How to navigate dating when you’re grieving

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Lucia’s dad died after contracting Covid-19 earlier this year. She’s written this fantastic blog as she navigates grief now.

I find dating hard. Confronted with someone I like/want to like me, I can’t help but turn into the worst version of myself: a jarring mix of insecurity and overcompensation. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s you, but the result is a veneer of Insta-feminist sassiness masking a deep-rooted conviction that I’m nanoseconds away from being dumped over the composition of my WhatsApps.

According to psychology, I fall into the “anxious” (figures) pool of daters, my need for constant reassurance manifesting as frequent acts of self- and relationship-sabotage. Aged twenty-seven, I seem to be aboard a merry-go-round of suitors, but my “relationships” rarely make it past the three-month mark.

Of course, I know it’s not all down to me. It could be that dating apps are screwing us over or the simple fact that I’m in my twenties (or, most likely, that the men I date are in their twenties). But whatever it is, it’s getting tiring. Even more so during a global pandemic, which has shifted the gears in our dating lives. Before, a bad date could be written off as a funny story to tell our mates. Today, an encounter with a stranger has much higher stakes.

Already jaded and researching womxn-only communes, I face a brand new challenge on top of all this: dating while grieving. Before you say it, I know I should probably be taking time to focus on myself — it just hasn’t quite worked out that way (and I’m a Libra).

I lost my dad to coronavirus in March 2020. I still can’t believe I’m writing those words.

My dad was, and always will be, the most important man in my life. He was everything you could possibly wish for in a father, but also several evolutionary steps ahead of most of the male species. He was wearing pink shirts and learning about intersectional feminism before I was even born. He liked fast cars, but he also wore Vivienne Westwood perfume and was more in touch with his feelings than anyone I know.

Not-so-lucky in love himself, he was the person I’d laugh with about bad Bumble dates or cry with over heartbreak (and no matter how in touch with his feelings he was, he’d still always offer to get out the baseball bat when someone hurt me).

The prospect of continuing my search for love without him in my life is daunting.

Looking for love while I grieve

Firstly, dating while you’re grieving feels ten times scarier because of how vulnerable you are. Emotions veer from being deeply suppressed to spilling out uncontrollably, and you never know when the next surge will hit. An unanswered text from someone I could see myself having feelings for will send me spiraling. Seeing a father and daughter together makes me want to burst into tears mid-date.

Secondly, if something goes wrong, I can’t tell my dad about it. I can tell plenty of other people, of course — but they’re not my dad. I don’t yet know how to navigate my emotional life without him; my rock, my constant, my confidant. The person who would always tell me to stop worrying, remind me I’m still so young, and that I don’t have time for silly buggers.

Thirdly, there is this: how will the next important man in my life ever compare to my dad? That’s not to say I’m looking for someone like him. My dad wasn’t perfect; I’m not sure I’d have it in me to marry someone with quite so many stubborn ways and quite so many guitars. What I do want, though, is to find someone of whom my dad would approve. Not just approve, but like and love.

New priorities and trying to escape

My dad isn’t going to be there to walk me down the aisle (or whatever non-conforming ceremony I inflict on everyone), but I damn sure want to make him proud with whoever I choose as my partner. What my dad had, and which so many of us lack, was integrity. His death has shed new light on the qualities I would look for in a partner. It’s become so much more important to date someone I can truly respect, trust, and feel inspired by.

When you’re grieving, it’s natural to want to escape it. And so we push the pain further down, piling distractions and vices on top of it. I want to remember what it is to feel joyful and free — and falling in love can help us do that. The best I’ve felt this year is being swept up by someone and giving myself permission to have fun again.

Fathers are not replaceable

The fun, though, is fleeting. Grief is not like a breakup, which you get over via tequila shots, a new haircut, a good yoga teacher, and, ultimately, a new partner. If you’re in a relationship and it ends, you can move on, even if it is painful. These relationships are replaceable, but fathers – or anyone in our life who dies – are not. When I’m dating, I find it hard to distinguish whether I’m experiencing a genuine connection with someone, or merely clinging to a raft in the white water.

But falling in love, like death, is an unknown. They will come for us at some point, whether we like it or not. My dad used to say that love is letting go of fear; so I think that all we can do is let it go and keep on swimming. And if, like me, you’ve lost someone, remember this: they’ll always be there to guide you.

Lucia Fontaina-Powell

Follow Lucia on Instagram and Twitter: @luciafontaina