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Quinn asks:

“Dating a widow. I always felt that since the relationship never ended with a ‘break up’ that there was no real closure, and therefore the presence of the significant other would persist indefinitely. Is that true? How’s a guy to compete with a potentially perfect guy that’s no longer around?”

*****

Dear Quinn,

Whether a new man remains “in competition” with a perfect, but absent, partner depends on the widow. A widow who has had enough time to heal and adjust will have gone through her own closure process, whatever that means to her.   She will be ready to have a new relationship.  I know several widows who, within a couple years after their husbands’ deaths, wanted to date again and to have new experiences.

After the loss of a spouse, there is no set amount of time to wait before moving on.  Wall Street Journal article  It just depends on the person.

Also, just because our spouses died, does not mean that we idealize them.  I know many widows who are aware of their late husband’s faults or of issues in their  marriages.  Part of grief counseling includes looking honestly at the past for clues about what we want in our futures.   And many marriages that ended in death were still bad marriages.

Furthermore, widowed people in new relationships can still love, and at times even miss, their  late spouses without taking away from their current relationships. Carole Brody link   They can move on from having been in one marriage to a subsequent committed relationship, incorporating both into whom they’ve become.  Michelle Steinke link.

But, there is a risk that the lovely widow in question is not yet ready for a new relationship.    Signs are constant references to her late husband or repeated expressions of regret about her life without him.   Or maybe she just seems really sad or withdrawn.   In that case, your concerns are well-founded.  If so, address the matter with a gentle, nonjudgemental query about whether she is ready to move on from her past.

Many people are haunted by the specter of their partner’s “lost love” who embodies all the things their mate finds lacking in them.   Similarly, a divorced person may still compare their new prospect to their prior, now idealized, spouse.    As we get older, the people we date are likely to have had past partnerships.  The question is how each individual has integrated their pasts with their current selves.

A widow can have “closure” on  her prior marriage.   It is part of the grieving process which, ideally, leaves us strong enough to move on.  But, it is unrealistic to think the widow leaves her memories behind never to be spoken of again.   They will always be a part of her life. Dating a widow who has healed is being with someone who had the capacity for love and can access that capacity again.

There is no competition, just “then” and “now.”