Q. I’ve been dating a gentleman I met online going on seven months. He is 63 and widowed for two years. During this time he has hidden me from his family and doesn’t take me out in the community during the day. He says it’s because his children, who are adults, don’t like him dating and haven’t gotten over their mother’s death.
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I have called off the relationship at this time. Am I hasty in doing this or did I do the right thing?
A. If your aim was to have a significant relationship with this man, you did the right thing.
Certainly, there are adult children who have difficulty accepting the fact that a widowed parent might want a new partner. Even adults can react in emotionally childlike ways, feeling crushed at the thought their beloved parent would be replaced or forgotten. They are distressed that their remaining parent could love somebody else, which interrupts their romantic notions of an enduring and never-changing family unit.
So it’s not a crazy scenario that the children wouldn’t like their father to have a new woman in his life.
A parent, however, is entitled to have a life, and doesn’t need a child’s approval or permission. It is healthy for young widows and widowers to pair off again. Parents can and should, of course, acknowledge and even sympathize with their children’s feelings, but at the same time sensitively go ahead and fulfill their own needs.
The fact that this man cannot or will not put his — and your — needs ahead of his children’s discomfort does not bode well for your desire for an ongoing relationship. You needn’t have dinner with the kids every night, but this is an extreme in the other direction.
I assume you explained your dissatisfaction with being a secret part of his life. It sounds as though he is not even giving you a timeline and saying you will go public at some point in the future. He is merely saying he wants to continue seeing you on his terms, keeping you closeted because he cannot incur the disappointment, sadness or wrath of his children.
There’s another possibility, too. Maybe he is making up the story about his children because he himself wants an excuse to see you, but only on his terms.
In any case, it seems like your future with this man is tenuous. After seven months, if you want to be acknowledged as someone important in his life and he refuses, it is completely reasonable to have a conversation where you say this is not going to work unless he includes you in his public life. Having done that with no change speaks for itself.
I also hope you told him how you feel so that he can process his own conflict and have a chance to evaluate why he is being secretive and how much your relationship means to him.
If he returns in a few weeks or months and says he has thought about this and wants to try again, it would also be completely reasonable to give it another try — as long as this time he will appear with you in public among people he knows.
I am not big a fan of meeting online. This man’s interest in meeting a women with whom he has no social bonds or acquaintances in common could be a sign he wants someone he can, for whatever reason, easily keep undercover. If that was his motivation all along, this relationship is not likely to have a future.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: After several months of dating, a partner’s insistence on keeping you a secret from friends, family and acquaintances bodes badly for a satisfying future together.
Any ideas, suggestions in this column are not intended as a substitute for consulting your physician or mental health professional. All matters regarding emotional and mental health should be supervised by a personal professional. The author shall not be responsible or liable for any loss, injury or damage arising from any information or suggestion in this column.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her most recent book is “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life” (Rodale). For more information, please visit www.drgailsaltz.com.
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