But from the get-go, I could tell James was different. The conversation flowed easily, he was funny and interesting…we ended up going on that second date, then a third. When he asked me to date him exclusively a few weeks later, I was ecstatic— but a few months into our relationship, something weird started happening.
When is it time to date?
There were a series of days when, inexplicably, he wasn't himself. He was quiet and sad and didn't want to talk. I knew what it felt like when a man wasn't interested in me anymore—that's how my marriage had ended. So when he would clam up and be distant, I had a familiar sickening feeling.
We met for a drink at a quiet neighbourhood bar, where I cut to the chase. I can't do it," I told him, too sad to drink my wine. I hoped ending things would spare him the trouble of dumping me and spare myself the pain of having yet another person leave me. I was beside myself: I couldn't believe things were ending when everything had been going so well. Only now, James was ready to talk. Certain days of the year are hard for me, and I've just got through some very difficult back-to-back anniversaries," he explained, his eyes fixed on his lap.
I'm just trying to cope as best I can; it has nothing to do with you. I really like you and I like where this relationship is going. He looked up into my eyes and stretched his arms across the table. His warm hands enveloped my own. It hadn't occurred to me that he was going through a rough patch; because of my own history, I assumed it was something I had done. I didn't yet know enough about his life or about grief to understand his personality or the dates that would be difficult for him.
When he communicated his feelings, I felt as though I understood him, like we were connecting on a deeper level. I realized then that this man was different kinder, deeper, stronger and more compassionate—than anyone else I was likely to meet. As a newly single mother struggling to get back on my feet, I had my own set of issues and insecurities; dating a widower on top of it all wouldn't be easy, but I had fallen in love.
I had to try. My situation isn't as unique as you might think. In , about 1. According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center in the United States, 19 percent of those who are currently divorced, separated or widowed report using online dating. In fact, Match. And at the same time as this group has become more interested in dating, she has also seen a shift in perceptions about them.
They want to meet someone in a different space, someone who knows how to love. A delicate balance As in any relationship, James and I have challenges—but some of the things we face are specific to his widowed status. For example, in the five years since we went on our blind date, I've learned to give James space on significant dates, such as on his late wife's birthday, their wedding anniversary and the day she died. Since our near-breakup early on, I've marked those days on my calendar so I can call to say I'm thinking of him and see if I can help.
Being in tune with your partner's needs is often the best thing you can do, says Roy Ellis, a grief counsellor with the Nova Scotia Health Authority in Halifax.
Hannah Betts: My guide to finding love after 40
Your awareness itself can be a lovely gesture. Maybe you don't need to be involved and you can give your partner the space he or she needs to continue that grief work," he says. I've also learned that, contrary to the proverbial "five stages of grief," how we mourn doesn't fit into easy steps. In fact, the psychiatrist who first identified those stages, Dr. In other words, watching for signs of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance is no way to tell whether a mourner is ready to move forward.
Rather, many grief specialists champion the "companioning" philosophy espoused by author, counsellor and educator Alan Wolfelt. They believe that the process is individual and that bereaved people tend to know when they are ready to move forward. According to this model of grief, mourners have six needs that must be met in order to reconcile their loss: acknowledging the reality of the death; embracing the pain of the loss; remembering the person who died; developing a new self-identity; searching for meaning; and receiving ongoing support from others.
But this isn't a checklist and there's no time frame for completion, or a particular order in which they must happen. Having a way to remember the dead, to honour and acknowledge them, especially when the mourner has children, can be healing. It's meaningful and may offer comfort. Finding your way For the first few years, James commemorated special days only with his close family, but recently, I've been invited to participate by attending an annual memorial service and being with his family to remember his wife's birthday.
I'm happy to support him in this way, much as he has supported me through my divorce—but the truth is, it can be hard for me emotionally. Sometimes, I'm sad for days afterward. I want to weep thinking about what an unfair loss James, his family and his wife suffered. I can't imagine what it must have felt like for his wife to be diagnosed with a terminal illness as a young adult, to hear she was going to die. But I've come to understand that grieving is a healthy sign. Even if the process hurts, it brings James' family and friends together. I've seen how remembering and celebrating his wife provides them with strength to continue on.
We have been companioning without realizing it. As much as I grieve with James and his family on sad days, I've also had a hard time coping with his loss on great days. I was interested in sharing my life, my love, and my family. The droplets of grief were falling less frequently. The waves of emotion that radiated out were more manageable. But ultimately the decision came down to me. Whether others judged it appropriate or not, I felt I was ready to date.
Long-Term Relationships: Rebuilding Love After Emotional Damage
I also believed I owed it to my potential dates to be as honest with myself as possible. I planned elaborate dates to fun venues. I was going out to new restaurants, watching movies outside in the park at night, and attending charity events. It was so easy to get caught up in the idea that there would always be time for date nights later. We never really considered the idea that our time was limited. We never made it a point to find a sitter so we could take time for us.
And then it was too late. But we were married for 15 years. That was just a side effect of her caring, nurturing nature. I acknowledge the guilt. I accept that I could have done things differently, and apply myself to the future. Being ready to date and being ready to bring your date back to your house are two very different things. While I was ready to put myself back out there, my house remained a shrine to Leslie.
Every room is filled with our family and wedding pictures. I still wear my wedding ring. Having children simplifies the problem of how to handle it. Leslie will never stop being their mother despite her passing. Though wedding pictures might get stored away, the family pictures are reminders of their mother and her love for them and need to stay up. She was and is an important part of my life and the lives of my children. There are other things to think about — other milestones to address: Meeting the kids, meeting the parents, all of those potential wonderful terrifying moments of new relationships.
But it starts with moving forward. Those words brought me pain then, instead of the comfort I find in them now.
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Want to read more stories from people navigating a new normal as they encounter unexpected, life-changing, and sometimes taboo moments of grief? Check out the full series here. Jim Walter is the author of Just a Lil Blog , where he chronicles his adventures as a single dad of two daughters, one of whom has autism. You can follow him on Twitter.
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