Question: Dear Luise: I’ve been in a May-Dec relationship for about 6 years that is both wonderful and stressful…He’s 86 and I’m 59, and we live about 50 miles apart. He’s still very active and works 3-4 days /week and we both have lost long time spouses to cancer. I’m retired but very active with family, friends, sports and volunteering. The things we have in common are the loss of our spouses, a common work background (where we met), general political beliefs, and very young grandchildren. The big differences are religion (not a problem) and attitude (mostly generational). He is very depressed if he is alone and not working. I need a little solitude. He is very dependent and needy; I am very independent. He doesn’t come to my house often as he is uncomfortable out of his ‘element’ and normal routine and wants me to come to his house for at least 2 nights per week, preferably 3. I want to be with him and his family as often as possible, but my schedule and the distance make it difficult. I feel really guilty when I don’t go and want to do something with my family or friends instead — he doesn’t want to join my friends and I, as we do more active sports or play cards which he has no ability/desire to learn. He won’t do things by himself with his friends. He has few outside interests other than work and church, which is not enough to fill his time. I know he loves me and I love him. Our sex life is great. The problem is his neediness and my guilt. I feel smothered, and the more he tells me he needs me and wants to be with me, the more I feel guilty and manipulated. I have never fought with anyone the way I fight with him and it is always about me not spending enough time with him. As much as I care about him, I don’t want to take care of him and have him dependent on me, but I can’t seem to break up with him either. Every time I try, he begs me to stay and he promises not to pressure me so much and then of course a few weeks later it all starts over. I feel selfish if I think about wanting someone my own age, who may or may not have similar problems, yet I feel almost abused in this relationship, with a need to flee. Should I break up–and how can I do it without feeling guilty about his family & grandkids (that I really like) and possible bad reaction on his part?? Any help appreciated! Rita
Answer: Dear Rita: You are pretty much reflecting the sayings “where the rubber meets the road”, “fish or cut bait” and/or “bite the bullet”, aren’t you? You’ve reached a point where a decision is going to have to be made on your part followed by the appropriate action…and the sooner the better.
If you had a history of years and years with this guy, you would probably be up for a full-time caregiver assignment. That’s what’s coming. He knows it and, on some level, you know it. Since you are unmarried, live quite a long distance from each other and don’t have a lengthy history, you are free to choose what you want to do.
It is apparent that you are doing all of the driving, staying over, adjusting and accommodating. For that you are the brunt of a constant “that’s not enough” attitude and endless friction. Your situation is only going to get worse in this disintegrating, “Velcro” relationship.
What is coming is pretty much the requirement that you set yourself and your life aside, and put your time and energy at his disposal for the rest of his life. That could be a decade or more. If you choose to do that, it has to be willingly, with deep attachment and dedication. Even then it’s often a very tough assignment that can rob the caregiver of both health and happiness.
I live in a retirement center and it’s an obvious and sad truth that the person needing care often outlives the person giving it. You are much younger than your guy so that’s probably not going to happen, but I mention it because the task at hand often gets extremely difficult …and if you’re not up for it, pretty awful. (Maybe even when you are.)
If you sign up for this he is going to be really grateful and so are his family and friends. You will get a lot of approval and probably not much help. From the sounds of your letter, I don’t think I am telling you anything you don’t already know is waiting for you just around the corner.
If your love is deep and abiding, go for it. I don’t think it is. You love him but not enough and that’s OK. And guilt is pretty useless in this situation. Your relationship is how and what it is, he is who and how he is and you are who and how you are. You haven’t been life partners, you don’t live together and you don’t sound like you want to be wholly focused on him and his needs.
What you don’t want to hear is that when you go your own way you are going to be criticized and rejected not only by him but also by those who really hope you will take the job on. (Maybe so they won’t need to?) Can you see that you just can’t have it both ways?
You can’t sit this one out on the fence and you are not going to be able to be an occasional “drop-in”. Your work is cut out for you and you need to either take it on or move on. Blessings, Luise