For most people, dating can be very difficult. But for those who have lost a spouse, dating can be a minefield. Aside from feelings of guilt and fear, widows and widowers might also feel pressure, conflict and confusion.
Some widows/widowers may have the urge to start dating quickly, while others may prefer to take more time. Some may even choose to remain single indefinitely. Ultimately, the choice is a personal one and there is no set timeline.
If you or a loved one is thinking about dabbling in the dating pool after the loss of a spouse, there are a few things to consider. For starters, give yourself plenty of time.
"Someone married for 20 years to a partner who dies of a long standing disease will have a different experience than a 25-year-old whose partner died suddenly in a car accident," says relationship therapist Leslie Malchy. "Everyone has a different circumstance, life history and personal process of healing."
It is OK and completely normal to stop dating after you've started again if you feel overwhelmed.
Below, Malchy shares more dos and don'ts for navigating the dating scene after the loss of a spouse. From allowing yourself to make comparisons to setting boundaries with friends and families, these tips can help you find love and companionship once again.
Take Your Time: "Try not to force intimacy with people you meet right away," says relationship therapist Leslie Malchy. "You may feel like you want to fill up a void that has been left by your partner's passing and in so doing, try to date and quickly find love replacements. Remember that intimacy and love take time and that things worth finding and keeping need time to grow."
Let Yourself Grieve: "Don’t follow trite timelines or be glued to stages about the grief process," says Malchy. "Everyone has a different circumstance, life history and personal process of healing. Stages and timelines are just guidelines. If you begin dating and realize you are not ready, that is OK and normal."
Allow Comparisons: "Do be realistic about letting in some normal and expected thoughts and comparisons of your new dates with your partner who has passed," says Malchy. "Try not to squash the inevitable comparisons that will crop on in your mind. You may feel guilty comparing your deceased spouse to a new love or find yourself trying not to compare because you are trying to move on. Let in the thoughts you have and try to accept what comes up. This is a part of your own grief and acceptance process."
Don't Idealize Your Deceased Spouse: "You may find yourself critical of new people that you date because they do not measure up to your spouse or partner who passed. This is unfair to any new person you may meet," warns Malchy. "It is impossible to measure up to someone who is no longer there and may now be viewed with a two dimension rose-coloured lens. Try not to let your deceased spouse become an impossible yard stick to which no-one can measure up, not even them if they were to return."
Set Boundaries With Loved Ones: "Try not to get influenced by the people around you when it comes to starting back up," says Malchy. "They may be projecting their own need to overcome their own grief or to settle their anxiety about yours. It is your life — try to stay centred in your own needs."
Expect Fear Experiences: "It will be a totally new world dating after the experience of your loss. Allow what comes up," says Malchy. "Some common fears will be: fear — of dating in a new world, of having sex again, of being taken advantage of, of being too vulnerable, of falling in love and losing again. If you expect to have some of these fears when starting to date, you will be less encumbered by them and able to soothe yourself through the fears."
Get Support And Talk About Your Experience: "Talk to someone, a friend, family member or therapist. You have suffered a great trauma in losing a spouse, one of the worst/most difficult things a person can experience," says Malchy. "Likely as you begin dating, many emotions and some unprocessed trauma may get triggered/re-ignited. It can be helpful to talk about your experiences with someone who knows you, knew your partner or conversely, didn't know either of you but is trained in dealing with grief and loss."