Writer and broadcaster

I’ve fallen for a man who has lost his wife but he no longer wants to see me. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

Last year, I signed up to a cycling holiday abroad. I hadn’t cycled seriously for two decades. I fell in love with the country I went to, fell in love with cycling again and started to fall in love with a fellow cyclist. He’s a family man whose wife of three decades died just three years ago. On the holiday, he was always on hand to see that I was OK but was also ready to help anyone who had a problem. He seemed a very positive man.

We started to date, and text, on our return to this country and spent many happy weeks together. We were happy together and grew close very quickly. We met each other’s children and grandchildren. He invited me to birthday events, to share Christmas with him and talked of this year and the one after. He even suggested we would grow old together. I was thrilled to find someone I could get on with so easily.

Perhaps for the first time in my adult life I wanted to make him happy as much as I wanted to be happy. Initially that seemed to be the case. Sadly, after about three months I felt things weren’t right and when I asked him he said he couldn’t be my lover any more, that being close had stirred up older feelings and that he wasn’t ready to move on emotionally after the death of his wife after all. At the time I was so shocked and upset that I left immediately and went home. I assumed we would talk later, but it was difficult to reopen the discussion because he doesn’t like to discuss feelings and I didn’t want to be hurt again.

I was devastated to lose his love, finding my home so empty after such a wonderful summer of sharing time together. We still meet most weeks for a cycle ride and coffee but the closeness is gone. I care for him very much but he has retreated to a safe place. He won’t come to my house and doesn’t want me to go to his but is happy to meet in town or to cycle together, just the two of us or in a group. I value his friendship but part of me hopes that one day he will rediscover those feelings he had for me in the summer. Am I deluding myself?

I’m sorry this happened to you. The sense of loss was palpable from your letter and I can understand your confusion – why, when it was going so well and the relationship seemed to promise so much, did it suddenly end? I can see why you want to pick over what happened and analyse things in the hope of the outcome changing.

I consulted Murray Blacket, a sexual and relationship therapist (cosrt.org.uk), for his perspective. “This man you met, he’s being quite clear and honest with you and at least it wasn’t longer into the relationship.”

Reading your letter, it does seem as if this man you met has made his feelings very clear, but at times we all hear what we want to hear. You are clutching on to things in case he will change his mind, but, I’m afraid, I think you need to take him at face value.

Whether you continue with seeing him as a friend-with-hopes, or not, is of course up to you. But I think you may need to look at your motives if you do.

First, however, I asked Blacket (who also used to be a bereavement counsellor) why he thought – hypothesising of course – your friend changed his mind so seemingly suddenly. “Bereavement is a huge thing to deal with. Perhaps the closeness he had with you brought up memories of his former wife and perhaps he felt conflicted. Perhaps he fears more loss.” And, he explains, those feelings may not have become apparent until he was a certain way into the relationship. But of course these are just guesses.

As to how to move forward – back to your motives that I mentioned earlier. Blacket wants you to ask yourself some questions: “What are you getting out of your behaviour [ie still seeing him] and what aren’t you getting? What is this behaviour stopping you from doing? How do you feel when you see him? Is what you are getting from him worth getting and is it stopping you meeting someone else?”

It’s great to have a good friend if that’s really all you still are, but it sounds as if you are holding out for more. If you are, and he’s not – and his message does seem to be pretty clear – then you risk getting hurt all over again. Plus, how would you feel if he met someone else; would those cosy coffees and cycle rides still seem so attractive? Tempting though it is, placing yourself in limbo isn’t good for your peace of mind, or your self-esteem.

The fact is if he wakes up one day and suddenly realises you were the one for him, he knows where to find you without you hanging on, and if you’re still available – great.

I understand it’s really hard to let go of something with so much potential – you had a future mapped out with him didn’t you? But, this guy has told you he doesn’t want a relationship and you need to listen so you can free yourself to be with someone whose message is different.

Plus, as Blacket says, “you have a really good idea of what a relationship should be and you know how to start one.” Those are amazing attributes.

This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 10 February 2017.