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Dating A Widower Who Won’t Commit

He’s attracted to you (he says) and loves to be in your company. But – commitment? Your widower seems no closer now than he was on the day you met. A senior man who has lost a beloved wife will be cautious about verbalizing sentiments he can be held accountable for.

“Commitment” is a loaded word that sounds scary to a widower, whether his wife died six months or six years ago. If he’s dating you exclusively, this might add up to commitment in his mind. If your own quest is for a more formal arrangement, such as marriage, or just all-the-time togetherness, you two could be on a collision course.

Successfully dating a widower is an exercise in caution and patience. He’s open and cheerful one moment and closed down the next.  He covers you with compliments, showers you with gifts, and makes love to you eagerly — then he may disappear for weeks.

Signs of reluctance are invisible when your heart is full of hope. You’re focusing on his tenderness and generosity, believing they are evidence that commitment is just around the corner. But if the longed-for statement of intent is taking a bit too long, it’s time to wonder if there’s a hard truth lurking behind his engaging smile. Here what to look for:

  • Mood Swings

You never know which of his personalities will be dominant at any one time. He is torn between positive and negative emotions. He denies that these are related to sadness, guilt, or the stress of being single after being partnered for decades. He wants to get a grip but he’s having a difficult time of it. This may be a temporary state, but if it lasts too long, it’s a warning sign.

  • Defensiveness

His emotional ups and downs play havoc with your own emotional well-being. When you try to talk to him about this, he calls you impatient and complains that you’re pressuring him. You ask him to be more open, more sensitive. He says he’s plenty sensitive and it’s you who should try to understand how long it takes to recover from loss.

  • Mysterious Disappearances

He tells you he has to visit a friend, attend a conference, tour a worksite, or see a client in a city far away. The details are foggy and you’re not invited to go with him. “Maybe next time” is a promise you might hold on to, but more often than not it means “never” – or at best “a long time in the future.” Consider the possibility that there is someone else, but don’t get all accusatory until there’s some evidence.

  • Guarded Communications With His Kids

The dependency on his children began during the first months of his loss, when they were the most obvious source of comfort. Eventually it became the central characteristic of the family relationship. He has agreed several times to introduce them to you, but at the last minute he backs down. He thinks they’ll be intensely disapproving, or else he wouldn’t “protect” them from you.

  • Fear Of Friends’ Disapproval

Will his friends think he’s dating too soon? Will they think you’re unworthy? Will they tease him or criticize him behind his back?  A man who won’t proudly accompany you to where others will see you together is not serious about you, and — forgive me — I’d go so far as to question his character.

 

If you recognize any of these behaviors, it may be that you will never be a full partner of this man. You’ll either have to give him up or station yourself on his life’s periphery.

It’s not impossible that it’s merely too soon for him to make a commitment (he’s still grieving actively). But a man you’ve truly enchanted will not only be eager to spend time with you, he’ll want to involve you in almost everything he does. If he’s one of those men who is stalling because he’s not capable of commitment, and you care enough about him to accept that fact, do so with grace. But don’t hang around too long. Don’t enable his indecision. Life is short, and we’re not teenagers. Move up, up and away from a man who’s not drawing you into the whole of his life.

 

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'Dating A Widower Who Won’t Commit' have 38 comments

  1. September 1, 2017 @ 7:46 am Sienna

    Dixie — I am truly sad to hear how heartbroken you feel. Unfortunately, your situation is not uncommon, though the photo right by the bedside is a bit much. I have learned from my own experience and the experiences of women who have contacted me on this site that hanging on to certain of these memorabilia (photos, clothes, the Facebook ID) is not as insensitive as it seems at first. These items are there because they have always been there and there is no getting rid of them until he is ready to face the task. In other words, sometimes it is not insensitivity, but inertia, that prevents their removal. The more important issue is his apparent emotional distance – except that he apparently likes the sex, and your companionship. The good news is that he shares his home with you. The “I love you” may be some distance away, but if you are willing to wait, it will come. Widowers have strange behaviors related to guilt, insecurity, resistance to change…the list is long. Have hope. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  2. August 30, 2017 @ 4:01 pm Dixie

    My widower and I have been seeing each other for 7 months. We are 39 and 41. I stay at his home 5 days a week, well it’s his and hers. Pictures everywhere, her clothes, shoes, toys sill in the bedroom. Her picture by the bed, where we make love. Until this relationship, I took so many small things for granted… I always expected to be in a relationship where my boyfriend told me that he loved me. I expected to feel important and cared about. He has his Facebook relationship status as widower, rather than saying that he is in a relationship with me. I guess he still wants to be seen as an extension of her, not me. My heart is breaking. I don’t know what to do.

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  4. December 15, 2016 @ 10:36 am Sienna

    Lonely at the Top — It seems that you maintain 2 households now, hoping eventually to make it one. I don’t know your details, but learning from my readers — and from personal experience — I can say that nothing is more important than giving your children a sense of security at this time in their lives. A lot depends on their perception of your relationship with your GF. Do they have good feelings about her? Do they understand that she is not a replacement for their mother but someone and something entirely different? (That said, is moving to a single household something your remaining-at-home child could adjust to?)
    Your late wife is still in the hearts and minds of your children, and your GF would be wise to support them and you (doing this always pays off). Patience and understanding can help you both look forward to the years when all of you will be able to come together as a family. Being in a rush is what up-ends hopes and plans.

  5. December 9, 2016 @ 2:56 pm Lonely at the top

    I am a widower of four years, and have been dating a woman for nearly two. She has one child at home and I have two. There will be one of them, mine, next year. I have watched so many friends and acquaintances demolish their families, and really hurt their kids by ignoring them in transitions from one relationship to another, usually divorces. My GF accuses me of being unable to commit and still fixated on my late wife. I really don’t feel that way, and want to build a future on the foundation of the past that includes both our families. I will consider it a complete failure if we are alone without any connection to our kids because we have alienated them in forcing them together. She wants to plow ahead saying, “they’ll be fine.” Why does this mean I’m not ready to commit? We do everything together, vacations, holidays, dinners, projects. And I hope to move in together as soon as everybody is either on-board, or has that reasonable expectation based on our shared history. Yes, it’s frustratingly slow. But I’m the grown up with the responsibility to look after the kids, the family and the future.

  6. November 8, 2016 @ 8:03 am Sienna

    Marie – Great question! Most of the correspondence seen here comes from women complaining of relationships that are “stuck”. Those who are happy with their partners are less inclined to share their experiences. I do hear stories of contentment from time to time and you’re right – I should share some of those. Thanks for your comment.

  7. November 8, 2016 @ 7:24 am Marie

    Can we hear of some positive stories… The widows that do commit. Are there any???

  8. November 4, 2016 @ 6:26 am Sienna

    Dusky Maiden – Thank you for your thoughtful comments about reconnection and the need for compassion. You inspired me to review related comments by readers of this blog. Among those who yearn for a widower’s commitment, it seems that whether one is widowed or divorced makes a difference in attitude, approach, and outcome. When both the man and woman are widowed, the playing field is more even – there is mutual understanding of what loss of a spouse means. Divorced women have less experience with the empathy that enfolds a contented union. They are the ones who most frequently write to express frustration about widower’s lack of commitment.

    As to measuring the time for compassion against the time for commitment, it seems important to read signals more carefully – and objectively (to the extent this is possible when feeling are high). Mistaking a man’s friendship for a fast track to full time companionship will produce a fantasy that ends in real pain.

  9. October 30, 2016 @ 4:48 am Dusky Maiden

    I have to note what high expectations some of these comments illustrate. A widower may have lost his wife 6 months or 6 years ago, but a man of 60+ has likely spent most of his life as part of a unit to his chosen soul mate. When people in their twenties & thirties are given advice about the length of time after a break up to avoid being on the rebound – realistic advice is that it takes around half the length of the previous relationship, before the person is emotionally, psychologically ready to reconnect with someone new. If that logic applies to all relationships, for a man 60+ that would mean if he married in his twenties, so please consider a 20 year gap, that is if you expect connection on par with his past wife.
    It blows my mind that there are woman out there who enter the scene when a widower is vulnerable and still going through various grief stages… to then put expectations on exclusivity and speak about restricting conversations about their wife who has passed. The man you are hoping to seduce is the man he is because of the woman he has just lost. I gently implore you to have some compassion for him, his grief and celebration of her. That you also have sensitivity and honour the woman he chose to spend his lifetime and the children that are part of them both.
    Your role is companion and friend, if you expect more please don’t guilt trip the widower to give you something that he is incapable of.

  10. October 20, 2016 @ 6:19 pm Sienna

    Char — The fact that you are such an open-hearted person makes it difficult to comprehend his hesitancy, but I agree that he may simply be afraid. Certainly ask him to dance, but in an entirely cheerful way that conveys no plea for anything other than — well, a dance. Then ask someone else to dance. He may be taking for granted your feelings for him – another reason for him to hesitate.

  11. October 15, 2016 @ 2:13 pm Char

    This is my third post… my widower friend of 58 years ( wife passed 30 months ago) and my husband of 54 years (passed 26 months ago). We had been dating non stop for almost a year when he decided I don’t fit his life style??? That was 3 weeks ago. Since then he took me to the airport two weeks ago, and picked me up this past Monday…
    I am trying the NO CONTACT and trying to give him space but we have been at the same place the last two nights and he has asked me to dance which we have and just friendly conversation. How do I give him space when he asks me to dance? He just tears my heart out, I miss him so much and enjoy dancing with him. I really think he still has feelings for me and he just can’t figure out how to deal with them and he’s possibly scared of a relationship and getting hurt. I know I am too but our lives go on and we have to take the chance. I am hurt now but try to put on a “happy face!” The social part is so very hard as being seniors we all go to the same place and not the big. I have stayed away on one particular night just so I wouldn’t see him but can’t stay home all of the time.
    Do you think he will find himself and wander back? Do I ask him to dance after he has asked me? Or let him do the asking? Remember we are not young. He is 79 and I am 73… just numbers, young at heart…
    Thanks for your response.
    Char

  12. October 11, 2016 @ 12:37 pm Sienna

    Shelagh – This sad and lonely realization is something too many women are confronted with. The inability of many an otherwise good man to act on his conscience and his sentiment generates a great deal of pain.

  13. October 9, 2016 @ 9:28 pm shelagh

    My widower of of 4 years won’t commit. I am heartbroken.

  14. June 2, 2016 @ 7:52 pm Janice

    Hi, everyone I was dating a widower for almost 4 years. We met through my brother law. I heard about him and wanted to meet him because we had so much in common. He is 60 and I am 57. I almost didn’t get involved because he was so needy to begin with. His dear wife of 34 years had passed away 4 years ago and I was his most serious date since then. I have been single all my life and I thought I had finally met the guy I had been waiting for all my life. Within 6 months he wrote me the most beautiful letter professing his love. I have not been in a serious relationship in 20 years. This letter convinced me to open my heart even though I had trust issues and I fell in love with this wonderful man. We did many trips together that were awesome but we continued to keep separate households. We broke up a 1 year and half ago he told me he didn’t love me anymore and that we had no future. We got back together a month later and stayed together for another 18 months. He broke it off again giving me the same reason only he added he wasn’t attracted to me anymore. As you can imagine I am very sad, hurt and dissolutioned. We have now not talked for 2 months. My friends and family will disown me if I even considered taking him back. I just can’t figure out what really happen other then I just don’t think he is over grieving for his wife. Even his closest friends don’t understand him. Does anyone have any advice for me. I still love this man and I am not sure how I am gong to move on. Thank you.

  15. May 16, 2016 @ 7:30 pm Tricia

    Thanks for your kind replies. I am doing 30 days no contact. I don’t think he will make the effort needed for me to continue with him. It would have to be a huge effort which would include addressing his drinking problem. I don’t anticipate that happening. The 30 days gives me space to see what was happening and stop the rollercoaster. I am surprised I let myself get caught up in this 😒

  16. April 21, 2016 @ 8:50 pm Sienna

    Tricia, thank you so much for sharing your story. It is a help to others who are in similar situations.
    For many widowers guilt moves in to take the place of pure mourning. Sometimes children reinforce the guilt because they don’t want anyone to take the place of Mom. In other cases, a man imagines that he wasn’t a good husband and that loving someone new is cheating on the lost wife. Your attempts to comfort your guy are wonderfully tender, and his outpourings about his world ending are inexcusable because they are insensitive. I don’t question why you are there; love is not a rational endeavor. You should perhaps make clear to him that you don’t deserve, nor will you tolerate, comments that are insulting and deeply hurtful. If he remains clueless about the effect of his outbursts, and if he remains convinced that drinking in excess is the right way to deal with emotional pain, he may not be the worthwhile man you imagine him to be.

  17. April 21, 2016 @ 6:28 pm Patricia A.

    Hey, I’m reading Trisha’s comment and I have to say been there, done that. There are 2 kinds of widowers, those that move on and those that can’t and don’t. You have the second kind. After 3 1/2 years you have a right to expect to be more than a shadow of her former self. Your only chance is to walk away and see if he misses you enough to straighten up.

  18. April 21, 2016 @ 11:19 am Tricia

    I have been dating a widower for 10 months and have tried a couple of times to break it off because he is still in love with his wife who passed away 3 & 1/2 years ago. when we get to a point of comfort and start to feel loving and close he pulls away and distances himself. Then he becomes sad and mournful of the loss of his wife. I am 60 and he is 65. I have not met anyone in years that I have had such strong feelings for. I sense he is feeling guilty when he starts to really enjoy what we have together and maybe even forget about his wife for moments and it scares him.. A couple of nights ago on the phone he told me his world ended the day she died and now he lives in his own personal hell. I didn’t say anything at the time but it hurt me deeply. I wanted to jump up & wave my arms around shouting HEY, I’M RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. I felt invisible. He could tell that something was wrong and asked me what the next night on the phone. I told him very gently and lovingly with no blame. His response was that they had been together for 37 years and him and I are new and virtually strangers in comparison. I asked why is he comparing 2 very different relationships and that we are not that new and not strangers. That comment had been used in the past and hurt deeply causing me to question my ability to sense a persons feelings for me and why he would have pretended to be so enamored with me. When his wife is not involved we have a wonderful time together with much laughter and affection. I really don’t want to let go of that. I tell myself not to take the hurtful comments personally and just enjoy the good parts when they come along. Sometimes it works and other times I think I must be crazy that I can’t let go of him and move on! A real problem I try to ignore but can’t is that he drinks to excess and says it eases his pain. I know…why am I still around?

  19. February 28, 2016 @ 8:32 pm Bev

    Thank you all of you. I’ve been seeing someone for a year who fits most of these descriptions. The leaving for long periods has done me in. It must be common with widowers. I think I’m done with it. I have worth.

  20. December 29, 2015 @ 5:40 am Sienna

    Jerry – You haven’t said why you aren’t able to commit or exactly what you mean by keeping a “special gal” in limbo. Your self awareness and remorse are an encouraging first step — maybe you’re on the road to “recovery” –???

  21. December 28, 2015 @ 3:19 pm Jerry

    Yeah, I’m guilty of being a “bad boyfriend”. Everyone said my late wife and I were a perfect couple. I never cheated or wanted anything more. She’s been gone almost 10 years and I still dream about her and feel like I still have a sense of her presence . I’ve had many opportunities to have a relationship with some pretty special and some not so honest women but one pretty special gal has hung on and I just seem to keep her in a state of limbo. I’m ashamed of myself for the way I have seemed to use her and not completely commit. I don’t want to hurt anyone. Sometimes I wish she would just be the one to dump me.((

  22. September 1, 2015 @ 2:24 pm Sienna

    Jeff, Thanks for your comment. Owning up to a failure of commitment takes bravery; it can only happen after painful introspection. Now that you’re ready for a relationship, stay open to your possibilities. Someone who’s just right for you is out there waiting…

  23. August 29, 2015 @ 4:49 pm Jeff

    This article may as well have been written about me. I’m that guy. I messed up a really good relationship and several times I had told her I could not commit. I’m not sure what I was thinking. Seven years widowed and I am just now ready to start again and wondering if I can ever have that kind of closeness again. I can’t really give you any good advice. I ended up here looking for some answers too. It is a lonely planet without your soulmate.

  24. August 21, 2015 @ 2:54 pm Sienna

    Julie — I’m sorry you are suffering in this way. Your predicament is difficult and heart-rending. Have you asked yourelf why he’s telling you things that he knows will hurt you deeply? It could be because 1.) he feels guilty about cheating on his wife and wants to deflect blame from himself to you, or 2.) he was able to handle your relationship when both of you were married but can’t deal with the fact that you are still married and he’s not, or 3.) he is fearful that you will want to divorce your husband and marry him.
    In the light of these possibilities, I wonder if there really is another woman…do you have proof that such a woman exists?

  25. August 18, 2015 @ 5:16 pm julie

    I have had an very loving and intimate relationship with a married man for 7 years. I also am married. He lost his wife a year ago. He was not in touch with me then and wrote me an email that he had found a good match for him in his city (we live an hr away from each other.)
    3 months after his wife died he said he was having sex with this woman in his city. He said he needed closeness and he found comfort in her. He cut all communication from me for a year. I was so sad and barely got through it all. We are in communication now. He is stating he does not know where is life is going, he does not know what is going to happen with him and her, him and me. I am totally devastated that he is occasionally still having sex and seeing her 2-3 times a week . What do I do. Please help me. I am very much in love with him. He is well aware of this.

  26. July 5, 2015 @ 6:01 am Penny Lane

    Everything about the widower I’m dating is good except for one thing. His daughter. She thinks I am replacing her mother and she hates me. There is nothing he or I can do about it so I guess I’ll have to – as you say – live on the periphery.

  27. July 4, 2015 @ 4:08 pm Salomi

    I’ve been dating a widower for 3 years now. He doesn’t talk about marriage and that’s okay with me. I am a widow, my husband was the love of my life and I don’t want to get married again, partly because of the kids. It’s not always about the man not committing. It’s okay sometimes to just enjoy each other’s company.

  28. June 27, 2015 @ 12:03 pm Sienna

    Yankeleh – Any arrangement that makes one feel truly loved — to the exclusion of all other present and future lovers — is commitment in my book.

  29. June 27, 2015 @ 11:06 am yankaleh

    You itemized what to look for as warning signs for a widower’s reluctance to commit. But you have not defined what is an acceptable commitment. Is it marriage, or co-habitation, or intimate companionship, or long-life friendship, or physical and financial support? Also, what do you think are the wishes of a widow for an acceptable commitment?

  30. June 26, 2015 @ 1:51 pm saralee

    I’ve been with a man for three years who treats me well but has never said a word about me being his one and only. I don’t care because he treats me well and he’s generous to a fault. This is more important to me than having a ring on the finger or hanging out with his kids.

  31. June 9, 2015 @ 10:05 am Penny Lane

    Mysterious disappearances. You got it.

  32. June 4, 2015 @ 10:18 am Sienna

    Yolanda, you have nailed it. Thanks so much for your comment.

  33. June 3, 2015 @ 8:22 pm Yolanda Williams

    In cases like this, it sounds like he’s not ready and is using the relationship (if that’s what you want to call it) so he won’t be lonely. When someone wants to be with you, they will find all the reasons it will work. When they don’t, they find all the reasons it won’t. Simple as that.

  34. June 3, 2015 @ 3:02 pm ToniS

    I can’t tell you how right on this is. I mean all of the above (things to look for). My guy was acting like he really cared about me, even cherished our time together, but then he mysteriously leaves town for weeks at a time. Also he has almost incestuous ties with his daughters. It’s not that they oppose his seeing me, but its that they think they are the stars of his show and I am just an extra. I don’t know how much longer I can take it. It’s too weird.

  35. May 28, 2015 @ 12:57 pm EasyRider

    Sad but true.

  36. May 28, 2015 @ 9:59 am Violet Sometimes Blue

    My boyfriend goes off all the time but he comes back. When we’re together you’d think we’d been together for 40 years. It feels natural. Then all of a sudden he disappears, like you say. I don’t get it, and he won’t talk about it. Any suggestions?

  37. May 28, 2015 @ 6:13 am patsy c.

    The man I’m seeing is back and forth with his feelings. I haven’t met the kids yet and I suspect you may be right about him being worried that they will disapprove. I have asked him and he doesn’t answer in a straightforward way. How can I find out what he’s thinking if he won’t talk to me about this?

  38. May 27, 2015 @ 10:46 am MGS

    There isn’t much to disagree with here. It’s pretty hard to date these men. This is the second widower I’ve been involved in. The first one just wasn’t ready to be out there looking for someone, and this second one hasn’t said anything about commitment. The sex is good though.


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