Carolyn Hax: Grieving widow doesn’t need to start dating in order to heal

Carolyn Hax
Columnist January 23

Dear Carolyn:

My husband committed suicide a year ago and it’s been absolutely horrifying, not only for me, but for my 8-year-old son as well.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Recently, I have been trying to date and mingle due to my son’s worry I will be alone. I’m 30 and feel as though I’m doing something wrong. When I took my vows, I meant them, so I feel like I’m cheating or being unfaithful to my husband. He chose to do what he did, so should I be feeling this guilt when on a date? Please help.

Pennsylvania

I am so sorry. That is such a heavy thing to carry with you.


Those vows, presumably, were “till death do us part,” so they don’t impose guilt, they absolve you of it.

But also please free yourself of any pressure to date.

I realize you want to ease your son’s mind now. I fear you could unwittingly hurt him later, though, by reinforcing his idea that alone = bad or dating = pain relief.

It’s okay to be alone while you’re healing; it’s okay not to be interested in dating, yet or ever; it’s okay to be open to having a partner — but also open to being single unless and until you meet a worthy one. It’s okay to find companionship through friends, family, colleagues, the regulars at the coffee shop, pets — as in, however it’s available — instead of in one specific form over which no one has full control.

And it’s okay to address your son’s worries with a gentle, firm, loving and consistent adherence to this message. It’s a message of inner strength and stability for two people no doubt still staggered by a devastating external blow.

In fact, in looking for security or happiness in a romantic bond, just for the sake of having one, you subtly reinforce the idea that those things are available only through someone else. Please model for him an adult who is whole. Grieving, for sure, but complete.

Dear Carolyn:

My fiance cheated on me. I was heartbroken, and broke things off. I had few people nearby to lean on due to unrelated circumstances, like friends moving away. While it was incredibly lonely — trying to make new friends while sad is really hard — I just tried to get through it.

Five months after we split, he dated one of my friends, writing to say that since he’d “been dishonest in the past, he now wanted to be a better communicator” (while breaking my heart all over again).

I broke off all contact with both parties.

My question: This was awful, and I did the right thing, right? I’m still reeling.

Sad in Chicago

Dating a friend’s cheating ex-fiance just months after he torpedoed the engagement seems awful to me, yes. As does cheating on one’s fiancee, counting to 10 and then dating her friend. (Telling you this himself . . . well, that was the best of some bad options.)

But you don’t need any of that, or me, to justify taking care of yourself. You’re in pain; these two people are a direct and ongoing source of this pain; and you have no obligations to them beyond your (former) fondness of them. You’re fully entitled to leave them to each other. Reel, and heal, in peace.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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