Dating after the death of a spouse can be a touchy subject. Is it disrespectful to my spouse’s memory? What will my kids think? How long is long enough to grieve? Every widow and widower has different answers to these questions. In reality, there are no set answers. “In our culture,” wrote Canadian psychotherapist (and wife of a widower), “we expect one stage to be over before the next one can begin. There’s a feeling that you’re being disloyal or minimizing the loss of the person … and her memory as if it never happened.”
As with much of our human experience, grief is messier than that. Instead of being steps that we pass through one by one until they’re over, these stages of grief, mourning, and the feeling of wanting to date again will most likely overlap.
To add to the confusion, your children, your friends, and your neighbors all may feel invested in your decision. But in truth, you are the only person who knows if the time is right. Here are some questions that might help you find out if you’re ready.
Have you processed the loss?
This is not a question of time, but more a question of feelings. Do you feel a sense of closure? Do you feel lingering guilt about the death or your role as a caregiver? Will you be able to concentrate on a date or a new relationship without being consumed by thoughts of the past? You may not be able to answer these questions until you try dating again. But if dating doesn’t feel right, it’s not fair to you or to your potential partner. Examine your feelings carefully as you dip a toe into the dating scene; feelings of guilt at first are common. As Abel Keogh, author of the book Dating a Widower reminded us, “Feelings of guilt and second thoughts are very normal and I wish someone would have told me that before I started dating again.” While you should listen to your feelings, don’t let them hold you back completely.
Are you tough enough?
Debbie Weiss, widow and Huffington Post contributor, wrote about trying to date 14 months after her husband George died. She phrases this question of toughness as, “Have you regrown your shell?” The loss of a spouse leaves us vulnerable and delicate, and the dating world can be cruel. Are you ready for a possible rejection, one that may not have injured you before, but may be heart wrenching before you’ve grown your “shell” back.
What are you looking for?
Think about what you’re looking for in a date and in a potential partner. At first, you might be simply trying to get out of the house and be around people socially again. Once you’re back out in the social world, think about whether you’re looking for casual dates or something more serious? Do you want to get remarried someday? Did you enjoy being married? Are you mainly looking for companionship? If you’re clear and honest about what you’re looking for, you’re more likely to find a compatible partner who’s looking for the same thing.
Grief writer Mark Liebenow provided this reminder: you’re not trying to replace your spouse. When you start dating after a death, you’re “pressing reset;” you’re starting over. Your new dates and partners have their own likes and dislikes. This is a new relationship.
Don’t latch onto the first person you go out with. Most importantly, be yourself. You are in charge of your life. Understand who you are, and remember that nothing has to happen unless you’re ready.