Widower Wednesday: Why do Widowers Start New Relationships so Quickly?

Today’s Widower Wednesday column comes from a comment that was posted on my Dating and Marriage: One Regret post. I thought the commenter asked some good questions and raised some interesting points. So I’m going to post her comment below with my thoughts in italics.

“Daughter of a Widower” writes:

I stumbled across this website trying to find information to help me understand my recently widowed dad's new relationship. Mainly, I'm struggling with...Why does it seem like men in particular feel comfortable starting new relations so quickly (I know that's relative) after their wives have died?

I know this site is meant for women who are dating widowers, but as an adult, female child of a widower I felt I could offer a perspective on this topic that maybe hasn't been addressed before.

Excellent question. You’re correct that it hasn’t been addressed in-depth on this blog. (Side note: It is discussed in my upcoming Dating a Widower book.) So here’s my take on why widower start dating soon after their wife dies.

Most men, especially men who have spent a long time married to someone they love, find that their lives lose a lot of the richness and purpose it held once their wife passes on. Frankly, most widowers don’t know what to do with themselves when their wives are gone. In order to put some meaning back in their lives they try to “fix” their life by finding another woman who can add some meaning they feel is missing. I felt that way and a lot of the widower’s I’ve talked to had similar feelings. Just because they start dating weeks or months after their wife dies doesn’t mean that they don’t love her. Instead, they’re simply trying to fix a part of their life that feels broken in the most logical way they can think of.

I read the post by "Bob" whose 15 year old daughter is taking his dating very hard. I truly feel for this poor girl. I really don't think guys understand the complex impact starting a new relationship will have on the women in their lives.

The following has been my experience in the last few days since "the news broke"...

  • I (the only daughter in the family) was stunned and confused, but determined not to judge, then I cried.
  • My brothers are "supportive" and/or "happy" for my dad.
  • My sister-in-law cried when she found out.
  • My husband sort of smiled, nervously, not knowing what to say.
  • My son said, "that's weird" and moved on.
  • My two daughters cried.

And so I started to wonder about this reaction that seemed to be unique to the women affected by this new relationship. I've come to realize that what we are feeling is akin to (but not exactly) betrayal. Even though in our conscious minds we know he needs to move forward, we are caught off guard. And with this new "relationship" we are smacked in the face with the realization that what was supposed to be forever has come to an end, suddenly it seems. Deep inside of us women we wonder, 'is it that easy to move on when we go?' And that is frightening and extremely sad for us.

I think your right that women tend to have a harder time accepting the new relationship than men. I actually like the word betrayal even though the emotion is more complicated than that. (There’s a good deal of grief thrown in there too.)

One thing to remember is that the world will keep moving on after someone dies. Yes, the world may stop for a day or two—at least for those who knew the person; but it will quickly start back up again. The deceased will always live on in the hearts of this who knew him or her but this world is meant for the living—not the dead. It will continue to move forward whether we’re breathing or not. The question for those left behind is whether or not we’re going to move on with it.

So, to you ladies who are dating widowers with young children or adult children, especially if it has been less than a full year of seasons that would mark milestones in their mother's life, do not be surprised if you are not fully accepted into the family right away, especially by the women in your new boyfriend's life. You must try to understand the loss that they feel (for their mother and for their parents' relationship that will never again continue as it was). And, unfortunately, in many ways that are probably unfair in your mind, you will be for some time the "other woman" in ours.

I, for one, am hoping and praying that my feelings change.

I understand where you’re coming from. A lot of my family and friends had similar feelings when I was dating again. It’s a natural reaction that most people have—especially those who are still grieving the deceased.

In defense of the women dating widowers, it seems like those who email me understand that the widower’s friends and family may not be ready to see the widower with a new woman. Often meeting the widower’s family and spending time with them is just as hard for them as it is for you.

That being said, if you want to think of your dad’s (or brother, uncle, etc.) new woman as “the other woman” that’s fine. However, this doesn’t justify the rude comments or remarks or other things that are purposely done to make the new woman feel uncomfortable or she doesn’t belong or is somehow responsible for your dad dating again. I’m not saying you have or will do this. It’s interested that the widower’s or late wife’s family usually takes their grief and feelings of betrayal out on the new woman instead of the widower. If anyone reading this blog is upset with that their dad (or brother, uncle, etc.) is dating again, then talk to him about it instead of taking your feelings out on the woman’s he’s with.