Dating After Loss of a Spouse (Dating a Widower): What to Know

I recently saw a television ad for a popular dating service that hails the merits for dating as an “emotionally mature” adult. Then it suggests the service is for people 18+! Dating (or “seeing” someone) in present day often includes dating someone who has had other significant relationships in their past that ended in separation (if unmarried), divorce or because of the loss of the loved one.

In my counseling practice, people often say that they want to be careful to get “it” right, that is, date wisely, know what is right for them and have confidence in themselves and their decisions. I can’t disagree with that! But “how?” they ask. Is there a manual? Fortunately, there are a number of great materials to provide guidance, from authors you’d likely recognize. But there is one particular circumstance I’ve found sparse in available literature: how to date someone who has lost a spouse. Conversely, if you have lost a spouse, how to date when you know you will forever love the person you lost.

In recent times, I’ve encountered young marrieds who’ve lost spouses to suicide and families of military members who’ve lost loved ones in battle as well as those who have lost spouses to cancer, ALS and freak accidents, to name just a few possibilities. This is a hard topic to discuss for many and somewhat hallowed ground to address.

There of course, is plenty of loss and grief to go around in divorce as well. But the complexity of dating when one of the partners has lost a loved one is distinctly different. The challenges are different, and the confusion over the appropriateness of actions and responses can muddy waters that might otherwise have been clear.

Key Points: How dating a widower or widow can be different

(Consider: How might these points differ from relationships that break up of their own accord?)

  • Late spouses tend to be remembered for all that was good and remain somewhat sainted.
  • The remaining spouse is viewed with empathy by the world and in a favorable light.
  • New dating partners may be expected to accept that there is a former love that will never die, while also wanting to be #1, the love of the other’s life.
  • Extended family also want to carry the torch for the deceased spouse at holidays and on birthdays, anniversaries etc.
  • Children (especially adolescent or adult) may lobby for life as they know it and may have little interest in welcoming a person who would occupy such an important position in their parent’s life.
  • Houses, possessions or vacation destinations may be viewed like a museum, not to be touched or altered.

Questions that might be answered by authors who speak from personal experience:

  1. How might the widow/widower set rules or boundaries to protect their former loved one?
  2. How might a new dating partner determine what is reasonable to accept and what is not?
  3. What standards might widows/widowers be expected (or not) to uphold versus those who have not lost a spouse? Are there exceptions made for widows or widowers that would not be acceptable in other situations?

A widower himself, author Abel Keogh has tackled these and additional questions about this very interesting circumstance in The Ultimate Dating Guide for Widowers and for the new partner, Dating a Widower: Starting a Relationship with a Man Who’s Starting Over.

Summary: Issues facing those dating a widower

The widow/widower is not ready to date if they are enshrining possessions of their late love, if they want to hide the new partner from view of extended family or if more than three key times are memorialized each year about the deceased spouse. Unfortunately, according to Keogh, widowers may capitalize on/parlay their status “as poor creatures dealt a bad hand” without regard for the consequences for their new partner.

The oft-mentioned scenario “if they don’t seem that into you” seems true in normal circumstances; it is doubly true with widowers. Believe it. They aren’t that into you. Catering to them won’t change that. Keogh suggests, let the relationship go. If a widower really cares about you, he will move on from his former relationship, however perfect it may have been, and you will experience the reality that he has moved on.

Being patient with a widower and hoping he will eventually love you as much as his former spouse is likely a disaster for you. Move on. If you wouldn’t accept in normal circumstances that a man has another love, don’t accept shrines to deceased spouses/loves as acceptable for your life.

DISCLAIMER: Not to diminish the character of the deceased spouse, but since the spouse is no longer of this world, a new relationship should be enacted as if there is no “other” love. Keogh writes that if a man is acting or talking as if still married, he is.

The above books are written about men who have lost a partner. Do the same key topics apply to women who have been through such a loss? Stay tuned for a future blog!

Active Relationships Center develops curricula for relationship wellness, enhancing life skills and promoting wise choices.