Widowhood has a unique set of challenges in today’s society.
Being a widow means that your marriage ended without either of you making the choice to end it. To this day I cannot accept that I am single. I cannot utter the word for the simple fact that I am not single – I am married and will always be married.
I do not have an ex-husband, nor am I a single parent. I’m a solo mom, with a partner in heaven. I am a widow.
That Awkward Moment
A few weeks ago I was out on a date with my significant other and another couple. At dinner I was talking about “my husband” and the lady across from me stopped me and said, “You mean your ex-husband? I said, “No, my husband. I’m a widow. I don’t have an ex-husband.” Society assumes that people my age are divorced, not widowed. That’s both understandable and disheartening at the same time!
If you are on the other side of the conversation – NO WORRIES! I’m happy that I don’t have a flashing sign that tells you I am a widow. I (we) do not expect you to know our story. My Widowed Life post highlighted some ways to embrace the term widow and the new definition I have given that word.
Breaking the News to a New Date
When is a good time to break the news to a date that you are a widow? I’d say whenever you are comfortable! If the person on the other side of the table can’t accept or handle your journey, then they probably aren’t the right one to take on the path with you.
How much you share with that person will likely depend on how well you know them. If they were a friend before you started dating, they likely know your story. If you were set up by another friend, find out before your date what the other person knows about you.
Everyone has a journey in life. There are people you meet that make a big impact on who you are. For better or worse, your spouse (or ex-spouse if you are divorced) was one of them.
You Have a Date – Now What?
One thing I’ve learned was to temper just how much I talked about Steve. I started dating a person that had been my confidant as I was going through the pain of losing Steve. He had heard every story that came to my head, learned about my regrets and was there as I discovered the strength I needed to continue.
The first part of our friendship was all about me working through losing Steve – and on the flip side, him working through losing his wife through divorce. We were a mess alone, but together somehow we started to become whole.
We were able to lean on each other during the very difficult times and he was truly a lifeline to me. About six months after Steve died, we decided to give dating a try.
Shortly after that I realized that by talking about Steve in every conversation I wasn’t really living in the moment with Jon. I never plan to quit talking about Steve, but there has to be a balance.
This was not an easy transition for me and I still talk about Steve in most of our conversations. Talking about him keeps him alive for me. The difference today, is that my memories do not dominate the conversation. I can enjoy the present, look forward to my future and never forget the past.
Breaking the News to Others
You would think the hardest thing about being a widow dating would be the date. Wrong! The hardest part is dealing with the other people in your life that may not be ready for you to start living again.
One of my widowed friends said it best, “If you are divorced in society and start dating the next week everyone congratulates you. If you are a widow, you are expected to sit with your broken heart and grieve forever.”
Remember, this is your life and your journey. Everyone else is able to go back to “normal”, while you no longer have anything that resembles normal. If you find someone that makes you happy, then by all means be with them.
People will judge you for dating too soon and eventually for not dating soon enough (or so I am told). I have fallen into the too soon category. There doesn’t seem to be a just right category. Expect this. Do what is right for you. If you find a person that interests you and helps you live the life you want to live, then go for it! There is no right time, just the right person.
Receiving negative or unsupportive feedback hurts! It cuts you to your core and when you are really in the infancy stage of rebuilding your life, it can be painful and very isolating. Know that you are not alone.
No matter where your loss stems from – death or divorce – dating is hard! It is awkward, you judge yourself and you wonder if you are really ready. If you are lucky enough to find a real connection, it can renew your spirit.
Starting a new relationship takes guts! If you are a friend or family member of someone that is grieving a loss, be supportive of their decisions. They have likely spent weeks or months trying to figure out what is right for them. As long as it doesn’t put them in danger, keep your opinions to yourself and just be happy to see them smile.
3 Simple Ways to Show Your Support
1. Ask About the New Person
Then follow that up by genuinely listening. Ask questions because you care to hear all about the other person, not because you are challenging their sanity. There is a noticable difference!
2. Meet the Individual
Hold any judgements for after you actually meet the new person. Then follow the advice above and listen to really learn about them. What do they enjoy doing? What do you have in common? Why do they think your friend/sister/brother/daughter is amazing?
3. Invite the Couple to Socialize
Invite your widowed (or divorced) friend/family member to events that you may be hosting. Giving the open invitation is much more inviting than having to ask if you can bring an extra person.
4 Tips for the Widow/Divorcee
1. Don’t Feel Shame About Your Relationship
People will judge you. Have confidence and remember, this is your life and your happiness.
Sometimes people judge you because they see strength, courage and your will to live your life after loss. Not all judgement is bad! Sometimes it just feels that way.
2. Consider Your Public Relationship
Consider how much air time you are both comfortable giving your relationship in the beginning stages, especially on social media. Jon and I have chosen to keep our relationship relatively private (although I include him in my public writings – thank goodness for his common name!).
You would have a hard time finding pictures online of the two of us – that is intentional for the time being. The reason? We wanted to avoid unnecessary drama. We have both met each other’s families and many close friends. We enjoy our time out and yet it keeps our relationship stress low to remain off the digital grid – for now!
3. Find a Word You Are Comfortable With
I still can’t bring myself to introduce Jon as my boyfriend and he has never called me his girlfriend. It just seems too weird to use those terms since we have both been married.
We laughed about these words a long time ago and yet, we still haven’t come up with a good introduction. For now it is “friend” which is not my favorite…hmm, I may need to revisit this one myself!
3. Surround Your Relationship With Support
I was ignorant and thought that because people loved me they would like to see me happy and would support me. I was wrong. My new relationship made them uncomfortable and they made me feel like I was doing something wrong.
When you are just getting on your feet, this is a horrible feeling. It took a lot of time for me to move past the hurt of that experience. Surround yourself with those that will build you and your new relationship up – people that give you strength and confidence in your ability to be the champion of your life.
My New Perspective
I realized just how much judgement I was passing on to others by going through this experience. Over the years I have heard people judge others for being happy – those that have been divorced (and heaven forbid want an actual wedding for marriage #2!), those that have children out of wedlock and even those that started dating too soon after becoming a widow/widower. I’m here to say NO MORE!
I was appalled at these thoughts when I realized they crossed my own mind at times. I felt sorrow for the times and the people I had judged, even if it was only in my head. That was a reflection of ME, not them or their choices.
Now I revel in other’s happiness. When people I know and love are happy, I am happy too. It’s as simple as that!
Fellow widows or divorcees, what advice would you add for those that are going to reenter the dating scene?