| To Date or Not to Date | Before you date | Tips for new daters | Dating with children | Remarriage |
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Journal Excercises | Helpful Resources |

Every widow I've talked to, myself included, felt her body close down when her husband died. You feel numb, and at the same time, you may also have sexual feelings that manifest in aberrant ways.

I found many other widows who said and felt similarly bizarre things. Immediately following Steve's death, Chloe experienced lots of "crazy emotions." All of a sudden and for no apparent reason, she fantasized about having sex with her neighbor - feelings that really scared her.

A wise friend, Boston Social Worker Karen Koenig, once told me "Fantasies about having sex with inappropriate people are healthy, as long as you don't act on them." Her statement and the realization that others have tread this same path, made me feel a lot less foolish.

According to psychoanalyst John Hassler of La Jolla, California, it is common for young widows to have a series of sexual encounters. These affairs give widows permission to feel and reaffirm their aliveness.

To Date or Not to Date:
For some women, dating again isn't an option due to their culture, the way they were raised, peer pressure, or simply their own beliefs. Betsy felt that her husband was the love of her life and therefore couldn't think about finding another partner. She instead put her energy into her work developing a haberdashery that she named "Henry's Place" after her husband. She chose to put her sexual energy aside and to channel her efforts into a monument of sorts for her Henry. Betsy isn't alone. Many widows feel that dating just isn't for them.

Other widows while enjoying male companionship prefer their independence and do not want the entanglement of a new relationship.

The desire to overcome loneliness is a major developmental task facing widows. Each will confront it in her own way. Some of us plow full speed into business ventures or return to school, others find comfort in the company of other widows and single women friends, some widows' venture into the dating world.

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Before you date:
For those of us who decide to date, there are three main issues we have to confront.

  1. We have to sort through the issue of whether or not we feel we are being unfaithful.
  2. We have to come to grips with sexual memories of our deceased husband.
  3. We have to be careful not to let men exploit us.
    • When you date initially, you may feel like you're betraying your husband. Try to give yourself some time to think why. Are you making yourself feel guilty, or are other people making you feel guilty? You may even feel like a traitor and liberated all at the same time. Listen to your own heart and try to follow what you feel is right. Don't think about what he would have wanted, or what others want for you. Focus on your own needs.
    • Do not rush out and date if memories of your deceased spouse engulf you. To the extent that these memories allow you to think about what kind of partner you may or may not want to have now, they are helpful. Calling them forth in helpful ways allows you to move on.
    • Be careful not to be taken advantage of sexually, emotionally, or financially. If you choose to seek out men through personal ads or over the Internet, be extra careful when you arrange to meet, and under no circumstances should you offer to pay their way. If you decide to use a dating service or join a singles group, do a background check on the organization - get references; check their status with the Better Business Bureau.

Tips for New Daters

  1. Date for yourself - not because your mother, your girlfriend, your shrink, or your kids think it's a good idea.
  2. Decide why you're going out - to have fun, to have an intimate relationship, to have companionship.
  3. Meet in a neutral place.
  4. Go out during an afternoon, rather than an evening (there's less pressure).
  5. Drive yourself so you can leave when you want.
  6. Pay for yourself - that way, you won't feel obligated to him.
  7. Don't involve the kids.
  8. Avoid single bars.
  9. Avoid excessive alcohol and drug use - that just clouds the issues.
  10. Remember, it's OK to be nervous.
  11. Take a condom with you.
  12. Tell a friend where you'll be.

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Dating with Children

  1. Don't bring dates home until you feel the relationship is worthwhile. If you think back to when you were first dating in your teens and twenties, you probably didn't bring every boy home to meet your parents, and in this case, you don't want every man to meet your kids.
  2. Show your children a picture of the man you are dating before they meet him. This way they can get to know what he looks like first, which will take away one aspect of the mystery and might increase their comfort level when they meet him.
  3. Plan for the first visit to be fairly brief - an afternoon or an evening, as opposed to a weekend together.
  4. Don't bring your gentleman into your usual routine. If you always go out for pizza on Sunday nights, don't choose that as the time to bring your date along. Children take comfort in the rituals of daily life and are more likely to look at your date as an intruder if you insert him into this regular family activity. Instead, do something together on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
  5. Ask your man not to bring his children along the first time he meets your kids. This way your kids can get to know the man by himself and judge how they feel about him. He should talk about his kids, however, and show their pictures to your kids.
  6. Talk to your kids about how you feel. "I really like this man, Michael, and I want you to meet him. He is a good friend to me. I also want you to know that even though Michael is a wonderful person, he will never be who your Dad was. Your Dad was a very special person and Michael is a different special person."
  7. Ask your date not to make his first encounter with your children a big deal - no gifts, no grand gestures that seem as if he is trying to "buy" their love. Kids see through this immediately and it makes them nervous.
  8. Avoid having your man meet your kids on an important holiday like Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. Holidays are emotionally loaded times and therefore, don't present the right opportunity for introducing a new person.
  9. Try not to scold your child if he/she acts out at the first get together. Instead, have a conversation about it later. Try to get your child to talk about his/her feelings. "I think I understand why meeting Tim made you feel so upset but I'm not really sure I know how you feel. Do you want to tell me about it?"
  10. Don't rushing things. If the first meeting goes well, set another one for a few weeks later. If it doesn't go well, do the same. Remember, relationships take time to develop.

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Remarriage:
For many of you, remarriage may be an option. According to a number of research studies, 19% of all widows remarry or become involved in a new romance 25 months following the death of their spouse. Other studies have shown that younger widows tend to remarry more often than older widows - on average becoming remarried within four years. Approximately half of widows under 55 remarry while only 5% over 55 remarry. Some look at remarriage as the opportunity to have a fulfilling relationship for the first time in their lives.

If you are considering remarriage, take your time. Remarriage later in life is complicated for a variety of legal and emotional reasons. It's not like young courtship and marriage when you're both broke and happy to have a three-room apartment overlooking the parking lot. Mature people literally have a lot more baggage - kids, stuff, pets, friends, hobbies, side-of-the-bed preferences, and vacation priorities. What is your motivation for remarriage? Do you aspire to nurture mutual interests the way newlyweds do, or is it more a merger of interests?

Journal Exercises
Instructions: Some times journaling helps us put into perspective our lives and feelings. Many of the women that I have interviewed have found this to be a successful coping strategy. Take some time to write on the following topics or whatever occupies your mind.

  • Thoughts about my sexuality...
  • Thoughts about dating again...
  • Thoughts about my kids and dating...
  • Thoughts about introducing my kids to the man in my life...
  • What I need to consider if we live together...
  • What I need to consider if I get married again...

Helpful Resources:

  • Shaevitz, Marjorie Hansen. The Confident Woman: Learn the Rules of the Game. New York: Harmony Books, 2000.
  • The Confident Woman: www.TheConfidentWoman.com

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