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Dating Widow(er)s: In Their Own Words

There are all sorts of dating experiences many have in their lifetime—from the rotating door of bachelors and bachelorettes in our 20s to the more mature approach to finding love in our 30s, meeting a partner is no easy task. That’s what makes widower dating, widow dating or building a connection with a widower/widow that much more difficult. After all, you or your potential partner invest time, energy and heart into their marriage and their partner was taken too soon from them. Believing that love can happen again for them or for yourself requires strength, bravery and trial-and-error. The spectrum of eligibility is strenuous enough without throwing in a broken heart.

If you’re a widow or widower, or you’re dating someone who has grieved the loss of a spouse, consider this advice and wisdom to share on the subject of dating after loss, that comes straight from those who have been there.

Dating Again

If you search for ‘widow dating’ or ‘widower dating’—you’ll find a plethora of stories and solutions to ‘getting back out there again.’ While it means well—and is likely, solid information—sometimes, the most important person to ask is, well, yourself.

That’s because each person and situation is unique. Some are ready to date again shortly after their partner dies. Others need more time. You must set your own timeline, or when building a relationship with a widow or widower, giving them space to become comfortable. Applying pressure on someone else or on yourself won’t help make widow dating or widower dating easier, but giving yourself space to breathe, process and prepare will. There is no specific time range that works for everyone. Some people may be ready after six 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—or you’ll—need.

Here, a few eharmony users share their personal experience with 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 nine 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.”

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 its 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.”

Not Ready?

Patience is key for widow dating or widower dating. For a widow(er) to be ready to enter a new relationship, he/she has to feel comfortable analyzing past their grief and focusing on loving a new individual. If the photos can’t come down, or the reminiscing is constant and weepy, more time is needed. Most widow(er)s have a support system of friends and family. Therapy groups offer additional networks of emotional care. You shouldn’t have to be responsible for your date’s healing process.

The best way to approach this situation with understanding and care is to take a page out of the personal experiences of widows and widowers who explain what they valued at the time:

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.”

The Comparison Game

It’s a reasonable concern, worrying that a widow(er) will compare the next relationship to the one that came to a tragic end. Keep in mind that it’s human nature to compare every relationship to a previous one, but that not every comparison is a bad one. If you’re feeling insecure about not living up to someone else’s legacy, be honest and vulnerable with your partner, making widower dating easier to navigate.
Ask questions about widow dating, listen carefully, and don’t come to conclusions about the deceased spouse or the previous relationship. The deceased spouse wasn’t perfect; comparing yourself to an image of a saint isn’t fair to either of you. If the new relationship is a healthy one, it will develop into a unique one, independent of the person who came before.

Want an inside perspective to what’s really going on in the mind of a widower or widow when they’re on new dates? Here’s their honest take:

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?”

What You Need To Know

If you’re dating a widow(er), be sensitive to where he/she is coming from. There may be tears and a period of adjustment as you date. Don’t make assumptions about where the widow(er) is at. The ‘kid gloves’ treatment isn’t fair to someone who wants to pursue a real relationship. Widow dating requires you to ask questions and provide a safe space for him/her to be honest with you. As one user pointed out, it’s important to remember that a lost spouse will always be loved, even as the widow(er) moves on to a new relationship.

And of course, remember it’s not only about them most of the time, since families are often involved, too. One eHarmony user brought up the “non-standard” family dynamics: their in-laws may still be part of their life, often permanently so. When someone dies, multiple people grieve and often bond in that grief. There may be in-laws and children with opinions about the widow(er) dating again. While the person may be ready to date, their family might take some time to adjust to the idea.

Here, they detail what they need:

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.”

Adjusting to a “New Normal”

Widower and widow dating brings different challenges than, say, a divorcee, in that ‘forever’ ended against their will. It may be difficult to be vulnerable with someone new. He/she will be used to a specific dynamic in a relationship. Be patient as your date learns to be vulnerable to a new person. For some widow(er)s, a new sexual relationship is especially intimidating. Furthermore, your date might feel a little lost in some areas. Perhaps their late spouse was the primary bookkeeper or household organizer. Be patient as he/she adjusts to a ‘new normal.’

Here are some candid tidbits from widows and widowers:

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.”

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.”

Is Finding Love Again Possible?

As one user wrote, “Emphatically yes.” Love isn’t a one-time-only deal. If you’ve lost one love of your life, know that you’re not limited to bittersweet memories. And you could stil be loved completely by a widower or widow, even if they found love before. Just as your heart has room to deeply love more than one child, you’ll learn to love someone new for who he/she is in a relationship that’s unique to the two of you. Your new love won’t negate the past; instead, the love lessons learned in your first marriage might make the new relationship stronger. Be inspired by these sentiments:

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.”

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