Dear Family Advisor

I'm falling in love with my dad's home health aide, but Dad has a crush on her, too. It's really awkward.

Last updated: Jun 15, 2009

I've never seen this problem addressed before. I am a single 29-year-old guy, and my dad is 75 and has dementia and a heart condition. He lives alone but I check on him every day, and he has an aide who comes daily to take care of him. I'm falling in love with the aide, Marilyn, and think she feels the same way but is nervous about dating a client. Dad is the client, not me.

Complicating matters: Dad has developed a crush on Marilyn, too, and when he sees us flirting he gets really mad. What can I do?

It's not uncommon to find love in your own backyard. I know many people who fell in love with their plumber, mechanic, or contractor and ended up having a good, long-standing relationship. But it's also easy to confuse convenience and physical attraction with love. You work all day, rush home -- and there she is, someone who is caring, nurturing, and appealing. Flirting is fun -- it makes us feel alive -- but are you really a good fit for each other in terms of values, dreams and plans, and how you see your future playing out? Try to slow things down and think them through.

I applaud you for being an engaged caregiver and concerned about how this might affect your dad. I'd cool the flirting in front of him for now, though -- no need to upset him unnecessarily. Ask yourself whether your feelings for Marilyn come partly out of loneliness or are largely based on chemistry. What if the relationship weren't convenient -- would you still call and visit if she lived an hour away? You also need to consider her job security. If she's nervous about dating a client, maybe her company would fire her for getting involved with someone on the job. Respect her need to make a living and consider hiring a different caregiver if the two of you want to pursue this relationship.

And I hate to bring this up, but occasionally professional caregivers act very unprofessional by feigning interest in family members in order to get access to financial information. Con artists reveal themselves in time, especially if you're aware that such things can happen. Even if you think you can trust her, don't make her privy to checking and savings account numbers or social security numbers.

If, after considering all of this, you believe your feelings for each other are genuine, then sit down with her and tell her you'd like to date. Openly talk about how to handle Dad, how to act in front of him, and whether to hire a different caregiver. Also discuss how you'll both handle it if things don't work out. Assuming she wants to pursue the relationship, talk to your dad. Explain that she's closer to your age and that you're not dating her to hurt him, you're doing it because it's time for you to find a soul mate. Will he understand and respect this? Maybe not, considering his dementia. All you can do is try. Treating your dad -- and each other -- with thoughtfulness and tact will give you and Marilyn a good start.

Your relationship could go either way. Life is short and sometimes we have to take a chance, but do so with integrity. Real love is worth the risk -- a fling is not. But if you're ready to start building your personal life in a meaningful way, do it, whether with Marilyn or someone else. Hopefully, you'll reach 75 one day just like your dad -- and wouldn't it be incredible to have the love of your life beside you?