playing the widow card while dating

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A new comment appeared on a post I wrote about widows who “play the widow card” when dating or within new relationships. The gentleman had recently broken up with his girlfriend, who had been widowed. He liked my post and wanted to add a bit of advice of his own, based on his recent experience:

“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.” Never a truer word was spoken. I have just had my heart-broken by someone who had started having sex with their next door neighbour THREE DAYS after her husband died and who was in that relationship when we met. All unbeknown to me of course, and hidden by the “friends who set us up” until after we broke up when the truth comes out.

From someone who considers themselves a kind, considerate person I would offer the following advice to widows thinking of dating again.

(1) Get your house in order (literally) – If your house is still a shrine to your late husband with holiday, wedding and family photos everywhere that is not fair. Have a few special photos (after all, he’s not a secret and a decent man will respect your previous love) but leave the rest for a memory box.

(2) Address your late husband and your relationship but leave the reminiscing to with your friends. The new person in your life wants to be your future not be trapped in your past. Try and not talk about him too often.

(3) Be honest about your past relationship. Acknowledge his flaws as well as good points – noone can compete with a saint. A good line is “You and XXXX are different people. I loved him and of course I miss him from time to time but I your are my future and I love you and you have your own unique qualities that XXXX didn’t have”

(4) Get your house in order emotionally. If you don’t have a plan for your life and are waiting for a guy to make you happy you are not ready

(5) If you have children, DEMAND (away from you) that you are shown respect. You are not a guest in their life. Defend your new partner against rude behaviour or even worse a child that simply refuses to acknowledge you in any meaningful way. Defend your new partner in front of your child in such instances and talk it over later. Allow your new partner to have a say in-house rules – do not say “XXXX and I decided that this was how we would approach this” Discuss issues and allow your new partner rights – he should not be a spectator in his own life.

(6) Finally, and most importantly, if you realise you are not ready and cannot cope with the new relationship, BE HONEST and tell your new partner, don’t make keep him there for comfort whilst playing emotional cat and mouse. Don’t play the Widow Card – be an adult and explain gently and kindly that you think the world of that person but you are simply not ready.

Hope the above does not sound bitter….

It’s good advice and I appreciate that he took the time to share his story and leave a comment because too often in the widowosphere the point of view and the experiences of those who date widowed people and their feelings are overlooked or downplayed as though they are less important than those of the widowed dater.

A key thing to remember when you begin to date again is that your prospective dates are people with feelings just as precious and fragile as your own. If you venture back into the dating arena loaded with odd notions about your feelings being primary and your past pain being put on a pedestal, you are not ready to date. Dating requires us to be more cognizant of the other person than of ourselves. But what I read from the trenches of both those who date widowed and those widows who date – it seems that the burden of deference is placed squarely and unfairly on the shoulders of the non-widowed boy/girlfriend.

While it’s probably not premeditated on the part of the widowed person, many of them have become accustomed to wearing their pain on both sleeves and being treated accordingly, and it’s only natural that this is going to provoke a protective response in a new partner. However, I would caution both parties to not give in to the pity – giving or receiving. Relationships can’t handle an imbalance like that for long without one party or other feeling hurt, misunderstood or plain old fed up.

For the record, no matter how much your love tells you that he/she doesn’t mind the shrine in the bedroom or the toothbrush still on the vanity or the 57 pictures in the hallway and living room … he/she is just being polite. Giving you space and hoping that you will eventually love him/her enough to see that these things have to go if your relationship has a hope in hell of not dissolving one night into something tearful and ugly.

And for those who dated widowed, door-mat behavior encourages your lover to be self-involved and entitled. A healthy relationship hinges on both partners having their needs met.

I am forever amazed by stories of love-making that takes place in the glow of an illuminated portrait of the deceased spouse that began its existence as a blow-up at the departed’s memorial service, or the tales of widowed who are appalled when called upon by their non-widowed girl/boyfriend to suck it up, don the grown up undergarments and do something for them for a change.

Relationships of consequence require you to think more of the other person than you do of yourself. The only people who can get away with thinking more about themselves than their loved one are called “children”. The parent/child relationship is an uneven one. It is give/take for decades really but that of couples should be give/give. And if you aren’t ready for that, it’s okay. Just don’t date. And if you aren’t getting that from the person you are with, consider whether or not you ever will and then consider valuing yourself enough to walk away if you can’t live with the answer.