How to cope with loss and find new love
“Love is one of the most joyous things that anchors the human experience. That’s why it’s so hard to give it up.”
Those are the opening sentences of Finding Love After Loss, a book published last fall about the challenges of widowhood that addresses how to cope, survive and maybe find love a second time around.
According to the 2020 Census, there are 11.37 million widows and 3.48 million widowers in America. More than 200,000 of those marital survivors (169,000 woman and 40,400 men) live in the D.C. area, according to the Census Bureau.
Local widows and widowers can look to a bevy of groups for counseling and dating, including Widows/Widowers of Montgomery County, Widowed Persons Outreach, and Washington Baby Boomer Widowers.
Despite these groups, many widows feel disoriented and uncertain about how to find love again.
“Many are confused by the new rules [of widowhood] since COVID-19, especially on dating and touching,” said the book’s co-author, Mary Dempsey, 65, a D.C. resident for the past 14 years.
Seeing a need for a guide to widowhood, Dempsey and her co-author, Marti Benedetti, wanted to help those who have lost spouses “find their footing,” mostly on dating, Dempsey said.
When they first started researching the book, Dempsey, a freelance journalist, had been dating a widower for more than a decade; Benedetti had lost her husband of 28 years.
In March 2021, after they had finished the manuscript for Finding Love After Loss, Benedetti passed away from metastatic breast cancer. Selections from Benedetti’s blog, in which she wrote about her life after the death of her husband, are included at the end of each of the book’s 13 chapters.
Dempsey’s contributions to the book include many interviews with people in the D.C. area who have lost spouses. They were younger than she expected. She noted that, according to the Census, the average age of an American widow is 59 years old.
“Widows [today] are living longer and have broader views about sex and money” than in the past, she said.
During her research, Dempsey was surprised to find that most people she interviewed seemed open to new kinds of relationships the second time around.
“I thought that widows who had been married a long time would be looking for similar relationships. That’s not the case. They want something different,” Dempsey said.
“Widows are carving out these unorthodox pathways to romance. Some are married and not living together, or living together and not married.”
Of course, not everyone in a widow or widower’s life will embrace those new pathways.
Another common theme in Dempsey’s interviews was “how judgmental friends and relatives are about senior dating,” she said. Loved ones can have “strict ideas on how long widowed seniors should be in mourning and wait before trying to move back to a fuller life.”
Several widows “were surprised to discover how problematic their return to romance proved for friends and families, including in-laws,” she said.
In the book, the authors also delve into the economic devastation that some widows face.
“We hadn’t realized how deeply widowhood can compromise a woman’s health or finances,” Dempsey wrote in the Lily, a Washington Post publication, last November.
Younger women who lose their husbands must juggle “grieving children, financial turmoil and career interruption. Their road is an especially rocky one,” she wrote.
“Often, they were the only widow in their social circle, and their friends, new to death, were careless and clumsy in handling that. Yet these women, too, held fast to the idea they might find love again.”
‘The beginning of a new story’
If someone loses a spouse and is ready to date again, where do they find potential matches?
“We talked to women who found new partners in the library, in the grocery store, at church. We interviewed many widows who jumped onto dating apps,” Dempsey explained in the Lily.
The most popular dating apps (and websites) for older adults, according to Forbes, are SilverSingles.com, OurTime.com, Match.com, OKCupid.com, Tinder and Bumble. All are accessible on a smartphone.
One interviewee was living in a rural community where she wasn’t likely to meet anyone, so she paid five figures to a professional dating service. DC Matchmaking or It’s Just Lunch (ItsJustLunchDC.com) are popular matchmaking services in our area.
As the book notes, “To discuss love and death together is not easy. Widowhood dating is an unusual beast in that it flips the usual pattern: Instead of death being the end of the game, it is the beginning of a new story.”
As one widow still living alone told Dempsey, “I have changed. I’ve gone deeper into who I am. I like myself better now than ever.”
To contact Widowed Persons Outreach, call (202) 537-4942 or visit wpodc.org. Washington Baby Boomer Widowers lists its events on Meetup.com; also see bit.ly/dcwidowers.com. Montgomery County Widows/Widowers lists events, including a weekly Zoom meeting on Thursday evenings, at bit.ly/mocowidows.