By Margot Carmichael Lester
“For someone who wants to be in a serious relationship, dating a widow or widower is an advantage,” says Susan Shapiro Barash, author of Second Wives: The Pitfalls and Rewards of Marrying Widowers and Divorced Men and professor at Marymount Manhattan College. “This person did not encounter an unhappy divorce or breakup, but lost his or her partner due to a tragedy. Thus, a widow or widower usually hopes to connect, to have another solid relationship. A widow or widower appreciates a longstanding commitment.”
Here are a few rules to live by if you’re dating a widow or widower:
1. Be patient. You may be an accomplished dater, but your companion probably isn’t. “Many have not dated in years and have no idea how to even approach the process,” says Claudia Jean, creator of a seminar series on midlife dating. “There may also be a lingering sense of ‘cheating’ that must be worked through. Unless you are recently single, your dating skills should include the ability to be still and let this wonderful human being move toward you.”
3. Walk in your date’s shoes. Spend some time thinking about how you would feel and want to be treated were you in your date’s position, Jean suggests. “How do you want to be loved? What if you predecease the love of your life? Do you want loneliness to follow your spouse to his or her grave, or do you want to have the love you had for each other move forward? Wouldn’t you hope that the new love would be fond of your memory?”
4. Be self-assured. “As the potential new love interest, your sense of self needs to be centered enough to allow your date to deal with putting a passed love in perspective. Then your date can discover where you might fit in with his or her future,” Jean notes. “When you encourage and validate the love your date has felt, chances are good that the same ability to love will move forward towards you. If you need immediate assurances, move on.” Brad Banner of Montrose, CA, agrees: “Losing my wife kept me on an emotional roller coaster for over a year. The woman I was dating was secure enough to help me manage those feelings without being threatened by them.” And that’s something to be grateful for.
5. Watch for red flags. “If your new love interest constantly talks about the former spouse, this is not good,” Barash says. “If after a few months of dating, this goes on and the deceased partner’s clothes are still in the closet or his or her voice is still on the message machine, it’s a sign that [your date] is not ready to move on.”
The key to forging a healthy relationship, our experts say, is to manage your own emotions while giving your date some time to manage his or hers. “The stages of grieving are finite, and eventually your date can make a relatively clean break,” Barash concludes. “That is the goal — to start fresh together without comparing the deceased spouse to the new love interest.”
Margot Carmichael Lester is a writer living and working in Carrboro, NC. She is the author of The Real Life Guide to Life After College and The Real Life Guide to Starting Your Career.