First, I’m so sorry for the loss of your boyfriend two years ago. I can only imagine the grief you’ve felt, and I hope you’ve had a strong support system to help you through.
It’s wonderful that you’ve met a man you like and enjoy and who inspires feelings of love when he kisses you. It doesn’t sound to me at all like you’re “afraid to put yourself out there.” Isn’t this new relationship, in fact, the effect of putting yourself out there? I mean, you’re doing it! You’re out there dating, opening your heart, and willing to see where this might lead you. Moving to the next level, as Roger wants to do, is not a measure of putting yourself out there. It’s not a measure of having healed or being strong or even being ready for a relationship. You can be ready for a relationship in the abstract and not be ready to progress to the next level of a relationship with someone you’ve been dating for one month.
The thing is, it’s not unusual or some symptom of being damaged to want to take one’s time in a new relationship. On the contrary – it’s quite normal and healthy to move a little more slowly than that. Saying “I love you” after less than a month of dating would be fast for anyone, regardless of his or her relationship history. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong or that it’s an indication of a red flag, but not being ready to return the affection certainly doesn’t mean you’re afraid either. Even people who haven’t experienced the tragic loss of a soulmate take more than a few weeks to feel love for someone new, let alone feel moved to verbally express it. All of this is ok! It’s ok and perfectly normal and healthy that you don’t feel ready to return Roger’s words of affection, and it’s ok if he felt moved to express his feelings early on. What would not be ok is if he is pressuring you in any way to move faster than you feel ready to move for whatever reason (including simply not feeling the same way he feels yet!).
What you need to think about right now is what YOU want, what pace feels right to you, and how you feel about Roger. I understand the desire to protect his feelings – this is especially common for women who have been socialized to prioritize others over ourselves – but Roger’s a grown-up and he’s chosen to “put himself out there,” so he can deal with hurt feelings if they happen just like all the rest of us can. The worst thing you can do is try to analyze your own feelings through the lens of what’s best for Roger. Instead, let Roger know you like him and are enjoying getting to know him but that you want to take your time and not rush things. If he can’t respect that – if he pressures you to move things faster and sooner than you want or are ready for, Roger is not that guy for you. The right guy will be patient! If Roger shows any signs of impatience, move on, because while declaring love for someone after a few weeks isn’t necessarily a red flag, pressuring someone to match this speed is.
There are a few possible reasons he wouldn’t want you and your kids to be a part of his life. Have you asked him what his reasons might be? Maybe he doesn’t feel close with anyone else. Maybe he doesn’t have a great family life. Maybe he’s outgrown his friends or doesn’t feel very close with them. If he’s “always around and available” to you and your kids and your life, this sounds feasible. But he also may be keeping you at bay, less interested than he says he is in having a family life together. He might be hiding something. He might want to protect the single, child-free lifestyle he’s enjoyed thus far and not want to compromise that independence by introducing you and your children to more of his life.
You need to talk with Greg about your desire to be a bigger part of his life and to get to the bottom of why he’s been resistant to let you in. If you can’t, or if you learn that he’s not ready for what you offer, what you want, and what he says he wants, then, yes, it’s time to read the writing on the wall and leave. Eighteen months is enough time to see whether someone is up for actually incorporating you and your three children into his life. Especially when kids are involved, you want someone who feels enthusiastic about moving forward when the time is right because the kids’ hearts are on the line as much as yours is. If Greg is resistant to your being part of his life, then talks of building a life together need to be put on hold at least, if not buried.