One awesome Facebook follower sent some questions about dating after being widowed. I couldn’t wait to answer!
Should she date? How can she really like someone new? He’s divorced, does that change anything? When is the right time to date?
My initial response – do what feels right! BUT…I’ve recently done a lot of reflection on this very convoluted topic. No, it isn’t as simple as my initial response.
Dating at any age is challenging – go no further than Facebook and your TV and you see all sorts of drama and self-help ideas. Now, add the emotions of a widow or a divorcee into the mix and you have a melting pot of emotions.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned from dating a divorcee for the past 2.5 years.
- Do what feels right! Ok, so this was back to my initial response, but seriously, if being with that person helps you smile after your loss, then do it. You will encounter many people saying you are getting back into dating too fast, too slow, with the wrong person…all comments that are not needed and frankly, unwelcome. YOU make your own choices. If he/she doesn’t make you happy, then stop – simple. You’ve been through worse than a break-up, you can handle this.
- So is there a “right time”? There is no magic formula and no magic answer to this question. Do a self-check – where are you at with these questions?
- Have you been able to get into a rhythm with your “new normal”? This doesn’t mean you are done grieving what was lost – this means feeling like you have at least a basic part of your life under control such as your finances. Why would this be important? You want to get into a relationship because it is what you want not because you feel like you need something in your life.
- How is your confidence? You don’t have to be confident in everything, but you need to have confidence about what you want and expect in a future relationship. Take the time to reflect on this so you don’t accept the first person that comes into your life (unless they are awesome!).
- Are you strong enough to say “no”? Unfortunately there are bad people in the world that may try to take advantage of you. They may be nice, say all the right things, and then ask you for money (“It’s just a small loan, I’ll pay you back”). Be wary – very wary of anyone that asks you to buy them anything or give them money. You may feel like you are offering out of the goodness of your heart – don’t. The best manipulators are good, very good. Have boundaries in your head of what you are willing to do before you get into a relationship and stick to it!
- Getting serious – using the B and G words. Using the word “boyfriend” still feels ridiculous to me. I have a mental block. When my boyfriend and I decided to date exclusively (i.e. more than a strong friendship) we weren’t really ready – we knew this, accepted it, and decided to take it slow. We had feelings for each other – strong and real feelings – but we weren’t truly ready to use the language associated with dating. I was introduced as a girlfriend for one of the first times just a couple of weeks ago. I have to admit that it felt good (I was so over “friend”) even if it still seems weird. Going from wife to girlfriend status was hard for me – it may be hard for you too.
- Getting serious – in public. Depending on where you live, going out in public with a new date may be awkward. Small towns are wonderful, but they are also cesspools when it comes to gossip. You may want to consider this as you decide how you want to date (not IF) – never let gossip keep you from being happy!
- Meeting the family. Yikes! In my situation both of our families were not ready to meet anyone “new”. We introduced each other to our families before we ever even dated – probably a mistake in hindsight. We knew we liked being together. Talking gave us smiles that were missing from so much of our life. Being together meant a reminder that we could have fun with someone other than our missing spouse. We weren’t a third wheel together. Being together meant hope – even though we weren’t dating. We knew this, but that doesn’t mean our family was ready. I’d say test the waters first. I had a lot of heartache over the reaction, and it hurt – even when I didn’t think I could hurt any more. Everything is good now – it just took some time!
- The in-laws. This could be a whole post in itself (and maybe will be someday). I have been blessed with amazing in-laws. They have supported me and my new relationship without wavering. If you have a good relationship with your in-laws I would be open with them about anyone you are seriously considering dating. The conversation is hard – but necessary. If they treat you with respect, then do the same to them and have the conversation. These conversations will help keep your relationship close.
- The Divorcee. There are “special” things that come when you decide to date a divorcee – just like there are “special” things that come with us as widows. The divorcee likely went through a lot of pain. They lost the person they thought they would spend their life with. Find out why the divorce happened and ask for honesty. Did they just grow apart? Was there infidelity? Did they do everything possible to take their vows seriously? The “whys” behind the divorce matter.What did the person learn from that experience? What would they do different? Where are they on their grief journey?
You also need to be prepared to answer some of those same questions. Widows typically don’t have a marriage that was already headed for divorce (although some do), BUT almost all of us have some guilt about how we could have been better spouses. What did you learn? What do you want to do differently?
- The Divorcee, Part 2. Memories. Oh, the memories. As widows we are given a little more space to have memories. We can openly talk about how a certain song or place reminds us of our loved ones. We can share happy memories as we retrace steps we took with our spouse. We can and should do that. A divorcee also lost a relationship that was important to them and yet, they don’t have the same freedom to share their memories. People look at them like they are crazy for remembering the good times. It is much more awkward for them as society acts like divorcees just pick up and move on without a thought to what was – and that couldn’t be further from the truth (at least for those who truly committed with their vows). This is a challenge. If you want to share your memories or what is on your mind as memories hit you, then encourage the person you are dating to do the same. You both had good times and good memories with another person – be confident enough to recognize both of your pasts and encourage the conversation. I’d rather hear the memory so we can move through it together – after all, you are there to support each other as you build a new life.
- New Love. Ok, so you decided this guy/gal is a keeper. Now what? This is a question I’ve been asking for the past 2.5 years! Seriously though, loving someone new is not easy! Falling in like then love – that is actually the easy part. Learning to love and be loved differently? Now that is hard.The “I like you…a lot” phase: you do nice things for each other, send sweet texts, and try to spend as much time together as possible. This phase is awesome – enjoy it!
The “Ok, so is there anything next?” phase: This one gets dicey. Based on your history the desired next steps may not be the same or come at the same time. I’ll honestly say that I misread this one in my relationship – I thought “we” were ready when in fact [honestly] neither of us were.
With Steve, he knew exactly how he felt about me – fast – like within weeks of us starting to date. He knew he wanted to marry me and I never felt anything but that commitment from him. I’m a person that likes direction and goals, so understanding what you want and then going for it is my norm. I prefer forward progress toward something!
I thought this whole process would be similar with anyone else (If I think you’re awesome and I believe I’m pretty awesome too…2+2=4, right?). However, just like the normal dating world, you may think one thing and the other person is not on the same path – maybe not even on the same map. This was the hardest part for me – I took this lack of any direction as a sort of rejection – I wasn’t good enough. In reality, that wasn’t the case, and that was never even implied. But, my mind got stuck there for a period of time – not fun. Back to point #2 and the confidence question – are you ready for something different?
The growth phase. If you make it out of the “now what?” phase you will hit a place that is actually pretty awesome. It isn’t as spontaneous as the initial dating phase (bummer!) but that is because you have a rhythm. You’ve figured out that you need to love your new person in a different way. Read The 5 Love Languages if you have no clue what it means to love differently. Better yet – both you and your partner read it and discuss what you need out of the relationship – then commit to doing it. I’ve had to adapt to being loved differently, but also communicate what is important to me so he can adapt also. He cannot love me the same way he loved his wife – we are different people with different needs. Flip it around and I’ve had to figure out how to love him differently too. Yes, we made it to that point and I’ll just say it is so much better than the “what’s next” phase. Simply by committing to love each other differently we committed to something together.
…Phase. My expertise ends at the growth phase. TBD what happens next!
Whew! That is quite the list. To my Facebook friend that asked this question – thank you! I love reflecting on my journey and appreciate the chance to do that on this topic. I’d love to hear more questions!
For those that have already been on this journey, what else would you add? What advice can you share with the widowed community?