How do you know that you’re ready to date after loss?
It’s one of the most common questions I get. In fact, just the other day, I got this (edited) email from a widow who had recently become interested in someone new. It had been about 18 months after the death of her husband. It left her with some conflicting feelings:
I mean, I really like the guy, but my emotions can go overboard – I grieve, I like him as a friend, I want him as a boyfriend, I just want him as a friend, etc. This is tiring me out and I don’t know how to manage. Maybe I am not ready, and so I am not even sure I should let a friendship develop. I am really scared that my heart won’t take it. But we laugh, we can talk for hours, swap jokes…he knows I like him and I think he likes me too. We flirt endlessly when we see each other, but am not sure what to do with it. One side of me thinks that it’s too much, that I need to set boundaries and stay away now, that I’m gonna get hurt. The other part says that I could be dead next week, and I should enjoy it. How do I navigate through these changes of emotions?
Whew. It IS a lot.
And I’ve been there.
My first real relationship after Shawn died was a total disaster. So bad, in fact, that it took me months to actually admit on the blog that we had dated and broken up. Though it could have never worked out between us for a variety of reasons, I made the entire process (both the dating and the breaking up) a lot worse by second guessing myself all the time. When I felt conflicted about any aspect of dating him, I told myself that I had misstepped by trying anything new. Maybe it was too soon, I often thought. But then I would have a good time, and sometimes even feel real joy.
And when that happened, I often felt even worse. For real! Apparently, I loved to punish myself.
I think if I could go back and give myself one piece of advice, it would be to cut out the criticism. Go easy, and find some space for the imperfection. I was really hard on myself every time I had any sort of emotion, whether it was good or bad or anything in between. Furthermore, I wanted to define everything he (or I) did as “good” or “bad” in order to somehow answer to the question, “am I actually ready for this?”
Answer, probably not.
But here’s the thing – I’m not sure anyone is ever totally ready. Sure, there are people who definitely are not ready, and some (like my dad) who never want to date again. But for those of you who find yourself in that middle ground, the place where you want to date but aren’t sure about all the conflicting emotions? I say this: have some grace with yourself.
I think dating after loss is a bit like having a baby. (Okay, it’s not at all like having a baby in most ways, except in this one way I’m going to describe.) No matter how you prepare, it’s always a bit of a shit show once you find yourself actually doing it. “What are we supposed to do now?” I asked Shawn, about 5 minutes after getting home from the hospital with infant Claire. We were prepared in every way that we could be, but no one actually shows you how to be a parent.
I think it’s the same with dating after losing your partner. You can mentally think about it over and over again, and you can try and set yourself up for success. But when it actually happens, and you find yourself flirting (or falling) for someone new, there’s so much you can’t plan for. Trying out new things is almost always weird.
But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing it.
**This column is merely my point of view and is for informational purposes only. I am not a therapist or medical professional, and thus my thoughts should not be a substitute for advice from these professionals. Please get immediate help if you feel like harming yourself. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.