The Highs And Lows Of Dating After Widowhood

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man and woman cuddling

Dating after widowhood is strange— especially after being happily married for forty years.

After sharing a long history with someone and having been very "known" by that person, dating again will involve starting anew with people — even strangers — who don’t, yet, have much interest in the details of your life, past or present.

Yet this is where you must start — talking about things like where you grew up, what your childhood was like, what you majored in, places you've lived in and what took you there, where you’ve traveled, what interests you, what aspirations you have at this point in your life, and significant previous relationships.

Meanwhile, you learn these kinds of things about your date and each determines whether there's sufficient interest to proceed.

Yes, dating after your spouse has died can feel overwhelming, but when you're ready to try, it can be worth the effort.

RELATED: How To Move Forward After Becoming A Widow: Reviewing Myself As A Spouse

So, what's it like dating again after widowhood?

The nature of dating involves testing the waters around some mutual interest.

Take one of my dates, Mike.

When I came up to him at the coffee shop table, he didn’t get up to greet me. Then he announced that he wasn’t hungry, and that I should go inside to place my order.

Up until that moment, I’d looked forward to meeting him but his opening line totally turned me off.

No, I didn’t need him to order for me nor did I need him to pay for it, but his insensitivity was disqualifying. Then, for the next 20 minutes, he told the same childhood stories he’d told me about during our phone conversation earlier in the week.

Adiós, Mike!

Next was George. He was late for our meeting, texted me that he’d be there in another 10 minutes, and then after 20 minutes, I saw him sauntering ever so slowly from a block away with no apparent sense of needing to make up for the lost time.

Nope, not my kind of guy!

Take the engineer whose name I no longer remember. He just didn’t have much to say. He didn’t ask any questions about me and he didn’t respond with much when I asked him questions.

Then, the economist who hadn’t been honest about his age and was clearly older than advertised. He copped to this reality when we met, but even a little dishonesty goes a long way with me.

And Alex, a physicist who thoughtfully found and saved a parking space for my car in the lot behind the restaurant and paid for a lovely meal together. But, he spent the entire meal telling me all about his many accomplishments while never asking about me.

Yes, awkawrd things happen on first dates and we have to try not to be discouraged. But why does this happen in the first place?!

If a guy wants me to become interested in him, he needs to show that he’s capable of being interested in me!

Feeling like chopped liver in someone’s presence doesn’t spark my interest in a return engagement.

And so it went through several one-and-done dates.

These halting and lame experiences were such a sharp contrast from the deep and caring relationship I had enjoyed with Ralph and had gotten accustomed to.

It pierced me anew to realize what it would take to have something like that ever again.

But then, a thrilling text arrived from someone who had visited my dating app profile. Apparently, he saw a great deal in me and he expressed that enthusiastically.

Subsequent phone conversations revealed that he was a person of substance, so we arranged to meet. We had 4-5 wonderful dates interspersed with dozens of phone calls, bringing that excitement of feeling young and attractive.

Then, poof! It was over.

RELATED: Nurturing Yourself In Widowhood As You Grieve The Loss Of Your Spouse

I hadn’t expected the quick end and felt shocked and sad but, in retrospect, there were a number of reasons why it couldn’t have lasted.

Yet, that heady excitement had tremendous value for me.

It taught me that there are people out there that even picky me could find interesting. It taught me how wonderful it is to feel attractive and desirable again.

It taught me that my heart had the capacity to open to someone new. And it taught me how important it was to feel connected to and cared about by someone.

So, I pushed on with a few more first dates and a few more quick-fizzles.

Nice byproducts of these included exploring interesting local cultural spots, coffee shops, and restaurants that I had never ventured into before.

One introduced me to the joys of oatmeal pancakes!

Meanwhile, I spotted a guy online whose picture grabbed my attention. I liked the aliveness on his face and his profile resonated deeply.

He had all the requisite credentials and he talked about his values, rather than his hobbies. I got a clear idea about who this person was and saw the strong alignment with my values.

I kept returning to his picture and profile and decided to step outside my comfort zone and contact him. He responded, showing some interest but not setting up a phone conversation.

I wanted to connect with this guy so I reached out again. He responded a second time and added that he really liked my profile but that he was planning to move — closer to where I live! — so had been preoccupied.

Then, one day, he called and we talked a long time and discovered that my last name was the same as his middle name, which intrigued us both.

He told me later that this had convinced him that he needed to meet me.

And on that first date, what I noticed most of all was how intently he listened to what I was saying. He showed real interest, asked follow-up questions, and we engaged in a lively conversation about meaningful topics.

I enjoyed the time with him, found him intelligent and attractive, and these factors made me welcome a second date.

Happily, the second date went well and led to another, and another, and we have since become a couple.

This welcome development brings deep happiness back into my life, as well as all the challenges of a new relationship.

While I am still technically a widow, and still grieve the death of my husband, these painful emotions are interlaced with newfound happiness. I now realize more fully than ever the complexities of human emotions.

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. Together they have trained in 15 countries around the world. His death in October 2017 brought tremendous grief as well as an opportunity to learn valuable life lessons that she shares with her readers.