Recently, I had a client that was in the most intriguing situation. She was in love with a man who was only with her because she reminded him of his girlfriend that passed away. She knows the relationship isn’t healthy and wanted to know if she was preventing him from moving on. She felt as if he was using her to keep his former love’s memory alive.
Grief is an amazing beast that takes a form of its own. It can last a few days, a few weeks, a few years, or even forever. When our mind is forced to release the idea of permanency and accept that something that was once there is not only gone but gone forever if throws up a defense mechanism called “denial”. So the true question is, is his relationship with her a form of denial to avoid accepting his true love has gone and will not return?
To put her at ease, I explained that I didn’t believe the only reason he was dating her was because she reminded him of his ex. Yes, grief can last for years but I didn’t believe this was her case.
Now am I a grief counselor? No, but a simple conversation with him or those around him would let her know of his state of mind. If he was still grieving the loss of his love, dating her would be the least of his problems, especially if she had passed a significant time before.
What I believed was happening was that he saw something in her that was a positive reminder of his former love. When we lose someone, we are forced to “grow up and grow out”.
Mourning is a vulnerable state, while we grief internally, we mourn in front of the world. Whether or not we wanted it to, the wall we built to protect us crumbles and our insecurities are exposed. When he mourned his love, he may have been showered with something he never experienced before – love, understanding, empathy, sympathy. By allowing himself to be nurtured by others in a way that he now would miss from his former love, he may have grown to enjoy and even need those qualities. When he met her, he may have found all that he needs in one source versus a community of people. I have found that when we grieve, people flock to us in drones and then like a tide going out, the support begins to recede and we are left alone, wanting and wishing for the safety blanket of love to come over us again. Even though he lost her years ago (assuming), the characteristics he saw in her or received when he lost her is what he may be seeing in his new girlfriend.
We can see that as flattering. Yes, we can also see it as unhealthy, trying to replace a loss outside in, rather than heal his heart inside out BUT we can also see this as him dating someone that cares, wanting him to be soothed from his pain. Could she have been a blockage of his healing but reopened an old wound, possibly, but this is where communication is key.
This doesn’t mean the relationship is bad or wrong. It could be the very catalyst to recognize the unhealthy aspects of dating before we are ready and the healthy aspects of this. Take this as an invitation to do the inner work and come out the other side even better.