dating a widower


Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Prudence over at The Slate received an email from a widower recently asking for insight into an issue he has with this girlfriend. Seems the girlfriend, in the opinion of the widower, is “touchy” about anything to do with his late wife and the fact that he is close to his in-laws.

Nothing surprising about that. If you haven’t been widowed yourself, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that widowed folk really don’t go through the same separation process that one does when a relationship ends in a mutual or acrimonious break-up or when a marriage ends in divorce. Different end games result in different emotional processes.

Prudence aka Emily Yoffe is the second wife of a man who was widowed young. She’s written a rather touching essay on the subject and occasionally outs herself and him in her advice giving. That said, her experience hasn’t made her particularly sensitive to the plight of the widowed. You can’t really be a vicarious widowed person even if your contact with a widowed is rather intimate, so her advice veers off into the cliché, the assumption and the insensitive more often than not when anything widowed comes up.

A person could get speculative here. Perhaps her marriage has experienced more than a few unsettling moments due to her husband’s widowhood and advice seekers on the topic get to bear the brunt that her husband doesn’t. But assuming gets a person into trouble as does reading between lines. Let’s not go there.

Instead, the focus should be on the term “insecure”. Prudie/Emily replied that she felt the girlfriend in this widower dating scenario was simply being insecure and that he need only reassure her before laying down the facts that 1) he had a past and that past includes a deceased wife for whom he will always have feelings though these feelings didn’t preclude him from loving her just as much and 2) his in-laws were his family – get over it.

The insecure wife/girlfriend trope is not exclusive to widowed dating scenarios. It’s a rather effective way to disarm women who have issues within a relationship that their partners simply don’t want to admit are issues that need to be discussed and dealt with in a mutually agreeable manner.

Labeling a woman “insecure” is the first step in making her feelings irrelevant by labeling them irrational. It’s a great way to win any disagreement provided you are totally okay with stomping your opponent into the mud by using such a disingenuous douchebag method.

So why am I talking about advice giving?

It’s easy to give advice. Advice is like opinions, which as we all know everyone has – just like they have assholes.

And it’s also quite easy to fall into the trap of believing that because you’ve experienced something, you are automatically an expert and therefore qualified.

I am not an expert. Nor do I play one on the Internet.

I’ve been widowed. I’ve dated in the aftermath. I’ve remarried.

If one were looking for a bit of wisdom on the topic of successful dating, relationships, remarriage and marriage to a widower, I would be a safer bet than someone who hasn’t managed any of those things or who isn’t married to a man who was widowed himself. However, I have only my individual experiences to draw from and I am not you. Therefore anything I might say needs to be weighed heavily against your own reality.

Prudie is my example of this. She’s married to a man who was widowed, and yet she mostly gives sketchy to bad advice on the subject of widowhood and relationships in the aftermath. Her experience hasn’t translated into much of anything worth seeking out or following.

Of late, I’ve had emails from widowed and comments from those dating and I have tried to reply as best I could. I really do reply to all emails and comments because I know what it is like to have questions and no one to ask. Or to ask and have no one reply or reply in less than helpful ways.

But I am firm believer in weighing everything. There are blogs, books, message boards, Facebook groups and even conventions. All well-meaning but of varying degrees of useful. Certainly there are no experts. Just people with experiences to share and who are no more qualified than you are to solve the issues in your life.

I have written quite a bit on dating, grief and moving on. All based on my experience. Just the opinions of one “asshole”. If there is something that you can take from these writings and put to good use, wonderful. I am glad to have helped.

But there is no one size fits all.

When I was teaching middle school, I would run across this or that student who really didn’t mesh with my teaching style. The best solution was always to find a teacher who did. My seventh grade English teaching partner and I probably traded two or three kids a school year based on our philosophy that for every student there is a teacher – somewhere.

It’s good to shop around. I am flattered and humbled by the blog traffic I generate on widow dating. My husband thinks I should write a book – or at least blog more often -, but I am not a fan of the self-help genre, and I don’t write it for the same reason I don’t write about my first husband’s illness and death. It feels wrong to make money off it. That’s a personal thing rather than a judgement. I admire people who can write and do real good rather than simply exploit an issue for personal gain or fame. Those people do exist. I just question the idea of being one of them myself. It’s too easy to get full of yourself and I am as human as anyone.

So when surfing about, shopping at Amazon or joining this or that group, be careful. Be a critical thinker. And remember that you really do know yourself best. Take and apply only that which fits you and your situation.

I don’t know what ultimately happened to the man who wrote Prudie. Hopefully he did not approach his girlfriend from the stance of “I know you are insecure, dearest, but here is why you are wrong …”.  Don’t be that guy. And don’t worry so much. Whatever issues has brought you here in search of answers are likely as not fixable with a little bit of thought, open honest discussion and taking a few good deep breaths. The yoga teacher in me feels we should just all breathe more because all things pass. You are going to be okay.


From a certain point of view, I haven’t much actual marriage experience. In fact, I am still years away from having spent more of my adult life paired than single. So in some ways, my basis for comparison and analysis is short on actual “seat time” and what I know as “normal” can’t necessarily be taken as gospel. There are those who have spent more time in the so-called trenches than I have, but I have to say, I have yet to find marriage trench-like.

Is it typical to still lust after your husband five years on? I found myself wondering that for the umpteenth time the other evening.

“There is an awful lot of gropage that goes on around this house,” Rob remarked as we exchanged send-off affections at the back door this morning.

Rarely to if ever do we arrive or depart solo without excessive lip servicing and declarations of love and perhaps this is normal for the time frame. Having never made it past a sixth anniversary, I wouldn’t know personally. But I don’t see this in other couples and wonder if perhaps it is just me. Or just our circumstances? Or maybe evidence that too many people in the world take far too much for granted and no wonder there are as many failed marriages as there are successes.

Five years ago, Rob and I stood on the banks of the Athabasca River and exchanged vows, rings and kisses. Papers were signed. Pictures were taken. Food and drink was consumed. It seems like yesterday and history at the same time.

The card I left next to his steaming tea-cup this morning broke cardinal rules of relationship comparison and favoritism, but it brought a smile to his face and kisses and hugs to me, so who cares? Now is what counts because it’s the basis for tomorrow.

We will celebrate with lunch at the elementary school because it’s the last week of school and they always hold a family picnic, and then follow-up this evening with attendance at the last game of the outdoor soccer season. With our latest babysitter having outgrown the job, we couldn’t have scheduled a date even if the schedule was cleared anyway.

Rob bought me a new watch, a stylish but comfy pair of leather sandals and a couple of summer outfits I found at MEC this last weekend. I gave him a kick-ass miter saw. I am pretty sure that year five is marked with accessories and tools.

The search terms here have been lit up again with sad queries concerning widowed love or the lack of it. Despite my limited experience, the advice I have remains the same: disregard the dead spouse thing. It’s not central to the issue. Someone loves you and is interested in building a life with you or they simply aren’t. Why is beside the main point. If you don’t feel loved, do yourself the giant favor of taking steps to make yourself available for someone who is ready, willing and able to love.

Yesterday as I drove back to The Fort from yoga class, I noted that the fields are yellowing. Solstice has passed. Canada Day looms. The bonus months between school ending and starting up again, which as a former teacher is really the only way I know of marking time, awaits.

And it’s our anniversary. Not officially a stat day, but nearly enough.


Drawing of Christine of France as the widowed ...

Drawing of Christine of France as the widowed Duchess of Savoy by (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More than occasionally in my search terms the question of “dating widow/er who needs more time” comes up, and I cringe a little bit when it does. Because I know, more or less, why someone is trolling the Internet in a desperate quest for the definitive answer to this question.

Can a widowed person, who is still actively grieving, date? And fall in love again? And most important of all, move on?

And the answer is yes. Widowed people date all the time. An unsurprising number of them begin to date in the first year of widowhood even. They meet people. Feelings arise. Are acted upon.

It is very possible to date and be in love again while still mourning a dead spouse.

Here’s the caveat though – it’s not a good idea to use the “still grieving thing” to control the pace of a relationship. Getting into a relationship should be something one does when one is ready to go with the flow of it. Asking someone for “more time” is a quasi-controlling thing and it’s not emotionally fair.

I have said before and am saying again, dating is about two people’s needs and feelings. A widowed person is just one of the people in a new relationship and his/her – albeit quite sad and tragic state – doesn’t give him/her a leg up on the non-widowed person in terms of the pace or direction of the budding union. This has to be a united effort with all viewpoints and needs taken into consideration.*

So, if you are a widowed person who is dating and feel as if more time to emotionally ready yourself is in order – take it – but don’t ask someone to wait for you while you navel gaze. Even if you are fairly certain that the object of your maybe/maybe not affection will hang around, help with the lawn or child care and occasionally roll in the proverbial hay with you while you decide whether or not your heart is in it. Be a better person than that. Let him or her go. Your clinging could keep him/her  from finding the unconditional love waiting for your selfishness to step out-of-the-way.

And if you are dating someone who asks for more time? My advice is the same. Let that widow go. You won’t, of course. You are too invested in the idea that a widowed person (and I am really talking to women dating widowers here) just needs patience, understanding and someone to love the grief away to listen to me tell you the truth that your Google search thinks you want, but anyone who is truly in love (whether or not they are still grieving a loss) will not let love lost stand in the way of a second chance.

Some people need a lot of time to recover from the death of a spouse. Some people decide to wait until their children are grown and gone before dating or remarrying again. Some are not looking for relationships but companionship with or without sex. Finally, there are those who only want the sex and a bit of companionship on the side. Regardless, anyone who asks you to “give me more time” is really saying “I am not sure”, and those four words coupled with conflicting actions or what appears to be deliberate drama – are more likely than not to cause more heartache than happiness.

There is that old chestnut “if you love someone, let them go. if they come back then they are yours and if they don’t, they never were”. As clichés go, it ranks right up there, but in all cliché there is a tiny bit of truth. And there is nothing awful about stepping back and thinking things through without the burden of someone else’s expectations.

You can date. love and remarry again while still grieving. Grief is something you do on your own. It’s not a couple thing and a new partner is not your therapist. If you can’t separate things, it’s best to not go there for all parties.

You can date, love and marry someone who is grieving a lost love, but it’s not your job to fix anything or to be understanding or even to make allowances for it. You can. You probably will, but I wouldn’t make it a habit because it’s more than likely to take the focus off building the new relationship.

In the end, most people follow their hormone-driven hearts rather than heeding advice. Sometimes that works too. But own it. Not being realistic or cognizant of how you colour your perceptions of a situation to suit your fantasies rather than your realities has broken more than one person’s heart. So remember, people who are ready to date again after being widowed are those who put actions behind their pretty words. And the words, “I need more time” should be followed by the action of taking it.

*Viewpoints and needs of the couple. I am not a fan of allowing children (of any age), friends, extended family or in-laws having a vote or even a voice. Coupledoms are a convention of two and any more is going to be a crowded mess.