DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley sitting next to boyfriend

What Does It Take to Date a Widow?

As I write this, my partner Chris is sitting across the kitchen island, typing something on his computer. He’s focused on what he is doing, so I can take a minute to look at him. He’s got a scruffy face, the kind of stubble that’s sexy on men like him, and he’s wearing a Ruth Bader Ginsburg t-shirt, which makes him even more attractive to me. He is not smiling right now, because he is working, but I can see the softness that’s always in his eyes. It’s a softness I know because he looks at me with those eyes all the time.

Just behind him is a photo of 2-year-old Tommy with Shawn in the background. Across the room are the framed letters from Democratic leaders who wrote Shawn as he was dying. Downstairs are Shawn’s guitars, still propped up as they were two and a half years ago.

It doesn’t take long until Chris looks up and smiles at me. I smile back, and keep writing this post. He looks so steady and content, I think. I know I feel the same sitting next to him.

I let my mind wander and I imagine what it would be like to sit where he is sitting. What must it be like for him to be in this house right now, a house that is still so full of Shawn?

My kids love to look at the photo books in our living room, and remember the fun things they did with their father. Shawn’s favorite couch is a place where I love to read, and sometimes when I am lounging there, I remember another time when he was in the same place. Shawn’s death certificate is in the top kitchen drawer, right next to the weekly dinner plan I write up every Sunday, and each time I look at it to see what vegetables I need to pull out of the fridge, I am reminded for just a brief second about the day that he died.

Shawn is everywhere in this house, and our lives.

I don’t want it any other way, and I don’t think Chris would want it any other way either. But that doesn’t make it easy.

I am not simply talking about the physical reminders of Shawn, though they are present in almost every room. I guess what is more surprising is how he can negotiate the emotional space that Shawn takes up in my life, and in the kids’ lives. It’s not that I am still in love with another man – I’ve covered that in another blog post – but rather that Shawn’s memory and his love lingers in so many parts of our lives.

Chris, to his credit, has always allowed me to feel and express all of the complicated feelings that have come with falling in love again. I don’t fully understand how he manages the emotions that come up for him, but I know it takes a high level of self-confidence to date a widow. He has to know that when I say “I love you,” that I mean it.

I’ve asked him many times what it’s like to date a widow, and so I have an idea about how he navigates this tricky emotional space. But how he does it on a moment-to-moment basis is something I’ll never quite understand.

So as I watch him working, I cannot know everything that is in his head. It would be easier, I think, for him to have fallen for someone with a lot less baggage. I worry about this.

But he does not.

“I choose you,” he says to me every day, even though that choice means that he must also live alongside the memory of a man who once inhabited this same house, and who once loved the same people in it.

“You could have someone who was younger and who wanted to have babies with you,” I say. “You could have someone who was much, much less complicated.”

“I don’t want anyone else,” he says, over and over. “I choose you.”

I guess that’s my answer to this elusive question, “how do you date a widow?” You do what Chris has done: try to understand and accept the complicated pieces of her past, and accept that she wants a future with you.

And then with this knowledge, you say, “I choose you.”

Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.


  • Henry

    Intentionality is an essential element of abiding love. “I choose you” states that truth so simply and beautifully!! And love as acts of service, which you wrote about a couple of essays ago, both flows from and rewards that choice.

      • Dap

        This is a beautiful post. I’m from Singapore and I lost my husband to cancer 3 years ago when we have been married for less than a year. Some days have been truly difficult but time heals. I’ve started dating again for a while now and this post is just how I feel towards us.

  • Jim

    The grief therapist telling me dating a widow/widower is a challenge as the spouse who’s past can be like a saint didn’t help. I suppose I agree as with the X, there is a problem. But in both cases there will be positive aspects that we will have a hard time overcoming.

    I’m glad I came across this site, as I believe a dating site will never help my mind. Frankly, I wish that time could reverse. I was Beyond happy. Now as the blogger has indicated, I am Spammed with silver ads. We are not meant to deal with this at our age.

    • M Brimley

      No, we are not meant to deal with this at our age…that’s for sure. I’m not sure if it’s best to say any category of people is best to date, as I think there are great people out there with all sorts of histories. But it’s also ALL tough. Dating is so hard!