Dating While Widowed: On Giving Advice

Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Prudence over at The Slate received an email from a widower recently asking for insight into an issue he has with this girlfriend. Seems the girlfriend, in the opinion of the widower, is “touchy” about anything to do with his late wife and the fact that he is close to his in-laws.

Nothing surprising about that. If you haven’t been widowed yourself, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that widowed folk really don’t go through the same separation process that one does when a relationship ends in a mutual or acrimonious break-up or when a marriage ends in divorce. Different end games result in different emotional processes.

Prudence aka Emily Yoffe is the second wife of a man who was widowed young. She’s written a rather touching essay on the subject and occasionally outs herself and him in her advice giving. That said, her experience hasn’t made her particularly sensitive to the plight of the widowed. You can’t really be a vicarious widowed person even if your contact with a widowed is rather intimate, so her advice veers off into the cliché, the assumption and the insensitive more often than not when anything widowed comes up.

A person could get speculative here. Perhaps her marriage has experienced more than a few unsettling moments due to her husband’s widowhood and advice seekers on the topic get to bear the brunt that her husband doesn’t. But assuming gets a person into trouble as does reading between lines. Let’s not go there.

Instead, the focus should be on the term “insecure”. Prudie/Emily replied that she felt the girlfriend in this widower dating scenario was simply being insecure and that he need only reassure her before laying down the facts that 1) he had a past and that past includes a deceased wife for whom he will always have feelings though these feelings didn’t preclude him from loving her just as much and 2) his in-laws were his family – get over it.

The insecure wife/girlfriend trope is not exclusive to widowed dating scenarios. It’s a rather effective way to disarm women who have issues within a relationship that their partners simply don’t want to admit are issues that need to be discussed and dealt with in a mutually agreeable manner.

Labeling a woman “insecure” is the first step in making her feelings irrelevant by labeling them irrational. It’s a great way to win any disagreement provided you are totally okay with stomping your opponent into the mud by using such a disingenuous douchebag method.

So why am I talking about advice giving?

It’s easy to give advice. Advice is like opinions, which as we all know everyone has – just like they have assholes.

And it’s also quite easy to fall into the trap of believing that because you’ve experienced something, you are automatically an expert and therefore qualified.

I am not an expert. Nor do I play one on the Internet.

I’ve been widowed. I’ve dated in the aftermath. I’ve remarried.

If one were looking for a bit of wisdom on the topic of successful dating, relationships, remarriage and marriage to a widower, I would be a safer bet than someone who hasn’t managed any of those things or who isn’t married to a man who was widowed himself. However, I have only my individual experiences to draw from and I am not you. Therefore anything I might say needs to be weighed heavily against your own reality.

Prudie is my example of this. She’s married to a man who was widowed, and yet she mostly gives sketchy to bad advice on the subject of widowhood and relationships in the aftermath. Her experience hasn’t translated into much of anything worth seeking out or following.

Of late, I’ve had emails from widowed and comments from those dating and I have tried to reply as best I could. I really do reply to all emails and comments because I know what it is like to have questions and no one to ask. Or to ask and have no one reply or reply in less than helpful ways.

But I am firm believer in weighing everything. There are blogs, books, message boards, Facebook groups and even conventions. All well-meaning but of varying degrees of useful. Certainly there are no experts. Just people with experiences to share and who are no more qualified than you are to solve the issues in your life.

I have written quite a bit on dating, grief and moving on. All based on my experience. Just the opinions of one “asshole”. If there is something that you can take from these writings and put to good use, wonderful. I am glad to have helped.

But there is no one size fits all.

When I was teaching middle school, I would run across this or that student who really didn’t mesh with my teaching style. The best solution was always to find a teacher who did. My seventh grade English teaching partner and I probably traded two or three kids a school year based on our philosophy that for every student there is a teacher – somewhere.

It’s good to shop around. I am flattered and humbled by the blog traffic I generate on widow dating. My husband thinks I should write a book – or at least blog more often -, but I am not a fan of the self-help genre, and I don’t write it for the same reason I don’t write about my first husband’s illness and death. It feels wrong to make money off it. That’s a personal thing rather than a judgement. I admire people who can write and do real good rather than simply exploit an issue for personal gain or fame. Those people do exist. I just question the idea of being one of them myself. It’s too easy to get full of yourself and I am as human as anyone.

So when surfing about, shopping at Amazon or joining this or that group, be careful. Be a critical thinker. And remember that you really do know yourself best. Take and apply only that which fits you and your situation.

I don’t know what ultimately happened to the man who wrote Prudie. Hopefully he did not approach his girlfriend from the stance of “I know you are insecure, dearest, but here is why you are wrong …”.  Don’t be that guy. And don’t worry so much. Whatever issues has brought you here in search of answers are likely as not fixable with a little bit of thought, open honest discussion and taking a few good deep breaths. The yoga teacher in me feels we should just all breathe more because all things pass. You are going to be okay.

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3 responses to “Dating While Widowed: On Giving Advice

  1. Apparently, a scraping blog called “Love Advice” has linked to the post with a fairly inaccurate assessment of me, my husband and the dating while widowed series of posts.

    I tried to leave a comment but it’s not a site that accepts them. Convenient and suspect.

    Here is the link to the blog: http://www.discoverlovelessons.com/the-meaning-of-love/dating-while-widowed-on-giving-advice-anniegirl1138.html

    Here is the poster’s assessment:

    Perhaps her marriage has experienced more than a few unsettling moments due to her husband’s widowhood and advice seekers on the topic get to bear the brunt that her husband doesn’t. … the facts that 1) he had a past and that past includes a deceased wife for whom he will always have feelings though these feelings didn’t preclude him from loving her just as much and 2) his in-laws were his family – get over it. … All well-meaning but of varying degrees of useful. …

    The poster’s own website has been closed and seized due to copyright violations, which given that the website this was found on is basically built of stealing other people’s content shouldn’t have surprised me.

    Anyway, just be aware that Love Advice is more other’s people’s content that has been scraped without permission – sometimes with snarky, inaccurate commentary and sometimes not. But for the record, my husband edits this blog, so he is more than aware of my opinions and he would be the first to tell anyone that his allegiance is always to his current wife and that he doesn’t consider in-laws family regardless of the wife in question though he believes it is the duty of a good husband to do more than just get along with them in any case.

    As for the residual feelings for a late spouse, I have never denied that they exist and I haven’t been shy about reminding new partners that this is really their issue to resolve within themselves. However, I don’t think that a new partner should ever put up with being made to feel second best or to accept comparisons on a regular basis or that they should be partners in grief with their widowed boy- or girlfriend. Anyone who is giving advice to the contrary probably has a book to sell.

  2. I saw that Dear Prudie column and immediately thought of you. She handled it quite badly (as she does often enough). My two cents is that you ought to write of your experience – regardless of whether or not it’s categorized as self-help or whether you profit from it or not. You have a lot of hard-earned wisdom that’s just not out there quite the way you put it out there, sporadically, here.

    • The idea of just writing it and giving it away as a free download has occurred to me. If nothing else, it would be good for my karma.

      Thank you though for your confidence in my ability to share about the experience, such as it is.

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