Man waiting at airport by DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley Hale

That’s What You Look For

I bet I think about dating more than most married women.

Let me clarify – I don’t think about how I want to be dating someone else! But I do think about what it’s like for other people who are dating. Especially widows. Unlike many of my married friends, I have a number of single friends (yes, many of my single friends are widows). Plus, I have this blog where people write me about their experiences dating.

And wow – I hear a lot of crazy stories.

Dating is a topic that I haven’t forgotten about since I married Chris. This is a radical change from the first time I got married when I thought, “well, I’m done with dating and it’s just not a relevant topic for me anymore, so I’m not going to pay any attention to what’s happening out there.” Now I’m much more attuned to the world outside my comfy little life. I guess widowhood can do that to you.

But here’s one thing I’ve noticed about widows and dating: we don’t settle.

I’m not saying no one settles. I’m sure people do. But I’ve noticed how often a widow friend of mine will meet someone new, date that person for a while, and then end it. I mean, that’s dating, but also…it’s a different kind of dating that many widows I know engage in.

It’s the kind of dating where you know what love is…and you’re not going to settle for less.

I like to think no one settles. But that’s a total lie! Lots of people settle, even some widows who get remarried. And yet – many widows I know (both personally and online) all say the same thing: that they’re not going to get in another relationship just to have a partner.

I think there are a number of reasons for this. First, widows have learned how to be alone. This gives you a bit of a superpower (turns out, you can be alone) but also you find out this secret: sometimes it’s kind of nice to be alone. Yes, there is loneliness and a whole lot of grief, especially in early widowhood. But there’s also something about being alone for months or years that gives you a sense of yourself that’s separate from other people. It’s nice to make decisions 100% on your own sometimes, or at least know that you can make those decisions without another person by your side. To give that up requires that your new partner is truly special – someone who makes your life better by giving you more options, not worse by taking some of those choices away.

Second, if you have kids at home and you start a new relationship, you have to be really sure that your new partner would be a net positive in your kids’ lives. He might be a great boyfriend, but would he do well at a 9-year-old’s birthday party? I mean, that’s a high bar. Someone who doesn’t want to hold your hand after the toddler (or teen) freaks out is someone who is probably better left in the “casual dating” category.

Third, we know love. We know what real love looks like, because we once had it. We know what it means to stand by someone’s side, especially if we nursed our partners through long illnesses. We understand the difference between infatuation and true love, and while both are nice (I mean, who doesn’t love getting butterflies when you meet someone for a second date?) we know that anyone we’d actually end up with would need to move beyond that first stage. What does that mean? Well, for me, that meant showing my vulnerabilities and my flaws and my deep fears, without reservation.

Finally, there’s the more taboo topic that is often a factor in dating for widows. It’s the factor that a lot of divorced women consider, one I’ll call the “I’m not doing that again,” metric. Even for women who were once happily married, there are dealbreakers, and some time and space from your marriage (even if you didn’t want it!) can make you consider what you want going forward. You’re presumably much older than the first time you got married, and dating again at 40 is nothing like it was at 22. You care about different things, and you know that a man who doesn’t load the dishwasher is also unlikely to get up with the kids on Saturday morning so you can sleep in. You pay attention to that, and that makes you more discerning.

I’m not saying that partners of widows can’t have flaws. Clearly, we all have them. I’m just saying that there’s a much higher bar that most widows have for letting someone new into their lives. I dated around, and had fun with different men who I met. But none of them ever got anywhere deep into my life until Chris. Why? Because I wasn’t about to settle.

Recently, Chris was away for work for two weeks. We talked a lot on the phone, but I really missed him. When he came home, I went to the airport to get him. I was late, so rather than parking and going in, I waited at the arrivals area with a thousand other people, driving slowly as I looked for him.

Finally, when I saw him, I don’t quite know what came over me but I stopped the car as fast as I could and I jumped out and ran up to him. We were hugging and kissing and Chris picked me up. I was so happy he was home, and I kissed him again. Nearby, we heard a man laugh.

Still chuckling, the man turned to his friend and said, “Now that’s what you look for!”


  • Allie

    I love so so much that you found a person again for you and how good he is to you and your children. I agree that dating is not easy for widows and most of us do not want to settle. I would love to have a person in my life again, but I fear that it is probably never going to happen again. I’ve been widowed three years and honestly I’m so afraid to date. I have gone on a few dates (with both widowed and divorced men), but I literally felt nothing. It really scares me and I don’t know and understand why it is like this. I felt exhausted from the dates, from sharing information that I couldn’t wait to get home to my safe space secretly hoping that they will never contact me again. At the same time, I’m lonely and I wish to have a person again that I feel comfortable with. Being with my late husband was so easy. Words werent’ always needed and we complemented each other in many ways. I don’t know if I will ever have this again and it makes me sad.

    • M Brimley

      I’m so sorry that dating is exhausting. I know a lot of people feel that way. I’m not sure there’s any easy answer here, but I will say this: one of the best things that I did (and many widows I know have done) is to go in and out of dating – to do it a little bit and then take a break until it feels palatable again. I’m planning on writing more on this topic in the future, and I really appreciate you sharing your perspective. Hang in there. I’m pulling for you.