Q: Dear Meredith,
Almost a year ago, the man I lived with for many years passed away tragically. During the last few years that we shared a bed together, we were more like best friends sleeping side by side, having no sexual contact besides hugs and cuddling. We were best friends, however, and every part of the life we lived was together. We were extremely close with each other's families and friends, and I received an overwhelming amount of support after his passing, and still do.
One friend in particular has been an ongoing and consistent source of peace of mind for me. He has talked me out of some of my worst thoughts and lowest points, simultaneously managing to bring back happiness. Our friendship eventually escalated and we became physical. We have a mutual friend who is aware and supportive, but other than that no one else knows. We spend a few nights a week together and I find myself counting down the days until our next date.
Originally we had both decided that it would be best if no one else knew of our situation. On my end, I didn't want to hurt my late partner's family members who might not think enough time had passed. Meanwhile, he worries about what his friends will think. As we approach a new year and my early 30s seem to be flying by, I am beginning to want more out of this and have started dropping hints. I had avoided the sit down conversation until now because I have been so happy with our situation and didn't want to change the dynamics. Despite my hints, he has demonstrated that he is more comfortable keeping us under wraps.
I am challenged with the idea that as long as we stay under wraps, he is able to avoid a commitment, although he has openly said that he is not dating or sleeping with anyone else. At this point, do you think it is healthier for us to just break ties? I wouldn't betray his trust and let it slip out to our group of friends, yet I don’t want to end up in another unconventional relationship. What do you think?
– Going With the Flow, Boston
A: GWTF, have you asked him if he ever plans on telling anyone? Have you asked him whether he sees this as something that will continue? Have you asked the one friend who knows about your situation what this looks like from the outside?
It's time to ask. No more dropping hints. Just explain that you have enough going on in your head without having to keep secrets. His fear of going public is understandable but you can't continue like this for much longer. And he shouldn't be lying to his friends.
Have the talk and figure out whether his secrecy is about guilt or a fear of commitment. My guess is that it's both. My guess is that he's worried about what his friends will think, and that he doesn't know how to deal with the fact that dating you is anything but casual.
It's not uncommon for people to wind up dating the friends of their deceased former partners. There's a shared loss, a strong history, and often, it winds up being a great thing. But these relationships can be confusing. Obviously.
Right now, you need to take care of you. Tell him that while the secrets were understandable in the beginning, they can't continue. Assure him that dating you publicly doesn't mean that you have to stay together forever -- it just means that you're seeing how it works. That's all he has to tell his friends. (And trust me, they want you both to be happy.) If he needs help figuring out what to say to his community, you can take him to a grief counselor for help. That's what they're for.
If he doesn't want anything to do with you out in the open, you need to start making connections and finding new outlets for support. You said it best -- your early 30s are flying by. You want love. I don't want you to keep falling harder for this guy if he's not going to let you enjoy him.
Readers? Is his hesitation understandable? Will his friends be upset? Is this about loss or commitment issues? Discuss.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.