Carolyn Hax: Embrace concerns of ‘transition guy’

Hi, Carolyn: Two years ago my husband died of cancer. He was much older, and our marriage was never easy. Yet, I loved my husband, he loved me, and I believe that, ultimately, our marriage was a success. I grieved hard for two years.

But back in July, something changed in me (long story) and I feel great – free, open, alive! And I decided I am ready to date.

Strangely enough, my first time out of the gate I met someone with whom I am extremely compatible – age, interests, values, etc. I fell. Head. Over. Heels. He likes me too – a lot.

BUT, in his own words, he is terrified because he believes he is my transition guy and, in his mind, transition guy can never be long-term guy. He thinks I simply don’t know what else is out there and I need to explore.

Eh, I’m not that interested in exploring. Money is tight and I could use more friends, but I have a really good life in almost every way. I am still doing things to expand my circle of friends, so it’s not like I have turned my life over to him. Yet, he pulls back and is very guarded.

I should add that he split from his second wife a year ago, so he is in a transition, too.

Can a transition relationship never become a real relationship? I think it can but I don’t know how to help my friend see this. – Anonymous

Yes, of course, transitions can become permanent.

A funny thing happens when your goal becomes one of persuasion, though: Where you might once have been open to letting this relationship run its natural course, whatever that may be, you’re now invested in having it become a long-term committed relationship. How else will you prove your point? If you break up, won’t he have been “right” all along?

It’s impossible to have a relationship without any external concerns, hopes or influences, but you still want to get as close as you reasonably can to creating conditions where the relationship lives or dies on its own merits. You stay because you enjoy each other. You leave because you don’t. Period.

Please don’t mess with that important process by investing yourself in being the great transition exception.

Instead, embrace the fact that neither of you can think for the other; or know where things are going; or know who’s right, if anyone, about if the transition issue is even relevant – then use that as the root of your positions on this subject.

Such as: “Maybe you’re right that transition guy can never be long-term guy. Let’s find out by giving it a shot, instead of quitting before we start.” Or: “I get the ‘see what’s out there’ idea. I just don’t feel that urge myself.” Or: “Sure, you don’t want to get hurt – or maybe this is really about me as transition girl? What do you say we move slowly?” Validating someone’s concerns tends to be a lot more productive than reaching for ways to disprove them. And if he never drops his guard, then that’s who he is, not who you made him be.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 9 a.m.each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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