Dating a widower: Be ready for stories about dead wife and scorn from society

When a man’s wife dies, he loses his lover, confidant, companion, and his biggest supporter, and his identity as a provider, leader, and protector vanishes. Though both widowers and widows feel the emotional turmoil and pain that comes with losing a spouse, widowers are more likely to date and become involved in a serious relationship soon after their loss.

According to one study by American writer Susan Shapiro, widowers are eight times more likely to remarry in their lifetime than widows, more so because it’s hard for men to deal with the pain alone. Widowers experience much emptiness in their problems and many lack motivation and drive to face another day. And how do they fix their grieving hearts and broken lives? They start dating again.

Though there are a lot of dating resources for the widowed in public or media, most of them don’t comprehensively address the concerns, questions, feelings, and needs of widowers. With these, most women lack awareness of what is expected of them when dating widowers.

Counselling psychologists argue that nearly everyone has an urge to find companionship soon after their wife passes away, with the hope that being with another woman would alleviate their loneliness and pain.

According to Abel Koegh, an America-based relationship coach and expert on widower relationships, widowers believe that by having someone in their lives, their hearts will be healed and the empty feeling of loss which consumes them will vanish.

“This desire for companionship is so strong that in some cases, widowers will start a serious relationship with women they wouldn’t date if they weren’t grieving. In other cases, widowers are lucky to finally settle with the right woman who would walk with them and assure them that there is life after loss,” he says.

Building a relationship can be daunting even at the best of times, but when it involves a widower, it can be fraught with a unique set of emotional challenges.

Here are four women who share their experiences of dating widowers.

They requested that we avoid publishing their photos.

Mary Chege, 40, accountant: Almost every discussion surrounding our lives ended with him saying how his late wife was special to him and did exceptional things

“In the five months following the death of his wife, John, not his real name, was an emotional mess. On our first date, he described the feeling of losing his wife as a ‘hollow core’ which grew day by day inside his chest. Though he never contemplated suicide, I suddenly understood the challenges to those who are in the depths of such despair.

We met at a wedding where I was serving as an usher and I recall serving him food. I am an outgoing, jovial, and very friendly person, and so, I ushered in excellence and the fact that I ensured his two teenage boys ate captured his heart. I didn’t have intentions of looking for a man at the function and I could never have imagined someone was eyeing me.

When the function ended, he asked for my phone number and requested that we meet some day for coffee. I was captured by his great sense of humour. Plus, he was very good looking and with enticing Swahili with a coastal accent.

Within a month, I fell in love with him so deeply that I could sacrifice anything for him. His love for me was so deep that he cared about everything I did and our friendship grew so fast that he became so open to me with the challenges he was going through.

From the beginning of our dating life, I realised there were typical issues dating a widower. There were pictures of his late wife all over the house, her belongings still in the drawers and closets, and his former in-laws were upset that he had started dating so quickly after her death. At first, my reaction was to end the relationship before it began, but I felt a strong connection to him and I knew that things would improve as time went on. It’s been one year now, and I must admit that it has not been easy.

Almost every discussion about our lives ends with him saying how his wife was special to him and did exceptional things in their 10 years of marriage. I recall an incident where my patience ran out and I ended up yelling at him when he kept on praising his late wife and I felt like I was never quite good enough. However, after attending couple’s therapy with him, I realised that he had never fully mourned his late wife.

At some point, I wondered if he’d ever find a way of moving past the grief and begin his future with me. Moving forward past the grief has been one of the hardest things for him but, looking back, the journey is becoming lighter.

Since the counselling session, I have been aware of the challenges that widowers go through and so I have been giving him unconditional love and support and the assurance of our love is growing day by day. We appreciate our church leaders who have given us adequate support in our dating life. I have learnt to be patient with him.

I give his children the unconditional love of a mother and I look forward to spending my future with him. We are planning to have a wedding in a year’s time. We hope things will be better. My advice to those out there dating widowers is: be patient and offer unconditional support. Provided there is mutual support and love, things will get better with time.”

Caroline Mwende, 39, teacher: Many people have challenged our dating life because I was a great friend of the couple prior to his wife dying

“I knew the man I am dating and his wife before she died. I liked and admired them both and thought they were a great couple. I was healing from a painful divorce and so, this couple was an inspiration that marriage works when you marry your friend.

One year later, his wife was killed in a tragic accident and this affected me so much that I wondered how he and his children were getting along. I was exhausted thinking how suddenly he was thrown into the role of caretaker of children, animals, house, children, scheduling and management, in addition to the already full-time job of sole financial provider.

One day, he called me and we eventually shared a glass of wine and our friendship grew tremendously. Although many people have challenged our dating because I was their great friend prior to his wife dying, we have overlooked the criticism. Things haven’t been easy in his life in that there have been high expectations from his past in-laws that he should have waited for at least five years since his wife died. We haven’t announced we are dating to many people, but we hope to do so in a couple of months after we have fully communicated with our children, his two teenage girls and my two boys.

I am not offended when he tells me stories about his late wife because I fully understand that she was his main companion for a decade. I don’t expect him to erase her from his memory but day by day it gets better. I don’t feel like I’m competing with her because I understand she had her strengths and imperfections and I am totally different from her. Also, I don’t feel like I am expected to replace her and, every day, I want him to know that someone cares for him. A man needs someone to talk to and laugh with and I’m just right there for him.

His teenage children know me as a great friend of their father. He has shown them that it is okay to mourn their mother and has opened the door for me to support them emotionally. I am always pleased when I hear them calling me: ‘Bye, Aunty Carol; see you tomorrow.’ This gives me assurance that they have accepted me and we are planning on how we will have a candid conversation of our two families staying together after marriage.

The right amount of time to grieve differs for everyone and at some point, an individual just needs to be allowed to grieve and be happy alone. I have learnt that adequate support is needed when dealing with widowers and allowing them to speak about their pain improves healing day by day.”

Esther Atieno, 40, businesswoman: When he communicated his grief, I always understood him because we connected on a deeper level of losing a loved one

“After my husband died in 2018, I didn’t think I would ever fall in love again. I had three children and couldn’t imagine being in another relationship. At some point, I felt unlucky for losing a man I had given my heart to and two decades of marriage. But three years later, a friend just called me to ask if I’d be interested in going on a date with her friend John, a single dad who had lost his wife to cancer a year ago.

I was hesitant because every single person I met had baggage and I never thought dating a widower would be different. I didn’t even consider that I would love again because I knew no one would ever replace my late husband.

From the get-go, I could tell John was different, in that our conversation flowed so easily and he had a great sense of humour. I was captured by how he took care of his children and I knew my children would be happy to have such a man around them.

Our love grew day by day but there were days when he wasn’t himself. He was quiet, sad, and didn’t want to talk. Often, I mentioned to him, ‘John, I don’t know what to do when you don’t talk to me. What’s bothering you?’  His response was, ‘I mentioned that my wife died and her death affected me so much. I’m sorry for not being able to communicate with you better. There are certain days it gets hard for me and the pain is intense.’

 As a single mother, I had my own set of insecurities and issues and dating a widower left me wondering: ‘Will he ever love me like he did his wife?’

Two months ago, we had to be real with each other. And we realised that we needed professional help to deal with the unresolved loss. We are now going through counselling sessions and things are getting better. We were unconsciously dealing with pain which lasted years.

We look forward to spending our lives together as soon as we pick up the pieces. We also have plans to inform our children, parents, and the community of our love life. My advice for those dating widowers is that it is not easy. And healing takes time. Be there to listen, love, and give unconditional support without rushing things.”

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