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Dating Maze #105 - Repairing the Broken Heart

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Her confidence in men is destroyed. Is she doomed to a life of loneliness?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a young widow. I was married to my one and only love. I'm interested in meeting a man and dating, but I'm having a hard time meeting someone that is my age, single, honest, and without a lot of emotional and financial problems.

It's been two years since my husband passed away and I have dated very little. I did date one man that I was head over heels for, but I found out that he never finalized his divorce. He has a lot of emotional problems and is buried in debt.

I really loved him with all my heart and could not believe he could hurt me so badly especially after watching what I went through with my husband's illness and death. He was "supposedly" friends with both my husband and me, but I am having a very difficult time thinking of him as a friend after what he did.

I'm wondering now, if a man that I knew and was "friends" with for over 10 years could take advantage of me and break my heart, what could someone do that I just met and do not really know? Are there any honest, decent men out there who understand what being faithful and respectful means?

I do not want to spend my life alone, yet I would rather be alone than in a relationship with a deceitful man. I'm so new to this dating scene and now I am so cautious and suspecting that I'm sure it must show in my attitude. It seems that most of my female friends feel the same way: they've all been in a relationship with a cheating, wandering man.

I have my life in order and have no real baggage to speak of. I am in good shape physically and am attractive, yet I do not seem to be meeting anyone. Any advice? Also how can I go about forgetting about my "love" that hurt me so and broke my heart?


Dear Wendi,

One unfortunate courtship doesn't doom you to a life of loneliness. There are many fine, unattached men in the world who are looking for the same things as you. We'll write about the best way to find them in a minute.

Before that, however, we'd like to devote some time to helping you move past your recent, heart-breaking experience. It is easy to understand why you, or any other woman in your situation, could fall for a man who turned out to be an expert at using people. He paid romantic attention to you when you were newly widowed, lonely, and emotionally vulnerable. Since you and your husband considered him to be a friend, you trusted him. Had you been at a less vulnerable point in your life, you might have been able to pick up on certain red flags about his honesty, emotional problems and financial difficulties. This time, however, you understandably didn't. But it is not helpful for you to continue to agonize over the mistake you made.

Instead, consider yourself lucky to have discovered the truth before you became more involved with this person, and lucky to have had the courage and self-esteem to break off your dating.

In addition, if you understand that you fell for a charming but dishonest man under circumstances that have since changed, you can treat what happened as a new widow's rite of passage. Sometimes, newly-widowed or divorced people unwittingly select the "wrong" partners for the first real courtship they experience after a loss, and after a number of months discover that they either made a mistake or that the courtship that suited their needs at a very vulnerable time is just not suitable for the long term. When they reflect back, many people can see some positive affects from their interim "dating"; it helped them make the transition to widowhood or post-divorce a little easier, it helped build their self esteem, it made them feel that they could be attractive and desirable, etc. So try to look at the positive aspects of the dates you had rather than the negative feelings you are experiencing.

It is also helpful to allow yourself to mourn this break-up and to deal with any residual hurt you may be feeling as a result of your husband's death. Your letter is filled with the pain of someone who hasn't yet worked through the feelings all of us go through when something we value is taken from us. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are the stages all of us go through during or after a loss, even after a break-up such as yours. A self-help book or a few sessions with a therapist might help you with the grieving process and enable you to move forward.

There will come a time that you will feel ready to start dating again. While much about the dating world has changed since the time you and your late husband went out with each other, with a large percentage of people not interested in dating for marriage and different expectations about physical relationships, there is something that hasn't changed. Courtships that lead to marriage still follow the same path that you and your husband followed. What you have to do is find dating partners who are as interested in building a long-term relationship as you are, and who have the qualities that will help the two of you develop a healthy and rewarding marriage.

Over the past few years, you've probably done a lot of thinking about the direction you would like to see your life moving. Instead of looking for someone to whom you are initially attracted, we suggest you focus on finding a man who shares your values, and whose hopes for the future are compatible with your own.

To do that, use a network of friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances, people you know from your synagogue or from community projects, etc. Tell them you are looking to be introduced to a suitable man, describe your values and goals, and ask them to keep their eyes and ears open for a possible introduction.

Networking is far and away the best method for meeting suitable dates, and is the way most people who are past their early 20s end up meeting their future spouses. Networking is also a helpful, although not ideal, way to "check out" the background of a potential date. You can use it to find people who knew him many years ago and can tell you about his "past."

The people in your network can narrow down the field to the most suitable men using an approach we call "Four Plus Four." You tell them four qualities about yourself that you believe make you a person, and describe the four most important qualities you would like to see in a future spouse. This is a great way for your friends to focus on identifying the types of men with whom you have the best chance of developing a good courtship.

Of course, even networking is not foolproof. You may meet someone with a personality that clashes with yours, or someone who doesn't live up to his recommendation. However, over time you will discover that there are a number of very pleasant, honest men in the world, and that it is possible for you to meet a man with whom you can spend many happy years together. We hope this happens for you in the near future.

Rosie & Sherry

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