According to the U.S. Census, 58% of married women and 28% of married men aged 75 or older experience losing a spouse. Unlike divorce, losing a spouse to death is more likely to lead to feelings of guilt and remorse. Surviving spouses may feel they have already experienced the love of their lives. Others feel pressure from their religious beliefs, culture, or children that a new romance would be disloyal. And frankly, many widows and widowers are anxious about returning to dating after being married for decades.
When (and If) to Date
Some people who lose a spouse never entertain a serious romantic relationship again. Others begin looking for love almost immediately. Many widowed people marry a second or even third time – men, more so than women.
There isn’t a standard timeline on how long a widow or widower should wait before dating again. Your family, children, and grandchildren might disagree on the “right time,” but it’s a personal choice.
For Elizabeth, a 70-something widow and realtor in Tarpon Springs, Florida, dating was not top of mind after Brian, her husband of 41 years, passed away. About eight months after his death, Elizabeth was visiting her niece, who talked her into joining a dating app for older singles.
“Before I could turn around, I had a profile with a picture, hobbies, likes, dislikes, everything,” Elizabeth said. “She had set it up and even paid for the first six months.”
It’s also a personal choice if you would rather spend time with family and friends – platonic friends. You might have to tell eager matchmakers that you’re not interested in a blind date or a “surprise” visit from their friend who is also widowed, divorced, or single.
Things to Consider Before a New Relationship
People who lose their spouse and are considering a new relationship should take things slow. Wait for your initial emotional turbulence to settle so that you can be more confident about your next steps. There are other things to consider, including the following.
Many widows and widowers experience brain fog. It is a term used to describe someone’s mental difficulty after losing a spouse. It’s common to forget things, lose your train of thought, and have trouble concentrating.
Elizabeth recalls, “I thought I was losing my mind. I couldn’t keep a thought in my head for weeks.” She couldn’t decide whether to go through her late husband’s belongings, cover his favorite recliner, or sleep in the guest room to avoid their shared bed.
This mental confusion is another reason why taking things slow is a good idea, including whether or not to start dating. Losing a loved one is one of life’s biggest shocks, even if they were ill and death was imminent. Transitioning from a couple to a single is a tremendous transition.
There are unscrupulous individuals looking for an easy mark in a new widow or widower who might have inherited their spouse’s estate. Both windows and widowers should be on the lookout for a new friend who wants to borrow money or a get-rich quick scheme. Grieving individuals could be more vulnerable to scams or fraud.
Guilt and other Negative Emotions
Surviving spouses often feel guilty about dating, as if they were somehow cheating on their dead spouse. These feelings might be stronger if their spouse died suddenly or violently. You might feel remorseful that there was something you could have done to prevent their death – it’s not logical, but feelings aren’t facts.
Navigating the new digital dating scene and not realizing protective measures, such as meeting in a public place, could lead to physical or sexual assault. Intimacy also carries a new measure of risk. Married people who previously had no concerns about sexually transmitted diseases should know how to protect themselves.
Protests from Family
Widows and widowers with children or grandchildren should be ready to encounter some resistance when they begin dating. There also might be societal, religious, or cultural pressures regarding a new relationship or a specific mourning period to observe.
Elizabeth’s two adult sons took issue with her using a dating app. They thought it was too soon.
“I’m not a spring chicken. I’m a breast cancer survivor, so there’s a greater risk that I could develop it again,” Elizabeth said. “How long was I supposed to wait to see if love is still out there?”
Tips for Dating After Losing a Spouse
If you decide you’re ready to start dating, there are several ways to meet people. Think about group activities or meetups where you can talk to multiple potential partners. There are also dating apps (see our list of suggestions below). When you meet someone, keep your expectations reasonable and communicate what you want in a relationship.
Here are a few other factors to consider.
Your New Relationship Is Not a Sequel
Falling in love again can be exciting and joyful, but it’s not a continuation of your relationship with the departed. Comparing your new boyfriend or girlfriend to your spouse is unfair. And although some people date strictly for companionship – they don’t want to go to the movies alone – another person cannot fill the void within your heart. This leads to the next point to consider:
Stop Feeling Guilty
Maybe you discussed remarriage with your late partner. Even if you didn’t, in your heart, you know they wanted you to be happy. Life is for the living. It’s okay to love, miss, and grieve your late spouse. You’re not a terrible person; you’re a human person. Embrace this second chance to experience something special.
Take Things Slow
Wanting love, companionship, and intimacy is expected. When a friendship evolves into dating, you might want to immediately rush things to achieve that closeness. But you’ll save yourself and your potential love a lot of emotional heartache and pain by making sure you’re drawn to them, not the ghost of your late spouse.
Understand That Others Won’t Agree
Everyone won’t be thrilled that you’re moving on with your life. Accept that and understand that it might be their grief transferred to you. Eventually, family and friends will accept your dating (and a new relationship) as usual.
Live in the Moment
Constantly comparing your life today to the past can lead to trouble between you and your new partner. If you find yourself talking a lot about your late spouse and the life you had, it could be a sign that you’re not ready to commit to someone new. Be honest, patient, and authentic with yourself, and don’t accept anything less in return.
Today, Elizabeth is married to the widower she met online. He sold the house where he and his first wife raised their four children; she sold the place she shared with Brian, and they built a new home. Their intimate and touching wedding was full of surprises: her adult sons walked Elizabeth down the aisle, and her granddaughter sang “Young at Heart” (a song dedicated to new love at any age) at the reception.
“I’m an old bride with a new beginning,” Elizabeth said. “I never thought my life would be like this. I didn’t think I would laugh again, let alone go on a date, get engaged, and remarry. That first step was the hardest, but I’m so glad my niece gave me that nudge.”
Nine Dating Apps for Widows and Widowers
Most dating sites have a free subscription option. However, you must purchase a non-refundable membership to access all features. We’re listing these sites for informational purposes only; we do not endorse or partner with any of them. Practice safe dating habits!