The other day I received an email from a woman who had been dating a widower for three years. Her email was filled with all kind of problems and issues that she had been dealing with from the very first date. From the tone of her email it sounded like she had reached the end of her patience and ability to deal with the photographs of the late wife all over the house, the constant stories about how great their marriage was, and feeling like she always was number two in the widower’s heart.
I replied to her email with once sentence: If things are so bad, why don’t you just end the relationship?
Her response was just as brief: I’ve already invested three years of my life into this relationship. I’ve spent too much time and energy to just give up on it.
I wish that was the first time I heard that answer to the question but it’s one I hear over and over again. Usually the longer the GOWs been in a relationship with a widower, the more likely it is to be a reason for staying in a bad relationship.
It’s easy to deceive ourselves and think that because we’ve put one year, three years, or five years into a relationship so if we just work on it a little longer or have more patience, everything will eventually work itself out.
In economics this kind of thinking is called the sunk cost fallacy. In short, the sunk cost fallacy is that once a person, a business, or a government has invested a lot of resources in something, it’s not worth quitting. You can apply this fallacy to education, sports, relationships, and just about anything else that requires a large investment of your time, energy, and/or money.
Recently I found myself doing my own dance with the sunk cost fallacy. Last month I wrote how my latest writing project had stalled because of a stressful work environment. I had been stressed on the job for some time but kept thinking things would change for the better and I’d start enjoying my job again. Besides, I could list plenty of things that I liked about my job. However, once I sat down and thought things through, I realized what I liked about my job wasn't worth the cost of coming home stressed out, not having the energy to play with the kids or being the kind of husband Marathon Girl needed. So I spent all of my free time looking for a better job, found one two months later, and my life is good again. I’m working two hours a day on my novel and have the time and energy to be there for my kids and Marathon Girl. And the first step to getting to this better place in my life was admitting that my old job was no longer worth it the time and energy I was putting into it.
When it comes to dating a widower, there comes a point where giving the widower one more chance or hoping that he’ll start living in the present is simply a waste of time. How much time it takes may vary depending on the circumstances of the relationship my personal opinion is that people don’t need more than a year to know whether or not a relationship has long-term potential (read marriage or some other lifelong commitment). Anything past that is simply wasted time and energy.
Looking back at my relationships with Marathon Girl and the late wife, I knew very quickly (within months) that they both were someone I could happily spend the rest of my life with. The relationships that didn’t work out I usually dragged out longer than necessary because I or the person I was dating thought things would work out if I just invested more of myself into it things would change.
So if you’ve been dating widower longer than a year and you’re not happy with where it's going, it might be a good time to think through the relationship and decide if all the pain and misery is worth it. Think about more positive things you could be doing with your time and life and decide if it’s worth the tradeoff. The little time we have in this world is a precious gift. It would be a shame to waste any more of it on someone who doesn't have your long-term interests at heart.