dating a widower


Top Love Stories No 3

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Conversations with this and that family member over the last few days has prompted me to once again expound on relationships of the intimate variety. If I was only allowed to give one bit of advice on the subject, it would be this:

If you cannot love someone for who he/she is right now, the odds of his/her ever being anything other than a constant source of vexation and disappointment is close to nil.

Yep, the odds are that bad.

Here’s the reality. When we meet and feel attracted there is little by way of actual fact on which to base our warming feelings for this new person. We assess our attraction, add this to what little we glean through the rather stilted courting phase and then we make up the rest to suit our own needs. In short, we invent them.

For a while, our projection of who we think our new love is works fairly well for us. They accommodate by donning their best faces and putting on their formal dinner party manners and all is truly well. But the inevitable day will arrive when something goes wrong. In these less than perfect instances our mortal, non-super hero/model personae are exposed, and depending on the magnitude of the shock to our new relationship, we’re toast. Or we live to impress another day, and another day after that until we find ourselves living with, married to and possibly breeding with someone who isn’t at all what we’d hoped they were and who stubbornly resists all our attempts to cajole/shame/nag them into being the person we wanted them to be.

Disillusionment. Betrayal. Woe.

Well, this sucks, you think. How dare this person I love not be exactly who I thought he/she could be. And they had such potential too.

And here lies the problem. You never really loved the real person at all.  As Yoda might have said, “Never your mind on where you were. What you were doing.”

It’s not your fault. We are taught to believe that even the most unsuitable for us partners have “potential”. That guy who drinks too much? He’s just young. Give him a few years, a mortgage and a kid and he’ll settle down. Little Miss Negativity? She just needs positive affirmation. Mr. Proud to have Never Read a book in his life? Exposure to the classics is the answer. And on and on the excuses roll in and pile up like Tribbles until they spill out of the closets and we are wading through them.

Some people do indeed grow into their potential, but it’s usually not a future that someone else dreamed for them. These are folks who have goals and hopes of their own, and who don’t believe that tiny fairies  and luck are responsible for dreams coming true.

It’s a disservice to the person you love to not love them for who they are right now. Certainly, encourage him/her to grow and achieve – that’s part of what couples do for each other – but don’t fault him/her in the future if he/she hasn’t fulfilled the ambitious template you created out of thin air, your childish fantasies and some Disney princess movie you saw once upon a time ago.

And never forget that not living up to one’s potential is a two-way street.

*In case you missed my BlogHer post today. Here it is.


The trouble with people reading your blog is that you lose it as an outlet for meaningful thought and feeling processing. It becomes a venue for others as they search for

A couple dating in a cafe.

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information, entertainment and  a place to share their own musings.

And I am not complaining. There was a time when few people even stumbled across this blog let alone came in search of it. Progress has its drawbacks as well as its perks.

Sometimes, however, I still feel the need to mindlessly run thither and yon across the keyboard, qwertying my way back to a more zen place.

Lately, the search terms have tipped decidedly in favor of widower dating queries. They read like lamentations. Desperate pleas for any scrap of insight, inspiration or tool to help the googler make sense of what is more likely fairly obvious but they just aren’t ready to accept.

Sometimes people who’ve been widowed are dating even though they aren’t ready, and sometimes widowed daters are just dating without any intent beyound spending a few hours here and there, sharing good times and possibly swapping bodily fluids.

The problem? Is the dead body in the room. The single and the divorced, who have only their perceptions of dating to work with, mistakenly place too much emphasis on the idea that widowed people are emotionally shell-shocked and that any hesitation, game playing or even hurtful behavior is somehow mitigated by this common grief myth.

The best thing a person dating a widow/er can do is ignore that fact. The widow thing. Just expect the same courteous, interested and emotionally genuine behavior that one expects of everyone they date. Be upfront about how you feel, what you are looking for and where your personal “crap” lines are draw. Remember too that dating is about getting to know someone not fixing them. Falling in love with someone’s potential is stupid regardless. A widowed man may seem like a great catch because he was a terrific husband to someone who is dead and can’t actually attest to the veracity of that anymore, but if he is a crappy boyfriend, odds are he wasn’t all that great of a husband either.

But here’s something I have noticed. Women tend to fill in the gaping holes in a relationship with narratives they will pull from the thin air if needs be but more often are variations on past relationships they have had with other men.

Don’t do that.

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And here’s why. Heartbreak might have common denominators but the most basic fact of being widowed is that someone died on you. Literally died. A person with whom you plighted your troth, shared with more intimately than anyone you’ve ever known so far. You had sex with this now dead person. Possibly made babies with them. They took all your secrets with them when they left. You will not see them again across a room or when you swap children on weekends or inadvertently run into them when they are out to dinner with their new love. They are dead. The dead molder or are scattered to the wind or sit like knick knacks on a mantle.

Relationships end. Painfully. The lingering can be bitter, filled with recriminations, animosity and torturing self-doubt. But relationships, though coupled with people, are not people. You do not go to the morgue to identify a dead relationship any more than you hold its hand while it sucks for its last breaths like a fish on dry dock. It’s heartbeat doesn’t gallop like a herd of frightened horses beneath your fingertips before fluttering to stillness like a butterfly smashed up against the windshield of a car at highway speeds.

The flotsam of a relationship is divided up with each partner taking his/her half. Dead people are not very helpful cleaning out closets, basements or alerting the post office to their change of address.

As much as you might be tempted to overlay your break up experiences onto your widowed boyfriend, it will be an ill fit, resulting in continued misunderstanding and frustration. And it’s the little frustrations that sink budding love and undermine existing love.

Here is what matters:

  • People who love you show you that love consistently through their actions
  • Falling in love with someone’s potential is like having an affair with your own reflection.
  • Being in love with “being in love” leads to disappointment and frustration for both parties.
  • Everyone comes with a past. Fixate on it and be miserable or live in the now and build a future.
  • While you can impress someone with your patience and understanding, they won’t necessarily grow to love you for it.
  • Make sure you are over your own issues before assuming your problems stem from your mate’s “issues”.

Love is actually pretty simple, but it’s the most simple concepts that are the hardest to grasp, or so I learned during the years I spent teaching 7th graders. Abel Keogh recently wrote a piece about trusting your gut. Love is love. It feels right and gets better over time because even the issues that come up as relationships progress become a part of the growth rather than detours or roadblocks that must be continually negotiated . Doubts that become nags are trying to tell you something you need to know. Don’t rationalize them away. Don’t assume that the issues that keep or kept you from moving on after your last relationship can help you understand his or that patience is actually an admirable virtue where romance is concerned.*

He loves you when he shows you day in and out without time-outs.

*I have to admit a certain curiosity about the whole “be patient with me/I need more time” excuse that my gender so willingly accepts and would love to meet the woman who turns it around and says “I could use a bit more patience as I learn to put up with your need to keep your late wife’s toothbrush and a bit more one on one time dating that isn’t a dolled up booty call.” But I am unlikely to ever find her.


*Disclaimer: I follow Abel’s blog, which features a weekly series of posts on dating widowers, and I am a member of his Facebook group, Dating a Widower (DAW). I am a fairly active contributor at both venues as they center on a topic related to widowhood (which I have been) and dating/remarriage related issues surrounding widowers (my husband Rob was widowed too.) To disclaim (protest?) further, I contributed an essay to this book that Abel included, which is why I received a copy of it. End of disclosure.

I discovered Abel and his blog via a list of widowed bloggers on the web link page of yet another widowed blogger in the webosphere of all things grief and gloomy. The web is choked with widowed folks these days, sharing their stories, building platforms for support groups/organizations, launching book careers off the backs of uplifting memoir and even hosting conventions for widowed to gather and network. Yes, even in mourning, we still network. Abel’s blog and posts stuck out from the crowd for me because, while many of the bloggers/writers in the genre focus on the grief process with its irritations, perceived indignities  and sometimes actual problems/issues, he wrote about moving on, and he did it in practical, no-nonsense terms that make sense.

A blogger for over a decade, Abel’s focus via the Widower Wednesday series, a q&a column for women who are in relationships with widowed men and find themselves dealing with problems that aren’t covered by the women’s magazines and self-help literature, came about as a result of Abel responding to the specific concerns of readers who were flooding him with emails, hoping for advice and a peek into the widower’s mindset where moving on into a new relationship was concerned. Widowhood is not divorce, and many women find they have no frame of reference for issues that are bereavement driven. They also sometimes wonder if the issues they are struggling with are actually grief issues at all. In addition to the blog, Abel also began hosting a peer-to-peer group on Facebook where women who are in relationships with widowers could gather privately to exchange stories, vent, seek insight and encourage each other.

The emails, blog posts and DAW group eventually became the basis for the  Dating A Widower book.

The book itself is a nuts-and-bolts look at moving on, dating and remarriage when widowhood is at least half the equation. Each chapter deals with specific problems/issues that are common concerns and illustrated with stories of real women and how they’ve coped. Although it might appear that the point of view is primarily from the male perspective, the gender perspectives are quite evenly balanced and Abel allows his contributors to share their insight and hard won wisdom, allowing the reader to take what they want or need from each chapter.

At 114 pages, it’s a quick and comprehensive read. Abel shares his own story, culminating in his remarriage 15 months after the death of his first wife, and his now wife, Julie, contributes her perspective as well, which provides a welcome “other side” that most relationship stories don’t provide. They both write from the heart, and their story provides a good model for any “mixed” marriage couple to follow.

There is even a chapter written specifically for widowed people who are, or are thinking about, dating. Given the dreadful lack of literature dedicated to widowed folk who are past active grief and looking to move on and remarry at some point, this is a welcome – and well done – addition.

If a reader is looking for a book that validates the idea that widowers are not first men but fragile souls in need of rescue or retraining as though they were wet behind the ears pups, this is not that book. Instead, it reminds the reader that the widowed man is a man first and always and a bereaved spouse second or even farther down the list depending on his personality and responsibilities. It also emphasizes the basic bit of dating knowledge that all women should have tattooed on themselves somewhere that it’s easy to see and read, “a man who loves you will move mountains to show you how he feels and a man’s actions are worth more than a thousand of his words”. So, if a reader wants straight answers, practical and applicable advice and compelling real life stories she can relate too – this is just the book you’ve been searching for – so far probably in vain.

Dating A Widower – Starting a Relationship with a Man Who’s Starting Over by Abel Keogh is available in several formats and more information can be found here.


Day 150: And that's that.

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The Divorced and the Widowed normally agree to share a thin isthmus of common ground where the idea that each state marks a loss of a marriage is concerned, but while the Divorced believe the losses are slight variations on the same theme, Widowed adamantly object to what they see as a presumption.

Divorced feel that mourning the end of a marriage with its letting go of hopes, dreams and an intimate enduring relationship mirrors very closely the process that widowed must also go through.

“Except for that dead body in the room,” widowed counter.

And they are correct.

Let the howling protest of dissent begin.

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Cards

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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.


Casket

The question comes up a lot among widowed and those who are interested in dating them – how soon after the death of a spouse is it considered appropriate to begin dating/or pursuing?

It depends on who you ask.

Other widowed people like to trot out the tired cliché – “If you have to ask, it’s too soon.” It’s such a circular and unhelpful answer that I’d like to ban the phrase from the grief lexicon because given the minefield of rules and expectations surrounding widowhood, asking is the only way to clarify whether the signals you are receiving from your peers, family and friends are about your welfare or their self-interest.

This isn’t Gone With the Wind times. Scarlett knew the rules on widowed decorum because society at that time spelled it out. Mourning lasted for one year. You wore black. Attempted to look resolute and somber, smiling wanly as you sat out your “black-shirted” year on the wallflower bench. It may have sucked, but everyone was clear on the time frame and waited (while perhaps discreetly lining up suitors for once the deadline had passed).

Today? Not so clear. Whereas the newly broken up or divorced are free to take the field again as soon as they like, the widowed must navigate religious, family and community rules on the subject, and they vary. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes simultaneously.

So how soon is too soon?

The best answer I ever heard was something along the lines of “taking a date to the funeral, or hooking up in the crying room of the funeral home, is probably a faux pas, but otherwise, it’s up to you.”

And it is. Up to you.

Stereotypes say that men date sooner and remarry more quickly than women do, and there is statistical validity in this. Average time frame for widowers who remarry is about two – three years while for widows, it’s three to five years. But, having children or not, being younger or older and your general state of resiliency in the face of tragedy plays into this as well.

Younger widowed date and remarry sooner, and at higher rates, than older ones. Once a widow hits 65, the odds for remarriage fall off sharply.

Widowed with children date and remarry with ease or not depending on the age of the children, and believe it or not – adult children can be the worst to deal with when it comes to dating and remarriage with teenagers coming in an unsurprising second.

But when? At what magical point in the days, weeks or month after a spouse dies is dating permitted?

I signed up for eHarmony at just shy of six months out from my husband’s death. eHarmony wasn’t a good format fit for me, and I abandoned the effort after a few weeks and only meeting a police officer who looked like Lurch with a bad comb-over. Next I tried to cultivate a dating minded relationship with an industrial tech teacher I’d met through my master’s program that summer. He suddenly wanted to “just be friends” when he found out I had a child. Then it was back to online with Cupid.com, which I found out after the fact is a well-known “hook up mostly” site. The majority of men I met through it were varying degrees of depressing in their hunt for on-call girlfriends.

It was while taking a break from dating that Rob appeared. Our relationship began online, and as friends, but when it was clear to us that this could be more, we deliberately took that step, kept moving forward and haven’t looked back.

So it’s always technically an option to date. More widowed than will admit to it try to date at some point within the first year. Some people even begin dating with weeks or a few months. But there are those who wait out the so-called year deadline of propriety too, and others who buy wholeheartedly into the notion that they must “work at their grieving” to get it all out of their system before trying to move on in any aspect of their lives, dating included.

You can date whenever you like. In my opinion, and experience, when thinking about it begins to more of a logistical “how will I do it” rather than a daydream to chase away sadness, you are probably ready to look into it at the very least.

A couple of cautions:

1) Your family and friends will be at different stages of “ready for you to date” than you are. Taking their feelings into account is good, but don’t forget that they have their own lives to mind and should leave the minding of yours to you. If you weren’t living your life by committee prior to your spouse’s death, don’t start now. You can’t please everyone, and what other people – even your kids – think about you isn’t your business anyway. Generally, if you have good, supportive relationships with kids, extended family and friends, this will all work out and they will be happy and supportive. Be patient. Don’t be a doormat.

2) You are dating. Your kids are not. Try to avoid a revolving door of dates where underage kids are concerned. Only introduce them to people you feel you have a future with, and when you do, expect them to behave like well-brought up humans. Disrespect shouldn’t be tolerated.

If problems arise with adult children, remind them that they should spend their time and energy minding their own lives. You don’t tell them how to live or who to love and they don’t have the right to tell you anything either. Once you hand the keys of your dating life over to your kids, they won’t give them back, and do you really want to be that old man or woman, whose adult children talk to them as though they were small fluffy purse puppies?

3) Be honest about what you want out of dating with yourself and the people you date. If it’s just fun and sex, say so. If you are in the market for more – act like you are.

4) Which brings me to this: if you are in the habit of using your widowhood to manipulate situations and people, you aren’t ready to date. And don’t look so innocent. You know what I am talking about – playing the “widow card”. Widowed who are truly ready to date do not use their widowhood to control the  pace of a relationship or coerce their girl/boyfriends into accepting unilateral terms of engagement. Playing the widow card in the relationship arena is a no-no. It’s manipulative and unfair, and frankly, widowed who do this are the worst kinds of assholes.

Finally, it’s okay not to date. Or even ever want to. Some widowed find contentment and even a lot of joy in being single and unattached. If the idea of dating makes you nauseous, or seems like something best put up on a shelf for the time being, there’s nothing wrong with that.

The point is that the days of donning mourning for public displays of grieving for specific periods of time are long over. Anyone who is spouting rules and timelines at you has an ulterior agenda, and you are within your rights to question them and it.

It’s your life and only you know what’s best. Even if you aren’t sure, meeting a guy or gal for coffee never hurt anybody, and enjoying the occasional Starbuck’s isn’t a commitment to anything.


Yard Sale Northern California May 2005. This i...

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Just before we left for our pseudo holiday in B.C., we participated in the hamlet’s every other year garage sale. Our community is small but we are tied together through the Ag Society, which organizes events and whatnot for us. They are responsible for my teaching yoga at the community hall from October until early spring. They put on a chicken supper to kick off the start of summer and make it possible for locals to use the ice arena for free every Sunday afternoon during hockey season.

In 2009, someone had the idea for a community wide garage sale. It took place on Rob’s birthday that year. His worst birthday ever. But in terms of helping emptying our home and putting us on the road to one day be free of the shadow of hoarder house status – it was a great success.

I have been purging the nooks, crannies and closets of excess stuff since the spring of 2010*. We’d thought to have a garage sale on our own last August, but that heart attack thing prevented it, so this year when the community sale loomed, we had several seasons worth of clothing and more cast off stuff from the renovation purge than we would have normally.

The new kitchen proceeds at a steady if not quite “done” done pace, and as I emptied cabinets and drawers from the old kitchen, a fair amount of items didn’t make the cut for inclusion in the new space. The ball bounces that way sometimes.

Fare and Mick were invited out to sift through things before the sale and after. More stuff was off-loaded.

One thing I discovered in the process is that the basement storage room has more in it than I thought. Or Rob thought. He’d been on the opinion that most of what was left was ours – his and mine. Not so. Things he thought the older girls had taken with their childhood things and anything of their mother’s that had value or meaning. Not so.

When Mick came after the garage sale to pick through the leavings of the hordes, she and Rob searched the storage room for a box containing Shelley’s writings.

She was a writer too.

Mick is as well and wanted to see some of her mother’s efforts and share them with her boyfriend, Dare.

But while the box proved elusive, several others surfaced. One was filled with keepsake shirts and another inexplicably held shoes.

“We should plan to spend a bit of time rummaging through down here over Thanksgiving,” I told Mick.

I bring up stuff again only because we all acquire it over the course of simply being alive. Dee’s room is near hoarder status – a trait she unfortunately comes by via the genetic gifting of her late father’s mother – a woman worthy of reality tv intervention. Rob’s stash (which reminds me totally of my own father) is based on the idea that someday he might need something he’s given away. A primitive affliction he got from his mother, whose constant mantra while we helped her pack was “you never know when you might need something some day.”

I am beginning to lean towards the theory that the “hoarding” of dead people’s stuff , however, is based on the fact that we no longer bury their stuff with them. Keeping it in boxes and drawers is the modern version of the Egyptian pyramid tombs.

But, the accumulation of things could just as likely be an outgrowth of the idea that memory is tangible, and objects are infused with them. It’s like a 3D photograph, whose effect is just as fleeting as thumbing through a photo album or watching a video of times gone by. The memory jarred to life is held inside us and the external catalyst just reminds us that it is there all the time, and we’d forgotten about it. The guilt of living in the present compels us to save items that take up space in the dark places of our closets and basements, still forgotten really until the next accidental discovery.

*The reality is that purging has been an ongoing thing for both Rob and I since 2007, individually and as a couple. Sometimes I wonder if we will ever be clutter-fuck free.