The other day I had a chance to have lunch with a recent widower. One of the many things we talked about was about dating again—something the widower had yet to do. During that part of the conversation he expressed his concern about dating for the wrong reasons. He said that since his wife died he felt there was a big hole in his life. He wanted that feeling to go away but was worried he’d get into a serious relationship because he was lonely instead of love. He asked me when I was dating Marathon Girl if I felt I was just filling the hole in my heart or if I knew there was more to it. It was a great question and I thought I’d share my answer in today’s column.
As many of you know, before I started dating Marathon Girl I was in a serious relationship with another woman who I’ll call Jennifer. When we started dating I felt there was something missing in my life and wanted desperately to get the pieces of my life back together. When I first started dating Jennifer I felt that in a lot of ways she filled a lot of the needs that I had at the time. I had companionship, someone I could talk to, hold, and kiss. Even though something didn’t feel right about the relationship I was so desperate to not have that empty feeling in my life I ignored the warning signs and kept the relationship going.
Then along came Marathon Girl. Dating her was nothing like dating Jennifer. Sure, we did a lot of the same activities that I did with Jennifer (baseball games, hiking, movies, etc.) but when I was with Marathon Girl I was more worried about what I could do to make her happy. With Jennifer I wondered what she could do to make me happy. I wanted companionship from Jennifer. I wanted a relationship with Marathon Girl—not just any relationship—but one that would eventually lead to marriage. With Jennifer there were times I got tired of being with her and wanted to be alone. I never felt that way with Marathon Girl. When I was away from Marathon Girl I was counting down the minutes before we could be together again. I don’t ever remember doing that with Jennifer. I got up at 5:00 a.m. every morning to go running with Marathon Girl no matter the weather or how little sleep I got the night before. I can’t think of a situation where I would have done something similar for Jennifer.
As we become more serious I realized that the feelings I had for Marathon Girl were the exact same feelings I had for the late wife. The fact that I felt the same way about Marathon Girl freaked me out at first. Marathon Girl was a very different person than the late wife and because of that I thought I should have different feelings for her. But after a while I realized that I had the same feelings of love for Marathon Girl was a good thing. The feelings I had for her made me put Marathon Girl’s wants and needs over my own. They made me forget about myself and my pain and focus on what I could do to make our relationship one that could last forever.
After most widowers become serious with someone, they know whether or not they’re in a relationship for love or to fill the hole in their heart. Sadly, many of them press forward with a relationship even if it’s not right for them because, just like when I dated Jennifer, having someone is better than facing the pain and empty life that comes with being alone after the death of a spouse. Looking back, I would have been better of in the long run if I had simply been honest with myself instead of deceiving myself into thinking there was more to my relationship with Jennifer. It would have saved us both a lot of pain and heartache.
If you’re dating a widower it can be hard to know at first whether the widower is in a relationship for love or some other reason. That’s why I always suggest taking things slow at first, drawing clear relationships boundaries, and expecting the same behavior from a widower as you would a single or divorced guy. Widowers who are dating for the right reasons will respect you and your boundaries. Widowers who are in it for themselves can wear the “I love you” mask for a short period of time but eventually it will slip and the real reason they’re in a relationship will come to light.
Relationships built on love are wonderful and will last a lifetime. Relationships built on the selfish wants of one person eventually fall apart. Whether you’re a widower or someone who’s in a relationship with one, it never hurts to do a gut check and be honest with yourself about the reasons you’re together. If they’re not the right ones, well, you know what needs to be done.