Death, Divorce, and Dating: My top ten tips for grievers looking for love
“Hi, I’m Becki. Both my parents are dead and I’m in the middle of a divorce. Want to grab a drink sometime?” Ok so maybe I never used that opening line, but can’t you just imagine?!
Two summers ago, I found myself learning how to date at 32, while simultaneously moving through lots of grief. I wanted to go on dates, but I’d never really done it when I was younger—I was always a serial monogamist—so, I was starting from square one. And in this modern world, that meant I downloaded a smattering of dating apps, which I’d describe as a cross between online shopping and job interviews. I had fun, cried plenty, and learned a lot about myself along the way.
From everything I learned, here are my top 10 tips for grievers getting into the dating game:
1. If you're coming straight out of a big breakup or a death, take things slow.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be dating while you’re grieving—everybody’s different and gets to decide for themselves. But you’re probably not in a good headspace, even if you think you are. I definitely wasn’t at first, looking back now. It made a huge difference in my life when I slowed down to focus on how I was feeling, first, instead of just getting lost in the swiping.
2. Dating is awkward for everybody.
It’s not just you, and it’s not just because you’re grieving. Every date is not going to go well—and that’s ok! The whole point of dating is to meet people and try them out. You’ll learn more about what you want and don’t want with each date, and you might want different things in a partner today than what you were looking for before you were grieving.
3. Talk about your grief.
Your grief is part of you, whether your loss happened recently or long ago. My grief would usually come up quickly, since talking about family is so common early on, and two dead parents this young is pretty shocking to people. I also disclosed that I was going through a divorce before meeting up with anyone. Some men unmatched me for that, but I tried to hold my head high and remind myself that I have nothing to be ashamed of. If I felt like I needed to hide my grief or skirt around it, that person wasn’t right for me. Anyone who wanted to get to know me needed to get to know my grief.
4. Don’t ghost anyone.
Just don't do it. It might feel awkward to send a message that says “thanks, but no thanks” after a few dates, but it feels so much worse to have someone stop speaking to you without explanation. And while it feels awful for anyone to get ghosted, it's a special kind of awful to be ghosted while you're grieving—believe me.
5. Calm is key and safety is sexy.
It took me a while to realize that the butterflies I’d been told were a good sign when dating someone were really a reflection of my anxiety. I didn’t actually enjoy feeling so unsettled, particularly after so many ups and downs in my grief. When I started paying extra attention to people who made me feel safe and didn’t leave me guessing about their feelings or mine, it changed everything for me.
6. Just because you have trauma in common with someone, doesn't mean they're a good match.
I spent months only going out with people who were also divorced or who also had experiences with death of loved ones. I thought that it was a requirement that I have shared trauma with someone for us to be able to connect authentically. But the truth is that there's so much more to what makes a happy, stable, and supportive relationship.
7. You’re not a failure if someone you liked doesn't work out.
In grief, we might be especially prone to feeling down about ourselves. But if a date doesn’t work out, it’s ok. You just weren't right for each other.
8. You don't owe anyone anything.
When we are grieving, it can feel like life happens to us. But when it comes to dating, you are in complete control over what happens and how it happens. This is your time and these are your relationships, and you shouldn’t feel obligated to do anything you don’t want to do. Period.
9. Trust your gut.
Give people a chance, but listen to your gut if it’s time to move on. Sometimes I’d channel my parents and think about what they might have to say about a person I’d gone on a date with. Bringing them into the forefront of my mind helped me tune into my gut and find clarity.
10. You deserve to be unequivocally happy.
In my darkest, griefiest days, I didn’t feel like I deserved to be happy. Sometimes happiness felt selfish. On those low days, I’d think to myself: “It feels like just yesterday that Dad died. Should I even be enjoying myself, right now?” But your happiness matters more than anything else. When it comes to dating, you deserve to be happy. Don’t settle for anything less.
Grieving is really, really hard. Trying to date while you’re grieving may not be right for you. Or maybe these personal connections will help you feel more like yourself, again.
As for me? My dating life taught me a lot about how I wanted to show up in a relationship, and who I wanted to show up for me. But these days, you won’t find me on the apps anymore…😊
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