On Being One Half of That “cute old couple”


Affectionate old couple with the wife holding ...

Elderly love(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know for a certainty that you are indeed old when young women begin to refer to you and your husband as “so cute”. As in “Today I saw this old couple walking through the park holding hands. They were so cute. Someday, I hope I am an old woman who still holds hands with her husband.” The assumption being that the elderly couple in question are actually with their spouse and aren’t widowed folk who’ve randomly hooked up at the retirement complex for entertainment and recreation purposes.

But whatever. Far be it from me to disillusion a young person who still believes in marriage. It’s not as if they exist in droves anymore.

Rob accompanied me to the doctor’s office yesterday morning. I have a pesky polyp and removal involves a certain amount of slicing and frying. My doctor, a lively old fella who resembles a garden gnome – minus the hat and fluffy whiskers – assured me that I would not feel a thing. Not exactly true and Rob was concerned that I might be too distracted to drive myself home safely.

He also hates to allow me to go to the doctor’s on my own where skin things are concerned. This particular problem has been recurrent and benign, but being a fair-haired natural ginger (the latter part only when I feel like it), one can never be complacent where skin is concerned. I’ve had skin enough slashed and burned off to know that the derma can turn on you without warning. He doesn’t want me to be on my own should that happen because he lived the aftermath once before and it isn’t something you do again when you can easily prevent it.

So, we are sitting in the waiting area, chatting and holding hands, when the assistant came out to collect me. Before I followed her, I gave him a quick kiss and then proceeded down the hall to one of the many treatment rooms in the hive that hides behind the waiting room door.

As I seated myself, she smiled at me and said, “You two are just like newlyweds. That’s so cute.”

She left the “I hope I can have that one day” part unspoken, but it hung in the air nevertheless.

Cute.

I am now so old that young women find my perfectly normal interactions with my husband “cute”. “Sweet” and “endearing” cannot be far behind, and gods help me when “you guys remind me of my nana and papa” tumbles off someone’s lips.

There are worse things. Mocking. Remember the YouTube video of the couple trying to figure out how to send a message with their Mac? Cute and hilarious.

Endearing and snuggly in a puppy/kitten sort of way and chuckle-worthy at the same time. The ultimate elderly hell.

Oh, I could view it as Rob and I being inspirational. That’s how the young woman will likely present the scenario to her friends as they gather around at some pub on Whyte Ave. They will breathe sighs of relief knowing that old people still held hands and kissed, which probably means they still have sex. The fear of romance-less unions once the honeymoon is over and a few offspring  pop up being a big nightmare scenario for the young. That and the shackles of matrimony. That archaic hold over from feudal days of yore. Good to know that some of us bet the odds and don’t arrive at the half-way mark grim-faced for our slog towards decrepitude and certain death.

Of course, I didn’t tear the dear thing’s fantasy to shreds by enlightening her about the fact that, from a certain point of view, Rob and I still are newlyweds. Barely married five years and blessed with the luxury of not having to raise a single child from scratch as they were all in various stages of walking, talking and able to attend to their own bodily functions. Kinder to let her believe that Rob and I represent some undiscovered by statistician’s norm. That unicorn of couples – cute, aging and still still glowing.

Dating While Widowed: The Love of My Life


The Damsel of the Sanct Grael, by Dante Gabrie...

The Damsel of the Sanct Grael, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti: medieval romance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I stumbled upon a post at HuffPo today. Written by a woman who is married to a widower, it touched upon the taboo subject of being “the love his life”. Clearly, for many widowed and those who date or marry them, this is a sticky issue fraught with multi-leveled angsty-ness and worlds of guilt.

One of the conversations that comes up often in the widow forums and blogs is the idea that dead spouses can’t be replaced and that similarities between the departed and new loves smack of replacement ick factor. It may even be a sign that one isn’t ready to date.

As my husband Rob is fond of pointing out, “We replace people all the time and falling in love and marrying again is part of that.”

And he is correct.

Life is a series of stages. We travel through them picking up and discarding friends, lovers, spouses and co-workers along the way. We even replace family with people we’d rather have been genetically tied to in some cases. So, although it’s a noble idea – this theory that late husbands and wives can’t be replaced – the fact is that some of us do replace them because when holes open up in our emotional safety nets, most of us feel compelled to repair the net. It’s a human being thing. It’s not a failing or flaw to want to experience love and connectedness again.

We also, being human, have preferences in terms of type and so it’s little wonder that new loves have some or many qualities of old loves. Unless cloning is involved or we go to some Hitchcock inspired Vertigo extreme – it’s nothing to get all twisted up about.

But, where emotions are concerned, nothing is simple. Women especially are socially programmed to need to be number one and only in the eye, heart and mind of the man they love. Even the most self-actualized woman is going to question and compare herself with the late wife and her relationship with him and with his relationship with her.

Though one may get past the need to be prettier, smarter, better in bed*, nicer, and the fact that one didn’t get here first, most still harbor a secret – usually never spoken – need to be THE love. The one that can’t be topped or surpassed by anyone EVER.

So I cornered him the bedroom one day while he was putting away his socks. His back was to me as I casually asked him, “Isn’t it odd that if we end up staying together that you’ll go down in history as the love of my life?” He stopped putting his socks away and turned around and stared at me with what looked like sadness in his eyes and said “Awwww. That’s so nice”. He had said it to me like he pitied me. Like he’d turned around and found a little baby bird with hearing aids lying on his bed. At that moment I realized that he couldn’t say it back to me and I was devastated. It took me months to stop telling every friend and taxi driver how I was with a man who would never be able to tell me that I’m the love of his life.

That was over five years ago and now I can see how complicated and unfair that question was. I don’t want or need to be NUMBER ONE wife. Unless I’m in a polygamous marriage, and even then the whole ranking thing would stress me.

How did I end up marrying a man that I knew would never be able to tell me that I’m the love of his life?

The thing is that even if Ms. Weedman, who wrote this for the HuffPo, was the love of her husband’s life, it’s pretty doubtful that he will feel okay sharing this with her. The guilt factor is high. After all we swear a “forever-ish” kind of vow to those whom we love enough to commit marriage with. And even if those vows don’t say “til death do we part”,  and even if they do, the forever is implied by simply marrying in the first place. At least in our society as it stands today.

Couple that with children, extended family and mutual friends who, while they may not get all judgey about it, will probably only pretend politely to understand how a widowed’s allegiance can be shifted by the lightning strike luck of being able to love and marry again.

In a world where people shun marriage for the perpetual uncertainty of living together or engage in a string of serial marriages, marriage that ends with someone dying is seen as something of a Holy Grail and those who are left behind are saddled with an expectation of faithfulness that no one expects of anyone else  – or so it seems.

Has Rob ever told me I am the love of his life?

No.

And I have never asked. Not a day goes by without him telling me that he loves me. Often more than once. We are not neglectful of each other’s emotional needs. Even coming up quickly to our fifth anniversary, we regularly sicken people with our displays of mutual admiration and affection. My brother-in-law has been known to roll his eyes and demand of my sister to “Make them stop.”

I admit that in the beginning it was hard to live in their house and not compare myself with her. I am a woman and I was raised to be critical of myself and view love as a competition. In that I am no different from my peers. But it was largely my problem to deal with and I did. Rob never gave me any reason to feel that I was living in a shadow, a replacement for someone he loved more but simply couldn’t be with – because of that being dead thing.

Do I feel that Rob is the love of my life? Yes. And this, in my mind, doesn’t downgrade my love for my late husband or our marriage. But a large part of this is due to retrospect because I have come to believe that my marriage to Will wasn’t meant to be a lifetime. We intersected at a point that was crucial for us both and were destined only to travel along that line for a finite time. The best of my life was still ahead of me. I vaguely knew that then and I am convinced of it now.

I have told Rob that he is the love of my life, and I did it without expectations. His life is his. I am fortunate enough to share this leg of his journey. The fact that I was not first and may not be the love of his life isn’t the point. Now is the point. The past can’t be undone and the future hasn’t happened.

Even so, the “love of my life” thing is subjective and in its own way, make-believe. Born out of romance novels and Disney princess movies. If life and love were meant to be a romantic comedy, more of us would have a sense of humour. And we’d take better still photos. And we wouldn’t need Oprah’s Lifeclasses. Because it would all be scripted and blocked.

Every single one of us has replaced someone at some point in our lives and every single one of us has or will be replaced someday. In my mind, there isn’t really time enough to waste in situations where we don’t feel loved and there is less time to second-guess ourselves out of situations where we are loved simply because it doesn’t fit our teenage notions of romance.

*This one I have to admit I don’t get nor do I understand women – or men – who needle partners about their sex lives with dead spouses. The ick factor is through the roof on this one for me. Needing intimate details so you can “out porn” a dead person speaks to a deep insecurity that even I (and I have known insecurity) don’t fathom. It’s only slightly more distasteful than second wives who take gleeful delight in “out house-wifing” the dead wife. I told Rob, “If I die and you decide to date again, run away from anyone who cackles over the fact that she loves to iron and I never willingly touched an iron in my life. There is something very wrong with a woman like that.”

Dating While Widowed: The Need for More Time


Drawing of Christine of France as the widowed ...

Drawing of Christine of France as the widowed Duchess of Savoy by (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More than occasionally in my search terms the question of “dating widow/er who needs more time” comes up, and I cringe a little bit when it does. Because I know, more or less, why someone is trolling the Internet in a desperate quest for the definitive answer to this question.

Can a widowed person, who is still actively grieving, date? And fall in love again? And most important of all, move on?

And the answer is yes. Widowed people date all the time. An unsurprising number of them begin to date in the first year of widowhood even. They meet people. Feelings arise. Are acted upon.

It is very possible to date and be in love again while still mourning a dead spouse.

Here’s the caveat though – it’s not a good idea to use the “still grieving thing” to control the pace of a relationship. Getting into a relationship should be something one does when one is ready to go with the flow of it. Asking someone for “more time” is a quasi-controlling thing and it’s not emotionally fair.

I have said before and am saying again, dating is about two people’s needs and feelings. A widowed person is just one of the people in a new relationship and his/her – albeit quite sad and tragic state – doesn’t give him/her a leg up on the non-widowed person in terms of the pace or direction of the budding union. This has to be a united effort with all viewpoints and needs taken into consideration.*

So, if you are a widowed person who is dating and feel as if more time to emotionally ready yourself is in order – take it – but don’t ask someone to wait for you while you navel gaze. Even if you are fairly certain that the object of your maybe/maybe not affection will hang around, help with the lawn or child care and occasionally roll in the proverbial hay with you while you decide whether or not your heart is in it. Be a better person than that. Let him or her go. Your clinging could keep him/her  from finding the unconditional love waiting for your selfishness to step out-of-the-way.

And if you are dating someone who asks for more time? My advice is the same. Let that widow go. You won’t, of course. You are too invested in the idea that a widowed person (and I am really talking to women dating widowers here) just needs patience, understanding and someone to love the grief away to listen to me tell you the truth that your Google search thinks you want, but anyone who is truly in love (whether or not they are still grieving a loss) will not let love lost stand in the way of a second chance.

Some people need a lot of time to recover from the death of a spouse. Some people decide to wait until their children are grown and gone before dating or remarrying again. Some are not looking for relationships but companionship with or without sex. Finally, there are those who only want the sex and a bit of companionship on the side. Regardless, anyone who asks you to “give me more time” is really saying “I am not sure”, and those four words coupled with conflicting actions or what appears to be deliberate drama – are more likely than not to cause more heartache than happiness.

There is that old chestnut “if you love someone, let them go. if they come back then they are yours and if they don’t, they never were”. As clichés go, it ranks right up there, but in all cliché there is a tiny bit of truth. And there is nothing awful about stepping back and thinking things through without the burden of someone else’s expectations.

You can date. love and remarry again while still grieving. Grief is something you do on your own. It’s not a couple thing and a new partner is not your therapist. If you can’t separate things, it’s best to not go there for all parties.

You can date, love and marry someone who is grieving a lost love, but it’s not your job to fix anything or to be understanding or even to make allowances for it. You can. You probably will, but I wouldn’t make it a habit because it’s more than likely to take the focus off building the new relationship.

In the end, most people follow their hormone-driven hearts rather than heeding advice. Sometimes that works too. But own it. Not being realistic or cognizant of how you colour your perceptions of a situation to suit your fantasies rather than your realities has broken more than one person’s heart. So remember, people who are ready to date again after being widowed are those who put actions behind their pretty words. And the words, “I need more time” should be followed by the action of taking it.

*Viewpoints and needs of the couple. I am not a fan of allowing children (of any age), friends, extended family or in-laws having a vote or even a voice. Coupledoms are a convention of two and any more is going to be a crowded mess.