Trapped in a tragic romance

Here’s the backstory:

I’m 57. I lost my wife of 28 years last year (almost exactly) to cancer. About 6 months ago, I started online dating, as chronicled on the “ongoing online dating thread”. Met several women, more or less interesting…nothing serious. Until 2 months ago, when I met Pam (age 51).

Head over heels, deliriously, deliciously, ecstatically in love. I swear that I’ve never been happier, and she feels exactly the same way.

Then a week ago, a crisis at her job developed (and she wound up losing her job), and she needed more and more time to herself to “sort things through”. We had several phone & email exchanges, and I petulantly wound up giving her space.

Then last night, she wanted to meet and talk, and I expected the worst. I didn’t expect just how bad:

She has cancer.

She didn’t want to go into details, but she thinks it’s a recurrence of something she’s beaten back twice before. She’s optimistic (doesn’t have an official diagnosis or prognosis yet). But she says that given my history, and her feeling that she’ll be dealing with this for the rest of her life, she doesn’t want to put me and my family through the pain again.

So she released me from our relationship. Her feelings for me haven’t changed; but she wants me to go back online and find someone else who will make me happy, but continue to love her platonically (as do 2 of her exes that she’s on friendly terms with) and stay in her life.

I feel like I’m stuck in frickin’ Wuthering Heights.

On the one hand, the coward in me agrees with her (as does my daughter) – I don’t want to deal with this. And it’s only been 8 weeks.

On the other hand, I’m supposed to go through the motions of dating, when I still love her and am worried sick about her?

And life has no guarantees, especially at our age. What if the next woman I fall in love with gets sick? Wouldn’t *that *be ironic?

But if there’s one thing I know about her, it’s that she says what she means. She’s not just being noble and hoping I’ll make the romantic move. So I don’t really have a choice. Maybe.

Other than banging my head against the wall and cursing Fate, I am utterly lost. My son put it nicely: toss a coin and pick your heartache.

I’m sorry to hear this. Best wishes to Pam, may her optimism be well placed.

It doesn’t sound like you are ready to go through the motions yet, and perhaps by the time you are, she will be “clear” yet again.

My brother in law is going through cancer at a fairly young age. His girlfriend of 4 months when it started seems to be sticking it out - which is great, but at the same time - four months does not mean an obligation to support someone through cancer. We are happy she has chosen to do so, but its her choice.

If that’s what it feels like, then you shouldn’t be dating.

Last year I decided that, being 53 and never married (never even close), I might as well get used to the idea that I would be alone for the rest of my life. Several months later, I reconnected with an old college friend, fell in love, and a month ago I asked her to marry me. (She said yes.)

At about the time we started seeing each other, she learned that she had some pre-cancerous cells in her breasts, and a few months later they had developed to the point that she needed a mastectomy of one breast last May. (She’s doing fine, and her prognosis is very good.)

She was very worried about how I’d handle all of it: the cancer, the operation, the mastectomy. Several times she offered to “release” me. But since I finally had the love I never believed I’d have, I quoted Shakespeare:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove
No, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is not shaken.

You’ve been through something I can’t even imagine, so I have no right to tell you what to do. But almost everything you’ve written screams out that, despite what happened to your wife, you want to stay with Pam.

I, for one, think you should.

First, there’s no official diagnosis. Second, she’s beaten it before and is optimistic. Third, as you point out, there are no guarantees in life. Are you planning to require future girlfriends to sign a pre-nup guaranteeing they’ll never get sick?

Finally, you’re not a coward, are you?

I didn’t think so.

You can’t avoid all the pain that will happen to you in the future. But you can avoid the love and happiness you could have with Pam, if you go along with her plan of “releasing” you.

I suggest you quote her some Shakespeare.

No advice here. Just my best wishes for you and for Pam.

59 year old widow here, husband died of cancer after 28+ years of marriage, so speaking with some experience. A dear friend of mine, now at least 80 years old, was widowed (wife died of cancer), remarried (wife died of cancer), remarried (wife died of cancer). He is a gentle and loving man, deeply attached to all of his partners. In comforting me after the loss of my husband, he assured me that despite the pain of losing them, he cherished all the time with his partners. He weeps for all three at times. But he shares stories of such victory and love.

This may be one of those times when you take the joy, welcoming the pain. Of course you don’t want to go through it again, but that is life sometimes. It’s wonderful that your beloved Pam loves you enough to want to spare you pain. Now go all radical on her and love her enough to embrace the pain. Flip the roles around. I suspect you would go all noble on her if you were sick. But oh how your heart and soul would be warmed if she didn’t permit you to do it.

Yes, yes, I know there are many people you could love. But perhaps you are uniquely positioned to love this woman, at this time, for both of your joy and growth.

One of the kindest things a human being can do is love someone who is dying. You have already gone through this with your wife and it must have been very hard. I look at everything as Gods Will or as you say, divine providence. God may have put you in her life for a reason. There are no coincidences, just God instances. I wish you the best and I hope Pam pulls through.

I would stay by her side no matter how it ends but I believe love is an action as much as a feeling. You can still be a friend to her that cares whether dating or not.

No other way to put this except bluntly: are you convinced the condition exists or is Pam ending the relationship?

Absolutely 100% convinced.

I like commasense’s Shakespeare approach.

After a day’s reflection, I think my plan will be to be there for her in any way she wants, as she goes through diagnosis and treatment; and I may never get around to looking very hard for a new soul mate (which will be easy, as the idea has no appeal at the moment). And then we’ll see what happens.

Thank you, but my suggestion, assuming you are already on intimate terms, is not to allow her to make you one of many supportive platonic friends. In other words, her illness doesn’t change your relationship, and you do not bend with the remover to remove.

I understand. I think she would resist an explicit suggestion, at this time, that nothing change in our relationship; so I think I’ll just remain available at her side until things calm down a bit, and then broach the subject: I’m still here, I still love you, you still love me, and I’m not going anywhere.

I think she sounds quite sensible. 8 weeks is not long enough to build a relationship that can weather cancer, and she is not going to be in a position to be in the beginning stages of a relationship (which would take energy she doesn’t have). Respect what she wants, and see what happens afterwards. I think that demanding to continue the romantic part of the relationship would be pretty selfish, if she is saying she can’t do it.

You don’t have to start dating again just to make Pam feel better, but she does get to choose how much of a sacrifice she’s comfortable letting a newcomer into her life (which you are) make for her.

I’d say accept her at her word. Be there for her if you want, but you don’t have any claim upon her, and vice versa.

A subtle distinction; she isn’t saying *she *can’t do it; she’s saying she doesn’t want to put *me *through it.

Not a subtle distinction at all, and why I disagree with dangermom and jsgoddess. If you’re both really “Head over heels, deliriously, deliciously, ecstatically in love,” then two months is long enough to “build a relationship that can weather cancer.” I did it.

If she’s only trying to spare you heartache, and not get out of the relationship, then you should thank her for her concern, but tell her your heart is strong enough to take what comes, and not let her withdraw from you.

Especially since there isn’t an official diagnosis or prognosis yet! (That was the main thing that led me to the same suspicion that Cicero had.)

Not “let her”? I dunno. There’s a tone there that she doesn’t get to decide what she wants. I bet that isn’t what you mean, but it’s an undercurrent, don’t you think?

Of course she gets the final decision. But I think she should make that decision fully informed – that I’m willing to go through this with her. If she still needs to separate, so be it.

She has seen a doctor; she hasn’t yet got a 2nd opinion or started a treatment plan. She was reluctant to state the kind of cancer she’s had before (I’m thinking lymph) or what the previous treatment involved, again, for the sake of my feelings and as a way of beginning this separation that she has in mind.

I have no experience on this and just wanted to share a song you might identify with:
What Sarah said - Death cab for cutie

From the OP, it didn’t sound as if you were fully willing to go through this with her. It sounded like you were ambivalent about it, and that’s perfectly fair. But she might already have picked up on that and realized that you aren’t really in a great position to be there for her in this matter. And, to reiterate, there’s nothing wrong with that if it does turn out to be too much for you to handle right now.

Might be worth asking if she’s also saying she doesnt have the energy to work through the complications of a relationship right now? Ie maybe its not only for your sake she’s stopping things.