Question from Mary: I lost my husband after 31 years. He literally dropped dead at work seven and a half months ago. We had been married almost 31 years and he was my soulmate. A few weeks ago, a man who I knew and met once through a social networking site started texting me and emailing me. He is separated and lonely. I look forward to his messages and I can’t help being flattered by his attention. He gives me a purpose to get up in the morning and I feel happier. At the same time, I feel a terrible guilt as I loved and still love my husband. I feel I should not be doing this so soon. I am not looking to marry this man or even have a serious relationship, but I know he is a good man as other people I know know him. But I feel so guilty and cannot really understand myself for doing it when my husband and I were so close and it is so soon. I am going to meet him in four weeks. I feel I can trust him too, but I don’t think I can trust myself. Could anybody help me concerning this matter?

Beverly Chantalle McManus responds: Mary, first of all, please let me convey how sorry I am for your loss. Seven and a half months ago you lost your sweetheart, who had been such a rich part of your life for over 31 years. I’m so sorry. And I’m glad you reached out. It’s important to know that you’re not alone. One thing they never really tell us is that grieving takes a lot of time and energy. I encourage you to be compassionate with yourself and allow yourself time to really heal, and to feel all the feelings (good and bad) associated with the death of your soul mate.

Especially for those of us who had very fulfilling relationships, it’s so hard to be alone, and it is very tempting to want to jump back into a new relationship, because it feels so good to desire again, and to be desired. However, I’d like to share something I learned — “It’s not a bad thing to walk slowly at this time.”

In our workshops, we regularly advise those with spouse losses to wait at least a year, and if possible, two years, before starting new romantic relationships. As indicated in your letter, your internal warning flags are already telling you this. Go very slowly. It’s fine to make new friends, and it’s good to reach out. But go very slowly when it comes to forming new romantic relationships — you are still extremely early in your grief, and I would guess that there is still a lot of healing, a lot of self-discovery, a lot of exploration and growth you will want to accomplish before you get into a new relationship. You’ll know you are ready when you start to feel “single” again, and not just lonely or widowed.

As for this particular friend you mentioned, I’d also be extremely cautious with someone who isn’t really quite “free” yet — if he is only separated, he still is legally tied to someone else, even if his heart isn’t. I would wager a guess that he may need to grieve the end of his marriage as well, and that he too will change significantly as he heals. I’d encourage you to give each other room to grieve, to cope, and to continue growing. It’s easy to form relatively close relationships online, but meeting in person is quite different. You may want to consider holding off on the actual meeting for a bit longer, just so you each have time to heal.

And, I don’t want to make any assumptions about this particular man’s character, but will say this just because I care about you, and it applies to any new relationship for widows:  Be wary of opportunistic men who make it a habit of preying on recently widowed women. We are easy targets because we’re so vulnerable and feel so alone. Be extremely careful about sharing any financial details with anyone. If a man seems vulnerable and want you take care of him, or move in with you, or to borrow funds for any reason, run in the opposite direction.  For online relationships, regardless of how well you feel you know each other, when you do eventually meet in person, please let a lot of friends know where you’ll be, and when you expect to be home. Be sure to meet in a public place that is well populated. Please don’t share your home address or other details that would make it easy for others to take advantage of you.

I hope you’ll stay in touch and let us know how things are going.

Beverly Chantalle McManus lives in Northern California with her two daughters, who have each now graduated from college.  She is Vice President and Treasurer of the Board of Directors for the Open to Hope Foundation, a bereavement facilitator and core team member of the Stepping Stones on your Grief Journey Workshops, and a frequent speaker and writer on the topic of loss and grief.  In addition to grief support, she is also a marketing executive for professional services firms.

(c) 2009 Beverly Chantalle McManus

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