Dating a widower: 6 things you need to know

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So you’re swiping through online dating profiles and come across your ideal match — attractive, well educated, eye-catching bio, not a mirror selfie in sight. There’s just one thing that stops you from immediately swiping right… this person is a widower. 

What’s it like to date a widower? Will it be complicated? Can this person ever really love me? Are they really ready to date?

John Polo, author of how to date a widow 101 and two other books, had those same questions when his mom tried to set him up with a widow when he was 22 years old. 

Polo couldn’t wrap his head around competing with a former spouse and ultimately decided not to meet her. 

“I’m not competing with a ‘dad’ man,” Polo told her.

Five years later, Polo reunited with his high school sweetheart, Michelle. 

After two years together, Michelle was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer and ultimately passed away at the age of 30. Polo was 31.

“To say that I have changed as a human would be an understatement,” he says. “And to say that the way I see the world has changed, would be the same.”

Living up to the legacy of a former spouse can feel like an insurmountable challenge — especially knowing that in another reality, your partner would probably still be with that person. 

The honest truth is that dating a widower will be complicated. There will likely be pain, good and bad memories, and potentially complicated family dynamics. 

But that doesn’t mean widows are undateable.

If you are dating a widower or thinking about dating a widower, here are some things you should know:

  1. They will always love their spouse.
  2. Those feelings are not a reflection on you.
  3. You have to be patient.
  4. Try not to compare yourself to their spouse.
  5. Your partner needs room to be open.
  6. The loss will always be a part of them.

1. They will always love their spouse.

Polo says the love of his late wife and the loss of his late wife will walk with him for the rest of his life. 

That doesn’t mean, however, that a widower will love someone new any less.

“Yes, we can love deeply again. Very deeply,” Polo says. 

Real-life advice from a widow:  

“I dated a widow (and I am a widow). Be prepared to see things still around the house that reflect the passed spouse. I don’t think you can be jealous and date a widow. My BF still had pictures of the wife all over the house. Be prepared for family/friends to disapprove.” — Bethany

2. Those feelings are not a reflection on you.

About a year ago, Polo made this social media post to explain how a widower might approach a new relationship:

“My wife was AMAZING. Absolutely amazing. But the truth is she is not the only amazing woman to ever be born. As I hope to fall in love again one day, I don’t compare new love interests to her. That would be a disservice to them. To me. AND to her. She was 1 in 7 billion. Just as I am. Just as you are. There will never be another Michelle. Just as there will never be another John. Or another “John and Michelle.” When looking for love again, I’m not looking for another Michelle. I’m simply looking to find another human, whom I adore.”

Real-life advice from a widow:  

“Know they will bring up fond memories of places or things that remind them. That there is enough love to keep our dead spouse in our heart and someone new. That we might be scared to get too attached at first in fear of losing them too. I lost my husband when my son was just 6 months old. So the thought of spending time away from him to date is anxiety causing. I need someone flexible that can understand that my son comes first.” — Ellen

3. You have to be patient.

Nancy Landrum, MA, author, and relationship coach, is a widow whose second husband was a widow. She says coming from a similar place helped her understand her partner’s grief. 

“On a few dates when his energy was low, I didn't take it personally,” Landrum says. “I understood that it had been less than a year since Jim's wife of 22 years had passed, and some days, he just missed her.”

Landrum recognized that cycling in and out of missing the past relationship is a normal part of the grieving process.

“I gave him time to move through the grieving process at a speed that was needed so that he could emotionally close the door on his love for his first wife and be able to give his whole heart to me,” she says.

She says the friendship she and her husband built in the first few months of dating was the very best foundation for their remarriage

Real-life advice from a widow:  

“There’s a big disparity between moving on and moving forward. No one simply stops loving our late spouses. We make room to love again. Triggers will happen, without warning — it’s uncomfortable and feels like a giant herd of elephants sitting on our chest.” — Lana 

4. Try not to compare yourself to their spouse.

Polo says it is a widow’s responsibility to get to a place where they do not compare potential partners to their late spouse. As someone who is dating a widower, it is also your responsibility not to compare.

“Standing on your own two feet and being the best version of yourself that you can be is always the best approach,” he says. 

While it’s normal and human to be uncertain or even insecure about dating a widower, Polo offers this very raw perspective: 

“As a widowed person, our person died. They are dead. They are not coming back. It’s not like they are an ex of ours who lives a few miles away.” 

His advice?

Communicate about your insecurities in a kind, caring, and loving way. Any sign of jealousy can be extremely off-putting to a widowed person.

“Don’t show any jealousy if there are pictures of the family with the other spouse,” Polo says. “It’s important for the children and doesn’t mean they care any less for you.” 

Real-life advice from a widow:  

“It takes a long time to heal from losing the person you thought you’d spend your life with. Also, try not to judge if compared to the deceased. Again, it takes a long time to unlearn habits/familiarity.” — Kate

5. Your partner needs room to be open.

Polo says that while you should never push the widower to speak about their late spouse or the loss in general, the more you give that person the space to do so, the more they will appreciate you. 

“And if we’re being honest, the more he will fall for you, as well,” Polo says. “There is something just so beautiful about any human opening the door for us to speak about our lost loved ones, but especially when the person we are now dating opens that door for us to speak about our deceased partners.”

He says speaking positively about the late spouse can also go a long way. 

Landrum says dating a widower requires empathy and acceptance. She recommends following the other person’s lead: 

“I looked for his willingness to create a new future, whether it was with me or someone else.”

While you can comfort your partner, remember, you are not their therapist. If your partner needs help to cope with a loss, they might benefit from therapy. 

Learn more about online therapy.

Real-life advice from a widow:  

“My two best friends were married and the husband was killed in a car accident when their baby was 5 months old. Her new husband has been nothing short of incredible. They've had a second child. He adopted her first child. They all have the same last name now, which includes the deceased husband's last name. And every year for Thanksgiving, they host the deceased husband's family. The deceased husband's father walked my friend down the aisle for her second marriage. It is one of the most beautiful things I've ever witnessed. There is no jealousy or having to choose. Only love and support and inclusivity.” — Tricia

6. The loss will always be a part of them.

Another important thing to remember about dating a widower is that the pain of the past never truly goes away, even if the widow finds someone new who makes them happy. 

“As widowed people, we live in a society where many act like once we find love again, we should be ‘good to go,’ Polo says. “That’s just not how it works, though.”

Polo says just as the love of his late spouse changed him, so did her passing — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

“I am a kinder, more loving and more caring person today than ever before,” Polo says. “The ability to enjoy life more, after realizing just how short and precious it can be, is something that is now my truth.” 

But Polo says that the pain, trauma and loss he endured will not magically go away no matter what level of inner-peace he obtains or happiness he is able to find. He offers this comparison: 

“Imagine a parent who loses a child, and then has another child. They are going to love that second child with all of their heart. All of it. But the pain of losing that first child is also going to walk with them.”

Real-life advice from a widow:  

“While yes we may tend to put the dead spouse on a pedestal, there is often A LOT more going on for a widow…reassessing priorities, money, protecting kids, family/community dynamics, a need to find a cause to channel what you’ve learned/give back. I would say, be willing to acknowledge, embrace, even support the presence of those dynamics. If you find yourself judging/resisting them, it’s best for you to move on. On the other hand, a widow knows how precious life and you ARE. She’s going to really appreciate the right person for her.” — Kate

Dating a widower FAQs:

What do I need to know about dating a widower?

Polo says these are the basic things to know about dating a widower: 

  • They are always going to love their spouse. Always. 
  • That love is NOT a reflection in any way, shape, or form of the feelings they have (or will develop) for you.
  • That love does not mean they will love you less.
  • Widows can love again, just as deeply as they once did. 

“We don’t expect you to always get it,” Polo says. “In fact, we know that there is no way for you to always get it. We do, however, expect you to try, to be loving and caring.” 

He says it’s important to allow a widow to speak about their late partner and have the space to keep their memory alive. 

“Doing so will not in any way, shape or form take away from what we have,” Polo says. “If anything, it will simply make us adore you that much more.”

How long should a widow wait before dating?

There really is no set amount of time a widow should wait before dating because no one grieves in the exact same way. Polo implores people to reject the idea that there is an “acceptable” amount of time a widow should refrain from dating. 

“Each of us is unique, and creating a ‘they shouldn’t date for a year’ rule for all widowed people can be a very slippery slope,” Polo says. 

He says some widows are ready to date within a few months, and some will never date again. 

“The choice is so incredibly personal, and each person’s loss and grief are so incredibly different, just as their desire to date again, or not date again, is different,” Polo says. 

Why is dating a widower so hard?

Amanda Rose, CEO and founder of Prestige Connections, a matchmaking service with locations across the U.S., says it can be harder to date a widower than someone who has gone through a divorce or breakup for several reasons: 

  • Widow didn't choose to end the relationship
  • Traumatic ending of the relationship can make it harder to move on
  • Widow may have been with their spouse for a long time and created a full life together

“It's hard for the widow to move forward and start a life with someone new because they're so used to a certain way of living with a partner,” Rose says. 

The widower may also put unrealistic expectations of their former spouse on the new partner — maybe even unintentionally — which can put unhealthy pressure on the relationship.

“I've worked with widows that have been single for 5+ years, and they still compare current potential partners with their former spouse,” Rose says. “It creates a disconnect with the new partner because they feel like they have to live up to the former spouse, and that's just not fair to the new partner.”

Rose says it's crucial for a widower to seek deep healing after a spouse's death before they decide to date again. That includes learning how to separate the expectations of the new partner from the old partner. 

Polo says it’s normal and human to compare ourselves to others, but what we do with those comparisons is key. 

“Not living in the land of comparisons should definitely be the goal we all strive for,” he says.

He says that while dating a widower can be very hard, but it can also be amazing. His advice? Keep an open mind. 

“Do not assume anything just because they are widowed, but rather look at the individual for who they are before making an assessment,” Polo says. 

He says for every widowed person who is ready to love again, there is a widowed person who is not ready to love again. The same can be said for whether a widow is a good partner or a toxic partner.

What percentage of widows remarry?

According to Pew Research data, about 64% of men and 52% of women who were widowed remarry.

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What do I need to know about dating a widower?

John Polo, author of how to date a widow 101, says these are the basic things to know about dating a widower: They are always going to love their spouse. Always. That love is NOT a reflection in any way, shape, or form of the feelings they have (or will develop) for you. Widows can love again, just as deeply as they once did.

How long should a widow wait before dating?

There really is no set amount of time a widow should wait before dating because no one grieves in the exact same way. John Polo, author of how to date a widow 101, implores people to reject the idea that there is an “acceptable” amount of time a widow should refrain from dating. 

Why is dating a widower so hard?

Amanda Rose, CEO and founder of Prestige Connections, a matchmaking service with locations across the U.S., says it can be harder to date a widower than someone who has gone through a divorce or breakup for several reasons: widow didn't choose to end the relationship, traumatic ending of the relationship can make it harder to move on, and a widow may have been with their spouse for a long time and created a full life together.

What percentage of widows remarry?

According to Pew Research data, about 64% of men and 52% of women who were widowed remarry.

Leighann Bacher is a writer/editor based in Pittsburgh, Pa. She received her degree in journalism from Kent State University and has since worked for major metropolitan newspapers, marketing firms and city magazines. Leighann was named one of Pittsburgh Magazine's '40 Under 40 Honorees' for spearheading a social media campaign to connect people with COVID-19 vaccines and resources. Her greatest joy is spending time with her two kids and dabbling in her creative passions of photography, dance and art.

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