Excerpt from the book Surviving Widowhood: Suggestions from Widowed People to You for Coping with the Death of Your Husband, Wife or Partner by Elaine Eggebraaten, John Hanson, Lori Keller, Tally R. Reynolds, Suzan Styer, Bob Baugher & Margarita Suarez. Available at Amazon.

Making a Decision to Date or Not to Date

For those of you early on in your grief, the word “dating” may seem a strange, perhaps even cruel term. You might be saying, “Why would I even consider dating someone when I still feel married? Why would I consider letting someone into my life when my life is so confusing right now?”

Here are two questions for you:

Do you consider yourself to have had one partner in your life and that’s it?

Or, is it possible that you could someday have another person in your life?

For some people, they were married and once the death took place, their life as a partnered couple ended. For others, they hold out the possibility that there could someday be another person in their life who could be a partner, whether married or in a close relationship. One way to think about this is to see it on a scale like this:

One partner             Slight possibility                     Some possibility                      Definite possibility                  Definitely would like

that’s it                    of another partner                    of another partner                    of another partner                    another partner someday



Where do you fall on this scale? Do you ever see yourself changing? Think about it: When was the last time you dated someone other than your spouse?

Now You Are a Single Person

One of the many facets of becoming unmarried, whether by divorce or death, is that others now see you as a single person. For some people it places them in a world of discomfort in which they begin to become aware that other people treat them differently.

We’ve already mentioned the sometimes-awkward interactions with married couples. Now, it’s you as a single person who has been thrust into a world in which other single people may see you as a potential friend, date, or even partner. You walk into a room or go shopping or are introduced to a new person and suddenly the dynamic is different. How do you handle this?

Some widowed people consider contacting an “old flame,” someone they dated in the past. If this has crossed your mind, here are some considerations:

  1. If this person is still married, would your attempt to reconnect come with the potential to cause marital problems?
  2. If the person is not married, how would you handle it if: the person rejected your invitation to reconnect, or the person wanted more from the reconnection than you were willing to give?
  3. Whether the person is married or not, could you envision merely establishing a friendship with this person?

If you do schedule a date, (hopefully some time after the first year), what is expected? What if the person holds your hand, places an arm around you, asks for (or takes) a kiss, or wants sexual relations? What does this mean? You are already in the bewildering world of grief and now you are on a date with a person who has expectations that may not match yours. Let’s look at this further in the next section.

Considerations When Going on a Date

If, at some point following the death, you hold someone’s hand, kiss them, or more, would you feel like you are betraying your spouse? With so many things to consider you might want to find someone that you can confide in before going out on a date.

Here are some issues to consider:

  1. When going on a date, people put their best foot forward. If this is a new person, be ready to interact with someone who will be careful not to reveal many of his or her flaws. Of course you may feel the same. The point here is: take it slow.
  2. If you and/or the other person are a parent, is there a concern about going out on a date? For some people, discussing this with their children is a must. For others, they consider it a private matter. At any rate, if things begin to get serious, in most cases the children of both parties should know.
  3. Might you find yourself comparing this person with your spouse? In turn, this person may be doing the same with you.
  4. If this person is also dating others besides you, how does that feel?
  5. If this person’s spouse died, how long has it been? If it is less than a year or so, could this person be coping with their grief by attempting to move quickly into another relationship? The same question can be applied to you: Are you moving into a relationship as a way to cope with your grief? If either of these appears to be true, it is a sign to slow things down so you can focus on dealing with grief rather than moving away from it. Does this make sense?

Dealing with Sexuality

As humans, we are sexual individuals. For some people the death of one’s partner means the death of one’s sexuality. For others they find that they still have sexual feelings. If you are without a sexual partner, you have three options. Let’s look at each:

1) No Sex. For some people, whether it is a decision to abstain or an accepted decline in one’s sex drive, the death of one’s partner could mean the end of their sexual life. For some people sexual intercourse is a sacred act. If this is your situation, and it feels right for you, then go with this feeling.

2) Find Another Sexual Partner. At this point we are going to state a critical fact:

Research on the death of a spouse has shown that moving into a new relationship during the first year is not advisable.

However, at some point after the death some people seek a person with whom to have a relationship; and the relationship sometimes ends up including sexual relations. Other people are not “looking” for a relationship, but it seems to find them. They may begin to notice that others are picking up on their status as a single person.

For people who haven’t dated in years, the decision to go out with someone can be a strange, awkward experience. For example, you might ask, “What is a date?” “Does it have to end with a sexual encounter?” “What about contraception?” “What about sexually transmitted diseases?” (There are more than 50, some of which—HIV, Herpes, Human Papilloma Virus—are incurable.)

This is why it is vital that, if it appears things might move in the direction of an intimate physical encounter, you find a way to talk about sex and, both of you get tested before you find yourself in a situation you did not plan.

It is critical to have a plan in order to later be clear about your physical and sexual boundaries. It could literally save your life. Therefore, prior to going out on a date, it is essential that you talk with a friend about all possible “what-ifs.” Another way to think about this is to ask yourself, “If I do that, then what?” and “Then what?”…. As in all situations in life, you do not want to do something that you later regret.

Guilt with Sex?

Engaging in intimate physical contact with a person who isn’t your spouse has its challenges whether the contact is a kiss, petting, oral sex, or sexual intercourse. Some widowed people report a degree of guilt after a sexual encounter. Others report the joy of being close again to another human being. Some report both feelings. Whatever your experience, make sure you find a way to discuss your feelings with that person or with an understanding, nonjudgmental friend.

3. Masturbation. This form of self-stimulation is another option. For some people this is foreign territory and for some it is a moral decision. For others it is a behavior they are comfortable with, having done it in the past. However, if you are new to this, there are books on it and information online.

In summary, with the death of your spouse, you have been left to cope with a myriad of confusing grief reactions. Before going on a date, take your time to decide what your goals are. Talking to a friend, making sound decisions, and taking it slow are three important ways to take care of yourself. And, isn’t that what you need to do at this time in your life?

We thought so.

To order the book, go to www.bobbaugher.com


Bob Baugher

Bob Baugher, Ph.D., is a Psychology Instructor at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington where he teaches courses in Psychology and Death Education. As a trainer for LivingWorks he has trained more than 1,000 people in suicide intervention. He has given more than 600 workshops on grief and loss across the U.S. including England, South Africa, and Namibia. As a professional advisor to the South King County Chapter of The Compassionate Friends, Bob has been invited to speak at many of the TCF national conferences during the past 20 years. He earned a certificate in Thanatology from the Association for Death Education and Counseling and in the 1990s he was a clinician with University of Washington School of Nursing Parent Bereavement Project. Bob has written several articles and seven books on the bereavement process. Reach him at b_kbaugher@yahoo.com. Dr. Baugher appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss Coping with Anger and Guilt After a Loss.

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