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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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dating Again

Last week the Chicago Tribune published some of my thoughts about when to start dating after your spouse has died. This post shares more.

(This is for both men and women. I’m going to use words for a widower because men need more help with relationships, and constantly saying her/his, she/he, wife/husband/partner feels bulky.)

When is it time to start dating after the death of a spouse?

There is no set answer, but 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 spouse. 

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

From the statistics I’ve seen, men remarry significantly faster than women who have lost a spouse. Some think this is because men are used to having regular sex. Women aren’t in a hurry because they have a larger circle of friends for sharing their grief and dealing with the loneliness. Men, not so much. 

Press Reset. You’re starting over. 

But you’re also wiser about yourself and how relationships work.

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

Dating is the beginning of a relationship, not an interview for a nanny, housekeeper, or a second wage earner.

If you start dating in the first year, you could short sheet your grief. In the second year, when emotions aren’t pummeling you every day, you begin to explore who you are as a single person and what you want for the future. In the third year, most people have their feet back under them and they finally have enough energy to make some of the changes. 

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. 
Try living alone for a while. Discover who you’ve become. Maybe you’ll prefer to live alone for a time. 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 both want. 

Ask yourself a 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 can go out with people 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.

If you go out with someone who has also been widowed, they would be someone you can talk to about grief.

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

In Elegy For Iris, John Bayley, the widower of Iris Murdoch, 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.

If you were married for 40 years, you may decide that you had your one great love, and only want someone to go with you to social events. However, if someone wonderful should come alone, that would be just fine.

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 a long time, you may feel unsure about your ability to casually chat and be interesting to people you find attractive. 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.

            *

(Parts of my article were first published in the Chicago Tribune, theGood Men Project, and the Huffington Post.)