Note: The following is an excerpt from the book Dating a Widower: Starting a Relationship with a Man Who's Starting Over.
10 Dating Tips for Widows and Widowers
I'm including this section of the book specifically for any widowers who might be reading it. Dating again after the death of a spouse can be an awkward experience. It can bring out feelings of guilt or betrayal in the widow or widower. It can also bring out feelings of confusion and concern from friends, family, and those who were close to the deceased spouse.
For those who have lost a spouse and are looking to date again, here are ten tips to help you successfully navigate the dating waters.
There's no specific time period one should wait before dating again. Grieving and the process of moving on is something that's unique to each person. Some people take years, others weeks, and then there are those who choose never to date again. Whatever you do, don't let others tell you you're moving too fast or waiting too long. Make sure it's something you're really ready to try before taking that step.
I started dating five months after my late wife died. Too soon? There were some friends and family who thought so. But five months was when I felt ready to at least test the dating waters. And though it took a few dates to get the hang of things, I have no regrets about dating that soon.
If you feel like dating again, take some time to understand why you have this desire. It's not wrong to date because you're lonely or want company. Single people date for those reasons too. However, if you're dating because you think it's going to somehow fill the void or heal the pain that comes from losing a spouse, it's not going to happen. Dating does give you the opportunity to open your heart to another person and the chance to experience the unique and exquisite joy that comes with falling in love again.
The first time I went to dinner with another woman, I felt like I was cheating on my late wife. As we entered the restaurant, I was filled with feelings of guilt and betrayal. Throughout our entire date, I kept looking around to see if there was anyone I knew in the restaurant. I thought that if someone saw me out with another woman, the first thing they'd do was run and tell my dead wife what I was up to. It sounds silly, but I couldn't shake that feeling the entire evening. A week later, I went out with someone else. The same feelings of guilt were there, only they were less intense. It took about five dates before the feeling went away entirely and I could actually enjoy the company of a woman without feeling guilty.
As you date, feelings of guilt should subside over time—especially when you find that special someone. If the guilt's not subsiding, you might not be ready to date again. Give dating a break and try it again when you might be more up to the task.
Unless you're dating someone you knew previously, and they are already familiar with your late spouse, he or she is naturally going to be curious about your previous marriage. It's okay to talk about the spouse when you're first dating someone. Answer questions he or she may have about your marriage, but don't spend all your time talking about the dead or how happy you were. After all, your date is the one who's here now. And who knows—she might make you incredibly happy for years to come. Constantly talking about the past may make it seem like you're not ready to move on and start a new relationship. Showing a genuine interest in your date and getting to know her wants, interests, and dreams goes a long way you're ready to start a new life with someone else.
Would you like going out with someone who constantly talks about issues she's having in her life? Dating isn't a therapy session—it's an opportunity to spend time with someone else and enjoy their company. If you find yourself dating just to talk about the pain in your heart, how much you miss your spouse, or tough times you're going though, seek professional help. Spending $60 an hour on professional help will do you much more good than spending the same amount of money for dinner and a movie. Besides, your date will have a more memorable night if it's about him or her rather than about everything you're going through.
When I started dating again, it had been seven years since I had gone out with anyone other than my wife. Because I had a certain comfort level with her, I often found myself forgetting proper dating etiquette, such as opening the car door or walking a date to her door when the date was over.
If you find yourself forgetting simple dating etiquette, don't worry about it. Most dates will understand if they know it has been awhile since you dated. But don't make the same mistakes over and over. Learn from them and continue moving forward. You'll be surprised how fast your dating legs return.
When your family and friends learn you're dating again, they may not treat this new person in your life very well. The mistreatment may come in the form of a cold shoulder at family activities or constantly talking about the deceased wife in front of the date. If you have family and friends who are doing this, they need to be told privately, but in a loving manner, that this behavior is not acceptable. If you wouldn't let family or friends treat your spouse that way, why would you tolerate that behavior toward someone else—especially when your date could become your future spouse? Don't be afraid to defend your date. If you can't do that, then you have no business dating again.
There will always be someone who will not understand why you've chosen to date again. They may give you a hard time or have some silly notion that widows and widowers shouldn't fall in love again. Their opinions do not matter. All that matters is that you're ready to date again. You don't need to justify your actions to them or anyone else.
The death of a spouse means losing intimate physical contact. After a while, we miss the kisses, having someone's head resting on our shoulder, or the warm body next to us in bed. This lack of physical and emotional intimacy is enough to drive a lot of people into the dating scene. Don't feel bad if you find yourself missing these things. It's completely normal.
In the dating world, wanting something that was part of our lives for years can become a ticking time bomb. It can force us into a serious relationship before we're ready. The result: a lot of broken hearts and emotional baggage.
If you're on a date and it's going well, don't be afraid to take things slow. This isn't always easy. Sometimes it's hard not to throw ourselves at our date because we want to be close to someone again. We want that warm body next to ours and to have the words "I love you" whispered in our ears. But it can save you and your date a lot of emotional heartache if you wait to make sure what you're doing is because you love the other person, and not because you miss the intimacy that came with your late husband or wife.
It's a basic dating rule, but it's often forgotten by widows and widowers. Because we already had someone special in our lives, it's easy to forget to make our date feel special too. Treat your date in such a way that he or she feels like she's with a man who's ready to move on. She shouldn't have to compete against a ghost—even if you only have one date with that person. As long you're out together, she should feel special.
Even though dating can be awkward and difficult at times, it can also be a lot of fun. There's no reason being a widower should hold you back from enjoying a night out. Part of the reason we're here is to live and enjoy life. And dating is a great way to start living again.
The man I am dating is a widower and someone I knew while his wife was alive. I liked them both and thought they were a great couple. I had been divorced by the time we all met.
A few months ago, his wife was killed in a tragic accident. I thought about him and wondered how he and his children were getting along. Suddenly he was thrown into the role of caretaker of children, house, animals, carpools, appointments, dance practice, kid scheduling and management, in addition to the already full-time position of sole financial provider. I was exhausted thinking about it.
Then he called me. We shared a glass of wine and became good friends. He has handled the transition into his new life with realistic expectations. He has been forthcoming about his wife, his children, his relationship with me, and what the community thinks about us as a couple. I am not offended when he tells stories about his wife. That would be absurd on my part. She was his main companion for more than 20 years. No one expects him to erase her from his memory.
He has not made her into a saint. She was a real person with real qualities and imperfections. I am different enough from her that he has not compared us in any way. I don't feel like I'm expected to replace her. He doesn't need someone to do household chores.
A man needs someone to talk to and laugh with, someone who cares about him and is relieved when they receive a text saying his flight landed safely. Everyone wants to know that someone cares about them.
His teenage children live at home with him. He has had frank conversations about going on without their mother. He assured them that while he will never stop loving her, it would be unrealistic to think he would live his life alone and sad.
The kids know me as a mom from school, but they had a mother and she did a great job raising them with her limited time. They are well-rounded kids and will do well, in part due to her influence on them, but also because of the way their dad has modeled how to handle grief and loss. He has shown them that life is for the living, and they should continue to do just that.
The right amount of time to grieve is different for everyone, and at some point, a person just needs to be allowed to be happy again. I have learned a lot about grief after tragedy from him.
I doubt very much that either of us would have chosen the paths our lives have taken, but the end result seems to have brought us together. This has been very good for me, and it seems to be good for him, too.
Experience is not what happens to a man. It's what a man does with what happens to him. Becoming a widower is something that happened to him. But he has not let it define him as a man.
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