Avoiding connection? Rushing in too soon?

How do you know when it's time to get a new pet, find a new friend, or consider dating again?

"The man told me he hadn't had a dog since 1992 because the time was never right. The subtext, though, was that the time had always been right – but the death of his last dog just hurt too much to go through again."

When someone you love dies, there can be so much pain that you swear you'll never go through that again. It might be a conscious choice or you might not even notice it happening.

If it's your partner, you may decide you'll never date again. If it's a good friend, you might find yourself avoiding social situations where you could meet kindred spirits. If it's a co-worker, you might find yourself having a difficult time meeting their replacement. Because, really, no person can replace another.

If it's an animal companion, you might just put the idea of another pet completely out of your mind. And you might even resent anyone who mentions the idea to you.

When is it time? This question comes up a lot with my Pet Grief clients. And it's often a hidden reality with my Grief Support clients.

With pet people, it can come up early – especially if the animal who died was the only one in your life. The loss of an animal companion leaves a hole in your life that can't be filled any other way. People who have truly loved an animal know that a relationship with a human can never take the place of that deep human-animal bond. So, most often, the choice is: Another pet? Or absolutely not? And, if yes, how soon?

If a human you care about has died, you might not notice this quandary for months – or even a year or more. The loss (through death) of a human is in some ways far more intricate than the death of a pet. Our relationships with people are much more complex. Unless you're extremely uncomfortable living alone, there’s usually a stretch of time when the question of "replacing" the person who died doesn't come up at all. When it does, you may not recognize that it’s really part of your grieving process.

Because this grief response may be disguised as avoiding connections with others or jumping into a relationship quickly, it may lead you into counseling or therapy. And that can be a problem if you're working with a grief-avoiding counselor or one not well-trained in grief support. Because, although this issue might be related to something deeper, it's also possible it's simply about missing the person or animal who died. And grief is not a mental health issue; it's a normal response that our society has forgotten how to deal with.

So, if someone close to you has died and you can't figure out why you're uncomfortable meeting people who might become close friends or intimate partners, what can you do?

If you're stuck on the question of whether to get another pet, what can you do?

In my years of working with grievers, the answer has usually been: Face your grief.

Explore all the losses you've had from this one death – and maybe from previous deaths, too. Identify your pain. Find actions that address that pain.

And then you’ll be able to recognize when it’s time for you to open up to a new relationship with a human or an animal companion.

As always, I’m here to help.


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