Dating While Widowed: How Soon Is Too Soon?

Casket

The question comes up a lot among widowed and those who are interested in dating them – how soon after the death of a spouse is it considered appropriate to begin dating/or pursuing?

It depends on who you ask.

Other widowed people like to trot out the tired cliché – “If you have to ask, it’s too soon.” It’s such a circular and unhelpful answer that I’d like to ban the phrase from the grief lexicon because given the minefield of rules and expectations surrounding widowhood, asking is the only way to clarify whether the signals you are receiving from your peers, family and friends are about your welfare or their self-interest.

This isn’t Gone With the Wind times. Scarlett knew the rules on widowed decorum because society at that time spelled it out. Mourning lasted for one year. You wore black. Attempted to look resolute and somber, smiling wanly as you sat out your “black-shirted” year on the wallflower bench. It may have sucked, but everyone was clear on the time frame and waited (while perhaps discreetly lining up suitors for once the deadline had passed).

Today? Not so clear. Whereas the newly broken up or divorced are free to take the field again as soon as they like, the widowed must navigate religious, family and community rules on the subject, and they vary. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes simultaneously.

So how soon is too soon?

The best answer I ever heard was something along the lines of “taking a date to the funeral, or hooking up in the crying room of the funeral home, is probably a faux pas, but otherwise, it’s up to you.”

And it is. Up to you.

Stereotypes say that men date sooner and remarry more quickly than women do, and there is statistical validity in this. Average time frame for widowers who remarry is about two – three years while for widows, it’s three to five years. But, having children or not, being younger or older and your general state of resiliency in the face of tragedy plays into this as well.

Younger widowed date and remarry sooner, and at higher rates, than older ones. Once a widow hits 65, the odds for remarriage fall off sharply.

Widowed with children date and remarry with ease or not depending on the age of the children, and believe it or not – adult children can be the worst to deal with when it comes to dating and remarriage with teenagers coming in an unsurprising second.

But when? At what magical point in the days, weeks or month after a spouse dies is dating permitted?

I signed up for eHarmony at just shy of six months out from my husband’s death. eHarmony wasn’t a good format fit for me, and I abandoned the effort after a few weeks and only meeting a police officer who looked like Lurch with a bad comb-over. Next I tried to cultivate a dating minded relationship with an industrial tech teacher I’d met through my master’s program that summer. He suddenly wanted to “just be friends” when he found out I had a child. Then it was back to online with Cupid.com, which I found out after the fact is a well-known “hook up mostly” site. The majority of men I met through it were varying degrees of depressing in their hunt for on-call girlfriends.

It was while taking a break from dating that Rob appeared. Our relationship began online, and as friends, but when it was clear to us that this could be more, we deliberately took that step, kept moving forward and haven’t looked back.

So it’s always technically an option to date. More widowed than will admit to it try to date at some point within the first year. Some people even begin dating with weeks or a few months. But there are those who wait out the so-called year deadline of propriety too, and others who buy wholeheartedly into the notion that they must “work at their grieving” to get it all out of their system before trying to move on in any aspect of their lives, dating included.

You can date whenever you like. In my opinion, and experience, when thinking about it begins to more of a logistical “how will I do it” rather than a daydream to chase away sadness, you are probably ready to look into it at the very least.

A couple of cautions:

1) Your family and friends will be at different stages of “ready for you to date” than you are. Taking their feelings into account is good, but don’t forget that they have their own lives to mind and should leave the minding of yours to you. If you weren’t living your life by committee prior to your spouse’s death, don’t start now. You can’t please everyone, and what other people – even your kids – think about you isn’t your business anyway. Generally, if you have good, supportive relationships with kids, extended family and friends, this will all work out and they will be happy and supportive. Be patient. Don’t be a doormat.

2) You are dating. Your kids are not. Try to avoid a revolving door of dates where underage kids are concerned. Only introduce them to people you feel you have a future with, and when you do, expect them to behave like well-brought up humans. Disrespect shouldn’t be tolerated.

If problems arise with adult children, remind them that they should spend their time and energy minding their own lives. You don’t tell them how to live or who to love and they don’t have the right to tell you anything either. Once you hand the keys of your dating life over to your kids, they won’t give them back, and do you really want to be that old man or woman, whose adult children talk to them as though they were small fluffy purse puppies?

3) Be honest about what you want out of dating with yourself and the people you date. If it’s just fun and sex, say so. If you are in the market for more – act like you are.

4) Which brings me to this: if you are in the habit of using your widowhood to manipulate situations and people, you aren’t ready to date. And don’t look so innocent. You know what I am talking about – playing the “widow card”. Widowed who are truly ready to date do not use their widowhood to control the  pace of a relationship or coerce their girl/boyfriends into accepting unilateral terms of engagement. Playing the widow card in the relationship arena is a no-no. It’s manipulative and unfair, and frankly, widowed who do this are the worst kinds of assholes.

Finally, it’s okay not to date. Or even ever want to. Some widowed find contentment and even a lot of joy in being single and unattached. If the idea of dating makes you nauseous, or seems like something best put up on a shelf for the time being, there’s nothing wrong with that.

The point is that the days of donning mourning for public displays of grieving for specific periods of time are long over. Anyone who is spouting rules and timelines at you has an ulterior agenda, and you are within your rights to question them and it.

It’s your life and only you know what’s best. Even if you aren’t sure, meeting a guy or gal for coffee never hurt anybody, and enjoying the occasional Starbuck’s isn’t a commitment to anything.

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79 responses to “Dating While Widowed: How Soon Is Too Soon?

  1. Your response to shirking off the children’s opinions seems very valid. Those kids are just kids right?! Regardless of how old they are, why would issues that concern their family realllly matter?

    • I am going to quibble with the idea that as an adult, my intimate relationships are “family matters” that need to be run by and cleared by my children.

      And, I am realize that I am going out on a presumptive limb here, my basic impression of the majority of widowed folk is that they are not rendered emotional simpletons by their losses and are still able to make sound judgements of suitability and character about the people they may date and or marry.

      Kids certainly need to be heard and reassured but they should never be given veto power or be allowed to behave like monsters just because they don’t like the idea that Mom or Dad has needs and wants beyond simply being a parent.

      If you and your late spouse didn’t allow the kids to tell you what to do, why start now? (And please spare me the tired and totally incorrect trope that kids can “see” things about people that we can’t – utter bullshit).

  2. Hi Ann, I appreciate your perspective and am finding some reassurance in your article. Haven’t read all the letters yet.

    I am a widow of 5 years, having lost my husband suddenly after 21 years of a quite difficult marriage. Am just now re-uniting with an old boyfriend from high school, who lost his beloved soulmate after an 8 year battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He has been widowed less than 5 months. We’re finding that we enjoy each other’s company very much, but I am so worried that it is “too soon” for him. He is clearly grieving and devastated by his loss, which is compounded for him by the deaths of two other close family members in the last few years. For my part, I have a mentally ill and volatile teenager.

    I guess my question is whether two people who are at times quite fragile should even contemplate a romantic relationship? Or when can they begin to contemplate it? Or, how can we do this without risking hurting each other?

    Our time together is so very special and fun, but I am worried that the freshness of his loss means that our budding romance is doomed. I feel like if we were able to wait at least a year, perhaps the most acute grieving will be behind him. Perhaps today is all we have… I’m just very conflicted, wanting to experience all the joys and experiences that love can bring, but not willing to risk inflicting or experiencing pain. I guess that is true for any relationship tho….

    I also find myself holding back and letting him take the lead, because I feel it would be inappropriate for me to encourage him to focus on me, and an intoxicating new relationship rather than staying present to his pain and “doing the work” that needs to be done. I don’t know, I’ve found that a lot of grief advice is just so generic and over-rated… so confused right now…

    Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you so much for this forum.

    • Anytime you begin a romantic relationship, you run the risk of possibly getting hurt or hurting someone else. You kinda have to be okay with this in advance or you might wind up regretting taking the chance in the first place, and there is nothing wrong with risking. We risk all the time when we encounter new people or run into people from our pasts. If we didn’t accept some risk, our lives would be poorer for it.

      I understand you concerns about your friend being relatively fresh in terms of widowhood. There is a big difference between five months and five years out. On the other hand, my husband was less than five months out when we met and just ten months out when we married, so the whole “too soon” thing is rather relative to the person and the situation.

      That said, it can be challenging to begin a relationship while still working through the loss and sadness. I am not a big believer in the idea of “grief work”. Grieving is a nature reactions to loss. It doesn’t need to be “worked” as much as it needs to be acknowledged at certain times and put away at others. We never really stop missing someone we’ve loved who has died, so if there is any work at all, it’s figuring out how to move on and live even though we’ve been through such a tragedy. It’s tricky. Some people master the balancing act sooner than others. A few people never do.

      I see nothing wrong with letting him set the pace at this point as long as you are comfortable with it and you are both communicating your feelings.

      Look, you are just dating. That’s it. We date to see if there is something there worth pursuing and maybe building a life on. Sometimes we find life-mates. Sometimes good friends. Sometimes it ends. Nothing ventured, however, nothing gained.

      I am going to assume that you and he have discussed what you are doing and agree that it is dating? It’s important to be on the same page. Otherwise, try not to over-think. You are having fun. Dating should be fun. If it’s just a distraction for him, he’ll figure that out soon enough and I imagine you know the signs of a dating relationship that has run its course.

      Here’s the most important thing, in my opinion, that you know what you want and that you remember to give equal or greater standing to your needs and feelings at this point. When you are in a committed relationship, you can be as self-sacrificing as you please (though I don’t recommend that because good relationships are really built by two people who seek the best for each other), but in a new relationship – your number one priority is you. Don’t quash your feelings or do things you aren’t really comfortable with just because he is grieving.

      First, that’s not really helpful for the grieving – to always get there way and second, he’s a big boy who is dating of his own free will, so expect him to behave as such.

      Early dating widowed find true love again just as often as those who’ve never been widowed or those who’ve been divorce or widowed for a while. There are no rules, and if this feels like something worth pursuing – do it.

      • Thanks Ann. I think you are right that it’s all about communicating clearly and knowing what your own priorities and expectations are. For instance, I can’t even believe that I wrote that we were “re-uniting,” when in fact, we are simply dating. Need to be clear in my own mind what is going on and keep those communication channels with him open at all times. All life is a risk, frightening and rewarding in equal measures, if we’re lucky. :)

  3. Hi Ann. Thanks so much for such a kind, understanding, well written article. I’m glad to see that the majority of the responses have been positive. I’ve been widowed for just under two months, and admit that I am already THINKING about dating. We had a great life and love, dating for about eight years prior to be married for exactly two months short of fifteen years. I’m finding that our deep, romantic love makes me want to find love again, and I’m pretty sure it’s not just to fill the emotional vacuum caused by my spouse’s loss, but because love is good, and something I think I personally need to be truly happy. And I know that my departed spouse (who died of an “intercranial hemorrhage” and “intercranial carcinoma” that went bad very quickly, before we had a chance for any discussion about me “moving forward” if things turned out fatal) would undoubtedly WANT me to be happy.

    At 47 years of age and having not been in the dating scene for a very, very long time, it’s a daunting proposition to me. I was never very good at it in the first place, and am very shy and awkward when it comes to interactions with the opposite sex…at least the available/unattached ones. Much of what you wrote has been on my mind, including the perception of others, ranging from the friends we had together, to the reaction of family, This morning on the way to work I was actually even thinking that perhaps a good time to start pursuing dating is right after vacation in July, which will include the scattering of ashes where we were engaged and at another spot special to us. That will be just past the three month mark of her death, and about four months since she was last conscious and able to converse with me. Yes, I’m a widower…that strange breed that, by in large, does not share their thoughts and emotions to the extent of most widows. The same breed that apparently “moves on,” on average, faster than widows.

    I frankly have no idea how things will go once I SEEK to start dating again, or how “ready” I’ll be in terms of emotional stability. I know I am very aware of the pitfalls and the widow/widower card factor. I don’t WANT someone to be nicer to me or perhaps even date me out of pity…I want them to because they’re interested in me as a man. I’m also not expecting a reincarnation of my wife, and know it will be impossible to find someone who had so many interests in common with me. I’ll definitely be cognizant of the whole “being widowed” thing if I do start dating, and try to toe that fine line of being open without making my dead wife the focal point of conversations. The whole dating thing is a scary proposition to me right now…like I said, I tend to be shy and am not at all experienced with the dating scene (and none with the modern version of same!). I only had a handful of “dates” with other girls before meeting the young lady that ultimately became my wife. I’m no George Clooney, yet have high expectations myself! How’s that grouping of characteristics?! At least I don’t need to worry about the reactions of children, as my deceased wife and I did not have any.

    Anyway, thanks for the nice, fair article/blog.

    • You are welcome.

      I know I have mentioned this in replies here and there on widowed dating posts, but my husband was just a bit past the four month mark when we met, and many, many widowers seem to begin dating, or trying to, somewhere between 3 – 4 months and the end of the first year. Maybe it is a guy thing, but I don’t think so. Widows, in my opinion, think about it too and probably would try to if it weren’t that societal expectations are a bit harsher when they date early than they are for men. Just the typical double standard stuff.

      If you do go ahead with your plan, I think you are already ahead of the game because you’ve started to think about your expectations for yourself and anyone you might date. Lots of folks, and not just widowed, tend to jump in without any plan at all. This is what leads to issues and disaster, again in my opinion. As long as you know yourself, know what you want and expect and are open and honest about it with people – things are likely to be just fine. It’s when we just wander along, expecting everything to work out like it does in a rom-com that we get the opposite results or we end up starring in our very own very bad rom-com minus the comedy and the happy ending.

      A good place to start is by alerting those close to you that dating is on your mind and that you don’t plan to let any opportunities to that come your way pass you by. This way, no one is taken by surprise and who knows, someone might even know someone who is looking to date as well.

      Online dating sites can be hit and miss but shouldn’t be ruled out entirely.

      Groups are nice. Volunteer organizations or church related. You could take a class. The workplace can be problematic but it’s also somewhere that we are bound to know people or people who know people.

      Mostly dating is the same as it’s always been but being older, you don’t have the the large pool to fish in that you did in your 20’s or teens. It’s a matter of keeping your eyes open and seizing opportunities.

      You mention that you don’t want a woman to date you out of pity. While women, who haven’t been widowed themselves, will likely feel sympathy for you, it’s been my observation that what draws them is a sense that a widower is a better catch than a guy who is divorced or has never been married. Widowers have the appearance of being “proven”. You dated, married and stayed til the “until death do you part” thing. Silly? Probably. People should be judged in the present tense and not by their relationship resume, but when people are new to each other, our pasts are all we have to form opinions. And the opinion of many women is that widowers are hot prospects.

      Half the battle to get out into the dating world again is preparation. Knowing what to expect of yourself and others can make it easier to deal with when situations arise because you will have already thought about how you might respond.

      Just remember that going out for coffee is just going out for coffee. Getting to know someone is just that and nothing more unless you both decide it could be something more. Be yourself. Be honest. Have expectations and remember that love happened once and there is no reason in the world why it can’t happen again. Good luck.

    • Hi Ann,

      I have been a widow for two years now and I have such mixed emotions to get back to dating. It is very scary these days, you see my husband was my first and only man for 45 years. I was 17 and he was 19 when we got married. I was 63 when he died with Colon Cancer.
      I really don’t know how to date because it’s been 47 years now. Things and people are so much different now. Plus I’m no longer that little 90lb girl but have become that over weight woman. I understand men today only want hour glass girl’s/women.
      My husband and I had 2 boys and 2 girls, but loss our oldest boy four months before my husband. My children thing it’s ok for me to get into the dating world and even remarry if that’s what I want to do. They are behind what ever my dicission is.
      I mostly worry about the man and what he thinks of me and if I would be pleasing to him no matter the weight, but to want me for who I am.
      Thank you for allowing women like myself to be able to express my thoughts and feelings without being looked down on. Again thank you

      • Hi Doris,

        I agree that it is hard and scary to get back into the dating mode the longer you’ve been away from it. And it is much different in your 60’s than it was when you were a teen.

        But you have a lot of positives going for you because your children are supportive and you have good relationship experience under your belt.

        Although the media sells the idea that only women who look a certain way are desired, that wasn’t true back then and still isn’t. There is a man for every way, shape and size woman there is. While it is true that some older men date younger women, there are also men who prefer women in their own peer group, and remember that to a man in his late 60’s or heading into 70’s – you are a younger woman. And men’s bodies aren’t immune to time either. Most men experience weight gain and are hardly the guys they were in their late teen’s either. And they worry too.

        If it is the weight thing that is giving you pause, there are things you can do – not necessarily to lose weight – but to give you confidence. Take a fitness class or start walking or try a yoga class. Sometimes just being physically active is enough to remind us that our bodies might be aging but they are still capable of more than we give them credit for.

        You might also think about dance classes or joining a league of some kind – bowling or golf. Nice active pursuits where you might meet someone and you can regain some body confidence.

        You are correct that you should be appreciated and loved for who you are. Understanding that going into dating will save you trouble later on.

        Just remember, dating is simply the process by which we choose companions. Meeting for coffee or dinner or a movie is just that and nothing more unless both parties agree to progressing. Don’t stress. Know what you want. Don’t be shy about having expectations and voicing them and just be you. Your husband thought you were awesome and someone else is bound to have that kind of good judgement too.

        Good luck.

  4. I started dating a widower over six months ago. He has two grade school children and his LW passed some time ago (I think over 7 years). I have come to this site as I am looking for insight. Admittedly, I have felt like a ‘dirty secret’… only calls me when he’s going to or from work, out on errands, or after the children have gone to bed. On a separate cell phone no less (another story of texts and charges). I have never been to his home so I don’t know if a ‘shrine’ exists. He has met my family and some of my friends. I have met only an old high school aquaintence of his that he connected with on FB… not any of is other friends or family. With regard to his children: I had not expected to meet them right away, having it happen when the timing was right. He shared that in a past dating disaster, it ‘blew up before it really got started’… I honestly wouldn’t want to date a man who didn’t put his children first (divorced or widowed), but …. He hasn’t even told them he’s dating at all in a generic sense, let alone dating someone exclusively. Holidays were filled with his deceased wife’s family (which is apparently really complex with half and step sisters) and I was once again not able to be in contact with him. I keep getting told that it is complicated and they wouldn’t understand him dating…. blah, blah, blah. Drama abounds with the sisters-in-law and he runs to their aid even though they have other men in their lives. It’s this seemingly perverse (& no, not in the sexual way) co-dependency that I am having trouble dealing with. Okay not entirely. He has broken dates with me, does not call when he says he is going to, is constantly late, apologizes, then repeats the same disrespectful behaviors. When I’ve expressed my feelings and concerns, he is extremely remorseful and states that he’s only human and can only learn from past mistakes. True enough. We’re all human and make mistakes. Am I making a mistake in taking a leap of faith with a man who isn’t really available? When reading these posts, I’m wondering if this ‘widower card’ behavior is closer to the mark. I opened my heart to this man and thought we might have a future together as he has discussed that as well. Any insight or even a good swift kick in the ass would be appreciated.

    • I think you already know what’s going on with this guy. He had a bad experience with dating again and his kids, which he didn’t handle swiftly by being the Dad. He is overly concerned about his in-laws feelings on the subject of dating. However, he wants to date and isn’t willing to simply say “I am going to do this. It’s time. No one gets a vote b/c I am a grown man.”

      The question is, is this okay with you? Are you okay being a secret? With broken promises. With not having the relationship you want? It is your relationship too. He doesn’t get to dictate simply b/c he is widowed. That should carry no weight in the discussion. He is either in or he is playing games – whether he thinks he is or not.

      And yeah, it’s the widow card if all his excuses and rationales for not being a good boyfriend run back to the same source – his dead wife.

      You are allowed expectations. In fact, I encourage you to have them. What do you want? What would make you happy? What needs to change for this to happen? We women are often afraid to speak up when things begin to go off the rails b/c the man might dump us. But so what? There are a lot of men in the world (though sometimes it might not seem that way). Men who would be more than happy to have a relationship where both parties are happy, committed and working to a common goal.

      You say he has discussed a future? If this is what you want, perhaps it’s time to have that conversation again only this time, tell him what needs to happen in order for you to be convinced that this is really what he wants. It will probably not be easy. He has allowed his children too much power. Children just don’t give back power without a fight and they’ve already run off a girlfriend, so they are going to try it again. Success breeds overconfidence in kids. His late wife’s sisters are also much like his children. They will not give him up willingly. You should expect issues there too. And he has come to rely (after 7 years) on the widow card. It’s a seductive thing b/c it is easy to use and so few people stand up and say “Look, Dude, it’s been awhile. No more special treatment.”

      Ultimately, your primary responsibility is to yourself. You deserve to be loved and happy and a participant in your own life and relationship. Ask yourself, what do I want? What do I need to do? And then make a plan and execute it. Unless status quo is okay with you (and I am guessing not since you are here), what do you really have to lose?

  5. Great article! My wonderful husband died 132 days ago. I struggled ( and continue to) for months and had vowed that I would/could never be interested in a romantic relationship ever again…..then I met someone who I was immediately attracted to. I’d never met him but had been a friend of my husband for years. We have been communicating regularly for about 3 weeks and obviously I am interested but I am worried that it will appear to friends that I was not 100% committed and deeply in love with my husband. I have been honest with my new friend and we are both well aware that this is complicated. I feel like I need permission to date…especially so soon. I did not go looking…in fact these feeling blind sided me….I know it is my life…and in order to go on without my husband I need to join the living….I shouldn’t worry about what people think….but I do NOT want anyone to feel as though I am dishonoring my marriage and my husband….advice as to how to pursue a new relationship and inform friends?

    • My husband was just 4ish months out when he and I met online. I know he was not looking though I was 11 months out and had been thinking about/actively trying to date since about 6 months out.

      We started out as friends and when it became quickly clear that there might be much more – we made the decision to explore it. We were never secretive but it was only on a need to know basis that we slowly enlightened others.

      It’s good to have a friend you can talk to about things as you move forward. I have a very dear friend who listened and gave advice sparingly and encouragement often. She was a great help to me.

      But there will be people who question and even have the nerve to judge and call your love for your late husband suspect when you begin to date, explore commitment and even fall in love and really move on. Not much can be done about this. However, you know the truth and there will be others – family/friends – who know the truth and will be supportive.

      One thing that my husband and I were clear on with our kids, families and friends is that though they were entitled to their feelings and opinions, this didn’t give them the right to judge us, makes demands or be rude. He and I were adults and we didn’t need anyone’s permission to move on if we felt we’d found the right person to do it with. It helped enormously to take that stand from the beginning and to not engage in any debates about it. You can only manage your own feelings and those who truly love you (and don’t have agendas of their own) will quickly come to see that supporting you is the right thing to do. It may take them longer to be happy for you, but most will put on a brave face for you if you seem sure and happy.

      There is no one way forward or a right way/time to date. People come along and you make the decision to seize and explore the opportunities or you decide to wait for the next one. In that way, dating and falling in love again after changed much.

      Internal conflict is inevitable. Mixed feelings and second-guessing happen. As long as you are true to yourself, open/honest with the person you are dating and allowing him to be the same, it will likely work out as it is meant to.

      Don’t stress. You are normal. We are not meant to grieve intensely or continuously forever. Most people are or have started to move on within the first year or shortly after. Take it a day at a time. Allow yourself to be happy. It’s a choice regardless of what some might say. Good luck to you.

  6. What is the most common action towards a daughter (17 years old) who feels that remarrying a widow (I am her dad and I am a widower since November 2012) in 2014? My daughter told my girlfriend it was too soon.

    • My stepdaughters were 22 and 24 when he and I remarried. I asked him what he would have thought if one of them had come to me and told me it was too soon for us to marry.

      He said, “You ask this gentleman if he is in the habit of allowing his child to tell him what to do in all other areas of his life or just his intimate personal life.”

      My husband then went on to say that he would have been angry had something like this occurred because while his daughters were welcome to bring their worries and concerns to him, it would not have been okay for them to try something as manipulative as going behind his back to me to try and scuttle our plans.

      It’s perfectly normal for children (and the older they are, the more likely they are to take issue) to be upset when their widowed parent dates and/or remarries. Being there to listen and reassure them is part of the parenting job, but allowing them to decide who you date and when you remarry is out of bounds and they need to know this because once you let them have veto power over your personal life, they are unlikely to give that power up. It’s a very bad precedent to set.

      I am going to assume that you and your late wife did not allow your daughter to dictate the terms of your marriage and see no reason for you to let your daughter have that power now. Reassure her. Allow her to grieve in her own time. But expect her to respect your decisions and to behave like the well brought up young lady that you and her mother raised her to be.

  7. Thank you for writing this article. My husband of 12 years committed suicide last August (it was an unhealthy and dramatic relationship, the day of his death I had found out about a very big issue, on top of over a decade of other big issues, none of which I have shared with anyone ever, so since most people don’t know what he had done (it was very bad and likely the main contributor to his stupid decision to commit suicide), it is their natural reaction is too blame me instead).

    I am only 32, and am career oriented, intelligent, and a strong person. I have a wonderful son, a pre-teen, but he is special needs, so really I am not worried about explaining it to him as he does not understand nor care about social norms (as stated in the article, he won’t even meet someone until I think it is serious, and that is a long, long time away!)

    I think I am over the major emotional meltdowns of his death…and have started to long for intimacy and just good conversation lately (I work remotely so haven’t really left my house besides the grocery store and school since he passed away, and my son cannot talk…so it is pretty dang quiet around here).

    But I just don’t seem to know where to start…or what I will say if a date asks how my late husband died…or how to explain to his family and my own if/when they find out…

    You gave some great advice, and thank you to the other commenters that have been in a similar situation, it makes a lot of this mess more clear, and I hope that I have courage to accept a date sometime this summer!

    • Online sites are a good place to start. You might want to just find sites that interest you rather than the dating sites at first. There are all types of web forums and you are really only limited by your own likes.

      But if you prefer to get out, there are the Meet Up groups (people post online about real life meetings for people by interest and hobbies). Or you can check out local clubs via your church or library.

      When it comes to explaining how you lost your husband that’s entirely up to what you feel comfortable sharing and whether you prefer to keep that info to yourself until you’ve gotten to know someone well. When you do share, the truth is best and short versions of the story are easier for most people to digest. And you can always say, “My husband committed suicide, but I prefer not to talk about the details.”

      In my opinion, people begin to plot, plan and actually date when they are ready to do so and not really before. Sometimes things work out and sometimes it takes time to get your “sea legs” back. The latter doesn’t necessarily mean you tried to soon but that you have things to relearn.

      I am glad you find the post and the comments helpful. I wish you success on your journey.

    • There is a novel about a woman who is 32 years old whose husband committed suicide. She has two young children and does everything she can to avoid telling them how and why their daddy died. She doesn’t want them to think that committing suicide is a way to get out of your problems, as their father did. You are her exact age, and you are working through some of the same issues she has, including what to say to a date who asks her how her husband died. This novel, Realities by Marian D. Schwartz, has been helpful to women whose husbands have committed suicide.

  8. What the heck is the “Widow Card” I never heard of such a thing and how can it be wrong to set the pace of a relationship while having going through the trials of being a widow?
    My husband lost his battle to cancer January 5th 2013 He was 34 and I am 35 and we have 2 children a 16 yr old and a 4 yr old. We have been together for 18 years that’s about half my life.
    I am not dating nor have prospects but am simply curious on how people go about dating again.

    • The “widow card” is using your new “station” in life as leverage to get your way. It’s as innocent as explaining a late credit card payment by telling the customer service that “my husband died not long ago and things have been crazy, promise it won’t happen again” to “I know that I said I understood when you said you were tired of being kept a secret from my kids and in-laws, but they are just really not ready for me to date and I don’t want to upset them.”

      The former is something nearly every widow can attest to having done once. Playing on people’s innate queasiness about death and their tendency to err on the side of sympathy to cover something she/he should have done but didn’t or didn’t do but should have. The latter is the way some widowed, who find themselves in what can only reasonably be termed a committed relationship, use to try to manipulate rightfully unhappy boy/girlfriends.

      When a person uses sympathy to maintain strict control of the what, when, where, who and how of a relationship that’s playing the widow card. And it’s wrong. The fact that many who date widowed willingly allow this in the beginning stages in the hopes that the widowed person will see them as great catches doesn’t help much either.

      A relationship has to be give and take and more or less equally concerned about what both people want, which is why widowed should really think about what they want before they begin to date and be very articulate in the early days with a new person. For example, if you are looking for simply going out and having pleasant evenings with another adult but aren’t sure (or are completely sure) that commitment, sex or meeting each other’s friends, family and kids is what you want – you say so. Up front. And be understanding of anyone who declines interacting because that’s really not what they are looking for.

      In other words, it’s okay to just want to go out for coffee or to the movies. Just like it’s okay to be just looking for no strings intimacy or a another long term relationship or to decide that perhaps, you are just not interested in dating for a while … or ever.

      The fact that you are curious about the process suggests that you’ve thought about dating. Next step would be to think about under what circumstances. Like dating sites. Or letting your friends know that you wouldn’t object to being set up on a date if they knew someone.

      Then, you set to it. Set up a profile. Vet your friends’ suggestions.

      Decide whether you will tell you children. Plan for positive, negative or neutral reactions and what your response will be (Hint: it should be supportive but firm about just who is the adult and who is the child and what behavior is/isn’t acceptable).

      Dating is easy for some people. If it came easily to you before it probably will again but you aren’t a teenager anymore and that matters.

      Conversely, if you weren’t good at dating or didn’t enjoy it – that might still be the case.

      Statistically, the younger you are, the more likely you will date and you will remarry. Men seem to do this sooner than women but that’s probably one of those anecdotal things that a bit of real research might prove false … should anyone ever decide to research something like widow dating and remarriage. As far as I know, no one has.

      Regardless, when the time comes or opportunity knocks, you will be fine. Really.

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion. The more the merrier and the better for next person who stumbles upon this post.

  9. vee
    its almost a year after my husbands death when i accepted the former friend also a widower for 7 years…after committing to him, thoughts about the reaction of my children, family and in laws came into my mind..I think i am not prepared to be in relationship with…should i tell the man whom i think im in love with? I am happy to have him..to know that someone will love me and in return someone i could love to…is this not the time yet to be in relationship?

    • If you think it’s too soon for you than it is. You do owe this man a conversation about your decision and feelings and he is entitled to his reaction. Don’t let that reaction color your decision – and by that I mean, he might try to talk you into continuing or you might feel guilty if he takes the break up badly, which might lead you to going against your gut feeling about it. It’s more likely that he will understand, given that he is farther out then you are and there is nothing wrong with remaining friends. It’s nice to have male friends after being widowed because we get used to having that male perspective.

      It’s okay not to date. It’s okay to try and and find that maybe you would rather wait some more (as long as you aren’t playing games with the person you date or using them. That’s not okay.) It’s also okay to decide you aren’t particularly interested in partnering up again. As long as you are doing what is best for you and not letting other’s grief agendas have more influence than they deserve.

      • I posted back on Jan 30th about my in-laws reaction to me dating just a few short months after my husbands death. At the time I was very upset by my in-laws negative reaction this. I later learned two very important things 1) I was not ready to date and 2) my in-laws (although they came off the wrong way initially) are hurting and they weren’t sure how to handle it.
        The awesome guy I was dating knew my entire situation because was 100% honest with him from the beginning but still got hurt when I reiterated the fact (a month later) that I didn’t want to be involved in a committed relationship. My heart, mind or soul is not ready to be shared with anybody else. I still miss my husband soooo very much and still cry often. I can’t imagine giving all of that to somebody else when it was always his! I think that a male companion would be nice though, somebody to go out with, laugh with, have fun with of the opposite sex but do realize this could very tricky. I like how my therapist put it to me (as I am truly blessed with many dear friends and an amazing support group, including my in-laws) he told me that I have many meaningful and important relationships in my life and I don’t need a another one! Haha! I have recently started to lose wait, utilize my spare time in meaningful ways (as much as possible) and focus on myself for myself! God has a plan for me and whatever it may be will happen, I just need to do right until it does!!!

        • While it is regrettable that your great guy got hurt, hurt is what we risk when we date. Not every relationship works out as we hope. Widowed daters and those they date are just like everyone else in the dating game in that regard.

          Not everyone who dates (widowed or not) is honest about their motivations and needs, so good on you that you were.

          And not all widowed folks find dating or new relationships are in their futures – immediate or farther down the line. It’s not something all of us know even until we try. For some of us, there is only one great love just like for some of us there might be second or thirds and for some, there will never be a great love.

          I am glad that you have come to a place where you know what is best for you and that you are happy with it. That’s what matters. Figuring out what works for you.

          Thanks for stopping back and updating. This post gets a lot of traffic and sharing your story might help someone else who finds themselves here someday.

        • Thank you very much Ann. I know that there is a ton of traffic here, which is the main reason why I came back to leave an update.

  10. I truly appreciated this article. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it has made me see in 5 min, even after an hour session of therapy last week discussing the same exact thing. My husband took his own life 3 months ago. We had a very bipolar marriage and had gotten into a huge fight that same week. My husband was an extremely loving, caring, energetic, hard working, well liked, center of the party kind of man, but had 2 totally different sides to him and the other one wasn’t good. I believe in my heart of hearts that I was done with him that week. I am 29 years old and he was 34, I had been with him since I was 20 and we were married for 6 years. I am extremely close to his family (one that my good friend calls a cult) His sister is my age and my best friend. His other sister and sister in law mother and I are also close. I have been part of the family for 9 years and have 10 nieces and nephews, they will continue to be a part of my life for the rest of it. I am with high hopes that our relationship stays the same, but I am not sure. Two weeks ago I was bored and lonely at home and joined a dating site. I met a man, spoke with him for a few days and then met for coffee. In the last 2 weeks we have spent 8 days together. He is extremely nice and I have a lot of fun with him. I have no idea where this may go but I feel it will go somewhere well (Sorry if I’m babbling.) His sister (who I can’t even try to hide anything from) found out first and was upset that a)he was at my house already and b) that me dating was making it (his death) “more real” for her. After I told her I was no longer going to discuss my dating life with her we agreed on talking about it in smaller doses. I told my MIL on Sun, she seemed fine about it, at first. Him and I went snow tubing on Sun and I posted a pic of us, just a pic of us standing in front of the lodge. She texted me today asking that I take down the pic? She would like to speak with me first about how she feels about it. I was livid but so upset. I truly and honestly care for and love my in-laws deeply and I would never do anything to intentionally hurt them. At the same time, however, I think they really have no business dictating my life. I am a grown ass woman. I think it may be a little early for me to date but I truly crave what I currently have with this man and I am 100% honest with him and tell him that I do have baggage and I am still grieving and he understands! I think as a grown ass woman I should be able to make my own decisions and if they aren’t the right ones then I will figure that out on my own. Nobody knows how I feel and therefore should not be able to dictate and/or judge me. Am I wrong?

    • No, you are not wrong. It is not wrong to want to live life and move on and be happy. It is not wrong to seek out companionship and enjoy having found it.

      And it is perfectly normal for your in-laws and friends to be upset when they discover you are dating again. In fact, I think the late spouse’s family and friends usually take it harder than our own family b/c – as you sister-in-law put it – it makes everything real and final for them.

      Your being hurt by their reaction is normal too. As you say, you are a grown woman. You don’t need permission to decide what you need, when you need or how you are going to go forward with life. And it feels like being told what is and isn’t acceptable when family, in-laws and friends suddenly go from supportive to behaving as though you are a teenager who needs to be told what is and isn’t proper.

      The reality is that this is new territory for both you and your late husband’s family. It’s change and change is difficult. This doesn’t mean that you stop dating and put their feelings first. It does mean that there will be discussions and possibly some emotional pain for them and for you as all of you redefine your relationships.

      About the last thing a widowed person has for others who are not at the same place in the grieving process has she is, is patience. To preserve relationships, patience and understanding is required, and I know this seems backwards, but widowed are often called upon to be the cooler heads of reason in these cases.

      I think that your discussion and solution with your sister-in-law was a good one. You’ve agreed to table the talk about your new friend while she adjusts but you stood your ground about the fact that you will continue to see him. Something similar needs to happen with your mother-in-law. It’s not difficult to exclude her (and other in-laws) from seeing status updates and photos on Facebook and to avoid discussing your dating with them, but they will need to understand that you are dating and will continue. That’s your decision and they need to respect it as you respect their need to take a bit of time to adjust.

      My own family was very supportive when I met my now husband, Rob, but I had a few dissenters among friends and co-workers who I simply told that they had no say in the matter. I understood their feelings and concerns, but it was my life and I wasn’t a child.

      Rob’s grown children were supportive of the idea of his dating but not so much the practice as it became clear to them that he intended to marry me. He too was firm on the position that he would not be told how to live his life even while making it clear that he understood why his moving on and remarrying was hard for them.

      None of this easy. It can be frustrating dealing with others once you’ve begun taking the steps to a new life. People often use the widowed person as a way of gauging where they should be in the whole grieving thing. It’s upsetting to think that the person closest to the late spouse has begun to move on while they are still hurting. It feels personal when it’s not.

      Just remember, people who love and value you will come around quickly to the fact that your moving on. There may be some dissension and you might wish that they aren’t catching up with you or being supportive enough in the short term, but usually, they get on board. In the meantime, just keep doing what you are doing. If you’ve taken the steps to date and begun dating – it’s not too soon. We generally don’t make moves unless we are ready and should things not work out as you hope, don’t confuse this with your grief for you late husband. Sometimes dating just doesn’t work out and it has nothing to do with the fact that we are widowed.

      You are meant to have a full and happy life and to love and be loved. Good luck to you.

    • I started dating a widower 3 months after his wife passed, we were all friends and very close to one another, I sat with her on her death bed even. All in all it felt right to both of us, however her grown children didn’t agree, that was the hardest part they both said some very hurtful things to both of us, I am a good person with a good heart and I too lost someone 14 years before to suicide. To me their relationship felt over many years before, but it carried on to till death do we part, maybe perhaps this is why it was easier for him to move on. I was even accused of having an affair before she passed, which is not true, I lost friends and respect of others. However we get along perfect, and his side of the family welcomed me right in, and my family we are very supportive, so that helps. I won’t lie if I could go back in time, I would of rather waited and gave him some space to grieve, but now we are already in and we work through issues as they come up. So my advice to you, you can’t worry about what others say there will always be nay sayers, everyone is allowed to their opinions, but it is up to you to decide when it is right for you to move on.

      • Agreed. You can only live in the moment and plan for the future. Second guessing and allowing others’ agendas to influence personal relationship decisions is rarely a good thing.

        I am glad things are working out for you.

  11. Where do I begin? I wasn’t a blank canvas before I met and married my husband, but emotional difficulties… I’d say yes. Becoming his wife, and he my husband made me a different person, the selfless love from him, I do believe changed me at the core.

    I am at a TOTAL loss and bereft without him (year mark just passed) but I feel a completely different more sufficient person having become his wife. He gave me validation and only now am I learning to validate myself.

    I think the nonsense that we have to be complete persons before having a relationship is just that – nonsense. Of course relationships make us stronger and we want them, else we wouldn’t all be sitting here talking and writing about it.

    I was and am a professional health care provider both before, during and now after my husband and I became one. I wasn’t a blank canvas before, but I miss him more than life itself. There was a 21 year age gap between us, I live in Britain, he was a great historian, and we were and now I am an eclectic mix of “Victorian” attitudes and very progressive attitudes at the same time, perhaps an unusual mix, but it’s me, through and through.

    Yes I still wear black. I sit under a UV light which helps me not be so depressed and gives me a sense of control, and the other day wearing a high vis. bright yellow hat – I looked well and it was “fun”? okay – but my heart sinks at the idea of fun without my big bear of a sweet husband, and I NATURALLY want to wear black.

    I feel I’ve carried this bereavement as far as I can take it alone, and to move on I will and do need companionship again, and complexly at the same time I have no patience for pettiness or patience for people’s bull or nonsense at all.

    ? How does a person deal with the complexity of needing companionship whilst at the same time feeling the need to be alone to fully feel the feelings of the loss and, still shock at times ? Being a very committed Christian, I would never consider extramarital anything, but oh… this is complicated.

    If someone replies, maybe it’ll spur me on to share more… I just returned from 270km above the arctic circle on a xc ski trek, trying to “continue to live” and I’m going to Oslo for a professional seminar and will xc ski some more. Cycling also has been a great help. But as a person who relishes and loves being with someone – that is, some people think to talk and some people talk to think, I’m one who talks in order to process my thoughts not the other way round for me… so I need someone close to talk to in order to fully sort out my thoughts, but as a person of this type, I’m finding for the first time that I’m pushing people away and want solitude – YET at the same time I want and know I need companionship.

    Complicated enough??? also feel and have survivors guilt I’m sure. That’s another story – but I do need companionship, and someone who has been my best friend other than my husband, this man is like a brother to me (only a brother), well his wife is getting REALLY upset with how much we chat, and I can understand her, I need MY OWN companion. Sorry this is so, so, SO long, and thanks for reading all the way to the end. What a diatribe! sorry

    • No need to apologize. It’s a complicated matter in a lot of ways – feeling the need to move on but yet not.

      In my opinion, once a person decides that another companion, possibly new love, is in order, it is a matter of being open to possibilities and putting yourself out there in order to find them (or let them find you).

      It would be easier if there was a handbook. Some kind of one size fits all plan, but it’s very individual.

      I was just reading yesterday about research that – again – supports the fact that most of us “get over” loss. Regardless of what the loss is. Even widowed folk. And that it generally begins to happen earlier than most folks think. Within the first year. And by the end of the second, the majority report being as happy or more happy than they had been previous to loss.

      Even so, this will not mean that missing our spouses doesn’t or won’t ever occur even when we’ve regained “happiness”.

      It sounds to me as though you are doing what you need to for yourself. It probably feels as though things aren’t moving at a quick enough pace. I remember feeling that myself as I approached the first year mark. And there is nothing abnormal with being impatient for it all to be over. The number of us that enjoy widowhood is very small indeed.

      It’s normal too to find male companionship preferable to girlfriends in terms of being able to talk. That’s what you were used to after all before your husband died. You have to take care though with a married male friend. Men like that “rescuing” thing. You might think about casting about for male friendship via another avenue than men you know who are married already.

      Everyone gets to this awkward stage of widowhood where you feel like clinging and casting off the widow weeds at the same time. Transitions are hard and being human, we are not big on change even when it is a positive thing.

      You will get through this. Just keep pushing yourself out there. Do what you are doing. One day it will all fall into place.

  12. Pingback: Dating While Widowed: When Dating Goes “Wrong” | anniegirl1138

  13. Thank you Ann. You are correct. Everybody knows but not the in-laws, late wife’s cousins, grandparents. He does not like much her family. I suppose they realize what is going on from the very beginning. While he stayed alone after the wife’s accident with toddler son the father-in-law hired a private investigator to check up on him especially in terms of caring a baby. He leaves his 2-year-old son for every weekend with in-laws so they see each other twice a week and have just a small talk mainly concerning the baby.
    The other aspect of that secret may be that her father claims a very high compensation connected with her wrongful death. He wishes to be seen as a lonely widower whose wife was recently for me almost two years is not too recently) killed in a very dramatic accident.

    • Ah, so a few things are in play: 1) a lawsuit with money and 2) visitation coupled with childcare.

      Some widowed get into situations where the in-laws in effect end up thinking they are co-parenting b/c the Widowed parent relies on them for childcare to the point that they are basically sharing custody. And if the parent and in-laws weren’t too friendly to begin with the end result is that the parent often has to “keep secrets” to keep the in-laws from making life unpleasant.

      It still sounds like you and he need to have an honest discussion about his real reasons for keeping the in-laws in the dark (and frankly, in-laws usually figure out when dating is occurring no matter how well the widowed person thinks he/she is hiding it). Maybe he is worried about a custody fight as in-laws have been known to do that or maybe it is as simple as he just appreciates having someone dependable (and free) to watch his child every weekend. Regardless, he owes you an actual explanation and then really, you need to decide if the status quo is something you can live with or not. It sounds like “not” but that’s up to you to decide. Even though you may think (and maybe correctly) that he is just milking his situation for sympathy (some widowed do), you won’t know anything for sure by guessing.

      Secrets always come out and the fall out in the aftermath is usually worse than just having been honest in the first place.

      Have you checked out Abel Keogh’s Dating a Widower Facebook group? There are women there who have or are experiencing similar issues and sometimes it’s nice to have a group that understands – because they have been there – to talk to.

      The Internet is teeming with resources for widowed these days but there is still not a lot of credible, factual info for the people who date and marry them and, often, not a lot of empathy for the difficulties that can arise.

  14. Best article I’ve read so far on the subject. Very common sense.
    My thinking has always been, if you’re thinking about dating then you’re ready to start. Thank you!

  15. Hi, just like to say thanks for such an interesting post. I lost my husband 4 months ago, I’m 29 and he was 40. I have been thinking about the question of moving on, but haven’t been brave enough to ask any friends/family for fear of their reaction. I still love my husband and miss him, and he will always be in my heart. But I want to move on with my life and make the most of it. We spoke about this subject several times in his last year after he was diagnosed with a terminal cancer, and he wanted me to be happy. I was single for a long time before meeting my OH, so don’t feel I have to be so again to ‘find’ myself. What the experience has taught me is that life is for living and I feel that I can go out and have fun, without feeling too guilty, as it is what he would have wanted.

    • You are welcome.

      Really, everyone eventually finds the answer to this question in a way that works for them. Despite what the “books” or society or family/friends say, there is no one size for all.

      Good luck to you.

  16. I think there is no such norm as “too soon” as far as “dating while widowed” is concerned. After all, it’s just a matter of personal preference. But dating and getting married again are two different issues. Dating could be just keeping company with someone, dine out or even going for vacation together while re-marrying is a life time commitment with all the legal and social complication. Children, in my opinion, are the prime determining factor. Being children of my widowed mom and widowed mom of my own children, I’ve experienced that role both ways.

    My mom told me she stared dating about 3 years after dad died in 1984 but it was not until 27 years later (at 74) that she decided to marry again. Her main concern over the years was about our (me and my sister) feeling and the social pressure for being disrespectful to dad. In retrospect, I must admit that we weren’t comfortable to see mom getting replacement for dad (my sister I was I 26 and 24 at the time) and yet I was mature enough to hide our discontent in view of her personal needs. It was not until I was in my mid 30’s before I finally accepted her dating and another 10 years before accepting (but without saying) her living with someone. I wish I were more mature and frank enough to speak with each other on this issue (I knew she had missed a few good men because of us). Something I still regret up to this day.

    When my husband passed away last summer (also predeceased by my brother -in-law a year earlier!), we finally realized the pressure that my mom had gone through. Despite that my husband and I were already separated when he departed, the sense of loss was much intense that I first anticipated. As a successful career woman, I am emotionally stronger than mom. But at the same time, I was taking a lot more pressure financially and from work. Compounded with the fact that I was already transferred to Singapore at the time while my daughters (21 and23) were still studying in the States, the feeling of isolation was simply tremendous. I felt lonely, depressed and totally stressed out. Under such groomy circumstances, I started dining out alone with male colleagues only 4 months after my husband’s death and start energizing myself with a more balanced lifestyle. I kept paying detail attention on my personal appearance (I regularly buy new shoes and wardrobesto please myself while getting spa and pedicure treatments on weekly basis), get regular exercises and constantly involved in social activities with male companions whenever viable. Determined not to spend the rest of my life alone, I also enhance my emotional status by taking regular Tai Chi and yoga classes while atending Positive Thinking seminar from professional speakers. Putting my new marital status into prespective, I started introducing myself as a widow soon after my husband died and continue using my “Mrs.” gender on all social and business occasions. Confirming with modern etiquette norm, I also started switching my wedding abnd to the right hand as a symbolic gesture of my changed status. Before long, things just started falling to proper places and I’m indeed enjoying my single status. So far, my new journey is still proceeding on perfect footing.

    BTW, a British colleague of mine actually started dating within a month after her husband’s funeral with the owner of the floral shop where she bought her casket spray from! And he even sent her a beautiful white rose grave saddle for free (which I paid USD169.99 for a blue roses bundle) from Singapore to Oxford UK during the unveiling of her husband’s grave! Happily, they are together for well over a year now and all is going well.Learning from the experience of mom, I voluntarily discussed these issues with my daughters and in-laws not long after my husband passed and managed getting full understanding (in effect, blessings!) from them regarding my social life. I’m grateful of their understanding and proud of their supports during the mortuary arrangements (there were 2 wakes, one funeral and 2 memorial services in my late husband’s case!) and the subsequent affairs.

    As far as dating (as a widow) is concern, openness remains my personal principle. And I’m real glad it’s working.Time has changed and I am sensing objectivity and acceptance from most people nowadays.There are just so many of us now (unfortunately) that people have no choice but to accomodate us and treat us fairly like everyone else. Widows no longer as easily identified as in the old days but I’m not sure if that is change for the better (I honestly love getting special treatment every now and then!) After all, the bottom line is that we are still having full control of our own destiny – with or without anyone’s blessing. I hope you also agreed.

    Mrs. Victoria GL

    • I think your approach was a thoughtful and healthy one. Too many times widowed buy into the idea that the way to move on is by embracing a lot of the less constructive approaches and go the Queen Victoria route rather than realizing that staying as positive as possible and active will get one back on her feet and feeling more like herself faster.

      And I wouldn’t feel guilty about your reaction to your mother’s dating and living together. I think most adult children struggle. It’s when struggle becomes acting out and sabotage that the line is crossed. It’s impossible to understand our parents as human beings until we become parents ourselves, imo.

      I am glad things are working for you. Good luck to you in the future and thanks for offering your story and perspective.

  17. Ahhh, yes..the good old days, when society dictated one year and one didnt have to wonder… I have to say i think society got that one right. My mother in law was married 40 years before her 2nd husband died. She was dating a man within three months afterwards. Everyday, i worry his grandchildren (in college in our town) or his adult children nearby will find out and be heartbroken. Surely, none of us expected her to remain alone for life, but jumping back into a relationship so fast sends a message to his family that he was forgotten quickly and dare i say his memory disrespected. Of course, as mentioned above. There is also the vulnerability issues of the widow. I tnink six months to a year is reasonable and prudent. I’ll probably get slammed for this comment as the world marches on to the “if it feels right to you, just do it” behaviors that tear our society down, piece by piece, every day.

    • Widowed people don’t date to send messages or to scandalize family. They date because they find that they want to and that it makes them happy. Family and friends would do better to feign happiness for them – even if they don’t feel like it – b/c it’s really none of their business.

      Alive or deceased, your MIL’s relationship with her husband is no one’s business. For all you know, the two discussed this very issue at some point, or many points, during their marriage. My late husband and I did in fact discuss dating again and remarriage. He told me that he wanted me to remarry – largely b/c his own mother was widowed at 33, dated sporadically but ultimately decided not to “until you were grown” to which my husband replied, “you didn’t marry George b/c of me? That was stupid.” She was surprised. “You didn’t like him.” “I was 12 Mom. I can’t believe you passed up the chance to be happy again b/c I was ornery.”

      He made me promise, should I be widowed young to do the opposite of everything his mother did. Which I have.

      My husband now and I have discussed the “what if”. He says he would not marry again but he doesn’t rule out dating. I am indifferent and think I will not bother again.

      My mother is 80 and widowed. My sister and I have told her that whatever she wants to do is fine with us. She is an adult and as a mother, she has had the excellent sense to not ever offer comment or advice on our love lives, so we are extending her the same courtesy.

      If I was widowed again, and decided to date, and one of my grandchildren or children got it into their head to take me to task for being “disrespectful”, they’d only get one shot b/c I would make sure they knew that it was not their place to judge me, and I would remind them that I never once commented on the parade of irritating and unsuitable boyfriends and girlfriends I’d had to endure at their hands.

      I think that if a widowed person wants to wait a year or wear black or build a monument in his/her front yard – he/she should be left to it. But if one wants to date that’s okay too. Children, extended family and friends are most helpful when they are supportive. When they are full of criticism or try to be controlling – they are just short of being just another burden for the widowed person to put up with.

      When I began to date after my first husband died my attitude was thus “When I want your advice or opinion, I will ask for it. Until then – shut up.”

      • “Widowed people don’t date to send messages or to scandalize family. They date because they find that they want to and that it makes them happy” Spoken like a true “Widow Card” carrying widow. How dare Robert have an opinion on his family (breathtaking in its self-righteousness)….

        On the whole I think Robert has hit the nail on the head.

        You may or may not have been ready to have started dating again when you did, I obviously cannot comment on that.

        I would strongly advise anyone dating a widow before they habe had the twelve months to properly mourn and deal with the first anniversaries that never end (first time we met, X’s birthday, day X proposed, Wedding anniversary, first birthday without X, first birthday of “X and my child without X”. It’s a subtle form of emotional blackmail that has no response.

        You may well have been emotionally equipped to deal with it but I strongly doubt it.

        Widow card-carrying widows are the most self-indulgent selfish lowest of lows. They refuse to confront their own grief by projecting their lost hopes and dreams on a poor, kind, well-meaning man who can never live up to the saintly figure they are always being compared to. They are emotional vampires who then leach of their families and friends when it, inevitably, all goes wrong.

        Most psychologists swear by the 12 month rule, but then again Ann who are we to argue with a widow……

        Simple advice fellas, obey the 12 month rule

        • Robert can have any opinion he likes, but as a woman, I found his attitude patronizing and a shade or two sexist. If it was his father in law, I doubt he’d feel the same way or if he did, he wouldn’t dare bring it up in any form. The rules for widowers are still different than those for widows. And I was merely pointing out, that as a grown woman, I expect my children to remember their place – which is not as my peer. I suspect his mother in law has similar feelings on the subject of being schooled by family who haven’t her years of experience.

          The actual research on bereaved, widowed included, found that they are well on their way to having reestablished their lives somewhere btwn 6 and 12 (majority) and 15/18ish months (at the outside). Only a very small percentage continue in active grief from this point on and they usually had a history of emotional problems prior to their loss. The whole year thing is just one of those rules of thumb founded more in social/religious origins than anything else.

          Argue with a widow? Feel free. I don’t claim to be a “grief counselor”. I merely share my experiences, which not surprisingly mirrors many others.

          Was I “well-equipped” to date? I wasn’t good at the whole girlfriend/date thing before and unsurprisingly, I found dating to be an irritating mash up of game playing and tedium the second time around as well. I never dated for any purpose other than pairing off and marriage and I am fortunate that both late and current husband were/are of the same mindset. I am also not the only widow I know who dated early and was married under the two year mark. And we are all just fine in our relationships, but thanks for your concern.

          If anyone has an issue here, it seems to be you. You’ve dated widowed or widowed and it’s not gone well? Regardless, your bitterness is showing. Personally, I am sorry if you’ve been “widow carded”. It’s a shitty thing that some do and mostly because they are encouraged by the same sort of ridiculous and unfounded grief rules that you are spouting at me.

          Rest assured that people will do as they want no matter what they read here, or anywhere else, and in spite of the efforts of their family and friends to make them conform.

        • I agree with Robert. I’m 50, a woman, married. My husband’s mother just died in May, and his Dad just sprung a girlfriend on the kids at Thanksgiving. This has certainly upset my husband and gotten me thinking about what I would want.
          When our kids were small, my husband told me he wouldn’t want me to remarry until the kids were adults. I respected that and fully planned to honor that wish, should he die.
          Our kids are nearly grown now, and should I die before my husband,I wouldn’t care if he ultimately remarried, but I would expect him to be considerate of our son’s feelings because they are my primary concern.
          What I would expect from him are 3 things.
          First, that he wait a full year before dating, if not for his own need to heal, than for his children’s. As mentioned above, there is a low or healing/emotional work to be done that first year, and stuffing another person into the hole the late spouse left is not going to fix anything. Also, even if he isn’t still grieving, his my children will be.
          Second, That once he started dating, he wait wadate/wait a year to get married. While this may seem arbitrary, it gives him a fighting chance to get healed and to not launch into a misguided relationship for the wrong reasons. (And maybe this is petty, but he waited 2 1/2 years before marrying me, so what is the big rush? What with assets and children, he has A LOT more to lose now than he did then.)
          Last, I would expect him to get a prenuptual agreement specifying that alll assets accumulated prior to this new union be left to our sons. Afterall, I did not work all of my life so that some other woman can take my husband for all he’s worth and give it to her kids. I worked for my children, and I expect my husband to honor that.

        • Everyone should deal with the widowed thing as suits him/her best because really, no one has any idea of what needs to be done but the widowed person.

          An interesting thing about your scenario is that in it – you are dead. Your husband will have enough to deal with without the additional burden of worrying about whether or not you approve of how he is doing it.

          My standard reply to anyone who wondered what my late husband would have thought about x, y or z was “He’s dead, so he doesn’t get a vote.” And why should have he? He wasn’t on the ground. He was under it. He would have no way of knowing the details of the moment or what was important or not, or what was necessary or not. And frankly, I was a grown up woman and quite capable of making decisions without running them through the “what would dead husband think” mode.

          But to back to the question of healing, the research – not the anecdotal stuff they push in grief groups – virtual or live – says that the vast majority of people begin to move on between the 6 to 15 month post death time frame.

          And the idea that a widowed person must be using a new boy/girlfriend as a “healing” therapy is insulting. Widowed people meet, are attracted to and fall in love just like non-widowed people do. There is nothing about us that changes in that respect. We are perfectly capable of separating the apple of grief from the orange of moving on.

          Where it gets sticky is that widowed live with the loss every minute of every day but extended family generally don’t. Children especially almost seem to leave the heavy lifting of grief to their surviving parent and get a bit miffed when that parent begins to move on because it forces them to do so as well – and that’s difficult to do when you are only focusing on a task sporadically.

          I stick to my original stance. There is no way a child of mine gets to tell me what to do. It’s disrespectful for one thing and it’s childish and presumptive as well.

          Your father-in-law might have warned you given that it was a holiday but regardless, he is a grown man and your husband – if he was raised well at all – should know that no matter what he thinks/feels, he has no right to pitch a tantrum or to make his Dad (and the new girlfriend especially) feel as though they have done something heinous (which a lot of adult children do. I am appalled by the stories I have heard of grown men and women behaving like kindergarteners when their widowed parent dates or remarries).

          As to material wealth, my sister and I have told our mother that she can do as she pleases. Whatever my dad left to her is hers. He didn’t build his net worth up with the idea of leaving it to his grown kids who should be able to support themselves but to make sure that our mother would live her life out comfortably. It makes me a bit itchy to hear people rail against the second wife as though she should expect to live in cardboard box in the river valley should she outlive her husband. Anything that’s left behind should first take into account the surviving spouse whether she gave birth to you or not. I couldn’t imagine leaving everything to my daughter and expecting my husband to pound sand in his old age.

          Edited to add: One thing I would encourage you to do, if you haven’t already, is to let you husband know your thoughts. I think it’s healthy for couples to discuss the “what if” scenarios. It sounds as though you are your husband are on the same page about placing restrictions on each other when one of you dies. I am not sure however that all couples will be as sympatico. Best to hash these things out while both parties are around to contribute to the conversation.

  18. Thank you so much for such an honest article about your experience. I really appreciate it! I am 4 years on from being widowed and finally in a good place. Just browsing the Internet to get an idea of what the “norm” is for young widows. of course, everyone has their own situation and comfort level. I really appreciate your comments about the “widow card”! Even going through what I did, I have seen how important it is to not let what I have been through define me…. Or even more so, not bring whatever sadness and loss from my previous relationship into something new. thankfully I have met someone who creates a beautiful space for me to be new version of myself I have become. For me it felt very natural at that point – and hence I echo the sentiment that we all can/will figure it out as the time is right and it is so very important to define that in our own terms, not by the timetable of anyone else.

    • Wow. Just wow. Ann, you seem to be quite judgmental of those who disagree with you. I understand its your life but your life changed dramatically when you had children. At least it should have. Babies or grown adults, your children deserve your respect. To you, dating and moving on is all about your happiness. To your children, it may feel like you are stomping on the grave of their father. I wonder if you’ve lived your entire life so selfishly or if its just convenient to be selfish now that you’re widowed and want to date without your children’s approval.

      • First, my child at the time was four. She just didn’t get a say. She was four. But even so, I am not a big believer in child driven families. I wasn’t raised that way and my decades spent teaching public school only reinforced my opinion because the kids that were the most difficult to deal with came from families where parents had abdicated decision making to their kids.

        Second, I don’t say that you shouldn’t be respectful of their feelings or listen to them. I just point out that you are the adult and the buck stops with you and that kids are not mature enough or long term thinking oriented enough to be allowed to have veto power. I also point out that you shouldn’t bring someone new into their lives until you are very sure the person is sticking around.

        Which brings me to three, I am opinionated, won’t deny that, but your single-minded focus on a single point in my post to the exclusion of everything else makes me wonder what your motivation for bothering to leave a comment is all about.

        Finally, I am years past dating and widowhood is way back in my rear-view mirror. The child, the grown step-children and my husband and I are happy and no one ever felt disrespected or stomped on or like Mom and Dad were too self-involved to hear them. Just because I respond a bit harshly to those who come here spoiling for a fight does not mean I do the same with my kids. Sometimes the only way to make a point with certain adults – especially on the internet – is to hit points hard. If that offended you, you probably shouldn’t read my posts on widowhood and dating anymore.

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  25. “Playing the widow card in the relationship arena is a no-no. It’s manipulative and unfair, and frankly, widowed who do this are the worst kinds of assholes.” Never a truer word was spoken. I have just had my heart broken by someone who had started having sex with their next door neighbour THREE DAYS after her husband died and who was in that relationship when we met. All unbeknown to me of course, and hidden by the “friends who set us up” until after we broke up when the truth comes out.

    From someone who considers themselves a kind, considerate person I would offer the following advice to widows thinking of dating again.

    (1) Get your house in order (literally) – If your house is still a shrine to your late husband with holiday, wedding and family photos everywhere that is not fair. Have a few special photos (after all, he’s not a secret and a decdent man will respect your previous love) but leave the rest for a memory box.

    (2) Address your late husband and your relationship but leave the reminiscing to with your friends. The new person in your life wants to be your future not be trapped in your past. Try and not talk about him too often.

    (3) Be honest about your past relationship. Acknowledge his flaws as well as good points – noone can compete with a saint. A good line is “You and XXXX are different people. I loved him and of course I miss him from time to time but I your are my future and I love you and you have your own unique qualities that XXXX didn’t have”

    (4) Get your house in order emotionally. If you don’t have a plan for your life and are waiting for a guy to make you happy you are not ready

    (5) If you have children, DEMAND (away from you) that you are shown respect. You are not a guest in their life. Defend your new partner against rude behaviour or even worse a child that simply refuses to acknowledge you in any meaningful way. Defend your new partner in front of your child in such instances and talk it over later. Allow your new partner to have a say in house rules – do not say “XXXX and I decided that this was how we would approach this” Discuss issues and alllow your new partner rights – he should not be a spectator in his own life.

    (6) Finally, and most importantly, if you realise you are not ready and cannot cope with the new relationship, BE HONEST and tell your new partner, don’t make keep him there for comfort whilst playing emotional cat and mosue. Don’t play the Widow Card – be an adult and explain gently and kindly that you think the world of that person but you are simply not ready.

    Hope the above does not sound bitter….

    • No, not bitter, and you are entitled to feel however you feel in the aftermath of a break-up.

      I read widow blogs here and there, and run across widowed who are dating but still living, and wanting to be treated, as widows. You really have to resolve to be just a man or woman when you decide to date again. You’ll always be someone who was widowed once” but you have to leave the active state of it behind and allow the title to be just one of many on your life’s resume.

      My advice to those dating widowed is don’t play counselor and don’t let your new bf or gf’s tragedy colour the way you react to things. If you wouldn’t tolerate it from someone else, don’t tolerate it from them. People make the mistake of thinking that if they put their feelings second that somehow they will end up first in the widowed partner’s eyes and affection. It should never be a competition.

      I’m sorry you had a bad experience. Thanks for commenting.

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  30. Great advice, as usual. It seems that widowers (don’t know about widows) usually get involved in comitted relationsihps long before they’re ready to emotionally commit to someone. That’s why it’s important to know how they’re feeling inside when they start dating again. Nothing wrong with just spending time with someone so long as you set expectations.

    • Exactly. Though, given what I know about men, I think that most do realize that they are playing a bit of a disingenuous game. They know that there are women who won’t involved themselves seriously or even sexually unless there is a commitment, so they play along with it to get the companionship (and by companionship, I mean sex) that they want without pondering the consequences too deeply (or at all).

      And widows do this too. I can’t even count the number of posts I read on Ye Olde Widow Board where women were dating but not really “feeling it” and were told by other widows that it was perfectly okay to do this AND to expect the new SO to be okay with the arrangement (and the commitment to grief over moving on).

      Trouble is, in my experience, that grief is treated either as life-long illness or it’s seen as something that can be worked through to the point of it vanishing. Neither is true. This leaves widowed folk struggling in new relationships and their new partners stuffing their needs and feelings. Not a recipe for success. That’s why, I think, it’s important to open your mouth and state your needs for both parties. It heads off misunderstanding which leads to hurt feelings or worse.

  31. Observing other people’s attitudes and assumptions about this issue has been really fascinating for me in a sort of anthropological way. Generally, it seemed that around a year was when people started watching me for signs of dating–not in a negative or judgmental sense, but with leading questions and knowing little smiles. Between two and four years they started asking “don’t you want to find someone?” or flat out telling me that I needed to (or in a couple of memorable cases, passing that message on from their mother/auntie/grandma/whoever), and between four and five years they sort of seemed to give up on me as a lost cause. Pretty much, I think it’s safe to say that no matter how soon or late you date, someone is going to have an opinion about it, so you might as well do what you want. :-)

    • Exactly. I got dating questions even before my LH died b/c he was vegetative and I’d been alone really for over two years when he did die. It’s natural for people to wonder and worry or just be noisy where they don’t belong.

      I always knew I would date and probably remarry if the right person came along. I’d been single long enough before my first marriage that I knew I could take care of myself and that single was not some feminist manifesto that I needed to revisit in order to “know myself”. Not that some women don’t have that as an issue, I just think that anymore young widows grew up in an age where independence and career and stuff was a given. It’s just not the same as what older women who didn’t grow up in the shadow of the Women’s Movement have to face.

      Society though has such a straight-jacket set of notions about grieving and widow behavior that seems very Victorian on one hand and steeped in 12 step culture on the other. You aren’t going to win, so you might as well forge your own path and not worry about it.

  32. I love this. I appreciate your honest and straight forward discussion about dating. I did a brief stint at dating, then decided to take a break. I’m still open to it, but realized that until someone special comes around I was not interested in putting too much energy into it. Now I am feeling ready to get back out there, but more for fun and the occasional romp.

    • Knowing yourself and what you want/need is so important. I think in the widow culture we are encouraged to pay more attention to the sadness than to our real, normal need to seek out ppl and activities that make us happy.

  33. my father in law died in March, and my mother in law was involved with (I use that term loosely, as no one knows who it was but she confided that there “was someone”) a man since his death. And I don’t know why she didn’t find someone sooner. Like 15 years ago. Kidding, kidding. Sort of. They were married 35 years. He wasn’t a bad guy, but I would have never been his wife. Or even his friend.

    I’d love to say I miss him, but I don’t. I miss his presence in my child’s life, but that’s about it. He was sort of a pain in the ass.

    Wow. That feels good to get out.

    You’re right, everyone is on their own timetable about the dating thing. When it’s right it’s right. And not a minute sooner

    • Exactly. Whatever works. Trouble is that ppl feel pressured one way or the other.

      Hard to cop to not missing someone -especially when they are dead. Being dead elevates even the worst person to vaguely untouchable heights.

      • I have been a girlfriend of a widower almost since her sudden death. My fiance wanted to keep it a secret and I agreed but for a limited amount of time. After passing a year I demanded introducing me to all the acquaintances of his, family of his etc. It’s been a year and a half but he still keeps me in a secret from his wife family. We have just moved into a new place which I found. I arranged his former flat to be rent and organized our moving. When I am listening to him telling his mother-in-law on the phone conversation that he has moved as is now living himself in a new place I feel angry and sort of humilitated. Also, when I am calling him at the time when he is at in-laws’ he never picks up the phone. Recently, we had a row about that. He said that has no obligation to tel the stories of his private life. I called him a candy-ass who tries to make an impression of forever grieving loving husband who enjoys all the privileges of having a mistress, a housekeper etc.
        I still love him and realize that a man in love does not seek for excuses. It really hurts me, or rather my proud. The more important issue is that we used to be more open to discussion and negotiation on these topics.

        • Just to be sure I understand. Your boyfriend has told his friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers about you. And they accepted you? However, he has not told his in-laws? But he has an on-going relationship with them?

          My husband had to push me to tell my late husband’s family that we’d married and I had moved out of the country. I’d really ended any relationship I had with them and honestly didn’t want them to be a part of my (our) life. But he liked his late wife’s family and had a continuing relationship with them and thought it odd that I didn’t at least tell my in-laws (which I did and regret – but that’s another blog post). So, it’s not unusual for widowed to not inform in-laws of the circumstances of their new lives, or to not share much, especially if they are hard feelings or was never much closeness anyway.

          It is odd, however, for widowed who have close and on-going relationships with in-laws to hide new partners. It usually means that something is up. Perhaps the widowed fears the in-laws reaction or is under the impression that the in-laws are too fragile to handle his/her moving on. Sometimes it is fear of change – the in-laws might become less a part of his/her new life.

          Whatever the reason, it’s not fair.

          Maybe your guy does like the dual aspect of his life. Widower points from the in-laws and moving on points from everyone else. Some widowed really like the “perks” of their new status (as odd as that may sound). Or maybe he is using the in-laws ignorance of you to control the pace of your relationship.

          But it isn’t about you, so don’t take it as a reflection of anything you’ve done or not. Guys who behave less than well in their relationships are motivated by factors that seldom have anything to do with the awesomeness level of their partners. He has his own agenda, so don’t be hard on yourself.

          You are right to expect to be a known quantity to everyone in his life and that includes the in-laws. You live together. This is not play. It is your real life and deserves to be respected. It is absolutely disrespectful at this point for him to keep you hidden from anyone who is a regular and important part of his life.

          You can’t make him tell them, but if you stick with this relationship, you don’t have to enable him to avoid it either. Further, it would be a good idea to – in a matter of fact, non-argumentative way – let him know what you expect in terms of openness, discussion and negotiation and then stand your ground.

        • Being someone’s “dirty secret” us the ultimate insult and I suggest you put your foot down. Unless their relationship with their late wife’s family is estranged then out of rapect to you then he simply should acknowledge your existence. Sure it’s a difficult conversation but if he’s not prepared to have it then I’d wipe him. My personal experience with my ex was that even though I was meant to be her future I could never answer the phone just in case it was the MIL calling. Pretty sure the preservation of money benefits was also a factor. To be someone’s dirty little secret is the most humiliating experience in the world and NO-ONE should have to put up with that behavior.

        • I agree. But, you are a guy, and in my experience it is not typical of the male gender to make excuses for and/or hang on to a crappy relationship deal in the hope that other person “sees the light”. Men don’t (generally) play those types of games. Women, however, routinely do. It’s got a lot to do with the idiotic way we are socialized as pre/teens. We get “good girl” points for hanging in there in cases where we are clearly being treated poorly.

          So, I seldom come right out and say “dump him”. I know that a woman in love is going to hang on until she has no choice but to let go and maybe even a while longer.

          Widowed are not special in any way. The experience doesn’t really change their core personalities. Someone who is treating you like a dirty secret more likely treated their late spouse with some equal manner of contempt. I never believe anyone who claims to have had a perfect marriage or late spouse, and I always consider the way they treat their new partners as being a good way to judge how they treated their late spouse (who sadly isn’t able to warn anyone away).

          My own in-laws ranged from people I barely knew to those who hated me and tried to interfere with the relationship/marriage that my late husband and I had pretty much from the word “go”. So I never felt bad about cutting ties or not sharing my life with them as I moved on. But, if my husband had kept me a secret from his in-laws – I would have known that all was not well because he sincerely liked them and had a good relationship with them. My being a “dirty secret” would have screamed volumes.

          Being a secret is almost always a sign that you are not the one. A man (or woman) who loves you, and is sure that there is a future, wants to share it with pretty much everyone they know.

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