks, and eventually you give in and make a little room for it on the couch. Sometimes, for an instant, you even forget it’s there. That’s when it sneaks up on you and leaves you aching and breathless. My sweet boyfriend stuck by me, and let me be sad, and held me when I wanted to be held, and is still my rock when the grief sneaks up on me as life goes on.

    I can’t advise you. I can’t tell you to let him treat you badly, and I can’t tell you to turn your back on him. I hope that maybe my experience sheds light on what he might have been experiencing when he was so terrible. Whatever you decide, simply be aware of what he’s been through and where he was when he broke up with you. Look after yourself and love him in a way you can live with.

    1. Have you apologized to him for treating him so cruelly and contemptibly?

      I am serious. Because you owe him that.

      1. Clementine says:

        Absolutely. I did owe him that. After I commented on this thread, I let him know again how much it meant to me that he was able to stand by me during such a hard time.

        We both learned a lot of things last year. Shortly after my mother passed away, he lost a close family member, and I had the opportunity to be the best support I could be for him. It took a lot of communication, patience, and love, but we both know how we deal with grief and how best to support one another.

        Together, we learned a lot about love. Watching my father care for my mother in her last months was heartbreaking but inspiring. Cancer took her before she could kiss my father goodbye. It invaded her brain. One day, she fussed about her coffee, and then was just gone. Love is precious and rare, and worth fighting for. We always apologize, always forgive, and always say, “I love you.”

        There is nothing good about grief. No one ever says, “I’m so glad I lost my loved one–it has made me stronger.” But we break and we mend and we try to find the good in the terrible. I’m hopeful that our LW’s boyfriend can learn from his loss and his grief and be a better person for it.

  5. Be careful, LW. On-and-off relationships are heady and difficult to get out of. You get seduced by the rekindling, thinking it is all going to be better this time. You obviously have chemistry with this guy and that hormone bomb goes off when you get back together. Then the dust settles and you get back to normal. What is that normal like? Your ex went through a really tough time with his mom dying. His reaction was to push you away and keep you away. He is recovering from the trauma now and wants the good parts of your relationship back now that the shock and stress are behind him. Is that how he deals with every big stress in his life? Think carefully. If it is, you’re setting yourself up for the miserable off-again to follow this reunion. In that case, you’re better off ripping the band-aid off and ending this thing. It will hurt more now, but it will save you worse hurt later.

  6. Skyblossom says:

    I’d be very cautious. Life has lots of traumas along the way and this won’t be his only loss. If he falls apart like this during every loss could you handle it? Decide what you can handle and what doesn’t work for you and then you can decide what to do.

  7. It sucks this guy is important to you & has been a major part of your life for a long time. I think if you want things to work out with him, take things veryyyy slow. There’s a chance he’ll try to push for more at first, because it seems he’s so lost & sad he is confused about the kind of relationships he wants right now. He may, at one moment, feel he needs you & wants to rekindle your relationship, & then sometime a little later he’ll become “dark & depressed” & say he can’t handle it anymore.
    Def. tell him you want to be in his life, but things need to go very very slow &, as Wendy said, being open & honest is VERY important for the sake of this relationship. Losing your mother is a huge deal & I can only imagine what he’s going through. It’s tough to understand, but some people prefer to be alone when they’re grieving. I’m the opposite, I’m always open for support & caring during tough moments, but I have friends that close themselves & prefer to not talk about it. It’s just something you have to accept, he is not in a stable emotional condition to take on a relationship right now. So if you guys want to work things out, give it a shot, but do it right so that things don’t crash & burn quickly. There’s only so much both of you can take.

  8. People keep talking about his reaction being an indicator of how he deals with stress…um I’m not even close to my mom and I’m thinking that would be one of the most upsetting things in my life. That’s not comparable to every/any other trauma you’re going to feel. He didn’t get hateful or abusive. He got sad. He closed off. That is a very normal part of grief. It will be hard and he will want to shut off again, but from the way you write about him, I think you should try it again.

  9. If you really love him I would give him a break. His mom died! That is so hard. Don’t let him treat you badly but understand that he didn’t mean to hurt you. He was going through a lot. I would 100 percent take him back and cut him some slack if I loved him.

  10. I don’t think if this will help, but Imma say it anyways.

    I was dating a guy when my mom died (I was 17). I dumped him too. At the time I didn’t even know why, I just didn’t want to hug or kiss or be in a relationship period. I didn’t feel the need to call him or be around him, or anyone. It was the start of a fairly deep depression that lasted a good length of time (as in, several years).

    Anyways, my advice is the same as everyone else’s, to just be gentle. His life is never going to be the same and I hate to say it but I wouldn’t expect him to ever be the same person that you were dating before either. This is the type of loss you do not bounce back from, and time does not help. You have to accept your new life and make the best of what you have, and that’s really it.

  11. bittergaymark says:

    How dare he not make sure that above all else that YOU don’t get hurt. How dare he not cater more to your needs, I mean, it’s not like his mother up and died — oh, wait. She did. Surprise, surprise. People go to dark places. Surprise, surprise…not everybody handles death in the best way. Funny, as much as your letter professes to be all about how much you love him and blah blah blah…the ONLY person you seem truly worried about here is you. He may not be in a place to date right now.

  12. Take him back. Tell him you won’t take any sh-t, though. Keep that promise to him and yourself. And finally, quit overthinking it: Date him if you want to. Don’t if you don’t want to.

  13. Oligonicella says:

    People react to loss and setback by either seeking comfort from friends or lashing out. Those who look to others to communicate and help them deal usually fare better and are interested in strengthening relationships. People who lash out when they suffer will most likely do so again. That may be sad, but that’s what I’ve seen.

  14. Dan in Philly says:

    I’m going to get creamed for this, but before his mother died, why hadn’t he already asked you to marry him? He’s now 27, you’re a healthy 22, there’s no reason I can think of why he wouldn’t have asked you to be his wife 2 years ago if he truly wanted to.

    I gently propose that when his mother passed he realized that he was not treating you failry, and he was causing you to lose some of the best years of your life with him, when he knew deep down he wasn’t interested in a future with you, and decided to break it off for that reason. There are other men, and other men who might want to make a life with you. Respect his pushing you away and move on with your life. If he truly has any long term feelings for you he will not allow you to get away. If he doesn’t, you have your answer and have just saved yourself and your future husband and children years of pining for something which was never going to happen.

    1. I honestly don’t know if I’d be read for marriage at 20. I wouldn’t have even graduated college. It works for some people (one of my friends got married at 21) but I see nothing wrong with dating a while longer. What’s a year or two make?

      And what if he’d had the same reaction while she was married to him? Just ignored her and dropped off the face of the planet or divorced her? I think losing someone who was the center of your world can really mess you up, so it may or may not be connected.

  15. I think you should move on. When things got tough, he skated. That is not an honorable thing to do EVEN if you’re in pain. You deserve someone who can handle some adversity and not let it over ride his relationship with you. I’ve lost both my parents and a brother and I didn’t dump my wife because it was upsetting. He’s using that as an excuse.

  16. Good Grief says:

    As I understand, when your grandfather passed away he was there for you and your family. His mother passes away and he turns into a different person. Well profound loss and grief does that to people. Frankly, I would suggest you do him a favor and let the poor guy go. He may find someone who is a little bit more focused and supportive, less afraid of “being hurt;” see Clementine’s boyfriend as an example.

  17. Chuck Petlo says:

    TO: Rekindling
    RE: Soooooo…..

    ….How old were you when you first had sex?

    There’s apparently something of an ‘indicator’ there.


    [The Truth will out…..one way or another. But not always as we would ‘like’.]

  18. Chuck Petlo says:

    P.S. Heh…..

    ….awaiting ‘moderation’? How ‘politically correct’ can one get?

  19. Chuck Petlo says:

    P.P.S. Will we get an answer to my question about when this woman first had ‘sex’

  20. If you want to determine whether it’s appropriate to try and get back together, you should confront him on his behavior. If he refuses to acknowledge it, or still blames you, then you know that he’s not ready.

  21. Hmmm. A trend is clear…

    “not be there for me”
    “always there for him”
    “be there for him”
    “I was there for him”

    All in a mere three paragraphs. What exactly is this “being there” stuff? It’s a common, even trite, concept in the movies and bad fiction, but what is it, really? By “being there”, are you being helpful (how, exactly?), or are you being demanding? If you’re being demanding, then it’s a dominance move, and if he recognizes it as such, you can expect trouble.

  22. If you rekindle your friendship or your romance, remember that his first response to stress will always be to push you (and others) away. Some people are like that — I am — so it wouldn’t bother me. But that doesn’t sound like what you want.

  23. People. Die. Every. Day. Deal with it. Life goes on.

    1. And when did you lose someone close to you? Ever?

  24. Kim du Toit says:

    Walk away. If he doesn’t know how to handle this horrible situation with someone who’s supportive, he’s still a little boy.

    Ask yourself, after this, how you think he’d behave if you’d married him and your child died. If you have the slightest doubt about your inner answer to this simple question, you need to find someone else.

  25. Grief is a very weird thing; it takes over your otherwise normal behavior. My dad died after a 3-year battle with cancer. We knew it was terminal right from the get-go, so I spent a lot of time grieving. Having a therapist helped me get through that hard time without damaging my other relationships because it removed a lot of the burden from them. Of course my loved ones were sympathetic, but there’s only so much dark stuff one can take before the relationship starts getting strained.

  26. He’s 27 years old, of course he’s not good at handling this kind of stress!

    Move on, it’s over. Nobodys fault. He does not want to be weith someone who’s going to ask “how he feels about it”. Screw that! You know too much.

    You two were never serious to begin with. Deal with it. You sound like a clinger.

    1. Rachelgrace53 says:

      Wow that’s super harsh. I can’t even find anything in the letter that sounds clingy. And what does “knowing too much” have to do with anything?

  27. astonerii says:

    “If you really care for him, try to mend things, but keep in mind that he is still grieving and will likely be grieving for a long time. While he’s grieving, he won’t be able to give you the kind of attention he has given in the past and will need more support from you than average.”

    OMG, what a crockpot. The man needs to grow up and keep responsibility for his action on himself. He is obviously an adolescent at best and maybe a toddler at worst with his reaction. How on earth could you lash out at others for something that they had no contribution towards. Only if you are a selfish little child could you do that, not an adult.

  28. MarkInFlorida says:

    I broke up with someone when my mother died, but I wanted to break up anyway, and I thought that would be an easier excuse than any other reason. Thanksgiving was the next week and I didn’t want to get more involved with her so I said I needed to be alone.

  29. there is a world of difference between being 17 and 27. At 17 no one expects you to have a handle on your emotions. Not so at 27. While we can find a 1001 explanations and excuses of why he did what he did, none of them will change the fact that he wasn’t psychologically strong. Being 27 chances are slim that he’ll ever be. If you stay together, you may get lucky and go through life without ever having to deal with adversity. Do you want to take this chance?

  30. Hi there I was with my boyfriend for 4 months and I knew his dad was dying but we were really close and he ways phoned and texted me everyday I heard from him loads everyday. I didn’t get to see him alot cause he was caring for his dad but I said I was going to be there for him about 7 weeks ago his dad passed away but I was there for him. The week after his dad funeral he started to change with me the texts and phone calls got less I was suppose to be meeting up with him and he had am excuse do he said I was to spend the weekend with him when Friday came he said he had to go to his aunties but promised to meet me on the sat so that morning I hot ready cause I was talking to him and he said go get ready and I will meet you so I did when I was all ready I phoned him to see what time to meet at and he never answered me or replyed to my texts it was not like him to do that. I got a text the next day telling me he was an idiot and felt really bad cause he went on the drink and said he didn’t deserve me and I don’t need him. I ended up in hospital the following weekend and he never came to see me but text and phoned all the time when I got out he said he liked me loads but he wanted to be alone just now cause of what happened with his dad and he was greiving. So I didn’t text or phone for a about 5 days then gave him a call and he was drunk he said he had been on the drink for a few days and he would phone me later I got so worried that I ended up bombaring him with texts and phone calls he text me last week to say he has fallen out with me cause of me bombarded him with texts and said he needed time and I didn’t give him that when he was going through a bad time if anything I made it worse for him. I miss him so much I have tried to explain to him why I bombarded him with texts and have said sorry don’t know how many times do u think there is a chance we can get back together I haven’t texted or phoned him in a week and I haven’t heard from him aswell.

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