Dating While Widowed: Staying Present in a New Relationship


Marriage Day

Marriage Day (Photo credit: Fikra)

I read a lot about widowed in new relationships and the push/pull that goes on between the new love and the dead love. That might sound a little odd. Dead people really haven’t anything to say about the moving on business of their still live spouses.
Which is as it should be, really. But a surprising number of widowed who are just dating or newly involved in relationships of a serious nature seem to feel that they owe some sort of respect and continuing vigilance to their departed love.

I won’t say that when embarking on new relationships isn’t a trigger for occasional tugs backward on the heart-strings. It is a decidedly odd feeling to date again when you never really had an inkling that you would ever need to step back into that arena again in your lifetime.

Divorced and long time singles tend to scoff but most widowed folk I know really never contemplated a life without their deceased partner. When you are settled in a relationship, for the most part, you don’t dream of wandering among the single again in a predatory fashion. Most widowed were – faults and all – fairly content to stay with and work on their marriages, so it is a shock to their systems to be thrust back into the dating world. There is push/pull between resenting it and allowing oneself to be caught up in the excitement and pursuit of new love and new future.

Some work through this rather quickly. It helps if they don’t have extended family or friends or recalcitrant children haranguing them, but even those who do eventually find their inner back bone and assert their right to live their lives as suits them best.

However, there are some people who go back and forth and the reasons for this are as individual as the widowed themselves, but some of the bigger ones are as follows:

1) Guilt – Widowed feel guilty moving on and being happy with someone else. They just don’t see how this can be and it torments them and consequently their new partners. It’s partly a survivor thing. Why me? Why her/him? Why us? How unfair! Blah. Blah.

It’s also likely a personality thing. Some of us are just very dramatic. if late spouses could come back and chat, they’d likely have more than a few words to impart to new partners about the award-winning drama tendencies of their spouses, so my opinion is that if a widowed is someone who can’t seem to not get caught up in the melodrama of anniversaries and looking for sympathy on Facebook, it’s probably something that won’t change. It’s just who they are. They’ve bought into the idea of the ghostly threesome, aided and abetted by like-minded friends and relatives, and the new love can learn to put up with this or move on him/herself.

2) Benefits – Some widowed discover that there are benefits to the widow status that they simply don’t want to give up. If they are “fortunate”, they might have had a support network that encourages them to stay in the comfy cocoon of widowdom. Widows make new friends among their widowed peers, join groups, – real and virtual, blog, start foundations, write books (that sometimes sell, make them quasi-famous and become movies) or simply discover a new life’s calling. These are all hard, even incredibly difficult – to walk away from, even if the reward is a new relationship. And again, a new partner might have to make a choice between finding a way to live with someone who loves widowhood as much as he/she loves the new love, or walking away.

3) ambivalence – Despite the emphasis our culture (and I am talking first world here) places on the individual and the awesomeness of being independent and on our own, the truth is that we still hold coupledom as the holy grail or existence. Some widowed discover that being single is not hell on earth. They enjoy relationships and even love again, but they are not interested in co-mingling on a marriage minded level again. Signals are mixed. Feelings are hurt. Mostly because the widowed person can’t/won’t be clear about what they really want. Love and companionship but not marriage. In this case, it is important for all parties to be honest, recognize that everyone’s needs are valid but that time/patience isn’t going to change anything and that it is sometimes better for the commitment minded to move on.

So what’s with the title “staying present”?

If you are in a relationship, whether you are marriage minded or not, it’s imperative to be with your new love when you are with your new love. Not mixing sadness, backward glancing and any other griefy- ness with the rather serious business of showing your new love that they are front and center. And if they aren’t always front and center, you should be honest about it so this person can move on to someone who will value them more than you do.

But I do value and love my new boy/girlfriend, you say. Indignantly.

Not if, in my opinion, you are expecting them to be okay while you moan, groan and weep over your late spouse, or if you are constantly praising and glorifying said dead spouse right in the face of new love.

If you had to listen to your mate sing arias to their last partner, how would it make you feel? Especially if this was the norm rather than the rare, rare exception.

But I only blog, you say. Or I only volunteer for hospice, on messages boards or dead spouse only comes up when I promote the book or foundation I started in his/her name.

Think about. How would you feel if you were the one in your new love’s place. Probably not someone who’s been widowed (although even fellow widowed can lose patience with this) and who really takes to heart all the effusive praise heaped on the dead one and the previous relationship? Even the most self-actualized person is – over time – going to start to feel like warmed over shit on burnt toast. It’s human nature to want to be the most important person to the person you love. You want that yourself, right? So why aren’t you giving this to someone you say you care about and love – maybe even want (or have) a future with?

Looking back, should be, something that becomes occasional and private. If it is in the face of your new love/spouse, you need to be pretty damned sure that he/she is 100% okay with this and not merely tolerating it and seething silently. Silent sucking up always erupts at some point and the fissures never really heal over.

Despite the fact that we are living through an era in which widowhood is again romantic, glamorous and glorified, don’t buy in to the point where you are cutting off  – one by one – the facial appendages of your new relationships. If you must “widow”, don’t expect your husband/wife/boy or girlfriend to stoically support you. Widowhood and it’s side hobbies are not couple activities. Know that you are being unreasonable and even an asshole to ask that much from your new partner and relationship. Don’t make a widowhood widow out of them.

Dating While Widowed ….. and everyone has baggage


Young Widow

Young Widow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“….. and everyone has baggage.”

I ran across this quote on a widow blog. It was written by a widow, lamenting/raging/venting after her second break up with a post-dead husband boyfriend. And the thing that struck me was the negativity of it. Which is odd because the idea behind the concept of “having baggage” is relatively common in our modern culture. Most people, at some point or other, will christen their histories with the term because they are frustrated and see the past as an obstacle to what they want right now.

It’s a curious way of framing things. After all, how can events that are chronologically behind you be blocking your future? Unless, like Lot’s wife, you are still looking back. In which case, the fact that you are tripping up shouldn’t come as a surprise. Walking backward is a good way to fall down.

After the question of “how soon is too soon to date again”, the problem of how to put away the past and not use it as a measuring stick in potential/new relationships is one of the bigger issues of dating again. Whether our late marriage was good, bad or ugly, any future significant other and the relationship formed deserves its own space where it is not judged by or compared to the late spouse and marriage.

Sure, everyone has “baggage”, but its less than helpful to label what is merely a chronology of events as such rather than simply calling it what it is – your history.

You have a history. It shaped you, taught you what you know for good and not so much good, and that is all that it is. The minute it becomes “baggage”; it’s time to rethink your readiness to date or to be in a serious relationship. Nothing good is likely to spring up from negative comparisons, blame and generally wishing your new someone was your now deceased someone, who has magically stopped being human and levitates in an photo-shopped state of romantic perfection. Constantly going back to “SoNso would never have x, y or z.” whether it’s just in your head, or worse, thrown out into the open spaces  at your new partner, is the teenaged emotional blackmail weapon of choice that adults should hesitate to pick up again.

Baggage is synonymous with issues. And still having active issues will, more often than not, hamper the development of a new relationship. It’s good to know what you want out of a relationships and what can’t be tolerated no matter how sexy, charming and good on paper someone is, but don’t confuse idealizing the past and the dead with a checklist for new love.

Love me/love my baggage?

Um, no.

Why should anyone have to sift through your issues in order to get to know you?

And why should anyone have to be your grief counselor or help you work through your bad relationship habits (the ones your late spouse let slide because you were both too young to know any better)?

The answer, of course, is that they shouldn’t. If you are ready to date again, you are ready to be an adult who is honest with yourself about who you are and what might be a problem as you move on with your life. Seek real professional help if your “baggage” needs to be filed away under “past life”, but don’t expect someone else to carry it for you or accept being treated like crap because “… everyone has baggage”.

Everyone has a past – a history that often has bruised squishy spots in it – but no one but your mother has to “love you anyway”. If you want love, you have to earn it and part of that process is getting your history together rather than using it as an excuse.

 

 

Another Anniversary


From a certain point of view, I haven’t much actual marriage experience. In fact, I am still years away from having spent more of my adult life paired than single. So in some ways, my basis for comparison and analysis is short on actual “seat time” and what I know as “normal” can’t necessarily be taken as gospel. There are those who have spent more time in the so-called trenches than I have, but I have to say, I have yet to find marriage trench-like.

Is it typical to still lust after your husband five years on? I found myself wondering that for the umpteenth time the other evening.

“There is an awful lot of gropage that goes on around this house,” Rob remarked as we exchanged send-off affections at the back door this morning.

Rarely to if ever do we arrive or depart solo without excessive lip servicing and declarations of love and perhaps this is normal for the time frame. Having never made it past a sixth anniversary, I wouldn’t know personally. But I don’t see this in other couples and wonder if perhaps it is just me. Or just our circumstances? Or maybe evidence that too many people in the world take far too much for granted and no wonder there are as many failed marriages as there are successes.

Five years ago, Rob and I stood on the banks of the Athabasca River and exchanged vows, rings and kisses. Papers were signed. Pictures were taken. Food and drink was consumed. It seems like yesterday and history at the same time.

The card I left next to his steaming tea-cup this morning broke cardinal rules of relationship comparison and favoritism, but it brought a smile to his face and kisses and hugs to me, so who cares? Now is what counts because it’s the basis for tomorrow.

We will celebrate with lunch at the elementary school because it’s the last week of school and they always hold a family picnic, and then follow-up this evening with attendance at the last game of the outdoor soccer season. With our latest babysitter having outgrown the job, we couldn’t have scheduled a date even if the schedule was cleared anyway.

Rob bought me a new watch, a stylish but comfy pair of leather sandals and a couple of summer outfits I found at MEC this last weekend. I gave him a kick-ass miter saw. I am pretty sure that year five is marked with accessories and tools.

The search terms here have been lit up again with sad queries concerning widowed love or the lack of it. Despite my limited experience, the advice I have remains the same: disregard the dead spouse thing. It’s not central to the issue. Someone loves you and is interested in building a life with you or they simply aren’t. Why is beside the main point. If you don’t feel loved, do yourself the giant favor of taking steps to make yourself available for someone who is ready, willing and able to love.

Yesterday as I drove back to The Fort from yoga class, I noted that the fields are yellowing. Solstice has passed. Canada Day looms. The bonus months between school ending and starting up again, which as a former teacher is really the only way I know of marking time, awaits.

And it’s our anniversary. Not officially a stat day, but nearly enough.