dating after being widowed


Engraving showing a recently widowed Hindu wom...

Image via Wikipedia

Everyone’s a critic. Usually  harsh and certainly agenda minded. And mostly in the moment with just the barest idea of the big picture because critics generally seize on one post (that they didn’t read very well because apparently it’s hard to see though the colour red).

On a follow-up post to one I wrote about widowed who play the widow card while dating, I received a scathing take that was part personal venting and part assumption that perhaps I was some non-widowed person spouting off on things about which I knew nothing.

A very grouchy rebuttal that got quite a viewing on Facebook where someone had linked it for the private flaming fun of others no doubt, but given the confusion it provoked and because I am not one to just sit at the keyboard and be spanked by someone who is labouring under more than a few misconceptions, it bears a reposting all its own.

Annie,

I can appreciate your point of view but I compleltely disagree with you. I do like Dan’s comment very much and I think he/she (A little confused by gender as the name is Dan but mentions late husband) hit the nail on the head.

Okay, I had to chuckle. Sorry. I appreciate your pov but you are an idiot? And Dan is a gay man – just to clarify – who wrote a beautiful blog on grieving and moving on. You should check it out.

I read your bio and I see no qualifications for conseling or psychology or any credentials whatsover. So this is just opinion. The sampling, as you mention is not appropriate. Think about this. Who would even read this and comment? Those you view this the same way. The happy couples who made this work wouldn’t even bother to google it. You know why? Because there is no playbook for this. We are all unique.

In the widowosphere, there are only those who have “been there” possibly “done that” and I am fairly certain that I referred to the post you objected to as “advice”. My “sampling” as you call it includes widowed of both genders and those who date and/or are married to widowed and that includes widowed remarried to widowed, which includes me and my husband. I also have bothered to read the latest research by George Bonanno and not just steep myself in anecdote or the rather shoddy pseudo-science of Kubler-Ross on which much of widow/grief culture is based. But, you are correct in that I have no formal trainingg – no more than just about everyone else who claims to be “helping” widowed or those who date them.

One thing more, however, I don’t claim to be helping. I am just writing what I have observed over the last six years. Take it. Leave it. But don’t whine at me about it. I make the assumption (optimistically to be sure) that anyone who reads my blog is brighter than a tree stump and can think for his/herself and filter the little bit of information I share through their own experiences and common sense (the latter of which my husband keeps trying to tell me isn’t all that common).

You need to take responsibility for your posts and the harm it may do. There is already ALOT of misinformation on this subject written by well meaning individuals, even widowers. But they do what everyone does with this issue. They bring their own playbook and act like it is THE playbook. Sorry, but neither you nor Abel Keogh know nothing of me or my journey.

I am pretty sure that no one was harmed in the writing of this blog, but I will say that there are a lot of women, and a few men out there, who have been harmed by the widowed they date because the widowsphere –  in the form of message boards and blogs and invites to retreats/camps/conventions –  spouts off like it has a playbook. Widowed without real-time resources, and who are very vulnerable in the first little while, pick up more than a few erroneous messages and act upon them as though they were gospel, but I am sure you’ve made the rounds and chastised the others too, right? I mean, I am sure you didn’t single me out because I have a different opinion than you do about personal responsibility and the fact that as grown ups we should be setting examples for our children by teaching them that bad things happen but that doesn’t give us leave to treat others with contempt or expect them to  feel as though their feelings are less significant than our own. Or maybe you did.

You assume that widowers are manipulative who have no feelings of their own. Why should we be respectful of the new love’s feelings, when obviously they want us to “bury” ours? How is that a successful partnership? How is that building trust to be who we are?

No, I don’t make that assumption. Sorry, but you are off base. Widowed are not manipulative because they are widowed. People resort to behavior that is manipulative because that’s what they have always done in terms of relationships and being widowed just gives them another tool to use. I have been fairly consistent with my opinion on this point as anyone who reads much of my blog can tell you. Widowhood doesn’t make assholes out of people who weren’t, but if you had a tendency towards using emotional “cards” to gain the upper hand before, widow culture sadly encourages you to continue doing that. Grief is no excuse for using people or ignoring other people’s feelings in favor of your own. You are ready to date when you are ready to let go of the idea that your grief trumps ALL. If you can’t put your new partner’s wants, needs and feelings as paramount – you aren’t ready.

Oh, but what about MY needs? What about them? I have read many a story of women and men who have been patient and kind and understanding only to find out that their widowed boy/girlfriend expected that to be the norm forever. Making love under pictures of the late spouse? Their toothbrushes on the vanity? Living out of totes so the late spouse can have closet space? Come on. Really? And that’s what I am talking about here and I think you know that.

We have alot to offer and it shouldn’t come at the expense of who we are. Yes, we are alot to handle. I will give you that. We come with issues. But so do divorced people. So do abused women? Why are we so different?

Issues. We are a society that loves our issues, which is why many of us have such drama fraught relationships. Widowhood is not a couple’s activity. I don’t expect my husband to be my grief counselor. Our relationship is about us. Right now. Any baggage you drag into the mix from the past is going to clutter and ultimately obscure the new relationship. Again, you are ready to date when you ave dealt with your own past on your own and can come to a new person without needing space and breaks and time and patience.

It’s perfectly okay to tell a new person that you want to simply date. Just hang out. Have fun. You can even throw casual sex into the mix if you are ready for that. But don’t send mixed signals. Don’t lead your new partner on by saying one thing and doing another. If you are ready to explore serious, be damn serious about it and be goddamn sure. Otherwise, keep it light and make sure your words and actions match up; that way any misunderstanding is on his/her part and not yours.

And widowed are not a lot to handle. From where does this fallacy come? There is nothing special about being widowed. It’s a traumatic event to be sure but if it defines you, you are not ready to date. We should come to new relationships ready to be in the now and plan/work towards a new future. Going into the dating arena believing that you are an “issue ridden too much to handle head-case” is like a TLC reality show in the making and that’s nothing to brag about.

My adivce to anyone considering a relationship with a widow/widower is do NOT try to make us forget who we are, who we loved, and how we got here. If you truly love us, you would embrace our lost love as much as we do. Because that person, that loss, that event made us the person you supposedly love. Think about it.

I agree with you. I cringe a bit when I read about women/men who really think that a late spouse is like a photo album or yearbook that can be tucked in the back of a closet. It doesn’t work quite like that. However, a late spouse cannot be part of a new relationship. Even an emotional threesome is not going to work in the long run, and why would anyone want to make a new love feel like a second choice? Second should just be chronological, don’t you think?

My husband’s late wife, Shelley, had a role in the man he is today, but who he is today is my husband. While I can and have acknowledged her, I am not sharing him with her. Our marriage is our marriage. Our life is now. She has her place and I have mine. It’s a duality that is hard for non-widowed to understand and even some widowed don’t truly get it, but it’s a perspective that needs to be mastered if one is to be happily mated again. And the success or failure, rightly or wrongly, falls more on the shoulders of the widowed mate. Sucks to be us? I wouldn’t agree. It’s a great privilege to be allowed to love another person fully and with a whole heart. If I have learned anything about love at all from my late husband, it is this and I don’t intend that my husband now should ever feel that he is second or living in a shadow. If that were to be the case then I learned nothing.

The whole picture thing still baffles me. I have two young kids who need to remember their mom. If a woman cannot accept that, fine. She’s not the woman for me because in essence, she is rejecting me. And I am WAY too confident to be bullied into accepting a rejection of who I am.

Depending on the age of the children and the pictures, those memories are largely yours. I have a three daughters. Two are in their late twenties and have plenty of memories of their mother. Neither their Dad nor I need to keep a lit flame for them. They are old enough to do that themselves. The youngest daughter has no memories of her late dad because she was just three when he died. As far as she is concerned, her dad is my husband and my trying to foster a relationship between her and a dead man serves her no purpose. A memory can’t love her or teach her to ride a bike.  A memory doesn’t carry her in from the truck when she is tired or rub her back when she can’t fall asleep. That’s my feelings on the subject. You are welcome to do whatever you like with your own children, but I am not going to saddle my children with my grief in the guise of pretending to keep memories alive for them.

My wife IS apart of me an always will be. You seem to treat our loss like much of America treats thier marriages… as disposable. Ask yourselves this. Would you want your SO to put away pictures of their late father or mother? Why is this different? If you feel that you are a replacement, well..maybe it’s time to take a look in the mirror! More importantly, who is the one who is insecure? If you are offended by a piece of paper with an image on it, perhaps you need to look at your OWN insecurities. It’s just an image of a time in our life. Much like a high school photo.

You don’t know how I treat my loss because I choose not to wear my loss on my sleeve all that often. And I am a huge believer in marriage. Anyone who knows or even just follows me knows that.

Let’s not use the dead mother/father/child straw man argument. Apples and oranges might make a tasty glass of juice but there are different kinds of love and that’s just a fact. But people who date widowed folks are not offended by photos, however over time, they want to be loved more than the widowed person loves the photo or the urn or the bathrobe on the hook in the closet. Can you imagine how it would feel to think that the person you loved, and were intimate with, valued a photo more than they did you? To feel like you could never measure up to the urn on the mantel? To have her wedding photos staring at you every time you sat down to watch television? To be constantly excluded from family gatherings because her mother or the eldest daughter “just couldn’t handle it”? Let’s get a bit of perspective, shall we and really look at the reality of what many people who date widowed folk endure months or even years into a relationship.

Photos can rest in books or on screen savers, but frankly, my husband is more important to me than a photo of my late husband (who was the son of a young widow himself and often told me that he’d be greatly disappointed in me if I let his memory stand in the way of my living and loving again – fyi).

When you cling to a late spouse’s things or photos, you give off vibes of not being ready – usually because you aren’t. Or of perhaps simply using a new person to satisfy physical or superficial emotional needs. It’s hurtful whether you want to acknowledge it or no.

By all means, keep and display and do homage as much as you like, but don’t be surprised when that hurts someone. We are human beings with feelings. Being ready to date means being ready to handle the putting away of late love. I can’t change that reality just because it rankles you and neither can you.

I tell every woman I date this:

“I still love my late wife and I always will. She is apart of me and I will honor her if for no other sake than that of her childrens. That doesn’t mean I cannot love you just as much if not more. But If you cannot handle that, let’s just be friends.”

Okay, this is a man not understanding how women think/work thing. You say that and what a woman hears is this. “I was a great husband and someday I will be just as great a husband to you if you are just patient and understanding.”

Yes, that is exactly what she hears. Women NEVER take men at their word. Huge mistake. I preach against it often. But it is a fact.

They also don’t pay attention to actions. Leaving pictures up. Not changing the house much. Making sure that children don’t forget their mother to the point that no other woman will ever be accepted. Loud actions that clearly say that a man is not now and might not ever be ready to do more than just date for superficial reasons. Women? They see devotion and think that time, love and understanding will one day win over that devotion to themselves.

Beginning to understand why I write what I do?

The fact is that we can love just like anyone else, but with a different viewpoint. An older widower who is happily married used the analogy of loving your second child just as much as the first. You think you can’t, but you do. Your heart grows to hold more love and doesn’t displace the love you have.

For the record, I hate the second child analogy because the love a parent bears for a child is not the same kind of love we share with a spouse/lover. In fact, this analogy creeps me out a bit. I do agree that we are capable of loving again but love is love whether it’s the first or 12th time. If you don’t feel the same thrill and urgent need to be with someone new – do both of you a favor and step back.

I’m sorry, divorce is NOT the same as death. It just isn’t. Any comparison is futile and irresponsible. There was no decision. There wasn’t a choice. They did not leave us of their own free will nor did we leave them. Apples and oranges. Is their grief in divorce? I would assume so.But I am not arrogant enough to project my PLAYBOOK on theirs. Please have the courtesy to do the same.

I have NEVER said that divorce is the same thing as being widowed.

The guy who wrote that sounds like a spurned lover and this had nothing to dow with a widow/widower. Sour grapes. The fact that she was a widow has nothing to do with it. Yes, assholes can become widows/widowers too. But quit drawing a parallel between who they are and their loss. The woman sounds like a piece of work REGARDLESS of her marital status!

The man who wrote that was hurt. Very hurt. And though his observations rise from that hurt, I have read them over and over  in other venues to the point where much of it is almost cliché. Women take longer to be ready to date again and the widow culture falsely encourages them to look for men who are okay being second best, but widowhood doesn’t turn a genuinely nice person into a selfish drama queen and I am certain I made that point.

With all of that said I will concede some points I have learned in my journey. NOTE: These are not hard and fast rules people. I’m not as arrogant as some when it comes to this. I can only relate my own personal experience.

Um, you are just as arrogant as anyone who puts words to keys. Sorry. If we didn’t think we had something valuable to share, we wouldn’t bother. If that is arrogance then so be it.

1) Comparisons are bad, I agree. it is time to focus on where you are going with the person you are with, not where you have been. BUT, if those past experiences help your new SO understand why you feel a certain way, it should be just fine to talk about them.

Agree and sort of agree – no one wants to spend a date listening to you talk about the last person you loved regardless.

2) Wedding pics…yes, in a shared home I do not think they are appropriate. I BELIEVE the walls should be plastered with pics of you and your new love. But that doesn’t mean you cannot have pics of who you are and how you got there. Get a grip people! WOW! But I do know widows/widowers that have EVEN made those old wedding photo’s work in their new homes. How do you explain that?

Not being much for decorating my walls with anything, I don’t really get the need some have to plaster anything with photos. I have albums, physical and virtual, and no one argues against a few family shots but the wedding pics? Lovey photos? Really? Why would you do that to someone you love now? I don’t agree that we need the equivalent of a Facebook timeline on our living room wall in order for the world to know who we are – unless of course, we are so unsure of who we are that we need that visual evidence for ourselves.

For those looking to date a widow or widower. I urge you to make your own decisions and not listen to this. Advice is good, but hard and fast rules are not. We are all unique and there is no playbook for this. You will know when it’s right…and you will know when it’s wrong. Trust yourselves.

Anyone who takes advice from a blog as “hard and fast” without applying a bit of common sense is beyond anyone’s help. jmo. Bit condescending of you to think that is the case.

Peace.

Hope you find some as well.


Anillos de Matrimonio, Aros de Matrimonio

Image via Wikipedia

When my late husband went into the nursing home, I cleaned his things out of our closet, the dresser and off the bathroom vanity. I didn’t throw anything away, nor did I give anything away at that point, but he was dying – albeit slowly – and there was no point in pretending he was coming home again. Leaving his things as they were served me no purpose from a practical or emotional point of view.

Over the course of the next 15 months, I gradually chipped away at his physical presence in the house. Pictures, books, cd’s and such were reminders that served only to keep me from the rather tedious and unpleasant task of putting our life together into perspective so I could move on. By the time he died, you might not have known – aside from the wedding ring – that I was married at all, judging from my surroundings and the things I put on display, and the day after his wake, I took off the ring and put that away too.

Widowed people are not usually counseled to clean house physically or figuratively in the early weeks and months. In fact, society can judge those who do rather harshly. After all, it’s not in keeping with the romantic idea of the tragic young widowed. We are supposed to keep that eternal flame lit, and it’s seen as proof of our love or lack of it.

Of course that is all nonsense. Tangible memories are anchors to the past that easily pull us backward to a life that isn’t rather when what we need to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and walking forward.

If you are of the mind to date and even remarry, you can’t build a new life with someone else on top of the foundation of your previous marriage to your late spouse. For one thing, it’s a conflict of interest and for another, it’s not fair to your possible new love.  If you love someone, you can’t ask them to be second choice or second best or to run a no win footrace for your heart with a dead person.

So the wedding picture and couple of photos in your living room (or the framed photo of your late spouse that sits on your night stand) tells anyone new that you are not available and though it won’t keep some people from trying to muster endless patience to wait you out, it’s not something a kind, caring person does to someone who seeks their love.

“But, I loved my late spouse,” you will protest. “Nothing can change that and if someone loves me, they will understand that I need his/her toothbrush on the vanity or dozens of pictures of him up and only a selfish, insecure person would question that.”

Did you just hear what you said? Who is really the selfish person in this scenario? You cause your new companion to doubt and feel less than and then you punish them for it by making demands that nobody can hold up under for long.

There were few pictures up when Dee and I moved in with Rob. Mick and Edie’s graduation photos and maybe one of Shelley on some holiday or other they took. But Rob’s laptop screen saver rotated an endless display of photos and though they included me too, we hadn’t been together long enough to make up for the sheer volume of those pictures that included Shelley.

Perhaps it was being widowed myself or maybe it was, at 43, being just too old that kept me from feeling second best or in some kind of competition. Whatever it was, I am not the norm to look to. Most people who date the widowed feel the weight of comparison and the more memorabilia lying around – coupled with a fierce resistance to put it away – the more slighted and second choice they feel.

I wasn’t completely immune to comparing myself to Shelley. She epitomized physically the beauty standard that I grew up with and never met and the stories I heard from Rob, Edie and Mick sometimes made me feel as though I was a much less likable person. It was nonsense but it’s proof of the power of a late spouse’s legacy to do harm to anyone who ventures into a widowed person’s emotional sphere.

I have mentioned it before but it bears repeating. If you bring a new person into your life with the intention of one day having a serious relationship and even marrying, you must be prepared to put away the physical aspects of your late spouse and your life together. It’s selfish of you to expect a new love to be anything less than “the love”. You cannot actively love the late spouse and do justice to a new partner and it’s unfair to ask of anyone that he/she sign up to be “just the second husband/wife”.

  • Put away phrases like “true love” or “soul mate” when talking about your late spouse. They are fairy tale words in any case and will hurt your new partner even if he/she is too kind to tell you so.
  • Don’t allow children, extended family or friends to use words, objects or memories to make your new partner feel like a runner-up. Your love is not a beauty contest.
  • Strive to love someone new as deeply and without reservation as you did your late spouse.

“But,” you doth protest too much again, “my new partner assures me that they don’t mind the pictures, my bratty adult children and insensitive friends and the closet so full of late spouse’s clothing that they are living out of a suitcase and boxes.”

He/she is lying because he/she loves you that much and buys into the idiotic notion that being patient, understanding and loving you far more than you deserve at this point will one day open your eyes to how wonderful he/she is and you will let him/her fully into your affections …. and make space in the closet.

“But,” make your last stand,  Gen. Custer, “my children need these things in order to remember.”

Bullshit.

You need these things to avoid moving on. Moving on sucks because change we don’t initiate ourselves is unwelcome and we are no better than children about it with our kicking and screaming.

Your kids don’t need a wall collage or an urn on the mantle piece. They would probably be grateful if you moved the fuck on, so they could too. I am stunned by the number of widowed who use their kids as a way to cling to their grief even while they abdicate active parenting and justify their behavior by hiding behind grief.

If you are not ready to move on, you aren’t. If you are not ready to date, don’t. If you only want to date, be honest about that with those who approach you.

But, if you are seriously involved, live in the present. Honor and love that person the same way you did the one who came before him/her. That’s what a person of integrity does. That’s what a person who is ready to move on does.


Vector image of two human figures with hands i...

Image via Wikipedia

Blogging, Tweeting and FaceBooking  buddy, Abel Keogh, who is the author of Room for Two and The Third, has published a book on widowers and dating. Pretty much everything one would care to know from the perspective of a widower and women who’ve dated and married widowed men.

I haven’t read the entire book yet, but when I do, I will review it here. Until then, the introduction and first chapter are up on Abel’s blog and I encourage those of you looking for information on the subject to check it out.