Dating After Death

Sometime after the death of your spouse, you will think about dating, especially if you liked being married. This may be in a month; it may be in five years. Whenever you start, you'll probably feel guilty, like you're cheating on your wife, husband, or partner.
09/07/2016 04:10 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2017

Sometime after the death of your spouse, you will think about dating, especially if you liked being married. This may be in a month; it may be in five years. Whenever you start, you'll probably feel guilty, like you're cheating on your wife, husband, or partner.

Even if your spouse said she wanted you to date again, you will feel odd about asking someone out. I did. And when that first kiss comes, a whole bucket of emotion is going to spill.

Women typically aren't in a hurry to date because they have a larger circle of friends where they can share their grief. Men, not so much. From the statistics I've read, men remarry faster than women who have lost a spouse.

When you begin dating, you're starting over. Press Reset.

You're not picking up where you left off with your significant other. Anyone you date will be a different person and it will be a different relationship. Don't expect them to be a clone of your spouse.

The person you date will have a different set of likes and dislikes. Don't expect them to know what foods you like or get all of your jokes. You are going to have to tell them who you are, and you are going to have to share your feelings.

You don't have to jump into dating, even if women (or men) are pounding on your door. You can casually chat with people you find attractive and see how you feel. Date when you feel ready. Or not.

If you only want to talk about your spouse and aren't interested in learning about your date, then you're not ready. It's okay to talk about your spouse, of course, because she was a big part of your life and her death continues to affect you, so grief is a topic for discussion. But if your wife, or your grief, dominates the discussion every time you go out, you're probably not ready.

You can go out with someone without calling it a date, and without any thoughts of it being romantic or leading to marriage. You can just enjoy an evening out and make a new friend. If there's a spark there, fine. If there isn't, fine.

Sparks are fun, but you may need to get out of the house and be among people more than you need romance.

Now is a good time to take stock of your life, because the last time you probably did this was 10 or 20 years ago. Ask yourself a whole bunch of questions.

What did you like about being married? What did you dislike? Was there something you wanted to do that was set aside because of the marriage or the illness of your spouse -- like hike the Appalachian Trail for six months, or live in a yurt on an island off the west coast of Scotland? Do you want to move to a different part of the country? Change jobs?

You have the opportunity to figure these things out and try new ideas. Then, when you start dating, you and the other person will know what you want.

Try living alone for a while. Discover who you've become. Maybe you'll find that you want to live alone for a time and see other people only socially.

John Bayley, the husband of Iris Murdoch, the British novelist and philosopher, "fumbled" around with two women after Iris died not knowing what he wanted in a new relationship, or what the women wanted who showed up on his doorstep. When he realized that he wanted companionship, he began dating a woman who wanted the same thing.

Listen to your heart.

You're in control of your life. Nothing has to happen if you don't want it to, or if you don't feel ready.

Now that you can respond in romantic ways to people you find attractive, you may feel unsure about your ability to casually chat and be interesting to other people. You may have forgotten how to flirt.

You don't have to flirt, just be yourself.

Build up your confidence by talking with people you find attractive at social gatherings. If they're married, don't flirt. Simply talk like you're a human being and not a man. You know what I mean. Don't try to be the one in control or pretend that you know everything. After you date someone for a while, you will know if you want more from the relationship.

Your heart is big enough to both grieve and love someone new.

Whatever you do, be honest with yourself and be honest with the other person. You've learned from your marriage that sharing your emotions is the only way that healthy relationships work.

A version of this essay was published by the Good Men Project.

This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at strongertogether@huffingtonpost.com.