There’s an episode of The Golden Girls that deals with grief, in which Dorothy asks Blanche – the quintessential series slut – how long she waited to have sex after her husband died. The ever-quick-witted Sophia promptly quips, “Until the paramedics came.”
It’s a joke that gets a few laughs but just a few beats later, we learn it is a jest not so far from the truth. Blanche admits she didn’t wait years or months or weeks. “As the reverend was performing the funeral service, I knew for sure he wanted me,” she admits. So that’s how long she waited: Until the funeral was over.
When your partner dies, you lose the person who you were connected with emotionally and physically. But there’s another deeper, more complex component of that grief that most people don’t talk about and/or understand. Some experts in the field refer to it as “sexual bereavement” and define it as a socially unacceptable grief that’s kept quiet.
When you lose your partner in life, you lose your partner in sex.
Suddenly, you’re physically single. You’re not just lamenting the struggle of having to hold down the fort financially or remembering all of the household tasks your partner was once responsible for; you’re also mourning a sexual unity, compatibility, and comfort that you once had – an accord that is no longer available.
And it hurts. It’s painful. It sucks. Suddenly, you’re a solo person and you’re unwillingly thrust into this world of trying to find someone who can fill a void. So is it possible – filling the void? How do you tread the dating sphere, the sex sphere, again while still grieving? Keep reading for 5 lessons for those who are dating and grieving.
There is no magic number.
Meaning that there is no magically correct right amount of time that needs to pass before you should consider becoming sexually active again. Of course, I personally wouldn’t recommend pulling a Blanche, but I do believe that when you’re ready, you’ll know.
Focus on why.
If you find yourself questioning if you’re ready to have sex with someone new, ask yourself why. Is it about feeling alive? Is it about making a connection? Is it purely because your sex drive is high? Examining your own motivations could be key to preventing a breakdown later.
Sex is not a betrayal.
A thought process that’s common in those grieving is that doing anything which feels normal is a betrayal of the person who has died. Eating can feel like a betrayal, as can sex, going back to work, dating again, hanging out with friends – anything that feels remotely normal post-grief can have a quality of, “If I’m doing this, I must be fine; it means I’m moving on and not suffering.” But sex doesn’t equate moving on or betraying the person you loved who is now gone. Sex is simply a byproduct of being alive; if you feel an overwhelming sense of guilt, you might not be ready.
Let yourself be.
As in, you don’t always have to do. When someone dies, a common reaction can be the need to feel, the need to perpetually be doing something. And while “keeping busy” is one of the most common suggestions to those who are grieving, there’s also something to be said for letting yourself sit where you need to sit and just be. If you’re constantly moving but not moving through the grief, are you really moving at all?
You can be intimate without sex.
It’s possible. Travel back to Tip #2: Focus on why. Is sex really what you are looking for or could it be something else? Maybe you just want a bit of intimacy – someone to hold you or cuddle with throughout the night. Remember that intimacy is possible without any sexual acts. If that’s what you’re truly looking for, voice your wants and needs.
Steph Osmanski is a freelance writer and social media consultant who specializes in health and wellness content. Her words have appeared on Seventeen, Life & Style, Darling Magazine, and more. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton and writing a memoir.