Contemplating Dating Again After The Death Of Your Spouse

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sad woman outside

Dating after the death of a spouse is never an easy decision to make.

A month or two before the one-year anniversary of my husband’s death, a dear relative (who also happens to be a marriage and family therapist) commented that I was "doing so well" in my recovery process that I should consider dating again.

I was flattered by this assessment, but didn’t feel ready to venture into dating. Even after the emotional release I experienced on the one-year anniversary of Ralph’s death, I wasn’t ready.

Nevertheless, this family member was enthusiastic and proactive enough to locate some "senior dating" websites, register me on one of them, and develop a profile for me.

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Contemplating dating again after the death of a spouse has its own set of challenges.

I didn’t really resonate with the info this relative posted about me, but it gave me access to the dating app and I was curious to see who else was there.

So, I lurked. I scrolled through pictures and read thumbnail sketches of various men in my geographic area who looked somewhat interesting. No harm in doing that, I figured, although I wasn’t ready for anything more.

But one day, I found that I disliked the profile the relative had written about me so much, that I went onto the site and edited it.

My perfectionism got activated, so I worked on the profile to bring it to the point where I felt it described the characteristics about me that mattered and communicated the high bar I had for the kind of person I’d consider.

I also found four to five recent photos and paid for one month’s membership.

I had taken the first step in putting myself out there!

Thus, I began an interesting near-daily ritual of perusing available men. Most of the guys left me cold — I didn’t find them attractive and their bios fell flat. Mostly, it was a discouraging scene.

I discovered that you have to look at hundreds of people to find someone who remotely interests you. But that made sense.

If I figured that I was a super-picky person — as I am — then why would there be more than one person in a thousand or so who would interest me? And then, that guy might live too far away or there would be some other complicating factor.

Recognizing the long-shot odds, I sorted through loads and loads of guys over the next few months.

Yes, I extended my membership beyond the first month.

These modest investments of time and money yielded some interesting experiences.

First of all, there was the challenge of responding in firm-but-kind ways to overtures from men I wasn’t interested in.

Secondly, the challenge of accepting that some guys of interest to me didn’t reciprocate.

Since I was being super picky, how could they not be interested in me? Alas.

My first catfishing encounter was a shock.

Then I experienced the phenomenon of "catfishing," something I didn’t see coming.

Catfishing is a term describing a version of identity theft that is not uncommon on dating sites. It describes somebody appropriating the photos and bio information of an attractive person, and passing themselves off as this person.

He was very attractive: Tall, athletic, handsome, successful, involved in humanitarian work, and very flattering in what he said about me.

The "relationship" hummed along quickly upon his obvious interest in me, leading to a telephone conversation in which something about his voice just wasn’t right.

He seemed to have a slight accent that I couldn’t place — maybe from somewhere in the Middle East? But that didn’t gibe with his Scottish birth and Dutch university background.

Plus, there was something about his voice that seemed characteristic of a shorter and smaller guy than I had expected from the tall, well-built athlete I saw in the photos.

And so, I told him I wanted to have a video call for our next encounter. But his video equipment was broken and he somehow couldn’t get it fixed easily.

When I insisted that a video call be our next contact, that was the end of the relationship: Dead on arrival.

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After a couple of catfishing episodes, I begin to discern the pattern.

Unusually attractive person. Unusually quick and strong interest in me, marked by endearments such as "honey" and "sweetheart" being used very quickly in the relationship.

Minimal answers to specific questions about their employment or career accompanied by excuses such as, "It’s not very interesting."

No working smartphone or other capacities to set up video calls that would make it evident that this guy is not the guy I thought I was communicating with.

Lucky for me, none of these catfishing expeditions moved to a level when they were asking for credit-card information or money.

So, I saw the sleazy side of online dating sites, but those became rare once I learned the pattern and knew how to steer clear.

Wading through endless bios...

The far more extensive problem is wading through endless bios and photos of guys who didn’t interest me, in the least, or those who interested me slightly but had values, lifestyles, or characteristics that I saw as fatal flaws.

What I came to understand is that online dating sites put you in contact with loads of new people, which is a very big plus. And, most of those new people are not for you, or at least they weren’t for me.

But, looking at hundreds and hundreds of guys on this dating site turned out to be a valuable experience that benefitted me in many ways.

It gave me an interesting activity to look forward to every evening.

Rather than focusing just on the loss experienced by my husband’s death, this process gave forward perspective to my life. It gave me fodder for thinking and fantasizing about the future.

It also bought me some time while I continued the grieving process.

Online dating also helped me articulate slowly and surely what it was that I was looking for in a dating partner, which I found to be somewhat different than the last time I had thought about this more than 40 years ago.

I was a different person in my 20s than I am now. I have had a very meaningful 40-year marriage, a successful career, and I understand who I am as a human being more fully than back then.

Therefore, what I was looking for in a dating partner at this point in my life is in some ways different than I had sought before;

Plus, it gave me fun, new stories to talk about with my friends. And, yes, it eventually yielded a couple of interesting guys.

RELATED: My Husband Died When I Was 27 — And I'm Still Not Over It

Patty Howell, Ed.M., A.G.C., is President of Healthy Relationships California, a non-profit that has taught Relationship Skills programs to more than 200,000 participants. A prolific author and developer of Psychosocial Education programs, she co-authored World Class Marriage: How to Create the Relationship You Always Wanted with the Partner You Already Have with her late husband, Ralph Jones.