Even when expected, the death of a partner is a shocking heartbreak. Weathering the waves of sadness — and building a new life without your mate — may pose the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced.
One day, however — trust me on this — the will to live fully again, and even experience companionship, will arise. You’ll be intimidated at first, of course. It’s hard to throw yourself back in the dating game after 30, 40 years or more. But the pointers I offer below can help ease your pre-game jitters.
See also: 8 ways to find love online.
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1. Purge the guilt. Your partner would want you to be happy again, so banish the notion that you are somehow “betraying” him or her by seeing someone new. I tell those I counsel to look at it this way: Cherish your old relationship, but don’t let it sabotage your prospects of forging a new one. And if your feelings of guilt persist, see a counselor; you’ll want to resolve these thoughts before attempting to date again.
2. Tell your story (but carefully). More than merely a widow or widower, you are a person with opinions, hobbies, preferences, accomplishments, social values, political views and a unique way of looking at the world. As you think about how to present your authentic self, be selective about which of those attributes you share right away and which are best kept private until you get to know a new person better. In particular, avoid over-reminiscing about your old life; it may make your new acquaintance feel excluded.
3. Define your desires. Take some time to think about the type of new bond you’d like to establish. You may long to clone your lost love, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever meet an exact replica of the one you were with. And let’s face it—would you really want to? After all, the person you met at age 25 changed over a lifetime, and so did you. Now you’re in a different stage, with a redrawn horizon. Perhaps you’re ready to see the world and want to find someone who shares your wanderlust. Or maybe a partner’s allergies compelled you to live without pets and now you’re ready to romp with a fellow dog lover.
Don’t stop at shared interests, though. Factors that loomed large in the past—good looks, financial success, whatever—may pale in the present as you acknowledge the importance of a partner who is kind and supportive, or one who is funny and entertaining. In short, grant yourself the freedom to gravitate to a whole new kind of person.
4. Take stock and retool. If you’ve become a bit, er, casual in the weight, wardrobe or grooming departments, now’s the time to ratchet up your game. Visit a salon or barbershop and ask how you could best update your hairstyle. Seek out a clothing consultant or personal shopper — someone who can advise you on a flattering look and help you pick out items to achieve it. (Some higher-end department stores offer this service free of charge.) Or ask a close friend to be brutally honest about what your ideal makeover would include. And whatever exercise you once enjoyed, try to make it part of your daily routine.
5. Make a connection. So much for your preseason conditioning. Now it’s game day — time to go out and (yuk!) meet someone.
Certain shortcuts are time-tested. The simplest is to ask friends if they know someone you’d enjoy meeting. Don’t be embarrassed — it’s a good beginning. Most people probably won’t think of suggesting this on their own (and if they do, they may hold back for fear of offending you). So actively encourage them to think of you as a single, eligible person.
Everyone’s circle of close friends is necessarily limited, however, so mention your quest even to those you don’t know well. Research shows that many opportunities come through our “weak ties,” or people we know largely in passing: hairdresser, chiropractor, a neighbor’s visiting sister—even your seatmate on a flight!
Finally, don’t rule out meeting someone online. Most well-known dating sites have a large contingent of “seekers” in their 50s, 60s and 70s (and some in their 80s and even 90s), and several reputable sites are now completely free. Countless widows and widowers have met men and women of quality and intelligence online. You’ll have to practice standard “Internet safety” — due diligence, public first meeting and so on — but there’s no reason you can’t use this tool as successfully as romantics much younger than you. Online, as in life, the rule of thumb seems to be that the heart is a lovely hunter.