I am in my mid-twenties and my fiancé died in early 2011. I coped better than I thought I would (he was sick for some time before he died so there was time to wonder) and have continued on with my life in many ways, but I do still miss him and think about him everyday. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all, I loved him when he was alive and I continue to love him now he’s not. However, friends of mine have recently, gently, been bringing up the subject of me dating again and I find I need some advice on this.
My fiancé was the first man I dated that I really felt I truly loved and could spend the rest of my life with, which is a rare feeling I think. However, I do think it is probably possible to feel that with someone else, although it might take a while to find him. My main concern is that if I did start dating again, I think I’d always be comparing the guy to my fiancé and, because my fiancé was a) a wonderful man and we just sort of fit together incredibly well and b) I tend to view him through rose colored glasses because of his death; the poor new guy would have no chance of measuring up!
I don’t think I need to start dating right now but I do get lonely sometimes and I am still only in my mid-twenties and hopefully going to be kicking around on this planet for a good chunk of time to come. Plus my fiancé and I had planned to have children and that is still something I would like one day. So, not necessarily right now but at some point I would like to find another guy to be with.
Although I have talked to friends about this topic I don’t actually have any friends my age that have been in a similar situation and older friends/family whose partners have died are at a much later stage in life and have chosen to remain single. I guess my main questions are; how do I deal with the issue of comparing guys to my fiancé? Should I be starting to date again now on the basis that I will always feel like I’m not really ready or will I eventually feel like the time is right? And if/when I do date someone new when should I tell them about my fiancé and how much detail should I go into? I am not generally someone who is very comfortable with sharing feelings with people I don’t know well, but I have no difficulty in talking about my fiancé, his illness, or his death in practical (non feelings!) terms. I don’t want to overwhelm someone with too much info in the early stages of a relationship but at the same time I don’t want them to feel I’m lying/deliberately keeping my fiancé a secret. That last question sort of applies to making new friends too, actually.
A Young (Not Quite) Widow
Dear Almost Widow:
I am so sorry for your loss.
It is completely understandable that you will grieve for your fiancé 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 partners, it’s just your reality. And you won’t be the only person who has loved Really Big once 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 and trying to figure out the same stuff.
I think this would be a good time for you to listen to Tim Michin’s Statistically Accurate Love Song.
We link this often here. Not to be glib and “ha ha everyone is interchangeable, no big deal!” because love and connection IS rare and IS a big deal. But the song contains an important message that everything good about you that brought you and your amazing fiancé together will bring other amazing people into your life. You have the ability to be happy with a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. Soulmates aren’t real and you don’t have one – there is no ONE TRUE PERSON who has been assigned for you from birth. As Minchin says:
“And if I may conjecture a further objection love is nothing to do with destined perfection
The connection is strengthened the affection simply grows over time…
And love is made more powerful by the ongoing drama of shared experience and synergy
And symbiotic empathy or something like that…”
True love is a choice, not a force of fate. You build it with someone, it’s not something that strikes you like lightning and now, oh shit, you’re in love and also slightly electrocuted.
The decision to date again may seem a bit like you’re in a Brazilian steak house, where you flip your little disc to green and they keep bringing meat until you flip it over to red. This is either awesome or horrifying, depending on how hungry you are and whether you like meat in the first place. Perhaps you’d rather just graze the salad bar.
It 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 fiancé, but it doesn’t have to be. If you use a 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 one date. Take another few months off. There’s no one day you have to say “UNIVERSE I AM READY” and then commit to that. You can make it up as you go along and be as ready or unready as you want to. There is no rush to start doing this again. Maybe throw yourself into work or study or friendships or family for a while and save this for when you are feeling the itch for it and like it might be fun, not because it’s something you feel like you have to do.
You will almost definitely compare theoretical new partners to your fiancé. 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 do it out loud where they can hear you. This would be bad because you would be using your fiancé’s memory to make them feel bad.
- You find a relationship that is good for you and making you happy but start looking for ways to sabotage it by comparing New Awesome Guy to your fiancé.
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, most people aren’t right for you and you’re not right for them. You should only be dating people who are as cool as your friends anyway, and if “not as cool as your fiancé” sneaks in there as a secret reason you don’t like someone no one will know, I swear. When you do find someone that you really connect with, that person will be awesome in many of the same ways your fiancé was but also in many ways of his own.
Another thing that is just basic dating stuff: 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 them right from the start. So just because you were fully committed to one person in the past doesn’t mean your default settings are now “fully committed” and you have to work out things like is this person the future father of your children over tapas.
As for telling people about him, let it come up naturally when talking about past relationships come up. 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 engaged to someone, but he died of a terminal illness before we could get married.” It will probably help you to have close friends or a counselor to talk about your feelings of grief and to tell stories about your fiancé and keep the memory alive, so you’re not counting on your dating partners for that. But you don’t have to lie or act like you’re over it or like it’s no big deal. “I still really miss him, and I can’t always predict how that will hit me as I start dating again, but I’m glad to be here with you.” Someone who really likes you and wants to get to know you will be okay with whatever you bring to the relationship and won’t go into some weird retroactive jealousy spiral. Over time you’ll feel comfortable telling more of the story (including the feelings parts). Someone who acts like your past is all about him and something you are having AT him isn’t a good match for you anyway.
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. Your memories and love for your fiancé will still be part of you, but he will not burn so brightly as to eclipse everyone you meet.