Dating a widow or widower who is not ready to move on will inevitably present some red flags. Losing a partner is an incredibly sad, traumatic, and overwhelming experience, whether you’ve been together for a year or 30 years. Most of us don’t have the tools to deal with grief, which is where therapy or counseling can be incredibly healing and help us to let go and move on.
But what you might not know is that widows and widowers are very likely to start dating and get married again after losing their partner.
Why? Because they were probably still in love and committed when their spouse died and are keen to find that again.
But the key difference between a traditional breakup and being a widow or widower is that a widow did not choose to break up, and didn’t experience a formal breakup. This means that they won’t have the same emotional baggage that often comes with a divorce, but they may also lack the closure that comes with a traditional breakup. They weren’t ready to say goodbye, and if it were up to them, they would still be in that relationship with that person. This is why the grief process is very different from a regular breakup. Not only are you dealing with the actual death of a loved one, but you’re also dealing with the abrupt end of a romantic relationship that you had no say in.
This is why it’s important to look out for warning signs when dating a widower. If they’re not yet ready to move on and date, it will inevitably end in disaster. But if they are ready, there’s no reason why you can’t develop a healthy, blossoming connection that lasts.
Here are some red flags when dating a widow you should pay attention to:
- Red Flag 1: They are still grieving
- Red Flag 2: They constantly compare you to their late spouse
- Red Flag 3: They seem too eager to jump into a new relationship
- Red Flag 4: They constantly talk about their late partner
- Red Flag 5: They hide you from family and friends
- Red Flag 6: They won’t remove shrines of their ex
- Red Flag 7: They never talk about their late spouse
- Red Flag 8: They feel an overwhelming amount of guilt
- Red Flag 9: They neglect your needs
- Red Flag 10: They can’t see a future with you
Widow/Widower Red Flags That Scream They’re Not Ready Yet
Red Flag 1: They are still grieving
First up on this list of red flags when dating a widow is if it’s clear they have not taken the time to properly grieve their loss. This typically takes around a year for men but can be up to five years for women. So, if you’ve met someone who only became a widow a few months ago, it doesn't matter if they seem to be over it and ready to date again - they are not!
If you’ve ever lost anyone close to you, romantic or not, you will know that you cannot simply move on if your heart's not ready to. And burying your emotions and pretending you’re fine will only get you so far. It’s essential to first deal with all of those feelings, meet them, and work through them (potentially with a professional). Have they worked with a therapist? Have they processed their emotions? Have they given themselves an appropriate amount of time to grieve?
You don’t want to be the rebound who helps this person heal from their loss, because you’ll always be seen as this person in their eyes. You will forever remind them of their grief and a time of weakness and sadness, and it will be hard to shake this association. It’s normal for a widow to seek some type of security blanket or emotional comfort after such a great loss, which can lead them to start looking for a new relationship far too soon. So be on the lookout for this when dating.
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Red Flag 2: They constantly compare you to their late spouse
One of the signs a widow is ready to date again is if they see you as a different person and are ready to create a new relationship with you. But if they’re not, they will constantly compare you to their late partner. For example, maybe they’ll talk about how they loved how their husband did something for them, or they’ll say, “That’s not how my husband used to do it.” They might point out similarities in the way you physically look or encourage you to wear certain clothes that remind them of their late partner. They may also plan dates to places they went with them and even avoid doing or trying anything new.
Unfortunately, no amount of talking about your concerns or creating and exerting healthy boundaries will fix this issue because this person is not ready to see you as you. They are yearning for what they’ve lost and desperately trying to recreate it with someone new. A relationship can never work unless both people are willing to love each other for who they are, not who they want them to be. This is a clear red flag and a sign to stop dating this person and move on.
Red Flag 3: They seem too eager to jump into a new relationship
Another of the red flags when dating a widow is if they’re very keen to get out there, date lots of people, find a new relationship or even remarry quickly.
Are they on all the dating sites for widows? Are they bringing up the subject of marriage on a first date? Are they rushing through the dating process and eager to take things to the next level, before you’ve really had a chance to get to know each other?
These are all clear indicators that this person is in a rush to couple up, which is never a good sign. Healthy relationships require time to organically develop and deepen, and this is how core foundations like trust and love grow. Without this time, you can’t fully get to know someone on a deeper level, and if you don’t know the ins and outs of them, then you can’t possibly commit to spending the rest of your life together!
Don’t allow yourself to be rushed in the dating process or forced to label things and become exclusive with someone before you’re ready. This will typically take 3-6 months to happen. Any sooner is too soon.
Red Flag 4: They constantly talk about their late partner
As I mentioned earlier, a widow is still very much in love when she loses her spouse, and in a certain sense, this love will never truly die. This is normal. It’s also one of the reasons why a widow may feel the urge to talk about their late partner on a date, particularly those first few dates after the loss. They still have a lot of beautiful memories of their time together, and this coupled with missing them can lead to their name being brought up in conversation.
This isn’t automatically a red flag. It would be strange for a widow not to ever mention their late spouse, and that could be a cause for concern in itself (more on that later). What you do need to look out for is if every conversation seems to lead back to their former partner. This is one of the major red flags when dating a widow.
For example, you’re on a date at a restaurant and she looks through the menu and says, “My husband loved lobster, it was his favorite thing to eat.” You go for a Sunday morning stroll in the park and she says, “This was our favorite spot to picnic in the summer.” Or you’re trying on new shirts at the mall for an upcoming garden party, and she says, “That looks great on you, that color always suited (late partner’s name) too.”
It doesn’t matter where you are, what you’re doing, or where the conversation goes, they always find a way to tie it back to their late spouse. If you find this happening, don’t ignore it. Be open and discuss how it bothers you - it may be they are not even aware they’re doing it.
Red Flag 5: They hide you from family and friends
It’s not just the widow or widower you have to consider when dating one. They will have a family, possibly children, and close friends who may not be ready to see them with a new partner. That is especially true for children. And even if they are happy for them to move on and date again, the widow might worry that they won’t understand or be supported in dating again. There can be a fear over how they’ll react if they break the news, and if they’ll be met with resistance or even anger. This can lead them to keep their dating life and romantic partners a secret, for much longer than is healthy. Perhaps you’re excluded from family birthdays, weddings, and dinner parties with friends. Maybe they tell you it isn’t the right time yet, or that they just need a little while longer.
But the key thing to know is that if someone has taken the time to heal from their loss and is truly ready to open their heart again, they will find it in them to break this news to their loved ones. It’s not okay to be kept a secret indefinitely, and the more it goes on, the more it indicates that they value the opinion of their loved ones more than they value this new relationship with you.
Red Flag 6: They won’t remove shrines of their ex
One of the horrors of dating a widower can come to light when you finally visit their house. While it’s normal to keep some sort of physical tribute to a late partner, like a framed photograph or some kind of sentimental object, or a box of things in the attic they can’t bear to part with, it’s not normal for there to be an overwhelming amount of these shrines that are very visible.
Keep an eye out for red flags like a ginormous photo of their late partner mounted in the hallway that is visible as soon as you walk in, or a full closet of their clothes and belongings that hasn’t been emptied out.
The more recent their loss, the more likely you are to find things like this because it does take time to go through everything and reach a place where you’re happy to let go. But the more time that passes, the more serious your relationship becomes. The more some of these shrines should start to disappear. If they don’t, this is a red flag and a sign they are still seeking comfort from their loss.
Red Flag 7: They never talk about their late spouse
The flipside to a widow constantly talking about their late partner is never, ever mentioning them at all. In fact, they go to great lengths to avoid opening up about their previous relationship, which can show up as quickly changing the subject, deflecting, getting defensive, or even breaking down.
This is a red flag when dating a widow and suggests that they haven’t fully dealt with their loss or processed their grief. In this case, working with a counselor or therapist who specializes in grief could be extremely healing for them.
But all you can do is make a suggestion - none of us can force anyone to do anything they are not yet ready to do for themselves. Your job is to take care of your own needs and protect your boundaries. If someone hasn’t dealt with their grief, there’s a high chance they won’t be able to be fully open and present with you, and you won’t be able to develop an emotional connection.
Red Flag 8: They feel an overwhelming amount of guilt
Next on our list of red flags when dating a widow is if they frequently express a lot of guilt over moving on and having romantic connections with new people. If they’ve moved on too soon, then this is quite natural. But if they’ve taken their time and still feel guilty, this is another sign that they haven’t fully moved on and aren’t quite emotionally prepared to start dating again.
It’s important to work through this guilt before trying to move on so that you can avoid landing in a toxic relationship and form a healthy one.
Red Flag 9: They neglect your needs
Do you find that you’re giving a lot to this person and not receiving a whole lot back? Maybe it shows up in you asking your date lots of questions only to find they don’t really ask you any back. Maybe you always end up being some form of emotional support for them when they’re having a bad day or feeling sad. Maybe you’re constantly thinking about how you can show them how much you care, but it isn’t ever reciprocated.
These are clear signs of a one-sided connection where your needs are being neglected. This could be because the widow or widower is still grieving and processing their emotions so they don’t have the capacity to even think about your needs right now. Alternatively, it could be a sign of someone who is selfish in relationships. Either way, it’s a red flag. Relationships need a balance of give and take to thrive.
Red Flag 10: They can’t see a future with you
One of the signs a widow is ready to date is if they are able to open their heart to you, commit, and begin a new chapter with someone who is not their late spouse. Because no matter how much a widow loved (or still loves) their late partner if they meet the right person, they will be able to begin a fresh chapter.
So the final red flag of dating a widow or widower is if you’ve been dating for a while (over six months) and there has been no talk or signs of commitment. Don’t accept excuses for you haven’t both taken that step. Unless you have both explicitly told each other that you want something purely casual, or there have been some other curveballs (like health issues, etc.) it’s natural for a relationship to progress within this time. If it hasn’t, it’s probably because they can’t see a future with you, either because they’re still comparing you to their late spouse, or they don’t think you’re a good match. No matter how much they loved them, they can love just as big again, but only if they do see a future.
Stay alert for these red flags when dating a widow or widower and don’t ignore one when you see it! Remember, if something doesn’t feel right, trust that feeling.