Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Knowing she was dying, my friend asked me to look after her husband and include him in our lives. She died this past fall and I’ve been trying to abide by her wishes. They were a childless couple, and my husband and I are considerably younger and have two young children.
We have had her husband over several times for dinner, but I feel that we’re not clicking. He doesn’t really know how to interact well with our boys (in fairness, ages 2 and 4 are hard!) and he is generally a quiet person who doesn’t talk much. I feel I have to carry the full conversation when he is present, plus deal with the kids interrupting. My husband, also an awkward conversationalist, has flat-out asked me to never leave the room when my friend’s husband is here because they just sit there in awkward silence when I’m gone.
I want to honor my friend’s wishes and I do think her husband is interested in establishing a friendship. I miss my friend keenly and it’s important for me to do this. But it’s been so awkward that I’m sort of lost as to how to proceed. I’ve thought about hosting a dinner party, but I sort of have two sets of friends: those with kids, and those who are divorcing and childless (odd coincidence) and neither seems appropriate. Do you have any advice?
Fulfilling Friend’s Wishes
I’m so sorry about your friend.
To help you through this difficult transition, I suggest finding different ways to keep him in your life that don’t have conversation as their centerpiece. Performances, concerts, movies — things you’re supposed to enjoy without talking — or sporting events, where it’s often too loud to talk. Afterward, you can have coffee or a nightcap and talk about what you just saw — unless you had to fight your way through intermission conversations, in which case you can just part ways when it’s over.
Sometimes it’s helpful to just acknowledge the awkwardness: “I know we’re struggling with this in our own ways — it’s awkward, I know, but we’ll get through it.”
Also, I think you might be jumping to conclusions about the suitability of your groups of friends — but that’s something you can rethink down the road, ideally after you’ve gotten into a more comfortable social place with the husband.
Re: Friend’s wishes: Tell your husband to suck it up and say something. I say that as the husband who is admittedly a terrible conversationalist and often struggles when my wife’s friends or family are over and she leaves the room. But you know what? I manage. Sometimes I plan things in advance that I’ll say whenever I’m in silence. Just something like, “Boy, that game last night was something. Double overtime! I had trouble staying up for the end but I’m glad I saw it.” Your husband can and should do that.
Fair point, thanks — the one who has lost the least can be asked to contribute the most.
Re: Wishes: He’s in mourning, so may be extra quiet. Give it time and don’t try to force it.
Amen, thank you.
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