Q. I lost the love of my life to cancer. It was a decades-long love affair for us both, brought to a tragic end at its height. But ... life goes on.
Over the years that followed, I tried to find that person to share what are commonly referred to as the “golden years.” A few months before COVID came, I was blessed to meet someone who was a perfect match. Active and athletic, financially secure, well-educated, an accomplished person in her own right who had also lost her soul mate after many blissful years filled with family and living in the upper echelons of her world. After dating for a period of months, we both admitted we were a match and pledged ourselves to each other, though we agreed that at our age (I’m in my 70s, she’s in her 80s), marriage or cohabitation wasn’t a good idea (too many entanglements). We’ve been seeing each other once or twice a week for over two years (she has her own business, I am retired).
Our relationship is wonderful in every aspect but one: sex. She was married once in her early 20s and had children, and then lost the only other man she ever had sex with. Her Christian faith is a big part of her life. We’ve been to church together. When COVID swept over the land, we agreed to still see each other, but socially distanced and outdoors. Months later, when it got colder, we did what we needed to do to make things safe to go inside. We began enjoying more physical contact, but anything beyond a certain point was forbidden. Her faith taught her that you do not have sex with someone you’re not married to — a belief she held to her entire adult life before, during, and after marriage. She’s expressed feelings of wanting to be intimate with me but is constrained by her faith. In fact, she’s even told me to consider “finding someone more willing” as she understands that as a man I have those feelings, urges, needs.
So, there’s the situation. We are both in excellent physical health. As I lie in bed alone at night and spend many, many evenings alone, I am left to wonder: what to do?
A GENTLEMAN IN NEW ENGLAND
A. I wonder if meeting with someone at her church might help her navigate this.
She’s struggling with a decision that means a lot to her. That calls for counsel — and she’s part of a structure that offers it. That’s my suggestion — that you ask whether she (or both of you together) can seek advice from the kind of person whose opinion matters to her.
If she feels strongly about this issue and there’s only one obvious answer, you could also talk about getting married. I mean, yes, that’s not something to jump into, but if you both enjoy each other’s company, want to have sex, and want to take more steps together, there are all sorts of ways to make it official without having to live together or combine assets. Talk to her about whether she’s open to that kind of commitment. The decision shouldn’t be all about sex; she might feel that the two of you are untethered in other important ways. Does she want to make your connection stronger?
Also ask how important this is to her, and make it known that she shouldn’t worry about hurting your feelings. If this is an “eh, maybe sex would be nice, but ... also, I’d rather not,” and she’s been afraid to say that, tell her you’re ready to hear it. It might mean she’s not the right partner for you, despite her being incredible on paper — and at a social distance. This is a moment for extreme honesty so you can plan your lives. If the status quo is all she wants, it’s time to know.
“Marriage or cohabitation wasn’t a good idea (too many entanglements).” If this is all that is holding you back dear letter writer, perhaps you should discuss what this actually means and then put a prenuptial agreement in place. Protection of each other’s assets, etc. You’ve been to church with her; as Meredith says, consult her clergy for advice on the next steps.
Do people think this woman is going to suddenly start wanting to have sex because they’re married? She doesn’t want to have sex with him, whatever the reason.
I don’t think she wants to have sex with you or perhaps with anyone. Stop blaming it on religion.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to email@example.com. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.