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Finding New Love After Loss Can Be a Mixed Blessing

Widowed actor Patton Oswalt responds to public backlash after engagement news

Patton Oswalt and Meredith Salenger are engaged

Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images

Patton Oswalt and Meredith Salenger at the premiere of AMC's "Preacher," Season 2, on June 20 in Los Angeles

Social media is in an uproar after Patton Oswalt, 48, announced his engagement Thursday to actress Meredith Salenger — a very public ending to Oswalt’s public mourning of his wife, true-crime writer Michelle McNamara. 

The actor and comedian has been outspoken about his depression and grief following McNamara's sudden death, in April 2016, from a mix of prescription medications and an undisclosed heart condition. Oswalt has chronicled his heartbreak and the challenges of being a single father to their 8-year-old daughter, Alice, in articles, Facebook posts and emotion-filled stand-up comedy routines. As he told the New York Times, “I’ll never be at 100 percent again.”

So how, given the depth of his pain, could Oswalt move on just 15 months later?

"It is very common for a person who has lost a husband or wife to want to love again, at least in part as a way to ease their grief and pain,” explains Pepper Schwartz, author, sociologist, AARP love and relationships expert, and contributor to Lifetime’s Married at First Sight. “Doing this relatively quickly, however, can look callous to family or friends, because they are not ready to stop grieving and their pain will not be healed by the new marriage.”  

Oswalt has addressed the social media users who have criticized him as “bitter grub worms” he has decided to ignore. Salenger, 47, also weighed in, saying, “I am grateful to be the one who helps him climb out of the depths of grief and find some joy again. And most of all… Alice (his daughter) is happy and feels loved." 

If a widow or widower does find love quickly, Schwartz advises that the couple move slowly before getting married.  “Caution is good on two fronts: First, people desperate to mute their pain are likely to fall in love too fast, and so, while a quick remarriage is not necessarily a disaster, it is always risk,” she says.  “And second, a marriage within a year of that kind of loss almost always causes a backlash from observers, family and friends.”

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