Relationship Advice: Overcoming Loneliness After The Death Of A Partner
While it’s normal to feel lonely after a partner’s death, it’s also important to take steps to reclaim your happiness…
I am nearly 70 years old and had an incredible 35-year relationship with my
partner, who passed away one year ago. I know what we had was extraordinary, and feel so lucky to have lived those years with him. It was like a fairy tale—love at first sight and many years of true love and friendship. I spent the first months after his death in a heavy depression. After some time and lots of support from friends, I’ve come closer to accepting what’s happened and have even started dating. I’ve noticed a pattern where I meet a new guy, get very excited and start picturing a life with him—only to find out that we aren’t a match and feeling stupid to have thought otherwise. I want to be more realistic, but I get so hopeful that I stop thinking clearly. It’s been ages since I’ve dated so I’m shaky about how to go about this without making myself feel even more lonely. Any tips? —Serge
I’m sure you are tired of hearing this—but I want to express how sorry I am that you have suffered such a substantial loss. You are right to recognize just how special your relationship with your partner was, and I can imagine that losing him was disorienting and heartbreaking. It makes sense to me that, as you begin to feel the grief soften, you are beginning to wonder about new relationship possibilities. It’s a good sign that your appetite for dating has emerged—it means the darkest clouds of depression are parting.
You have some awareness already of how fraught dating can be—and of your tendency to get smitten before you really know someone well enough to justify it. For anyone in the dating pool, there’s always disappointment when we think someone could be a good fit, only to realize there’s no real spark. For you, unfortunately, it will sting even more because these limp experiences will highlight just how fantastic your relationship was, and will magnify fears of never finding something special again.
None of this means that you can’t date—or that dating can only happen once the grief is magically eradicated. What will be vital, though, is that you approach dating with the wisdom that it will be evocative at times and exhausting at others. See if you can stay curious about the new folks you meet—don’t assume they’ll be your next great love and also don’t catastrophize if it fizzles out.
Nothing can take away just how meaningful that decades-long relationship was to you. There’s no doubt that you will find yourself comparing new fellas with your previous partner—but dating opens the door for you to embark on something entirely new, and it’s likely worth the strife.
ADAM SEGAL, writer and therapist, works in private practice in downtown Toronto. Ask him your relationship or mental-health questions at @firstname.lastname@example.org.