This guest blog comes from author Becky Aikman, who candidly shares what it was like dating after she unexpectedly lost her husband in her forties. I love her positive spirit. Enjoy!
On one of my first dates after I found myself alone in my forties, I ate too many pancakes at brunch, babbled on about my husband’s early death and overshared my theory that his loss had saddled me with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Was the date an embarrassing disaster? It could have been, until I laughed about it the next week – on a second date with the same guy.
It turned out he’d been through a tricky divorce himself and understood the potential to geek out when faced with the prospect of new romance. I wasn’t the only one out there trying to master the uncertain terrain of dating while sad. There are all kinds of circumstances that lead to diving back into dating after life takes an unexpected turn toward sadness. Sadness after a divorce. Sadness after a death. Sadness after a series of dates that didn’t hit the mark.
But the good news, I was surprised to discover, was that even when dating while sad ends in carbo-overload or half-baked psychobabble, the process may be just the thing to perk a person up.
Research offers support for what I found. Once a person begins to emerge from the deepest grief after a loss, studies show, there are benefits to getting out in the world, forging new friendships, sharing new adventures and finding new sources of laughter. In fact, people who laugh and smile the most during bereavement are more likely to have better mental health years later.
As a young widow, I had to leap all sorts of hurdles as a couple years passed before I even decided to date. There was my grief at the loss of the man I thought would be my mate for life. There was the perception that proper widows were supposed to remain perpetually gloomy. There was the fear of losing someone again and the guilt at considering new love.
Once again, research came to my rescue. I’d been buying into the cliché that a widow who seeks a new partner must not have loved her husband much in the first place. But studies of actual bereaved men and women showed that those who enjoyed loving relationships before were well position to do it again. And a 2010 study from the University of Delaware went further, saying that the act of creating online profiles helped widows and widowers make sense of their lives.
Even when I decided to try, the hurdles were daunting. How would I meet someone at midlife, when most of my friends were married? How could I face the prospect of kissing a man who was not my husband – for the first time in twenty years?
Once again, I fell back on the importance of humor, sharing funny dating stories with my friends and with the men I met for coffee and dinner and brunch. I stumbled. I blundered. But I also learned that pushing myself to date while sad had opened me up to happy possibilities.
Becky Aikman is the author of Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives. In this transcendent and infectiously wise memoir, a widow, too young, too modern to accept the role, forms an unlikely group with five other young widows, each seeking a way forward in a strange and disquieting world. A warm, witty, and compassionate guide on this journey, Aikman explores surprising new discoveries about how people are transformed by adversity, learning the value of new experiences, humor, and friendship. The Saturday Night Widows band together to bring these ideas to life, striking out on ever more far-flung adventures and navigating the universal perils of finding love and meaning.
Learn more about her new book, and visit her on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy: Nina Subin