I rushed into dating far too quickly after my husband George died. I tried dating a couple of guys only a few months after his death. I waited 14 months before joining an online dating site, but it was still too soon, at least for me. I could have saved myself a lot of pain by waiting longer.
Let’s try some introspection before we start dating becoming widowed. Here are the five questions I wish I’d asked myself:
1. Do you even want to date?
“Have you met anyone new yet? No? Well, get out there! You’re still relatively young and healthy!” Haven’t we all heard this from well-intentioned people who are uncomfortable because we’re alone.
Yup, time to hit Target and pick up a new spouse now that the old one’s worn out!
But we may be happier on our own. I hear from so many widowed folk who get plenty of love and companionship from friends and family. They don’t want to re-enter the dating fray.
Yet the societal benchmark for recovery seems to be seeing someone new. I drank that Koolaid as a new widow, but finally realized if I don’t want to date; it didn’t make me any less “recovered.” It also didn’t make me any more or less attractive.
It’s hard for me to admit I was using dating to prove I was still wantable. I confused being liked with having self-esteem, but that comes from within.
2. Do you know what you want?
This last one is more for the benefit of your prospective beaus. I didn’t know what I wanted when I started online dating. Being a nice girl, I sought a stable guy to settle down with. But I really wanted to be on my own and meet different kinds of people for awhile. I unnecessarily confused a few serious guys who wanted exclusive relationships,
One fellow wrote me that after he lost his wife, he wanted a friend with benefits only. That was his emotional bandwidth. Another gentleman said he wants a girlfriend, but still wants to live separately. (I’ve come to see his point). It helps to have a goal before shopping in the human mall of online dating.
3. Have you processed your loss enough to focus on someone new?
This is a hard one because you might not know until you try. I tried dating a nice Jewish yogi lawyer (just like me) four months after losing George. But I was lost in my memories. Everything we did reminded me of something George and I had done or eaten or seen or hadn’t had the chance to do because his life had been cut short. I was fighting back tears on almost every date.
I also had a lot of guilt over having been George’s caregiver. I hadn’t yet forgiven myself that he died on my watch. I lacked closure. Until I resolved my own issues, I couldn’t be present for someone new because I was still living in the past.
I got through the guilt with grief counseling and journaling, but I wasn’t ready to date until I’d put my ghosts to rest. Trying to date before I’d processed George’s death caused unnecessary turmoil both for me and the guys I was seeing.
4. Have you regrown your shell?
I started “beta-dating” a few months after my loss, thinking I’d start practicing to date again. But I was still too wounded and vulnerable, making me needy. If my date cancelled or wasn’t available, I was plunged into despair.
I needed companionship NOW, which meant I needed it too much.
Plus, dating comes with rejection and criticism. I dated a couple guys who wanted me to change to meet their needs. Now, I’d laugh (albeit huffily) and move on. But one year into my loss, I worried, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I make this work?”
If someone doesn’t recognize your wonderfulness, that’s their problem. But when you’re feeling super vulnerable, being rejected is devastating.
If your sense of self is still forming, it’s not time to date. Far better to spend your time with friends who will buoy you up as you figure out who you are in this new world.
5. How’s your energy level?
The first year and a half, even two years, after my loss, I was often exhausted. Part of it was bureaucracy and dealing with deferred maintenance, but part of it was having been through such a traumatic event. Your whole life changes.
I severely underestimated the toll of having been George’s caregiver. I needed to spend what energies I did have taking care of myself.
Having only the best intentions, George’s parents took me on a three week cruise of the Baltics four months after he died. I sleepwalked through much of it, too tired to enjoy the fast-paced sightseeing and being out of my comfort zone.
Similarly, 14 months after his death, I found traveling to meet dates and figuring out new locales to be enervating. I lacked the energy to enjoy trying new experiences. Try some long days out with friends before attempting any lengthy or faraway dates. Never forget: dating is exhausting.
So, what helped you to decide whether or not you were ready to date again after being widowed? How did you reach your decision? And if you’re not ready, how will you know when you are?
(Another version of this post originally appeared on my blog, The Hungover Widow where I chat more about coming back to life after loss. Come visit me there if you’d like).