Are you a young widow who’s thinking about dating and want to be sure you’re ready? Read on to discover 4 key steps to feeling confident about dating after Loss
The first critical step towards feeling confident about dating after loss is to understand WHY you want to date. In other words to get clear about your motivation and your values. This is important because it helps you to know what is driving you, what you need, and what is good for you at this particular point in your grief journey and life in general. It’s a good idea to start with sorting out your Motivation.
Step 1: Ask Yourself Why You Want to Date
Your Motivation: Do you want to get comfortable socializing with men again, have some fun, find companionship, have sex, or pursue an intimate relationship? On a gut level, which of these possibilities feels best for you? If you have been spending a lot of time alone, try and figure out what you truly need. Are you still grieving and require more time to process your loss, or do you need to challenge yourself to connect with others to help you overcome isolation. You may need to take some time to experience friendships first, before embarking on dating. Many young widows derive a lot of comfort from connecting with other widows in a support group, either online or in person. If you feel you are really stuck in the pain of loss, you may benefit from counseling.
Your Values: Once you have figured out ‘Why’ you want to date, it’s helpful to get clear about your beliefs about dating, especially as a young widow. Decide what social, cultural or spiritual values are important to you? Are your values similar to or different from prevailing attitudes in your family or peer group? For example, do you believe that it’s OK to fall in love and possibly enter a committed relationship again? Don’t let others pressure you into remaining a widow or dating before you are ready. The bottom line is that it’s important to date because you want to, and it fits with your values and beliefs. Determine what you want and need right now, and trust yourself. Do you need to focus on working through your grief more? Do you need to strengthen a sense of independence and relying on yourself? Or do you need to develop new relationships?
Write It Down: Before you make a decision about dating spend some time writing down:
a/ What’s motivating me to date or not to date? Is this good for me? Why?
b/ What personal beliefs do I have about dating, and how should I let this guide me?
c/ What strengths or vulnerabilities do I see in myself that tell me I am either ready to date, need more time to heal, or would benefit from building up my sense of independence before starting to date.
Step 2: Take Advantage of Your Allies – Your Emotions
One of the main purposes of your emotions is to understand how you feel and to use those feelings to guide you in making healthy choices for yourself. Understanding how you feel emotionally lets you know if you are doing well, are in trouble, or if a situation needs to change. Sort through what your difficult emotions are trying to tell you about what you need, right now. Some of the most common and most challenging emotions are:
Loneliness: Figure out what your loneliness is trying to tell you. Is loneliness part of the grieving process and the necessary working through of the loss of your husband? If that’s the case, you may need to be further along in your bereavement before dating. Or is loneliness a sign that you have grieved enough and need to get out and start re-engaging with men and experiencing intimacy again?
Guilt: Guilt sits at the intersection between beliefs and emotions. Understand why you feel guilty about the prospect of dating. Are you worried that you are ‘betraying’ your deceased spouse by dating? Is guilt coming from you or others? Ask yourself if your deceased partner would want you to find love and companionship again. Focus on your needs, not what others think is right or best for you.
Fear: If the prospect of dating fills you with fear ask yourself what the fear is trying to tell you. Are you still working through worries associated with living life without your partner? In other words, are you feeling anxious about being on your own and having to rely on yourself as you rebuild your life as a single person? Do you wonder how you will be able to support yourself and/or your children? Or are you wanting to meet someone but hold back out of fear of losing them? If the latter is the case, the best medicine can be to acknowledge the fear but date anyway, as the odds are in your favor that lightning will not strike twice. The experience of dating can help to diminish this understandable but irrational worry.
Numbness: Psychological Novocain is usually a sign that you are still dealing with the shock of your loss. It can be extremely beneficial to talk with a counselor if you feel stuck in numbness and several months or more have gone by.
Sadness & Worry vs. Depression & Chronic Anxiety: As you likely know, it’s normal to feel intensely sad – especially during the early days of bereavement. Worry, and even panic is also common in early grief, as feelings of security and predictability in life have been turned upside down. However, if you find yourself feeling increasingly hopeless, helpless or panic stricken, then you may be sliding into depression or chronic anxiety. This is particularly true if your loss happened more than a year ago, and you are feeling depressed and/or anxious most of the time. In that case you could likely benefit from counseling.
Write It Down: Write out what you are feeling and why? Ask yourself if your emotions are reasonable responses to loss? Grief tends to be intermittent – it comes and goes, like a wave. Depression and anxiety tend to be constant mood states. If you are struggling to deal with your emotions, then seek additional support.
Peace, Hope & Optimism: If any of these feelings are present in doses that are higher than troubling emotions, you are likely ready to date. Mixed feelings are common, but in this case probably more of an indicator of readiness to take that step. Often the simple act of standing up to negative feelings or fear will help you gain greater confidence and freedom to pursue your dreams of feeling optimistic about loving again.
Step 3: Act From A Place Of Strength
Your behavior reflects your thoughts, feelings and values in action. By clarifying and aligning your beliefs and emotions, your actions will be more true to who you are and what you need at this time in your life. As noted earlier, understand that it’s normal to feel of two minds from time to time, but if the positives generally outweigh the negatives, don’t let mixed emotions prevent you from taking action and start dating. The following guidelines can help you set the stage for dating from a place of confidence and strength.
1. Decide where and how you would like to meet new men. Do you prefer to meet men through your friends, relatives, work, social or recreational activities? Are you interested in trying out dating services? If you decide to date someone you meet through a personal ad or a dating service exercise caution. Widows are vulnerable to being taken advantage of sexually, psychologically or financially. Ask to see a digital photo of the man ahead of time. Check out the reputation of dating services. Be extra cautious when meeting men through personal ad or through the internet.
2. Be clear about what you will do or not do while dating so you can feel confident ahead of time. Develop some first date strategies. For example, have a brief first meeting with your date during the day in a neutral place, such as a coffee shop. Drive yourself. Pay your own way. Leave your children at home. Avoid bars and alcohol. Tell a friend where you are going. (You can even ask them to call at a specified time and arrange a code word to indicate that you want out, so you can leave an uncomfortable situation.) Go slow and take your time getting to know someone.
3. Dating When You Have Children: You may be holding yourself back from dating because you feel uncertain about when and how you should introduce any man you are dating to your children? Naturally you want to be sensitive to your children’s needs, but the presence of children in your life does not have to be an impediment to dating. Follow these simple principles to help create a positive and smoother experience for everyone.
- Wait until relationship feels like it has a future before bringing your man home.
- Show the kids a photo to help them feel more comfortable.
- Tell your children how you feel about your man, while letting them know that he will never replace their dad.
- Keep first meetings short and informal, e.g. afternoon tea.
- Have your man come alone, without his kids, to the first meeting with your children. Invite him to talk about his kids, show photos, etc.
- Don’t schedule first meetings during holidays or family routines.
- If your kid(s) act up or seem upset, don’t react. Use empathy – talk to them about how they are feeling after.
- As with first dates, go slow. Schedule another meeting a couple of weeks later, no matter how good or bad the first meeting goes.
Be Aware of Your Vulnerabilities
Young widows can feel psychologically vulnerable as they transition into the world of dating and new relationships. Be aware of the following ‘red flags’ as you start dating.
Avoid ‘rebound’ relationships: Rebound relationships – or dating shortly after loss – are all about avoiding psychological pain – not about being genuinely ready for another close relationship. Work through the pain of grief and loss until you feel strong enough to stand on your own without feeling like you are susceptible to using a new man as an escape. You will have more to give and able to engage in healthy intimacy. If you do the preliminary work of clarifying your motivation, values and emotions, you will be less vulnerable to falling into a rebound relationship.
Experiencing ‘Rejection’: There are many decent men who will appreciate the life experience and wisdom you have to offer as a widow and want to date you. Be aware however that you may encounter some men who view widows as ‘broken’ or having too much psychological baggage. A solution is to discreetly let all potential dates know that you are a widow and watch for their reaction. Decide whether their response to your widowed status is appropriate. If a man appears to have concerns about your widowhood, ask yourself if this is something he can be educated about or if this is a warning sign telling you to back off. Some men just need to be reassured that you can find a place in your heart to love again. Be on the lookout for men who assume you are damaged or have double standards. For example, he’s divorced but is worried about your ‘baggage’.
Being Sexually Active: Monitor your sexual thoughts and feelings for signs of personal readiness for physical intimacy. If you feel numb, or find yourself having a lot of sexual memories about your deceased spouse, it is likely that you are still needing to work through your grief, and may not be ready to be sexual yet.
Some widows report experiencing unusual sexual feelings or attractions. Recognize that attractions and fantasies are not the same as behavior. In other words, what is inside your mind can’t lead to negative consequences if you don’t act it out. Instead, try and grasp what your fantasies are trying to tell you about what you truly need.
Understand that it is common for some young widows to have a series of sexual encounters that don’t necessarily lead to long term relationships. These affairs give widows permission to reaffirm their aliveness.
Write It Down: Sketch out a plan for how you will approach dating so you can feel relaxed and in control. Work on taking one step at a time. Go slow and take your time getting to know someone.