Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dating Again: After the Death of Your Spouse

(These rumination are for both men and women. I’m going to use words for a widower because men have more problems here.)

How soon is too soon to start dating?

Sometime after the death of your spouse, you will begin to think about dating, especially if you liked being married. This may be in a month; it may be in five years. But whenever you start, you’ll probably feel guilty, like you’re cheating on your wife.

Even if your spouse said that she wanted you to date again, you will feel odd about it. And when that first kiss comes? A whole bucket of emotions is going to spill.

From the statistics I’ve read, men remarry significantly faster than women who have lost a spouse. Women aren’t in a hurry because they have a larger circle of friends for sharing their grief. Men, not so much.

Press Reset. You’re starting over.

When you begin dating, you’re not picking up where you left off with your spouse or partner. Anyone you date will be a different person and it will be a different relationship. Don’t expect her to be a clone of your wife.

Anyone you date will have a different set of likes and dislikes. Don’t expect her to know what foods you like or get your jokes. You are going to have to tell her who you are, and you are going to have to share your feelings.

You don’t have to jump into dating, even if women are pounding on your door. You can casually chat with women and see how you feel. Date when you feel ready. Or not.

If you only want to talk about your wife, and aren’t interested in learning about your date, then you’re probably not ready. It’s okay to talk about your wife, of course, because she was a big part of your life and her death continues to affect you, so grief is a topic of discussion. But if your wife, or your grief, dominates the discussion every time you go out, you’re probably not ready.

You can go out with women without calling it a date, and without any thoughts of it being romantic or leading to marriage. You can just enjoy an evening out and make a new friend. If there's a spark there, fine. If there isn’t, fine. Sparks are fun, but you may need social time more than romance.

Now is a good time to take stock of your life because the last time you did this was probably 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Ask yourself a whole bunch of questions.

What did you like about being married? What did you dislike? Was there something you wanted to do that was set aside because of the marriage or the illness of your wife—like hike the Appalachian Trail for six months, or live in a yurt on an island off the west coast of Scotland? Do you want to move to a different part of the country? Change jobs?

You have the opportunity to figure these things out and try new ideas. Then, when you start dating, you and the other person will know what you want. Try living alone for a while. Discover who you’ve become. Maybe you’ll prefer to live alone for a time and see other people only socially.

In Elegy For Iris, John Bayley, the husband of Iris Murdoch, the British novelist and philosopher, writes about how he “fumbled” around with two women after Iris died not knowing what he wanted in a new relationship, or what the women wanted who showed up on his doorstep. When he realized that he wanted companionship, he began dating a woman who wanted the same thing.

Listen to your heart.

You’re in control here. Nothing has to happen if you don’t want it to.

Now that you can respond in romantic ways to people you find attractive, you may have forgotten how to flirt. Don’t flirt, just be yourself. Talk like you’re a human being and not a man. You know what I mean. Don’t try to be the one in control or pretend that you know everything. If you haven’t dated in some time, you may feel unsure about your ability to casually chat and be interesting to other people. After you date someone for a while, you will know if you want more from the relationship than casual dating.

The heart is big enough to both grieve and love someone new.