A male reader, I’ll call him Mark, writes that he recently reconnected with his high school sweetheart from 35 years ago, whose husband had died less than a year ago. Mark and his former sweetheart met again, enjoyed each other’s company (no sex), then later spent a week together and made love joyfully.
Their last day together, she became distant and uncommunicative, and when he returned home, she retreated from the usual phone and email messages they had exchanged regularly before that. She emailed him only once, saying she was having a hard time and was depressed with grief for her husband. She felt strong chemistry with Mark, but wasn’t ready for the kind of relationship that Mark seemed to want. She needs to deal with her issues and doesn’t want to talk to him right now. She hopes he’ll understand.
Mark loves her and is confused. “Did I get dumped — or what?” he asked me.
I don’t know either of them, but I have strong feelings that I do know what’s going on with her because I know the emotional turmoil of grieving and yet wanting to grab onto life. Let me share my experience, hoping that it will help Mark and others in this situation:
For the first six months or so after Robert died, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting a relationship again. After all, I had been honored with seven years of the most profound love with my soul mate — no new man could compare, and why would I want second best after experiencing “best”?
Then the life within me started stirring, then surging. How strange and wonderful that the life force is as strong as it is! I started to feel my sensuality gently knocking on my emotional door, asking to be let in (or maybe let out). I was bewildered and excited by my attraction to a casual friend who was becoming a close confidant.
Fortunately this friend is as committed to honest communication as I am, and was open about discussing my feelings and his own. We both understood that I was heavily into my grieving process still, and it wasn’t the right time to make any decisions or take any actions that I might regret later.
We’re all different in the “right” way to grieve. Not taking our relationship to the next level was the right path for me, and I am grateful to my friend for understanding (even better than I did) that pushing our friendship into something more had potential to hurt, even destroy, the friendship.
I probably would have reacted the way Mark’s lover did — throwing herself into sex and joy and the feelings of coming back to life after an emotional death, but then realizing she was not done grieving and in fact was now having a harder time because she had let herself get involved with someone else too soon.
Mark tells me, “I don’t want to lose this special person in my life.”
So here’s my advice to Mark:
Let her know that you do understand, and that grief is a powerful process with its own timeline that can’t be shortened. Tell her that you want to be in her life in whatever way is possible for her right now, and if that means going back to being non-sexual friends, of course you’ll do that. You do need to understand what she needs and wants from you, even if that changes hourly (grief mood swings are powerful and unpredictable). If she regrets getting sexual with you, could she please tell you so you understand better?
And then let her be. If it’s right, she’ll be back when she’s ready. If it’s not, I hope she can tell you so you can move on.
I hope this is helpful, Mark. Thank you for sharing it with me and with my readers here.