The help desk: How can I deal with a widower's unwanted advances?

  • @louisa_saunders

Q. A few weeks ago, a neighbour of mine died of cancer. We've all rallied round to support her husband – they'd been married for 24 years and it's a terrible shock for him.

The problem is that he keeps making advances to me. It started even before the funeral, with hugs that went on just a bit too long, but now he's actually suggesting we become an item – I was widowed myself eight years ago – and keeps asking me out for meals, which I've so far managed to get out of. I feel awful! I want to help him, but I definitely don't want anything more and I'm sure I haven't done anything to give him the wrong idea.

I also heard he'd made advances to another woman we know. We're a close community in a very small town and avoiding him is impossible. I'm starting to dread answering the phone. But I don't want to add to his troubles. How can I deal with this?

A. How awkward. As if dealing with others' grief weren't a complicated enough matter, you've inadvertently become entangled with someone who sounds as if he's keen to recycle the funeral baked meats as soon as possible.

When a man loses his wife, the boot is more usually on the other foot: widows and divorcees, so we're told, form an orderly queue, bearing hearty casseroles and offers of consolation. It was certainly true for my father, who found himself, when grieving for my mother, involved in what must have felt like a particularly tasteless version of This is Your Life, as past lovers and hopefuls appeared in droves, some of whom, when he, too, succumbed to cancer, practically had to be beaten back from his deathbed with sticks.

But your neighbour is certainly not the first to respond to loss with an incongruous wave of lust, if anecdotal evidence is anything to go by. Naturally, you feel guilty that you can't offer him the sort of help he feels he needs, but reassure yourself that although he is vulnerable, you have no obligation to him beyond neighbourly kindness and decency, and this has not happened because of anything you've done.

My mother always said that widowers who had been happily married tended to remarry quite quickly, and though counterintuitive, this does often seem to be true. He'll have known for a while that his wife was dying, and may have been mentally lining up a replacement for some time. Alternatively, though I don't like to speak ill of the recently bereaved, and I haven't met the man, so it's hard to judge, might he not be a bit of a lech who's taking advantage of the sympathy vote? Being widowed doesn't make him a saint.

But the most likely thing is that the poor guy has lost it a bit, understandably. What you need is a helpful third party. As you're such a close community, and at least one other woman is involved, is there an authority figure – a vicar or GP perhaps, or just a mutual friend – who could be asked to have a tactful word? Otherwise, it's down to you to explain that you're keen to support him, but as a friend.

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