After having been married, possibly for many years, and going through the trauma and grief that comes with the death of a spouse, widows and widowers may find dating daunting. When is the right time to start dating again? How often should one talk about one’s late spouse? Should one date exclusively or date several people at the same time, and should it be casual or serious? There are many right answers to these questions, and it all comes down to what makes the widow or widower comfortable.
Even when expected, the death of a partner is a shocking heartbreak. Weathering the waves of sadness and building a new life without your mate may pose the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced. One day, however — trust me on this — the will to live fully again, and even experience companionship, will arise. You’ll be intimidated at first, of course. It’s hard to throw yourself back in the dating game after 30, 40 years or more. But the pointers below can help ease your pre-game jitters.
- Purge the guilt. Your partner would want you to be happy again, so banish the notion that you are somehow “betraying” him or her by seeing someone new. I tell those I counsel to look at it this way: Cherish your old relationship, but don’t let it sabotage your prospects of forging a new one. And if your feelings of guilt persist, see a counselor; you’ll want to resolve these thoughts before attempting to date again.
- Tell your story (but carefully). More than merely a widow or widower, you are a person with opinions, hobbies, preferences, accomplishments, social values, political views and a unique way of looking at the world. As you think about how to present your authentic self, be selective about which of those attributes you share right away and which are best kept private until you get to know a new person better. In particular, avoid over-reminiscing about your old life; it may make your new acquaintance feel excluded.
- Define your desires. Take some time to think about the type of new bond you’d like to establish. You may long to clone your lost love, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever meet an exact replica of the one you were with. And let’s face it—would you really want to? After all, the person you met at age 25 changed over a lifetime, and so did you. Now you’re in a different stage, with a redrawn horizon. Perhaps you’re ready to see the world and want to find someone who shares your interests. Don’t stop at shared interests, though. Factors that loomed large in the past—good looks, financial success, whatever—may pale in the present as you acknowledge the importance of a partner who is kind and supportive, or one who is funny and entertaining. In short, grant yourself the freedom to gravitate to a whole new kind of person.
- Take stock and retool. If you’ve become a bit casual in the weight, wardrobe or grooming departments, now’s the time to up your game. Visit a salon or barbershop and ask how you could best update your hairstyle. Seek out a clothing consultant or personal shopper — someone who can advise you on a flattering look and help you pick out items to achieve it. Or ask a close friend to be brutally honest about what your ideal makeover would include. And whatever exercise you once enjoyed, try to make it part of your daily routine.
- Make a connection. Certain shortcuts are time-tested. The simplest is to ask friends if they know someone you’d enjoy meeting. Don’t be embarrassed — it’s a good beginning. Most people probably won’t think of suggesting this on their own (and if they do, they may hold back for fear of offending you). So actively encourage them to think of you as a single, eligible person.
No one can tell you when you should begin dating after your spouse dies, as that’s an individual decision that will depend on various factors. It’s important that you take the time necessary to heal and let yourself feel whole and complete before jumping into a relationship. When you’re ready to date, you’ll know it. You’ll also know how you want your relationships to progress by listening to your heart and trusting your instincts.