Is there any such thing as “too soon” when it comes to finding love again after a spouse dies? Some of Tiffany Thornton’s critics assert that there is.
The former Disney star — whose first husband, Chris Carney, died in a car accident in 2015 — married new love Josiah Capaci in a ceremony she shared on Instagram on Sunday, dubbing it, “Best day of my life.” And while the flood of commenters appear to be supportive and congratulatory, some have apparently called Thornton out for being disloyal, according to the long follow-up post she added in self-defense.
“This. This is love. That all encompassing, enduring, accepting, near perfect love. The kind that trumps my need to snap back at people who have the audacity to comment on my Instagram about whether I loved my first husband or not. But let me take a moment to explain something to you,” she wrote. “There is no timeline for grief or for when God moves in your life in undeniable ways.”
Thornton closes out with this: “When I say ‘Jo is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me’ that in no way indicates that I didn’t love my first husband with all that I had. How dare any one of you judge me and say that on a social platform. It doesn’t make you any better of a person to cast judgment on others and sit in the seat of mockers. I will always love chris and jo knows that. And I will always love Jo. The beautiful thing about love is that it multiplies as new blessings come into your life. I don’t have to share one bucket of love with the special people in my life. Each one has their own bucket. Get it? Isn’t that amazing?? God’s timing is not our own. And I praise Him for that. You should too.”
Thornton, known for her roles on Sonny With a Chance and So Random!, had announced her engagement to Capaci, a Gospel Light Church worship pastor, in August. And while her move into a new relationship after such a traumatic loss likely required some emotional work on her part, it’s one that is certainly not out of the norm.
By 25 months after a spouse’s death, 61 percent of men and 19 percent of women were either remarried or involved in a new romance, according to a 1996 study (which is out of date, but consistent with even older findings). “It may be helpful for family, friends, and therapists to know that dating and remarriage are common and appear to be highly adaptive behaviors among the recently bereaved,” the study noted.
Still, some people just can’t help but criticize when a survivor moves into another relationship. A high profile controversy erupted when, for example, Sheryl Sandberg began dating Bobby Kotick, of Activision video games, about 10 months after the sudden death of her husband Dave Goldberg, whose death inspired a raw and public expression of grief from the Facebook COO.
The social media backlash to Sandberg’s step forward was nothing less than nasty — just as it was when comedian and actor Patton Oswalt announced plans to remarry a year and a half after his wife, Michelle McNamara, died suddenly in her sleep, leaving Oswalt and their young daughter behind. Online trolls came out in full force then, with one saying, “I’d like to be mourned for more than a couple months,” and another suggesting Oswalt was getting “grief laid.”
That tirade inspired at least one forceful clap back, from blogger Erica Roman, a young widow who responded on behalf of Oswalt, herself, and anyone else in the position of being judged for finding love again.
“You aren’t entitled to an opinion,” she wrote to the critics. “You don’t get to comment on the choices of a widower while you sit happily next to your own living spouse. You didn’t have to stand and watch your mundane morning turn into your absolute worst nightmare… Go back to scrolling Facebook and keep your ignorance to yourself. Who gave you the position to judge when it’s ‘too soon’ for a person who has suffered the worst to be able to find happiness and companionship again?”
Connecticut-based psychologist Barbara Greenberg agrees that it’s no one else’s place to say when it’s appropriate to embrace new love. “It’s very judgmental,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle, noting that “people can have a very hard time celebrating other people’s joys.” Further, she says about Thornton, “Maybe she had a good experience in her first marriage,” which would make her open to embracing a second one. “I don’t think there’s any rule about when one should remarry or how long one should grieve. There’s no timeline,” Greenberg adds.
Regarding feelings of guilt that a surviving spouse may struggle with as they move toward a new marriage or relationship, Greenberg advises, “She’s got to stay grounded in her own beliefs that this is right, and work hard to honor her own feelings.” Because, she says, “At the end of the day it’s her life, and she doesn’t have to defend her life to anyone.”
A Brooklyn editor and mother of two tells Yahoo Lifestyle that a year after her husband died of cancer, she began dating her late spouse’s close friend, ultimately marrying him 8 years after that. “For me it was best to take it slowly, even though we initially got together in a timeline that some would consider too quick,” she says. “Only I knew when it felt right. No one else lived through what I did or knew what it was like to mourn or raise kids who lost a father at a young age.”
She also notes that “just because you start dating or marry someone else doesn’t mean that you officially stop mourning. I didn’t stop remembering my late husband when I got involved with someone else. He is still a part of our lives. We celebrate his birthday and think of him on the day he died and at milestone moments for my kids, and spend time with his family.”
Also sharing her experiences with Yahoo Lifestyle is a New York City–based writer, whose wife died of cancer after they were married for just four years; she entered into a relationship with someone new less than two years after her wife’s death.
“I think when you’ve had a happy marriage you are more apt to have an open heart about finding love again,” she explains. “I don’t feel burned by love and to me that’s a good thing. There was no betrayal of trust to get over. But everyone is different, and I think it would be unkind to judge another person’s choices, especially after they’ve gone through such a loss. Too soon? Too late? There’s no one-size-fits all response to loss and grief; it’s a process.”
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