Dating While Widowed: Staying Present in a New Relationship

Marriage Day

Marriage Day (Photo credit: Fikra)

I read a lot about widowed in new relationships and the push/pull that goes on between the new love and the dead love. That might sound a little odd. Dead people really haven’t anything to say about the moving on business of their still live spouses.
Which is as it should be, really. But a surprising number of widowed who are just dating or newly involved in relationships of a serious nature seem to feel that they owe some sort of respect and continuing vigilance to their departed love.

I won’t say that when embarking on new relationships isn’t a trigger for occasional tugs backward on the heart-strings. It is a decidedly odd feeling to date again when you never really had an inkling that you would ever need to step back into that arena again in your lifetime.

Divorced and long time singles tend to scoff but most widowed folk I know really never contemplated a life without their deceased partner. When you are settled in a relationship, for the most part, you don’t dream of wandering among the single again in a predatory fashion. Most widowed were – faults and all – fairly content to stay with and work on their marriages, so it is a shock to their systems to be thrust back into the dating world. There is push/pull between resenting it and allowing oneself to be caught up in the excitement and pursuit of new love and new future.

Some work through this rather quickly. It helps if they don’t have extended family or friends or recalcitrant children haranguing them, but even those who do eventually find their inner back bone and assert their right to live their lives as suits them best.

However, there are some people who go back and forth and the reasons for this are as individual as the widowed themselves, but some of the bigger ones are as follows:

1) Guilt – Widowed feel guilty moving on and being happy with someone else. They just don’t see how this can be and it torments them and consequently their new partners. It’s partly a survivor thing. Why me? Why her/him? Why us? How unfair! Blah. Blah.

It’s also likely a personality thing. Some of us are just very dramatic. if late spouses could come back and chat, they’d likely have more than a few words to impart to new partners about the award-winning drama tendencies of their spouses, so my opinion is that if a widowed is someone who can’t seem to not get caught up in the melodrama of anniversaries and looking for sympathy on Facebook, it’s probably something that won’t change. It’s just who they are. They’ve bought into the idea of the ghostly threesome, aided and abetted by like-minded friends and relatives, and the new love can learn to put up with this or move on him/herself.

2) Benefits – Some widowed discover that there are benefits to the widow status that they simply don’t want to give up. If they are “fortunate”, they might have had a support network that encourages them to stay in the comfy cocoon of widowdom. Widows make new friends among their widowed peers, join groups, – real and virtual, blog, start foundations, write books (that sometimes sell, make them quasi-famous and become movies) or simply discover a new life’s calling. These are all hard, even incredibly difficult – to walk away from, even if the reward is a new relationship. And again, a new partner might have to make a choice between finding a way to live with someone who loves widowhood as much as he/she loves the new love, or walking away.

3) ambivalence – Despite the emphasis our culture (and I am talking first world here) places on the individual and the awesomeness of being independent and on our own, the truth is that we still hold coupledom as the holy grail or existence. Some widowed discover that being single is not hell on earth. They enjoy relationships and even love again, but they are not interested in co-mingling on a marriage minded level again. Signals are mixed. Feelings are hurt. Mostly because the widowed person can’t/won’t be clear about what they really want. Love and companionship but not marriage. In this case, it is important for all parties to be honest, recognize that everyone’s needs are valid but that time/patience isn’t going to change anything and that it is sometimes better for the commitment minded to move on.

So what’s with the title “staying present”?

If you are in a relationship, whether you are marriage minded or not, it’s imperative to be with your new love when you are with your new love. Not mixing sadness, backward glancing and any other griefy- ness with the rather serious business of showing your new love that they are front and center. And if they aren’t always front and center, you should be honest about it so this person can move on to someone who will value them more than you do.

But I do value and love my new boy/girlfriend, you say. Indignantly.

Not if, in my opinion, you are expecting them to be okay while you moan, groan and weep over your late spouse, or if you are constantly praising and glorifying said dead spouse right in the face of new love.

If you had to listen to your mate sing arias to their last partner, how would it make you feel? Especially if this was the norm rather than the rare, rare exception.

But I only blog, you say. Or I only volunteer for hospice, on messages boards or dead spouse only comes up when I promote the book or foundation I started in his/her name.

Think about. How would you feel if you were the one in your new love’s place. Probably not someone who’s been widowed (although even fellow widowed can lose patience with this) and who really takes to heart all the effusive praise heaped on the dead one and the previous relationship? Even the most self-actualized person is – over time – going to start to feel like warmed over shit on burnt toast. It’s human nature to want to be the most important person to the person you love. You want that yourself, right? So why aren’t you giving this to someone you say you care about and love – maybe even want (or have) a future with?

Looking back, should be, something that becomes occasional and private. If it is in the face of your new love/spouse, you need to be pretty damned sure that he/she is 100% okay with this and not merely tolerating it and seething silently. Silent sucking up always erupts at some point and the fissures never really heal over.

Despite the fact that we are living through an era in which widowhood is again romantic, glamorous and glorified, don’t buy in to the point where you are cutting off  – one by one – the facial appendages of your new relationships. If you must “widow”, don’t expect your husband/wife/boy or girlfriend to stoically support you. Widowhood and it’s side hobbies are not couple activities. Know that you are being unreasonable and even an asshole to ask that much from your new partner and relationship. Don’t make a widowhood widow out of them.

17 thoughts on “Dating While Widowed: Staying Present in a New Relationship

  1. I left a comment on this blog page about a week ago. It was respectful and true to my situation. Hope it wasn’t removed on purpose.

  2. Are you a widow ? I suspect you are not, you wrote “I read a lot about widowed in new relationships”. You read a lot, you have not experienced it yourself, big difference, Yet you give expert advice. I thought like you before my wife died, when I imagined what being a widow was like, I was so wrong. Now I have a very different opinion and it does not match your theory based on “I read a lot about widowed in new relationships”, Years ago I gave what I thought was great advice to a widow telling her to go on a cruise and she may meet someone nice, the lady who did not normally swear replied “I am not f****** interested”, I thought she was being unreasonable, now I understand how she felt. I had absolutely no idea it would be this difficult. I cannot describe it clearly enough for others to appreciate, I believe only another widow can understand what this feels like, I had a very good marriage which lasted 23 years until my wife died of lung cancer 29 days after the diagnosis. I suspect the better the marriage the stronger the pain of losing ones soulmate. I am certain you are so wrong and would be curious what YOU think about your article should you ever be unfortunate enough to be widowed from a near perfect loving marriage of 20 years or more.

    1. I was only married seven years when my first husband died, but I thought it was pretty perfect and loving. My current husband was married 25 years. He felt the same about his.

      When I say “I have read”, it’s because I have read the books, blogs, and message boards of other widowed people. Some of them became good friends because we had quite the widowed blogging community at one point. And I have friends who have married widowers though they themselves have not been widowed. I feel fairly grounded in my experience and knowledge.

      I am sorry for your loss. Dating in the first years of widowhood is not for everyone and can be difficult even when you want another relationship.

      1. Great blog. Thank you for saying it like it is. I have been widowed two years. You have voiced my feelings like nobody else has.

  3. I am struggling to understand my widowed boyfriend’s perspective. I am a widow and had many years of illness to work through my feelings and thoughts, therefore I feel in a much better place than he seems to be. His spouse died suddenly, however the more I hear of their relationship the worse it seems to be. He is a very sweet fellow and went along with whatever his wife wanted, I am beginning to think that she just wanted a marriage of convenience. He was quite honestly treated very badly and seems to be blissfully unaware of it. I am not sure if it is just because he is struggling with the idealization of his late spouse vs. the reality of their relationship but it really concerns me. Has anyone else had this experience? I should mention that I have known this man for 3 decades, dated when we were younger and he has always been a very amenable guy.

    1. Is this impacting your relationship? Because unless it is, this something you really can’t help him with other than to listen and be supportive. People sometimes struggle with truths versus idealization after the death of a loved one. Often the only remedy is time/distance and having supportive people around.

  4. I think you forgot an important aspect: whether or not the widow(er) was happily married or not. Many years ago I read that if a marriage was happy, the surviving spouse was statistically quicker to find a new relationship. It was a side point in a story about 9/11 and victims surviving relatives. When I read that, it made no sense to me. I thought it should be the other way around. However, my own marriage deteriorated to the point that I seriously considered leaving, and if he didn’t die, I would not bet that we would still be married. And now, when I think about that story, I understand that it’s the only way that makes sense. If someone was in a difficult marriage like I was, and suddenly it is over, why would that person even want a relationship.

    1. I didn’t forget. I just have never been a fan of this idea because in my experience, it’s usually not true.

      Whether people go on to have new relationships, and be happy or not, is probably related more to their personalities and the circumstances than anything else.

      But people like this particular myth because it’s easy – to believe – and to apply to a variety of people.

      I don’t like it because it’s a stereotype that could stop people from getting involved in relationships that might really be wonderful or convince them to go ahead with relationships that are already littered with red flags.

  5. i especially like your statement “Despite the fact that we are living through an era in which widowhood is again romantic, glamorous and glorified, don’t buy in to the point where you are cutting off – one by one – the facial appendages of your new relationships. If you must “widow”, don’t expect your husband/wife/boy or girlfriend to stoically support you. Widowhood and it’s side hobbies are not couple activities. Know that you are being unreasonable and even an asshole to ask that much from your new partner and relationship. Don’t make a widowhood widow out of them.” ..absolutely true! great blog 🙂

  6. Love this…you don’t pull any punches and likely to be very unpopular in the “widowed” community. Breath of fresh air and funny too. It’s considered almost sacreligious to do other than let widowed wallow in their grief. I was one of GFs who simply got tired of the bs and moved on. You are right grieving and widowing is NOT a couples activity and so I left him to it.

    1. My unpopularity is something I’ve learned to live with and I am glad you didn’t allow yourself to be seduced by the popular idea that men can be “patienced” into anything. They can’t. I hope you are finding the happiness you deserve.

      1. Yes, I am finding the happiness. I am several months into a VERY happy relationship with someone who is very much living in the present tense and future-minded. We have discussed our pasts but within the normal confines of getting to know you – as it should be. I feel the absolute center of his life and of great importance to him. Which is really what people are seeking in a committed relationship, not to feel second best on any level. Very reciprocal, not fraught with drama, memorializations or long lost loves. Wonderful

        1. Glad to hear it and glad you came back to tell it. I think one thing that keeps, women primarily, in one-sided relationships is the fear that they might not find another one.

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