sex and marriage/relationships


The Dating Game

The Dating Game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An interesting search term on dating gone wrong turned up this morning and as so many of the search terms seem to query in that direction, I thought it might be a good one to address.

What does it mean when dating “goes wrong”?

In general terms, it probably alludes to the fact that more often than not, we don’t get what we want out of the experience. For whatever reason, two people are left frustrated and hurt and no longer together.

This is not a widow thing.

I know that widowed are schooled by the various grief outlets to believe that anything that gets in the way of a new relationship is related to grief in some way, but this is an over-generalization. If a person takes the time to look back at pre-marriage dating or even conducts a brief tour of the internet via googling “dating issues”, he/she would find that things going wrong is fairly common in the dating world and widowhood has hardly cornered an exclusive market as a reason why.

Usually, when relationships develop anything from hiccups to major breakdowns, the culprit is a difference of unspoken expectations and a difficulty or unwillingness to engage in direct communication about them.

I have said it before – often – that when venturing back into the singles scene, it’s better to have thought about why and what you expect from it and be ready to articulate that to those you date upfront. This way the likelihood of beginning a relationship with someone who is unsuitable is smaller.

Of course, this is not how dating happens. Dating and relationships in our modern culture tend to be stumbled upon via chance and hook-ups by people who haven’t really fleshed out their own motives for getting involved with another person.

From there, they lurch from one step to the next in a state of giddy inattention to details – good and bad – until one or both realize that the direction isn’t where they envisioned themselves heading. And then? Things have gone wrong.

There are no rules for dating again. There aren’t really formal rules in general for most of what passes for coupling in our modern age, but there are some things that are best thought about and really considered before jumping back in the game.

Why do I want to date?

What are my expectations of dating and of anyone who I might date?

What am I bringing to the table for someone else?

How will dating impact my life today? 10 weeks from now? 10 months? 10 years?

Am I a casual or serious dater?

Do I want to marry again? Have a committed relationship? Just hook up?

Am I able to date and not expect those I date to play the role of my therapist?

Can I set boundaries with my kids? Family? Friends? where my life as an adult is concerned?

Do I understand that dating can be emotionally unsettling and can stir up my feelings of loss and that I will have to really handle that myself?

And that’s just to name a few.

I don’t think most people really think about what they want before they begin to date again and I think that it is only by trying to date that you really begin to clarify your reasons and refine your methods. But, I don’t think that avoiding dating until you “feel better” or are “over the loss of your late spouse” are particularly helpful either because neither of those things are ever going to happen. There is no such thing as closure. There is just acceptance of reality and deciding to move on.

Which brings it down to this really. Moving on is a choice you eventually are ready to make. Dating is sometimes part of this but not always. There are no guarantees when you move on or date that life will suddenly be wonderful again. Wonderful is subjective and getting there takes time and personal effort. Magical solutions are no more real than unicorns.

Dating sometimes goes wrong. When it does, it will either work out with time, effort and communication; or it won’t and the relationship will end.

You may or may not meet your next great love right out of the box.

I entered the dating world again at about 6 months out. I met a lot of men. Some were nice but uninteresting. Some were neither nice nor interesting, A few were douchebags. And then I met Rob. We put time and effort into getting to know each other and deciding there was a basis for dating, commitment, engagement and marriage.

Rob met me right out of the box. Pretty much like he met his late wife. My husband has always been a pretty darn lucky man in that respect.

There is nothing wrong with you if dating goes wrong. It is not a sign from the heavens that it was too soon or that you are destined to be that sad lonely old widow in the nursing home weeping over photos of a long dead spouse.

It just means that you and this person weren’t suited. That happens. Walk it off. Consider what you might do differently the next time and when you are ready, try again. Or take a break. Or rethink the whole idea and give up on it.

This is your life. You only get this one once.


Miniature of Catherine de' Medici, "a rar...

Miniature of Catherine de’ Medici, “a rare portrait of Catherine before she was widowed in 1559, when she adopted the veil and severely plain dress of a widow.” (Hearn, Karen, ed. Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630. New York: Rizzoli, 1995. ISBN 0-8478-1940-X.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not much induces the widowed to pick up pitchforks and growl in unison like the idea that they should have to tear down their shrines in order to be decent candidates for others to consider dating.

“Anyone I date or remarry is just going to have to fine with being a member of a threesome.”

Or something to that sadly creepy refrain is what is generally trotted out and translates thusly,

“Love me. Love my dead spouse. And if you don’t, well than you are just too immature and/or insecure and/or possibly jealous to be a good fit for me, and we are NOT amused!”

This is often followed by truly Hallmark heart-warming anecdotes about someone’s auntie who was tragically widowed but went on to remarry this awesome guy was totally okay with the pictures, the shared headstone and being a hankie on anniversaries. There are, apparently, a Chicken Soup for the Soul’s worth of these selfless men, and women, who don’t mind building holidays around the widowed person’s in-laws, whole walls decorated with the awesomeness of love lost and don’t mind being “just the second wife/husband”.

Even more militant are the widowed parents determined to anchor their children to perpetual mourning by making sure that the “real mom/dad” is never forgotten. As if children are in danger of forgetting that their mother or father died young and need to have it in their face daily lest they develop a healthy parent/child relationship with their step-parent.

First, can we lay the “immature/insecure/jealous” thing to rest already? Drive a stake through this trope once and for all?

When your new partner intimates in some way that he/she isn’t feeling the love, whether the cause is pictures, in-laws or daily recounting of good times past, this is not about anything other than the perfectly normal desire we all have to be number one in the heart of the person we love. Whether you feel the feelings are justified or not is secondary to the actual issue, which is, your lover isn’t feeling loved.

They are, in fact, feeling second best at best and merely a warm body stand-in at worst. Making this be about you and your need to “grieve it all out” is probably a sign that your partner is right. You are not really as ready to date or remarry as you thought.

Look no one expects a widowed person to hide all aspects of their past. No one.

That is a myth.

What you are expected to do, however, when you decide to date, have a serious relationship or remarry is live in the present tense and put your primary focus on your new partner.

Would you be okay knowing that your new love spent most of his/her time being sorry that he/she wasn’t still with their last partner? Would a shrine to this on the mantle be okay? Arranging all your holidays around the last partner’s family would be acceptable? Would you like to hear daily how SoNSo was the best (fill in the blank) ever and wonder what that made you?

And yes, I concede that a few prospective partners might on the surface appear to be okay with a new husband or wife who primarily identified as a widowed person first and foremost, but I am going to say these saint like martyrs have a lot in common with unicorns, lusted after but still mythical. Even the most understanding partner has moments of “Oh, come on. Really?”

Do you have to purge your home of all traces of your late spouse when you begin to date?

I would say no. Dating is just getting to know you, having fun, assessing possibilities. I don’t know many adults who make it a habit of bringing home “just dates” to meet the children and check out the new foam mattress you got at Costco. But if a “date” progresses to “someone I am seeing regularly, seriously considering and/or shagging”, you should probably reassess your physical surroundings and ask yourself,

“If I were X, how would I feel about pictures, urns, closets waiting for a dead guy/gal to come home?”

And think about it from the perspective of the non-widowed person you used to be because the odds of dating a fellow widowed person aren’t that great (even if you do hang around the widowed internet chat rooms, message boards and websites). Your live person dating pool is more likely to be inhabited by the never-married, the serial monagamists and the divorced, who have no valid reason to expect that as a widowed person, you should enjoy some super-special pass on doing the heavy lifting of moving on anymore than they did because they have pasts too.

Are some mementos okay?

Of course! Whoever said they weren’t?

When you hear “it’s a good idea to clean out closets and tone down the presence of your late spouse in your living space” and you translate it to “shred everything!” perhaps reassessing your relationship readiness, or asking yourself just why it’s critical to your children’s well-being that an entire wall of the family room be dedicated/dominated to your late spouse, is in order.

It’s perfectly normal to have a few things out and about if you like, but it’s not so much to keep a photo on the nightstand if you are knocking the headboard with someone else or to insist that toothbrushes or robes be left in place like they were evidence at a crime scene. At some point, a late spouse’s personal items have to be cleared out and put away and that time – if you are a decent person who values the feelings of those you might get intimately involved with – is before you get intimately involved.

Why?

Because not doing so is a way of controlling your new relationship and new love by putting him/her in a Catch-22 that can only end with your dismissing him/her as “immature, insecure and jealous”.  You get the “poor widow me” high road and he/she gets the a scornful boot toe up the bum-hole.

Anyone who gets involved with a widowed person has empathy for the situation, wants to be helpful and understanding and usually goes above and beyond in the pursuit, but every one of these folks is hoping that at some point you will come to value them as more than “the person I am with because the person I would rather be with is dead”.

That’s what constant reminders of your late spouse – in any form – is saying to those you date and re-mate.

Even when you think you are being selfless by not spending every single holiday with the in-laws or by keeping at least the bedroom dead spouse picture free, there is a fine line between occasional reminders as you move on and build a new life and set of memories/memorabilia with someone else and being that guy or gal who is still so focused on their late spouse that people silently wonder why your new spouse is still with you because they can’t believe how appallingly selfish you are.

How do I know if I am over the line?

You could ask. Really. Ask. And not in a way that is designed to catch out your new partner so you can proclaim “I would never ask you to erase your dead spouse (if you had one) from your life!” Followed by you bursting into tears and him/her feeling like an asshole.

Or you could just be honest with yourself and assess your living space as though you weren’t widowed. Think about how often you interject conversations with “we” memories when the “we” is you and the late spouse and not you and the one you are currently with.

You’ll know. You probably already do.

What if my new love is fine with everything?

They are lying to you because they love you. Didn’t you ever put up with crap from someone just because you loved them so very much in the hopes that one day he/she would just see how awesomely understanding you were and change their ways?

No one is fine living in the perpetual shade of a dead love. No one is okay with being number two (or three or four because some of you even downgrade your new partner to a status below that of your children) in someones’ heart.

Few people are all that enamoured of their own in-laws let alone a second set (or third if they happen to be divorced or widowed themselves), who take precedence or are allowed to interfere or dictate or are happy living in a house that clearly isn’t theirs because their pictures, taste in decor or perhaps even their personal stuff hasn’t any room to compete with the pictures, favorite chair and flotsam of the dead person who was there before them.

Everyone wants to be cherished and feel as though he/she matters most to the person who matters most in his/her heart.

Even if you are dating a fellow widowed person. Even then. There is a line that when it is crossed, hearts will be broken and it’s not insecurity or immaturity. It’s you who will have done that by not having a clear understanding that moving on means doing just that in deed as well as words.

There is no way to erase your past and reasonable people know this. There is a point when you are wanting to have your yummy chocolate cake past and eat it while your new love wonders how long you are going to sit there and stuff your face in front of him/her.

Choosing to date again (and it’s a choice because accidental dating just doesn’t happen) is being ready to live in the now and give yourself fully and be more concerned with the feelings and well-being of your lover than you are with the past and hanging on to it.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


Youth Culture - Hippies 1960s

Hippies (Photo credit: brizzle born and bred)

Aside from the obvious questions, “happier than what?” or “happier than when?”, or even begging the question, “how do we know that women have ever been happy overall in the first place?” because I don’t know how we can compare the educationally, socially and career limiting eras of our mothers and grandmothers with the veritable garden of options that women have today.  It’s not an apples to apples thing.

The idea that happiness is the end goal of our life’s pursuit is an oddly American one anyway. Ever since Jefferson lumped the pursuit of it with the rather more important issues of life and liberty, people have seemed to grasp more for the third rail and worry about the other two only after the fact.

A recent debate courtesy of the Wall Street Journal pitted Hanna Rosin against Mary Eberstadt on the subject of whether women are better off, which has nothing to do with happiness.  In life, really, happiness is often beside the point as our stoic grandparents and their parents before them could have told us, but since the Boomers, each subsequent generation has found itself more and more unhappy and puzzled as to why, so naturally the fault must lie outside themselves. It wouldn’t do at all to expect the more probable truth that happiness is a choice and many of us choose to be dissatisfied. Not because we want to be unhappy but more because we have no idea how to disentangle the idea of happiness from status, wealth, material things and other people’s approval.

Eberstadt argues that because women today aren’t happy with their lives then the sexual revolution has failed. Rosin argues, correctly, that happiness is beside the point. Women are better off economically, socially and from a human rights standpoint. She muddies the water a bit with the tired assumption that because women can have “risk free” intimate relationships without fear of jeopardizing educational or career plans then the revolution is a success. The “sex” part of the revolution was not the great gain for women however.

Entanglement free sex is a fantasy and always has been, and it’s a male and female delusion. The idea that another person’s body is recreation probably isn’t the worst thing human beings have done to each other over the course of our history, but it is one of our more persistent fantasies because it is the very rare person who plays that game and doesn’t get slapped at some point and it’s the pretense of “risk free” that is at the root of such chastisement.

But that’s a secondary road, a tangent that isn’t the point any more than happiness is.

Women are better off for the advances in law, reproductive health and societal changes than they were fifty years ago. Whether or not they are “happy” has more to do with who they are as people and what they believe the point of their existence is.

Young people especially, but every generation is guilty to some extent, of believing that our individual “happiness” is the point of being alive at all. If we are not happy, there is a reason and someone/place is to blame. Someone other than ourselves.

The sexual revolution has nothing to do with “happiness” anymore than being an American versus being a European is the recipe for “happy”. Religion or no. Wealthy or not. Powerful or average joe. There are happy and unhappy people populating any niche one would care to label.

Happiness is a choice. A housewife in the 1960’s chose to be happy or discontent in the same way and by the same numbers as a SAHM or career woman chooses to do the same today. Then as now, the ability to maneuver and achieve within the allowed parameters is largely up to the person.

My personal opinion is that the sexual revolution vastly underestimated most people’s ability to separate personal expectations and emotions from the incredibly intimate act of copulation. Most of us just don’t arrive at our sexual awakening with the maturity, wisdom or knowledge base to avoid making huge emotional missteps which results in hurts that can leave long-lasting scars on ourselves and others.

Perhaps if we weren’t so human, and so woefully determined to ignore our vulnerable natures, it might have worked out better. As it is in America, we still don’t do the “free love” thing very well and we spend much of our lives stumbling and wondering why it’s so hard and why our relationships don’t work out the way the media tells us they should. And that too is a side road for another day.

That doesn’t mean that the revolution was a bad thing or an unnecessary one.  Poor planning and execution coupled with a continued denial of human nature doesn’t negate it. The hypocrisy that governed sexual relations before certainly wasn’t working all that well either and a wide swing in the opposite direction was inevitable and has led to an increased acceptance of perfectly normal relationships that were once considered wrong like interracial and same-sex couples. And it decoupled marriage from sex, which was occurring long before anyway, and we are better off for simply acknowledging that as perfectly normal too. We are not all meant to be in long term relationships, and even though monogamy in some form works for more of us than not, doesn’t make it the default setting because human beings tend to change with age. What fifty year old will tell you that he/she is in need of the exact same thing emotionally now as they were at 18 or even 38?

To paraphrase Shakespeare poorly, maybe when god makes men and women of some other metal than earth, we will get this all right?

Regardless, those who would have us believe that happiness is the point are missing the point. And are probably unhappy to boot.