How many photos are too many?
One of the most charming questions I ever received in one of my second year spousal loss classes came from a middle-aged man named Sam. He said, “If I were to invite a woman over to dinner, how many framed pictures of my deceased wife would be too many?”
His question was a good one. Sam, like most people who have lost a mate, had increased the number of framed photos around his house so he could feel his late wife’s presence. I answered his question with one of my own: “If you went into a widow’s home, how many photos of her deceased spouse would it take for you to feel uncomfortable?” He laughed and said it was time to dismantle the shrine. He went on to say that he was going to invite a woman over to his home for dinner because he missed having a meaningful conversation with the opposite sex.
The void created by “not belonging to another”
Social connections are key to emotional health. They remind us of our value. Research supports that those of us who are socially connected are healthier, have fewer stress-related problems, and recover from trauma and illness faster. Yet many widows and widowers are reticent to seek a new partner because the quality of the relationship – long term- is uncertain. Occasionally, a class member is brave enough to express her or her apprehension by saying, “What happens if I remarry and find I’m unhappier than I am living alone?” It’s a good question and a valid concern.
However, I recently sent a questionnaire to 90 widows and widowers I have worked with over the years. Of the 60 percent who responded, more than half are happily remarried or in a committed relationship. Many reported that their current relationship was more loving and rewarding than the one they had with their deceased mate.
The touchy subject of dating
You might say that you are not interested in a committed relationship because you are not interested in being a caregiver again. However, that same relationship can become a positive when you think about another person caring and supporting you.
Let me list a few of my own observations about widows and widowers, and the subject of a new relationship.
· When the building of a relationship is rushed, it often fails, throwing the individual back into a grief cycle. I often draw a round peg in a square hole on the white board to remind people that a round peg can be put into a square hole if you make the round peg small enough. In other words, you can make yourself fit into someone else’s world even when it isn’t a good fit for you over the long term. But does that sound appealing?
· The thought of dating can be paralyzing, but seldom do people understand that it is often more the fear of dating than the idea of a relationship that scares them.
· Many who insist they are not going to date change their minds immediately after meeting someone interesting.
· A few individuals strongly believe it is morally wrong to commit to another relationship. They wrestle with thinking they should remain alone because of their prior commitment. When I hear this I ask them to review the last lines of their traditional wedding vows: to love and to cherish till death do us part. Wisely, no restrictions were placed on how to live after they have completed their vows.
No matter what you want or don’t want, expect people to talk to you about dating. Try to understand and be kind. Now that you are without a companion, it is normal for others to think you might be interested in another relationship.
Lastly, what you ultimately decide you want and don’t want to include in your life moving forward—is most likely be the right thing for YOU. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you if you are not interested in committing to a new relationship. Period.