Uncharted Territory

Author: Angelia Brinneman

AngelaDating after Loss

With the coming of the holiday season, do widows and widowers feel more alone? I know I always do. Parties, get-togethers, and holiday celebrations seem to bring out couples everywhere, but I am still alone. We are expected to be cheerful… and even happy to meet our friends’ and siblings’ new significant others, but all it does is make us feel more alone. Nobody really understands why we aren’t joyful during the holidays. They don’t seem to realize that it brings back into sharp focus our feelings about the many things we have lost.  

As we face this time of celebrations and parties, still alone, the idea of dating may come up. As with all other aspects of grieving, we each have different reactions to the thought of going out again. Will we feel pressured to find someone to go on dates with just to make ourselves feel less lonely? Because let’s face it, that’s what we are—lonely. We all want someone to share our days with, to come home to, to go to events with. Or will we brave the elements and go to functions alone? We hate seeing the look on people’s faces when we walk in by ourselves…again. It’s the pitying look of, “Aw, she still hasn’t found anybody. I feel so badly for her.” You just want to scream, “I’ll be okay! Stop looking at me like that!” Or will we just stay home and mow the lawn, clean the gutters, watch a video, or read a good book?

As thoughts of dating arise, you might want to consider some of the following questions. Do I want to date again? When is a good time to start dating? How long should I wait? Should I feel guilty for dating too early or even dating at all? Am I cheating on my deceased spouse? These questions and many others will come to mind when the thought of dating again surfaces.  

Do I want to date again?

Starting over, moving on, finding someone new, not wanting to be lonely anymore, finding someone to fill the void, or trying to find happiness again—these are all reasons that people start dating again.

When is a good time to start dating?

Many widows and widowers, when discussing this topic, talk about when to date and whether others have started yet, but no one has all of the answers. Dating after the death of a spouse or fiancé is something that you should do according to your own individual timeline; there is no wrong or right answer, no handbook for these situations, or guidelines to live by. 

As you begin to explore this new territory, be aware of your feelings. If you feel that it is too soon, then wait and give yourself more time, no matter what your friends may say. However, if you think you are ready to go on dates and have a relationship on some level, don’t let anyone else tell you it’s too soon.

I know of widows who have started dating within three months of their husband’s death and others who, after three years, still haven’t put themselves out there. Remember, if you make a mistake and start dating too soon, you can always stop and take more time for your healing. This is your life, your grief, and your emotional state of mind. Being open and honest with yourself and others about your feelings can help you to ease into this new territory.

Should I feel guilty? Am I cheating on my loved one?

As much as we hate to admit it, our husbands or wives are gone. We can’t cheat on them. There is nothing we can do that could be considered cheating. This is a very hard concept and you might struggle with feelings of betrayal and guilt when you start dating again. No matter how much you think you are ready to move on, these feelings of guilt might sneak up on you. I have had these feelings when I was simply having a friendly conversation with a guy. It seemed impossible for me to even talk to another guy without feeling I was cheating on my husband. My friend felt as if she was cheating after dating a guy for almost a month. Honesty helps in this situation. Explain how you feel and see if this improves the situation by being honest with your date as well as yourself. Sometimes expressing your feelings gets them out of your system and you are able to move forward.

Don’t let others judge you! Some people will judge you for dating no matter how long you wait. “I can’t believe you are moving on already!” is something you may hear from people you know. Others could judge you for dating too much or for rebelling against what has happened and going a little crazy.  

Do I really want a relationship?

Maybe you aren’t ready for dating or being in a committed relationship yet, but simply want the connection of being with another human being. If you are going out to simply have fun, use good judgment and be careful. Having a good time may also generate feelings you’re not ready for, in the same way that dating might bring these feelings to the surface.

Keep your friends around you and up-to-date with what you are doing. They don’t need to know everything, but they need to have an idea so that they can support you and help you keep your head on straight and be smart about what is happening. If you get hurt while dating and were hiding your activities from your friends, they won’t be able to support you or give you a shoulder to cry on.

Dating is an individual decision that you as a widow or widower can only make for yourself. You have the choice to date or not, and you have control over the situation when you begin to date after your loss. If you find that you don’t like it or aren’t ready yet, simply stop. Surround yourself with those who love you and those who support you, and remember you did not choose to be in the position of having to date again. Whatever we decide, I believe that our loved ones would want us to live a full life and be happy again.  

By Angelia Brinneman, surviving spouse of SGT Steven M. Brinneman