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.
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.