Is widowhood a stumbling block or challenge for you as you’re dating (or thinking about dating) later in life?
“It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, and a day to love them, but it takes an entire lifetime to forget them.” —Anonymous
When you’ve lost a loved one, the pain and loneliness may be so great that you dive too quickly into a new relationship.
When you’re over 60, your children are probably out of the house. You may be suddenly all alone, rattling around an empty house and feeling acutely lonely.
Having a new partner, someone special in your life again, a soulmate, is a comfort . . . even just being physically close in a non-sexual way to another human being.
Without even realizing it, you may be driven by an overwhelming need to quickly replace the loved one you lost with someone new.
But diving into a new relationship right away interferes with the grieving process.
Losing your life partner is, of course, a highly emotional time and a difficult life transition that should be dealt with carefully, without having to tend to a new partner at the same time.
Conversely, you may be so grief-stricken that you feel you never want to date again . . . you’ll never find someone you will love as much as your late partner. And you may wonder whether it’s even worth the effort.
So you hesitate even trying, although you’d really like to have love and romance with a life partner again. You know how great it can be.
Widowhood Is Viewed Differently for Men vs. Women
There’s often a double-standard at play with widowhood and men vs. women.
Women who’ve lost a spouse and are dating again are harshly judged, even stigmatized, by people.
It’s just the opposite for men who are dating after losing a spouse. People actually encourage them, and often try to set them up.
Compared to a widower, a widow is expected to wait much longer before dating again.
Some people feel that diving into the dating pool again too quickly indicates they didn’t have a good and loving relationship with their partner.
And some judge widows and widowers based on what they feel they’d do under those circumstances. But unless and until they are actually in that situation, they have no way of knowing how they’d react.
Strategy consultant Kate O’Neill said:
“Some of the attitudes towards widowed women dating feel archaic, as if by definition a woman who has lost her husband has also lost her own role and standing in society.”
Of course, women shouldn’t be judged or treated differently when they’re dating again after losing their partner or spouse.
Grief doesn’t know gender.
And there’s no set time for either a woman or a man to be ready to date again. Everyone is ready in their own time, whether it’s 3 months, 6 months, or longer.
Some people grieve and heal quicker than others.
And many factors can come into play.
O’Neill pointed to an all too common scenario for women:
“The expectation to go slow also discounts an important emotional factor: Many widows are grappling with having been a caretaker to their spouse for years and years before the loss. Some have grieved prematurely and are eager for companionship.”
My Experience with Dating and Widowhood
I jumped into dating too soon after widowhood.
Before I met Cosmo, I had a 3-year relationship with Sam. We were committed to each other, living together and much like a married couple.
He died suddenly. The loss was as powerful as if we had been married.
I thought I was ready to date again 6 months after he died. Actually, I thought I was ready 3 months after he died. Even so, I made myself wait another 3 months to actually start dating.
At 61, I felt an urgency to get into another lasting, loving relationship as soon as possible. Looking back, I can see that I was kind of desperate.
This was the tipoff that I wasn’t ready to date again:
The fact that I had recently lost Sam was still the main driving force in my life. He was constantly in my thoughts. I was often on the verge of tears at the slightest provocation or mention or thought of him.
I guess I thought a new partner would help ease the pain, but of course I wasn’t really open to letting someone else in fully.
Sam was so much in my thoughts that I had an almost uncontrollable need to tell first dates right away about him.
That’s not at all a good way to open a conversation with a potential life partner.
Similarly, I had a few dating experiences with widowers who were not ready to date. They tended to go on too much with comparisons between me and their late wives.
I remember the online dating profile of one man who took it even further.
He stated in his profile that he had lost his wife within the past few months.
He would only date women who fit a very specific list of criteria that represented the lifestyle he had with his wife . . . including the same profession, the same kinds of exotic travel choices, same hair color and other physical characteristics. Kind of creepy.
Does Widowhood Make You Bad Dating Material?
If you’ve been reading dating advice, you may have noticed that the pervasive opinion on whether to date widows and widowers at all is a great big “NO”, which is very unfortunate.
I hope you don’t take that to heart, because it’s just plain foolish to rule out such a large chunk of potential partners.
They could well be the perfect partner, especially if they had a healthy relationship. They’ll know how to be a good partner and how to maintain a good relationship.
But I do think you should proceed cautiously with someone who has recently lost their loved one (through death OR through a bad breakup). Some people are ready to date sooner than others.
Feel it out and be sure they’re not dwelling in the past and looking to replicate their loved one.
Are You on the Fence About Whether You’re Ready to Date After Widowhood?
A Huffington Post article offered wise advice from author and widow Kristine Carlson about getting into dating after losing your spouse or life partner, including:
1. Let yourself be complete and whole
To attract a healthy relationship, you have to be healthy yourself.
2. Let the first relationships you have be the transitions that they are
The first relationship after widowhood will help you heal, but it probably shouldn’t be a long-term relationship.
3. Don’t try to live by anyone else’s rules
Don’t do what others say you should be doing. Do what’s right for you to heal.
4. Give yourself permission to partake
Feelings of guilt and betraying your loved one can keep you from participating. Let yourself live your new life.
5. Don’t take on the role of victim
Put the need to be pitied behind you and move forward. Choose to live your life.
Telltale Signs That You’re Not Ready To Date Yet
How you feel about introducing someone you’re serious about to family and friends will tell you a lot about your readiness.
An AARP article discusses red flags to watch out for:
“It can be hard for a widow or widower to feel comfortable introducing a new partner to family and friends — or, for some, even to be seen in the community. There’s often a concern that people will think they must not have loved their spouse if they’re seen dating a new partner.”
According to the article, doing things like the following indicate you’re not ready:
- Over time you consistently don’t invite your partner to family gatherings because, you say, “They’re not ready to meet you.”
- You introduce your partner as a “friend” when you run into people you know.
- You ask your partner to hide or leave the room when someone drops by your home unexpectedly.
Loving Your Late Spouse or Partner While Making Room for Your New Love
In the Psychology Today article, Love After Death: The Widow’s Romantic Predicaments (I love both my late husband and the new guy), Aaron Ben-Zeév Ph.D., an expert in the study of emotions, discusses three circumstances:
1. Adapting to a new love while still loving the late spouse
“Although a new love might physically replace the previous one, from a psychological viewpoint, the widow will now love two people at the same time. Her love expresses the nonexclusive nature of love more than it does its replaceable nature. It seems that we are blessed with a heart that is very flexible and can accommodate various people at the same time.”
2. Tending to avoid a new marriage or relationship, as it doesn’t seem worth the effort
He cites a widow who says, “The difficulties in falling in love again have usually nothing to do with a profound love for the late husband, but to other reasons, such as mental and physical fatigue, the attitudes of children and friends, the joy of being independent and free to do whatever you like, reading at the middle of the night, not needing to cook every week, having sex only when you really want it, and not willing to get used to a new person with his wishes and oddities. The heart may include this person, but the question is whether it is worth the effort.”
3. Falling in love with someone else almost immediately
The questions arise, “what is the proper duration of grieving, whether and when to take off the ring, when to begin dating, when to give away his clothes, which clothes to wear in various circumstances, what and how often to talk about the past, and what loving behavior toward the new lover should be shown in public.”
Concerning how long to wait before dating, he says, “There is no acceptable norm in this regard: in some traditions, a year is the norm; in others it may be longer or shorter.”
How To Move Forward After Widowhood and Into a New Loving Relationship
In an AARP article, sociologist and sexologist Dr. Pepper Schwartz offers suggestions on easing into the dating scene after widowhood:
1. Purge the guilt.
She advises putting aside feelings of betraying your loved one, “Cherish your old relationship, but don’t let it sabotage your prospects of forging a new one.”
2. Tell your story (but carefully).
Who you are goes beyond being a widow or widower. Share your authentic self, but be selective about what you share initially. And avoid over-reminiscing about your lost love. It may make others feel left out and uncomfortable.
3. Define your desires.
Think about what kind of relationship you want going forward. You’re probably in a different stage of life now, than you were when you first met your loved one. Your needs and life style are probably different.
4. Take stock and retool.
Because you were settled in a comfortable relationship for however many years, you may have let your appearance slide. It may be time for some kind of makeover.
5. Make a connection.
Dip your toes into the dating pool. Ask those you know to suggest anyone they think you’d be interested in meeting. They may be anxious to fix you up, but worried they’ll offend you.
And don’t rule out online dating sites. Most of the single people over 50, 60 and beyond who are looking for love, are on these sites. Take a look at eHarmony – our readers’ favorite dating site – and the other dating sites we recommend.