New Relationships and Dating After Loss
Author: Amanda McPherson
If you are reading this, you may have been fortunate to have found that special someone, only to have them taken from you too soon. I will not claim to understand your pain. You will forever be shaped by the experiences you shared with your lost loved one as well as your journey of healing. As I'm sure I don't need to tell you, there isn't one authority for handling grief or a how-to guide for healing from such a painful heartbreak. While comfort and connection can be found within a community of people who have experienced similar pain, each of us must find our own path to healing, and no two journeys will look alike.
For some, exploring the idea of having a new romantic partner has absolutely no appeal right now. Others may be in the contemplation stage, beginning to think about what it might be like to enter the territory of dating and romantic connection. And some have already decided they are ready to be out there again and are actively engaged in dating. Again, no two paths will look the same and no particular path is any "better" than the other.
One of the topics that causes the most anxiety and stress is the search for romantic love. After all, searching for the right partner, engaging in the dance of dating, and connecting with someone on a deep and intimate level can be one of the most exhilarating and/or excruciating activities in which we engage. There is no official rulebook for maneuvering the complex world of two people coming together in the most vulnerable and intimate of ways. Even your most well meaning friends and family members don't necessarily know what is best for you in this arena. Dating and relationships are complex topics for everyone. But, when you have lost a mate these topics can feel especially sensitive and taboo to think about and discuss with others.
So, what do you do? How do you know when or if you are ready to explore romantic love again? And, if you are ready, how do you approach the world of dating?
I know of only one failsafe guide: You.
Here are some questions to help you check in with the smartest, wisest guide that exists- your inner voice- when it comes to dating and exploring the territory of romantic love:
Is Loneliness or Readiness in the Driver's Seat?
Loneliness is one of the most feared human emotions. It is so scary to most of us that we dare not even utter the word. We'll share our feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, or even depression, with our friends and loved ones. But, to admit that we're lonely... well, that's just too sad. Too dark. Too scary.
Loneliness is a feeling most of us work hard to avoid. We join clubs, volunteer, and make new friends. These choices are certainly understandable. They are even healthy additions to our lives. But, loneliness can also be a great teacher. It can show us how strong we are and it also can allow us the opportunity to get to know ourselves better. Loneliness can cause us to get really honest about what we value. It can give us fresh insights as to how we want to invest our time and energy. To ignore or deny our feelings of loneliness can shortchange an otherwise deep and meaningful process.
Carrying the emotional weight that comes with the loss of a loved one can cause us to feel stuck in our lives with no particular direction. The readiness to work through this undesirable condition isn't fueled by avoidance, but rather a feeling of opening up to new possibilities. Readiness vibrates with a deep, calming energy. Choosing avoidance brings us only anxious, fearful energy. Spend some time examining which emotion is driving your thoughts, feelings and actions.
Considering if an avoidance of loneliness or a feeling of readiness is guiding you. Trust yourself to know where you are in the process.
Who were you before? And who are you now?
I recently had dinner with a friend who lost her husband a little more a year ago. She told me that her single girlfriends were telling her that she should be dating. She was pretty sure her kids would say she shouldn't be glancing in the direction of any man, much less dating. The conversation was peppered with so many "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts," it made my head spin.
My friend is a beautiful person inside and out. She is caring, funny, smart and so many other wonderful things. She was a devoted, faithful wife to her husband. Among all of her wonderful traits, she is also someone who is wired for connection with men. This doesn't diminish the love that she feels for her departed husband. Yes, she is changed in many ways due to her untimely loss. But, she is still my spunky, flirtatious, energetic friend. She is capable of being all of these things.
On the other hand, my mother expressed absolutely no desire to explore the possibility of another partner after my dad died. Despite knowing that my brother and I would absolutely bless her finding a companion, it simply isn't her nature to actively pursue relationships with men. She currently finds joy and contentment in spending time with friends, volunteering, and watching a good movie on the couch with her lapdog. But, the thing is, I'm not surprised by this at all. This is, and always has been, my mom's nature.
These are the stories of two special women who are dealing with loss. Each of them is finding her own way to her future. Embrace the changes and lessons that heartbreak has taught you. Consider the person you have become. The person you were is healing now. Changed, yes. But also stronger and wiser. And, know that it's okay to embrace the parts of yourself that existed before your loss. Honor this new, beautiful, strong combination of your past and present. Allow this person to lead you as it pertains to all facets of your life- including the delicate topic of romance.
Are you reclaiming your sense of hope?
We all need hope. It's what makes us get out of bed in the morning. It whispers to us to keep moving even when we don't think we can budge. When we are carrying the emotional weight that comes with losing someone so close and dear to us, we can feel stuck. Unable, and frankly sometimes uninterested, in moving in any particular direction. But, with some time and healing, we begin to feel glimpses of hope. And, with even more time, the weight of the pain feels lighter and our sense of hope grows larger.
Hope fuels our enthusiasm for the future. If you are thinking about the future at all, then you have some expectations for your life. For some, interest in the idea of dating is a healthy, natural outgrowth of the healing process. Dating, along with many other things, is an indicator that we are allowing ourselves to have expectations, plans, and hopes for the future. You don't need to apologize for having this sense of hope. It doesn't negate the connection you had with your loved one or the grief you feel about not having a future with that person.
Regardless of how you're currently feeling about the idea of dating and new romance, it is important that you find whatever it is that connects you to a sense of hope. Whether that comes in the form of a dinner date or a night at home with your lapdog is totally and completely up to you.
By Amanda McPherson: Amanda McPherson encourages clients to live and love boldly. After fifteen years of working in the political arena, she decided to pursue her passion for helping others by seeking a Masters degree in Counseling and becoming a Life Coach. In addition to working with clients, Amanda inspires hundreds of women through her blog, "Girl, Get Your Roots Done," and her writing has been featured in several online publications. Visit www.lifecoachamanda.com.