Dear Kate and Allen,
My wife of four decades died five and a half years ago, and I’ve been a little lonely ever since. A few months ago, though, I was lucky enough to meet a lovely lady who joined my grieving spouses support group after moving to the area. We connected right away, and she asked me out for a drink.
Since then, we’ve started what my daughter has described as a “friends with benefits” relationship. We see each other two to three times a week and always have a great time. I’ve also started doing things around the house for her if I notice there’s something that needs to be fixed. It’s always little things like cleaning the gutters or fixing a leaky faucet, but I think she appreciates it, and it makes me feel nice to be helpful.
I guess that’s where the “friends with benefits” thing comes in. As we’ve gotten to know each other more, she treats me more and more like a partner. A couple times now, she’s asked me to pick up something up at the grocery store on my way to her house. Sometimes I’ll cook dinner for her if she’s had a long day. Once, she even offered to lend me one of her late husband’s shirts after I ended up spending the night and we decided to go out for breakfast the next day.
I really like this woman, and I’d really like to be able to call her my girlfriend! But whenever I ask her if we’re exclusive, she tells me she’s not ready for that kind of relationship yet. I do understand, to an extent, because her husband died a little over a year ago and she hasn’t had as long to process as I have. But it also seems like we’re getting more serious, and it’s getting hard for me to contain my feelings. What should I do?
Ready to Move Forward
Allen: If you want to call her your girlfriend then have patience. Be a friend first and support her for as long as she needs. The term girlfriend is nothing more than a label. Until she’s ready, and for as long as you have these feelings, treat her as you would your girlfriend.
I was shot down by my girlfriend six times before she agreed to date me. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have asked as often as I did. It’s borderline creepy. But I knew we really, really liked each other. And we were great friends. She just needed time. Keep in mind, you’ve had much more time to process and grieve than she has. You guys are at different stages in the process and the proper time to grieve needs to be respected.
Also keep in mind, she might never be at a place where she can truly love again or let someone in and be exclusive with them. And if that’s the case, you have to respect that too. Until that happens though, I would suggest just continuing to do what you’re doing. Be helpful. Be supportive. And be loving. Build a strong relationship before worrying too much about labeling it.
Kate: I’m so glad you’ve been able to connect with someone after your wife passed away, and I can understand why the situation you described might be a little confusing. It’s always tough when one person in a relationship wants to go slower or faster than the other. And in your case, it sounds like you’re ready to go faster — you’ve had time to fully process your grief and open yourself up to the potential for a new partnership.
That being said, I think it’s worth considering the perspective of your new lady friend. The steps you’ve described — fixing a few things around the house, cooking her dinner, going out for drinks — are nice, but you shouldn’t think of them as a quid pro quo exchange that means she’s required to pledge herself to you after a certain number of favors. Even lending you that shirt — a gesture seemingly rife with symbolic meaning — might just have made sense to her from a pragmatic standpoint. You needed a shirt, and she had one in the house to lend you.
At the end of the day, your friend might also be looking for companionship, but she might not be ready for a full-blown commitment a year after she lost her husband. I think it’s worth giving her some of the same time to mourn that you’ve had over the last five years. If you enjoy your time together — and it seems like she does, too — what’s the rush? Be “friends with benefits,” as your daughter called it, and give the relationship the chance to progress organically without putting any pressure on her. In a few more weeks, or months, she might be able to give you a more definitive answer on where she’d like to take the relationship. But it’s not fair to rush her into a commitment, however enthusiastic you might feel.
Dear Kate and Allen,
My wife and I are expecting our first child in a few weeks, and we’re very excited. However, the baby is a boy, which has launched some family drama regarding the name.
It’s been a tradition in my family for generations to pass down a certain name from father to first-born son. It’s my name, as well, and I hate it. Without being too detailed, it’s a name that was once considered unisex — think “Leslie,” for example — that is now very much a female name. My wife isn’t crazy about it, either, so we’ve decided to end the tradition and come up with a name of our own.
I made the mistake of mentioning this to my mother, and she went ballistic. I’m not being dramatic when I say that it’s ruined the last couple months of our pregnancy. She went from screaming to nagging to complete petulance, telling my wife and I that we were killing my family legacy and ruining the experience of welcoming her first grandchild. She’s since moved on to the full-blown silent treatment, but not before threatening that she wouldn’t come down to visit after the birth.
I’m angry at my mother, but I’d also really like to repair this rift and move on. Any suggestions, short of just sucking it up and continuing the family tradition?
Kate: Oh, Lord. Please don’t kowtow to family tradition just because your mother is throwing a temper tantrum. I think that would be deeply unfair to your wife, and set a very unfortunate precedent of allowing your mother to bully her way into important and intimate decisions between the two of you.
So, she’s threatening not to attend the birth over the name? Good. Let her. In the end, it’s your decision not to name your son Ashley Remington Jones XIV, and I think your mother will come to realize that the earth won’t shatter and the skies won’t shift if a symbolic family tradition runs off course (even if just for a generation). The easiest way to repair this rift, I think, is to call her bluff. If she calls to threaten you again, I’d respond with, ‘Fine. We’ll see you at [insert next family gathering here].’ The quickest way to deflate a bully is to refuse to respond to their instigations. And in your mother’s case, I think it’s highly unlikely she’ll continue this course if it means she’ll relinquish the opportunity to welcome her first grandchild into the world.
Allen: Look brother, me and you are about to connect on the realest level I’ve ever connected with anyone in this column. You’re lucky if that baby gets your last name, much less your first. There’s no good reason I’ve heard that says why children get the father’s last name. Even if there is, it’s probably not better than your wife’s reason of “it actually came out of my body.” Anyway, I digress.
Remember this: Your wife is carrying that child in her belly for nine months. She wins. Forever. She wins every argument revolving around that child until the end of time. And when your family is involved, you have to back her play.
Tell your mom if she wants say in naming a child, she can carry her own again. Until then, it’s none of her business. If she doesn’t want to be at the birth of your child, then that’s fine, too. I might argue you should tell her to stay home and she’s not welcome at this point. Your wife is dealing with too much stress as is, adding an adult woman acting like a 4-year-old is a terrible idea.
Spend the birth with people who love and support you guys on the biggest day of your lives, not whiny jerks who care too much about symbolism.
Congrats on your baby. Enjoy the next three years of not getting any sleep and 18 years of incessant debt. Cheers.