Grief and a brand-new long-distance relationship
January 21, 2014 6:28 PM   Subscribe

I am in a brand-new long-distance relationship with a guy I really care for. He recently experienced the death of a friend, and since this happened a week ago he has been essentially non-communicative with me. He sent me one generic text at a strange hour a week ago (along the lines of "busy week, really tired") and other than that it's been silence. Should, and how, can I support him during this time? Help me make sense of his behavior and to gauge what my response should be.

He and I met in November in the city we both lived in. Things started to move really quickly and by all accounts he adored me, we were an affectionate and easy pair, and my friends who met him agreed that he and I seemed like a great fit. Last month, he accepted a work project that has taken him across the country for six months (he'll be back in June). We had started to talk about exclusivity and considering ourselves a couple before he left, but things became very ambiguous once he moved as he forewarned me he is bad at keeping in touch.

Things have gotten more complicated. My friend saw him in our city early last week. He told her he was in town for a funeral; she immediately called me and then he texted me a minute or two later with the same story. I was surprised he hadn't told me he'd be in town but I expressed my condolences and he asked if we could get lunch the next day before he flew back out. I never heard from him. Two days later, he finally sent me a text very late at night saying things had been busy at work and his week was off to a sad start. I responded immediately by text, very carefully stating my surprise and concern that he hadn't been talking to me the last couple days, while also acknowledging this wasn't the time to talk about it (I thought I was being sensitive to his grief). Since then, I have called him twice and left two very brief voicemails with a similar message. It's now been a week since his last contact with me, and almost two weeks since we last spoke.

Where do I go from here? I'm not planning on contacting him again, as I've been quite proud of myself for reigning in my anxious attachment style and contacting him what I think is very sparingly and compassionately (keeping it about my concern/care for him while expressing that I am also feeling confused and would like to reconnect). Is this relationship dead? How long should I wait? Is this normal grief? Help me to understand what you might do in this situation.

There have been some slight implausibilities with his coming into town for the funeral, namely that my friend saw him coming onto the subway line from the street at a stop that has no relationship to the airport he told me he had flown into. I also do not have any context for his life where he is - I don't have a mailing address and I haven't seen any photos. This of course has resulted in conspiracy theories that he's lying to me or *cymbal crash* never even moved. He has also intimated that he's working on an additional project that he can't talk about for security reasons, which jibes with his career and the city we lived in. So, the left-field theory is that he was in town for something secret for work. I think this tinfoil-hattedness is me (and my friends, who are trying to comfort me) grasping at straws to avoid the reality that he may just not be into me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total)
I think you and this guy are over and he's way too much of a chicken to tell you. I would block his number and move on.
posted by kinetic at 6:33 PM on January 21, 2014 [14 favorites]

My spidey senses are tingling. You mention several things (things got serious quickly but then cooled down when he moved, he told you he's bad at keeping in touch, he was in your city but didn't let you know until after your friend saw him, he never followed through with meeting up with you, you don't know where he's living now, he has a very secret work project he can't talk about) that altogether amount to a big red flag to me.

Does it matter if he's making everything up and never really moved or if he's just not that into you? Either way, DTMF.
posted by gumtree at 6:35 PM on January 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

I would do one of two things:

1. Contact him and break up with him kindly. Say something like, "I enjoyed our time together, and I am sorry for the death of your friend, but I don't want to continue this relationship any longer. I wish you all the best."

2. Assume you're broken up and that he was too much of a coward to tell you.

I'm sorry.
posted by sockermom at 6:35 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I don't know which of your "conspiracy theories" is right, but I think you should consider this relationship a) over and b) a bullet dodged.
posted by mskyle at 6:35 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I vote for "he never moved away" and is too cowardly to break up with you like a normal human.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 6:35 PM on January 21, 2014

very carefully stating my surprise and concern that he hadn't been talking to me the last couple days, while also acknowledging this wasn't the time to talk about it (I thought I was being sensitive to his grief).

Sorry homie, but this is really not being sensitive, at all. Dude's friend just died, and you're asking him we he hasn't called you for two days?! I am sorry, for me that would be deal-breaker territory, not sensitive. Dude's friend just died, he shouldn't be expected to contact anyone he doesn't want to contact. The fact you allude to bringing up your lack of contact in every single subsequent communication really speaks to a lot of insecurity in you, I think, and - again, if it were me - would shit me right, right up the wall when I was dealing with someone's death.

When my Dad died last year, I didn't want to talk to anyone, at all, about anything really. The last thing I needed was someone making demands of my time or emotional resource, I was trying to protect and nuture myself; I had no room.

Also, forget the conspiracy theory stuff. Either you trust this guy, or you don't trust him. If you don't trust him, break up with him. If you do trust him - stop overthinking it.

That all said, his general flakiness prior to this event would well and truly be a deal-breaker for me too. Honestly, to me, it sounds like the dude was giving you luke warm signals before he left, that have now shifted to almost actively cold. It sounds, to me, like he was using the move as a timeworn tactic for chickenshit young guys to do the breaking up for him, rather than having the cojones to do it himself.

If you want to contact him (I wouldn't, ball in his court now), I would say, "Hey Horatio, I hope you're starting to feel better. If you want to talk, you can just reach out to me, but otherwise I'll leave you be."

But honestly, it sounds like its pretty much over to me, anyway. You can do better than someone who acts like this guy before his friend died, honestly.
posted by smoke at 6:38 PM on January 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

You have a graceful out here. Take it.
posted by krakus at 6:39 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

This guy is no prize.

He's dumped you by being non-communicative and going radio silent. Block him and move on.

His behavior is not explainable or excusable!!

The lack of communication speaks volumes. Please stop your friends making up stories. It's not reality. It's not helping you.

Block this guy and move on.

I wish you the very best.


FWIW, I TOTALLY think the funeral thing is bullshit. I don't care what he's lying about, and you shouldn't either.

He's demonstrated that he's not available for a relationship. There's nothing else to understand.

This guy is full of dramaz and bullsh$t. Drop it and go be your fabulous self. Really.
posted by jbenben at 6:41 PM on January 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

"bad at keeping in touch"

That's a cop out. I can't speak for your guy, but I've used that phrase in the past to essentially warn people (who seemed to like me, more than I liked them) that I won't be in touch and they'll probably never hear from me again.

If he cared about you, he'd make it a point to keep in touch. 2 weeks without contact and the shadyness of his visit? This guy isn't being honest about something. Leave the ball in his court, but I would harden yourself to the notion he's going to bring it back so you guys can play.
posted by stubbehtail at 6:42 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

There is a middle ground. You could always say, "hey, look, this LDR doesn't seem to be working out for what I want. I understand you are busy with your job, and everything that happened with your friend, perhaps we should just walk away from this until you are back around". Then, see what he says, see what happens when he is supposed to be back in your area in June. A lot of people fall into the out of sight, out of mind thing. That's why LDRs didn't ever really work out so well, before Skype, and cheap long distance.
posted by kellyblah at 6:51 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Partners in a serious relationship communicate with each other during difficult times.

Whatever the difficulty in his life may be, it seems that sadly he is not ready to be a serious partner in this relationship.

For your sake and his, you can be the bigger person and let him know that this incompatibility has ended your relationship and you won't plan on reaching out to him anymore, but that you wish him well through this difficult time.

Then laugh at his weirdness and buy yourself a drink to celebrate your toughness!
posted by samthemander at 6:53 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, the possibility this guy is lying is so high, I think it might feel demeaning for you to"play along" and formally contact him to break up. If I'm right, don't force yourself to contact him to say good bye. He's already not contacting you.

It's OK to let it be.
posted by jbenben at 7:01 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

....I think I'm taking crazy pills or something, because my immediate reaction to this was "wait, the guy's friend just freakin' died and you've been texting him every other day asking what's going on and why he's not getting lunch with you?"

The guy's friend died. He may be a total wreck right now. He may be really private with his grief - one of my best friends, a guy I've known for 20 years, and who I actually DATED for a year and a half, didn't tell me for TWO WEEKS that his mother had died because that's how private he is. And that's a guy I've known for 20 years - this guy is someone you've only known for a couple months.

And it's not fair to pester a guy to have lunch with you two days later if he's come to town for a funeral. My grandfather died right when I was starting to see my ex - and one of the things that I was grateful for was that he didn't insist on us getting together and doing something for funsies until I was ready. He listened to me when I had to have a little meltdown the day I found out it happened, he reminded me that I could call him from the funeral if I had to, and that was that. He gave me the space to process my grief without asking me "oh by the way I want to go to a movie with you when you get back from the funeral because I want to see you".

Mind you, yeah, him not talking to you before this is a conversation you should have with him, but that is a conversation you should have when things have settled from his friend dying. Give him one more reminder that he can talk to you about what's happening if HE chooses to, and then drop it, and sit on your hands and let HIM process how he wants to deal with this. Check in with him later to see how he's doing rather than launching into "but why didn't you check in with me for a happy fun lunch while you were in town for the funeral" or whatever.

Actually, that's another theory for why he didn't check in with you - maybe he was helping the family with the arrangements and didn't have time. Maybe he wasn't able to get much time off work - I only got 24 hours to go to my parents' house the night before my grandfather's funeral, and then go to the service and one hour of the wake, and then had to have some second cousin drive me to the train station so I could be back in New York that same night to open a play. I wouldn't have had any TIME for a date under those conditions even if I'd been IN the right headspace for one. At least, that's a way more credible theory than "he has been secretly hiding from you".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 PM on January 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

I agree with jbenben. It's over. If you contact him to break it off, you could end up getting overly emotional and then feel worse -- and he obviously does not care about your feelings all that much. I'm sorry. Some people get really crushed out at first and then -- crickets. Bullet dodged. Move on and be awesome!
posted by quixotictic at 7:09 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I forgot to add: If all he does need is space (and I know I would if a friend just died), not contacting him will give him that. And then if he does come around, and if you haven't found someone better, then perhaps you can reconsider things.
posted by quixotictic at 7:12 PM on January 21, 2014

Weird. Guy's probably avoidant and there's a very strong possibility he's a liar.

Be wary of people who come on too strong next time, maybe?

I'd just stop messaging him at all. I'd probably go on other dates, too. (Maybe not sleep with anyone else right away just yet, but go get coffee or something) When/if he messages you, don't respond right away. Then take it from there. Unless he does some kind of real turnaround or starts getting more communicative, I'd cut my losses.
posted by quincunx at 7:38 PM on January 21, 2014

I'm with Empress Callipygos, and kind of surprised that every other response is telling you to dump him. It's been a WEEK. His friend just died. And your only contact with him has been the occasional message making this about you, saying, "Why haven't you called?" Give him a little time.

Maybe it's over, maybe he's just going through a tough time right now. I don't think you can know for sure yet. Wait another week and then get in touch with him, telling him you understand things have been tough and you care about him, period. Then wait another week after that. If you still haven't heard from him, or heard anything good, move on.
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:02 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think people jumping on the DTMFA train are not thinking rationally about the timeline. They only met and began dating two months ago, and they only just started discussing exclusivity. He is suffering from the death of a friend. There are plenty of people who go into total withdrawal mode, and given how little you know each other it is extremely plausible he does not feel comfortable going to you with his grief (especially given how guys are conditioned to react to sadness). It's one thing if you two were in a long-term, well-established relationship. But you barely know each other. It is extremely uncool for you to demand his attention while he's dealing with this situation.

Maybe he wasn't ready to see you. Maybe he wanted to spend his time in the city with other friends who knew his friend. Maybe he wanted to spend that time with his friend's family. The closer he was to this friend, the more likely all of this is. It is totally crazy-pants for you to jump from "he was in town for the funeral and didn't want to party with me" to "HIS ENTIRE LIFE IS A LIE".

A guy I know reacted to the grief-stricken withdrawal of his brand-new girlfriend after the death of her friend by completely flipping out and accusing her of cheating and all that crap. None of the sort happened--she just needed time to herself. But it ended their relationship tout de suite.

It is totally possible it's over, but not because of some weird elaborate lie he's creating to avoid you. It's possible after you pressured him repeatedly to see you while he was grieving his friend he decided he did not want to deal with that shit.
posted by schroedinger at 8:10 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Guy sounds like a waste of time.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:22 PM on January 21, 2014

My spidey-sense is going crazy on this one. Did he ever mention the name of his friend who died? Like "my friend Jason died" vs "a friend died." If no name, it's a lie, and you should move on (and be awesome).
posted by nkknkk at 8:34 PM on January 21, 2014

He is unfortunately doing the classic Dude Avoidance Silent Dump Behavior thing. Regardless of whether or not it's based on actual grief, he is clearly behaving like he's lost interest in you. He is flaking out, weaseling out, and most likely lying to you. I would not contact him again. If he still has interest in you, it's up to him to make contact now. (But they never, ever do.) I'm sorry.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:36 PM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Okay, I think the conspiracy theories are really odd. He might not have been coming right from the airport - maybe he was on his way to the funeral parlour from the family's house, or the other way round, or something. And wouldn't it be hard to live in the same city while lying to you and saying he's living somewhere else? Especially doing the same job etc? I don't know where you live, if you're in a huge metropolis like NY then obviously that could work, otherwise it just seems like it would be too hard to explain if he accidentally ran into you. You've come up with a really complicated scenario to explain what is probably something much simpler.

I've known lots of people who retreat and shut out their friends and loved ones in times of difficulty, whether it's death or personal crisis or some other kind of major stress. He doesn't know you all that well and may be thinking he doesn't want to be all upset and mopey on this person he really likes. He may be so wrapped up in his new understanding of mortality that he can't bear to talk to anyone right now. He may want to talk to you but feel it's not fair to stress you out. Who knows?

Ultimately though it sounds like you don't trust him to be telling you the truth. Whether he is or not, that's not a very good basis of a relationship. It's pretty hard to begin trusting someone you have decided (consciously or not) to distrust, so it seems foolish to continue.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:41 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seriously people? People deal with grief in all kinds of ways. I just found out that a friend died tragically and unexpectedly -- a friend I cared a lot about, but who moved away a year ago and I have kept in light contact with, but who was planning on moving back soon and who I was expecting to see in a few months. I am... in shock. If I was dating someone right now, my last thought would be to tell them that my friend died. I'm not a particularly private person, but my grief is about me and my friend. And if it was a very close friend, I would be an absolute mess and just trying to deal with keeping on top of work while dealing with my grief. He doesn't have the mental and emotional energy to keep up with you right now. Chill out, and give him some space. You aren't close enough yet to be the one he turns to with his grief, and that's okay. A new romantic relationship is a point of happiness in his life, and he's in mourning. Happiness and mourning just don't go together. Be there for him when he's ready.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:45 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have we changed so much as a society, that a few strange text messages successfully stands in for respectful human contact?

Dude has not spoken to the OP in over two weeks.

What little has been communicated to the OP over two weeks has been through text message, and mostly only after the dude was "caught" somewhere he should not have been.

Dude invited the OP to lunch via text, failed to follow up, and then disappeared off the radar.

Finally, there's real no reason to believe anyone has died.

It's weird to argue the OP does not deserve even the briefest of phone calls.

Again, have we changed so much as a society, that a few strange text messages stand in for respectful human contact??

OP, you deserve someone who at least freakin' calls you when important stuff happens, or simply to break a lunch date!

Dude is either rude, weird, a liar - or a bit of all three.

Consider yourself lucky you found this out early and move on.
posted by jbenben at 8:54 PM on January 21, 2014 [17 favorites]

[Folks, as usual, do not argue or debate with other commenters. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:58 PM on January 21, 2014

Yeah, I'm with jbenben on this one.

Sure, he can decide he needs to be alone at the moment. But he needs to tell the OP about that decision. You know, a text message (at the bare minimum), saying 'I know I've been unavailable, but I'm just not dealing with things since the death of XYZ. Please know that it's not about you...I just need some space.' Or, you know, something, rather than disappearing-trick behaviour that any rational person would interpret as 'dumped'.

Unless, you know, he doesn't care if you interpret his behaviour as 'dumped'.
posted by Salamander at 9:01 PM on January 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Yeah, he's weird. On the one hand, people saying "I wouldn't be wanting to meet up for lunch to chit chat with a new date right after my friend died" are quite reasonable. On the other hand, I actually have known someone (two someones, now that i think about it) who pretended to leave town and never did, in order to really cowardly break up with someone. One of them actually faked having cancer and wanting to move back to be with his kids... And was later spotted on a date with a new woman in the same city. Oops.

So honestly I would be taking a big emotional step back, busying yourself with other things, and assuming the two of you are done. If he contacts you later and seems to be acting normally, it's up to you if you want to be supportive and carry on (with your eyes wide open) or if you want to politely and gracefully tell him you think it best to move on.
posted by celtalitha at 9:02 PM on January 21, 2014

In no way do I mean to convey with my answers the OP should be wrathful or angry towards this fellow.

Rather, there is a bare minimum of effort and civility required between people who are dating. This guy is doing it wrong.

Communicating tragedy via text and flaking on plans doesn't meet the minimum requirements for Healthy Relationship Standards (TM).

Clarity and firm boundaries are required here.

Sorry for any confusion.
posted by jbenben at 9:08 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Finally, there's real no reason to believe anyone has died.

There's no real reason to believe that he's lying other than paranoia.
posted by elizardbits at 9:19 PM on January 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Wow, sorry. Best case, he is a terrible communicator. Worst case, awful lying scum. But I guess it doesn't really matter? You seem to have no choice but to quietly move on.

Unless you want to call and demand the straight stuff. Which, after two-ish months, I don't know if that is an appropriate thing to do. Two months isn't so long. I have definitely talked about the future with men I've dated for a few months, meaning it at the time, but realized it wouldn't work out later.

I might suggest calling once and trying to get the story. Asking a clear question like, "Seems like our communication has dropped off. Do you want to move on or is this grief? Just be honest." I don't know if you would get a truthful answer, but at least you didn't go out without dignity. I think it's degrading to sit around waiting. I'd also personally take an uncomfortable few minute conversation over torturous not knowing.

Otherwise, continue not contacting. You can't help holding onto some breath of hope, probably. Just don't let yourself get jerked around. He'll probably contact you again, but I think his story should be pretty good for you to continue dating him. I'd also let him know then, if I was going to keep on with him, that I understand grief and all, but no contact is upsetting and not going to work.
posted by amodelcitizen at 9:38 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Move on, but I see no point in demonizing him. Though it is somehow addictive, I encourage you to try to detach yourself from overanalyzing his actions, playing the blame-game, indulging in conspiracy theories with your friends (who sound like they enjoy creating drama). If I were in your position, I would wait it out a little more without contacting him while mentally practicing not being attached to this relationship anymore. Maybe it will work out, maybe it won't, but you've experienced some bumps in the road and the distance thing obviously isn't working.

He's definitely bad at communicating not-in-person, he probably should have emailed or called to tell you he was going to be in town but was going to be busy and didn't feel up to getting together. In your place, I would not be offended if he didn't want to hang out during this brief funeral visit but I would feel weird if he kept it a secret. He felt bad and asked you to lunch even though he didn't want to go. I might have even turned him down if I were in your place (another good reason he should have called because actually talking on the phone you can pick up on emotional cues).

My next move would be to wait a few days, or a week, and call or email him. If he has continued radio silence, I would apologize for putting pressure on him to get together when he was grieving BUT continue on to say that you need a little more communication than this and you don't think this whole long distance thing is going to work. If I liked having fun with him, I would probably say hanging out when he gets back in June is still on the table but be firm that until then, you have no obligation to each other. If you keep in touch casually as friends in the meantime, so be it. Short version: This isn't working out. We can revisit the issue when you're back in town if we want. If he contacts you in the meantime, my message would be the same as above.
posted by dahliachewswell at 9:56 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Either way - no matter what is going on here - you're unhappy. That's what matters. It's early enough in the relationship that people are saying to cut bait rather than try to figure out what is going on in his head or to wait for him to take some kind of action. Whether he's overcome by grief or being a coward or just plain busy is kind of beside the point: you are not happy with this new status quo - which is why people are advising you to break up with him or to just assume you're broken up.

Good luck.
posted by sockermom at 9:58 PM on January 21, 2014

Whether he's in bereavement or bailing out, ask yourself if this is acceptable/understandable behavior for you. For some people, it is.

If it's not for you, he's not for you.
posted by sm1tten at 10:03 PM on January 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Do you have any mutual friends at all who can confirm his story? Did you ever meet any of his friends? My guess is married.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:08 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Assuming he is in the distant city and everything he has ever told you before was true, it's still pretty shitty to go radio silent without any warning to someone who is supposedly so important in your life. The standard for a long distance relationship needs a lot more attention and care than a "normal" one. So jettison all the "maybe he didn't move" and "maybe someone didn't die" thoughts and take everything he's said at face value...and then ask yourself, "Is this a person who has shown that he respects our relationship?"

Death of a friend doesn't get you out of being a human and sending a brief explanation as to where you're going or what you're doing or why you're not responsive. I don't think he can be in a long distance relationship. He doesn't know how to.
posted by inturnaround at 3:11 AM on January 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

To me it seems like the dead friend is an obvious lie but clearly a lot of people see it differently!

But I don't think it matters all that much for you, OP - you think of this as a "relationship" where you provide him support when he is down, and even if he's not lying, he doesn't seem to see it that way. See if he texts you back. See if he gets back in touch when he comes back in June. Don't hold your breath. This doesn't seem like it was meant to be.
posted by mskyle at 5:22 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't see how if this guy really did move away, and if his friend really did die, that he wouldn't contact the person "he adored" to at least say, "This horrible thing happened, I'll be in town for the funeral, I really want to see you, but I don't know how the timeline is going to play out."

More likely, this guy either never moved, or he did come into town with NO intention of contacting the OP, and only when caught, did he contact her and let her know that he was in town, although why he bothered I don't know because I don't think he has any intentions of continuing the relationship.

Sweetie, I'm so sorry, and I agree, you've dodged a bullet.

I wouldn't bother contacting him again, and I'd block him on phone and social media.

There's something going on, but you're too awesome and fabulous to be arsed with finding out what it is.

I think we've all had one of these weirdos in our lives, you've met yours. They're an enigma wrapped in a riddle and you might want to try and unravel it, but even if you do, all you'll find is a chewy-shit center.

Hang in there, it's rough, but you'll get over it, pretty quickly too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:37 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

A: If you believe that his friend has just died, (and he's not in his 90s) it was probably sudden—so heart-attack/stroke, accident, or suicide.

If that's so, when he sends you a text about it and you reply back with anything other than
"Oh my gosh! I am so sorry—please let me know if there's anything I can do!"
(such as
"...very carefully stating my surprise and concern that he hadn't been talking to me the last couple days"
when someone he loved has just died and he will never—even if he lives 100 years—get to see/talk-to/hug that person again, even once, for the rest of his life)

...well I could see that it very well might make him question the decency of someone he's been long-distance dating for a couple of months.

B: If you don't trust him, you shouldn't be in a relationship (especially long distance) with him.
posted by blueberry at 10:26 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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