Too Soon for a Widower to Date?
June 3, 2007 7:15 PM   Subscribe

How soon is too soon to start dating after the death of a spouse? All the websites I've read have been for widows and widowers and tell them not to feel guilty for moving on with their lives after the passing of their loved one. But surely there really *is* such a thing as too soon?

A month and a half ago, my stepmother passed away after a short but difficult bout with cancer. I helped out with arrangements, and tried to comfort my dad during the days after her death. She was a difficult person to get along with, and as a result, me and my entire extended family have had a strained relationship with him. It meant a lot to me that we could become closer during his time of need.

I've noticed over the past weeks that he has been out a lot (he's never home when I call), and he recently mentioned that he's been going out with the (very nice) single next-door neighbor about three times a week.

Last week, he called me out of the blue and asked if I would mind if he pursued an annullment from his first wife (my mother). I don't really mind, and I was a bit distracted because I was working, so I told him go for it.

But in talking with my grandmother this weekend, I discovered that he is dating the neighbor, and more importantly, learned that this is why he wants to pursue an annullment (as the neighbor is Catholic). I'm fairly certain that nothing was going on before my stepmother's passing.

He told my grandmother that he won't do anything for 2 years, but I'm still concerned. I tried to call him to talk to him directly about the matter (my stepmother's voice is still on the voicemail), but he's been out so much, I haven't been able to reach him.

I can't figure out if my reaction is because we became close and now I feel like I'm back on the outside again, or if my concern is legit. Isn't 7 weeks too soon for him to be dating?
posted by jennak to Human Relations (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot to mention that my father and his wife were together for 20 years, and seemed very happy.
posted by jennak at 7:19 PM on June 3, 2007

Give him some slack. He's not breaking any laws or hurting anybody. As long as he's not hurting himself or pursuing some sort of ultimately self-destructive goal then just support him best you can and
let him work these things out for himself.
posted by nixerman at 7:25 PM on June 3, 2007

If she had cancer, did they know far in advance that her time was short? Because if so, he most likely began the grieving process well before she even died, making it easier for him to find closure and move on after she finally did pass.
posted by internet!Hannah at 7:26 PM on June 3, 2007

i believe there's an old saying that a man grieves with a woman. this happens a lot with men who are afraid of being alone--it distracts them from their loneliness. dating again after 7 weeks would startle any observer, though.

you might want to talk to a grief counselor about how to proceed. i wouldn't pass judgment on your dad right now--he won't recognize that his behavior's inappropriate, and he'll just get defensive. you might follow up on the annulment issue and ask if he's planning to get married soon. or, i don't know how these work, but is it possible you could enlist your mother not to cooperate for a while?

good luck. i don't think these kinds of flings are uncommon, but i don't have any personal experience. a grief counselor would give you more insight.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:29 PM on June 3, 2007

I can't figure out if my reaction is because we became close and now I feel like I'm back on the outside again, or if my concern is legit.

It could be both. Have you met her? What if all three of you did something together? There's no reason to let her come in the way of you and your father, and if you were re-building a relationship with him, and he's going to be building a relationship with her, there might be a place at the table for all three of you. (I recognize: I know none of you, so it could just be weird.)
posted by Alt F4 at 7:34 PM on June 3, 2007

My mom got an annulment from my father so she and my stepdad could be married in a Catholic church.
Two years, if he's LUCKY.

So if she is absolutely set on a church wedding you don't have many worries about him being able to rush into anything.
posted by Kellydamnit at 7:34 PM on June 3, 2007

Based on what I've seen, this does not seem that uncommon with older people. I know of at least three people, two women and a man, who remarried within a year of their spouses' deaths.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:51 PM on June 3, 2007

Here's the thing: you never can really know another person's relationship very deeply - in this case, your dad's relationship with your stepmom. It could be that your stepmother was completely comfortable with the idea of your dad moving on to a new partner after she died. She might have even encouraged the idea. It wouldn't be the first time. I know half a handful of widowers, old friends of my parents', whose wives made that much clear before they passed away. It's a stab in the dark, but a possibility nonetheless.
posted by brain cloud at 7:58 PM on June 3, 2007

Response by poster: Croutonsupafreak, what do you mean by "older" people? My father is in his late 40s, so he's not exactly a senior citizen.

Interesting...would this be more acceptable if he's a senior instead just a middle-aged guy?

Regarding other items asked above: yes, I know her (she is, as I said, "very nice"), and the cancer was very sudden and quick. I'm not worried about him getting married, as much as I am concerned that dating this soon isn't healthy.
posted by jennak at 8:00 PM on June 3, 2007

But surely there really *is* such a thing as too soon?

In the absolute, no exceptions sense? No, not really. It could be too soon and he's just rushing into something, or it could be that this is a healthy move for him, or shades between.

It might be too soon for him to not get looked at askance—seven weeks is pretty quick turnaround time—but there's where you need to be clear about what your asking: is it too soon for him, or too soon for you (and/or others) to think it's acceptable? The former, if you have a real, objective reason (health or harm or psychiatric history or whatever) for concern, might be your business in the sense that you're family. The latter is, well, not your business. Your dad is allowed to make decisions you don't agree with or approve of.
posted by cortex at 8:05 PM on June 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

I am concerned that dating this soon isn't healthy.

Support your dad or not as you see fit, but it's not up to you to decide whether or not he's ready to date or whether or not it's "healthy" for him. There are no rules about this other than those people decide for themselves, and if your dad's only in his late 40's (and not elderly and possibly vulnerable to being taken advantage of) it's really not any of your business, IMO. It's great that you care, but I suggest you channel your caring into things other than our opinion about whether or not your dad (who is presumably not mentally challenged) is able to decide for himself when he's ready to date again.
posted by biscotti at 8:15 PM on June 3, 2007

His call. For real.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:28 PM on June 3, 2007

Response by poster: Okay, clearly I'm the asshole here. I probably shouldn't have posted this here since I'm still a ball of emotions (all this did happen 7 weeks ago, after all), but I didn't really find very good resources on the web regarding this.

Thanks for feedback, everyone.
posted by jennak at 8:40 PM on June 3, 2007

Another vote for back off. Seriously. He's a big boy and you're biased. You may be more disturbed by the annulment than you're letting on (to yourself or us).

There are people in this world who live alone for many years and grow accustomed to it. Then there are people who do not live alone and become accustomed to that. He is probably lonely and isn't someone -- certainly not in a period of grief -- who is ready to live alone.

It may be that simple.
posted by dhartung at 8:40 PM on June 3, 2007

She was a difficult person to get along with

my father and his wife were together for 20 years, and seemed very happy.

Is it possible, perhaps, that while they were married for 20 years, your father had fallen out of love with your stepmother for quite some time before that, and remained married to her for other reasons?

I'm not at all trying to imply that he did not grieve her passing, but perhaps, romantically speaking, he had already mourned the loss of their relationship long before she passed away and was ready to pursue a new relationship sooner than "normal" widowers.

And where do you draw the line, for when it's too soon? I think only he can do that. People mourn in different ways. I'm sure there are some people who would be able to move on after 2 months, and some who couldn't move on until after 2 years.

But I don't agree with you being an asshole. ;P It does seem a bit unsettling, and I can understand that you might feel a bit put out again. I would encourage you to still pursue the closeness with him that you desire, and try not to let his decision to date so soon mar that in any way, if you can.
posted by Squee at 8:52 PM on June 3, 2007

In my family, they don't even wait until the spouse is dead to start dating, or shacking up. Consider yourself lucky there.

Anyway, my bitter aside, from what I've heard, there's a fair number of older people who start dating again really fast. I think it's supposed to be more of an "I'm lonely, time is short, I gotta find someone while I still can" thing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:43 PM on June 3, 2007

Best answer: Metafilter never ceases to amaze me. Really? Seven weeks is more than long enough?

I'm going out on a limb here and saying that getting engaged less than two months after your longtime spouse died is TOO SOON. If that makes me a judgmental bitch, so be it.

Anyway, I disagree that you're an asshole. This situation sounds confusing and distressing. Yes, obviously your dad is an adult and gets to do whatever the heck he wants, but don't let the people here talk you out of feeling however you feel about it.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:52 PM on June 3, 2007

Best answer: You aren't an asshole.

I can't figure out if my reaction is because we became close and now I feel like I'm back on the outside again...

This sounds like the true source of your concern. You had many years of a strained relationship with your dad because he married someone hard to be friendly with and you've just enjoyed some rare closeness with him. I'm sure it's painful to imagine that disappearing so quickly once again.

Don't assume that's going to happen, especially if neighbor lady is nice, as you say. If your dad is normally the kind of guy who makes it difficult to have a deep heartfelt conversation, don't have one -- just say something along the lines of, "Hey Dad, I've loved getting to spend all this time with you lately and I'm so happy you're out having fun, but it's hard to get hold of you. Can we make a date for a weekly phone call? How about we plan some visits soon?" Also, be friendly and warm to neighbor lady when she's on the scene. She'll appreciate it and it will pave the way for a good future relationship.

I say all this as someone who has been in your shoes in the past (she was even the neighbor lady!) and has a dad with a very active life (which I'm genuinely happy about). Reaching him at home or planning a visit takes some doing. But it's so worth it, for both of us. Keep trying. I truly wish you well.
posted by melissa may at 9:52 PM on June 3, 2007

My good friend was with her spouse for close to 12 years and he died suddenly. Amidst the grief and the shock she also noticed how horny she was (her way of desciribing it).

Within four months she'd met a guy at her writing group, they dated and now have been living together for the last seven years.

She never once felt any sort of guilt or doubt. She followed her instinct and feelings and I've always admired her for that. Friends were shocked, but then they weren't the one's who'd just lost a long-time companion.
posted by zenpop at 10:07 PM on June 3, 2007

Isn't 7 weeks too soon for him to be dating?

Hard call, and no one else's to make because no one else really knows what's been happening with these various relationships of his. We don't know what was said or understood or agreed between he and any of these women over the last few months. So maybe yes, but maybe no. I had an aunt for example, who knew she was dying of cancer and insisted my uncle remarry as soon as possible and not to feel bad about it. Why? We think because she loved him.

He told my grandmother that he won't do anything for 2 years

Which may be why he wants to start the process now. Possibly he knows how long it's going to take and wants to respect the tradition.
posted by scheptech at 10:09 PM on June 3, 2007

jennak, I think your concern is appropriate. It may be needless, but unless you know that's the case for sure, it's appropriate.

I don't think it's necessarily right to say that he can't be in a relationship now. I think it's right to be concerned that he go about it in a way that isn't made dysfunctional by his grieving process.

People have very different ways of navigating through things like this in life. It may be a good idea just to chat with him about it so you know where he is at.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:13 PM on June 3, 2007

when people die they are GONE and have no feelings to be hurt or expectations to be tarnished

all that really matters is the feelings an free will of the living

is it too soon?

too soon, for who?

for you? it sounds like it

for him, obviously not - but then maybe at some point soon he'll realize it is

the question you should ask yourself is how does his moving on so quickly recast your life and your set of understandings of the world around you

go slowly and figure out these things, both your dad's desires and fears - and your own about the whole thing

it'll help you navigate your own brain and feelings, and it'll likely help with your understanding and relationship with your dad

bottom line is there is as little that is "right" or "wrong" about what your dad is doing as your feelings are "right" or "wrong"

just embrace and understand these complex feelings and things will be ok, but go slow and communicate a lot
posted by Salvatorparadise at 10:32 PM on June 3, 2007

I'm going out on a limb here and saying that getting engaged less than two months after your longtime spouse died is TOO SOON.

Where does it say that he got engaged? All the OP said was he'd expressed an interest in seeking an annulment so that he *would* be free to remarry when his annulment finally came through -- in several years time.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:22 AM on June 4, 2007

I agree that it is way too soon. It is possible that your father is over his wife, but it is also possibly that he is using this other woman to cope. Seven weeks after the death of someone close is not a time of particular lucidity, not a time to be making long-term decisions.

The most disturbing aspect of this to me is actually the annulment itself. I have a bystanders appreciation of Catholicism, but doesn't an annulment imply that the original marriage was in some way flawed, that the sacrament didn't actually take? That the 20 years of seemingly happy marriage were in some way a fraud?

I recognize that annulment is necessary to get re-married in the Catholic chuch but it seems to be me to be far more offensive than a regular widower's remarriage.
posted by bluenausea at 3:57 AM on June 4, 2007

It is his life. He's capable of making his own mistakes.

Among the risks... he's vulnerable, inexperienced, and marketable. He will be pursued by a lot of women, quickly. What starts out as a supportive friendship with the neighbor can quickly evolve into a complex relationship.

When I was widowed in my 40's after 24 years of marriage, I was determined not to get involved with anyone for at least a year, while I recovered from my grief. My judgment was shot. I tried to drink myself to death. I was depressed. I was also vulnerable, inexperienced, and marketable. It ventually worked out for me. Within a year, I was dating my current wife and am now a picture of health and happiness, not that the path has been straight or stress free. (Today, it turns out, is actually the 9th anniversary of my first wife's death. )

Seven weeks isn't too early to seek support, but Dad is selling himself short if he commits too soon. If he asks, counsel him to go slowly. He'll be able to make choices from a wide array of women, and he can take his time at his age. RIght now, his demographic is excellent. He is appealing to the hordes of unmarried middle aged women, and to much younger women who prefer stable, not-too-oldsters with demonstrated coping skills and the good stuff that primarily comes from aging.
posted by FauxScot at 4:03 AM on June 4, 2007

If I could mark "best answer," melissa may would be getting it.
posted by Alt F4 at 4:38 AM on June 4, 2007

For some, after living with someone else, life just doesn't work well alone. I lost my partner of 5 years when I was 31. Life was so bent I could not process my grief. I wasn't able to really get to that until I was no longer alone. (and I used to love living alone).

I lost my mother a few months ago. I'd be tickled to learn my dad was dating. But then, my dad is 85, and that doesn't seem very likely (but what do I know about being 85?). Retired folks have the added insentive that they loose their spouse's social security income, and it can be hard financially.

Give your dad some slack. In his 40s, the last thing he wants is to get used to being alone, and become known as "a widower". The getting isn't going to get any better, as he gets older. So he's making hay while the sun shines.
posted by Goofyy at 4:55 AM on June 4, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks again, all.

Regarding the annulment: it would be from first wife (my mom, who is still alive), and not from the second wife, the stepmother. My mother and father divorced about 22 years ago, so really I'm not troubled by it at all, dhartung.

I'm sure it's an odd concept to non-Catholics - let's say you marry wife #1 in a Catholic church, divorce, marry wife #2 who is Jewish. You divorce again. Now prospective wife #3 comes along and you want to marry in the church. Two annulments, coming up, right?

Nope - you only have to get the one, because the Jewish marriage wasn't recognized (you were, in the eyes of the church, still married to #1). And just because you ask for an annulment doesn't mean you'll get one. It does take a while and a certain amount of money to get, as I understand it.
posted by jennak at 5:08 AM on June 4, 2007

Am I the only one who thinks its weird that he wants to annul a 20 year married 2 months after his spouse passed away? And that the idea to do that comes from a woman he just started dating?

I would be very wary of someone who is capable of exercising that amount of control over someone who is obviously vulnerable. I don't think the seven weeks time is the most interesting thing here. Unless there was something wrong with the marriage, there's something wrong here.
posted by cotterpin at 5:09 AM on June 4, 2007

oh, just saw the thing about the annullment being with someone else. never mind

posted by cotterpin at 5:10 AM on June 4, 2007

You're not an asshole, jennak (caring about someone isn't assholish, but involving yourself in things which aren't really your business isn't a good idea), I agree with melissa may's suggestion that your real concern might not really be what you're asking about.
posted by biscotti at 5:28 AM on June 4, 2007

Best answer: I've recently started doing grief counselling for an anonymous telephone service. According to the psychologists that taught the training sessions, it's very common for men to repartner amazingly quickly after the death of a spouse. I don't want to speculate on the myriad of emotions he may be feeling, other than to say he probably feels incredibly lonely and feels he needs support and/or companionship.

"Too Soon" seems to be a judgement that other people put upon the grieving. Grief has no real linear timespan, and is personal & individual in every case, especially if the death has been expected. Talk to your dad about your concerns, but let him make his own journey. There is no wrong.
posted by goshling at 8:31 AM on June 4, 2007

What in the world will you do if you get an official answer that this is "too soon"? I don't think showing your dad the official pronouncement that he needs to wait x weeks will make him break things off with the neighbor.

He would grieve differently if he was not dating, but the grieving will still get done. This might not be the 'best' way for him to do it, but the way you think he should do it won't be the 'best' way either.
posted by yohko at 11:36 AM on June 4, 2007

It's reasonable to be concerned. It's reasonable to question your perceptions. It's reasonable to think that this seems unusually quick. It's unreasonable to think there's an absolute answer though.

Some people meet and marry within a month and live happy lives. Others date for years. If we allow for those variances we have to allow for varied mourning times too.

Talk to your dad and kindly express your concern. Don't push it, but I would never reject a loved one who spoke to me courteously about a worry they had. I think you'll feel better if you express that you're worried for him and if he reacts extremely strongly to your expression of worry then that might tell you something in itself.
posted by phearlez at 12:18 PM on June 4, 2007

Best answer: At some point in the future, when this is all a little less immediate and raw, you might want to check out 51 Birch Street. It's a documentary about the filmmaker's dad's quick remarriage after the death of his wife of 50 years. It isn't exactly the same situation, but there were a lot of issues that might be similar to things you are going through.

I liked the movie because it acknowledged that relationships (between spouses, between parents and children) are a lot more complex than they can appear from the outside. And it also showed hope for improving previously strained relationships.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:51 PM on June 4, 2007

You're not an asshole. A family member of mine married a man shortly after his wife died. (I can't remember how long; it was much longer than 7 weeks, but it still seemed soon to me.) Anyway, I had similar concerns but in reverse--would my family member end up getting hurt b/c the guy was moving on too soon, was he using her to grieve, etc--but they've been happily married for about 14 years.

Since they got married, I've noticed that men do tend to do this. I think they're used to relying on women for a lot of things in their life (not just housework and cooking, but for some men, their emotional lives are their wives). I remember reading somewhere that people who had happy marriages remarry sooner (b/c it's normal to want to repeat a pleasant experience).

Anyway, I think it's natural to worry, but there's nothing you can do about it, really. Just try to stay close to him and offer support if he needs it.
posted by Mavri at 3:17 PM on June 4, 2007

It's not unreasonable to be worried. He married one shrew who drove his children away already -- he obviously doesn't make great choices in mates. However, you probably have absolutely no ability to change things, so just stick around for a while and hope for the best.
posted by footnote at 4:19 PM on June 4, 2007

I think OP is allowed to be worried-we get to care about and worry about our parents! It's not her choice, but it is kind of her business, too-it is guaranteed to affect OP's life.

A good friends' father recentlly remarried very quickly after his wife died, to a woman whose husband had also recently died. They seem to care about each other, but it has been very difficult-and that difficulty has extended to their children. The father seems bewildered and disorganized much of the time, the new wife has asked him to get money back from the children that had been previously gifted to them, family gatherings are very difficult, the grandchildren have been affected. Families are systems, and this stuff tends to ripple.

There isn't much to do about this, of course, as adamantly expressing disapproval to Dad won't go anywhere good. All you can do is be supportive and try and talk about this-and maybe schedule dates, as a PP had suggested.
posted by purenitrous at 4:50 PM on June 4, 2007

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