relationships of all kinds are hard to sort out
February 21, 2008 3:42 PM   Subscribe

My dad died recently, and the resulting grief and intense emotional state I'm in have ramped up feelings I have for an unattainable person... a crush. I'm happily married, and this is confusing and painful.

First the crush situation, in a nutshell: I’m happily married. I didn’t have much relationship experience and nil sexual experience before meeting my husband. We’re best friends. We have a good relationship, a beautiful daughter and still, after over 10 years of being married, good sex.

In retrospect, I’ve usually had a crush going over the years, something I attribute to being curious because of my lack of experience. I’m working on reframing this in my head so that it doesn’t feel like I’m missing out by not having a lot of sexual experiences. And it's helping.

The current crush is pretty serious… Or should I say, it’s taking up a lot of my brain time (I have OCD - being treated and therapied). He lives on my street, and I really, really like him. He’s funny, he’s sweet and really attractive. I don’t really want to be physical with him or go beyond some gentle flirting (well, I do, but I won’t). I’m also not blind enough to realize that he’s someone I would probably be incompatible with, should situations be different.

Now the grieving: To complicate things, since my Dad died just a few weeks ago, I really want to just be with him. He’s the only one of my friends who is single and without kids and can just do whatever spur of the moment. He reminds me of my dad in a lot of ways. I feel comforted by being with him. Frankly, I think being with him takes me out of my world that’s been recently turned upside-down. My husband and my daughter are going through their own grieving processes too.

I email him a lot, check his MySpace page quite often, think about him, occasionally leave him little happys on his doorstep, invite him over to watch a movie with us, etc. These gestures are not often reciprocated, but when they are, they are really nice – a cooked meal, a raked yard. I don’t know why, but that doesn’t bother me. He’s rather shy, and I think the gestures on my part have maybe helped him come out of his shell a little. But you know what? He hasn’t really said he’s sorry about my dad’s death. He’s listened to me talk about it a lot, but he’s not really made any efforts on his own to express sympathy.

I love my husband and my family devotedly. I also like him, and would like to continue our friendship. I just wish there was a way I could just turn off my feelings, and dare I say longing, for him. It’s getting painful and confusing. Maybe I would be better off by cooling this relationship down some? That just seems so hard right now.

I realize that I’m in a grieving period and a lot feels “off”, and while I feel comfort from my crush, I also feel like I’m spending too much energy on this and possibly hiding from myself. I would like to make some healthy steps here, but I don’t think I have the perspective to do so right now. Where do I start?

Thanks all.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm very sorry for your loss.

It sounds like you've got a good handle on why you're behaving the way you are, which is good. Crushes are normal, even when you're married, and I wouldn't chalk it up to you not having had much experience before you got married. Crushes just are. A friend of mine used to say "I might be tied to the porch, but I can still bark!"

I'd talk in greater detail with your therapist about this, and if you're not already meeting at least weekly, I'd bump up the frequency.

And you need to stop checking your crush's myspace page. Stop leaving him treats, stop emailing him. I think there's a good chance that the crush has grown since your dad's death because your crush can listen to you and yet isn't involved in the grief process - this probably makes it a very attractive place for you to be. You may feel (subconsciously) that talking with your husband or daughter just adds to the sadness, yours and theirs. And you may be making the crush a little bit into a pseudo-therapist - that is, his attention is focused on you and your feelings, and you don't really have to think about how he feels about this loss, because it wasn't his loss. Makes him safe, in a way.

But dangerous. You're risking a lot here, as it sounds like you know. So do what you know you need to do, and no, it won't be easy, and yes, it will probably be kind of painful.

Stop with the treats. Stop with the flirting. Stop with the emotionally intimate chats. There is no shortcut or trick to this - especially since he lives right down the street, and it's unlikely that either of you will just pick up and move - so you're going to have to grab up all you willpower and just stop.

And this might sound stupid, but take up a hobby, or start taking a class in something, or pick up a volunteer gig. This will both take up some of the time you might otherwise spend checking his myspace page and daydreaming about him, and get you out of your head. Volunteering can be especially rewarding in this respect.

You may also want to check out a grief support group, since that may give you an alternate, safer place to talk about your feelings without worrying about hurting your husband and child.

Good luck to you.
posted by rtha at 4:10 PM on February 21, 2008 [8 favorites]

My condolences on the loss of your dad.

I believe you are right - you would be better off dialing way back the relationship with your crush. You want to put that emotional energy into your marriage. Have you given your husband a chance to be as good a friend/support to you as you perceive your crush to be? If you invest in your marriage, your husband ideally is the one to give you the support you need - and your relationship will be stronger.

So cut back a lot on the contact with your crush; and no emailing, no looking at his MySpace, and so on. If you can possibly afford it (and get someone to care for your daughter), take a mini-vacation or weekend getaway with your husband, just the two of you, and spend some quality time together. Even if you can't spare the money or there's no-one to watch your child, just some afternoon or evening "quality couple time" might be just what you need to see that it's your *husband* - not your crush - who emotionally sustains you.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:11 PM on February 21, 2008

My condolences. Its a way of distracting yourself from your grief. An unsolvable problem which excites your senses and can be thought of endlessly. It is getting in the way of you getting through this, which is what you are trying to do.

When you feel your crush coming on, think about how sad you are that your dad died. Hard way to go through it, but you must in order to move on with your life. Stop seeing the friend often.

Also, I'm certain your husband knows of it on some level.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:14 PM on February 21, 2008

I'm also very sorry for your loss. It hurts to lose a parent, no matter what your relationship with them. I've learned, over the years since losing my parents (about 10 years apart) that you end up forcing yourself into a more introspective look at everything in your life. That's where the danger comes in.

You hurt, and rightly so, You want the pain to go away. You think, on some level "If I change this about my life, I won't hurt any more".

It's an illusion, and a common one. I went many of the places you are going in my mind after my mother's death. Eventually, I realized that my life was going to be just the same as it was before my mother passed, if I would only let it. I will always miss my parents, but now comes the part where I'm really supposed to be the adult. There's no older figure, or court of appeal, if you will. That's the most frightening part and maybe the most unspoken part of this loss.

I also second everything rtha said. You need to talk to relatively unbiased people about this.
posted by pjern at 4:18 PM on February 21, 2008

I'm so sorry for the loss of your father.

Some people may chime in here to call you a terrible person for developing feelings for someone else like this. I'm not one of them. The heart is a complex thing; crushes happen, and under certain circumstances -- such as in the middle of grief, as you are experiencing -- they can intensify. As you've rightly noted, the elements of freedom, comfort, and escape become very powerful and attractive, especially because this is someone you don't have a complicated, day-to-day relationship with.

Having said all that, and since it's clear that you love your husband and don't wish to end your marriage, you have to put the following idea front and center in your mind: you are doing yourself no favors. You are slowly but steadily creating an emotional attachment to this friend that, while pleasant and comforting now, will cause deep heartache for you (and potentially -- depending on how far it goes -- your friend, your husband, and your daughter) . In the short run, it feels good (think hitting the snooze button in the morning), but in the long run, it will make you miserable (think frantically running late for a plane you have to catch because you snoozed too damn long).

I don't say any of this to condemm you; on the contrary, I truly sympathize (and speak from some experience). You are at the beginning of a road here, and I can almost guarantee that you do not want to go down it. You cannot presently turn off your romantic feelings for this friend, so there is not currently the possiblity of pursuing a friendship with him. (Romantic feelings can and do fade, and the possiblity certainly exists that you can be friends again in the future, but this is not that time -- again, I speak from hard, painful experience on this score.)

To that end, you must simply stop escalating things -- no more "happys" on the doorstep. No more emailing and MySpace checking. No more shared dinners and raked lawns. Yes, it is hard -- it will be for quite awhile. But in those moments when it is difficult, and you are scared and hurting for the comfort his friendship temporarily brings, take a deep breath and tell yourself this: feelings pass. Whatever happens, I can handle it. Then distract yourself with something that helps you take care of yourself -- exercise, read, take a warm bath, work in the garden, watch your favorite comedy DVD.

If you're still tempted to idealize him, remind yourself of this excellent observation you make here about him: "But you know what? He hasn’t really said he’s sorry about my dad’s death. He’s listened to me talk about it a lot, but he’s not really made any efforts on his own to express sympathy." That says a lot about who he is, and about the fact that he doesn't really meet an essential need of yours right now.

Over time, you'll start to retrain yourself -- to get out of the emotional habit with him. And you'll be able to focus on your own grief, as well as the central relationships in your life with your husband and daughter.

I wish you well. Email's in profile if you'd like to contact me.
posted by scody at 4:25 PM on February 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

The best advice I've heard on this is to never do anything that will have major emotional consequences for 1 year after a major loss. You'll want to do it, but just don't do it.

In terms of coping mechanisms vis-a-vis your crush. I'd avoid being around him. This probably isn't what you want to hear, but you're going to drive yourself mad being round this man. You can tell him why you're distancing yourself from him, and I personally would do just that, but you have to enforce a distance. If only for a couple of months. If he's a good friend and a good person, he'll understand.

There's nothing you're feeling or doing that is wrong. As scody said, the heart is a complex thing. You just need to put yourself out of harms way for a while.
posted by seanyboy at 4:42 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Listen to scody.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:06 PM on February 21, 2008

I just wish there was a way I could just turn off my feelings, and dare I say longing, for him. It’s getting painful and confusing. Maybe I would be better off by cooling this relationship down some? That just seems so hard right now.

You know the answer to your question, obviously, and I'll agree with you. Attraction can't be controlled - when it is problematic, avoiding said person is, sadly, the only solution. It's not worth the risk 6 months down the road when you feel like you're well on the road to recovery, then suddenly you have a bad day, and your crush is "there for you" during a moment of weakness.
posted by MillMan at 5:09 PM on February 21, 2008

I've (almost) been through the same thing as you and can understand some of what you're feeling. I'm really sorry to hear about the loss of your dad.

I'm a gay man and was in a relationship when my dad died. I terminated my relationship (grieving often gives you the strength to do such things), and fell in love with a guy who worked in a shop I frequented. I just thought he was the best thing since the sliced bread he sold.

After an utterly disastrous and difficult few months, I halted the whole thing. Looking back, I realised this guy had some qualities and almost the same smile as my dad had. Strange, but it was only with some distance and reflection that I realised this. I realised it was a bizarre way of keeping hold of things I remembered about my dad. Kind of f*cked up, but that's exactly what it was for me.

I don't know if this is the case for you, or whether this guy represents something fatherly or protective in your life that perhaps you're not getting from home. Please don't do anything rash at this stage as your feelings will probably change as you adjust to your new situation with a changed family.

For me, I also found having a virtual stranger in my life of tremendous benefit as it was someone who could listen and was interested in me and my problems as it was fresh to him too. However, going into a new relationship with the depression of grief hanging over you is perhaps not the best start. Perhaps the most you can do is enjoy the fantasy, because it could turn out to be similar to a teenage crush.

Just give it time, like everyone has said - you've had enough emotional highs to deal with, and perhaps it's best not to take on any more! Best of luck to you.
posted by stenoboy at 5:18 PM on February 21, 2008

PS on the above: I just re-read your post and you said he does remind you of your dad in lots of ways. I think that's your answer: your feelings for this guy will change as you adjust to life without having your dad around, and I suspect the crush feelings might dissipate. (That's what happened to me anyway!)
posted by stenoboy at 5:21 PM on February 21, 2008

I've been through a very similar experience... although I was Fourteen when Dad died, and had had the crush on the boy for a few months before he died.

Mine was complicated by the fact that at fourteen I'd decided that no boy was ever going to find me attractive ever again... I'd have to make the most of this, or miss out completely.

Also, I was dealing with a hell of a lot of guilt - I was alone with him when he died.

I can remember thinking quite clearly in the weeks and months after Dad died that I was feeling worse over things with The Boy not working out than I was about Dad dying. In fact, this wasn't the case.

I'm certainly not a therapist or medical professional in any way shape or form, but as I understand it, and from discussions with my own counselors etc, I had a bad case of "Transference" and it sounds like you do too.

I couldn't cope with the fact that Dad died - it was something too big for me to come to terms with, and too big to compute. Falling in love and having it not work out, however, was something I *could* deal with - so by fixating on this crush I had with The Boy, I was dealing with my feelings for my dad.

I am so sorry for your loss - no matter how old you are it's never easy to lose a parent. And I know how important having something to take my mind off things was to me in the period after Dad died - but, as I think you know, it's not much healthier to obsess over a person, particularly when you're married and in the madness of grief you could do something to stuff that up.

I believe getting distance is a good idea. It's generally the last thing I want, and letting go of people terrifies me, as I think I'll never see them again, but when you come back to them with some distance, things are generally much healthier, and much happier.

In the last week, I have finally (after 8 years or so) found and talked with The Boy, and it's been some real closure for me.

Please feel free to message me if you need someone to talk to about this.
posted by jonathanstrange at 5:40 PM on February 21, 2008

this happened with my mom when her mother died. she developed a crush on a man even though she was still married to my father and had been for 30+ years. (she is still married, btw).

i think therapy will help. sometimes in grief we try to make new connections, even if they're inappropriate ones, to fill the void. it's good that you recognize that it isn't healthy. i think the best thing to do would be to cut things off with the friend (or dial it back to pre-funeral levels) and go ahead and grieve that loss, and your dad's loss, together. but if you need a non-grieving person to talk about your grief with, a therapist would be a good start. or one of your girlfriends, or a sibling.

good luck. what a devastating loss. i'm so sorry.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:55 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm very sorry to hear about your Dad. The world shifts when you lose your parents.

Beware of the shy guy! If he's not saying it, there's no way you can say he's feeling it, but it leaves those of us with romantic imaginations WIDE open to interpretations. It's likely that you've created a perfect escape fantasy for yourself that will eventually have to be slain by you. The longer you wait the harder it will be. You have a lovely family of your own, you can't ask for more than that. Forget about crush guy.
posted by MiffyCLB at 7:51 PM on February 21, 2008

In addition to all the other comments, I would like to suggest that you might not be doing this guy any favors either. You say he is shy and single with no kids. He is probably looking for someone and you may be leading him on. Even though he knows that you are married, something like this maybe holding him back from looking in more productive directions.
posted by d4nj450n at 10:13 AM on February 22, 2008

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