Whether you were married 83 years or were enchanted in a season-long relationship, approaching the dating scene after the loss of a loved one may seem like a psychological hurdle too large to surmount.
Take comfort in the knowledge that you’re not alone; and although everyone must deal with loss in their own way and on their own timeline, a few considerations are worth acknowledging to help you decide what is right for you.
How Soon Is Too Soon?
The answer to this question is a resounding, “It depends.” Says Julie Donner Andersen, author of PAST: Perfect! PRESENT: Tense! Insights From One Woman’s Journey As The Wife of A Widower, “Grief is an emotion, and as with all emotions, grief has no boundaries, nor does it come with its own timetable or set of rules.”
There are as many opinions on the appropriate amount of time to wait before dating — six months, one year, two years, never — as there are widows and widowers. It’s hard to know what is right for you. Best not to listen to people who say you are dating too soon or who pressure you into hitting the singles scene right away.
Instead, take what advice strikes a chord with you, allow yourself the time to grieve and heal, and — when it feels right, and only then — gently ease yourself back into the scene.
Take the Initiative
Even after reaching a frame of mind where you feel emotionally ready to let someone into your life, you may find that it’s not as easy to meet and greet new romantic interests as you’d once thought. This is not an uncommon problem, ironically more so for younger people than for older, who have a larger pool of folks sharing widowhood to draw from.
Try meeting new flames by taking up an activity you’ve always found intriguing, one that puts you in contact with prospective new sassy singles — a walking club, salsa lessons, a class in nude portrait painting. You’ve already discovered the wonders of Lavalife, so make sure to access all the funkalicious aspects of the site, which allow you the anonymity to feel out the dating scene and chat with other singles before committing too much emotionally to the process.
Although your friends — by definition — should be there to support you in this new phase of life, sometimes your pals can hold you back from new romance if they are too invested in the old relationship. Beware of attempts at sabotaging your dating efforts and be ready to move on without them if they can’t move forward with you.
To avoid hurt feelings, consider seeking additional friendships outside your immediate circle — likeminded widows and widowers make ideal comforting candidates.
Dating Is Not the Same as Betraying
One of the most prevalent emotions experienced by widows and widowers when they begin to date and feel romantic love again is guilt — for having fun while a deceased partner cannot, for betraying a loved one’s memory, for being unfaithful to promises made to one another in life. It is completely natural to feel these things.
One common approach that lightens the emotional load for many is to imagine what their partner would wish for them. If you shared a healthy relationship, the answer should be clear: your partner would want you to live as full and happy a life as you can. How would they feel knowing that their death stopped you from living?
Try not to put pressure on yourself when you first set off down the dating path anew. Let laughter loose and avoid setting expectations for yourself or for others. After the death of a loved one, some daters struggle to take pleasure in outings with new romantic interests or seem to constantly find themselves taking note of character flaws.
Comparing potential new lovers to your old relationship creates an impossible situation for everyone involved. Try to remember that you are embarking on a new phase in your life and to embrace these changes rather than try to recreate the life that you once shared with your loved one.
Openness and Understanding
Emotions and insecurities may run rampant for those who are beginning a relationship with someone who has suffered the loss of a partner. But there are ways you can lighten the load for both parties involved. Be very open to talking and reminiscing about their departed partner, a person who played a major role in their emotional development.
Trying to quash their memories will only serve to increase the guilt felt by the widow or widower. Better to try to honor their previous relationship and make it seem like a natural part of the continuum that is the new one.
Give Happiness a Chance
There is no magic formula for dating after a loved one has passed away — it’s an emotionally trying process and it is different for everyone. What’s important is to give yourself permission to go on living, to enjoy life and to see what comes of each day. There may be setbacks, feelings of guilt, even tears.
But, in truth, experiencing romance for a second time may help you through the grieving process and help you re-acclimatize to your new life. Take baby steps and don’t be afraid to fall — it hurts a lot less than not trying at all.