Ask Ellie: Still-grieving widow not capable of being true partner

Advice columnist EllieDear Ellie: I’ve been dating a widower in his mid-60s for 11 months. I’m 61 and divorced. We met online. We’re both professionals and enjoy the same activities.

After we’d been dating for a month, I learned his wife had passed away two weeks before we met (after a very long illness). They hadn’t had a physical relationship for seven years.

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I was stunned by how quickly he started looking, but he’s incredibly romantic and fun to be with, and said he was smitten with me. So, I kept seeing him.

At the four-month mark, he started seeing a therapist about an emotional crash. He cried nightly for hours and choked up frequently when we were together. I limited our dates to Saturday/Sunday over seven months. He’s told no one about me, though he’s met my kids and my friends. He insists he’s in love with me.

The anniversary of her passing is soon, and I want to see if he’ll get through his grieving and focus on us.

He doesn’t want to break up but isn’t ready for marriage or living together. He also doesn’t want his stepdaughter to learn about me because she might stop talking to him.

I think we could be a great couple if/when he gets through the grieving. Is it worth waiting? I feel like the other woman.

Grief vs Romance

The romantic start to your dating was like a mid-life dream for you both. But he was hiding the very significant fact of his late wife’s recent passing.

His emotional crash four months later, though disturbing to you, was actually a positive sign if you have a future together. It would be far more worrisome if he could move on from such a loss so quickly and easily.

Still, his grief since that time has revealed new issues.

His keeping you a secret, and hiding you from his stepdaughter, places you and the relationship in the background for an unknown length of time.

And the anniversary of his late-wife’s death is sure to exacerbate his feelings of loss and possibly guilt, too.

I understand how hard it is for you to face the clear reality of this situation: He’s just not capable of being a true partner at this time.

You’re correct that it’s an unhealthy situation. Take a break. Instead of anticipating his “getting through his grieving,” encourage him to keep seeing his therapist. If you both hope to eventually re-connect, read some of the current books on grief as an ongoing process.

Feedback regarding whether to stay in a difficult marriage “for the children” (March 19):

Reader: I divorced three years ago after a 10-year marriage, with children ages four and seven. We’d grown apart and were no longer a team.

I moved one kilometre away from their father, so the kids kept the same school/bus route/friends. They adjusted immediately to the new house and new schedule.

My friend is currently divorcing. Her kids, age 12 and 14, display all the negative emotions and behaviours common to adolescents/teens.

I believe that if it’s clear that a marriage has no future, it’s best to move on while the kids are young and they’ll adjust. The older they are, the more damage to their ability to trust and their sense of security.

It’s imperative that all adults involved have a positive attitude about the change. When people use the term “broken home” or view divorce like a horrible accident, that’s damaging to kids of any age. Divorcing is sometimes a case of “putting the kids first,” not later.

Ellie’s tip of the day

When a lover insists on hiding the relationship, take a break until a healthy partnership is possible.

Send questions to ellie@thestar.ca.

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