Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Recently Widowed Boyfriend Has Stopped Saying ‘I Love You'”

I recently re-connected with my high school boyfriend and we started dating soon after. He lost his wife to her second round of cancer in January. He had been her caretaker for the majority of the three years before she passed. He said he loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me, traveling and all. He has two children who have been very judgmental about his dating me, due to their own grief. Right before his daughter got married and the day after what would have been his and his wife’s 30th anniversary, he stopped saying “I love you” and told me he was numb. My friends say to be supportive and he will get through this. I just felt like I was blindsided and judged by his children. — Blindsided By Kids

I’m struck by how you phrased what “would have been his and his wife’s 30th anniversary.” It *was* the 30th anniversary of the day your boyfriend and his late wife married. There’s no “would have been” about it. Phrasing it like the anniversary only exists if both spouses are alive is dismissive, like the death of your boyfriend’s wife erased their marriage, their love, and their history together. It doesn’t work that way. When people vow to stay married “until death do us part,” they aren’t agreeing to only love and celebrate each other until death parts them.

Love doesn’t disappear when someone dies – it simply changes shape. In time, space is made for new and different love – but the love that existed before is still there; it doesn’t evaporate into thin air. If you are blindsided by this — blindsided that your boyfriend might have conflicting feelings so soon after losing his wife – it isn’t your boyfriend’s fault and it most certainly isn’t his grieving kids’ fault; frankly, it’s your own fault. You were naive to think a man could whole-heartedly commit to you in the way you crave mere months after his wife of nearly 30 years passed away. Can someone in his shoes find new love and commit so quickly? Yeah, I know for a fact it happens. But to expect it – to count on it, to feel bitter and blindsided when it doesn’t? Well, that suggests a shallow understanding of both grief and love.

It sounds to me that you were a bit of a rebound for your old high school boyfriend – a way of delaying or softening the unyielding punch of grief. That doesn’t mean that your boyfriend lied to you — and if he did, it’s only because he was lying to himself; he may very well love you and want a future with you. But he’s clearly still wading through the currents of grief, and the life jacket your relationship provided him early on is no longer cutting it. He needs some space to learn how to coast and float with the current until it weakens enough that he can stand on his own two feet. This isn’t his fault or your fault or his kids’ fault. This is life, this is grief, and this is love – though whether any of it is for you will need to be determined later.

The love he shares with his wife still exists. It has and is changing shape, hopefully making space for new love — space that maybe you will fit seamlessly into. But your boyfriend is letting you know in the only way he’s able to right now that he isn’t quite as ready for new love as he thought it was. If you want to preserve any chance of a relationship with this man once his heart has fully healed, set him free. As the saying goes: If he doesn’t come back, he was never yours to begin with.

My boyfriend of over a year now tells me he is not interested in meeting my kids. He said that he just doesn’t think it’s right. I want to agree and see his side, but every other week when I get my children, I don’t see him and I’m hurt. My kids are 11 and 12, and although I don’t want them to lose a relationship if we don’t work out, I don’t feel like his not meeting them is the answer either. Your advice is appreciated. — Ready to Introduce the Kids

 
He knows that you don’t want your kids losing a relationship if yours with him doesn’t work out, which is why he has zero interest in meeting them. This should tell you exactly everything you need to know about his long-term commitment to you and where he sees your relationship going.

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11 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Jennifer December 3, 2019, 9:37 am

    Props to LW2 for allowing her relationship to grow for a year without forcing an introduction with her kids to a guy not interested in them. Maybe this was done against her wishes, but still. I wish I had the same experience growing up. And if he is not interested in your kids at this point, he is not the guy for you. If they were in their thirties or something, maybe. But your kids are too young to have an ambivalent person in your lives.

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    anonymousse December 3, 2019, 9:49 am

    LW1- You said recently. Is it really a shock that he might not be ready to keep saying he loves you? Doesn’t it seem pretty fast to say that?

    His kids probably do not judge you for dating their dad. They don’t like the idea of their dad for dating you so soon after losing his wife of thirty years. Maybe the concern is that he’s been distracting himself with you and trying not to grieve. Obviously this recent anniversary has been hard on him. Do not make this into an issue between you and his kids. All that will do is show how insecure you are. How self concerned you are. It has nothing to do with you.

    If you want this man in your life, you need to let him grieve. That means being patient, caring and supportive. If you can’t be that person, you should stop dating him. He’s not going to take your side against his children.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse December 3, 2019, 9:50 am

    LW2- he doesn’t want to meet your kids because he doesn’t see long term potential with you. Stop wasting your time.

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    Prognosti-gator December 3, 2019, 12:16 pm

    LW2 – did you ask your boyfriend WHEN he thinks it’d be right? There’s a difference between, “I don’t want to meet your kids, ever” and “I believe you should be dating X long, or be talking about marriage, etc. before meeting”

    The latter being something that might indicate he is interested in you for the long-run, but just has a differing view of when is appropriate to family blend. That’s the kind of thing that could be workable. The former, not so much. That’s just a lost cause.

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  • avatar

    JudgeSheryl December 3, 2019, 1:11 pm

    While I agree with most of advice for LW1, the first comment about the “would have been” is a pretty common phase to use for anniversaries or birthdays when a person passes away. Sure, it’s technically correct it is an anniversary of the day, but they were not married 30 years, so I think using this phrase alone isn’t being “insensitive”. Same thing when the birthday of a loved one passes, “tomorrow would have been grandma’s 100th birthday”. Yes, 100 years since her actual birth, but it’s recognizing she didn’t actually reach 100 years of life.

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    • avatar

      Dear Wendy December 3, 2019, 1:59 pm

      Yeah, I’m aware it’s a common phrase but that doesn’t mean it’s correct. A wedding anniversary is the anniversary of a wedding. A couple’s 30th wedding anniversary is the day that falls 30 years to the day after the wedding. That doesn’t change because someone died. Their wedding date remains the same. You could say: “They would have been married 30 years today,” and you could say: “Today is their 30th wedding anniversary” and you could say: ” This is the 30th anniversary of their wedding day” and all are correct. “This would have been their 30th wedding anniversary” is both insensitive (especially bc the wife’s death was so recent) and technically incorrect because the wedding date never changed, even after a spouse died.

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      • avatar

        JudgeSheryl December 3, 2019, 2:57 pm

        Again, just bc it’s technically incorrect doesn’t mean she is being insensitive on that alone. She clearly recognized that it was a milestone date for him, and it’s common to phrase it that way. Seemed like an unnecessary criticism for using incorrect grammar.

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        Dear Wendy December 3, 2019, 3:14 pm

        The criticism isn’t about the grammar, come on. And do we know she “clearly recognized it was a milestone for him”? Like, to him? I wonder…

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    Essie December 3, 2019, 2:29 pm

    This reads to me like the boyfriend moved way too fast and is now putting the brakes on a bit. It’s easy to see how that can happen, it must have felt wonderful to have some joy in his life after three years of taking care of a dying wife, and drowning in his and their childrens’ grief for months. He got carried away, hence the “I love you” and talking about spending his life with you. That was pretty obviously too much, too soon.

    And now with the upcoming anniversary of their wedding, the grief is rising up again. This is normal. The grief is going to be with him in some form probably for the rest of his life.

    Don’t see yourself as being in competition with her ghost. You occupy a different place in his heart.

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  • avatar

    CurlyQue December 3, 2019, 3:08 pm

    LW1, you’re going to need to dial this relationship and your expectations WAY back if you want to continue seeing him. All the way back to supportive friend with zero expectations. He moved on very very very very very fast and you were both naive to think this was anything more than him escaping his grief for a brief time.

    …i also hope you didn’t go to the daughter’s wedding. There is no way i would’ve allowed my father to bring a strange woman to my wedding literally MONTHS after losing my mother. If you did go and that is when you felt judged, then yeah, he shouldn’t have brought you in the first place.

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  • avatar

    mellanthe January 17, 2020, 5:14 am

    I don’t think it’s that simple. We celebrate anniversaries when we’re alive. If one half of a couple has passed, it’s not unusual for people to say “It would have been our 30th anniversary if she were alive” in the same way people say “It would have been mum’s 80th birthday today”. It’s not because people don’t love them, or they’ve stopped caring, but people stop actively having anniversaries or birthdays when they die. I’m not a native English speaker, so maybe I see it differently, I don’t know.

    Regardless, grief is complicated, and he’s probably going through a lot. Be gentle on him, don’t push him and his family, and allow them to grieve.

    LW2: every relationship has its own pace, but eventually any man who deals with you will have to meet your kids if all goes well. If he doesn’t want to, that may say something about where he sees it going.

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