If you've given yourself some time to grieve and to honor the relationship, you're ready to get back out there
"It is possible to have two places in your heart for two special people."
It's sad but true: Plenty of women have faced the loss of a partner way before they ever expected. And once the dust settles, some women jump back into the dating world right away, while others feel like their grief is still too strong for many years afterward.
However, grieving the loss of your partner doesn't actually mean you're not ready to date, says Brandy Engler, Ph.D., Los Angeles-based psychologist. "One never gets over major life losses—meaning you will always feel something," says Engler. "To me, this is beautiful and in no way means a widow shouldn't move on and form other bonds," she says.
Though every woman is different, if you've given yourself some time to grieve and to honor the relationship, you're ready to get back out there, says Engler. In fact, it could make your next relationship even better than you imagined, she says. "Many people experience loss as a heart-opening experience: You learn to love deeper, savor what you have, and use any regret from the past relationship to learn," she says.
To get an idea of what romance looks like after a difficult loss, we asked these young widowed women to share their stories of loss, love, and renewal after the death of their spouse.
"My husband and I talked about how important it would be for each of us to find a new soul mate if something happened to one of us. He was killed while riding his bicycle shortly after our talk. I decided to date just a few months after my husband was killed, but it was too soon. Then, I met a widowed man whose wife's birthday was on the same day as my husband's death date. There were so many other amazing coincidences, and it was clear that we were meant to be together. We have a huge appreciation for love, relationships, and how short life is. It is important to take the chance to love again when you find a great partner because hearts can expand to love more than one great person. Finding a widower provided me with someone who understands the 'new' me." —Michele, 47
"The months and years after my husband Wesley passed away from leukemia were spent being strong and positive for our 3-year-old and weeping quietly in my car. I was perfectly content to live my life as a single woman and mother, but then I met my daughter's kindergarten teacher's older brother. He was compassionate and caring, and now he's my husband. I have learned to love intentionally and to not take days or moments for granted." —Katherine, 38
"I was widowed suddenly at 47, and met my current partner when I was 50. I was on a dating site for nine months before, but met a fellow widow through a U.K.-based group called Widowed and Young. We’ve been together 15 months now. We understand each other’s grief and the love that continues for our deceased partners. It's very emotional. Starting again is hard, and I had twangs of guilt about being with someone new at the start. But I’m very happy now." —Judy, 51
"It was just nine months after my husband Tyrone passed that I met my current husband, Kellace. I was married to Tyrone for just two weeks before he passed. We’d dated over two years and he had a seven-month battle with cancer before he passed at the age of 38. I was 36. I went through grief counseling and made sure my counselor felt I was emotionally ready to date.
I realized that Tyrone will always be Tyrone to me. He will always hold that exact spot in my heart and no one will ever change that. Just one year after meeting Kellace, we were married. I love him for being Kellace. And he allows me to love Tyrone just as I did. We have been married more than three years and have a beautiful 6-month-old boy. It is possible to have two places in your heart for two special people." —Julie, 41
"I was 40 when my 48-year-old husband died. For six years prior to his death, I was my husband's caregiver, so I needed to regroup. It took another five years until I felt ready to date again. I feared attracting another partner who could die. I came to realize that everyone is on loan to us, so I took the leap. I have been in short-term relationships and have had friends with benefits, but have not met anyone with whom I could see having a life-long partnership. I have done the internet dating thing, had a few blind dates, and mostly spent time with my ever-expanding circles of friends. I have come to a sense of peace with my life as it is, but I still welcome a partner with whom to share it." —Edie, 58
"When I married, I married for life. So when my husband died, my entire belief system around love and relationships came crashing down. Jump forward a few years, and I found myself stable and mostly thriving—but alone. Online dating helped me ease back into the dating world and learn about what kind of relationship I was ready for. It’s been nine years since my husband passed, and I’m currently in a very healthy, committed relationship." —Megan, 31
"My first husband passed away after a seven month battle with cancer. I started dating two months after he passed. I wouldn't recommend this time frame for everyone, but it worked for me. After meeting some 40 men, I finally met the man I later married on Match.com. I would say the second time around was every bit as wonderful as the first. My advice is that if you compare the person you're dating to your late hubby, it's too early to date. However, if you can evaluate that person on his own merits, then you're probably ready." —Shelly, 56