second marriages


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.


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.”


A couple of 14-carat gold wedding rings. Pictu...

Image via Wikipedia

The search term that brought you here does not go unnoticed. Reaction varies. Amusement. Puzzlement. Dumbstruck with horror. Feeling as though a through scouring of the mind’s eye is in order.

Some searches make me sad.

Queries like “how will I know when widower loves me” leave me stuck with the image of tear-stained keyboards for instance.

Others make me want to grab shoulders and shake sense into the searcher. “How can I help my widower grieve?” Who in blogland is perpetuating nonsense ideas like this one?

There is a general underlying theme of “please just tell me how to make the person I love get over his/her dead spouse, so we can be happy.” Which is the saddest of all reasons made more sad by the fact that some people have only Google to turn to for advice.

My current personal favorite is “when will a widow be ready to fuck?” Have to admire the direct nature and honesty behind that even while questioning the integrity and ulterior motives that are probably driving such a quest for this kind of information.

So today, in no particular order, I am going to address some of the more ubiquitous search terms in the hopes that someone might find the answers to questions they are tossing at Google like it was a Magic 8 Ball.

Why widowers are not excited about second marriage weddings?

Men, in general, are not typical Bride’s Magazine target  audience for a reason. Wedding foo-fooery is a girl thing. If your intended is not terribly interested in the finer details of gowns, rehearsal dinners and wedding pageantry, it’s more than likely it’s because he is male, and they just didn’t get that gene.

However, some widowed folk can be annoying in their attitude that a second wedding is not to be the big production that the first may have been. If this is the case, blame society first. Although it’s slowly changing, second and third weddings are often downgraded affairs because one or both of the principles have done this before and family and friends have done this before and there is this Miss Manners expectation that any wedding after a first wedding should be tasteful and underdone because no one should be flaunting the fact that they have to do this more than once.

I’ll admit that I did not want a Bridezilla  bash the second time, and I let Rob do most of the planning. But as we married on his home turf, it was just easier that way. The only job I was given was to arrange for flowers, and I waited until four days before the ceremony to do this, which had more to do with the fact that I had no clue about local florists, and no one assisting me, than anything else.

It is a bit surreal to remarry after you have been widowed. People don’t expect to be widowed, and how ridiculous is that? Marriages in our times, however, more often disappear in a legal flurry than in death, so I would say that many remarrying widowed do so with keen awareness of the circumstances that led them to the altar again. It’s neither a good nor bad thing. Just an awareness, The new partner can choose to make a big hairy deal out of it, or just let it go as one of those things that makes the new union different from other unions.

How to bring up a discussion about the  deceased wife with a widower

Don’t. That’s my advice. She’s going to come up all on her own without prompting and in more instances than you can know over the course of dating and marriage. It takes a very secure in themselves person to not let that bug the shit out of her/him. This is where having your own emotional baggage checked and in cold storage is a wise thing. People who carry insecurity issues into new relationships tend to have a rough time anyway but with a widowed person, especially one who had a pretty good marriage, they can find themselves floundering and without much empathy from their new partners to help them.

But if you really have to go there, the best route is the direct one. Just ask. However, own your part in the feelings that it might bring up for you. Don’t blame the guy (or gal) if you ask, he/she answers and now you feel bad. You asked for it.

How should a relationship progress widower?

Like any relationship with any other man should progress. Forget about being understanding or patient unless that is what you do with men who haven’t been widowed too. Don’t feel sorry for him or make excuses for anything that would send you packing if he was any other guy. Widowhood does not have a special category when it comes to dating. Any widowed person who is floundering emotionally, runs hot/cold or is in any way giving off unbalanced vibes isn’t ready to date, and no matter how great he/she looks on paper, move on. Just because some dead woman managed to get him to put a ring on it and breed, doesn’t mean you will or that he was all that much of a catch back then.

Take off your tinted glasses and realistically assess the man and the relationship in terms of what is good for you now and ten years from now.

Healthy relationships progress at a mutually satisfactory rate that is tears and drama free. Anything else is an episode for a widowed person reality show that TLC just hasn’t gotten around to exploiting yet.

Dating a widower with grown children who don’t like it

The key here is how is he responding and how do the kids take it? If he is understanding, yet firm about his autonomy and their needing to get with the program – and they do – count your blessings. If he is the equivalent of Chamberlain with the Nazis – it’s all about appeasement – and they take this as a sign that the war is on, run away.

Adult children rarely kick up an obvious fuss if they have been raised properly. By this I mean that as children and teens, they knew their place, and it wasn’t that of a peer to their parents. Adult kids who have been running the show since toddlerhood aren’t going to give up their position of power ever. They will feel free to poke their nose into their dad’s business and make demands always. Even if he should grown a spine and take a stand expect acrimony and lingering issues for a long time to come.

The same holds true for in-laws. Evil in-laws were always such. They were that way before and they will continue. Some widowed simply can’t or won’t take a stand and own their lives. It’s up to you as to whether this is an existence you can live with, but remember, if you chose it – own the consequences yourself.

What is average time for widows remarry?

There aren’t a lot of stats. Young widowed tend to remarry faster than those in their middle years and seniors remarry the least of all. Males remarry faster than females. Having children or not factors as well with widowers been less hesitant than widows because of the fact that men are far more likely to be abusive step-parents than women are – which is funny because evil step-moms are the stereotype and not the other way around.

Generally men, if they are going to remarry, do so within about two to four years and women within  three to five, and those over 60, regardless of gender, rarely remarry. It’s not a hard and fast thing, and there are those of both genders who remarry quite quickly, just as there are those who take years to even date. It’s a personality thing, and often in our society, widowed parents are applauded for putting off dating until they’ve raised their children, which unsurprisingly can lead to adult children who feel entitled to put their two cents in where it doesn’t belong thus creating a vicious circle.

Widower expects girlfriend to grieve with him

Run away. Quickly. Grief is not a couples activity. You can’t grieve for someone you didn’t know. And this is just plain silly. Anyone who is expecting this is looking for grief counseling with benefits.

Widow meets widower

An unsurprising number of widowed people prefer to date each other. It cuts down on the endless explaining about what is and isn’t where being widowed is concerned. Unwidowed people buy in to the idea of grief as a process and a lifelong issue at even more alarming rates than widowed people do themselves. They are also, if this is possible, quicker to push therapy and pharmaceuticals* as means to “happily ever after again” than the cluelessly well-meaning family physicians of widowed are.

For Rob and I, it has meant not having to wonder how the other feels about this or that grief related thing. For me it means that I am not threatened by his late wife’s memory, and I don’t fall into the competition trap because I know that the dead are in no position to offer up much by way of being an opponent. Shelley was a real woman with real feelings who occupied a real place in Rob’s life for a long, long time. But that was before me, and now I occupy that space. It’s really not that difficult of a concept and it’s not something to angst about, but if the person you are dating is making it a big, dramatic deal about all issues death, you have thinking to do.

Like any relationship, there has to be attraction and common ground, and it can’t be simply grief. Relationships that are based purely on being widowed just won’t work because grieving does end and then what is the couple left with?

And dating another widowed doesn’t offer immunity from in-laws from hell or surly teens and adult children issues. There are plenty of widowed couples who can attest to that fact. It also won’t help you much if you are moving on and he/she doesn’t really feel like doing so. There can still be battles about late spouse pictures and memorabilia and general clinging to the past.

It was nice that Rob was widowed instead of divorced. His attitude about relationships and marriage was not as jaded. He did not feel the need to “test” me, which in my experience with divorced men was tiring and irritating by turns, but Rob and I have always had far more in common than dead spouses, which is why we’ve worked.

“Widower” sex

It’s sex. Nothing weird about it as far as my experience goes. If intimacy issues arise, or rather nothing much arises, then this is cause for discussion and possible a medical examination to rule out physical problems and illness. But I would say that widowers in general are no different from any other man where sex is concerned.

Dating a recent widower who is ambivalent

Ambivalence in a man (or woman really) where dating is concerned is a sign that he isn’t all that sure about you. It’s not a widower thing exclusively. Don’t assume that every hiccup in a relationship has deep dead wife meaning attached to it. Sometimes men just date. Even widowers. And sometimes, you aren’t going to be “the one”. Be honest and be realistic with yourself. If he isn’t moving mountains at the speed of Mohamed, you would do well to keep your options open. Widowers are men first and men can date and be intimate without being in love.

How soon is too soon to introduce a new girlfriend to your adult children after the death of their mother

I wouldn’t bring her to the funeral.

But when? When you are sure that she is more than just someone you are just dating. If your girlfriend is important, and you can see a long-term relationship developing, the sooner you alert your children the better. Hiding her will damage your relationship with her and with your children.

Talk to the kids first. Let them know you are dating and it’s serious. Warn them upfront that you are an adult, their dad and not their peer, and that though you understand they might be upset, it’s not their place to tell you what to do. Expect them to be courteous but don’t be hurt if they absent themselves from your life for a while as they adjust. Remind them that this is the same respect you accord them with the people they have chosen to date and/or marry.

Communication is key. Listening without judgment is important. Respecting that their grief is theirs and you can’t speed it up is vital. However, it’s also important to be true to your needs and put your new girlfriend in the number one spot. You wouldn’t have allowed your kids to come between you and your late wife, so don’t let them do so now.

Be patient but be resolute.

Did i remarry too soon after widowhood?

I don’t know. Did you?

Is this what you think or what others are telling you? I have written about his before and you can read it here.

Summing it up

Did I miss anything? Probably and you can feel free to ask questions in the comment section, check out links below or shoot me an email. My contact information is on the Me, If Your are Interested in Knowing page.

Widowhood is not mysterious or a chronic malady. It’s a life event and like all experiences, we go through them, hopefully learn something and move on. Take off the kid gloves and stop being so squeamish.

 

*Despite the fact that reputable psychologists don’t recommend grief therapy or anti-depressants for the bereaved in the initially months, non-widowed in particular are quick to recommend it because our culture is mired in the idea that no one’s sadness should interfere with what we want. Americans in general have become a nation of prescription drug addicts out of naivete and ignorance where psychotropic drugs and therapy are concerned and when anyone can get obtain grief counselor status with a quick weekend workshop or a month of Thursday nights taking courses at the local hospice – buyer be aware.