Widow Dating Questions: Am I Ready To Date?

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Eleanor Haley

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Over the years we have struggled to write about dating as a widow here at WYG, because there are sooo many factors. Like almost everything in grief, there are no universals. Your grief is as unique as you and your relationship with the person who died.

Dating within that grief will be just as unique. But we do get some common questions about dating when you are widowed, this is the first post in our “widow dating” series, where we will tackle some of these FAQs.

We will kick it off with a big question (or cluster of questions): Am I ready to start dating? We get this question in a million forms personal – how long is a widow ‘supposed’ to wait before they date? Is it too soon to date after my spouse’s death? I met someone who I like, but I feel guilty about dating, Does that mean I’m not ready? I haven’t started dating and it has been years since my spouse died – is something wrong with me? People keep telling me I should be interested in dating and I am not – is something wrong with me? And about a zillion more variations. So, let’s dig in.

Am I ready?

In addition to your own thoughts, you have probably been getting messages from other people (whether you wanted them or not).  From “you need to start dating it - will help you move on” to “it is too soon to date, you need to wait at least  [insert random period of time this person arbitrarily made up]”, often these comments are not helpful. Heck, I just read a comment on social media just today in which a young widow's grandfather told her it was time to dye her hair and get back out there. Thanks, Grandpa.

I wish we could muddle through the mess and answer that question easily for you. So, here is the bad news first: there is no set time; there are no easy ways to know that you are ready. Heck, the idea of "readiness" itself is deceptive. It sounds simple, but you are not suddenly going to wake up "ready" one morning. In grief, you'll always have good days mixed in and between bad days, with good days eventually (and hopefully) starting to outnumber the bad. 'Readiness' isn't all that different. You'll have days when you feel totally ready to start dating mixed in with days you're convinced that you'll never, ever be ready to date. And those are often mixed with days of, "I don't think I'll ever be ready, but I also don't want to spend the rest of my life alone". Oh, and you might be feeling ready to date, but you might not be ready for a relationship. Those are two very different things. Don't worry, feeling that whole, complicated mess is normal!

Okay, sure. But on average, when are widows ready to start dating?

Sorry, friends. There are no averages here.  There are people who imagined they would never date again, or would wait years, who suddenly find themselves wanting to date after a couple of months. Others, who imagined they would be ready to date quickly, find that many years later they just aren’t interested or ready. Some people decide never to date again. There is no predicting and there is no normal. When it comes to grieving, your emotions can be all over the map. So when you consider if you are “ready” to date after a death, try to toss out any preconceived ideas you had about what it would or ‘should’ look like (whether your own ideas or those friends keep pushing on you) and take stock of how you are doing and feeling in the present moment.

You might get it wrong and that’s okay.

If you are reading this article, you are clearly being thoughtful and doing some real self-reflection about dating after your spouse’s death. But even with all the thought and care in the world, we still misjudge our own physical and emotional readiness.  You might be careful and cautious, start dating thinking your ready, and then suddenly realize you weren’t ready at all . You wouldn't be the first dating widow to wake up after dating thinking, "crap, I wasn't ready to start dating at all! What was I thinking?!?". You won't be the last.

Don't panic. Just because you start dating doesn’t mean you can’t just take a break. You might wait and wait and wait and wait and wait, finally start dating, and realize that you probably were ready sooner than you thought. That’s okay too. There is no guidebook for this stuff. We’re all just doing the best we can with what we have in the moment.

Should we talk about avoidance?

Yes, of course we should!  It is human nature to avoid pain – physical and emotional. If we can find ways to escape pain, we often will. And what is one easy way to avoid pain? To avoid it, of course! When the pain of grief is brand new and unimaginably overwhelming, dating can be an appealing way to avoid feeling lonely, isolated, sad, scared, and on and one.  And it isn't just a distraction. Meeting a new person, flirting, touching, sex – these all release a big surge of dopamine in our brains. Dopamine is a euphoria neurotransmitter (the same one we release when we drink and take drugs). The allure of that big boost of feel-good chemicals, coupled with some distraction, can feel very appealing. When everyone is giving you tilted-head pity-looks and asking if you’re okay, an online date with a stranger who doesn’t know anything about you can seem like a real reprieve! So if you are feeling ‘ready’, but it also feels confusingly early to feel ready, consider whether avoidance is a factor.

What about avoidance even after lots of time has passed?

Later on, when years have passed, sometimes the decision not to date can be its own form of avoidance. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but even without grief dating is complicated. Add the emotional weight and complications of grief to that mix and it can be easy to say, “forget it”. If a lot of time has passed and you know you would like to meet someone, but you are overwhelmed by the logistics, this could be avoidance too. Maybe you don't want to face tell (or upsetting) children or in-laws. Maybe the thought of dating brings up guilt that you just don't want to deal with. Yep, you guessed it. It might be avoidance. Because even though dating can be wonderful, it can be a lot of emotional work to get there. Sometimes we would rather avoid all that

Remember, avoidance isn’t all bad

Even if there is some avoidance in there, that isn't always a problem. A little healthy distraction isn’t a problem. Just be aware that casual ‘distraction’ dates can suddenly turn into a relationship you weren't ready for. If you know you are dating primarily for a bit of distraction, be honest with yourself and those you date. Set clear boundaries and check-in with yourself regularly. If it is much sooner or much later than the expectations of your family and social group, you might face some judgment and tough conversations (don't worry, we'll be writing a follow-up post on that).

If a lot of time has passed and you’re otherwise feeling ready, but those logistics and guilt are getting in the way, avoidance is probably the culprit. As Brene Brown has famously reminded us: we can avoid hard feelings that come with being vulnerable, but in doing so we often avoid the chance for new positive feelings and experiences. If you know avoidance is holding you back, that’s okay. But keep checking in. Be open to pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone eventually.

Guilt about dating as a widow

One of the biggest uncertainties around “readiness” is guilt. It may be guilt around the feeling of betraying a partner who died, guilt that it means they are ‘moving on’ or forgetting, or guilt that it will upset their children or other family. This is a place where we want to make a few things very clear:

Being ready to date is NOT about moving on or letting go. Let me say that again. Being ready to date is NOT about moving on or letting go. If you haven’t read our post about grief and the fear of letting go, please check it out. Seriously. Right now. Grief is not about leaving someone behind us. It is about learning to bring them with us as we create space for new people and things. The amazing thing about love is that we have plenty of it to go around. We can still love a person we've lost, remember them, keep them in our lives AND have space for someone new. Not convinced? When a mom has a second child, no one says “oh, isn’t that a shame. She is going to have to take her love away from the first child to give it to the second child”. That isn’t how love works. We have an expansive capacity, one that can span our past, present, and future.

Right, got it got it got it. But my new partner/kids/in-laws/friends/mail carrier/guy who works at the bodega don't get it

Yeah . . . so there is more bad news. This isn't always easy or intuitive for everyone around you. They are having their own feelings. You might have to do some extra talking and educating and hugging with family. Sometimes you need to turn down the volume from the folks who don't matter. You'll definitely, absolutely, positively need to find the right partner. Not all partners are cut out for dating a widow. Plenty are, they just need a little . . . coaching. Don't worry, we have a FAQs for people dating widows here.  And the next articles in this series will tackle some of those tough conversations.

And if you're worried about the many other issues that come up as a widow dating, fear not. This is the first in a series. We'll be tackling more topics, including talking to kids about dating, talking with in-laws about dating, communicating with the person (or people) you're dating, and any other questions you think would be helpful! So leave a comment with your feedback, suggestions, and ideas for other topics that fall within the wild, wonderful, bewildering, and complicated world of dating as a widow.

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18 Comments on "Widow Dating Questions: Am I Ready To Date?"

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  1. Teddi Brace  March 24, 2020 at 3:58 am Reply

    My husband has been dead over a year… This was my second husband…my first husband died in 1999 and I remarried in 2001 although I never dreamed I would fall in love again. I know that I am NOT ready for a “relationship” and the memories of what a nightmare it was when I started dated in 2000-2001…is terrifying…but, IMMEDIATELY – when I met Doug…we BOTH fell for each other, and everyone thought we were crazy. We met just before my birthday in September and were married by the end of December. We were crazy – about each other! We were best friends, the other half of each other – he put the smile back on my face and in my heart. Just a couple of years after we met his health went downhill…and I retired early so we could have more time together. Even the doctors were shocked when he stopped breathing – they were at his bed in seconds, and 3 of them, couldn’t make a difference, he had gently gone home to the Lord.

    I know I am NOT ready for a relationship – but I had reached the point that I thought that I was perhaps ready to date, to possibly find a friend to meet for lunch or go have coffee with, and get to know each other… It gets lonely, and other than my cats, I have very little contact with others. My son’s family lives about 35 miles away, and they are busy most of the time with his kids, and her sons (they married last year and mingled their families) and my daughter lives 700 miles away.

    I think maybe the Lord said “no, your not ready – it’s not time”…. This panademic has changed our world, and regular and/or casual dating…is impossible. These days, I wouldn’t even know where to start – way back then there were multiple dating sites that were actually free….from what I’ve seen, that is a part of the past. In so many ways, I think that I got 2 miracles, finding men that loved me for who I was, and that were my best friends and our lives were wonderful… I look at the marriages that are more like battle grounds with some people I know, and think I must be crazy to even THINK of meeting someone and getting into a nightmare situation! For now, maybe for a long time…I’m staying home, and cherishing the memories… No one is really meeting anyone “new” these days – and I fall into the “at risk” population – so anyone I would be meeting would be in the same age range! LOL, fate says stay home…and I can just imagine what my kids would say if I told them I was going to date!

  2. James A. LaVorgna  March 2, 2020 at 11:03 am Reply

    Wondering if wanting companionship without commitment is ok, and how to impose things needed for poss. success…..?

  3. Suli  March 1, 2020 at 9:25 pm Reply

    It will be a year next month since my husband died.
    I’m reading his love letters to me from decades ago and am reminded so very strongly of what it was that drew us together and animated our marriage. I’m so very grateful for the years we had together.
    Of course I miss him. He always encouraged me to live a full life if he should go before me. I’m doing my best to live this new phase of my life as fully as possible. He would want that , I know.
    I’ve been invited to a few ‘coffees’ and ‘dinners’ with men I know socially. It’s been OK but I feel no desire to go beyond that at this time.
    I’m comfortable and capable of being on my own. I don’t need a man to be content. But I’m open to the possibility if it should happen.

  4. Regina Nunley  February 23, 2020 at 12:01 am Reply

    BRB I so agree with your post! I had my boyfriend for close to ten soul- altering years and I know he is irreplaceable. Quite a few women have told me I should just not “ claim” my grief and move on. I was polite to most – but I get more annoyed as the heartless comments continue to come at me – most of these women have never had the deeply honest and unconditionally loving big relationship my Eugenio and I had – I have begun to feel sorry for them -As I slowly begin to heal and accept that I will only experience my honey in spirit, I have opened up to the possibility of loving again- for my heart and to honour the love and lessons my honey taught me. To all who have lived so deeply I send a strong and loving hug.

    No one will truly understand until they lose as well – but not if they loved hard as well.

    I loved being an us / we. There is nothing like it!!

  5. Steven  February 17, 2020 at 7:33 pm Reply

    My wife died in April 2017, but she had been ill for a long time, so it wasn’t unexpected that her time was limited. We were married at age 19 and she passed away at age 64. The was a lot of grief consuming me, and I started dating a few months after her death. I went through a series of women with just a few dates for each one. And then there was Nona. That relationship went on for a few months. Ditto for Maureen which lasted over a year. Some of the ladies wanted me to move in after about three dates (but some dates were for many hours). I kept saying to myself I needed the right amount of compatibility and compassion in addition to being ready for the possibility of a new love in my life. That mixture of those three things are the challenge in my opinion. Now that I am in a wonderful relationship just short of three years after my wife’s passing, I want people to know that there are great possibilities. What is most common between my wife and this new person is that they both have a great sense of humor and both can be a little silly. Remember, you aren’t looking for a replacement spouse, you are looking for a relationship with another human being, and that human being doesn’t have to match the previous beloved spouse. Give yourself permission to seek that possibility. Don’t put pressure on yourself, just try to have a fun time. Proceed at your own pace. I believe that most people reading this forum have had a lot of life experiences. Use your wisdom in reading your own heart and the heart of someone you meet. Bless you!

    • Trish  November 9, 2021 at 12:41 am Reply

      Thank you – I needed to read this Steven- I do have wisdom and need to trust my instincts and gut.
      Bless you!

  6. Melissa  February 16, 2020 at 6:38 pm Reply

    I was interested in reading this post. I’m wondering if you have any resources for folks who are poly (as in “polyamorous”)? One of the things that has been difficult about losing my primary partner has been the extent to which people make assumptions about my sexual orientation and the ways in which my romantic life is structured. In a time in my life where grief has been so heavy, it’s been an extra burden to feel like I have to educate people. Such a resource may very well not exist, but it seemed worth asking!

    • Eleanor Haley  February 26, 2020 at 11:19 pm Reply

      Hi Melissa,
      I am so sorry for your loss. This is an interesting and great suggestion. Though I am not poly I have clients and friends who are but, to be honest, I have not actually considered the intersection of grief (and I am struck by what a gross oversight that feels like, as I imagine there are some very unique challenges that come with grieving a partner in that circumstance). I know educating others is always a challenge for people who are poly, and I am curious if it simply that the burdon of that is feeling especially heavy at a moment when you don’t have the bandwidth, or if it is that there are specific aspects of educating them about grief in the context of your relationship. I am trying to think through what some of the grief-specific issues might be and would really like to write about this, so please let me if there are specific assumptions, challenges, etc. I hate to be pessimistic, but knowing how people often are about both grief and sometimes poly relationships, I can imagine people potentially minimizing or trying to diminish your grief, knowing the relationship (though primary) was not your only romantic relationship. Hmm – I would love to think about and research this more, so if you have any thoughts please let me know and perhaps we can cover this down the road.

  7. Jennifer  February 16, 2020 at 2:05 pm Reply

    In my grief… this is the one and only topic that is so very simple and easy. I didn’t get dumped, he died. I don’t miss having a man, I miss my man.

    For all the people in my life that keep telling me to get over it, get back up on that horse again, and you have the perfect guy for me…

    Well, it turns out I don’t need your permission on how I live my life and by all means, If i wanted your opinion, I would have asked for it.

    If you want to date. Date. If you are like me and don’t. Don’t! Just don’t let yourself get bullied either way.

  8. Jenni  February 15, 2020 at 9:35 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m a gidow. We’d dated for two years prior his death. I’d been single for 18 months, he’d been single for 8 years. We were soulmates: We just “got” each other. It was effortless, him and I… the conversations, the laughter, and even the tears. 4 hour phone conversations every night was the norm for us. We could talk about anything and everything.
    I know he would want me to be happy and find someone to share my life with, but to be honest the thought of being with someone else, anyone else, makes me feel sick inside. He was my best friend, and I have been struggling with the grief. I’d like to say it’s 50/50 good days vs bad ones, but that would be a lie. It’s been 8 months since his death, and I don’t see myself dating anytime soon.
    I’ve been told to “let him go and move on” numerous times by well- meaning friends and family. But they don’t understand what we shared.
    All I can do is heal and wait. And I’m okay with that.

  9. BRB  February 14, 2020 at 4:38 pm Reply

    Am glad you are making a trend about this…im told am young and will find someone else soon…but will I ever? He fit so perfectly into my life I thought a man like him was impossible to find, I was asking for too much and yet there he was going above and beyond what I had envisioned ever. I am not a widow…I am a gidow, he was my boyfriend, my partner in crime, my best friend and my companion…he wasn’t my better half because we were both whole when we meet, I miss him terribly some days stronger than others…today was one of those days. I am not interested or eager to start anything with anyone in many years…I had been “alone” for about 5 years when I meet him and he had been “alone” for about 7…no one fit in our lives as well as each other and no one was deserving enough to hang out and meet the kids, his son and my son…I am told am young and he wasn’t “the one”, I cant dispute that I will never know…but they don’t know the type of unconditional whole love we had…the harmony within our peaceful and fulfilling relationship…I am not in a hurry to “look” for anyone because I feel no one would come close or surpass his standards…I am ok alone, I do fine being single…am a independent woman who never needed a man…but having one made my life feel so much more bright and happy… I miss that, I miss him … us. 🙁

  10. D  February 14, 2020 at 3:55 pm Reply

    You’re story is so like mine. Same age, same situation. I’m happy with this married man. He was my late husbands best friend. I truly love this man. But like you, not sure I could have him around all the time. It just works. I can’t feel guilty about it because it’s a dead but “necessary” marriage for now. I don’t want any judgement from anyone until they have walked in my shoes. I understand what you’re saying. I feel you Dee.

  11. anonymous  February 13, 2020 at 12:57 pm Reply

    There have been 3 people who have wanted romance with me. Out of the blue, and I was completely unprepared.
    Honestly, my mind could not wrap itself around this. And not because I felt low self worth.

    My heart, mind, soul and spirit simply screamed “Hey! I’m still married! What are you doing? Are you crazy? Get away from me!” I know one time I actually did say this aloud. The other times I just came home as fast as I could.

    I’m grateful for how safe our home still feels to me. And so I let our home nurture me and put me back together.

    I have decided that this year, 2020, is going to be a calm year for me. Remaining at home, puttering in the yard, tending to home upkeep, listening to the music we loved. Dancing with the vacuum, or the red broom when I sweep out the garage. And singing.

    I write each morning in an artist sketchpad. A nice texture to the paper. And no lines. Space to draw little hearts which I fill in with rosy-red crayon. Or a sun with yellow crayon all around. And a little personal caricature drawing of us, which came to me one morning and is a bright reassurance that we are still connected and that our love grows more and more every day.

    As I go into the world, I remain open and aware that many have suffered deep traumatic losses as I have, and though we wear no banner, we are not always in our right minds. And so authentic kindness and gentle demeanor are what I can give.

    • Katy Schacht  February 14, 2020 at 4:04 pm Reply

      Beautifully expressed feelings-thank you
      Your words are helping me

  12. Mar  February 11, 2020 at 2:59 pm Reply

    I started dating a year after my fiance died. I tried Tinder. I just wanted to remember what was to date again, and meet new people. I guees I needed atention and affection; that kind of affection. Curiosly my first date turn on friendship, and then the second was a stupid guy who told me that I was continuisly gloating on pain; that I hadn’t move on the death of my fiance because he saw a memory of him in my IG stories. I felt terrible, he was cruel, and obviosly at the end I thanked he showed me he could´t deal with my grieving. Since then I have had many dates but never finish into something seriuos. At the begginig I used to feel so estressed just to the fact that I had to tell that part of my life, wich I used to tell at the very first time . Now, I talk about it in the second o third time dating. If the vibes are good. Now I see backwards and it’s been funny and painfull at the same time. Nobody it’s going to be like my fiance, but i’m proud of myself ’cause I’ve been open to meet new people. I quitted Tinder last year and now I’m dating a guy who’s a friend of a friend. Just happened.

    • Eleanor Haley  February 11, 2020 at 3:19 pm Reply

      Thanks so much for sharing, Mar. I do think that question of ‘when’ is a tricky one, for the reasons you described. And your situation really highlights that not everyone understands the grief experience and, hence, are not going to make a good partner!

  13. Linda Davis  February 11, 2020 at 1:14 pm Reply

    This is a little bit of a twist. I’m thinking about what my late husband went through, when he first started dating me. He had just lost his wife to a long battle with cancer. I won’t go into the long drawn out experience of how his family made him feel, when he started seeing me. It was brutal. They thought it was too soon. They didn’t trust me. They also felt that their input was necessary. This was a, late in life, experience. He had been married for 40 years. I was a little younger than him, and had been separated for many years. We quickly went from acquaintances, to friends, then companions. I understood a lot of the family’s qualms, but, they didn’t stop to think of their Dad’s feelings in all of this, either. He felt guilty for a long time, but, I was a good listener and patient with what he needed to work out. Some of the family warmed up, when they saw we truly cared about one another. Others, not so much. After fifteen years or so, we decided to get married. We were very happy, unfortunately, my husband passed away three years later. I was lost and devastated by this. I never dated after that. I had met and lost my soulmate. Now, I was recently put into the situation of what my late husband’s family was put in. (sort of) My oldest daughter became ill, and sadly passed away. She had a new husband and grown children. It’s coming up to three years in March of her death. Her husband started looking for a companion at some point a year ago. but, as much as I tried to be okay, I was very suspicious and negative to this happening. So many years later, I was going through, what likely my husband’s family felt at the time their Dad was choosing to find comfort and companionship with someone new. Is there, or should there be a time lapse? I’m thinking now, would it have helped my husband not feel so guilty? Perhaps. Family pressure didn’t help him. That I know for sure. The length of time cannot possibly be determined as a rule, because everyone is different. In my situation, with my husband, we were both looking for comfort, just for different reasons. I’m happy we had the time we did, because it was gone too soon. With my son-in-law, he certainly didn’t jump into a new relationship, but, it was me, that was now acting like someone, a stranger was moving in on my daughter’s domain. and that was wrong. Almost hurtful! How dare he! Well, id doesn’t take much to see, who really has the problem here.. My son-in-law is doing nothing wrong. It’s Mom, who is still having trouble letting go of what was! I don’t know if this story helps anyone, but, saying some things out loud and in writing, is helping me understand myself better, and even those, who sat in judgement over me, so many years ago now. Time to let it all go! My advice is, follow your heart. I’m glad we did, in spite of things. Remember, feelings of others in connection with the person who is now gone, are real, and need to be taken into account. Emotions stay raw for some, for a long time. Gentle understanding can go a long ways, if only it were acknowledged and not ignored. Don’t make anyone feel guilty for having feelings!

  14. Dee  February 11, 2020 at 8:22 am Reply

    Almost 10 months after the death of my spouse I became involved with a married medical professional who filled the bill when I needed him. There were complications of course in that type of relationship because it was an impossibility for us to ever truly be a couple. I wasn’t feeling guilt but I did know this could go nowhere. We broke apart after about 8 months and there was no contact for 7 months. I needed a lot of alone time during that split. I needed to be with myself, to understand my grief of losing my spouse of 40 years and now losing a man I was sure I was in love with. After that I felt strong and reached out to him. We got back together however I now have more realistic expectations. We are not kids in our 20s or 30s. We are both in our mid to late 60s! Are we using each other? Maybe. All I know is I love my independence, and yes I miss my spouse. He’s never coming back and here I am a vibrant very youthful active interesting woman. Should I stop having an affair? Probably. He’ll never be truly in my life but then I’m not sure yet if I want him in my life every day. Of course if somewhere along the way I met a man who fulfilled all my criteria I would go for it including him NOT being married. I am almost certain that any man in my life may not even remotely match my beloved late spouse. But I’ll keep my options open. You never know.

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