I think one of the hardest things about dating as a widow(er) is the guilt that comes along with it. Worse is that some of the guilt comes from other people – and is sometimes laced with a bit of shame for good measure. And it means that the already emotionally charged act of dating is complicated by the confluence of so many negative and frightening emotions.
Note: My blog was recently trolled with hurtful and hateful comments on several posts about widowhood and dating*. This post is in response to the troll, and to anyone else who shares the troll’s cruel views. But it’s also for the widow(er)s who may need encouragement to carry on. And it’s for the family and friends of widow(er)s; for potential new partners; and for happily married couples who’ve not had the pain of “til death do us part”. So, basically, it’s for everyone.
There are a few themes to the guilt and shame others place upon widow(er)s when they attempt to re-enter the dating world, which can often overlap. I like to think that many people don’t actually mean to offend but, sadly, I know that some people do. (Related post: Don’t say these things.)
Not enough love:
This is when someone says they love their spouse too much to even consider dating if they were to die. Another way this is implied is when someone says their mum/dad/grandparent/whoever loved their spouse too much to date again, thereby living the rest of their life in mourning. And then there are the people who directly question the quantity or quality of the love you had, noting that if that love had been strong enough, you wouldn’t be trying to replace or forget about your spouse.
Black is forever:
This is the idea that widow(er)s should mourn their spouse forever, and never look at another person again. In some cases it comes from people who’ve stated outright that they would not want their spouse to date again if the unthinkable were to happen; they’d rather think of their spouse as too upset to even look at someone else.
It’s just disrespectful:
This is where people suggest that dating someone new is disrespectful to the memory of the dearly departed, their family, and/or their friends. Sometimes, it’s people questioning how fair it is to them to see the “grieving” widow(er) moving on and finding happiness because it’s like rubbing salt in an open wound. Other times, it’s people suggesting that it shows you never truly loved your spouse.
There are also similar themes that don’t relate as directly to dating, such as how selfish it is to carry on with your life, when your spouse has lost theirs. Or how you should cut ties with their family and friends so that they don’t feel burdened by you – or so that they don’t have the reminders. And the one where, especially for young, childless widows, you should revert to your maiden name and try to forget you were ever married at all. But we’re not tackling those ignorant beliefs today, so I digress…
You see, the truth is I do love Paul. I love him with a love so deep, so meaningful, that some days I am in physical pain because I love him so much and he’s not here to love me back. And my love still grows for him. It’s a different love than it once was though. It’s no longer that romantic love that made me swoon when he walked into the room. No, my love now exists in the core of my heart and soul, giving me the strength to carry on.
So no, my desire to date isn’t because I didn’t love my husband enough – it’s because there is so much love in my heart and soul that it needs to be shared. And I can promise you, I will never forget about Paul and he can never be replaced. He will always be my first true love and he will always have a place in my heart. But there is room for someone else; someone who will be just as special to me as Paul is.
And the truth is Paul would want me to find someone new to share my life with. I know that for an absolute fact because we had the conversation on more than one occasion. It was very important to him that, should anything happen to him, I carried on. And he certainly wouldn’t want me feeling guilty for doing so.
That knowledge doesn’t take away the guilt though. Knowing that he would want me to date again doesn’t make it easier, but it’s better than living with the guilt of dating when he said he wouldn’t want that.
Of course, if I’m honest, there’s a part of me that feels really guilty for not having found someone new. I feel guilty because nearly six years after he died, I am still alone… something that I know he wouldn’t want for me. But I’d like to think that he’d rather me be alone than for me to settle for someone who doesn’t make my heart sing with joy.
(And for those of you who would dare to tell your spouse that you wouldn’t want them to date again if you died, please think twice about it. The guilt is hard enough when you know your spouse would want you to date, it must be unbearable to carry the burden of knowing they wouldn’t want you to. Don’t be that selfish. Please.)
And (with a couple of exceptions**) the truth is Paul’s family and friends don’t find it disrespectful of me to do so. Anyone who truly cared for Paul would want me to be happy.
Yes, I’m sure that there are moments of sadness for them (as there are for me!) because my dating serves as a reminder that Paul is gone, but they want me to be happy because they know that’s what Paul would want. In fact, my in-laws have been very clear in their support of me dating again and some of Paul’s friends (who are also my friends) have been extremely encouraging in my attempts at finding someone new to love.
So yes, I am a widow and I date. (Though not successfully.) I date because I love Paul so much that I want to honour his memory by being happy in this world. I date because I want to find someone to share my life with; someone who I can love just as much as I love Paul. I date because I know my story isn’t over yet; I know there is still a happy ending waiting for me. (I refuse to accept that my life story is meant to be a tragedy.)
If someone else wishes to honour their spouse by never dating or falling in love again, that’s not for me to decide. Each and every widow(er) must do what their heart tells them to do. But my heart tells me to find a new love to share my life with. And that new love will live in my heart along with my love for Paul. I know that the man who takes up residence in my heart will appreciate my undying love for Paul – even if he doesn’t fully understand it. And I know that he will accept that Paul will always be with me – and he will be secure enough to know that my heart has the capacity for both. And that my life experiences – Paul included – is what made me who I am today.
As for you, Mr Troll: If you intended to make me cry, well done you! You succeeded in your mission. But if you intended to break me, you set yourself an impossible task. After all, if I can survive the heart-wrenching, soul-destroying agony of widowhood, I can survive the cruelty of some coward who spouts hatred through the presumed anonymity of the Internet.
* I deleted them, as per my comments policy. After all, whilst I defend everyone’s right to free speech, I am under no obligation to provide the platform for their words.
** Three years ago, one of Paul’s dear friends, and someone I thought was a friend of mine told me with absolute certainty that she thought my dating again was a sign of disrespect – even when I told her it’s what Paul would have wanted. She made it clear that she couldn’t be friends with me if I went ahead with my plans for re-entering the dating world. She hasn’t spoken to me since that day.