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Dating Etiquette After Spouse Dies

by Emma Wells

After having been married, possibly for many years, and going through the trauma and grief that comes with the death of a spouse, widows and widowers may find dating daunting. When is the right time to start dating again? How often should one talk about one’s late spouse? Should one date exclusively or date several people at the same time, and should it be casual or serious? There are many right answers to these questions, and it all comes down to what makes the widow or widower comfortable.

Deciding on a Time Frame

Abel Keogh, author of several books on dating after the death of a spouse, wrote in “Dating a Widower” that the right timeframe for one person might be several weeks, while for another it could be several months or years. Other people might have their own ideas about how long you should grieve before dating, but since grief is an individual process, you’re the only one who really knows when you’re ready. Just make sure that you can honor your spouse and still be emotionally prepared for this new chapter of your life. Keogh says that overwhelming feelings of guilt can be an indication that you’re not quite ready to get back out there.

Discussing Your Late Spouse

Keogh also writes that it’s natural for your date to want to know about your late spouse if he didn't know him while he was alive. It’s ok for you to share something about your late spouse as long as you can change the subject and show an interest in the person you’re dating now. However, dating should not be a therapy session, according to Keogh. If you find yourself needing to have lengthy conversations about your late spouse and your grief, invest in professional help rather than unloading an emotional burden on to your date. After all, one of the main purposes of dating is to have fun!

Minding Your Manners

Many widows and widowers who were married for many years have forgotten what it’s like to go on a first date. You can forgive yourself if you forget to open a door or pull out a chair for your date, Keogh says, but you should notice and learn from your mistakes. You should also look your best, says Dr. Pepper Schwartz, a psychologist writing for AARP magazine. You may have fallen into the habit of dressing in a slovenly manner, or gained a lot of weight in the course of your marriage or your grief. However, when you’re out meeting new people, you want to be well dressed and in shape.

Resisting Comparisons

Many widowers and widows come to the dating table with a sizeable list of qualities they’re looking for. However, it’s not a good idea to be looking for Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, as you’re likely to be disappointed, Schwartz says. Try not to compare your date to your spouse, either. Whether or not the comparison is in the other person’s favor, it’s a sure sign that you’re not really over the death of your late husband or wife. Don’t measure new people against your late spouse. Instead, go into dating hoping to “meet a good person who is fun to be with and who shares your values and goals”, says Schwartz, and you’re bound to have more fun.

About the Author

Emma Wells has been writing professionally since 2004. She is also a writing instructor, editor and former elementary school teacher. She has a Master's degree in writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology. Her creative work has been published in several small literary magazines.

Photo Credits

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