The issue of dating after being widowed is highly controversial, it seems. Friends, family, acquaintances, even the general public, seem to think they have a valuable opinion on when is an appropriate time for a widow/widower to open his or her heart to possibilities after losing a spouse. I have talked to many other widows who have faced judgment and criticism after making the decision to date again and it always boggles my mind that anyone other than the widow herself thinks they know when the “right time” may be for her. Because, honestly, unless you have lost your spouse and find yourself suddenly and completely alone and overwhelmed by the isolation and loneliness that accompanies that loss, you have absolutely zero right to even have an opinion.
So sharing my heart on this subject is probably one of the harder things I’ve opened up about since being widowed. But I don’t write about things because they make me comfortable. The reason I write is to be open and honest and transparent and real and raw. The reason I write is so that others going through what I have gone through feel less alone, less afraid and more normal, more seen, more known. The reason I write is to speak truth and life and if that incurs judgment from small minded and overly opinionated people, so be it. I’ve survived worse.
That being said, the decision to date after loss is not an easy one. Some widows choose never to date again, to remain single and find happiness in their singleness. Some widows don’t even think about it for many, many years. Some widows choose to date right away. Some choose to put a toe in the water, then run back to shore. There’s really no right answer for when is the right time to date after losing a spouse except for: when you feel ready.
For me, a couple of months ago I found myself thinking about dating and it surprised me that I didn’t feel weird or sad or guilty about the idea. In fact, it felt nice to think about meeting new people and feeling appreciated as a woman. The idea of having adult conversations over a glass of wine or a nice dinner was appealing. You have to understand that losing your entire life (because I not only lost my husband, but my home and my friends and my community and everything that made sense in my world) and having to rebuild it from scratch is one of the single most isolating experiences a person can have. To suddenly find yourself spending all day at home with two little kids and then every night alone with no one to share your thoughts with, to sometimes go several days at a time without having a face-to-face adult interaction, can be maddening. So the possibility of sitting across a table from a man with a nice smile and an easy laugh and chatting about something other than Daniel Tiger or Fancy Nancy started to sound really great.
On the other hand, the thought of dating is also pretty appalling to me because I’ve always hated it. I never really dated, honestly, I was more of a serial monogamist. Dating for me was always just weird and awkward: I don’t do small talk, I don’t play games and I wear my heart on my sleeve. If I like you, you’ll know it; if I don’t, you’ll know it (sorry). It takes me a while to truly let someone in. My poor husband worked his tail off for a good four months for me to agree to meet him in person! So, jumping back into dating at this stage in my life is also a scary and exhausting thought. If I could just have the perfect man magically show up at my door one day, I would choose that option in a heartbeat (side note: if anyone knows the perfect man, please contact me and I will send you my address).
Unfortunately, more likely than not, that’s not going to happen, so I am choosing to put myself back out there into the world and see what happens. Right now I am not looking for love; I am happy to just meet new people and have good conversation. But if love finds me again, I will gladly welcome it. Dating at this stage in my life, though, is going to be far more complicated than it was when I was young and free (ahem: no kids). I am older and wiser, I have more obligations, I have more baggage.
I anticipate that dating is going to be difficult as a widow because I have an added layer of complication that is not the same for someone who is divorced or has never been married. I suspect it will take a special kind of man to even want to date me, and be strong enough to embrace my story. I admit that I fear that those men aren’t really out there, but I’ll never know if I don’t try to find one. But I have to lay some ground rules if I’m going to do this thing, as I think every widow (and woman, for that matter) should. Each widow will have her own set of guidelines, I think, unique to her situation, but these are mine:
A User’s Guide to Dating This Widow
Yes, I am a widow. No, you can’t catch it. Yes, I will talk about my late husband from time to time. If that upsets you, move on.
I do not need to be rescued. I am not here to rescue you. I am looking for a partner, not a project.
My kids are my priority. Unless and until you become my husband, that fact will not change.
I will always love my late husband. That does not preclude me from loving again. You will need to be secure enough to accept that and embrace that part of who I am. You will need to be strong enough to let me grieve, or better yet, hold me while I grieve.
I deserve to be pursued. I expect you to make an effort to show me you’re interested. Your efforts will not go unmatched, but I don’t have time or inclination to chase after you.
Don’t be offended if I want to take things slow. My heart has been broken and it may take a minute for me to share it again.
But don’t lead me on. If you’re not into me, let me go. I don’t have time or energy to invest in a man who isn’t on board. I know my worth, and so should you.
Communicate. Use your words. Open up to me and I will return the gesture. A solid relationship is built on a foundation of friendship and friendship is built on communication and trust.
Please, for the love of God, make me laugh! Don’t be afraid to be real, even if that means being a goofball.
That’s not so much to ask, right? Never in a million years did I think that I would ever have to navigate the dating world again. All my future plans included seducing the same man for the rest of my life and ending up old, cranky people who yelled at kids to get out of our yard while we rocked the day away on our rickety porch. I was A-OK with that future. But here I am, facing a very different reality. All I can do is play the cards I’ve been dealt.
Maybe one day I will be sitting on the porch with my husband yelling at all the hooligans that walk by. I just have to allow that it will not be the same man I had thought I’d be sitting with. It’s not the future I imagined, but it’s still ok. It’s still good. I still believe that love is in my future, but I’m not going to find it sitting on the sidelines. So I’m getting in the game…wish me luck.