Grief & Dating- Will Family Say It's Too Soon?

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 Dating

We 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.

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10 comments

Jimmy Ennis

I lost my soulmate 22months ago and we had been married 56 years and I feel that I had and did marry the best and I don’t want the rest.

Curtis Whitney

Barbara, you are wrong. I have two brothers who prove it. Now I face the same with loss of my wife. Yes, I am vulnerable but my late wife was after a divorce 7 mo. And resulted in 49 yrs marriage. We need companionship in our lives.

Jennifer Stansbury

One of the most precious gifts that my mom left my dad before he passed was permission to find love and remarry. She made sure all of us kids were aware of her wishes and that she wanted dad to be happy. Those words that day have given us all peace, knowing this is what she wanted for him.

Stephanie

The year of my husband’s illness, and the year after I lost him were the absolutely deepest sadness I have ever felt. I consider myself extremely fortunate that I have found another life partner with whom I am enjoying activities in which we are both interested. And although I was keeping busy at work and getting together with friends, I started seeking a new partner “only” three months after my husband’s death by joining some online dating sites. I would tell this gentleman to carefully with reason seek another partner as soon as he feels the need to do so. Of course one tends to remember mostly the best qualities of the person you’ve lost and sometimes compare the new person with the previous person, but I find that no more disorienting than having friends with different qualities and personalities. I don’t think those are reasons to delay seeking a new partner. In sum, proceed with caution, but proceed. It could really be worth it.

Leslie

I went thru this with my father in 2000. Mom was there, then gone in an instant. I was very fearful, he was soo depressed. I lived close, was invited for dinner every night, and sat in Mom’s chair. He would tell me what he had learned. As a CPA, I knew what he was learning, but nodded my head, Yes, Dad. I was very encouraged when he started to go places. In my mind, he was sinking.
I told him he didn’t need my blessing, but yes, I had no issue with him dating. It was the making of him. Fast forward, he and his lady friend celebrated 15+ years, before he passed. I do not think he dishonored his 54 yr marriage to Mom. Well sort of… She made him promise to remarry, and he didn’t do that.

Thank you for the book “gone from my sight”.
It helped my daughter and I to prepare.

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