new relationship after widowhood


From a certain point of view, I haven’t much actual marriage experience. In fact, I am still years away from having spent more of my adult life paired than single. So in some ways, my basis for comparison and analysis is short on actual “seat time” and what I know as “normal” can’t necessarily be taken as gospel. There are those who have spent more time in the so-called trenches than I have, but I have to say, I have yet to find marriage trench-like.

Is it typical to still lust after your husband five years on? I found myself wondering that for the umpteenth time the other evening.

“There is an awful lot of gropage that goes on around this house,” Rob remarked as we exchanged send-off affections at the back door this morning.

Rarely to if ever do we arrive or depart solo without excessive lip servicing and declarations of love and perhaps this is normal for the time frame. Having never made it past a sixth anniversary, I wouldn’t know personally. But I don’t see this in other couples and wonder if perhaps it is just me. Or just our circumstances? Or maybe evidence that too many people in the world take far too much for granted and no wonder there are as many failed marriages as there are successes.

Five years ago, Rob and I stood on the banks of the Athabasca River and exchanged vows, rings and kisses. Papers were signed. Pictures were taken. Food and drink was consumed. It seems like yesterday and history at the same time.

The card I left next to his steaming tea-cup this morning broke cardinal rules of relationship comparison and favoritism, but it brought a smile to his face and kisses and hugs to me, so who cares? Now is what counts because it’s the basis for tomorrow.

We will celebrate with lunch at the elementary school because it’s the last week of school and they always hold a family picnic, and then follow-up this evening with attendance at the last game of the outdoor soccer season. With our latest babysitter having outgrown the job, we couldn’t have scheduled a date even if the schedule was cleared anyway.

Rob bought me a new watch, a stylish but comfy pair of leather sandals and a couple of summer outfits I found at MEC this last weekend. I gave him a kick-ass miter saw. I am pretty sure that year five is marked with accessories and tools.

The search terms here have been lit up again with sad queries concerning widowed love or the lack of it. Despite my limited experience, the advice I have remains the same: disregard the dead spouse thing. It’s not central to the issue. Someone loves you and is interested in building a life with you or they simply aren’t. Why is beside the main point. If you don’t feel loved, do yourself the giant favor of taking steps to make yourself available for someone who is ready, willing and able to love.

Yesterday as I drove back to The Fort from yoga class, I noted that the fields are yellowing. Solstice has passed. Canada Day looms. The bonus months between school ending and starting up again, which as a former teacher is really the only way I know of marking time, awaits.

And it’s our anniversary. Not officially a stat day, but nearly enough.


Anders Zorn-The Widow

Image via Wikipedia

An interesting search term turned up yesterday: how to get a widow to love you. It was interesting only because I have been asked before whether my advice for dating widowers would apply to widows as well.

My answer was “yes” and “no”, which I would guess is only mildly helpful unless one is really good at filling in the gaps between the lines.

Biggest difference between dating a widow versus a widower, off the top of my head, is that women tend to comb through the still smoldering ashes of any relationship once it is over – regardless of why it ended – and they will do this until the ashes cool, go stone cold and even begin to scatter to the wind as often as they feel the need to (or have an audience for it) until they “get over it”.  And by “get over it”, I mean put the experience into a context that they can live with to an extent that allows them to move on.  Men don’t seem to do that as much or as obsessively.

Pick a relationship board on the internet. Any one will do. Just glance over the posts on their feeds and note how endlessly the women recount every detail of the last relationship or marriage. They parse the same events over and over. Even their replies to each other’s questions and experiences will harken back to their own hurts, upsets and frustrations. It’s like watching someone get stuck on a level of Angry Birds. They bang their souls against rock, glass and ugly pigs without resolving anything, and yet, they will tell you that this type of regurgitation is just as productive for their “healing process” as a cat’s hacking up a furball aids their digestion. To women, resolution is policing their new relationships for the vividly recalled flaws of their last Prince Charming and flogging the new one with their insecurities and angst when he proves to have similar or even entirely different flaws of his own.

Actual resolution is acknowledging that, in the end, it really doesn’t matter how or why a relationship or marriage ended. It did. Move along.

Most people who move on in life with any degree of success do so because they accept that what happened can’t be changed by endlessly brooding or sorrow. They make their peace and then make for the next horizon. You can’t change the past by being sad or angry with it. You certainly can’t endlessly talk it into submission. It doesn’t matter if you were wronged or right. The past is.

Men are good at this acceptance thing, which is not to say that you won’t find men who brood or are endlessly bitter about past failures or lost love, but you find far fewer of them than you do of women. I have yet to meet a woman who can’t recall for you, in minute detail, how her first love evolved, blossomed and eventually went up in flames. Minute detail.

You read about first loves reuniting a lot these days thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, but I am willing to bet that the women will spin tales about how they never got over the guy and how their subsequent loves and even about marriages that never held a candle to the first love. Ask a man about his first failed romance. Go ahead. Ask. He might remember the sex, or the lack thereof, but he won’t be holding a lit flame. Nor will he necessarily be compelled to reignite it if he is okay with where he currently lives his life. Men ground themselves in now, which is why a woman’s obsession with past, or future, perplexes and/or irritates them. Most men went on to have love, children and good lives with nary a backward glance at that first love. Sure, they may be pleased to have a second shot later in life with a girl whom they can only recall as a girl, but if they’d never heard from her again – they’d have found someone else to be happy with. Because that’s men. Practical in a cold-blooded way that (most) women aren’t.

A widow in the aftermath is the same as a widower. Grief is grief, and some people are more resilient than others, but it takes center stage for a while. For men, however, a good marriage (or even just an okay one) is eventually acknowledged as such, and they begin to assess the reality of existence sans mate and decide that a) single is okay and can be lived with or b) “I would rather be with a woman again”.

For widows? First the death has to be sorted through and then the relationship itself and throw in kids (widows are far more skittish when kids are involved than men seem to be and, statistically, they have reason to be cautious since males are more likely to be abusers than females) and friends and in-laws, and also let’s never forget that women invariably have “tribes” with whom they consort and poll on every subject imaginable, and you are looking at a much longer “recovery” period.

Don’t forget as well that women are raised in relationship culture and lore that often is bullshit. They are schooled to believe at a young age that they must “find themselves” and “be independent”  even though it runs contrary to the overriding societal command that they must also find love. Love that is “true”, “soulmate-ish” and that “there can be only one”. Depending on a woman’s age and previous experiences when she is widowed, all that Oprah inspired nonsense can still be in play and not in a good way.

If widowers are still men first and foremost then the same is true of widows. They didn’t stop being women when they married nor when they were widowed. And women like tribes. They gain admittance into a new tribe with widowhood where they “learn” to be widows. Men largely escape the indoctrination because they don’t seek out groups and are, perhaps genetically, ill-disposed to self-help in any of its forms or genres. All this makes it harder for women to date, to let go of their labels, to not compare, etc.

The last is the worst thing about women and largely what makes many of  them lousy daters whether they are single, divorced or widowed. The comparing stirs up insecurities and compels them to rely on equally insecure friends to figure things out that they should be discussing with the men they are dating.

Bottom line? If you are dating a widow, she is a woman. Start there. Next, resist the urge to play white knight or to allow yourself to be drawn into the role of grief counselor. Insist on communication and that relationship issues should be brought up with you before she rants to her sister, friends or semi-anonymous friends on the Internet. Don’t let her play the widow card. Expect the same good behaviour from her you would have any other woman in a relationship. Being widowed doesn’t give her special dispensation. And if being a widow first is more important to her than building a new relationship with you – walk. Finally, expect to be loved for yourself and to be first in her life. If she did that for her late husband, she should do the same for you if she really loves you.

Dating is dating. It all comes down to two people willing to be real and lay their cards on the table in the present tense with an eye toward the future and it really is no more difficult than riding a bike.

UPDATE: I forgot to add one thing. Don’t love her potential. Non-widowed have this fantasy idea of what it’s like to be widowed and what the marriages and/or relationship IQ’s of widowed folk are. Just because she was married, and according to her – happily, doesn’t mean that she can replicate that with you or even that she was in a happy successful marriage. The beauty about widowhood is that only one side of the story exists now. The other side is … well … on the other side. Play the ball where it lies. If she is flaky now, she probably was with him. If she was neglectful or selfish, a drama queen or princess, this is who she’s always been. Maybe the dead guy was okay with it, found it endearing and cute or maybe he stuck it out for the kids. She is and you are and that’s all you have to work with. Widows waiting for the right guy to thaw their hearts and souls (or widowers with hearts of gold waiting for the right woman to give them a reason to live again) are Hollywood creations.


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.


We suffer from the need to skip the work and let someone else tell us how. But that never works. It’s a patch at best. Books, gurus, groups, ideologies, philosophies. They are starting places. It eventually all comes back around and down to you. Are you willing to push through?


Money

Image by TW Collins via Flickr

Joyce Carol Oates published her contribution to the dead spouse memoir section of your local bookstore this last week or so. How another rather elderly woman is widowed by an even more elderly man rates as soul wrenching tragedy eludes me, but she felt the need to chronicle her “magical” first year and share all 400 pages of it with the world – for a price.

Because you can find more authentic accounts of widowhood for free in the blogosphere, it’s a wonder that publishers still acquire this kinds of books and shell out capital to print and promote them. Notice I didn’t include “edit”. No one, apparently, puts Joyce in the editing corner and more than a few reviews of her work have pointed out that her memoir suffers from the lack of it.

The only thing of Oates that I have ever tried to slog through was We Were the Mulvaneys. I didn’t get far. Her style is bloated and slow.

But her new memoir kicked up a bit of a tropical storm in grief culture circles because of a reviewer who dared to wonder – out loud – how Oates could leave out of her story the fact that she was dating and engaged to be married before the first anniversary of her husband’s death.

Oates herself threw out, by way of  explanation, a cliché – that widowed folk with long happy unions tend to be so grounded that they naturally move on to equally awesome new unions with more alacrity than those who had short and/or problem filled marriages. Which has always rung hollow for me because my anecdotal experiences have revealed no such pattern.

But this was lost in the vicarious rallying of the widowed around their favorite theme – no one outside the sacred brother/sisterhood has any business questioning or criticizing. So there.

Rational discussions – and there are some here and there – ignore anyone who brings up the very good point that Oates was being a bit disingenuous by leaving out the dating and remarriage thing. It’s not a small thing and it absolutely is valid to wonder what prompted her to leave it out.

“She didn’t want to be judged!”

Because we are so judged for remarriage. Yawn. Within the brother/sisterhood, we are. I’ll agree with that. But by and large the vast majority of people who don’t know us at all, or very well, find remarriage heartwarming and a just reward for our “suffering”. Aside from my late husband’s family and friends – and widows here and there on the ‘net, I never encountered judgment.

Or jealousy. There are, I hear, herds of divorced and never married women out there who will sneer and snipe at a remarried woman’s alleged “hogging” of the small pool of decent men their age. Which I don’t buy either.

Mate envy is almost a DNA XX code thing. We are taught to compete and undermine each other from an early age and some of us never quite rise above the early training meant to reinforce our Darwinian breeding drive. It’s not personal. It’s not widow-centric.

Was Oates looking to avoid envy? Wanting to compete with Didion’s dominance and firm hold on the title of “Widow of the Millenium”. Worried about the reaction of her fans? Critics.

I think she is too canny a promoter of herself and work to not have realized that including information about moving on to a new relationship would have really changed the focus of the book. It wouldn’t have been a pure “grief” memoir. And she wanted her story to focus on the sadness, the pain, the affronts aplenty from the non-grieving world. Moving on just doesn’t fit neatly into the “poor widow me” paradigm promoted by the current grief culture, which is about life long struggle with loss. Even if that isn’t actually true – it sells more books. And at the end of the day, Oates has been a writer longer than she was a widow.

People who write for a living are only as fresh and marketable as their last book. And they do look for the hot trends and try to shoe horn themselves in. Writing is a business.

One thing I read over and over from literary agents, editors and publishers is that even a memoir has to have a point and say something new. It needs a hook. It’s not enough to simply have survived a tragedy. People do that all the time. What’s different about your tragedy? What did you do that was different? How can you apply your epiphany in a way that’s inspiring and will move readers to more than just pity?

Oates told the typical widowed story ,if the examples and excerpts in the reviews are accurate, with the obligatory touch points that we all have come to recognize from other books, movies and tv. She gets away with it because she is already quite famous. An icon. The well-established are allowed to be trite and re-tell well-known tales without adding to the narrative in any significant way.

Even if she had copped to falling in love again during that first year, that isn’t a new story either. Though it’s a lot closer to reality and offers far more hope for people who are widowed.

Oates played to the readers she knew would likely be her audience. Women who are older and alone, looking to be validated. It was shrewd. Also, by leaving out her new husband, she guaranteed a bit of controversy. I doubt at all that she was surprised when one reviewer had guts enough to bring it up. I’d even venture to guess that she was counting on it.

The dead husband memoir genre is real. There are books and blogs aplenty. Workshops are built around them. Cult followings spring up. It’s a business that compels memorists and self-help writers to plug their offerings in the comment sections of blogs and every time they write on someone’s Facebook wall. That’s not altruism, you know. It’s marketing.

Every memoir has a hook. Oates’s is her well-established fame. She didn’t need anything else. But the average person does. My own story, which will never be published anywhere but in bits and pieces on this blog and in various comment sections of other people’s blogs here and there, has no hook. There is nothing special about my story. Young mother widowed. I am no different from a thousand others but for minutia.

Rob could sell his story. He’s a guy for starters. That’s not typical. He went on a quest of sorts after Shelley died to leave her ashes in all the places they’d loved. A man in his truck travels across America spreading the essence of the woman he loved in those sacred places that represented their life together. He even took pictures. People might read that.

Widowers being a rarer tug at the female heart-strings and they can sell tragedy that’s identical but for gender to a public that rolls its eyes and yawns at the female version. Young widowed father? Heart-warming. But a woman in similar circumstances is just another single mom.

But here’s the thing about memoir, everyone thinks that if they’ve lived something than they can write it in a way that resonates, enlightens and moves the discussion forward. If you’ve read enough blogs, you know that isn’t true. Living an event is not enough to make one an authority and it doesn’t ensure that one has anything to add to the subject. It also, doesn’t make one a writer.

Oates is a writer, though of the literary set, meaning she appeals to a limited audience most of the time. Memoir has a wider audience. Voyeurism can be counted upon in the U.S. at any rate. But I question the value of her contribution. It’s not like older couples are unaware of their mortality. We get old. We die. That a woman her age remarried is the bigger statistical surprise, but even that is a tired, well-worn story path.

She doesn’t strike me as someone who is too worried about what others think of her. She left out the second husband thing because it didn’t fit with the image of herself she was promoting. Very simple and strategic choice.

Being a widow has more cachet than being remarried after all. It conjures up all manner of heroic stereotypes. Look at Liam Neeson, for example, a recent interview touted his statement about “grief waking him up in the middle of the night”. I wonder how lines in the story touched upon the fact that he’s had a girlfriend now for quite a while? Actually, I don’t really wonder at all.

Widowhood is the hot.

Moving on? Not so much. Oates is a savvy woman.


Trusty Uhaul Truck

Image by Open Wheel via Flickr

The last tote was strapped to the topper of the Avalanche at about 7PM this evening. My best friend, Vicki, arrived with her youngest daughter and helped Rob and I load up the remaining items to be sold (or given away) into her van. The house was empty of everything but the few pieces of furniture that will go to my “niece” to furnish her new apartment next month. It was time to leave.

 

 

 

Time to say goodbye.

 

I went through the house alone. I had to close the garage door and leave the opener on the counter for the new owners. There were two openers. I think the other got packed. Next time we are hiring this packing crap done.

 

The last time the house was this empty was the day we moved in. Fours years ago in exactly two months from today. Four years ago. Katy was eleven months old. I was packing another house. Will was dying.

I can’t say that I will miss the house. I have said already it has few memories that one could call happy, and it was my prison for a long time. Still, it hurt to say goodbye. And it was silly really because like the hospice and the cemetery, Will was not there. I could hear him admonish me in a tone of voice that ranged somewhere between patience and exasperation, reminding me.

 

Outside and heading towards the truck and U-Haul with tears still streaming, Rob met me with an already sweat soggy shoulder and a strong, comforting embrace. Everything was still as it was a moment earlier and yet everything was all right as well.

 

Goodbye house. Goodbye Des Moines. But not goodbye to Will. After all, like Elvis, he had already left the building.


Red sunset

Image via Wikipedia

“Use your imagination not to scare yourself to death but to inspire yourself to life”

Adele Brookman

Rob sent me today’s quote. It is appropriate and timely for us both. Imagining one’s life, planning the dreams you have dreamed for your future and putting them into action can be overwhelming, but re-imagining the future after your original hopes and dreams have died? Stymied stronger individuals than myself I’ve no doubt.

My imagination’s lowest setting is hyperactive. I can scare myself with relative ease. Probably the years of practice I’ve had. Lately I have been scaring myself a bit with doom and gloom scenarios as I make preparations for moving to Canada and the wedding. Rob reminds me that it is just our heightened widow’s sensitivity that makes us more susceptible to this kind of thinking but also helps us be more compassionate of others too. Kind of like a super-power, although not that cool. Actually it would make a pretty dorky super-power.

I was actually less of a risk taker in the past than I am at present which is interesting given the events of the past few years. I know many would simply be content to shore up the walls around the lives they have salvaged from the wreckage and be grateful for a little peace. But I was just not content. The last months before the first anniversary of my late husband’s death were painful. I hurt for him and me and our daughter, and what we had all been through, but mostly I wanted to move forward. And at that time, I didn’t know where or what to move towards. I only knew what I didn’t want.

There was this urge to imagine a life away from where I was and doing something that was fun and meaningful for a living. In your mind you can go anywhere and I did. Tried on all manner of places that while they might have been comfortable, didn’t fit the way a good pair of jeans do. The difference between comfort and fit is the difference between Old Navy and Lucky Brand. When Rob and I were first friends, he was always quizzing me about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do with my life. Partly because he is a problem-solver. Me, man. See problem, solve problem. And I love that about men in general, and him in particular, because I problem solve the way I shop for clothes. I browse through all the stores noting styles and colors. A few days later I go back and try things on, and maybe I will buy something but likely not, and after a few days more, I decide and purchase. Impulse shopping lands me with clothes I will never wear, and solving a problem without due thought and sorting is much the same scenario.

I am not sure when Rob went from a man I wanted to find someone just like to a man I was falling in love with, but he changed the staging of my daydreams about the future. And it wasn’t scary. It was, at first, that stomach dropping feeling you get when you go over the top on the Ferris Wheel or look down into the crevices from atop the rocks. Breathtaking. But, as we grew closer, talked more and spent time together; he became the future to me. The place where I knew I should be. The one I was meant for.

People who have never seen us together don’t get “us”. Certainly the way we met invites even the most casual skeptic to voice an opinion, usually negative. There is a song by Brandi Carlile called The Story that almost conveys how I feel:

All of these lines across my face

Tell you the story of who I am

So many stories of where I’ve been

And how I got to where I am

But these stories don’t mean anything

When you’ve got no one to tell them to

It’s true…I was made for you

I climbed across the mountain tops

Swam all across the ocean blue

I crossed all the lines and I broke all the rules

But baby I broke them all for you

Because even when I was flat broke

You made me feel like a million bucks

Yeah you do and I was made for you

You see the smile that’s on my mouth

Is hiding the words that don’t come out

And all of my friends who think that I’m blessed

They don’t know my head is a mess

No, they don’t know who I really am

And they don’t know what I’ve been through but you do

And I was made for you…

Someone on the board wrote about feeling cheated of her time with her husband. How could he have been put in her life only to be taken away so soon? And then someone pointed out something to her she hadn’t thought of before, perhaps she had been put in his life. An interesting twist. We think of our spouses as forever because we have such a limited grasp of the concept. Our forever is really here and now. The time we are allowed with our spouses is probably even more finite because if I am here moving forward with Rob then what is Will doing? For some reason the image of him sitting on a cloud and plucking a harp waiting for me just doesn’t seem plausible. A Creator who could envision a sunset, much less create one daily, does not live in a cotton candy Christian heaven.

It is amazing where or to whom the imagination can lead you when it is free from fear and open to the possibilities. Eternity is bounded by the limits of what we can imagine. As John Lennon once said, “Imagine there is no heaven.”