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
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
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
For those of us who decide to date, there are three main issues
we have to confront.
- We have to sort through the issue of whether or not we
feel we are being unfaithful.
- We have to come to grips with sexual memories of our deceased
- 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
- 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.
- Date for yourself - not because your mother, your girlfriend,
your shrink, or your kids think it's a good idea.
- Decide why you're going out - to have fun, to have an
intimate relationship, to have companionship.
- Meet in a neutral place.
- Go out during an afternoon, rather than an evening (there's
- Drive yourself so you can leave when you want.
- Pay for yourself - that way, you won't feel obligated
- Don't involve the kids.
- Avoid single bars.
- Avoid excessive alcohol and drug use - that just clouds
- Remember, it's OK to be nervous.
- Take a condom with you.
- Tell a friend where you'll be.
- 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.
- 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.
- Plan for the first visit to be fairly brief - an afternoon
or an evening, as opposed to a weekend together.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?"
- 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
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?
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
- Thoughts about my sexuality...
- Thoughts about dating again...
- Thoughts about my kids and dating...
- Thoughts about introducing my kids to the man in my
- What I need to consider if we live together...
- What I need to consider if I get married again...
- Shaevitz, Marjorie Hansen. The Confident Woman: Learn
the Rules of the Game. New York: Harmony Books, 2000.
- The Confident Woman: www.TheConfidentWoman.com