During my many years of family life ministry, I have met a number of widowed persons like two I’ll call Patti and Lou. They had both lost their spouses of 20+ years to sudden death, Patti through a deadly car accident, and Lou through a massive deadly stroke. They had both been completely blindsided by the sudden loss of their spouses. The adult children of both marriages were on their own. Patti and Lou were not surprised by their grief and loneliness, painful as they were, after happily being half of a couple for so many years. After coming to terms with the grieving process, what did surprise (and even embarrass) them was their discovering within themselves a feeling close to desperation to get into a new intimate relationship.
Patti had found a “person of interest” on an internet dating service. He was a widower close to her age who claimed to have all the qualities she had so appreciated in her deceased spouse. This new relationship had blossomed quickly but turned out, after they got to know each other better, a painful dead end. Even though Patti had been discouraged by this turn of events, after a pause to “get over’ him, she found she was ready to go back on the website again looking for “Mr. Right”. She wondered if there was something wrong with her that she seemed so ready to move on in a relatively short time after the end of her long happy marriage. She wondered if she should not still somehow be grieving.
Lou, on the other hand, had discovered a new romantic interest at a local tavern. He had previously known her name and that of her husband but that was about all. There had been no real connection except their enjoying the lively pleasant atmosphere they found at the tavern. It turned out that she had been recently divorced, and was also open to a new relationship. it seemed to Lou that she had some of the very qualities he sometimes wished his deceased wife had had. But, as they got to know each other better, it turned out that there were just too many unbridgeable differences between them to work through. So they decided to just be friends. Lou felt somehow guilty for being on the lookout for a new partner after his wife’s death, but he couldn’t’ stop “keeping his eyes open” for that “someone out there”.
Many (perhaps most) people who feel like ‘troad-kill” after the devastating loss of a spouse find themselves feeling achingly alone. Loneliness, which at times can feel crushing, is normal for anyone who is newly-single after the painful end of a long-term relationship such as marriage, especially if that marriage was relatively happy. (It goes without saying that human beings, even those currently in intimate couple relationships, experience periodic feelings of personal loneliness.) But more often than one would think, the loneliness following the break-up of a long-term relationship manifests itself in an almost overwhelming desperation to quickly seek a new close couple relationship.
Usually, feelings of intense loneliness lessen over time, but there may well be a life-long residual ache in the heart of the surviving spouse which misses the intimacy of the long-term relationship which has painfully ended.
What about when one discovers a sense of desperation to seek a new close partner relationship? A newly-single person can be very vulnerable to the possibility of a quick intense “rebound” relationship. The deep-felt urge to be in an intimate relationship again can seem overwhelming. Of course, the desire to be closely connected in interpersonal relationships is the deepest yearning of the human heart which draws each of us (unless there has been some sort of traumatic relationship in one’s past) to be linked closely as family members, friends, lovers, and couples. So the desire to be intimately connected is quite normal. The difficulty is that anyone who has recently experienced the painful end of a marriage can be particularly vulnerable at the level of feelings and emotions. Such a more or less highly emotional state is obviously a risky time to be quickly seeking a new close couple relationship, or to be seeking to quickly take a long-term acquaintance to a more intimate level. The highway of life is littered with the wreckage of such desperate seeking!
tried to reassure both Patti and Lou that the main thing to keep in mind is that feelings of intense loneliness and even a sense of desperation to re-connect are both quite normal after the painful ending of a long-term marriage relationship. I pointed out that such intense feelings usually diminish in time. Meanwhile, reaching out to close family members and long-term friends, getting involved in volunteering in the community, or investing time and energy in personal hobbies can be helpful. Obviously, there is no “quick fi*’! On the other hand, as they both discovered, choosing to act on a sense of desperation by seeking a quick intense couple relationship can be risky at best, and devastating at worst. They both sadly agreed.