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Dating Widow(er)s: In Their Own Words

As a follow-up to our article, here are more thoughts on navigating the often tricky waters of dating someone who is beginning to date after grieving the untimely loss of their partner or spouse – from Members of our own Widow/Widowers community here on eHarmony Advice, in their own words. As you’ll see from the passages below, everyone’s reaction to their circumstance, opinions and experiences are going to be different, so it’s important to keep in mind the specific needs of your match as you progress.

How long does a widow/widower typically wait to start dating again?

Annother:Everyone is different. I was lonely for several years before my husband died. I would have been dating again within a year if I had not been in a car accident that put me out of action for 9 months. One is ready to date again whenever solitude gives way to loneliness. It is natural to want a partner, but the partner is not a substitute.

JediSoth: “One should wait until THEY feel they are ready. No one else can tell you what you are feeling, so only by being in touch with your own emotions can you know if you’re ready. Everyone mourns differently, so widows/widowers must be careful not to let other people dictate the speed of their recovery.”

RichS: “Too many variables to say what is right for anyone the old year thing is probably wise as a minimum. I probably should’ve waited longer… I didn’t quite make the 1 year wait to date thing…and I made a mess, I think I will use 5 years to remarry as a minimum.

Tink333: “This is variable, and having been married to a widower, been widowed and later marrying another widower as well as encountering several men on the widow/widower board, I have noticed that men seem to be ready earlier than women. Also, if the person was terminally ill and that illness took a long time to run it’s course, the widowed person may have done a lot of grieving prior to the actual occurrence of death and might be ready to date earlier than ‘the experts’ predict. For me, it was 18 months before I considered dating again. The key is that every person is different, and you should take the widow/widower’s word that she/he is ready to date.”

There is no specific time range that works for everyone. Some people may be ready after 6 months, while others may feel ready after 5 years. The widow(er) will make this decision for themselves, but the important thing is that you are about to discuss, respect and be comfortable with the amount of time they’ll need.

Is it common for widow(er)s to compare new dates to their former spouse?

Annother: “In my case, comparisons with my late husband are usually in favor of the new love, not the late husband. (He had been a wonderful husband and father, but illness and medications changed him.) Now that I have been dating for about three years, on and off, my comparisons are with prior dates and not with my husband.”

Bill1104: “Being a widow or a widower doesn’t enter into this! It’s common to compare under all circumstances”

JediSoth: “Of course. It’s hard to come to conclusions without making comparisons.”

Tink333: “It’s not the comparison one might assume it to be. What I mean is that if one had a happy marriage that ended with one person dying, one might wonder if the person would approve of the person one is dating. If they met IRL, would they be friends?”

When you begin to date a widow(er), keep in mind that it is completely natural for people to compare things. Not all comparisons are bad; they are simply an acknowledgement that something is different than something else. Most widow(er)s probably wouldn’t expect or want for you to be just like their late spouse, so there’s little use in wondering if you’ll “measure up”. Be yourself and try to create your own unique and fulfilling relationship.

What are important things to keep in mind when dating a widow/widower?

Annother: “If he or she is new to dating, there may be tears. It’s a big adjustment. However, the occasional emotional reminiscence is not an indication that the person is not ready to date. It just means they are learning to see themselves differently. He or she is also letting go of the past.”

Bill1104: “Tread lightly and follow their lead. If he or she feels comfortable talking about their deceased partner then you should feel free to ask questions or make comments. Be aware that if that is all he or she can talk about then they’re probably not ready to date.”

EmmaJayne09: “I think for me it would be to remember that the widow/widower will still love their lost spouse and not to try and stop them talking about them and remembering as that is all part of moving on.”

JediSoth: “They may have relapses of mourning and/or other unresolved emotions issues, even years after the death.”

Tink333: “It is not a competition between you and the departed spouse. You aren’t a replacement for the lost spouse. You should not try to be one. You should not compare yourself to the departed spouse. You are not the him/her. One has to remember, that a widowed person did not end the relationship because he/she wanted to – it was taken from them, and in this way is very different from that of a divorce.”

Starting a completely new path in one’s life is a big decision and would cause emotional upheaval for anyone, no matter the situation. Give them time to adjust and try not to take it personally. Make sure that you ask key questions, and be honest with each other. If the person truly is ready to begin again with someone new they will make room for you in their heart.

How can I help a widow/widower get through their pain and feelings of loss?

Annother: “I don’t think that a date is the best person to do this. Family and friends are the best places to go for this kind of support. I didn’t really feel ready to date until I had worked through the pain and feeling of loss.”

EmmaJayne09: “Just be there when they need a shoulder to cry on or someone to listen.”

JediSoth: “Offer understanding and a willingness to listen and (if necessary) distance for the widow/widower to cope with unresolved issues on their own terms if they choose to go it alone.”

Sparkles56: “The best advice I have here is to ask the widowed person, “How can I be there for you?” Realize that at some points the widowed person might need space, and don’t take that personally. In my opinion, it is important for two people in a relationship to be strong enough that they can be a complete person to offer to another. I do not think that someone who is in a great deal of mental pain is a good candidate for a relationship. I don’t expect a woman I am dating, or even more seriously involved with, to “help me get through my pain and loss”, as it relates to my late wife’s passing. I should have done that prior to entering the relationship.

Tink333: “I don’t think one should take on this role. By the time a widow/widower enters the dating world, they should already be through the initial stages of grief and into the recovery phase of rebuilding their lives. It is one thing to be supportive and allow space for the feelings and ebbs and flows of emotion which diminish over time, but I don’t think a person should be the widow/widower’s grief counselor.”

Most people who’ve suffered a loss have already built a network of friends and/or family for support. Many will choose to attend therapy or support groups for help dealing with their pain. However, they will not need this from you. When you are dating someone it should be about you and that person having a shared goal of creating a great relationship.

Are there common mistakes made by those dating widows/widowers?

Annother: “One mistake is assuming that the late spouse was a saint. Wait until the widow(er) has known you long enough to talk about it fairly objectively before deciding what the relationship was like.”

JediSoth: “The most common mistake I’ve seen is people getting upset that the widow/widower still has pictures of their departed loved on and not understanding that the relationship ended without consent on the part of both parties.”

Judging the widow/widower on the length of time after the death before getting back into the dating game. Everyone grieves differently, and it’s not fair to impose your own (esp. if you haven’t dealt with the death of a spouse) ideas on the widow/widower.”

Pitlova: “A great danger is the comparison game. nobody wins in that.”

Sparkles56: “I think the biggest thing I ran into is that many of the women in my “demographic” did not know how to interact with me. They were used to guys who had divorced or been in a string of relationships. But many women thought that I needed to be “handled with kid gloves” so to speak… even with normal interactions they thought things might hurt my feelings, that somehow I was more “fragile” than the other guys they’d been out with. Especially when the conversation turned to her ex, or guys she was dating… the woman would often hesitate to ask about my late wife, even though I was comfortable with such discussions. Other widowed folk may disagree with me here, but I would posit that the ability to discuss the late spouse without a profound emotional reaction is a good signal that the widowed person is ready for another relationship. I don’t mean that the widow should spill her guts on a first date. But I am perfectly comfortable indicating certain vital facts about my circumstance on a first date: when she died, that it was unexpected and the cause of her passing; that our relationship was close and free of bitterness; and that I’d be happy to discuss more in depth as I get to know you better.”

Tink333: “Yes. Often one makes the assumption that the loss of a spouse is similar to divorce, but it is not. In a divorce, usually one or both people are looking for the relationship to end. Often the person will erase every trace of the other person – toss out love letters, tear or burn pictures, etc. Conversely, in the case of a death, one tends to hold onto things of happy memories, even the clothing of the departed.”

Try not to make any assumptions about their prior relationship. It’s best to just take things slow. If you have questions, ask them, widow(er)s are not made of glass. When they are ready to confide in you more deeply about their late spouse, they will.

What do you think everyone needs to know about dating someone who has lost their loved one?

Annother: “Recovering from the death of a spouse/partner takes a long time. The widow(er) is a complete person in and of themselves. They are not missing something just because their partner died. They still have to deal with the family of the deceased partner, and it may not be pretty. The widow(er) will be learning new roles (bookkeeping, cooking, gardening, vehicle maintenance etc.) that the spouse once did. Don’t try to take over those roles. Let the widow(er) figure it out themselves. Be willing to help, though. There are lots of emotions tied up in “stuff,” including the house.”

JediSoth: “Dating a widow/widower is not the same as dating someone who is divorced. The relationship ended without anyone’s consent and there will be issues for which there is no hope of closure. Further, the deceased spouse will continue to influence the widow/widower’s action and personality and the in-laws may continue to be a part of their lives.”

RichS: “We know they aren’t coming back…now I just have to really know it. We promised away our whole lives…who knew we would get change back? I guess they just need to be sure we have stabilized.”

Sparkles56: “I think it is important to accept the “non-standard” family dynamics that occur. As I often joke with women I’m dating, “You know, it’s really weird to talk about my mother-in-law to a date!” In many cases, the widowed person is still very close with the family of the deceased. So, if I marry again, I might have three moms! I still consider my late wife’s family to be my own… and in my case, I’m actually closer to my “in-laws” than I am my own biological family. I still love my late wife, I always will. But what I love now is her spirit and what we once had. In order to have the kind of love that a husband and wife has, both people need to be present in the here and now. To maintain the love there must be a mental, intellectual, physical, spiritual intimacy that goes both ways – the wife must give to the husband and the husband must give to the wife. Even though I still love my late wife, I can’t give her that – and she can’t give me that. So when I develop feelings for someone in my next relationship, I will love her more than I love my late wife.

Tink333: “I think anyone who is thinking about dating a widow/widower should become familiar with the stages of grief so as to understand it is a process, not a sequential timeline. There are ebbs and flows. You will be a better partner if you are open to understanding the path your date has walked. Also, one should know that a widowed person often maintains contact with their deceased spouse’s family. One needs to have an open mind and heart about this. Blending families takes patience and flexibility.”

Every situation is unique, and if you’re not sure about anything, talk to the person you are dating. The best course of action is to be open with each other and give yourselves time to feel everything out.

What are unique challenges from their perspective?

Annother: “It’s a whole new experience being seen naked by a new partner when one is at age 61. Realizing that their late spouse’s relatives have to adjust to thinking about them dating again. Learning to talk about dating with friends and relatives, and how to share dating stories with adult children. Or, even things as simple as remembering to change the oil in the car.”

EmmaJayne09:The biggest challenges are learning to love and feel comfortable with someone new. Having grown with their lost spouse they were comfortable with personal things, like body, habits and such like. It is hard to share these things with someone new.”

JediSoth: “A challenge for me was to not talk about my late spouse too much while dating people who hadn’t experienced the loss of a spouse. They tended to view it akin to me talking about a former girlfriend with whom I’d recently broken up.”

RichS:If my desperation and neediness runs into some other person’s desperation, the results can be disappointment at best or tragedy at worst. I met a 39 year old woman…she is desperate to be married and thinking of kids…I am a husband, I move like a husband I listen like a husband I can tolerate shopping and give advice and tolerate family meetings etc. These are merely the skills left over and I do these things without thinking…it caused her to think I was in love…not cool.

Tink333: “The widow/widower may have feelings of guilt as their feelings deepen for the person they are dating. Guilt feelings are normal, and if the person is truly ready to date, the feelings don’t last long and fade relatively quickly. Sometimes the widowed person may find they entered the dating world too soon and retreat back into solitude. Sometimes the only way to know if one is ready to date is to try.

When you meet the widow/widower’s children at the appropriate time and as you get to know them, remember that young children may feel conflicted with having feelings for you. They need to know you are not trying to replace the departed parent and that you are not competing for the place in which they hold that parent in their hearts.

Also, it is not a slight against you or a sign that the widowed person is not ready to date when the widowed person wants to show respect – have a toast, say a prayer, visit the grave – on important days – death day, birthday. It is also important for the children to have these rituals in order to remember their departed parent. My daughter once told me that she felt her stepfather (with whom she was closer with than her biological father) was disappearing.

The widowed person may feel conflicted with regard to her/his expanding family – juggling holiday schedules to accommodate your family, her family and the family of the departed spouse, especially if there are children in the mix.

Also, often one who is not widowed may assume that the widow/widower is not ready to date if pictures of the departed spouse are still displayed. You should not expect the widowed person to take down family pictures when there are children involved, but the dwelling should not look like a shrine to the departed either. Balance is a key word.”

Every new relationship takes time and patience to grow into something more. Dating a widow(er) is no different. Give them space and offer to help, but also allow them to learn how to live their own life.

What if they’re not ready?

Annother: “One of the men I came close to having a permanent relationship with was also widowed. When we became physically intimate, I asked him to move the pictures of his late wife from above his bed to another room in the house. He couldn’t do it. That’s when he realized he wasn’t ready.”

Bill1104: “Note that if you are ‘walking on eggshells’ around this person, it’s probably not the most healthy relationship to be in.”

EmmaJayne09: “It takes time to find your feet, so be patient.”

When widow(er)s find someone they can truly love, they’ll want to put aside the grief and make you the number one person in their hearts and minds. Once you get to know them on a deeper level you will need to decide for yourself whether they are ready, or not, to take the next step with you.

Can you really find love again?

Annother: “I certainly hope so! I have come close a few times, but for various reasons the relationships did not last. I know it is possible to love more than once, and I know that each love is unique. Finding that love, though, is much harder when one is older than when one is young.”

JediSoth: “Yes, and since you can apply everything you learned in the previous relationship to the new one, things can actually be better than they ever were before, as callous as that sounds.”

pitlova: “Emphatically yes. Love is action more than emotion, IMHO. Finding a new partner/spouse does not negate the years/relationship with the dead spouse. The widow(er) is a differently-abled partner now. Personally, having been both divorced and widowed, a greater change came with widower-hood. My late wife will always be a part of me – time makes the scar fainter, but the mark is permanent.”

Tink333: “Yes. Absolutely. I did and know others who did, too.”