And you know what I am talking about widowed people. That handy-dandy “get me out of anything” excuse that your late spouse bequeathed you by merely dying young. It’s a temptation that is almost too much for any widowed person to resist, using the aftermath of their spouse’s death to guilt people into … anything really. The widow card has few equals, and even fewer betters, when it comes to manipulating others.
Did I say that? Out loud?
Yes, I did. Pulling the widow card is a blatant form of emotional manipulation*. One that we all have used but is frankly always wrong. Sorry, to rain on you with reality, but no matter what the situation was – applying guilt liberally as a remedy isn’t going to earn you gold stars in any version of the afterlife. People who’ve been played by a widow know full well they are being strong-armed, and even when they go along with it out of misguided sympathy, it probably didn’t keep them from resenting you for it.
But what I really want to discuss are not the times you pulled the card to wiggle out from under a late fee on the Visa or sneak away from work a little early. I want to discuss the completely inexcusable practice of using widowhood to gain the upper hand in an intimate/dating relationship.
We’ve discussed (oh, okay, I’ve discussed at you) the concept of being ready to date again. When? Why? How? And I touched on the real need to be ready to engage with another person equally and honestly about where you are emotionally and what you are really looking for and expect. It does no one any good to go into a dating situation when you are still inclined to use your widowhood as a means to distance yourself emotionally or “hog the remote” where the pace and direction are concerned.
One of the biggest widow card offenses I’ve noticed in my travels here and there in the webosphere of widowed and those who date them is the “I need time”. Or space or a Tardis perhaps. Because intimacy with a new person after you’ve lost the old one to death can stir up some (or a lot) of conflicting emotions.
Know this – if you are really sure that the new person is “the one” and love them for them, conflicts become details to be tackled one at a time and without the need for space. Indeed, taking a “break” is very anti-relationship. You can’t work on a relationship with another person with just yourself. The other person’s input and presence is requirement. Relationships can’t grow if one of you is constantly heading out into the woods for a retreat or to commune with (and by commune, I mean wallow) in grief.
Men, and women, who pull the widow card version of “give me time” and tell you that they will “be in touch” are screwing with you.
And I can hear their screams even as I type this:
NO, we are not using the unfair advantage our grief gives us in the sympathy department to make sure that we have the most say in this relationship because our feelings are the more delicate … and important … and that we feel we should be the only voting members at the table.
But they are.
Society, grief culture and the ever-growing battalion of widowed aids via message boards, websites and organization (not to mention the support groups for people – mostly women – who date widowed – encourage widowed ( and their new partners) to look at their situation as a “condition” that needs to operate outside the standard boundaries of how “normal” people are expected to behave when dating.
If a divorced or single man says, “I need space.” Nine times out of ten he is dumping you. Disingenusously to be sure, but weaseling out nonetheless. Widowers are men. They know the manly ways out of relationships that are past their freshness dates or simply aren’t good fits. And though the nine out of ten may actually be eight out of ten for them, “I need space” that lasts for longer than a week is still “I’m not into you anymore”. Grief might be the excuse he is giving himself to make him feel better about having lead you on, but it’s still a widow card. And it is still manipulative of him to use his dead wife to avoid telling you that things are now “off”.
Widows also use the widow card to keep their dates in line. To train them to expect overbearing and callous behavior of their late wife’s family and friends or not be impatient about the non-parenting they are doing which has led to unmanageable and manipulative children (of all ages). Widowed who like being the only one in the driver’s seat will “card” their significant others into putting up with always being second or third on the VIP list, being okay with shrines to the late spouse, tolerating occasional, or regular, “grief retreats” that require radio silence that can last days or weeks or months. After which the widow card is good for “get back into your graces as though I haven’t been a complete asshole” use.
I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it. Grief is no excuse. Despite its handiness and usefulness, it’s wrong to blackmail others emotionally, and the farther out a widowed person is from their spouse’s death – the less okay it becomes**.
Some people have a different take, but some people enjoy (thrive even) in drama and the stew of high school tinged drama. All you have to do is watch reality tv to know the truth of that.
So widowed folk, if you are ready to date – or are dating – it’s time to put away your stash of widow cards, man up and do your date or new SO the same favor you did for your late spouse – play fair. Be emotionally and physically available for participation in this relationship you are creating. It’s foundation will only be as strong as you choose to make it.
To those dating/intimately involved with a widowed guy or gal, hold them to the same standards you would if they didn’t have this tragedy in their past. Their feelings are not existing on some higher plane than your own. If they need time and you are inclined to wait on them, don’t be conned into something open-ended that leaves you hanging. Set some rules. Ask and expect for your feelings to be taken into account. Don’t be a doormat.
*And I did this. Used my widowness to weasel and manipulate. Especially in that first year and I did it because it works. I did not use it while dating – much – but beware that all widowed people know the power of a dead spouse. All.
** And I don’t want to hear about the total bullshit “latent grief” thing. It doesn’t exist. Some people will use old tragedy to avoid dealing with new hurts but that doesn’t give standing to the idea that grief can be buried and resurface like some zombie in B movie.