Mark Liebenow knows the struggle and has a little advice.
Sometime after the death of your spouse, you will begin to think about dating, especially if you liked being married. This may be in a month; it may be in five years. But whenever you start, you’ll probably feel guilty, like you’re cheating on your wife or husband.
Even if your spouse said that she wanted you to date again, you will feel odd about it in the beginning. And when that first kiss comes? Oh, boy. A whole bucket of emotions is going to spill.
From the statistics I’ve read, men remarry faster than women who have lost a spouse. Women typically aren’t in a hurry because they have a larger circle of friends for sharing their grief. Men, not so much.
Press Reset. You’re starting over.
When you begin dating, you’re not picking up where you left off with your significant other. Anyone you date will be a different person and it will be a different relationship. Don’t expect them to be a clone of your spouse.
The person you date will have a different set of likes and dislikes. Don’t expect them to know what foods you like or to get your jokes. You are going to have to tell them who you are, and you are going to have to share your feelings.
You don’t have to jump into dating, even if women (or men) are pounding on your door. You can casually chat with women and see how you feel. Date when you feel ready. Or not.
If you only want to talk about your wife, and aren’t interested in learning about your date, then you’re probably not ready. It’s okay to talk about your wife, of course, because she was a big part of your life and her death continues to affect you, so your grief is a topic of discussion. But if your wife or your grief dominates the discussion every time you go out, you’re probably not ready.
You can go out with someone without calling it a date, and without any thoughts of it being romantic or leading to marriage. You can just enjoy an evening out and make a new friend. If there is a spark there, fine. If there isn’t, fine. Sparks are fun, but you may need social time more than romance.
Now is a good time to take stock of your life, because the last time you did this was probably 20, 30, or 40 years ago. Ask yourself a whole bunch of questions.
What did you like about being married? What did you dislike? Was there something you wanted to do that was set aside because of the marriage or the illness of your wife—like hike the Appalachian Trail for six months, or live in a yurt on an island off the west coast of Scotland? Do you want to move to a different part of the country? Change jobs?
You have the opportunity to figure these things out and try new ideas. Then, when you start dating, you and the other person will know what you want.
Try living alone for a while. Discover who you’ve become. Maybe you’ll prefer to live alone for a time and see other people only socially.
John Bayley, the husband of Iris Murdoch, the British novelist and philosopher, “fumbled” around with two women after Iris died not knowing what he wanted in a new relationship, or what the women wanted who showed up on his doorstep. When he realized that he wanted companionship, he began dating a woman who wanted the same thing.
Listen to your heart.
You’re in control of your life. Nothing has to happen if you don’t want it to.
Now that you can respond in romantic ways to people you find attractive, you may have forgotten how to flirt. You don’t have to flirt, just be yourself. If you haven’t dated in some time, you may feel unsure about your ability to casually chat and be interesting to other people.
You can build up your confidence by talking with women you find attractive at large social gatherings. If they’re married, don’t flirt. Simply talk like you’re a human being and not a man. You know what I mean. Don’t try to be the one in control or pretend that you know everything. After you date someone for a while, you will know if you want more from the relationship than casual dating.
The heart is big enough to both grieve and love someone new.
Whatever you do, be honest with yourself and be honest with the other person. You’ve learned from your marriage that sharing your emotions is the only way that healthy relationships work.
Photo Credit: Hernán Piñera/flickr
This essay first appeared in Widower’s Grief.
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