I've written before about dating after bereavement. Last time, the focus of the piece was on how we consider dating after bereavement, with an assumption that it might happen later on in our lives. Check out the post by clicking here. This time, I've looked at 'love and loss' through a slightly different lens. I spoke to Lotte Bowser, a writer, podcaster, and grief educator, who has spoken publicly about her own experience of the loss of her partner at the age of 31. Click here to read her piece for Women's Health magazine about dating as a young widow. Read on to here what I had to say about this topic.
In fact, the reality is far more complex, and raw, and human. There is no set timescale, or pattern to grief. It’s a process of ‘growing around’ the grief that is likely to remain an integral part of our being throughout our lives. We might oscillate between periods when we really focus inwards on our loss, and periods when we focus outwards on rebuilding our lives.
Seeking support. There might come a moment when we are still grieving, but it feels like the world around us has moved on, and is encouraging us to do so.
This is where specific support is extremely helpful. The professional support of a trained professional can offer you a non-judgemental space to explore your feelings.
And peer support networks offer advice and solidarity from other people who have walked in your shoes. For example, the ‘Widowed & Young’ support groups.
Starting to think about dating. If you start contemplating dating, it’s likely that this will be accompanied by a whole host of emotions. Frustration or anger about the loss of your loved one. Jealousy towards those who haven’t had to go through loss. Anxiety or fear about the prospect of the dating scene. Guilt or embarrassment about the idea of putting yourself ‘out there’. And there might also be a surge of sadness about the idea of moving forwards in your life and acknowledging your loss once more. The key here is to find space for all these feelings, to name them, to voice them. To understand the role that they play, in protecting us from further hurt.
The dating scene might be unrecognisable from the last time you entered it. Allow yourself time to adapt, accept and embrace these differences.
Acknowledging that dating won’t be neat and tidy either. In the same way that our grief ebbs and flows, our emotions around dating might follow a similar pattern. One day you might feel energised, liberated and motivated to find someone new. And another day you might feel paralysed by your sadness. This is a totally normal, and human, response to the emotional trauma of a loss.
Figure out what you need. If you start to feel ready for dating, reflect on why this feels like the right time. It might be that you’re feeling more secure and comfortable and ready to embark on a new phase of life. But it’s also possible that you’re feeling lonely, or insecure and looking to fill a void. If it’s the latter, then it might be worth thinking about your own resilience. The support networks and coping mechanisms that you might need to have in place. To help you to cope with the emotional trials and tribulations of dating, including uncertainty and fears of rejection.
Contemplating intimacy. You might feel ready to dip your toe into the water of dating. But it’s also natural to feel awkward or worried or guilty about contemplating intimacy with someone else. Find a way to explore these feelings, and ensure that you go at a pace that suits you.
Making fresh starts and avoiding comparisons. It’s human nature for us to draw comparisons between people. Try to remind yourself that every prospective date deserves a fresh start. It’s also important to be realistic and avoid putting too much pressure on each date. You might not land immediately on the perfect match.
You’re the only stakeholder that matters. When our friends and family have supported us through loss, it might feel natural for them to be involved in our decision to start dating again. And it might be helpful for you to share your journey with them. But it’s also important to decide what boundaries you need to have in place in order to protect your autonomy. You are the only stakeholder that matters.
Staying in charge of your story. It can be tricky to navigate how much you decide to share about your own story. There’s no right or wrong answer here. It might make you feel more comfortable to share it early on, or even on an online dating profile. Or you might decide to wait until you’ve got to know someone. Either way, it’s worth thinking about this beforehand, so that you retain a sense of control.
And remember that there is no set pattern to grief, and there is no set pattern to love, either. We all have the capacity to heal and grow throughout our lives, in a way that honours the memory of those who we have lost, while finding ways to move forward too.
Keen to explore more?
I love working with people to help them to understand themselves.