Question: I am in my mid-40’s and my husband died about 18 months ago. He was sick for some time, and I coped better than I thought I would. I have continued on with my life in many ways though I do still miss him and think about him every day. I loved him when he was alive, and I continue to love him now that he’s not.
I don’t think I need to start dating right away, but I do get lonely sometimes, so at some point I would like to find another guy to be with. My main concern is, however, that if I do start dating again, I think I’ll always be comparing the new person to my husband. The poor new guy will not have a chance of measuring up.
How do I deal with the issue of comparing other men to my husband? Should I be starting to date again now on the basis that I will always feel like I’m not fully ready, or will I eventually feel like the time is right? If/when I do date someone new, when should I tell him about my husband, and how much detail should I go into?
I am not generally someone who is very comfortable sharing my feelings with people I don’t know well, but I have no difficulty talking about my husband, his illness, or his death in practical, non-emotional terms. I don’t want to overwhelm someone with too much information in the early stages of a relationship; but at the same time, I don’t want them to feel I’m lying or deliberately keeping my husband a secret.
Dr. ZZ: I am so sorry for your loss. It is completely understandable that you will grieve for your husband for a long time, and also completely understandable that you will compare new potential dating partners to him. Everyone is going to bring their history with them into their relationships, so forgive yourself. This isn’t something you are inflicting on other potential partners; it’s just your reality. You will also not be the only person who has loved someone else and then had to rebuild a different life from the one they planned. In many ways you are in the same boat as anyone with a significant ex, trying to figure out the same stuff.
The decision to date again may feel like a really fateful decision – like you’re leaving something behind or at last saying goodbye to the life you dreamed of with your husband – but it doesn’t have to be. If you use an online dating site, you can flip the disc whenever you want to. Go on a flurry of dates. Take 6 months or a year off. Go on another date. Take another few months off. There’s no one day you have to say “I AM READY NOW” and then commit to that. You can make it up as you go along and be as ready or unready as you care to be. There is no rush. Maybe throw yourself into travel or study or friendships or family for a while and save dating for when you feel as if it might be fun – not because it’s something you feel you have to do.
You will almost definitely compare theoretical new partners to your husband. That’s okay, especially at first. You were lucky enough to figure out what you want from a relationship early in life. It is only really a problem if you find a relationship that is good for you and making you happy but start looking for ways to sabotage it by comparing your new love interest to your husband.
Think of it this way: If you go on a lot of first dates, you probably won’t form a deep, lasting connection with most people you meet. That is normal and not a bad thing at all. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you or with any of those people, just that most people aren’t right for you, and you’re not right for them.
It’s ill-advised for anyone to approach a first date with the idea that this person is going to be your future spouse and to put all the pressure of measuring up to that ideal on someone right from the start. Just because you were fully committed to one person in the past doesn’t mean that your default settings are now set on “fully committed,” and that you have to work out all the details of your future on your first date over sushi.
As for telling others about your husband, let it come up naturally when talking about past relationships. With someone you really like, this will probably not happen until a few dates in. You can keep the story short and simple and true, “I was married once before, and he died of a terminal illness.” You don’t have to lie or act like you’re over it or like it’s no big deal. Someone who really likes you and wants to get to know you will be okay with whatever you bring to the relationship.
As more time goes by and as you meet more people, the relentless comparisons are going to slow down and fade. Five years from now your life is going to look completely different than it does right now. When you do find someone that you really connect with, that person will be awesome in many of the same ways your husband was but also in many ways of his own. Your memories and love for your husband will still be part of you, but he will not burn so brightly as to eclipse everyone else.
Dr. ZZ has a Ph.D. in Counseling and a doctorate in Natural Healing. Drawing on a background of over thirty years as a professional therapist, she offers self-help in the areas health, relationship and personal growth. All queries are answered by email and, if they appear in print, are subject to editing. Please email your questions : (firstname.lastname@example.org). All identifying information is kept strictly confidential.
By Dr. Zae
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