A few months ago, I was texting with a friend of mine, who is widowed. He has had a couple of relationships since his wife died, and the two of us sometimes talk about the crazy world of dating. It’s been a mystery to both of us, really, but it’s been nice for me to have a man to bounce things off of every once in a while. I think he feels the same about me.
Anyway, he’d recently broken up with a woman he’d been dating. She had become distant with him over the course of a couple of weeks and he decided she must not like him that much. When they finally cut things off, she told him that she had read online about “how to date a widower” and the recommendation was to “give him plenty of emotional space.” So she decided not to communicate very much with my friend, though she did not tell him why. She was trying to “give him space” but instead of feeling supported, he felt completely disconnected from her.
My friend was upset by this. “So there’s some guy going online saying that everyone who is widowed needs a lot of ‘space.’ What does that even mean? And why didn’t she tell me this?”
I agreed that it was stupid that people wrote stuff like this on the internet. But what was much more stupid was that his (now ex) girlfriend had taken the advice of a random internet guy instead of talking to her actual boyfriend.
I mean, I can’t even.
I have no idea where this woman read that every widower needs “proper emotional space” but I’m sure it’s out there. And you know what? Some people – widows and non-widows alike – DO need a lot of emotional space. Sometimes having a traumatic loss means that it’s hard to process a new relationship.
But isn’t that true in life? Sometimes people need space. Other times they don’t. Yes, when things are really hard, sometimes we need more space. But sometimes – here’s the crazy part – we actually need less space. We need people to help us work through the tough stuff. We need someone to be there with us.
And it is impossible to know what a widow or a widower needs unless you ask us first. And then ask us again. People change their minds, circumstances shift, relationships morph. So you have to keep those lines of communication open. I’m no therapist, but it seems to me that this is a basic tenant of good relationships.
Do you know what you should NOT do if you are in a relationship with a widow?
Ask the damn internet. Because, as I’ve noted in a lot of other blog posts, there’s a lot of garbage on the internet.
Listen, I know it’s scary to put yourself out there. I know you might be worried that you’ll ask about your new partner’s dead spouse and you might find out something you don’t want to hear. You might find out that your new partner can’t imagine getting remarried. You might find out that he or she can’t imagine falling in love again.
But you might also find out a way to deepen your connection, and work through those emotional minefields together.
So yes, this is a post about how (not) to date a widow. But it’s also a post about how (not) to date anyone, I think. We all have some baggage, and some of us – especially a lot of widows – have real shit to work through. None of us are 16 anymore, and that means that life is infinitely more complicated than it once was.
There are no easy solutions to dating a widow, even if the internet will tell you otherwise. But if you hang in there, through all the mess and the joy, that’s when the good stuff happens.