My wife died 12 years ago, and I am still as heartbroken as the day she passed away. We were married 28 wonderful years. She was a great mother and a loving, loyal wife (not to mention a great dancer). When she was dying of cancer, she said that she didn’t want me to be alone and that I should find someone to be with. But I just can’t! Every time I go out with someone I compare her to Anna, my dear, departed wife. NO one can hold a candle to Anna! I tried to date a bit but the women I met just weren’t like Anna –no one can take her place. I know that women are turned off by the fact that I am still in love with my wife, and some of the women I met told me that I talked too much about Anna and that I seemed too grief stricken for them to want to date me. I am lonely, but I’m still so in love with Anna and I don’t know what to do. You can’t help who you love, but I can’t seem to open my heart enough to let alone else in. Do you have any advice for me?
Tony’s Take: Hugh, 28 years is a long time to be with someone, but 12 years is also a lot of time that has passed. By definition, you are not missing the reality of your deceased wife but rather dwelling in a construct made of only the good portions of the relationship. Understand that you have done this to yourself. By shutting out the world, you have created a small bubble in which you can dwell in the safety of a relationship which will never change, but nor will it grow nor comfort you.
Since you are writing to us, we know something is wrong, and you want change. Your problem is you are trying to date which is not what you need. You need group activities which get you out of the house and in the company of a number of other people. You need to talk. You need human contact, but you cannot deal with intimacy now and that’s ok. Intimacy will come naturally when you find the right person to be intimate with through meeting lots of people, not by trying to force it by going out on dates.
You said nothing about grief counseling yet you are a major candidate for a grief support group, since you are still living in denial, not of what happened to her, but of the fact that the ghost of your dear departed wife needs to be set free.
Alison’s Take: It is commendable, remarkable, that you and your wife had such a great relationship for so many years years, but by now you remember just the good things and nothing negative. Because of this you’ have turned your beloved Anna into more than just a deceased wife, you have turned her into a Saint. The minute the women you meet understand that you can love only one woman and she is not even living anymore, they also realize that it is pointless to try and make an intimate relationship with you for they will fail. No woman alive in the real world can or will even try to compete with a Saint!
My father, who lived to the grand age of 89, fell immediately and deeply in love with my mother when they were just teenagers. It was rare, true love, and love at first sight. These two never wanted or needed anyone else. But when my mother passed away after 55 years of marriage, my father was so devastated I didn’t think he would survive. Interestingly, intelligent and practical man that he was, my father considered his options. He realized that while no one would ever take my mother’s place, and he would never experience that kind of love again, he also was lonely. He knew that the longer he sat in his empty house by himself, the longer he’d be isolated. He forced himself to socialize. At first he couldn’t manage it well alone and a I went with him to a bunch of social events. Watching him struggle to make conversation with women was difficult but eventually he got used to going out and socializing. He met a nice woman that he became quite fond of at a college reunion and then met another woman he liked quite a lot, and then another. I don’t know that he was truly “in love” in that romantic way young lovers can be, and perhaps these widowed women felt the same, but they were happy to have companionship and a new romantic focus that kept them from being lonely and sad. These ladies meant something special to him and I’m sure he meant something special to them.
Your wife loved you so much that she told you to find a way to have a full life after her passing. If you adore her as much as you claim, honor her by extending yourself at least enough to consider that there might be someone, maybe more than one woman, who could add to your life and fill it with joy and perhaps, even love. That is what Anna wanted for you and it’s what you should want for yourself because you have said you’re not happy being alone. If you close yourself off, you cannot move forward. If you keep Anna in your heart to the point that no one else can enter, no one else can or will.
Tony suggests activities, not dating. I’d agree. Since you mentioned that Anna was a great dancer, why not take some group dance classes? Men are always in short supply and you will find lots of willing and eager partners to dance with while you do something you obviously enjoy. If you tend to talk too much about Anna when you first meet someone, dancing lets you focus in on the music and the partner you are with, so you don’t have a lot of time to chat while your partner is trying to count and learn the dance. This could work to your advantage because you will not be crying in your proverbial beer and making a bad impression. Although it’s not as common as it once was, some of the cruise lines still offer free vacations to men who can dance and play cards (nothing more) with single women. Join a club that interests you or volunteer for an organization that you find worthwhile. If you can’t extend yourself even this far, get a dog as a willing companion and don’t fool yourself into thinking there is room in your life for another woman. You can’t replace Anna, but you can find someone nice to spend some time with and that’s all that is required to reduce your loneliness. Once you change your thinking and your attitude, the rest should follow.