One date with someone who was bereaved shortly after
April 14, 2014 6:53 PM   Subscribe

I've been on one date with a man whose brother died shortly afterwards. I want to support him and respect his decisions (including about whether to continue the relationship) but absolutely do not want to take advantage of his grief. I don't know how to approach this.

Gay man here, out at work. I recently went on a date with a co-worker who, towards the end of the date, told me his brother had just been diagnosed with brain cancer. He thought his brother was a fighter and would be around a long time. Friday that week he left town to visit his brother, and came back Tuesday of last week.

My co-worker isn't out at work. We work in different departments, on different floors. Last week I kept meaning to ask about his brother whenever I ran into him--which usually happens a few times a week, sometimes as we're leaving--but I never ran into him. This weekend I was beating myself up about not creating some ruse to visit his office, and I went by first thing this morning.

He's out this week on bereavement leave.

Looking at it realistically, the relationship is probably over. That was a horrible time not to follow through, regardless of any reasons.

Still, I want to support him in whatever way possible. Things are complicated by the fact that we'd only just started dating and I don't know what he wants from the relationship. I have no way to contact him except at work--I don't have his email address or phone number and he's not on social media.

It's probably a one in one billion chance, but if he's still interested in a relationship, I wouldn't mind seeing where it goes. But I absolutely do not want to take advantage of him.

So regardless of whatever he wants, or even if he doesn't know what he wants, I'm not sure what to say or do. Whatever happens, I don't want to cause him any more pain.

As you can guess, I'm not very good with social situations, and would love some advice.

Yes, I've seen this question. I don't think it's the same: he's not stonewalling me, and I don't think he might be lying.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total)
You don't have his email address, you don't have his phone number, he isn't on social media, he isn't at work? I think you are powerless to fuck anything up here.

He'll be back at work at some point. You can talk to him then.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:57 PM on April 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

Wait until he comes back and ask gently about his brother. Expect nothing, and see if anything comes of it.
posted by xingcat at 7:00 PM on April 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

Is it common knowledge that his brother died?
If so, then whenever he comes back just ask gently after his family. "how are you and your family doing?"

You can also ask him if he would like company during lunch sometime.
Then just listen to his cues--is he talking about work only? Then keep the conversation on work.
is he starting off the conversation about why he's been out. Then feel free to let him talk about his family.
Don't demand information--just see where the conversation goes.
posted by calgirl at 7:11 PM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Looking at it realistically, the relationship is probably over. That was a horrible time not to follow through, regardless of any reasons.

I'm not sure I agree with that. Personally, I probably would have tried to reach out, but having "no way to contact him" is a heck of a complicating factor. Depending on your work atmosphere, you could leave a friendly condolence card on his desk or go in on something coordinated by someone else—a flower arrangement, a card, etc. But if you truly have no way to reach him, then I'm not sure where you can fault yourself. What specifically should you have done, that you didn't do, that you could have done?

Moreover, when I say that I personally would have tried to reach out...that's me. Not everybody would. Post–first date dynamics can be weird and nervous and tricky to navigate, especially for people who aren't good with social situations. So I also wouldn't be offended by sombody not reaching out (immediately) in this circumstance. If we're talking about a relationship partner, then yeah, major fail. But a single-date nebulous [noun]? Nah. It would be weird if you never follow up, and if would be weird if you don't offer condolences when you do follow up...but not following up immediately? Excusable. Many people would have behaved similarly on the logic of giving respectful space.
posted by cribcage at 7:11 PM on April 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

You could send him a work email saying that you know he's off at the moment and you are terribly sorry about his loss. When he gets back and reads your email feel free to drop you a line, even if it's just to catch up for a drink a chat, no pressure etc. You're thinking of him.

That way he'll get it on his return and know he was in your thoughts.
posted by Youremyworld at 7:17 PM on April 14, 2014 [20 favorites]

You could leave him a card - as a friend.

"That was a horrible time not to follow through, regardless of any reasons." Actually that was a perfect opportunity to give some space. Which your instincts told you to do.

This is not the time for you to advance the relationship. This is the time where you look for cues.
posted by vapidave at 7:23 PM on April 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you send an email, keep it short, keep it simple.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:24 PM on April 14, 2014

He thought his brother would be around for a while. You had no reason to doubt this. Now that you know what happened, now is the time to reach out to him, as best/however you can. There's no expiration date on expressions of sympathy, and they don't have to be over the top. When you see him, say you're sorry.

It isn't like you saw him and said nothing. That would be a different story.

Personally, after my mother died, I saw things in a much more "better do what I want to do, and not waffle" perspective. Grab life and live it kind of thing. So he might be feeling the opposite of what you suggest here.
posted by lyssabee at 7:33 PM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

You're really catastrophizing on a number of levels.

You went on one date. He isn't out at work and you don't have each other's contact information. What's the supposed crime? You didn't stop by his office for 4 days? Seriously? Or anticipate his brother's imminent demise?

Why would you assume there is no chance he'd be interested in a relationship? This is not "looking at it realistically."

Send an email to his work address. Mention that you stopped by to say hi but heard he's out on family bereavement and you wanted to offer your condolences.

He might not write back when he gets back. Drop by once, or send another email once, and see what happens.

This isn't "taking advantage of him." Why would you jump to that conclusion? It's not like you're brainwashing him - you're reaching out to pay your regards. He's an adult able to make his own decisions in response to your actions.

Honestly it sounds like you've got some anxiety going on, and could do a bit of work to tone it down a bit.

And don't date closeted co-workers. It won't end well.
posted by barnone at 7:54 PM on April 14, 2014 [9 favorites]

One date--there's no relationship and I doubt he expected much, or anything. Relax. If you have no way to contact him but work, and he's not out at work, you're sort of out of luck right now.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:05 PM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

A short note of sympathy when your fear of the worst is confirmed. Say you are there to support him if he ever needs anything.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:25 PM on April 14, 2014

I don't mean to be unkind, but. You're co-workers who've had one date, and you don't have any contact information for each other outside of work. I think that means there's no relationship yet, and thus no expectation that you conform to relationship expectations (i.e. checking in during his trip to see his brother, and on his return.) I also think that you are kind of making this all about you and how mortified you are, which is totally understandable since you can't actually make it about him without his input, but you need to get that under control if you want to date this man more.

Put a (sealed) card in his office mailbox or his desk drawer, or send an e-mail to his work address, with a note expressing your condolences, your wish to be helpful to him, and your phone number. He won't get it until he's back from leave, but that's not a problem. (Also, don't word it in a way that outs him if someone else gets nosy.)

I am not sure what you mean by "taking advantage" but grief-spurred emotional vulnerability doesn't mean that a new relationship has to go super-fast or get super-intense. You can't accidentally take advantage of the situation.
posted by gingerest at 9:43 PM on April 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, you are making this weird.

He didn't give you the option to contact him and you've only been on one date. That means you have no obligations, and in normal people land you back the fuck off until he comes back. A note of platonic, general sympathy on his desk and that is it.

I actually had a similar experience. I had reached out to someone i used to date, wanting to give it another shot. I sent him a quick email saying that. He emailed me back in a few hours. Unfortunately his mother had passed away the day before and he wouldn't be able to talk for a while.

I was mortified, and sent him a short note of sympathy and an apology for intruding. Then I left him alone. oh and I was super mortified at going out on a limb like that- and then managing to pick maybe the 100% worst time in history.

He called me a week later. It worked out just fine.

Let the dude drive the contact bus for a while. He'll let you know how much contact he wants and needs.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:38 AM on April 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

You've been on one date and the natural course of things would be that either you'd go on another, or not.

But it was inturrupted by this horrible tragedy.

Trust me, he is not thinking about you right now, nor is he expecting an SO level of support from you.

When he returns to work, ask him how he's doing, and see where it goes. Let him come to you.

When you go through the death of a loved one, everything is so focused on family, grief and moving forward with arrangements and other things that so chances are that this guy will be right where you left him after your last date.

Don't obsess over this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:58 AM on April 15, 2014

A short, simple 'sorry for your loss' card on his desk is better than an email. Cards don't come with the implied expectation of a response, emails usually do. The key is to express sympathy in a way that frees the bereaved from the obligation to return everyday social niceties.

This too is why it's a good idea to assume he'll pick things up with you if/when he wants. Low key, no pressure is rarely a bad approach to relationships, doubly so for workplace romances, a thousand times so for situations like this.
posted by space_cookie at 7:27 AM on April 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Give him a condolence card with a simple note of sympathy written by hand.

His attention and emotions have understandably been else where. It may be some time before he has any desired to explore a relationship with anyone.

Be a friend. Give him that gift without expectations.
posted by cat_link at 10:51 AM on April 15, 2014

Something similar once happened to me from the other side. When I received news that my grandmother had passed away, I was out with a group of friends, and became visibly distressed and left. The guy I was newly dating at the time (a week) sent me a text checking up on me, and then a follow up text the next day to ask if I was okay. I didn't offer any other information--in fact, I never told him what happened--and he didn't pry, but it meant a lot to me that he checked in. If he hadn't said anything and had totally backed off without even expressing his condolences, that would have been the end of any possible relationship, at least for me.

It's true that everyone deals with pain differently and he might want nothing more than for everyone to leave him alone, but I think it would still be a good idea to express your condolences. Maybe leave him a note, and then when he returns, instead of asking him directly about his family or brother, I would just ask how he's doing. If he brings it up you can ask more; if not you can back off.

He might be the kind of person that withdraws or some time, or he might be the kind of person that jumps straight back into life in an effort to bulldoze through the pain. If I were you, I would continue to speak to him and let him know that you care about him, but as one human being to another, not as someone hoping for a relationship. I would absolutely not contact him for a second date. When he's ready, if he wants to see you again, he'll contact you. And I would keep in mind that even if you do continue dating, he might be in a weird and vulnerable mindset. For me, soon after that death, I learned that two more family members needed surgery and one lost his job, and the next day I pretty much flipped out over nothing and broke it off with the guy.
posted by placoderm at 11:59 AM on April 15, 2014

You might be surprised how much positive karma it carries with him for you to respect the fact that he is not out at work and thus keep things on the downlow there. That might matter a helluva lot more to him than any warm-friendlies you think you "should" have been giving him -- what with warm friendly behavior being a potential means to out him accidentally. Outing him accidentally is highly likely to be a much bigger deal-breaker than whatever faux pas you think you may have committed here.

Whenever you do see him again, just be sensitive and caring about things. Continue to respect his boundaries. Maybe mention that you had hoped to run into him but simply didn't. (I mean try to comment on it in a manner that conveys that you would like to see him again, whether socially or romantically, but did not want to be intrusive, especially since he is not out at work.) You can let him know that you meant to ask about his brother but just never saw him, then went to his office to ask and he was already on leave and you are sorry for his loss. I don't see a problem with any of that.

It might even be okay to say "Maybe I am making too much of this." Sometimes admitting (in a low key fashion) that you are a little nervous and hoping for the approval of a potential romantic partner is something they find flattering.
posted by Michele in California at 1:18 PM on April 15, 2014

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