Dear Ellie: I’ve been dating a man who was widowed four years ago. A mutual acquaintance introduced us eight months ago. I’m the first woman he’s been with since his wife of 29 years died.
They have two adult children, a son and a daughter. He’s 56. I’m divorced, 35, and have no children.
He’s a very thoughtful person who admitted to feeling “awkward” about the dating process…e.g. whether to hold hands when walking together (we now do this), and when to hug before going to our separate homes (we now do this too).
Things seemed to progress naturally. Early on, he described his late wife to me — her background, their meeting at work, starting a family, buying their first home, etc. He also explained her illness and how it progressed.
He slept over that night and cried in my arms. We didn’t have sex … he said he wanted the first time to be our own special beginning.
I know it’s early to predict the future but I do know that I love him and believe he loves me. However, some things worry me.
There are still photos of his wife, and of them together everywhere in his house. The only place without a “couples” photo, is in his bedroom.
He removed them after we became intimate and I’d started occasionally sleeping over there if it was more convenient.
But what worries me more is what seems like a small thing but feels big.
He’s kept her scarves on a hanger in his closet. They’re mostly small, ones she regularly wore at her neck (in every photo) and some large scarves that she’d draped over her shoulders. To me, it’s like they’re a statement that she’s still there.
I know it sounds crazy. Am I jealous of a woman who died (too young!) of cancer? Is the man I love still missing her too much to be fully committed to me? Can I ever get rid of those scarves?
I want this relationship to last, but only with two of us in it. Is it too soon to ask where we’re heading?
His Loss, My Love
Eight months of dating is still an introduction phase between you two, given his loss, and not yet a full-on reliable relationship. Being intimate together is sharing a gift of romance and sex, but not, in itself, a commitment.
These are plain truths, existing along with the affection, warmth, and growing closeness between you and this man. And he’s still internally grieving.
If anyone in your life that you loved has died — e.g. a parent or grandparent, you have felt that pain intensely, and then periodically. Now, imagine the ongoing wrench from his past, when his partner of 29 years was gone forever.
Yet, after four years, he’s trying very hard to move on, with you at his side.
Will it last? Look at his character, and his signals:
He has a soul that honours his late wife. He dates you openly and, with honesty, and has shared her memory so you’ll know who she was.
In time, if the relationship grows comfortably and feels natural to you both, you’ll be able to hear about their past family highlights, and be happy for him.
Meanwhile, let things continue gently, with casual discussion about your appreciation of him as a person and the good vibes you share.
FEEDBACK regarding my advice on your advice (Feb. 23):
“You replied to the letter-writer: “Attend an Al-Anon group meeting for people with alcoholic loved ones. Many people say these meetings changed their sense of helplessness/responsibility regarding the drinker, to understanding how to handle their own response.”
“You’ve written similar advice to other letter-writers on this topic.
“The problem is, it’s anecdotal. You base it on other people’s experience.
“It’d benefit you, and ultimately your readers, if you sat in on some AA sessions and experience it yourself. It’d be a more “sincere” suggestion.
“Keep up the good work!”
Ellie: I certainly have attended Alcoholics’ Anonymous sessions with people dear and close to me. I’ve cried, and learned. I’ve also been privy to many Al-Anon proceedings. But just as my letter-writers are given anonymity, I don’t share my every personal connection. I do share my acquired knowledge, the research I do, and my years of communication with countless readers.
Ellie’s tip of the day
A new relationship with a widow or widower, needs to be given time and also caring consideration for the other’s loss and their ongoing grieving.
Send relationship questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.