#365: Dating after death.

Dear Captain,

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.

31 thoughts on “#365: Dating after death.

  1. Letter Writer, I too am sorry for your loss. I have a very strong bond with my partner and I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose him.
    As for your situation, total Amen to what the captain said, she put it perfectly!

  2. Hey LW,

    I think it is worth remembering that you can start dating just to “be dating” without pressuring yourself to be sizing each dating partner up as a potential Father To Your Children. The way I see it, your dating plan may have several steps and you have a different objective with each one. I am not sure how much dating you did before you got together with your fiance but people date differently at different periods of their lives, and of course people change.

    1. Date casually. Meet people. Find your dating feet and work your head around the whole “dating” thing. Spending time with potential sexual partners one-on-one. Work out what kind of person you would like to date, work out what kind of person you are in your dating life. Have fun! Have flings or one-night-stands if that is your thing, or don’t if it isn’t. Maybe find out for sure if that is your thing or not Your objective is to get yourself to the point that you feel comfortable with the idea of seeing someone.

    2. Date a little bit more seriously. Once you’ve got your feet wet your objective changes. Once the idea of being in a relationship with someone no longer feels so horribly alien then you will be dating a little bit more seriously. You’re still not trying to visualise them in wedding photos, but just try and work out what kind of person you would like to date, what kind of person might you have a potenital relationship with?

    You might find that you “click” better with people who are similar to your fiance, You might find that you feel more comfortable with people who don’t remind you of him at all and are very different! Anything is okay! The idea is to work out what kind of person floats your boat these days: do you want someone quiet, someone adventurous, someone open with their feelings? You won’t know until you spend time with different kinds of people.

    3. Have a (or more than one, but probably not at the same time unless everyone is cool with that) relationship. You’ve said that one day you want to have kids and you are still young but at some point, when you’re ready, you might decide that you’re now ready to find a guy who you want to stick with. Hopefully you will have had enough practice with dating and spending time with people that your fiance isn’t an awkward 3rd wheel at every date. Use what you learned in steps 1 and 2 to find people who are compatible with you and your dating/relationship style.

    Good luck, letter writer! I wish you all the happiness in the world!

  3. First, I’m so sorry for your loss.

    Second, I agree so much with this:

    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.

    …because we all have our… I don’t wan to say ‘baggage,’ that sounds fraught and negative and also inherently transitory. Let’s say ’emotional furniture,’ things that are part of where we’re at and who we are, and not in a negative way. Where you grew up and what you know and what you love is part of your furniture–and so is who you love, and loved. It’s not necessarily a burden (it can be, but it also can not be), it’s just something present in your life.

    You don’t have to date anyone who makes you feel like you should throw a dust cloth over any part of your emotional furniture, or put it up in the attic. That’s your choice. And you’ll make it at the pace that’s right for you, not someone else.

    1. (And I realize retroactively that it sounds like I’m saying that emotional furniture will always end up in the attic, metaphorically speaking, eventually. Ack. Not what I meant! Rather: when I was grieving, at first the relationship felt like a grand piano in the foyer. Now that past love is more like a grand piano in the drawing room: still important and beloved, but not always there for every coming and going.

      But that had to happen at my own pace and on my own schedule [with some help from counselors], not because I was afraid that the grand piano in the foyer would freak out some other person and thus had to be hidden.

      Okay, tortured metaphor over.)

      1. I have also found that it’s important for my partner to like (or at least appreciate that I like, even if they’re not musically inclined) the grand piano in the drawing room. I have never lost a partner, but I lost a few significant people before I met my husband. And (to torture cora’s metaphor even further), while my husband wanders all through my emotional house and we probably spend most of our time in other rooms (kitchen? den? bathroom? 😛 ), sometimes we hang out in the drawing room and spend time at the piano. And that’s okay. Because a partner–someone who becomes intimately involved with your life–will have their own relationship with the people who shaped you or with the memories of those people.

  4. LW, it’s been what, a year and a half since your fiance died? That’s nothing, in the grand scheme of things. It took me three and a half years to pick up enough of the pieces to move forward with my life after my brother died. If you’re ready to move on, then definitely go for it, but if you’re not, then you don’t have to. And there is absolutely no reason to feel guilty either way. Your feelings are your feelings, and yours alone, and you don’t have to answer to anyone else about them. Your friends are trying to help, but that doesn’t mean they understand what you’re going through or that they necessarily know what’s best for you. Personally, I don’t think it would be unreasonable for you to take a little more time. Of course, on the other hand, maybe you are ready to move on. But that’s for you to decide, and not anybody else.

    The thing about grief that nobody mentions is that it’s not just about the emotional pain. It’s about dealing with a hole in your life where a person used to be. Here, I’ll add my own awful metaphor: it’s like when you’re carrying stuff around in a plastic bag, only then your bag gets a hole in it and you have to shift it around until you can compensate for it somehow before all your stuff falls out onto the ground. The initial pangs of loss are when the hole happens and you’re desperately grabbing for your stuff, and then there’s an adjustment period where you clutch the whole bundle to your body awkwardly and poke your emotional baggage back inside, and fumble around for a new way to hang onto the bag so that stuff doesn’t fall out. And then you just have to get used to carrying stuff around that way for a while.

    …and I was going to try and work the part where you get a different bag to carry your stuff in into the metaphor but then I realized I might be going too far so we’ll leave it there. Uhh… there was a point in there somewhere… oh yeah! Move on when you are damn good and ready, and not a moment before or after. 😛

    You’ll probably get a lot of sorries, but uh… add mine to the pile, too. ❤

    (it's late, that's all I have to say for myself)

    1. This. If you aren’t ready to date, LW, don’t date. Your friends don’t get to decide that for you.

      You don’t have to date on anyone else’s timetable, and you don’t have to date the way they date. If you meet somebody cool in the normal course of your life, and you want to go hang out with them, that’s a very different thing than going on dating sites or to singles bars or speed dating. Maybe you’re ready to go on a date with someone you think is cool, but not ready to go actively looking for dates.

      Your friends are telling you, lovingly, caringly, that you should do things their way. You can tell them, lovingly, caringly, to go jump in a lake if you don’t want to do things their way.

      Honestly, I’m kind of horrified by your friends’ suggestions. There’s no set period of time to mourn a partner and then bam, you have to be ready to go find another one. There’s no hurry, you have years yet. Yes, even if you want kids. I’m in my mid-thirties, engaged for the first time, planning on marrying in a year, and then still planning on taking a year or two before attempting to get pregnant. (And it’s going to take some work — my fiancee is also a woman.) Women can safely have kids well into their 40s with modern medicine around to help.

      But then, I really hated having my friends bug me to date ever, at all. I dated when I wanted to (and still do; we’re poly), and when I met someone I wanted to date. If I went three years without a date, that was fine by me. If I dated five people in a year — sometimes all at once — that was fine by me. Why the hell couldn’t it be fine by other people? So take my horror with a generous pinch of salt.

      1. But it does sound like LW wants to date, if not now then eventually. She’s not asking how to get her friends to stop bugging her about dating but how to go about dating.

      2. This. Totally this. Friends pushing – however gently! – someone to date, in any circumstances, is simply off. And someone who is grieving? No way.

  5. I’m sorry for your loss.

    I’ve never gone through anything like this, so my thoughts may be way off. Feel free to discard them if they are.

    My speculation is … maybe dating after a partner’s death is a little like dating after a breakup, even though death is far more traumatic. Maybe you know you’re ready to do it when you find yourself wanting to. Not just, I’d like to date again someday, but Hey, that guy is cute and worth getting to know better. I’d like to do something about that!

    That said, the Captain is spot on when she says you don’t have to commit to one position or the other.

  6. Hi LW – I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t contribute particular advice on dating or not dating, but I would like to tell you a bit of my mother’s story.

    My father died young of cancer. He was only just 40, and I (the oldest of my mother’s three daughters) was 10 at the time. My mother went on to raise us alone, get her MA and PhD, resume full-time employment at an age when a lot of people find it hard to do so, and about five years ago married my stepfather. Their relationship started just after my father’s death but they treated it as a friendship for almost ten years (at least, in front of us).

    The point of the story for me at least is that at their wedding, there were three families – my mother’s, my stepfather’s – and my father’s. It was happy all around (and I made the ‘best man’ speech :D). You can love someone and lose them and love someone else without either replacing the first or demoting the second to second best. It’s weird how two people can end up occupying the same-but-different space in your heart (to a lesser extent, this is something I’ve found with the competing memories of my father and my stepfather, both of whom I love) but it seems to work itself out.

    My mother does compare my father and my stepfather sometimes – jokingly, saying that she can’t believe she managed to find two wonderful, caring, intelligent men who were both incapable of turning up less than ten minutes late for everything. 🙂

    1. Your story made me tear up in more ways then one. All your parents raised an extraordinary person. Kudos to them.

  7. Aside from emailing the link to my sister I just wanna say, don’t start dating because your friends think it’s time. Generally speaking people quite often expect others to “get over” their grief faster than we actually process it (though not always) and it’s perfectly okay to decide you’re not ready yet – or that you are ready even though others think it’s too soon! My closest experience *personally* was after an abusive relationship and I never made a decision to actively start dating again – I just drifted into a place where if it happens, it happens. I haven’t met anyone who it would be worth giving up being single for yet, but it’s not something I’m ruling out if I do. In the meantime I’m working on myself and meeting people for the sake of meeting people.

    If you’re getting lonely you could try doing that – spend time with your old friends and also broaden your horizons a bit and make some new friends, and if you click with someone that’s just a bonus.

    I agree with the advice to just be matter of fact about your history. Just have a brief line about what happened, and then you can open up more about the feelings when you feel comfortable with it. Test the waters to see how people react first so you don’t pour your heart out to someone who’ll hurt you. My line was “My last relationship was really unpleasant. I’m still coming to terms with it, so I’m not looking for anything serious at the moment.” Sometimes I would also joke about it: “My last ex was so bad I skipped the country!” (literally true as well as sounding slightly ridiculous) but that was generally in a situation that was purely platonic, often with people I already knew a little or with complete strangers that I wasn’t likely to see again.

  8. “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.” Lord, I wish I could have this tattooed somewhere…

    LW – I just wanted to say that being loved well prepares you to be able to love well. It’s not betraying your fiance to love again, and at some point you’ll be able to use your experience as a well loved person to start learning to love someone new. Until that point? Man, take your time. And noodle through the archives. The Captain has some really sound advice about things to do that will help someone get over a break up, and a lot of it applies to your situation.

    Treat yourself well, give yourself time. We’re out here rooting for you!


  9. Firstly, I am so sorry for your loss. It matters not whether you were married or engaged or even just living together: your grief is as real as any ‘legal’ widow.

    I lost my wife four years ago. We’d been together for twenty-six years and were less than five months away from our silver wedding anniversary. It’s taken me most of the time since to piece together some facsimile of a life, and only very recently have I begun to consider dating again. She was my first serious relationship (guess I was very, very lucky in hitting the target first time out), so the prospect is somewhat terrifying. However, even at twice your own age, I really don’t want to draw a line through the rest of my life.

    Take your time. Listen to your heart and be guided by it.

  10. I’d like to echo the advice of CA and others to date casually (when you want to! not when other people want you to!)

    If it’s not about finding capital-L-Love, but just about having fun on dates, it will hopefully minimize the comparison issue and majorly reduce the pressure. OKCupid or other dating sites can be great ways to find people in this situation, and they have the added benefit that you can use your profile to broadcast the whole Just Looking For Casual Dates/Potential Friends! message in a clear and unambiguous way.

    Also, CA’s advice about slowly trying out dating is good – it’s not like you have to make a big all or nothing decision – you can go on a date and then you can not go on any more dates, you can go on a bunch of dates and then not any more dates. Do this if it feels like it could be fun and rewarding, not because other people say you should.

    I am so, so sorry for your loss. I am sending all kinds of thoughts of good will in your direction.

  11. LW, I have a dear friend who lost his beloved at a very young age and also before they were married–in his case to a sudden death rather than a longer illness. We live in different cities now, so when he told me he’d found someone pretty seriously again, I worried because…well…I wanted him to be happy again, and I couldn’t meet this woman right away, worry worry fuss fuss. But I had to just take deep breaths and trust his judgment, and it was right to do so. (And it would have been right to do so even if we’d lived in the same city! He is a smart grown-up person! This is why we’re friends! It’s just that when you meet somebody you can go, “Okay, he’s/she’s cool,” and stop hunching your shoulders quite so much like Richard Nixon.) He had found someone who was not *exactly like* his late love but also not *night and day different*, and that was such a relief, because there were so many things about her that were really great for him, so trying to go completely the opposite would have been bad. At the same time, trying to replace her exactly would have been a huge mistake. He is a smart guy. He knew that when he found her (or, now that I know the whole story, when she found him!). His friends, including me, needed to trust him on timing and on judgment. And he needed to trust himself. For awhile it looked from the outside like he was still basically still in a monogamous relationship with his late fiancé, it was just that she was gone. And that went away gradually, that approach and that mindset. It went away differently than in a breakup, because in a breakup you have reasons to say, “This person is not a good partner for me,” and after a death, they are still a good partner, they’re just not around as an option to be one. So it takes different types and amounts of time for the approach to change. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    I think that it will probably be the case that you will meet someone who will have some traits that remind you of your late fiancé and some that are completely different but also awesome. Possibly you will not have even thought about whether you want these new traits until they are here. The new person will drive you nuts sometimes, and you will remember that your late fiancé also drove you nuts sometimes, but probably in a completely different way, and both of them will be able to make you smile sometimes while you roll your eyes about it. From what my friend says, being able to say, “Yes, this guy I’m dating reminds me of my fiancé in this way, that way, and the other way, but in the following ways, totally no, wayyyyy different,” is a good sign. It means you’re thinking of them as their own people in your life, people you can love equally much but in different ways.

    I don’t know you, but like Captain Awkward, I believe in that for you.

  12. You know how you know lots of people who are beautiful even though they look nothing alike? Because there isn’t one ideal shape of nose or face or eye or mouth, or one attractive combination of coloring; it’s the way everything comes together in a particular person that grabs us somehow?

    Same with personality traits. Although there may well be some that are non-negotiable for you, the thing that makes you fall in love again won’t be meeting someone who has the same list of personality traits as your fiance, any more than it will be meeting a guy with the same shape of nose, same color of hair, same teeth. It’ll be meeting someone whose physical and personality traits come together in a way that grabs you anew and makes you say, “hunh!”

    Remember that — that the guys you date don’t have to have your fiance’s exact traits to be worth checking out, as if you were literally trying to replace your fiance — trying to lie to your heart and fool it into accepting an imposter, like when some parents try to pass off a replacement gerbil, hoping their kid won’t realize it’s not the same one. You’re smarter than that! And it would be creepy! Your goal should be to be receptive to the possibility of happiness coming in another form. It will be hard, but at least you know you have it in you to feel that way about someone. Not everyone has that much.

    Good luck. I’m sorry you didn’t get to have more of the exact kind of happiness you found with your fiance. And yeah, I know: The possibility of finding love with someone else will never make losing him ok.

    1. I had a comment here earlier that got eaten by login screwups, but it basically said this ^

      Another way to put it might be to treat Fiance as a case study, not a model. You learned things from him about what works and doesn’t work for you in a partner, and it’s fine to use him as an example in your own thinking of why something about New Person is promising or worrying. But you’re not looking for a New Person who *matches* Fiance, you’re looking for a New Person who is a good fit for where you’re at now.

  13. Almost Widow, I’m so sorry for your loss.

    When I was reading your letter I thought of this blog http://snickollet.blogspot.com/ which is written by a woman who lost her husband also at a young age, after just a year or two of marriage. She had very young twin children by him, so that makes the focus of some of her experience very different, but she also talks about beginning to date, and writes about some of the feelings she has about losing someone she loved so much but lost so early in their relationship. You might find it helpful, and she might also offer links or recommendations to other resources for young widows. Like anything else on the Internet, I bet there’s a lot of folks in your situation out there, and having walked the road you’re walking, they may have some very good advice for you.

    My primary reaction reading your letter was that your friends are well-meaning but this is really about what you want, and if you’re not really ready… you have time. Maybe when you’re ready to date, the type of dating you ought to do will become clear to you. Or, as one of my favorite sayings goes, “Cross that bridge when you come to it.”

    My best wishes to you.

  14. You probably don’t worry about meeting new friends, right? You don’t think you’re replacing an old friend if you meet someone cool, and you don’t rate how new ones measure up against old friends. Because they’re all different people, with different habits and interests and personalities.

    I don’t think you’ll be confused when dating, either. You know different people are different. Your fiance was wonderful, and you love him. But there are other wonderful people out there, who might be great for you in a different way. Or even a similar way! That’s okay too.

    If you *do* think someone doesn’t measure up to your fiance, maybe it is because they aren’t good or good enough for you. I think you can trust yourself to feel a difference between “not the best relationship for me” and “isn’t my fiance”.

    Maybe you are ready to try dating, maybe you aren’t. Like the Captain says, it’s not a decision you have to stick with either way. You could join OKCupid, see if anybody on there seems interesting to you. Try going on a date, if you want to. And you don’t have to keep doing it if you don’t want.

  15. I have a friend who is a widow in her early twenties, and also asking questions about if/when she should date again, and she kind of likes this person, but she doesn’t know if it’s something she wants to act on, and… All I can offer is that you’re not alone, and that it plays out differently for everyone. Go with whatever feels right, basically. And you get to change your mind about what ‘feels right’ every day, if you wish.

    Your friends are well intentioned (hopefully) but are probably also very unsure of how to be Good Friends in this situation. They might appreciate a clear “I don’t want to be set up with anyone right now” or “I’m not explicitly looking, but if an opportunity comes up, we’ll see what happens.” They’ll take their cue from you.

  16. LW, I am so sorry for your loss. I am newly married and my heart shatters at the thought.

    The song that the Captain links is so wonderful. It seems unromantic but it is very true.

    Maybe more importantly, having loved so deeply and healthily once, you know that you can do so again. You know you’re able to have a long-term healthy relationship; you know you can commit. That’s a lot to know so young! It comes at a terribly high price.

    You might, if you were so inclined, look at it as a last and lasting gift from your fiance.

  17. I am the second partner. My wonderful, loving, amazing boyfriend lost his wife to breast cancer about 2 years before we met and we were acquaintances/friends for a year before we started dating. Our feelings for each other really surprised us both, but we’ve been together three years now and going strong.

    First, I have to say that the first moment I knew my boyfriend was special when he told me about his wife. This was fairly early on in our acquaintanceship, before I would say we were even friends, but we were in a setting where everyone else knew what had happened and it came up. I really just sat there in shock thinking, this is an amazing man.

    I absolutely, 100% respect my boyfriend’s memories of his wife. I’m going to be really honest here though (anonymous forum ftw!) and tell you that I don’t like her one bit. They were together for many years and he had some emotional scars from her. One thing that was sexual and basic and selfish on her part. Several things that were emotionally manipulative and selfish in their day to day life. Finally, she was an extremely materialistic person, which I suppose is neither “right” nor “wrong” but to me is a very unpleasant attitude. (He bought her a beautiful ring with “grown” diamonds and she refused to wear it because they weren’t real.)

    Anyway, my point is that he has said “you and [wife] would have been great friends if you’d met her before she died.” He has called me by her name when deep in thought or distracted. There are a few pictures of her around the house. We visit and tend her gravesite together, and frequently with her father. Even though I don’t think that we would have ever gotten along one iota, I am 1,000,000% aware that what I think doesn’t matter! He loved her! He loves me! He has absolutely no idea that I don’t particularly like what I’ve heard of her.

    Comparisons are natural, and being the new girlfriend has been awkward a few times. But I never ever feel that our love is diminished by his love for her. If anything, their relationship (good and bad) helped make him into the man I love and for that I can only be grateful.

    1. Do you think you’ll talk about your discomfort with some of the things you’ve heard? I don’t think I would keep quiet, although I would speak delicately, or just ask provocative questions.

      I’m not exactly subtle, though, and people tend to know what I’m thinking. I don’t subscribe to not speaking ill of the dead; I think the dead are people just like the rest of us, and honoring them requires honoring the full truth of them.

      I’m not saying you should be all “yeah, your dead wife was kind of a terrible person and I’m glad I never met her!!!” But maybe something like “Wow, she wouldn’t wear the ring? That’s pretty special of her.”

      Possibly you’re getting the negative view that he doesn’t feel safe giving most other people in the world. I mean, you can’t tell many people “I adored her but actually she was kind of materialistic and selfish sometimes.” That would make it more of a sign of trust for you, and also gives you the opportunity to say “you know, I’m not sure how much I would have liked her, you’ve said a lot of negative things about her. What did you really love about her? What made her the brightest star in your firmament?”

      And of course, so much (SO MUCH) props to you for being chill about him calling you by her name when he’s distracted.

      1. I can’t agree with this – there are ways to express that one wouldn’t approach a situation in the same way without actually actively criticizing a dead woman who you’ve never met. If presented with a story about the deceased doing something you perceive as Not Cool you can say ‘Huh, that’s interesting, that’s not how I would have felt/reacted. I guess we’re pretty different people.’ If given the line that ‘You would have been such good friends’ or similar, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to find out’. is reasonable. Because Partner was saddened by Loved One’s death! You are sorry about that! You are being honest without criticizing someone you’re never met. Anyway, just my take, ymmv and every relationship is different.

  18. I don’t have any additional advice to give, but I wanted to mention that the letter itself gives me the strong impression that the LW is a person with strong self-identity and healthy boundaries, and will likely do really well going forward.

  19. LW, I am so sorry. My dad died a month ago, so I have recent experience with grief, although I definitely wouldn’t claim to understand how you feel.

    I like the Captain’s advice and I have an idea to throw out there, because you mentioned not having any friends your age with similar experiences or any older friends who’ve chosen to date after losing a partner. Have you thought about trying a grief support group where you could meet other young people who’ve lost a partner? This could be either a group specifically for young partners/spouses, or a group for all ages at which you might meet other young people. My local hospice has groups and they’re free and open to the community, not just people whose loved ones used the hospice. I’ve noticed that I want to seek out other people in their twenties who’ve lost a parent, like me, because they know what it’s like and I feel less alone in my experience.

  20. I am so sorry for your loss.
    I am a widow, and my husband passed away just a few months before what would have been our tenth anniversary. He also was sick before he passed on. I had a year and a half between his diagnosis of stage four melanoma, and his death. I had time to adjust to the idea of his passing before it happened.
    I have two things to say.
    One, you lost your fiance before you actually got to the married part. I know you obviously knew him well, or you wouldn’t have committed to him, but, the dreams were still all dreams! You have some things to mourn that I was already over. I already knew I wasn’t going to have kids. I had the house and the opportunity for the white picket fence. You lost all the dreams in addition to losing him. Give yourself some time and be easy on yourself. Let yourself recover at your own speed! No one else knows what you need like you do. Listen to that.
    Two. Definitely wait on the dating till you aren’t seeing every guy as a reflection or shadow of the one that you lost. It’s better for you and better for your date. I have been the date across from a guy who is not seeing ME, but, still seeing some reflection of his ex. I felt a bit invisible.
    Alright, maybe I have three things to say. My mom had me when she was 40. That was in 68. You most likely have time to have kids, and if you have trouble at 40 it may not be an age related thing that causes trouble. My ovaries were just lazy as all get out, and the one side that was capable of putting out an egg when pushed to do so with hormones was on the side with a crimped Fallopian tube. Not horribly effective. Not an age related problem. As I said, my parents had me when they were 40 (mom)and 40 plus(dad). You have time.
    Jedi hugs if you want them.

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