My Sister Wife the Sparkly Vampire

goddess.

Image by neur0tica via Flickr

Some women in relationships with widowers feel that the late wife could only be more perfect if she were perched atop a Gothic cathedral surrounded by a soft ethereal glow, skin glistening as the light catches the tiny sparkling points of light on her iridescent skin while cooling light breezes tousle her hair on its most perfect day.

It’s probably fair to say that the percentage of women on the planet who haven’t felt threatened or marginalized by their partner’s last wife is fairly small. Comparing ourselves – usually unfavorably – is what the female species does and does well, and we are encouraged in this by magazines, movies, television and the self-proclaimed relationship experts. The wife or girlfriend of a widower, however, can feel that a late wife is a rival of unassailable proportions because she is often only portrayed in her Sunday best. Death improves us all, or so it seems.

As I have stated in the past, I would have known that Rob’s late wife, Shelley, was a wonderful person even if I’d never heard a single story about her from him, the older girls, extended family or friends. And it was intimidating for a while. How do you follow wonderful? But, from the beginning, I endeavoured only to be me and not focus on the differences between us that sometimes made me feel like the ugly step-sister. She was her. I am me. For reasons known only to Rob, we both suited him just fine. And that’s where it begins and ends – or should – in any relationship. Worrying about how you do or don’t “stack up” leads to insecurity, anxiety, and misplaced jealousy.

Perhaps the problem is the idea that a man (or woman) can move on but still love a deceased spouse. I’ve heard some poor to bad analogies as to how this can be. There’s the 3 hearts. You. Your spouse. His Late Wife. My issue with this is that hinges on the fact that in our case, it would be four hearts and if three can be a crowd, four is bad porn. There are no extra hearts. There are memories, and everyone has memories of previous love, but the key word is “previous”. You take what you have learned and apply it now and archive the rest and if a person doesn’t or can’t – they aren’t really prime dating real estate.

In talking to Rob, I clarified again for myself a few things about men and how they think. They don’t really care about the guy who came before them. He had his opportunity, and now it’s their turn. They are really not prone to comparing because they feel that if you are with them now, then now is what counts most – which is why it is the rare man who will listen to stories about this or that past relationship without getting annoyed.

And that latter thing is important to note – annoyance – because women are schooled in listening and empathizing. We will listen to a guy go on and on about the woman who came before us because we think that raises us in our man’s estimation of our worth. We are so nice. So understanding. We don’t get annoyed – unless it’s to spout off to girlfriends and rain disdain down on the late wife instead of just telling our men “enough already” – and so a man might get the idea that talking out his last relationship while he is in one with us is perfectly okay.

Grief is different though.

No. Okay, maybe a little. But if your cage is being rattled to the point where insecurity and jealousy are becoming close intimate companions, then does it really matter?

Rob talks about Shelley. She is his reference point in the past. When he uses the term “we” and it’s not he and I, I know it’s Shelley. And so what? She was there. Rob spent all of his adult life before me with her. It’s not an “I” thing for him. And it’s not a big deal. She isn’t part of his past as a personal insult to me or as an obstacle in my relationship with Rob.

Here’s the thing. When you marry a man who’s widowed, you are accepting the fact that you didn’t come first. Yours is not the first proposal, wedding, child. You’re walking on ground that’s been traveled and possibly sleeping in a bed that’s been occupied before you. Deal with it. Because it’s reality and it’s your issue. You can let it eat you, or you can put it in perspective and work on building the life you want.

But there are shrines! Yearly memorial tributes! In-laws who constantly compare me to her! And he does nothing about it!

It’s still your issue. You still have to decide whether or not these things are going to control you or diminish you or even if you can live with them in spite of your Widower’s “awesome potential to some distant day being Mr. Everything”. It’s still your life, and people need your permission to make you feel less than entitled to it.

Which brings me to this point – your sparkly sister-wife isn’t the problem.  She’s not really there. Other people might be using her for purposes of their own and in doing so they make themselves problems, which you can choose to take on or not. And you use her to when you compare yourself, act on jealous impulses or whine like a high school girl because the fairy tale isn’t as Disney as society told you it should be. There’s always a root for an issue to be sure, but she’s dead, so she can’t be it.

If it’s your Widower, you speak up, initiate a conversation and come to an understanding. And just a fyi, doing whatever he wants because he’s played the grief card or you are worried about appearing “strident” or “shrewish” or “bitchy” or whatever other pejorative our culture has for women who won’t stuff their needs and shut up and take it – is not an understanding. Understanding is mutual.

If it’s family. And if you can’t talk to them – he has to.

It’s friends. Same deal.

But it’s not her and she isn’t ever going to be gone. If you are waiting for that day, you’re going to wait forever.

I like Shelley. I am in awe of the fact that her sparkliness lingers on.  She helped Rob raise two of the most fantastic young women I’ve ever known, who I love and for whom want nothing but sunshiny fields with filled unicorns.  Her influence is some of what makes Rob the amazing guy I love and who loves me. Who am I to begrudge her the place that she earned before I got here, and why would I do that unless I wasn’t sure of my own place?

Are you sure of your place? Do you know who you are? Do you know what you want, and do you ask for and expect to get it? You have control over precisely you. You can’t coax, empathize, sympathize, enable or nice girl anyone into being the kind of partner you expect for yourself. And it’s not your job to fix things for him but it is his job to be a 50/50 partner.

Oh, and you don’t get 100% from 50+50+50. Just saying.

Title courtesy of Norah

18 responses to “My Sister Wife the Sparkly Vampire

  1. I see this problem with marrying someone who is older but not widowed as well. My husband was in his mid-thirties when we married. He compared me to so many women from his past (including his less-than-wonderful mother who has since been given sainthood), never liked anything I did and was never happy with how our life is going.

    One day I yelled and screamed questioning why did he marry me because there was nothing he seemed to like about the person I am or could even come to an agreement about things we could do together. I then went on to tell him to stop comparing me to other women he wished he had married, and that he was completely ruining our life and wasting time by being an asshole (pardon my french).

    Life has gotten better since then.

    • It’s really unfair to throw late spouses, exes and old flames in your partner’s face. Even the innocent stories of past events can be too much if they are too frequent b/c it’s only normal to compare yourself.

      And it’s not a one way street either. New partners sometimes seem to delight in ferreting out info about the late spouse or ex that puts them in a poor light.

      Better to be grounded in the now.

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    • I think that women more than men feel in competition w/whoever came before, it’s our socialization and the culture just fuels that as we grow older via mass media. I don’t think women question the fact that there will always be feelings for a late wife, I just think – that like men – they don’t want to hear about it. I have yet to meet the man who is okay hearing about his wife/GF’s formers and women are the same – they just won’t say so b/c they don’t want to be branded “mean” or “insensitive”.

      Thanks for stopping by and adding your perspective. I know that many of the women who date widowers really appreciate hearing from the “source”, so to speak.

  6. The concept of “potential” in a man or a relationship is one that gets progressively more and more difficult for me to accept or support, the older I get; whether my friends are dating Ws or just a plain old single guy (or, God forbid, a not-single one). I saw a bumper sticker once that said “This is life, not a dress rehearsal.” Obviously no guy is perfect, and relationships can grow and change and develop from a less-than-stellar beginning. But if you find yourself months or years in, still justifying, still explaining, still making excuses, then chances are that the “potential” has waned and you are now in the process of settling.

    I knew a woman (I don’t know if I could call her a friend, but an acquaintance close enough that I knew the intimate details of her relationship) who has spent almost eight years with a guy (not a W, just a guy) who seems to have a lot of potential, and not a lot of credibility. Years jobless, years running off her friends and family with his loud mouth and overbearing opinions, years sitting around her house quite literally in his underwear, letting her justify and explain that he really was worth the wait. Okay. Well, he has a job now, so I guess that eight years of waiting has really finally started to pay off.

    I feel torn sometimes when I see my friends who are dating or married to Ws, seeming to have to do a lot of focusing on the mens’ potential to become Mr. Everything. I do remember when I had LW issues of my own (and as you point out, they were mine, not hers). I did have to do some work to get from unhappy/unfulfilled/unsatisfied GOW to being a WOW who is happy and content, and for whom the LW rarely crosses my mind. There were some issues with LW stuff (getting rid of it) and LW family (coming to peace with the fact that they weren’t going anywhere) but the majority of it was stuff that I had to cope with in my own mind. But overall, I only remember a couple of times when DH really inflicted LW grief on me. If he had, then I can say with certainty that we would not be together today, because God knows I inflicted enough on myself.

    When I say to a newer GOW “it just takes time,” maybe I need to clarify myself. It should not take time for a W to show you that you are the most important thing to him. It should not take time for him to get busy on making some progress with the things that hurt or bother you (such as leftover LW stuff, shrines, family, whatever). It may take him time to finally resolve those things, but saying “I get it” and at least beginning to cope with it should be immediate. It should not take much time for a woman who has realized she is in love, to learn that the love is reciprocated (there is always that fun/agonizing time between finding love and knowing that it is shared, but it should not last for months or years).

    And IMO, absolutely zero time should be spent trying to make 50 + 50 + 50 = 100%. If that is the kind of math you are being asked to do, IMO you should immediately subtract yourself from the equation and go find someone who learned their math skills in a much healthier, wholesome, less selfish fashion.

    • Well said!

      When I say to a newer GOW “it just takes time,” maybe I need to clarify myself. It should not take time for a W to show you that you are the most important thing to him.

      Exactly, because if that isn’t happening consistently, potential is beside the point.

      And IMO, absolutely zero time should be spent trying to make 50 + 50 + 50 = 100%. If that is the kind of math you are being asked to do, IMO you should immediately subtract yourself from the equation and go find someone who learned their math skills in a much healthier, wholesome, less selfish fashion.

      Brava!! Totally agree.

  7. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout this post. It seems so very self-evident, and I feel a certain pity, I suppose, for women who can’t get over their hang-ups about previous women in their man’s life, and get on with enjoying him for who he is an individual. And indeed, enjoying who they are as a couple.

    • Yes, although to be fair, there appear to be some men who are good with starting relationships before they are ready to commit to the present and the future. I can’t fathom stringing women along or expecting them to play grief counselor with benefits. But you and I know from back in the day that there are widowed folk (and it’s not just men) who really think that a new partner should be okay sharing hear-tspace and closets with the late spouse.

  8. As always, right to the point and very sound advice. It’s a little less simple when you share the firsts; love and (only) proposal to me, wedding and children to her. A little more complex, but definitely right on. Thanks, Ann.

    • In the early days when we were planning a wedding and my move from the States to Canada and I would get overwhelmed, Rob would say, “It’s just details, Cherie.” And that became my mantra. It’s just details. When you have a goal and your eyes on the prize, anything between you and that is details and they are all doable.

  9. “How do you follow wonderful?”

    Not to sound overly-simplistic, but you follow it with your own brand of Wonderful, and then your sparkliness will linger on as well.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • You are welcome.

      When I was a teacher, I discovered that “simple” was always the hardest thing to master. And, I think, that for women accepting that we could be wonderful is difficult.

      • You’d be surprised how many men have the same issues. Well, i know of at least one, at any rate 🙂

        i hope that you never doubt nor neglect your wonder – i believe that it is a Living thing – one that needs constant nourishment in order to survive and flourish.

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