he difference between dating after death vs. divorce
divorce vs widowhood and dating

A marriage can end in one of two ways: Death or Divorce. (Well okay, technically it can also be annulled, but for the purposes of this discussion, I'll equate that with divorce.)

There are similarities. Both result in death of the marriage. Both can be painful and traumatic, and as such, involve loss and generate grief. Both can leave the person afraid of going through it again.

Also, both convert a person who was formerly a spouse into a "single" person. Both mean the person can, if they chose, date again.

But there are crucial differences.

When two people divorce, at least one of them actually wants the marriage to end. Divorces can drag on. In many divorce scenarios, the marriage dies long before the legal system acknowledges the end. Some divorces are acrimonious, leaving the parties bruised and battered.

On the other hand, when a person is widowed, unless they killed their spouse, they usually did not want the marriage to end. (A bitter divorcee once told me that I was lucky to be a widow. She said "At least you knew that your husband loved you until the end.") Most likely a widow/widower was not ready for their union to be severed. If their spouse died suddenly, like mine did, in an instant they literally went from wife/husband to widow/widower.

So, what are the implications for dating? There are many, and they depend on the specific circumstances. Some of the more impactful ones are probably these:

  • Trust versus Fear. A divorced person may be bitter and have difficulty trusting again. A widower's main fear may be their partner dying.
  • Perceptions of their previous spouse. Love often dies with or after divorce. Widows/Widowers are more likely to still be in love with their dead spouse. They may feel like they are still married. They often idealize their lost partner. All this combined with survivor's guilt, may make them feel guilty about dating or loving again.
  • Possessions. When two divorced people move in together or get married, they usually each have half a household's worth of stuff. Two widowers have four people's worth of stuff. How many dining room tables can you use?

These and other issues that flow from dating after death or divorce can be dealt with. I offer some thoughts here on handling them if you do decide to date again. Even though it can be challenging, I would encourage both divorcees and widows/widowers to be open to the possibility of loving again.



“It’s hard to start again after a marriage. It’s hard to really, like, look at somebody and go, hey, maybe something nice will happen. I know too much about life to have any optimism. Because I know even if it’s nice, it’s going to lead to shit. I know if you smile at somebody, and they smile back, you’ve just decided something shitty is going to happen. You might have a nice couple of dates, but then she’ll stop calling you back and that’ll feel shitty. Or you’ll date for a long time and then she’ll have sex with one of your friends, or you will with one of her’s, and that’ll be shitty. Or you’ll get married and it won’t work out, and you’ll get divorced, and split your friends and money and that’s horrible. Or you’ll meet the perfect person, who you love infinitely, and you even argue well, and you grow together, and you have children, and then you get old together, and then she’s going to die…and THAT'S the best case scenario.”
~ Louis C.K.




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