Dating anyone comes with baggage, but dating a widower comes with carry-on and extra bags. And you have to have heavy shoulders to help carry the extra weight.
Many complex emotions come with dating a widower. On any given day they can be angry, sad, guilt-ridden, or have an enormous amount of relationship anxiety. Never allowing themselves to become comfortable, you typically have no idea the things that lie underneath their smile.
No matter what age you lose your significant other, if your spouse leaves you before you leave this earth, there is always a feeling that something is amiss. You forever miss the love of your life.
I remember coming home the day my husband died. Just 34, we had four small children, and the youngest was only 12-months-old. I don’t know what was worse, the anticipation on the way home of having the talk with them, or the look on their faces, especially my 12-year-old, who had just lost his best friend when I told them.
When you become a widower, it chases away all you thought life was going to be. It robs you of the security you have that things will be all right. It also strips from you the feeling of permanence or self-identification. For ten years I had been Julie Barth, then I hadn’t a clue who I was.
These are the eleven hardships of dating a widower
Not only is being a widower difficult, dating one can be very frustrating. It requires a lot of patience and understanding.
#1 They likely have abandonment issues. Just like a child who has been maltreated or left, a widower often has abandonment issues clouding their ability to reason through the complexity of a relationship. Never wanting to feel the sting of losing someone or something, they react quickly and push people away. [Read:Abandonment issues and how it affects your relationship]
#2 They are likely to be needy or clingy. When you are not around, they have a tendency to get anxious, which can come across as needy or clingy. Until you lose someone who you rely on to get you through life, you can’t possibly comprehend how scary it is to put yourself in that position again.
If they fall for you, they will be terrified that you will be gone too. If you are ten minutes late, it is just ten minutes to you, but to someone who is immersed in fear and anxiety, their head has already pictured you lying dead in a ditch somewhere. Gone forever.
#3 They have a tendency to overreact. When you go through tremendously stressful times, your body releases a chemical called adrenaline. Responsible for the fight or flight in our species, it is that feeling you get that makes you need to react. You literally feel like you are going to jump out of your skin.
A widower likely has been through the gamut of intense situations, especially in the case of prolonged illness, which exhausts the adrenal gland. Making it constantly produce adrenaline at the slightest hint of being upset. That makes them quick to react with anger, fear, or anxiety. In a new relationship, it can be very overwhelming and leave the other person wondering where so much unwarranted emotion stems from. [Read: Fear of intimacy: The hardships of being afraid of love]
#4 Anger. A widower is angry. If they lost someone they love, they can’t be angry at the person who left them, nor can they be angry for all the things they have had to watch or go through. That leaves them with a whole shitload of anger and nowhere to place it. Like a cup filling over, you may become the recipient of it, and it is very hard to reign it in once it is let out.
Widowers learn to keep things in because it makes other people uncomfortable when they want to discuss their feelings. So, when they do let the crazy out, it is very confusing and often misunderstood. Needing a place to displace their anger, it is not unusual for them to explode on the people they love most and trust. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the way you look at it; that may be you. [Read: 8 problems that will make your relationship stronger]
#5 They idolize their ex. When someone is gone from your life, and you had no choice but to let them go you have nothing left but good memories to get you through. You don’t remember how they left their socks on the floor, or how they drank too much. You remember all the wonderful things they did, all the good times you had together, and how no one else can ever be as fantastic as they were.
It isn’t reality, but it is a way the brain works through the sadness. Having limited capacity for memories, we refuse to make them murky with the insignificant day-to-day things that used to bug us. All those things we disliked are suddenly the things we miss most, making the dead spouse “perfect.”
For the person who dates the widower, it can be hard always to feel like you aren’t measuring up. You are, there is no comparison. Just remember you are there, loving them.
#6 Dealing with the in-laws. One of the hardest parts about losing Colin was not only losing him. I felt like I lost everything. From that moment on, I wasn’t Julie Barth anymore. I was Julie. That meant redefining who I was, who my family was, and what I was going to do going forward. When someone dies, things have a tendency to fall apart, and the ugly comes out.
That can leave complex issues in the wake, like a mother-in-law who thinks they are dating too quickly or didn’t do enough to help out. The ex-in-laws may treat you coldly, or not like you entirely because they feel like you are taking their child’s place. Try not to take it personally; it has nothing to do with you. They would not like anyone because it just reminds them that their daughter/son is gone.
#7 Guilt. When you promise to love someone until the day you die, the promise doesn’t end when they are gone. It is still a promise. The person left here on earth is conflicted about where their heart should lie. You feel guilty when you date someone else and feel as if you are disrespecting your ex’s memory. You feel guilty that you are the one left behind.
There is something guilt-provoking about being the survivor. I often wonder why I was the one who survived. Why was it Colin and not me? There are also times when the pain is so great you wish that it had been you instead of them. Guilt is a very difficult thing to have follow you around until you find a way to forgive yourself or move on.
#8 Children. If there are children that have been widowed too, it can be like a family unit bleeding in unison. When you walk into the situation, it is not just about dealing with the loss of the parent; the children are experiencing loss in a different, but no less hurtful, way. They may see you as the enemy taking their parent’s place, trying to replace them, or even taking away the attention they so desperately need from the surviving parent. [Read: 9 things you can’t overlook when you date a single parent]
Often emotional, confused, and sometimes overwhelmed, it takes a very special person to parent a child who lost their parent. You have to have some really strong shoulders and a whole lot of patience and love to give.
#9 Mood swings. Even those of us who hide it well, break sometimes. When you are in the throes of grief, you don’t think, you just do. As time begins to pass, it is like a cloud lifts, which is both good and bad. Like exhaling, there are days when you have a rush of all those emotions you pushed away, a flood of memories hit you out of the blue, or have something happen catapulting you right back into your grief.
They come out of nowhere, and the people in your life are completely unaware of what you are thinking. It is very sad to lose someone you love and some days you can chase away the demons. Then there are some days that get the best of you. Dating a widower means trying to understand the days when they just need a little extra care and protection.
#10 Suppressing the memories makes you feel lonely. Often widowers feel lonely long after they have found someone else. They always feel like someone or something is missing. Not many people in their life allow them to talk about the way things used to be. If you mention your dead spouse there is a hush around the room. People shift in their chairs, and you get the impression from people you are making them uncomfortable, so you stop.
It is almost like you aren’t supposed to remember the years you were with them, they are supposed to die too. That leaves you feeling like you lost years of your life, the good times and the bad. It also makes you feel a loss that you can’t talk through.
If you have a space filled with someone who is no longer there and can’t talk about them to set the memory free, no one can take the spot because it is being held onto. Just like a seat in the movie theater, if you don’t allow them to let go of the seat, you can’t ever get your way next to them. When dating a widower, let them talk about their ex and try not to make them feel as if they aren’t supposed to have a “before you.” [Read: 10 ways to be a better listener in your relationship]
#11 They have a different perspective on life. When I was in the car with my son the other day, he said, “Mom, when my friends ask their mom if someone can sleep over, or drive them somewhere, they always have to plead. When I ask you, you always say yes.” When you date a widower, you found a person who doesn’t take life too seriously.
We saw how bad things can be, watched someone we love die, and know the secret to life is that it is way, way too short to sweat the small things. If they seem to be careless with money, need to experience things, want more of your time and desire to be with you all the time, realize it isn’t them being needy. It is just that they know the reality is that any time you spend with someone may be your last time.
We don’t take much for granted and try to cherish every moment with someone that we can. Things just mean more, cut deeper and stay more closely to our heart because we have a different perspective.