Note: I've updated a dating post I wrote a couple years ago and posted it on the Open to Hope site. The article is also reprinted below.
10 Dating Tips for Widows and Widowers
Dating again after the death of a spouse can be an awkward experience. It can bring out feelings of guilt, betrayal from the person dating again. It can also bring out feelings of confusion and concern from friends, family, and those who were close to the deceased spouse.
If you’ve lost a spouse and are looking to date again, here are 10 tips to make sure you’re able to successfully navigate the dating waters.
1. When you decide to date again is up to you
There’s no specific time period that 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 thought it took a few dates to get the hang of things, I have no regrets about dating that soon.
2. Make sure you’re dating for the right reasons
If you feel like dating again, take some time to understand why you want to date again. It’s not wrong to date because you’re lonely or desire some company. Single people date for those reasons too. However, if you’re dating because you think it going to somehow fill the void or heal the pain that comes from losing a spouse, it’s not going to happen. However, dating does give you the opportunity to open your heart to another person and chance to experience the unique and exquisite joy that comes with falling in love again.
3. Feeling guilty is natural – at first
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 in the restaurant I knew. I thought that if someone saw me out with another woman, the first thing they’d do is 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 the woman I was with without feeling guilty.
As you date, feelings of guilt should subside over time – especially when you find that special someone you might want to spend the rest of your life with. If the guilt’s not subsiding, you might not be ready to date again. Give dating a break and try dating again when you might be more up to the task.
4. It’s okay to talk about the deceased spouse – just don’t overdo it
Unless you’re good friends or have known your date previously, he or she is going to be naturally curious about your spouse and previous marriage. And it’s OK 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 that's here now. And who knows, he or 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 that you care enough to get to know them can help reassure your date that you’re ready to start a new life with someone else.
5. Your date is not a therapist
Would you like going out with someone who constantly talked about issues she was 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 you much more than spending $60 for dinner and a movie. Besides, your date will have a more memorable night if it’s about him or her then about everything you’re going through.
6. It’s okay to make mistakes when you’re finding your dating legs
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 my first wife, I often found myself forgetting proper dating etiquette such as opening the car door or not 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 would understand if they knew it had been awhile since you dated. But don’t make the same mistake over and over. Learn from them and continue moving forward. You’ll be surprised how fast your dating legs return.
7. Defend your date
You may discover when once the family and friends learn you’re dating again they may not treat this new woman or man in your life very well. The treatment 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.
8. Realize that not everyone will understand why you’re 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 for dating again or have some silly romantic notion that widows and widowers shouldn’t fall in love again. Their options 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.
9. Take things slow
The death of a spouse means losing the intimate physical contact. After awhile 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: lots of broken hearts and emotional baggage.
If you find that 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 if things are going good because we want to be close to someone again. We want that warm body next to ours and 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.
10. Make your date feel like the center of the universe
It’s a basic dating rule but it’s often forgotten by widows and widowers. Because we already have someone special in our lives, sometimes we forget to make our date feel special too. Treat your date in such a way that he or she feels like she’s the center of your universe. He or 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, he or she should be the center of your universe.
Even though dating can be awkward and difficult at times, it can also be a lot of fun. There’s no reason being a widow or 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.
Enjoy what you read? Subscribe to Abel's e-mail updates and be the first to learn about upcoming books, essays, and appearances.
More widower-related articles by Abel Keogh
Up with Grief NEW!
Dating and Marriage: One Regret NEW!
Widowers: They're Still Men! NEW!
10 Dating Tips for Widows and Widowers
Photos of the Dead Wife
5 Signs a Widower is Serious About Your Relationship
How Vice President Joe Biden Dealt with Grief
Life with a Widower
Dating a Widower
The Grief Industry
A Letter to Elizabeth
Sex and Intimacy with Widowers
The Widowerhood Excuse
How to Talk to a Widower
Red Flags to Watch for When Dating A Widower