Mourning


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.