“My Girlfriend is Grieving Her Dead Male Co-Worker Like She Was In Love With Him”

My situation is similar to LW1’s in this column but with some big differences. My girlfriend and I have been dating for two years, and about a year into our relationship her coworker died. (I am 26, she is 23, and he was 31.) They worked in a restaurant together and I knew they were close friends as she told me a lot about him. I met him once briefly and he seemed like a good guy. I always trusted her and never thought there was anything more than friendship between the two of them. When he died, she was very sad and I tried my very best to be there for her. But in her grieving she started saying some things that made me uncomfortable, such as “I know in another life we would have been together,” and “I knew he had a crush on me,” and “What we had was so real — our love was real,” and other things along the same lines. I found a note she had written that said a bunch of things like “I wish we were together.” At the time I only comforted her and didn’t challenge these feelings — after all, she had a lot of raw emotion she was trying to process. I never brought up the note, but it really hurt my feelings.

A few months after this we broke up and had no contact for about three months. It wasn’t easy, but I was having some personal issues (depression) and our relationship was struggling. We got back together about four months ago and things have been the best they’ve ever been. But she now has his initials tattooed on her wrist, which again has made me feel a bit betrayed, but I haven’t brought it up and had come to terms about the situation. A few weeks ago though she went to his parents’ house to have a celebration of life-type get-together. It was on my birthday and she didn’t text me all day, only calling me at 9 pm. I said I was worried about her as I was expecting to hear from her sooner. She knew I was upset and clearly felt bad for not calling sooner. The mom had knitted her a blanket (which is really nice) but it all makes me feel so secondary.

It’s been a year now since her coworker died and the way she’s grieving is really taking a toll on me. This is not her late boyfriend she’s grieving — it’s a coworker she was friends with while we were already together. I know she loves me, but she makes me feel like she is not “in” love with me. If she’s thinking about her and her dead friend being together “in another world” then how are we going to be together in this world? She sleeps under a blanket made by his mother and is reminded of him every time she looks down at her wrist. I love her so much, but it kills me knowing she wishes she could have broken up with me and dated this guy instead.

How do I detach my ego from this situation and be grateful for what we have now? Am I doing myself a disservice for being with someone who loves someone else? If this is how she reacts this time, how many other guy friends will turn into potential partners once they pass? I’m very confused and would love some insight. — Feeling Secondary

You sound like a compassionate and caring boyfriend who’s been supportive of his girlfriend as she grieves a friend. The problem is that you’ve let your sympathy for your girlfriend’s pain and grief cloud the very real – and justified – feelings you are having around the way your girlfriend treats you and regards your relationship. Rather than “detach your ego” and “be grateful for what you have,” which is a great practice for morning meditations but less powerful in interpersonal relationships, I urge you to re-attach your ego and stop settling for crumbs of attention from the very person who should be prioritizing you.

You say your girlfriend makes you feel like she isn’t in love with you. She makes you feel “secondary” (to a dead co-worker). She ignores you on your birthday, and she gives you reason to doubt her commitment to you. Alone, each of these is reason enough to deeply re-consider the value of this relationship, and taken all together they should have you running. The dead friend is almost beside the point, although you can’t ignore the signs that what your girlfriend felt for him while he was alive was more than platonic and in his death is deeper than the feelings she ever expresses for you. What is most relevant though is how she makes you feel, and she makes you feel like you aren’t very important — like you’re an afterthought.

What is perhaps even more troubling is your unwillingness or inability to communicate your feelings to your girlfriend or even to yourself. You seem almost apologetic for not being more immune to the rejection you’re experiencing, wondering if you should simply “be grateful for what you have,” as if you aren’t worth more than what you’re getting – as if you don’t deserve to be prioritized by the person you’re in a relationship with. That you asked whether you’re doing yourself a disservice being with someone who loves someone else at least hints at an understanding that this isn’t a healthy or empowered position to be in.

Yes, you are doing yourself a disservice! (And if it matters to you, you’re doing your girlfriend a disservice, too). If things with your girlfriend over the past four months are, as you say, “the best they’ve ever been,” your expectations for what a great relationship looks and feels like are really out of whack. If someone can ignore you on your birthday, get another man’s initials tattooed on her wrist, and make you feel like she’s not in love with you all during what you consider the best time of your relationship, I suggest you take some time off from dating and seek some therapy to address the incredibly low expectations you set and why you are so willing to settle for so little.


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


  1. anonymousse says:

    This is so weird and sad. It honestly sounds like she likes the attention and fantasizing about ‘what if.’ I have come across a lot of people who love to latch on to a tragedy and revel in it.

    You definitely should tell her how this behavior makes you feel and break up with her.

  2. Oh honey no. I don’t know if your girlfriend is lying to you about their relationship or is just a drama queen. I suppose it doesn’t really matter because Wendy has it right – she’s not making you, alive and present you, feel cherished and worthy.

    You deserve so much more than someone who spends your birthday having a celebration of life memorial for a dead person. “Celebrate who’s alive” is the intent – and her execution of that intent was to ignore you, living person.

    If you feel secondary and things are better than ever – then man, just imagine if you were with someone who actually made you feel loved. That would be amazing. That’s what you deserve. Break up with her and go find that person.

  3. Bittergaymark says:

    Yeah. This sounds to me like a relationship that’s about as dead as her coworker. MOA. You deserve way, wayyyyyyyy better.
    PS. The tattoo thing is just creepy and way off.

  4. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    You should move on. There is nothing for you in this relationship.

    It sounds like she has developed a fantasy relationship with this guy. They were friends but now she has them in some eternal love relationship. Maybe she had a crush on him and he wasn’t interested in anything more than friends. Now that he’s gone she can fantasize about how perfect they would have been together. You can’t compete with a fantasy. He will always be perfect in death. He can’t ever do anything to disappoint her.

    She is so emotionally wrapped up in him that there is no room in her life for you.

  5. I’m kind of a romantic at heart, and to me this sounds like someone she is pining her heart out for this person. I think that either she was in love and/or hiding her true feeling s for you or possibly her true feelings became apparent after his death -or- she had feelings for him and she is emotionally tied up in a fantasy of the what-if scenario or viewing the ‘relationship’ through rose-colored glasses. The ‘one who got away’ will never be able to let her down now, or contradict her idea that he would have been the perfect one if she had pursued it. Either way, it’s unfair to you and I’m sorry you’re going through this.

  6. I agree with Wendy and everyone else. Also, a person who does this doesn’t sound…stable. I wonder what sort of ongoing relationship/communication she has had with her co-workers parents, that the mom knitted a blanket for her.

  7. I don’t know why everyone, including LW, sees his gf as having a ‘fantasy relationship’ with her now-dead co-worker. The most likely explanation is that they had a real, fully-sexual relationship of some duration, which she backed away from for some reason, and now regrets doing so. In any case, she sees this guy and not LW as having been the great love to this point in her young life.

  8. I agree with ron. Probably she had a relationship with the guy. Or giving the benefit of doubt, a very strong friendship with him.
    None of both matters at this point. Your needs are not being covered, and she doesn’t make you feel cherished and loved. Move on already.

  9. Just run. She is being so manipulative and so dismissive and oppressive of you, no matter how good the great things are about her, you can get them from someone who isn’t using you as a bit player in the drama of their life. You’ve been very understanding so I’m sure you have plenty of empathy which will lead to happier relationships forthwith but for now sail on she wants to wallow and why stay in a stagnant pool with someone who doesn’t even acknowledge you are in the water?

  10. Anonymous says:

    People can make up crazy shit in their heads. A few years ago my parents called to tell me they ran into one of my best friends from highschool — Linda. I had no idea who they were talking about. Finally, months later — with the help of my old dusty yearbooks, I figured it out. Linda was a girl I sat next to in a class or two freshman year. I dunno, I guess we chatted a bit but we were so not ever even friends much less best friends. And yet — They ran into her several times at the Mall and she kept going on and on about me. We we such friends! Best friends! It was just… bizarre. The way this LW has the deceased parents making her quilts is similarly bizarre. If I had been dead I can see this whackjob telling my parents about our big romance. It still skeeves me out when I think about it.
    The GF could just be a whackjob. Seriously.

  11. allathian says:

    She doesn’t love you. If she did, she wouldn’t treat you like shit. Sure, she’s grieving, but she’s just using you. Your story confirms my opinion, if you break up, never, ever believe it will be better the second time around. Sure, some few exceptions exist, but it requires a lot of work from both parties and it’s rarely worth it – if it’s broken, it’s broken.

    Just MOA and give yourself a chance to find someone who isn’t pining for anyone else, alive or dead, but who is committed to a relationship with you.

  12. ArtsyGirl says:

    What are the possible scenarios in this situation?
    1) She was cheating on you with this guy and had deep feelings for him which makes her mourning understandable but horrible for you
    2) She had unresolved feelings for this guy and his death has made them surface – again horrible for you since she was in and is now in a relationship with you
    3) She is a fantasist who has now built up a deep love between them that never existed in life which suggests she is at best a melodramatic person and at worst delusional – again this is horrible for you since no one wants to live with a Miss Haversham, wandering around the house claiming that everything reminds her of her coworker and how they would have had an endless, immortal love of the ages.
    Basically, in no way does this situation help you. She is clearly mourning another guy and happy to play “what could have been” rather than living in reality. Dump her and find someone that prioritizes you as a partner.

  13. This relationship is one sided, need to end it and block her and find yourself a true mate that will make you feel loved and cherished as you do you them. That tatoo and letter and blanket will make you lose your hair and turn grey and old very quickly, probably even die from stress, not worth it.

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