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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. We’d have pretty constant communication and hung out frequently. 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 at every stage of the funeral, 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, but 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.
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