I received a letter from a gentleman whose wife died a few months ago. He talked about being so lonely, about wanting a woman to share social activities and conversation. He wondered if I thought it was too early to start dating. I’ve included part of his well written correspondence so you can see his thoughts first hand. This is not an unusual letter. There are many men and some women (but not as many) who respond to the emptiness of grief by wanting to find someone to fill the void left by the death of their partner.
“I am 77 years old. Because of my age I am not expecting to have more than perhaps ten more quality years and that is why I don't want to sit around moping for five of those years. My wife told me several times that she did not want me to be sad and alone. When she told me to socialize I cried and told her I did not want anyone else. She responded that this could not happen as she knew she was dying and did not want me to be by myself for years.
I am sure there are others like me who have had wonderful, happy and joy filled marriages and are craving something that can never come back again.
Sorry for feeling the way I do but this emptiness hurts so much.”
He asked if it was too early to start dating and what will his children think? I don't know his children or his relationship with them but I can say most adult children will probably think he is dating too soon.
Unfortunately, as society (and particularly adult children) we often rate mourning on a “how much did he love her” monitor. When we equate mourning with love and dating starts (in our estimation too soon) the first thought is “why are you replacing mom so soon. You must not have really loved mom or you wouldn’t be looking now”. This is also why we as relatives, friends and neighbors raise our judgmental eyebrows.
Aside from pleasing or displeasing others let's look at some issues that can occur as the result of becoming socially and or romantically involved soon after a death of a spouse or partner.
We all grieve differently. It sounds as if this gentleman is grieving by wanting to be busy, to be moving. If he slows down, if he is alone, he will feel his grief and how much he misses his wife.
I understand wanting to do things, of wanting to get beyond the loneness and isolation grief brings. Doing activities with a group of friends, going to a game, socializing but not actually dating is more stabilizing than beginning an individual relationship.
Part of the down side of dating soon after the death of a spouse or long time partner is that we unconsciously internalize a comparison between the missing partner and the “new” person.
There is an interesting statement “There are only saints in heaven”. It refers to the fact that in our mind and our grief we erase most people’s negative qualities. We only remember the good times, the good qualities, those parts of the person we miss the most.
A new person cannot possibly live up to the goodness, the understanding, the kindness, the tenderness of the dead loved one we are missing so terribly. Dating too soon, before we have really grieved (and after two months this man’s grieving is just beginning) we are putting the datee in a very vulnerable position.
Grief is complicated. I have just touched one aspect. My uncomplicated, short answer to this gentleman about dating too early is “I understand you wanting to enjoy life, to find a way to go on living but I wonder if that desire is a bit ahead of the actual effects of your grief."
Something More... about Grief And DatingWe suggest using our booklet, My Friend, I Care: The Grief Experience, as a support and guide, especially for the newly bereaved. Individuals as well as end of life agencies often use My Friend, I Care as a sympathy card personalizing the booklet with signatures and condolences. It offers an expression of caring while giving support and guidance.
After only a few months I feel ready to date and am.
I lost my wife a little over 3 years ago after 7 years fighting early onset Alzheimer’s. She died a couple days after our 38th anniversary. Two months after she died my daughters told me I needed to start dating. I joined an online site and after several months met a wonderful woman who had been alone for 11 years. We have truly found love and are getting married this month. It was the support of my children which pushed me to start living again. I had thought my life over, but it just changed direction. Length of time will vary for each individual. If your spouse had a long illness you often lose them long before their body dies, I did. My children recognized this and pushed me to start living again.
I just remarried after losing my husband 22 years ago. I was a relatively young widow, 53. I had cared for my ill husband for 10 years. My grief was complicated by the tragic loss of my son only 6 weeks before my husband died & having just completed surgery & chemo for breast cancer. It took me a long time to move forward. About 7 years ago, I started with online dating. This has a happy ending. I met a gentleman, 5 years older, in June 2016. He had just lost his wife the previous December after caring for her during a long illness. He did not want to be alone even though he had a large family. We clicked right away because we each understood what the other had been through with our spouses. We continued to date. Eventually, I wanted to marry. He did not, saying he had been married for 51 years (compared to my 28 years of marriage.) Then after I had an illness & long hospitalization with a complete recovery, one day I brought up the topic of marriage again. He said, “I’ll think about it.” Later that day he went to see his older daughter(out of 6 adult kids). He asked her opinion. She gave her blessing and the rest is history. We married on April 10, 2021 after 5 years of being together. He had started dating right away. I waited a long time. I know we each compared one another to our previous spouses. But, we had both grieved our losses long before our spouses had died. Maybe that made the difference. I think if the gentleman described wants to date he should do so, especially if his wife had been ill for a long time. That’s my opinion and my story.
I waited a little over a year after my sweetie died, to date, and it wasn’t long enough for me. “You’re in love with a dead guy!” I was told. As it gets closer to 2 years, I am seeing a man I truly care for, and find that I want to have fewer pictures and belongings of my former honey around. The journey is so individual! And this is one of the reasons I volunteer with hospice.
I feel that in being a caregiver to a spouse with a terminal illness, there is anticipatory grieving. Years of doctors appointments; hopes being raised, then dashed; hospitalizations, etc – that grief has been there the whole way. I also feel that this is why some people are ready to date again so quickly.
Whether one dates quickly or waits a year – what society considers acceptable – their deceased loved one will always be on a pedestal. We all tend to do that when someone close to us dies. I believe these relationships can flourish with a compassionate partner and a lot of communication.
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