Eight months ago, Mia was a happily married mother of two teenage girls, looking forward to early retirement with her husband Tim, who’d just turned 53. His sudden death was a shock, and moving on with her life hasn’t been easy. Like many others, she was struggling over how to build a social life after death of a partner.
“Everyone rallied around me at his funeral,” she said, “but a month later, they’d all forgotten me.” Her experience isn’t unusual. Fourteen million widowed Americans share similar struggles as they find themselves suddenly single. For some widows, loneliness after the death of a partner gets especially tough when complicated by financial issues that force a move or other transitions.
“Within a few months, I lost Tim, I lost my house, I lost his income, and suddenly I was losing friends too. We’d always done things with other couples, and I’m not a part of a couple anymore,” said Mia. “I finally decided that I need to stop losing everything. I need to start finding me.”
So, she did something she’d always wanted to try but never had time for, and signed up for a painting class. Raising teenage daughters also keeps her busy. Still, she misses conversations with people her own age.
Combating Isolation and Loneliness
Jan Robinson, author of Tips From Widows, has found that loneliness is a significant issue for almost a third of people who’ve lost a partner. Fortunately, there are many ways to combat isolation and begin rebuilding your social life.
If your new single self no longer fits in your old social circles, consider taking a cue from Mia and explore new avenues:
- Join a local group that matches your interests. Start by googling your city’s name with keywords you’re interested in, such as hiking, theater, or gardening.
- Volunteer a few hours a week to a local charity whose mission is close to your heart.
- Check out your local library’s calendar for book clubs, workshops, and local events.
- Call local churches who host support groups for widows or grieving families, and tap into fellow members for additional resources.
- Treat yourself, once a week or once a month, to a day out that’s all about you: visit a museum, watch a movie, or relax in the park, followed by a table-for-one dinner at a restaurant you’ve never tried before.
If you think eating dinner alone isn’t your style, give it a chance anyway. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Social spaces, Social Support
Dr. Mark Rosenbaum presented research to the American Psychological Association that indicated restaurants can play a significant role as a social safety net. This was especially true for widows and divorced people, who found nearly “60 percent of their social support” came from fellow regulars at their favorite restaurant.
Besides tapping into a new social network, many restaurant patrons reported finding emotional and instrumental support there as well.
Rosenbaum suggests finding a restaurant near your home that you can access often. Be sure it fits your personal vibe, too: Are you a café type, or do you enjoy homestyle diners? Perhaps there’s a neighborhood pub with live music in the evening nearby. Check local listings online or in your newspaper to find places that fit your interests.
A local coffee house was Victor’s salvation after he lost his wife to cancer two years ago. “Sitting home alone in that empty house was killing me,” he says, “but going out to a movie or restaurant by myself just made me feel worse.” He points out that getting a group of friends together for an evening can be tough. At 42 years old, most of Victor’s friends are professionals and parents of young children, and have little time to spare.
Social support in the digital age
For people like Mia and Victor, websites and mobile apps are increasingly available to help find fellowship and connections. Unfortunately, most online communities can’t offer face-to-face companionship. “So, I tried a few dating sites,” Victor says, with a laugh. “What a mistake.” After a date stood him up at the coffee shop, his waitress introduced him to another man there on his own. Now their group has grown to a dozen regulars who get together for a cup of coffee after work a few times a month.
Today, apps are available to help us find such local fellowship or connect with kindred spirits. For instance, Just Happy Hours helps users get together in a no-pressure environment. You can scan invitations to join like-minded folks in a local restaurant, and arrive or leave when you like. Or you can choose to start the party yourself, and let others join you instead.
Loneliness after death of a partner isn’t a terminal diagnosis. Fortunately, there are more ways than ever to meet new people, rebuild your social networks, and make it possible to re-write your happily ever after.
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