“Is it Grief or Is He Just Not Into Me?”

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A bit after ending a tumultuous 4-year relationship with someone I’d lived with, I started dating someone I’d known and liked for a few months, “W.” We hit it off very well and became more serious, and he gave me tons of attention in a way my ex never had. He was absolutely crazy about me, and I about him. Then out of the blue, in the middle of the night, his father died just two months into us being together.

Though I felt a bit uncomfortable with it, I knew right away I had to (and wanted to be) the person that would be by his side, though we had only begun to get serious. (I had never met his family beyond brief introductions.) I attended everything with him, giving him space but letting him know I was there if he needed me. He wanted me over nearly every night, contacted me frequently, and I could tell he really appreciated my being there for him. His mother, obviously completely distraught, started to lean on him, her only child, for many things. He is living with her. And I know this is necessary.

The thing is, it’s been just over a month now since his father passed, and things have changed between W and me. We still speak daily and see each other multiple times a week, but there is an obvious change in the dynamic between us. I am worried you will judge me as sounding selfish for feeling this way, but I feel this is a very hard situation to be in when one’s trying to develop a new relationship.

I’m struggling with knowing the difference between him being distant because he’s upset about his father or whether he’s just not feeling the relationship anymore. We haven’t discussed his father at all because I feel it is his choice to bring it up when he’s ready and I’m not going to initiate it. (He was not someone to wear his heart on his sleeve to begin with).

I think at this point I am kind of an escape for him, someone to make him smile and take his mind off what he’s feeling. I feel sad for him all the time and wish he’d be more vulnerable, but I know that everyone experiences grief differently and this may just be how he’s responding. I really like him and want to stick this out, but my insecurities are telling me he is pulling away.

Do you think I’m wrong for feeling this way? I want to just believe it is solely because of his father, but I don’t know. I feel awful that this happened to him, and I don’t know how to process everything. Please help. — Dating Grief

There are major stressors in life that are bound to affect, if not totally change, relationships and top among them is a death in the family. That your relationship has been affected by death so early on, before you had a chance to create much of a foundation, is tough, but it doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. There are three C’s you need for your relationship to succeed: compatibility, compassion and communication. Any relationship has to have them — among other things — to succeed, but in a situation like yours, you need an extra big dose of each.

First, you need to figure out whether you’re truly compatible. If you’ve been friends for several months and hit it off as soon as you started dating, that may give you some indication that you are. Do you enjoy doing the same things? Do you have fun together? Do you always have stuff to talk about? Maybe it’s hard to answer these questions while your boyfriend is grieving, but in the moments he “escapes” his grief in your company, ask yourself those questions.

Something that your boyfriend will need now more than ever is your compassion. And part of that means reserving judgment and analysis of his feelings. It would be understandable if you decided that this is all a bit too much for you and you’d rather go back to being friends until he’s had a little more time to process his father’s death.

If you do decide to stick things out a few months, you have to allow your boyfriend to express himself in whatever way he’s able. So much of his emotional reserve is being used up in the grief compartment. That doesn’t mean he can’t or doesn’t have feelings for you; it simply means he may not have the means to express them in a way you want them expressed. Be patient. Be compassionate. Give his grief time to settle.

Finally, you need to communicate. Don’t wait for your boyfriend to initiate discussions — especially ones about your relationship. He’s probably worried that you feel like you HAVE to stay with him now, out of pity or whatever. Maybe he feels guilty that he isn’t very much fun at the moment. Maybe he’s afraid he’s going to lose you — this person he felt great potential with — because he isn’t able to be the sort of partner he’d like to be.

He has plenty of reasons to feel insecure and to want to protect himself, which may account for any “pulling away” you might be feeling. If you care about him and want to see if this relationship can go somewhere, tell him that. Tell him you have different expectations now than you did before his father passed away suddenly, but they still include spending time together and getting to know one another.

You need to understand and accept that he probably won’t be able to give you the kind of attention and focus you’d get if he weren’t grieving. This may be especially hard since the attention he gave you in the beginning was one of the things you liked most about being with him. The upside, though, is that his grief will eventually weaken.

The emotional reserve he devotes to it will begin to be redirected, and if you are a compassionate person with whom he’s compatible, much of that emotional reserve will be redirected to you, this woman who stuck it out through the hard times so early on, and your bond will be stronger for it.

And if you decide that you can’t be with someone who isn’t able to direct his attention to you now, that’s fine. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human. You’re in a tough position. Be kind to yourself. Recognize your own limitations and act accordingly. Just make sure you’ll be able to live with the “What if?” question you’re bound to ask yourself if you bail now.

*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. theattack says:

    Wendy, this is one of the best responses I’ve ever read from you.

    1. fast eddie says:

      Ditto, I can only add that her wants are just as valid as his and need to be discussed in the most loving manner possible.

    2. I agree, especially this part: “There are three C’s you need for your relationship to succeed: compatibility, compassion and communication.” Well spoken and wise!

  2. I 100% agree with Wendy.

    To me, it sounds like your relationship has a chance of coming back from this, and if you’ve got the 3 C’s Wendy mentioned, I’d say to try to stick it out.

    I’ve never lost a parent, but I can tell you with 100% certainty, that if/when I do, I’m going to be over my head in grief for way longer than a month. It sounds to me like your boyfriend is still very much in mourning- I wouldn’t read into it too much.

  3. Very sad, and a very tough situation to be in. I’m glad Wendy is here to answer something like this.

  4. While I think that your boyfriend (of three months) is still very much mourning his father, and stepping into the head male role of his family, I also think you are a bit clingy – if I’ve read the letter correctly.

    Let things take their course. Ease up and just be there. If the relationship works, it works. You can’t force something when one party is mourning the loss of someone significant in their life.

    1. Landygirl says:

      Right, one month is barely enough time to catch your breath after such a traumatic experience.

    2. I don’t know if she is being clingy per se… I think she just wants to figure things out early before she is in the relationship too long to politely or quietly break things off. She is in a tough position because this guy is pretty much a rebound from her past 4 year relationship (and I don’t say rebound as if it is a bad thing… sometimes it is necessary for us to rebound after a long-term relationship to figure out what we want again) and then something tragic happened to him and she chose to be there for him. Just as he is rightly feeling an array of emotions from his father’s death and his shift in family roles, she is rightly feeling an array of emotions from her sudden shift in her role in his life. I think she wrote this letter to Wendy to see if her feelings are normal in this situation. One month isn’t a lot of grieving time, but one month in relationship limbo might seem like an eternity.

      1. LW again. Thanks- you brought up a good point not previously touched upon. I was in a very serious, domestic relationship for 4 years, it fell apart, I moved back into my parents house, started dating W and this happened. (I would like to note that I’ve never been in a “rebound” situation in my life, this man I just happened to meet at the right time.) It’s been stressful, lots of changes. A big part of my insecurity may indeed be me adjusting to a less serious commitment. It has been a while since I’ve gone through the process of building a foundation with someone, and with these circumstances..it can be confusing. I’m happy overall though. Trying to take it a day at a time.

  5. theattack says:

    The only thing I would add is that, while grief is a separate issue from your relationship, you can use it as a learning opportunity. You are learning things about how he functions under stress, and how he handles horrible events. As for how to distinguish grief from his feelings for you – don’t be afraid to bring things up sometimes. For example, if he seems sullen, you could ask if he’s got something on his mind. Sometimes grieving people need permission to talk about what’s going on – especially with someone fairly new. Don’t specifically mention his father, just in case he wasn’t thinking about him. And don’t ask “what’s wrong?” because it could come across that you don’t see the death as a big deal anymore. Direct your questions to what is going on with him at that moment, without making suggestions, and you should be fine. Good luck, LW!

    1. I love that you mention not to ask “what’s wrong?”.
      I went though a brief bout of depression for a couple months not that long ago, where I was unhappy for no really concrete reason, and was having a hard time expressing how I was feeling.
      The most frustrating thing was when my boyfriend would see me upset and (meaning well) ask what was wrong, because I didn’t know. I couldn’t put what I was feeling into words, and the things I could focus on that were “wrong” just felt trivial and stupid, so I would just say “nothing” and clam up. A turning point for me came when he suddenly stopped saying “what’s wrong?” and started asking things like “is there anything you want to talk about?” or “Is there anything you need?” It was a lot less threatening, and left me open to talk about or ask for anything I needed to, without feeling like I was being accusatory or negative.

      The nice thing about asking “Is there anything you want to talk about?” is that it opens the door without feeling like an interrogation. That way, he knows you’re ready to listen, but if he’s not ready to talk, he can just answer “no.”
      Just make sure to take no for an answer, and you don’t have to worry about being too pushy or nosy.

  6. “The thing is, it’s been just over a month now since his father passed, and things have changed between W and me. We still speak daily and see each other multiple times a week, but there is an obvious change in the dynamic between us.”

    It’s only been a month since his father died unexpectedly, and while your boyfriend isn’t as attentive to you as he was previously, he’s not withdrawn from you as evidenced by the fact that you speak daily and see one another multiple times a week. He is clearly still interested in you, but you need to be sensitive to the fact that he’s dealing with a lot right now. Life doesn’t go back to normal the minute the funeral is over, and not only is he dealing with his own emotions, as the only child, his mother is leaning on him a great deal, as well.

    Be patient, and like Wendy said, his grief will lessen over time.

    1. LW here. You’re absolutely right. One month is not long at ALL in the scheme of things. That’s partially why I included the phrase “I’m afraid you’ll judge me for being selfish…” because I know in my heart that I can’t expect him to be “normal” for some time. On the other hand, in any relationship, I feel both parties’ feelings need to be validated, no matter the circumstances. And at times, I’ve felt lost, hopeless, and well, neglected. In this situation, I’m trying to learn to be selfless, while still considering my own needs. Wendy’s great response, other comments, and most of all time are giving me clarity.

      1. I would count yourself very lucky that you get to speak to him daily and even get to see him. My partner lost a brother in law but he has just fell off the face of the earth. I would just love if it had have went your way for me so I think you should be thankful and realise you mean a lot to him xx

  7. Addie Pray says:

    LW, my father died unexpectedly (heart attack) four years ago, and I can share how his death affected me. It’s funny, I had called him that morning, at 7:15 am on my way to work. My mom said he was taking the trash out but that he was on his way back in – she could see him through the window walking up the driveway – if I wanted to wait a second. I said, nah, it’s ok, I just got to work and am about to hop in an elevator, I will call him later. I got to my office, took my coat off, got coffee, and at 7:30 am my mom called me back to say my dad had had a heart attack, he was being put in an ambulence right then, and I should come home right away.

    I’m sure everyone reacts to death differently, but, if your boyfriend is anything like me, maybe this will help: The initial days / first couple of weeks after my father’s death was hard but NOT the hardest. In hindsight, it was the easiest (or least hard) part of grieving. You’re so busy crying and making plans and taking time off work to be with family that, though you don’t know it yet, it hasn’t hit you. It hasn’t hit you at all yet. The stage where your boyfriend is – one month later – was the hardest for me. Everything is supposed to go back to “normal” – and everything looks “normal” – but you’re not normal. Sure, you’re not crying every day anymore. You’re functioning. Looking at you, no one could tell your father died a month ago. The visitors, the cards, the meals from friends, the time with family, the time with nothing to do but think about the good times, your bereavement leave, etc. — all that ends. And you’re back to work, back to living, back to normal.

    That’s when it was the hardest for me but you couldn’t tell. I went out, I made plans with friends, I laughed, I ate, but I was kind of numb. I remember a friend commenting, “Gosh, you’re handling this so well, you’re so strong, I’d be a mess,” but I grieving, I was a mess on the inside. I mean, at some point, you stop crying — it’s impossible to cry all the time — but that doesn’t mean you’re not affected or that you’re not a mess. And for someone like me – I was insanely close with my father – I talked to him about everything and turned to him for advice and validation for everything, more or less – it was, and still is, really hard. I also had NO interest in intimacy for months. I’m not really sure why. I think a part of me felt guilty for enjoying life.

    I would guess you’re boyfriend is at his lowest right now. He’s also probably doing a lot of soul searching. A couple months after my dad died, I had a lot of “what’s the point of life?” thoughts. What’s the point of living in this city if I’m not near family? If I were to die tomorrow, would I be happy I spent the last few years in this office? What do I really want out of life? … I know it sounds cliche, but death forces you to have these big life discussions with yourself.

    1. Addie Pray says:

      Wow, that was a long comment. And with most of my comments, I’m not sure what the point was, other than to share my experience. And to echo what others have said more succinctly: it’s only been one month; your boyfriend is probably at his lowest right now. …

      1. I think your comment will help the LW immensely – thank you for sharing, and I’m very sorry for your loss.

      2. I’m sorry for your loss, Addie. And thank you for sharing this. You described my experience better than I’ve been able to articulate and it’s been 9 years since my mom died suddenly. We were extremely close, talking on the phone nearly every day and the person I called about anything and everything in my life. That initial mourning period was like a fog for me. I was so focused on organizing the funeral and grieving with my family that the loss itself hadn’t hit me. When I went back to work and fell into my routine, I realized just how different my life was. For me, there was that sense that things were supposed to be normal but there was a new normal and I didn’t like it. I’d go out with my friends and they’d be laughing and I was a mess inside. And as time went on and I was still struggling, I felt guilty for not being happy or for wanting to talk about it more and so I clammed up and put a fake smile on my face. My close friends obviously saw through this and encouraged me to talk to them (giving me the permission I felt I needed). It took me a long time to come to terms with what happened but it is still hard to not have her here with me.

        LW, Wendy’s advice is spot on and Addie’s insight is wonderful. Show your bf some compassion and understand that he may just be, as Addie mentions, at his lowest right now. Grief is messy and there aren’t always clearcut answers for why someone is acting or feeling a certain way. Be patient with him during this difficult time.

      3. Addie Pray says:

        It’s funny, I was the opposite – I did NOT want to talk about it. And I would get so annoyed – nay, ANGRY – when friends wanted to talk about it. (In hindsight, I wish I had talked to a therapist about it. Only this year did I do that.) I felt like friends were turning to me and expecting me to say something wise and hopeful. Well FUCK YOU is what I wanted to say. I don’t mean the “hey, how’s it going” question that people ask automatically. I mean the calculated “so, how are YOU?” question they ask slowly, with sympathic eyes, after the obligatory 10 minutes of small talk you make when you first meet up at the restaurant. Ugh, I felt such ANGER to that. Because I felt forced to digest my feelings (I wasn’t sure what I was feeling!) and articulate them with words that adequately described what I was feeling, and add a wise, positive, upbeat comment about death. I did not appreciate that pressure or responsibility to make THEM feel better. What I wanted to say was “I don’t know, what do you want me to say? I don’t know what I am feeling? I don’t know what things are side effects of my grieving and what is just happening because. I don’t know if I’m sad. I laughed so hard I peed in my pants last night so maybe I’m not sad anymore. What? What do you want me to say?!” That’s what I wanted to say. But then how awkward would the night be? So I would say something nice and wise and we’d move on. God that made me so angry. I hated the feeling of being forced to talk about it.

      4. Addie Pray says:

        And, to my friends’ credit, I dont’ think they were expecting me to say thing wise and upbeat.” But it just goes to show how death can make you hot and cold and fine one moment but angry the next over nothing, really. So, LW, be patient. …

        As an aside, it’s 2012, why are we still dealing with death? If I can video chat with people on the otherside of the world, then we should be able to figure out a way to make our bodies last forever, no? It makes sense to me.

      5. Painted_lady says:

        I totally hear you on the depression/irritability/I don’t want to talk about it anymore thing. My grandfather died when I was in college, and I was really close to him (he and my grandmother were my primary babysitters till I was 7). It’s nowhere near as awful as losing a parent, but I remember just feeling this unidentifiable hostility flaring out at crazy times, usually when someone was talking to me, like, “Shut the hell up! Who cares! My grandfather just DIED you asshole!” Nothing else, it showed me who my true friends were and got some pretty toxic people out of my life; about half my friends couldn’t deal, like I was being not-fun purely to inconvenience them and their good time, and they disappeared within a month or so. But I had some really great friends that stuck by me.

      6. Wow…I cannot believe people are such assholes that they had the NERVE to act as though your grief was an inconvenience or raining on their “fun” parade. Shame on them.

      7. delilahgem says:

        Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I’m so sorry for your loss. I imagine you’re still feeling the loss in many ways. I too, feel a lot of anger in addition to/in place of sadness sometimes and it’s kind of unsettling. I hope your comments help the LW.

      8. Oh God! I hated the “so how are YOU?” questions too! I went through phases of wanting to talk and phases of wanting to talk about anything and everything BUT what I was feeling. The wanting to talk was really a result of not knowing what I felt and wanting to figure it out with a few close friends but after a couple months feeling like I was such a burden on them. The ones who pushed me to open up tended to be people I barely knew and I would get so angry (irrationally angry, really). I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to be upbeat too, thinking that’s what everyone expected. But in reality, I think a lot of people are uncomfortable talking about death and don’t really know what to say to someone who just lost their mother/father. So some say nothing, others push for you to open up and others say weirdly inappropriate things (like, “I am so happy that it wasn’t MY mom who died. I don’t know what I’d do without her.” Um, thanks).

        It took me 5 years to finally see a therapist and I too wish I had gone immediately (or much sooner). It is such a difficult mix of emotions to try and work through and it really stayed with me. Well, it’s still with me but in a much healthier way now.

      9. Addie Pray says:

        Based on my experience, I’d write a “how to deal with someone whose parent just died” handbook that goes something like this:

        1. Don’t ever, ever, ever say “if there’s anything I can do, just ask!” I mean, if you’re saying it “just to be nice,” don’t bother. Stick with “I’m sorry for your loss.” Because she’s not going to actually take you up on that offer. She’s not going to say, “well, since you asked, it would really help if you could take out my trash.” There’s nothing worse than making her ask for something she “needs” – or maybe doesn’t “need need” but it sure would make things easier – than when she’s grieving. Just do something nice for pete’s sake. Or, if you are afraid the nice gesture may be unwanted, be specific. Say, “I would like to send over some food, do you eat pizza?” or “Hey, my cleaning lady is making a special stop at your place if that’s ok; what day is good?”

        2. Don’t ask the “So, how are YOU doing?” question – the deep invasive one that Michelle and I hate so much. It’s too much pressure. If you’re dying to talk about “it” to show you care, ask specific questions, “what was your father like?” Someone below made a really good point about that. That’s a good way to open up a discussion if that’s what you want.

        3. If someone is not religious – or you don’t know whether they are religious or not – please don’t bring it up. I’m not religious, and it really annoyed me when people referred to heaven or said “he’s in a better place now.” I wanted to be blunt and say, “you mean in the vase on my mother’s mantel?” Haha. (I’m morbid, sorry.)

        4. Be yourself. Sure, send a card, say you’re sorry, etc., etc., but don’t act nervous around them. I mean, if you want to talk about a funny movie you saw last night, do it! Don’t feel like you have to treat them with kid gloves…

        5. But at the same time, be sensitive. If your friend says “hey, will you get dinner with me on Tuesday?” try to make yourself available. … Even if you don’t talk about “it” during dinner, that dinner out with you talking about nothing may be just what she desperately needs. If you’re trying to get your friend to go out on Friday night but she doesn’t want to and prefers to stay in, don’t give her a hard time about it. Basically, don’t be pushy.

        Ok, I guess this topic is over now but I could talk about death all day long. And thanks for everyone’s nice words to me. I’m doing fine now. Time heals all wounds. Another cliche but totally true!

      10. thank you!!! this is the reason why i didn’t tell anyone at work that my brother passed away 10 years ago. he died on a saturday so by monday everything was over… i would have been even more pissed off had i heard them doing 1, 2, 3. i told only my very close friends. as you, his death has affected me more as the time passed, especially in the last 3 years

      11. That was pretty great.

      12. Landygirl says:

        OT, I was couch surfing the weekend and kept seeing the Chik-Fil-A Bowl (some kind of football game) and it made me think of you.

      13. Addie Pray says:

        I saw it too! It made me smile. And made me wonder if they were serving chicken sticks at the game. Lucky shits.

    2. Addie Pray, my experience with my father’s death was similar to yours. He passed away in May of last year. I’m surprised at how often I think about him, especially since he and I were not very close. (Typing this is making me cry at work.)

      I guess my point was that the death of a parent us hard.

    3. theattack says:

      I agree with PFG-SCR. For someone who has never experienced anything like this, your story will help bring it into perspective for someone else. The grief continues for a long time, and it is never really real until you start noticing them not being there. I felt the exact same way when my grandmother died last December, and while we were close, it can’t be nearly as deep as losing a parent. The grief is the hardest when they don’t show up for a family event, or when something happens you want to tell them about but can’t. It’s the worst in the times when you reflexively expect them to be there, but they’re not. And that stuff happens over time.

    4. Thank you for sharing this Addie. I’m so sorry for the loss of your father.

    5. Painted_lady says:

      Thanks for sharing, AP! It’s definitely a useful perspective. I’m so sorry about your dad, but your insights ring pretty true. From what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen others go through, it’s facing going on with everyday life without that person in it that is the roughest, especially because you’re required both socially and professionally, to re-engage by a certain date.

      1. This spoke to me.

    6. LW here. Thanks for your honest and thoughtful response. (And that goes for all the other great advice as well.) I still don’t know the best way to phrase it, but I am sorry for your personal loss.

      Reading over my submission now, it is about two weeks since I sent it – I already have a different outlook on the situation. His “distance” comes in waves, but in between we have periods of intense closeness too. He still is very closed off about his feelings. Soon after I wrote I tried to lightly bring up the topic of both how he was dealing with the death of his father and also how he felt about us. I didn’t get much of a verbal response. But he continues to show me that he does indeed want to continue a relationship, and despite this awful situation we can both make each other happy.

    7. Your story is so heart-wrenching, Addie. Like everyone else here, I’m sorry for your loss.

      My mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s last spring at a pretty young age (54). Trying to process such a big change in someone who had previously been overall healthy was VERY tough, especially because we weren’t sure how quickly the disease would progress. I cried for 3 days straight after I found out. Fortunately she is currently pretty healthy.

      And now I’m going to make it a point to hug both my parents tomorrow.

    8. Addie-
      That was such a beautiful story…thank you for sharing. It brought tears to my eyes. THIS is the kind of thing that will really help the LW- and the rest of us- in dealing with this situation when it arises.

  8. Will.i.am says:

    My very first girlfriend I met in Sept. ’06, her Father was diagnosed with cancer in Oct. ’06, her Father passed away in Jan. ’07, two days before my birthday. Clearly, there was a lot of emotion going on during that time. A family of 5 girls and a Mother just lost their Dad and devout Husband.

    For me it really wasn’t bad and it didn’t change anything in our relationship. I was there for her and she would have days where it was hard, but we worked to get through it. For a family of 6 women, they were the strongest female knit that I had ever seen. Even their Mother handled the quick decline in health like a champion and all the children did too. I had never seen a family that was that well put together.

    You just have to support him the best way that you can, and if he continues to pull back, then continue to support him from a distance and you do what you need to do to stay mentally healthy. You don’t want to be drug down and feel just as bad about the death as he does, because someone needs to be strong in the relationship to hold the glue together.

    Every situation is different, but remember that you have to be happy too.

  9. My husband´s mother died 15 months ago, after a long fight against cancer (she was first diagnosed about 8 years earlier). Before her death she was a month in ICU, unconscious. So everyone knew it was coming, but still when she passed away it hit the whole family hard.
    As I´ve mentioned before, my husband is terribly noncommunicative (more closed than a doll´s butt as one of his friends says), and even today there are times when he goes into our room by himself to cry or just to be alone for a while, and I know I have to respect that, even though I´m more the talk it out type of person.
    LW, your BF not only lost his father, but he lost him in a terrible, sudden way, without time to actually process beforehand that it was happening. What he needs now is time, to process, to mourn, to be with his family. In your place i think I would talk to him, saying that as much as I would love to be with him, that it was entirely up to him what he needs/wants in this hard time. Maybe he needs some space, maybe he´d rather you stay with him. But I believe it is his decision.

    1. Addie Pray says:

      Not to laugh because I know the death of your mother-in-law only a little over a year ago is still hard for you guys to process … but hahaha “more closed than a dolls’ butt”! Though, I guess it depends on the type of doll.

      1. I know, it always makes me laugh. And a very apt description of my husband (as long as we´re not talking about a blowup doll hahah)

      2. Funny… all I could think of was one of those potty training dolls that “leaks” as soon as you “feed” it from the other end.

  10. Painted_lady says:

    One of the things that is both a blessing and a curse of being involved with someone who lost a parent before you got to know them is just that: you don’t know that parent. Painted Dude lost his dad when we were 14, and at that point I’d met his dad a few times at band concerts and over at their house for movie nights and such. I didn’t know him hardly at all other than his cheeseball sense of humor (which my guy inherited), and part of me feels terrible that I didn’t know the person who’s had such an influence on him even to this day.

    But here’s the wonderful part: PD gets to tell me all about him. I love hearing stories about his dad (there’s this story about hot sauce that he fell in love with that was so hot it melted through the styrofoam cup he’d put it in, melted all the ice in the beer cooler and was working its way through the cooler itself when they found it). PD shares all this stuff with me and I get to hear it. Occasionally it’s sad; he shared once that his dad knew he was likely not going to be around for long and was figuring out how to tell the family when he died. But mostly they’re these incredibly funny, sweet, touching stories about a man I never knew whom the man I love loved very much.

    The thing I’ve heard people who’ve lost someone say is how alone they feel in their sadness because it seems to make everyone else uncomfortable when they talk about their deceased loved one. As my mom put it, “It’s like they think they’re going to remind me my dad died. I don’t need a reminder; I can’t quit thinking about it for a second, and yet I can’t talk about it.” That’s not universal, I’m sure, but it sounds like your boyfriend might be dealing in a similar way. Maybe try asking questions and see where that leads, like “What’s the funniest story you have about your dad?” or something else not so loaded. One day I was curious enough and didn’t really know where to start, so I just asked PD, “I don’t remember your dad very well. What was he like?” and he went on for hours. It was like I’d finally given him permission to remember the good stuff; his family sort of fell apart after his death and so they didn’t talk about him much after.

    Everyone else has excellent advice, and I don’t have much to add in that respect, but you do seem a little lost as to how to talk to your boyfriend now. If he doesn’t want to talk, of course don’t force it, but there’s the possibility that he’s dying to talk about his dad and doesn’t know how for fear of making you uncomfortable.

    1. Hello, LW here. Thanks for your input. Everyone gave such good insight, I do feel a little less lost now. But yeah, you raise a good point about perhaps asking him to tell me a funny story about his dad. He does bring up brief tidbits here and there when something reminds him of him. We just haven’t had “the talk” but maybe that’s not necessary since I’m sure he talks about his sadness plenty with his mom and family.

      1. Liz, I know exactly what you went through. My boyfriend and I had been dating just 2 months when his father passed away unexpectedly. He doesn’t like to really express his feelings and he began to become a bit distant. I started to feel neglected and uncared for. I expressed my concern and he said that he is dealing with a lot right now and it had nothing to do with me. I’m having a hard time dealing with what he is going through because it has been affecting our relationship. I feel a bit selfish. I need to be a bit more compassionate. But at the same time I’m worried about what is going to happen to us. Ive contemplated walking away from the relationship. I don’t want to because I feel like we make a great couple and we make eachother happy. I am trying to be patient with him, but it is so difficult. Im trying to do as much as I can to cheer him up. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing too much. I feel unappreciated sometimes. Am I being too selfish? I don’t know what to do anymore.

    2. I agree with you about talking about the deceased. I talk about my grandfather as much as possible, because even though he’s not here anymore, he’s still a very important part of our family. I know some people don’t feel the same way, but it’s comforting to me. When I die, I hope people continue to talk about me and tell stories.

    3. I’m sure your husband appreciates SO MUCH that he can talk about his father with you. If his family didn’t talk about him much after, I’m sure that was hard for him. I’m a firm believer in keeping the deceased alive through memory. I think any person who dies and is loved deserves that, and it’s great that your husband gets to keep his father’s memory alive with YOU.

  11. When my husband and I lost 2 people within a month last January and February, everything changed. After the initial grief brought us closer together, the more longterm grieving separated us for a time….

    After the funerals, the tears, and the conversations, I went one way and my husband went the other. I felt that there was never a better time to live life–I wanted to seize each and every day and live my life for the people who had passed. My husband on the other hand, felt dejected about life and it began to all seem to random and meaningless for him. He struggled so very deeply with depression, and I felt at such a loss.

    Everyone will react differently to grief. Some people will be completely changed by it. My husband and I were both very changed by our experiences and it changed the very nature of our marriage. You are in the beginning of a relationship, and I think that Wendy’s advice is very sound. But know that this will take a while to settle and more than anything be patient.

    Maybe even trying to getting to know him like he’s a new person–talking and stuff like that. Most of all, don’t lose your confidence because of this. His reactions may be different and he may be buried in grief, but you are still the same, and your being there probably means the world to him.

  12. LW, i havent ever had an experience with losing someone, but i can imagine that a month is not enough time to be better again… i mean really, if you look at just a relationship, a month is usually not enough time to get over just that (they use that term- grieving the loss of the relationship), and this is so much more. i mean try to imagine a relationship that had lasted your entire life and then ended suddenly. and then change the dynamics of a relationship to one of a parent/child… one month just isnt enough time. i think wendy has amazing advice and so did people on here who have gone through it… take that to heart and just try to put yourself in his shoes. would you be able to re-engage after a month? i know i wouldnt…

  13. I think it’s also good to take into account this is your boyfriends first holiday season without his dad, on top of him dying very recently. My husband lost his dad to cancer in March. Six months later he seemed to be doing pretty well. Once November and December rolled around, well, he’s been a total mess. Neither one of us realized the holidays would be so hard to get through… This is probably a double whammy for your bf. Be as compassionate and patient as possible. Even if you don’t end up with this guy forever, you are doing a wonderful thing for him by being his support system through this extremely difficult time.

  14. My mother passed away almost 10 years ago. While she had been sick much of my life, and had been in and out of the hospital for over a year before she passed, it still felt sudden. I had just started dating someone I was friends with, and I still remember how strong he was for me during that time. I also remember being a wreck also after the first month, once things had returned to being routine. In my case, I was emotionally erratic, and he knew to be patient with me, and you need to do the same here. He is still coming to you and that is huge. If I’ve learned anything about guys is that they rarely do things they don’t want to. Like with all new relationships, give this time.

  15. “I really like him and want to stick this out, but my insecurities are telling me he is pulling away…I want to just believe it is solely because of his father, but I don’t know. I feel awful that this happened to him, and I don’t know how to process everything.”

    It is absolutely normal to feel lost. This is not an easy situation to be in and I agree with Wendy who said that it is a tough…“especially since the two of you haven’t had a chance to establish a “strong foundation” for the relationship, but “it doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed.” For those who have not lost a family member, a friend, or anyone close to them is really hard to understand the process of grieving. It is really hard to understand it unless we go through this process ourselves. And even if we experience it, it doesn’t mean that we will be able to perfectly deal with it when someone else is going through it. The reason for that is that grieving has individual features and it is somewhat different for everyone.

    That being said, I experienced a similar situation once when I was dating someone; my ex-boyfriend: “E” who lost his father during our relationship. Although we had been dating for a while (about a year) when the tragedy happened, E’s loss caused me similar mixed feelings that you are having right now. It is ok to question yourself, him and the relationship at first, but then you really have to take a step back and look at the facts of the situation.
    The reality is that it has only been a month since “W’s” father passed away suddenly. I agree with PFG-SCR’s comment that even though your boyfriend isn’t as crazy about you as he was before his father’s death, “he is not withdrawn” from you as you still speak daily and meet multiple times a week.

    A serious trauma that “carves” very deep into the life of a person makes a person turn to the ones he/she had developed a deep and strong relationship with. Given the fact that you didn’t have much time to develop a really deep relationship with W in the short period of time you were dating, it is normal that he pulls away from the ones whom he had not been able to develop a close relationship with and gravitate more toward the ones that he has had a strong relationship with.

    Use this time to learn about him, yourself, and life and to develop a deeper relationship with him according to the opportunities this situation gives you. You both have to understand this state and find a way to deal with it. Moreover, you both have to be able to work through this.

    If you see that despite your patience and every effort to make your relationship work, your boyfriend is still not able to develop a deeper bond with you after a significant period of time, then consider the possibility that he is not able to work through his part of the relationship in a healthy way.

    There will be other major stresses, problems, crisis, and traumas coming in life and as a couple you want to effectively deal with them.

  16. Worried sick says:

    My bF was told his dad would possibly not make it through the week at the end of March. His dad passed away the middle of April ’12 from being sick with cancer for sevearl years.Its been 4 month’s since I have heard from my boyfriend although I send care packages, funny jokes & encouraging statements???? I have no clue as 2 what his emotional state is!!!! He said he want to get through it alone… He made it very clear he love me but need this time… What do I do?? Do I continue 2 text, send things although he don’t respond or back up for a month or 2??

  17. This helped alot, Im 18 and my boyfriend is 21 and his father just passed away out of the blue. I really appreciate you taking time to explain how to make it work and if were not comfortable how to let them know.

  18. Breanne G says:

    Hello, im 19 yrs. old and my boyfriends father passed away on our 2 month anniversary from a sudden heart attack. I knew i had to be there for him (and wanted to). I didn’t really know his dad, or anyone else in his family, so going to the funeral was really awkward for me; but i knew i had to go. For him. Its been three months now and my boyfriend still seems distant.

    I feel relieved that i found this letter and response, because i really don’t know how to deal with this. When i read this letter, it felt like someone knew exactly what i was going through. Wendy’s response is going to help me so much. I just feel like some of this weight is lifted. I only hope that we will get through this and his pain will subside, because it kills me to see him this way.

  19. Jeannette says:

    HELP! I just need some support right now. I started seeing a man last May. We found each other after both having gone through so much. His exes had mostly all left him, had affairs, etc. We were both tired of it and were SO ecstatic to have found each other. The more time we spent together, the more it became obvious that this was ‘it’. Fast forward to 1 month ago. Things were still wonderful. His father, who’d had really bad health, became even sicker. “J” had to go to him. “J” had a very long history of abandonment, resentment, etc. with his father, so this was not easy for him. Having a 21 year old son himself, he really wanted to set the right example. Anyway, he fled to his dad’s state to be by his side, and he passed away 1 week later. He really wanted me to go with him to the funeral, and to be with him for support. I did. That’s what you do. Needless to say, there were a lot of feelings coming up that he didn’t expect. A lot of anger, a lot of sadness, etc. We got back home, it was Christmas – another stressful time in its own. I noticed him getting a little more distant in this time, and I completely understand that considering what he’s going through. 2 days ago I volunteered to not come over to his place, to give him space, and he told me that we needed to “talk”. He didn’t feel that his love for me was as strong for me as my love for him. I’m devastated. . I know this probably has a LOT to do with him grieving and not being able to handle any other emotion at the moment. When I asked him when he’d started feeling ‘not as ‘in love’ as me’, he gave me a very specific time of 4-5 weeks, as opposed to a wishy washy response. This is basically the time he started dealing with his dad. He said he’s very sorry, he wish it could have worked out, but he feels that my feelings for him (just in the last few weeks) were much stronger than those he felt. I need some hugs. I need some advice. I need some help.

  20. My partner and I have been together 3 months, friends for 7 months. His mum just had a stroke and he has had some health scares this week, I’m driving him to see her in hospital tomorrow as I think he’s quite shaken by it – do you think it’s appropriate to take a day off work to do this?

  21. I am really curious about how Liz’s relationship worked out. I am in a very similar situation, with the exception that this was my boyfriend’s son, lost to suicide three months ago, and we’ve been together 2 years………

  22. Hi.. I am currently experiencing the same. My boyfriend step daughter died suddenly when my bf was on vacation. He is kinda annoys with me sometimes, irritable, losing interest in workingout, he is not in the mood to talk about our relationship. He easily get mad when I bring up about us. I need advice. He knew his stepdaughter 33 years now. I need enlightenment pls.. Thank you

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