Many times, a W will jump into a relationship with a GOW before he is ready; before he has completed bereavement recovery. Naturally, an innocent, loving GOW who has no clue what grief recovery entails will have no idea what she is in for, which is usually the W’s inevitable latent bombshell of, “I’m sorry, but I ‘m not ready for all this yet…can we just be friends until I work this out?” Suddenly awestruck as to the timing of such a request, a GOW wonders, “Is this a break…or a break-up? Do we keep seeing each other…or not? And what about contact: do we, or don’t we?”
So what is a GOW to do when she is asked by her W to be patiently single while he limps off on his own to nurse his grief? In a utopian world, a W and his GOW will have already laid a good foundation of communication wherein they can feel comfortable enough to define the parameters of their separation. This is a time for fortitude in asking the tough questions about how long the separation may last, who contacts whom, and whether or not meeting for dates or even coffees is a good idea. Bottom line: it is best to find out NOW if this will be a complete breakup or just a temporary setback.
Sadly, this is NOT a utopian world. A W who suddenly seeks a break or a breakup will be ill-equipped, thanks to his overwhelming need for “alone time” in which to process his grief without distraction, to adequately formulate a plan that includes the GOW’s feelings. A grieving W is not forward-thinking; thus, a plan that requires thoughts of a future beyond today is usually not something he is ready to deliver. As much as he may claim to love his GOW – and he usually does! – he is temporarily rendered insensitive when, in reality, grief is to blame for his inability to be compassionate about her stake in all of this.
If you are a GOW who has just landed in this predicament, the good news is that it is never too late to go back to your W after the initial devastation of his request for separation wears off, and ask him to cooperate with you about how to define the break/breakup. You may have to swallow your pride before confronting him on a fact-finding mission, however, especially if your last date where he delivered the bad news was emotionally explosive, and hurting words were delivered as parting shots you now regret taking.
But think about it: do you really think you would be capable of maintaining a friendship-only relationship with a man you once loved, and still do? Would it not be best for both of you to completely separate until such time as W feels recovered enough to pick up where you left off? And is that fair to you?
Grief is a lone journey, each survivor making it in their own time and in their own way. Seeking professional counseling is always a good idea for a survivor, but you yourself playing grief counselor to a W who is not comfortable in a love relationship any longer can backfire on both of you. It would be like the blind leading the blind. I never recommend it. Thus, you have to ask yourself, “Am I willing to just be a good friend who merely nods and listens as he mourns for another woman in my presence?”
You and only you must decide whether being his friend is going to be helpful to both of you. Are you mentally, emotionally, and intellectually prepared to play the role of grief counsellor? Are you prepared to endure the heartache of wanting him, yet knowing you must keep him at arm's length? Are you willing and able to put in the time, energy, and resources into a friendship that may never result in more? Do you believe you can truly be selfless enough to hold back your personal agenda so he can have what he needs to recover? Grief is a solitary journey, one he must work alone, at his own pace and in his own time...and without distractions. Are you sure that at some point, you will not be tempted to push your agenda, thus delaying his recovery?
Some GOWs answer this question by replying, “Well, I’d be willing to put I the hard work as long as the payoff is that we are together in the log run.” However, therein lies the rub. There is no way to predict whether your efforts to maintain a friendship with W will end up the way you hope it will: as a loving, more-than-friends relationship. In fact, the statistics show it will not happen. But you just may beat the odds. There is always hope. It IS possible he is just asking for time to heal, and will be back after he has properly grieved, but there are no guarantees ad no way to predict the outcome.
Remaining "friends only" with someone you once loved and were intimate with is a very difficult task. Thus, it is up to each individual GOW to decide whether or not she has the fortitude for the job. Since W is in the driver’s seat of grief, it is up to him to lead the way and set the pace. But that is not to say you have to be his passenger. Moving on without him, even as he resides in your heart, is what I feel is best. Do not contact him until such time as he contacts you. Make your life as happy as possible without him in it. If a future with a W is meant to be, it WILL be....as long as grief no longer stands in your way.