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Friday, October 7, 2022

I’m 80, and a needy widower won’t take no for an answer | Relationships

The dilemma At the advanced age of 80 it seems a bit strange for me to ask for help in dealing with the expectations of an elderly admirer. Surely at this age I should be able to sort myself out. My beloved husband of many years died a few years ago. The children and grandchildren have been a huge comfort. I am still working and I live a busy solo life.

I was introduced to an older widowed man by a friend. Before I knew what was happening I found myself almost immediately swept into an affair. At first it was a bit romantic and made me feel desirable again. But, oh dear, I am afraid the desire wore off fast when I discovered more about his habits and how needy he was. I found I was expected to be, at all times, available for messages and telephone calls, as well as chauffeur him about and to help run his life. He said he’d fallen in love with me and wanted to spend what was left of his time on earth with me. But was I in love with him? The answer was no. I could not cope with his emotional needs and the physical side of things was most unsatisfactory. He is an amusing and educated man, but wholly self-interested and seemingly obsessed with capturing me. It drains my energy.

He has a helper and there are plenty of local widowed ladies who bring casseroles to his door, so it is not as if he is without other people in his life. I explained that I am not available for possession, though I’m happy to be his friend. I asked him to stop. He said I could not stop him from continuing to try. I told him again carefully how I feel. I don’t want to be horrid, because part of me feels that for him this is possibly his last hurrah. I am happy to be his friend, but no more than that.

Philippa’s answer I think you may be more – rather than less – likely to experience this problem at 80 rather than at 20 or 30, because if you were younger you would have grown up at a different time and would know that it is not OK for someone to carry on pestering you after you have told them to desist. But when you were growing up, it was an era when girls had to be, according to a nursery rhyme, “sugar and spice and all things nice”, whereas boys could be “slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails”. You have had quite enough of one particular puppy dog’s tail wagging around and you need to convince yourself it is OK for you not to be “all things nice”.

The culture of the 1940s and 50s expected women to be smiling, acquiescent and obliging and I expect this was the soil from which you grew. I’m guessing, despite this, you managed to carve out a great career and equal relationships and are loved and respected. On top of coming from this 50s culture, you are probably naturally kind, empathic and thoughtful, and this modus operandi may have served you well until this persistent gentleman arrived on the scene.

If people have a good sense of where your boundaries are and do their best not to cross them, there is little need to define yourself by explicitly saying what you will and won’t tolerate. It’s therefore possible you might not have had much practice in boundary-setting. However, your friend is not following this social code and so you will have to be explicit about your boundary. You will have to say something like: “If you refuse to believe that I will never want to continue a romantic relationship with you, I will stop seeing you altogether.” He may be muddled by the word “friend”. Perhaps he thinks it is impossible to be “just friends” with a member of the opposite sex, so you may have to define what friend means, too. If he refuses to get the message after you have stated your boundary, then you can cease to see him entirely with a clear conscience. It sounds as if you have plenty of friends; you don’t need your own hurrahs being clouded by a needy pest.

I think putting down this line in the sand may be difficult for you because, after 80 years, you have plenty of conditioning to overcome, so it’s so much harder for you just to say, “Fuck off” than it would be for me, born 20 years after you. The generations after us can be even better at putting down boundaries and sticking to them. I don’t expect you ever got permission growing up to be anything other than obliging. This is fine if everyone respects one another, but if respect is lacking it gives those who disrespect an unfair advantage.

You know he’ll survive as he’s not short of helpers, but even if he hadn’t, you are still under no obligation to him.

The person you really need to be kind to is not someone who seems intent on ignoring your wishes, but to yourself.

If you have a question, send a brief email to askphilippa@observer.co.uk

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