We get a fair number of questions from women who are widows – that is, women whose girlfriend, partner or wife has died. If you’re in that situation, you may be facing some challenges. (And even if you haven’t lost a partner to death, you may still find parts of this email relevant to you.)
Of course, women who have been widowed face the same kinds of issues as women who are single for any other reason. You still need to be ready for new love before you start dating – and you still need to have a clear dating and relationship vision. You still need to know about red flags, have healthy communication and listening skills, know how to work with your triggers, and know how to be – and look for – a CATCH.* (In case you’re not familiar with our work, we’ll define what we mean by a “catch” at the bottom of this email.)
But, there are also some things that are different. Here is a list of some differences we’ve noticed (and we would love to hear from you about other differences or issues you might be aware of!)
Dating While Widowed: Common Issues
1) When you’ve lost a partner to death, there might be more tendency to romanticize her or the relationship. This can make it harder to grieve the relationship in a realistic way, and therefore can also make it harder to truly be ready to date again. (Of course, women whose relationships ended in breakup sometimes tend to romanticize those relationships, too.)
2. It can feel harder to feel completely resolved about whatever challenges you and your partner faced, now that you know you can never speak to her again in physical form. You might find yourself feeling guilty, for instance, or mourning the fact that you never had a particular conversation. (But in many cases, even when someone is still living, there are certain conversations you’ll never be able to have with her – so we believe that ultimately, making peace with the past is an inside job.)
3. You might feel unsure of how and when in the dating process to disclose the fact that you lost a partner to death. You might feel afraid that it’ll bring down the mood of the date, or that whoever you’re dating won’t know what to say and might even withdraw from you. These are realistic fears, but we’ve got some suggestions on how to handle this conversation below.
4. You might start missing your partner as you begin getting to know new women. (Again, this can happen to women who’ve lost their partners due to breakup too – and it’s perfectly normal. However, if you find yourself negatively comparing every new woman you meet to your former partner, that suggests you do still have some grieving to move through, before you’re ready to open up to someone new.)
5. You might feel hesitant to love again, afraid of the possibility that your new partner could die, too. (Of course, women who’ve gone through breakups may also fear loving again and breaking up again…)
6. If you nursed your partner through a challenging illness, you might have pent-up needs for fun, lightness and sex. You might also feel wary of getting involved with anyone who has chronic health issues or risk factors. (Of course, some women who are not widowed may also have been caretakers during their partners’ physical or mental illnesses or after accidents – and plenty of women emerge from relationships with pent-up needs. And single women often have pent-up needs, too!)
7. If your partner died suddenly, you might be left with a general sense of fear about the fragility of life. This is definitely an experience that takes time to integrate and heal. We all know that death is inevitable, but few of us really know it in our bones – until the death of someone very close. Having this knowledge can make you feel gun-shy, and also make you feel different from other women.
You might also feel angry that she died. If your partner’s death was due to suicide, this is even more likely. You might also feel guilty and ashamed.
If you and your partner were not out of the closet, you may have had to grieve your loss in private, rather than getting the support you would have gotten if your relationship had been public. This may give you an even bigger load of grief,and anger to work through.
8. If you were with your partner for a long time, and/or are older, it may feel challenging to think of getting used to – and developing intimacy with – a new person. (Of course, many non-widows have also emerged from long relationships, and/or are older. And in truth, that “set in my ways” feeling can happen when we’re younger, too!)
9. You may feel an urge to talk a lot about your former partner with anyone whom you’re dating, yet fear that this will turn her off. (This can be a difficult balance for non-widows, too, but may be more intense for widows, especially if your relationship with your former partner was strong.)
10. You may find yourself feeling disloyal to your former partner when you date, or even find yourself wanting to date, someone new. This feeling can come up even if you rationally know that she wanted you to love again.
Now, here are the tips we promised.
Tips for Dating As A Widow
The biggest question that comes up is, “How do I tell a a date that I’m a widow, without being a downer or scaring her off?” And it’s true that many women do get awkward when death is mentioned. A woman might feel intimidated by the mention of your partner who died, or fear she could “never match up.” But the more ease you have in talking about it, the more at ease your dates will likely feel.
So, how do you bring it up? Well, often on a first or second date, the conversation turns to topics like “So, how long have you been single?” and “What happened in your last relationship?” You can take the lead by asking this question, and then answering it yourself once your date has answered.
You might say something like “Actually, my last partner died ___ months/years ago.” When you say this, your date may look shocked and confused, and will probably say “I’m sorry, I had no idea.” This is your chance to set her at ease by saying something like “Of course you didn’t know. It was a hard loss, but I’ve done a lot of healing since then, and feel ready to date again.” Then you can steer the conversation toward talking about things you learned from the relationship, and ask your date about what she learned from her last relationship.
If you do find yourself missing your former partner while dating, talking about her in a way you fear is too much, or feeling disloyal to her memory by dating, be gentle with yourself. Befriend your feelings (we teach lots of ways to do this in the Roadmap class), and breathe in some self-compassion. It’s a huge process to heal from someone’s death. It comes in waves, it takes time, and it takes all different forms.
But the disloyalty “feeling” isn’t actually a feeling; rather, it’s a story. The feeling itself may be sadness, fear, anger, or a combination of those emotions. The idea that you’re being disloyal is just that: an idea, a thought, not an emotion. So, let yourself feel the feelings underneath that thought, without believing the thought itself.
Some women whom you date might feel afraid they can never measure up to your dead partner, especially if you were together for a long time. The more realistic you can be about the fact that your relationship wasn’t perfect, the easier it will be to set her at ease.
Of course, if the woman you’re dating is a CATCH – which we hope she will be! – she’ll be able to take responsibility for any feelings of insecurity that come up in her, without projecting them onto you.
In short, it is definitely possible to date happily and healthily after losing a partner to death. If you’re facing challenges in this arena, we’d love to hear from you, and we’ll support you in any way we can. .