Too soon to be intimate with new man after spouse dies?
Susan, age 65, sent me this email regarding intimacy after death of spouse, with permission to post it and respond here:
Joan, I found your website while browsing and really enjoyed it. I was widowed 5 months ago, and a friend of mine lost his wife shortly before my husband’s death. We had known each other casually for 20 years.
A social event brought us face to face about a month ago and we both have been smitten since that night. We are both young for our ages; both being 65, good physical condition and both exercise daily. I am experiencing a lot of guilt from wanting to see him after such a short span of time since my husband’s death. Although he has discussed me with his family and I with mine, I still have some guilt. I also, don’t hear the “approval” from other members of my family.
However, at our ages, how long is considered appropriate? I am also experiencing whether or not this could become a moral issue with me. He is a wonderful man, who cared for his wife, who was ill for many years, as I did for my husband.
He has expressed to me that he may be impotent. He had not had sexual relations with his wife for many years before her death, nor had I with my husband. I did, however, use a vibrator from time to time. Although I am 65, I certainly have been experiencing strong sexual feelings toward him.
I guess my questions to you are:
1) what is the appropriate time frame?
2) Is sex outside of marriage a moral and/or guilt issue?
3) How do I get rid of trying to please everyone else?
4) Should we pursue sexual intercourse or just “play around”?
Thank you so much for your input and can’t wait to get your book!
Susan, thank you so much for writing and for sharing these feelings.
I can’t tell you what the appropriate time frame for sharing intimacy after the death of a spouse is for YOU. I’m not a therapist, but I’ve heard some therapists say that it’s good to wait a year, because people need to grieve, then rediscover and reclaim who they are alone before they’re ready to enter into a new relationship.
I’ve also heard from/about people who were caretakers of ill spouses and did much of their grieving while their spouses were alive. They then needed to reach out to someone who could bring joy and intimacy back into their lives.
I can’t say what’s “right” for you — only you can know that. If you’re questioning whether it’s too soon, that maybe that’s your own heart saying it is. If this relationship will be right for the two of you, it will be right if you wait a few more months, too.
Meanwhile, you can develop a friendship and enjoy each other’s company. But do learn to enjoy your own company, too — see who you are on your own in the world, what interests you’d like to pursue now.
Of course you still have sexual feelings — glory in that wonderful gift, and let your fantasies roam. When you and your friend come together in that intimate way, if you decide to, you’ll be good and ready for his tender touch.
You say your family hasn’t expressed approval of your new relationship. Realize that they are still grieving your husband, too. Respect their feelings, and if/when you decide to go ahead with this new relationship, perhaps it would be best not to tell them until and unless they ask, at least for a while.
As for sex outside of marriage, that’s completely your decision. I don’t know your beliefs or your religion, or whether these values might be changing at this time of your life. You might find it useful to consult a counselor to get your own values and needs in perspective.
Your friend told you that he might be impotent. Please suggest that he see a urologist and find out the cause, and whether any treatment is appropriate. If he is unable to have erections, you can still have loving, intimate sex in other ways. I have more information about that in my book “Sex After Grief“, in the chapter titled “When You or Your Partner Can’t.”
I’m sure that Susan would like to hear from others who have gone through this, and from others who have an opinion on when to have intimacy after the death of a spouse. I invite you to comment.
So after years, 26 of an unfulfilling sex life that lasted minutes at best and less than that at the worst, I have been alone and so lonely. Saturday (yes, this) I fell in love at first sight on the street here in the Metro area. He had he same thing happen. We are both 71 and can barely keep our hands off each other, like in the scene from West Side Story where everyone disappears into the scenery.We will be having sex this week and are dealing with the intellectual knowledge that these love at first sight things are not real. The man I was in love with drowned last year and this new man's wife died three months ago after a lengthy battle with cancer. Tomorrow is promised to no one and if this is not real, I plan to suck every bit of life and juice from it, every second of it and never look back. he is too wonderful and kind to waste another moment of my life. I figure I am buring daylight here.
Having dated widows who were just reentering the dating scene, and having male widower friends who want to know about the dating scene, I've come to the conclusion that it must be very very difficult for them to make love with someone new….like the final thing in the process of the death of their spouse…the intensity of acknowledging that the loved one is dead, gone, and that it is time to move on. A very sad time – even if it is that time.
And, a hint to widows. If you're gonna date again and invite a man to your home please rearrange things so that your home is not a "shrine" to your late husband. That really takes the steam out of the new guy.
Chris, thank you for your beautiful and thoughtful comment. We are remarkably resilient, aren't we? We grieve deeply, and we are capable of celebrating life — sometimes simultaneously, sometimes cyclically.
You are the one to judge when you're ready, not the people who knew your husband. I wrote a chapter on grief in my upcoming book, Naked at Our Age. All of the people who shared their stories had their own timeline for when they were ready. Some took weeks, some years.
Whatever is right for you IS right for you.
I have just found this blog. I am in the same position as many correspondents. My husband died just over two years ago – we were married for 46 years, and neither of us ever had any other partners. I still grieve for him, but I have got in touch with an old friend, and after a few meetings I invited him into my bed. I hope that even if the sex side of things doesn't work out, we will remain very good friends.
I was astonished at the intense sex feelings he gave me (even though I was unable to climax)and the tenderness he showed. He is a very good lover, and has had more experience than I. We have only spent two nights together (he lives 2 hours away) but I tingle all over!
I am concerned that people who knew my husband well will think I am betraying his memory. I worry too that because my friend makes love differently to my husband, he will learn that we were never very bold in what did, and he will have a lower opinion of my husband because of that. I am a bit nervous about doing some of the things he is used to. But I guess it will work out in the end.
I feel too that I am starting on my second life. I have had one, for 70 years; now I have a new one. I will never forget the old things, and of course they made me what I am today, but it is like a new world opening before me. Wish me well, folks!
I revisit this post two and a half years after writing it — and 9 months after losing my own spouse.
In my personal grief (see other posts under the label “grief” in the list to the right), I know I’ve needed a lot of time to work my way through this heartbreaking, life altering, awful journey.
I wonder how you’re doing now, Susan, and what decision you made. If you’re continuing to read my blog, I hope you’ll comment.
Unless you are a religious fanatic, I see no reason to dilly dally after the death of a spouse, if another REAL (not the ‘hitting on’ type)chance appears. We’re just not young anymore. Those old rules about sex, dating, who’s in charge, are for kids. Even the New Testament has nothing for oldsters – we’re on our own. We have the wisdom from long living on our side. My only reservation is mental health. Check it out! Otherwise, do your own thing. The kis will get over it ,or not. Tough! Life is shorter now.
My mother and stepfather are so happily married they should be on a poster for marital happiness at 80. When they started dating his wife had been dead for about 5 months.
Here’s the backstory: My mom and this man dated in college. I think he was her first “love” if you know what I mean. (My mother would be mortified if she knew I was writing this.) They were both at eastern colleges and would meet in NYC for dates. They didn’t marry because he was an artist (painter) and she didn’t want to do the Greenwich Village bohemian thing. Also my mom is so unassuming and didn’t realize how much he loved her.
He married another woman who I never met but who seems like she was wonderful. They were married 50 years before she died.
Meanwhile my mom had had one not so good marriage with my father, and two more marriages with neat men who were both older. One of these guys she really loved and they were openly sexual. The second was more of a companion. Both of these men died and left her a widow. I think she had been on her own for about a decade when she reconnected with my stepdad.
She expressed concern to me about them dating after only 5 months of him being a widower. His children, etc. But they dated anyway, and the family got used to it. Now all his kids and grandkids visit them and like my mom just fine.
I agree with Joan that the proper waiting period is up to the individuals involved. There are so many variables. In my stepdad’s case I think he was just ready and thought, why wait? He’s not much for formalities. My mom respects his late wife and there are still reminders of her around his house where they live part of the year.
My stepdad told me that almost immediately after his first wife’s death women were calling him and hitting on him. I suspect he already had designs on my mom even then.
What might be more important than waiting a given period of time is that the new partners recognize and respect the relationships with the spouses who have died. The families might not like it, but maybe this would be the same after two or three years of mourning. You can’t live your life pleasing everyone but yourself. Family members may be upset at first, but they’ll get used to it. Also who said you can’t keep grieving while you’re dating someone new?
Ken, thanks for your question.
It must have been devastating to lose your wife after 16 years together. I can understand how you got through recent months with work and “taking care of business,” and you now feel ready to explore a new relationship.
We all have our own sense of timing — I wonder if you’ve taken enough time on your own to learn who you are as a solo person, to look at your life and how it does and does not satisfy you, and to see what you have to offer a new relationship as well as what you want from one. Be careful that you really feel ready, and you’re not moving forward out of need or loneliness.
It’s important to have a social life with good friends of both genders with whom you can talk openly and share activities. It’s also important to take enough time alone to get to know yourself all over again at this stage of your life.
Where are you in this journey (if you’d care to comment again)?
Realize I’m not a therapist or counselor and am just sharing my opinion.
The question of when to start dating after one’s spouse passes is one that I am dealing with now. My spouse passed in March and I have been quite busy taking care of business and as well have re entered the workforce – very therapeutic !!
I am 56 years old and have been with my spouse 16 years. So I am ready to start exploring relationship. Any suggestions ?
Always — Ken
My husband died two years ago. I started dating a man I knew for about a year, in August. As a widow, I consider myself a single woman who fulfilled her marital obligations and is free to pursue new relationships.