Alzheimer’s and dating dilemma: A senior dating issue with responses from Tom's On Life and Love After 50 newsletter Champs
By Tom P. Blake
For me, the most rewarding aspect of writing these newsletters is interacting with such an intelligent group of Champs. When I ask for your inputs, your responses are unique, diverse, varied, and often diametric. Most of the time, there are no right or wrong answers, just points-of-view you are willing to share based on the rich life experiences each of you has lived.
Today is the longest newsletter I have ever written. I just felt the topic—Alzheimers and dating--is so complicated and the information provided by Champs so poignant, the length was warranted.
Last week, we wrote about Ruthie, not her true name, age 71, who answered an online dating ad placed by a married man whose wife has Alzheimer’s. The man visits his wife up to three times a day. His stepchildren don’t want to hear about his dating. Ruthie doesn’t like feeling like “Back door Dora,” and wants to visit the wife to judge the situation for herself; she asked for comments.
Well, the comments came in, from more than 25 Champs. Some by email; some on the Finding Love After 50 Facebook page. I can’t begin to do justice to all of the responses in one newsletter, so I will try to isolate the key issues. I hope the information benefits Ruthie and others who are faced with similar situations.
One of our Champs works at a CCRC, which stands for Continuing Care Retirement Community. The services provided go from independent living to memory support to skilled nursing. He said, “I have seen it all here when one spouse’s health takes a dive.
“Some put the spouse in memory support and stay in the apartment, some put the spouse in memory support and move out, sometimes to another city or even state, deserting that spouse and relying on the staff to take care of that spouse. Some actually divorce the spouse and split up the estate so they will not be financially responsible for that spouse.
“But, most spouses put the failing spouse in memory support, stay in the apartment and visit. If an outside relationship happens, as it does half the time, the other residents are not critical as long as the healthy spouse keeps on visiting the failing spouse. If the healthy spouse deserts the failing spouse and still stays in the community, they are shunned. There are standards to be met.”
Wayne said, “Lived it from 2006-2013 when she passed. Promised to never put her in an institution and I kept that promise. That promise did not leave any room in my life to seek someone else.”
Linda, “I side with the kids. Their mother is still alive and I think this woman is kidding herself thinking he will marry her and stay with her forever. All she has done is shown him that she doesn't mind being the other woman. He will cheat on her just as he has his current wife.”
Liz, “Regarding his wife's children, it is up to him to let them know that this is what he wants (to have love from another woman that his wife can no longer give), and tell them that it is his life to live as he chooses. If this causes alienation from them, then he needs to make the choice between them and Ruthie.
“(I'm guessing it will be too painful to be estranged from the children and he will go on to find another woman who doesn't mind this ‘complicated situation.)
“The problem with the children is his problem, not hers. She should stop worrying about what they will think years down the road. Let it go!
The man isn’t wrong
Elizabeth, “The fact that he visits his wife frequently has little bearing on the matter. It shows he is lonely, but also that he is a kind and loving person. His wife is not there for him (presumably) in any way that matters. I see nothing wrong with looking for ways that make one’s life more tolerable. It is up to the woman as to whether she can handle it. His (step) children might feel differently if he were their blood relation.”
Jackie, “I think having both male and female friends is healthy. Just to keep it light and not to take it to the ‘next steps.’ That would be so disrespectful, even if the spouse with dementia did not realize what was going on.”
Joanie, “Poor Ruthie. This is a man who wants his cake and to eat it too! I do understand his dilemma. He will care for and be married to his Alzheimer's wife until she dies (he may die first). He has not prepared his children. Nor his wife. Nor himself. He is just lonely and wants companionship.
“His concern is for his family and their feelings; his family is his wife and her children. It’s easy for a guy to put an ad in the paper, but how was he prepared to ‘give’ to a new woman? I don't think this man is bad or really doing anything wrong, he is lonely.”
The man is wrong
Jackie, “OMG. She may not want to be ‘the other woman’ or ‘back door Dora’ but she is. If her boyfriend has more love to give than his wife can accept, and he wants to utilize that, then he should divorce his wife.
“He is married. Period. If he wants a girlfriend, he needs to get unmarried. I don't blame his kids for resenting the hell out of her AND him. He wants a healthy companion, which is certainly understandable, but he doesn't want to feel he is deserting his wife, which is also admirable. But he can't have it both ways.
“Many years ago, my elderly aunt had terminal cancer. She was lucid and at home, but terminal. Her husband, a retired pastor no less, took a girlfriend and the two of them would go on pastoral visits at hospitals. It devastated his reputation, as it should have.
I blame Ruthie in part. When you are on a dating site and the guy admits he is still married, what in the world is wrong with you that you would pursue the relationship knowing he was married!
It never ceases to amaze me how some people try to justify their behavior.
Lillian, “I think Ruthie should question a man who is still married and in fact visits his wife regularly; why he is advertising on a singles web site? I understand he may be lonely for a regular companion, but it sounds disingenuous for him to be actively seeking someone.
Judy, “Wow, I see red flags all over! I don't doubt that Ruthie has feelings for this man - but he visits his wife 1-3 times a day - what is he looking for, a replacement? Can he not be alone?”
Ruthie is wrong
Jane, “Ruthie needs to grow up or get out! She doesn't have the compassion for what this man and his wife and family need. She sounds extremely self-absorbed. First of all, she answered a profile that states that the man is married, in whatever capacity, he is a married man. The care of his wife is still in his hands, his obligation to her is first and foremost.
“She went in knowing this and now wants to change the playing field. Her biggest concern seems to be how long this wife might live. His stepchildren did not say ‘Do not date’ they said ‘We don't want to hear about it.’ They are going through their own process of dealing with a heartbreaking situation. That should be respected at all costs.
“She wants to meet them? She wants to get her foot in the door and make her presence loud and clear. Very selfish.
“And see his wife? What is she thinking? This is his journey and he has chosen to care well for his wife and respect her and their continuing relationship. The relationship has changed but it is still a relationship.”
Ruthie should not go visit the wife
Sharon: “He should divorce his wife legally, making him free to date. He can continue to visit as a friend. The new woman should not be introduced to her as it might be traumatic.”
Karla, “I kept asking myself, "Why would you want to visit her?" Then, Tom asked the same thing. Maybe it's because she wants to be reassured that the wife is really as ‘far gone’ as he says? He visits her every day, and sometimes 3x a day, so I'm thinking they still have conversations. I might date a man like that for companionship, but I'd keep my options open.”
Mark, “My first thought was, unless the wife is so far gone that she is completely unaware of the identities of the persons involved, it would be cruel to the wife for the new girl friend to participate in the visits. Also unnecessary. If she wants to become known to the children as part of the family, there must be other ways to do it.”
For Ruthie, things are not going to change
Lillian, “This sound like a very high-risk relationship for Ruthie to be in. I do not think she should be expecting to visit his wife and the fact that the children at this point cannot accept her is another huge red flag. There is a very strong chance than once this man's wife dies (and this could be a long time) he will move on to another relationship; one that his kids can accept. They may never accept her, because she is the 'other woman.'
Joanie, “He will make NO CHANGES, so Ruthie has to decide what she wishes to do. Does she want to stay in the background and be the ‘other woman? Have his kids shun her? And accept the fact that this man WILL NOT make a life with Ruthie until his wife dies. Time, age and her needs are against this! In other words, it is waiting for the wife to die!
He is just a lonely guy and if Ruthie ends the relationship, he will find some other woman (immediately) who is willing to put up with the second-class life he is offering. He wants to ‘end his own loneliness,’ not contribute to a new woman's life. On the other hand, there are not many men out there! So the answer to this dilemma really comes down to ‘what does Ruthie want for herself in her own life, what kind of relationship does she want. Is she able to play the second-class waiting game and feel good about it all?"
Crislinn, “Giving someone an ultimatum does not usually end in the giver’s favor. He says he loves her and talks about a future. If she feels the same, can't this be enough for now?
What purpose would it serve for Ruthie to visit his wife? From her comments it seems she feels it may give her a better understanding on how long she needs to wait for the marriage to end in death.
Just continue to enjoy each other now and slowly move into the future. Slowly he may feel comfortable not visiting multiple times a day or even skip a day if you make an overnight trip to another nearby city.
His children are grieving for their mom. She's still here even if she doesn't always know them. That's why it's hard for them to think about their stepdad replacing her. Eventually one of them will be more accepting. Don't do anything. There is no point to it. Just be accepting to the situation. His wife is no threat to your future unless you make it one.
Maria, “I don't think it's our place to judge the man's reaching out on a dating site, frankly, as I can't imagine the loneliness of going through this with a loved one. The woman went into this knowing all the facts. I hope she honors him and his family in what has to transpire in time --- more time than she likes.
“She would be wise to accept and just give support to the man in the background while he and his family go through a very difficult time. She can do that by being a good friend, respecting the children's emotional trauma that this disease causes within a family--this is their mom after all--she may not be all there, but they are. The man reached out for friendship and she accepted the circumstances--he was honest.
“I think her complaining is a bit on the selfish side. Loving someone is also honoring the other. My advice is for her to try to step in the shoes of the children and understand their point of view. Going to the home is like pushing herself in before Mom is gone--why would she want to?
“She doesn't sound secure in her relationship with this man at all and that might be her motive to cement the relationship by physically being present at the home. If she can't wait respectfully, it's not love, but neediness. Maybe she should find love elsewhere in a less complicated situation if she wants to land someone before she gets any older.
Marie, “It's not easy for both Ruthie and this man. They need each other's love and understanding. My sister is in the same situation. Her husband has been in a home for 4 years now. She has a friend and this friend helps her keep her sanity physically morally and emotionally.
“Ruthie, if you really love this man, help him get through this difficult journey... he needs not be pressured. Don't worry, everything will fall into place when the time comes.”
Here seems to be the consensus among our Champs:
-Ruthie should not visit the wife in the rest home
-The situation will not change until someone involved dies. Ruthie needs to accept that, and let it be, or get out
-The man should not alienate his stepchildren, and should continue to honor and visit his wife. If he has a friend, that friend and relationship should stay in the background. Remember what the Champ who works in the CCRC said about having a friend, almost half do, but they carry themselves with dignity
www.Vicsta.com (website on Victoria Station restaurant chain from the 1970s)
www.TravelAfter55.com (senior travel after 55)