Dating After Loss

Dating After Loss

Dating after loss: knowing when to start dating after loosing a spouse or significant other is one of the difficult tasks that accompanies loosing the person.  There are many factors that need to be addressed before the decision to start dating again can be made.  The first thing to keep in mind is that there is no specific time frame for when to start dating again.  Grieving is a process that is unique for each person going through it.  Thus, starting a new relationship during that process will also be an individual decision.  Remember, there is no such time as too long to go without dating; however, it is essential to make sure you’re not getting back out there before you’re ready.  How much time you choose to take before dating again is completely up to you.

To start, it is necessary to recognize any feelings you still have for the deceased.  These feelings can range from love, admiration, abandonment, anger, sadness, happiness, and everything in between. Identifying helps the grieving process.  Before moving on to another relationship take the time to do some sole searching to identify how much closure you have achieved with this relationship.  To facilitate the process of closure, try expressing any repressed feelings.  These feelings could be shared with another person.  Others prefer writing a letter to the deceased in which they describe how they are feeling about the death, the life they had with the person, and anything they feel was “left unsaid.”  Other topics to include in a letter would be how you are moving on, how the kids/family are feeling, what you miss the most about them, and how much you loved them.  Some people may find helpful keeping pictures of the deceased around the house, and some will make periodic visits to the gravesite to tell the person how they are feeling.  You can also reflect on special times and memories with the deceased in a journal.

After recognizing (and hopefully making some peace with) your feelings for the deceased, it is time to start understanding your thoughts and feelings about dating again.  Understanding your feelings and desires can come in many ways.  You can keep a journal where you write about your wants and needs that have changed since the loss.  Start to picture yourself with another person and write down how that makes you feel.  While using your journal, ask yourself the following questions. Am I able to hold onto feelings from my life with my husband or wife and pursue similar feelings with another person at the same time? Can I handle a relationship not working out the way I want it to?  Will I be able to date again if the people in my life are not supportive? Another option is to create some lists of the pros and cons of dating again.  These lists can include characteristics you are and aren’t looking for in a partner, the impacts dating will have on yourself, your family, and your friends, the pros and cons of your previous relationship, and the methods in which you choose to meet people, for example blind dates or the internet.  These lists will give you a concrete representation of what you are looking for and can serve as a guide for initiating a new relationship.

Another step would be to talk to friends and family members about your decision to start dating again.  Tell them about the personal work you have done so far (e.g. your feelings for the deceased and how you’ve processed them).  Share with them your reflections, thoughts, and desires for a new relationship. Express any concerns, anxiety, or questions to them. Be open to their feedback, both positive and negative.  If your friends and family are not supportive, may onto something.  However, they also may still be in their own grieving process and it may be hard for them to watch you turn around so quickly and ‘move on.’  Thus, not only do you need to rely on your friends and family as a sounding board, you need to rely on yourself to make the ultimate decision for yourself. Thus, ask yourself, are you ready to pursue a relationship without the support of some people?  Did talking with them and hearing their negative feedback on the idea cause you to have second thoughts?  Before moving back into the dating world, answer these questions and be ready for scenarios where these questions will play out.  If you do have the support from all of your regular friends and family, you may benefit from widening your circle of friends to someone who is currently single and dating in your area to get some ideas. Ask your friend(s) how he or she meets new people, where some nice places are for a romantic dinner or a fun day date, and offer to go on a double date to ease some of the jitters.  Please note, we strongly encourage you to be upfront and honest with your friends and family. They have your best intentions at heart. And if all your friends and family are saying the same thing to you, it should give you pause to wonder what is really going on.

If you had children with your deceased spouse, remember to keep their feelings in mind.  Children grieve differently than adults and they might be having a difficult time feeling closure.  Make sure to talk with them and express that you are not trying to replace their parent but that you want to make new friends.  Lastly, keep the children involved in the process by introducing them to your new partner once you have established that this person is more than a fling. This can be accomplished by going on family friendly dates, and spending time with them at home.  Children do not need to be exposed to your entire dating process.  They only need to be included once you have established that there is some real potential in a lasting relationship.

Another way to identify if you are ready to start dating again is if you are in place where you can be honest about your past relationship with your new partner without immediately over-sharing.  If the subject is brought up, think about how you will tell them about your recent loss. Will you be able to do so without breaking down and crying uncontrollably?  If you are unable to talk about the loss and your feelings in a calm and collected manner, there is still some more work to do before starting a new relationship.  While you may need to be able to share the basics, such as how long you were in a relationship with the deceased, what your best and worst dates were, when did you get engaged and married, how did you like to spend a rainy weekend, best and worst vacations, and express the pros and cons of that relationship, remember, you are not obligated to share everything.  Everyone has different levels of intimacy that they wish to share.  Some people like lots of information right away and others have more boundaries.

As a general rule of thumb, in the early stages of dating, engage in light, casual conversation.  Focus on enjoying each others humor, intellectual stimulation and seeing if you feel as ease with each other.  Personal information can be revealed with time. One doesn’t have to share every detail on the first date.  Depending upon where you are at with the grieving process, you may need to take things slower than you otherwise might.  Keep in mind that a good friendship is the key to a good relationship.  Open communication will help strengthen the bond between the two of you.

Once you’re in the relationship and you feel ready, introduce your partner to your friends and family.  Once the relation is serious than bring your children in.  Natural points for introduction may be around a special family event, like a birthday party or a casual dinner.  If making one big introduction seems overwhelming, remember you can introduce your new partner to your family members as the opportunity comes up on a one-to-one basis, for example coffee with Cousin Suzie on Monday and dinner with Uncle Joe on Wednesday.  Be sure to remind your new partner and your family that you are not trying to replace anyone, but are looking to start a new chapter in your life.   Remember giving it time is the best way to heal wounds of grief and loss. Start slowly with your first few relationships. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find Mr. or Ms. Right in the beginning.  As much as grief is a process so is dating.  Just be open to the experience of meeting new people and seeing how the relationships evolve.  Time will never make your loss or grief less, what time will do is give you the opportunity to have life experiences, and hopefully new experiences will have enrich your perspective(s).  Most people can love more than one person.  Each relationship is unique and irreplaceable. With that being said, each relationship can be equally special, but for very different reasons.