“Is Grief Making Him a Jerk or Is He Really Just That Way?”

I met my ex-boyfriend two months after his mother was tragically killed and one month after he broke up with his girlfriend of three years. He didn’t tell me about either of these until two months into the relationship.

We had an awesome honeymoon stage in the relationship and I was sure he was very much into me. I loved him completely and I felt the same from him. Then, six to seven months into the relationship, we started to have arguments and fights. We would go into apathy mood and I couldn’t understand why he started acting out. He would compare me to his sisters and cousins, and I started to feel insecure. He hated my choice of profession and he concluded that I wasn’t as ambitious as his late mum/sisters.

When I threatened to leave, he would say that, after the loss of his mother, he doesn’t feel that anyone is irreplaceable. I decided that he was going through late grieving and decided to stick by him, but then he got more withdrawn everyday until he finally broke up with me.

Are we just incompatible or is he going through the grieving process now? I say this because, when we met, he seemed pretty much okay with life. He didn’t grieve much and he avoided talking about the death of his mum.

Do I reach out or move on? — Missing Him

You should move on. Your relationship began on a lie — he lied about his emotional availability. And you lied to yourself about how fucked up the situation was and pretended you were in a “honeymoon stage” when, in fact, your boyfriend was using you to avoid dealing with his grief (or guilt or anger or whatever). Not only that, but how great of a honeymoon period was it really if you weren’t even close enough — if you hadn’t even asked enough basic getting-to-know-you questions (like, “Are your parents still married?” And “When was your last relationship?”–you know, stuff you ask within the first three dates) — to be privy to the information that his mother had just died and that he dumped his girlfriend of three years soon after? And when you did find out these facts — two months into your relationship — how did it not give you enough pause to think to yourself, “Hmmm, this might be a red flag. Dude’s mom just died and he didn’t even mention that or that his relationship of three years just ended? Maybe, just maybe, he’s not ready to date anyone yet and is, instead, looking for a distraction from his grief”?

Honestly, it sounds like both of you were eager to jump into a relationship without doing any of the legwork of forming an emotional connection and bond. We know what his excuse was — he was using you to run away from himself. But what was your excuse? Why were you so fast to stay with someone who would keep such enormous secrets from you for two months and who would then act like they weren’t any big deal? Why would you only threaten to leave him and not actually leave him when he “started acting out,” and comparing you to his sisters and cousins, telling you he hated your choice of profession, telling you that you aren’t as ambitious as his mom and sisters? I mean, what the fuck? If any guy — let alone some guy I’d known for a handful of months who’d already acted pretty shady — pulled that shit on me, I’d be outta there so fast his head would spin. Why did you stay with him? Even if such nasty behavior could be attributed to “late grieving,” as you call it — and grieving for a mother a few months after her death isn’t exactly “late,” by the way — you should have said: “You know what, I don’t like the way you’re talking to me and treating me. I deserve a lot better. I’m going to reserve judgment on your character because I realize you’re grieving and it could be affecting your behavior, but until you’re more emotionally available and have worked through the initial grief process, I don’t want to date you.”

The truth is, you had an idea in your head of what you wanted this guy to be. He wasn’t that guy, but you convinced yourself he was because he was grieving and that, when he was no longer grieving, he would be the guy you wanted. But he never showed himself to be that guy. Even in the early months, before the fighting and mistreatment started, he was a guy who was emotionally unavailable and had kept two big secrets from you. At no point in your six- or seven-month relationship was he a man you would want as a longterm partner. You simply lied to yourself that he was. And now you’re asking for some sort of hope or sign that the dream partner you’re wishing for is still in him somewhere and that, if you reach out and maybe give him a little more time to grieve, he will be the kind of guy who doesn’t keep secrets from you and who doesn’t belittle you and put you down. But there’s never been any indication that he would be that way. Your wish is based on nothing more than pure fantasy. And if you’re going to fantasize about a dream guy, why not let it be someone who hasn’t already proved how much he isn’t that guy?

Finally, this isn’t about “compatibility,” as you call it. Someone treating you like fucking garbage is beyond “incompatible” for you. He’s an asshole. And you can package it up as “grief” if you want and tell yourself that, once he’s healed and can think more clearly, he won’t be an asshole anymore and you’ll be compatible, but, if you have no foundation already in place and you have no history together and the whole basis of your relationship is built on a lie, you literally have zero reason to believe there’s any potential between you at all, and to have such blind faith or hope in the future of your relationship, regardless of these facts, is delusional. Stop being delusional. Because even though it’s too late for you to find happiness with this guy, it isn’t too late to find it with someone else. But you have to start being real with yourself and give up believing that wanting someone to be a match is enough to make it so.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. WWS. It doesn’t matter why he’s being a jerk, the fact is he is being a jerk. You don’t need him.

  2. Exacty. Yes grief does often make people act strangely. We might be more understanding with friends or family because we have an established relationship with them. We know they are usually wonderful.

    In this case, the LW does not have an established relationship to know. Circumstance, timing, and situations are reasonable reasons to move on from someone new who could otherwise be wonderful at some different point in their life.

  3. Anonymousse says:

    You were a distraction and a rebound.

  4. I think Wendy’s answer was pretty perfect on this one. Yes, this guy is probably going through all sorts of turmoil (I mean, mother dying, breaking up with a long term girlfriend one month later, starting to date a brand new person one month after that and not telling her any of this – the red flags keep slapping me right in the face). There’s a good chance that a lot of the problem is that he’s not in an emotionally healthy mental state. But you have no knowledge of what he’s really like. So really he’s no better than a complete stranger — and is actually much worse, because you know he’s handled grief by treating you really poorly (or is just always an ass, maybe), and you know he’s not mentally available for a relationship right now (and you have no idea when he will be).

  5. Purple_Unicorn says:

    You guys are already broken up, why bother dwelling on it? If he reaches out to you, wish him well in the healing process. There’s no use involving yourself any further.

  6. Another Jen says:

    I always cringe when someone twists themselves in knots to find a reasonable excuse for unreasonable behavior. Is he a jerk to me because he fears intimacy? Is he a jerk to me because I intimidate him? Is he a jerk to me because he’s grieving? Nope. He’s a jerk to you because he’s a jerk. No point in looking further, he is who he is. Nice people may be momentarily thoughtless and inconsiderate…but if they’re really nice people, that should be the exception.

    Shake this guy loose. Find someone who’s open, honest, and NICE.

  7. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

    This situation reminds me so much of my last relationship. … Remember that short one from the year before last? The one where we were both so eager to jump into a relationship without doing any of the legwork of forming an emotional connection and bond (as Wendy says above, spot on)? The one where I got pregnant and he bailed? I was eager to jump to a relationship because… I wanted a relationship, had those warm fuzzy feelings and ran with it without much though! And he was eager, too, because his marriage had ended not long before *and* to boot his mother had just died, and if I had to guess he had moved quickly on to me to avoid feeling and processing all that grief. … Of course, I’m sure that I would NOT change a thing, knowing that I got the most amazing kid out of it, and I can’t imagine life without my son (lies, I can imagine; it would be missing something… but it would involve a lot more sleep and more money in my bank account). I don’t have any advice, except for WWS, and use protection if you get back together! Ha.

  8. Grief makes you do strange, stupid, crazy things. Especially when the death is traumatic and/or sudden. That alone would be reason enough to move on. But that coupled with how he treated you? Be glad you’re out of that relationship.

  9. dinoceros says:

    Everything that Wendy said. I assume you’re trying to figure out his motives to decide whether you should wait around for him to get over his grieving or just be done. But you glaze over the fact that he already broke up with you. It’s not really your decision to make at this point. But in terms of whether you should sit around and hope that he takes you back — it doesn’t matter WHY he’s acting the way he is. It’s not a good relationship. As soon as you realized that he hid his mother’s death from you for months was when you should have started heading out the door. That indicates someone who is not in a good place at all — for hiding it, but also the fact that a person who jumps into a relationship that quickly after a breakup and parent’s death is so not ready for it.

    But like Wendy said, it sounds like you were kind of desperate, so you hoped that those red flags would turn out fine. But they didn’t. I could see if you had been with someone for like three years and they started acting out because of grief — not that you should put up with being treated like crap, but you might not want to toss out a relationship when you know that’s not who the person really is. But in this case, you have absolutely no real evidence that he’s going to act any different later, and it’s way too soon for you to be so invested in this guy that you’re going to put up with all of this.

  10. Avatar photo Raccoon eyes says:

    MOA. This is over and done with, and for good reason. This is not a guy you should be hung up on. It is not your job to “fix” him, nor is there some specific “help” that you can provide that will turn the switch on his behavior.
    He isnt speaking in anything but plain understandable language to you- and he is saying this is over. Hear it. There is no magic cipher to decode his actions- they also are stating that the relationship is done with. Good luck

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