Image by neur0tica via Flickr
Some women in relationships with widowers feel that the late wife could only be more perfect if she were perched atop a Gothic cathedral surrounded by a soft ethereal glow, skin glistening as the light catches the tiny sparkling points of light on her iridescent skin while cooling light breezes tousle her hair on its most perfect day.
It’s probably fair to say that the percentage of women on the planet who haven’t felt threatened or marginalized by their partner’s last wife is fairly small. Comparing ourselves – usually unfavorably – is what the female species does and does well, and we are encouraged in this by magazines, movies, television and the self-proclaimed relationship experts. The wife or girlfriend of a widower, however, can feel that a late wife is a rival of unassailable proportions because she is often only portrayed in her Sunday best. Death improves us all, or so it seems.
As I have stated in the past, I would have known that Rob’s late wife, Shelley, was a wonderful person even if I’d never heard a single story about her from him, the older girls, extended family or friends. And it was intimidating for a while. How do you follow wonderful? But, from the beginning, I endeavoured only to be me and not focus on the differences between us that sometimes made me feel like the ugly step-sister. She was her. I am me. For reasons known only to Rob, we both suited him just fine. And that’s where it begins and ends – or should – in any relationship. Worrying about how you do or don’t “stack up” leads to insecurity, anxiety, and misplaced jealousy.
Perhaps the problem is the idea that a man (or woman) can move on but still love a deceased spouse. I’ve heard some poor to bad analogies as to how this can be. There’s the 3 hearts. You. Your spouse. His Late Wife. My issue with this is that hinges on the fact that in our case, it would be four hearts and if three can be a crowd, four is bad porn. There are no extra hearts. There are memories, and everyone has memories of previous love, but the key word is “previous”. You take what you have learned and apply it now and archive the rest and if a person doesn’t or can’t – they aren’t really prime dating real estate.
In talking to Rob, I clarified again for myself a few things about men and how they think. They don’t really care about the guy who came before them. He had his opportunity, and now it’s their turn. They are really not prone to comparing because they feel that if you are with them now, then now is what counts most – which is why it is the rare man who will listen to stories about this or that past relationship without getting annoyed.
And that latter thing is important to note – annoyance – because women are schooled in listening and empathizing. We will listen to a guy go on and on about the woman who came before us because we think that raises us in our man’s estimation of our worth. We are so nice. So understanding. We don’t get annoyed – unless it’s to spout off to girlfriends and rain disdain down on the late wife instead of just telling our men “enough already” – and so a man might get the idea that talking out his last relationship while he is in one with us is perfectly okay.
Grief is different though.
No. Okay, maybe a little. But if your cage is being rattled to the point where insecurity and jealousy are becoming close intimate companions, then does it really matter?
Rob talks about Shelley. She is his reference point in the past. When he uses the term “we” and it’s not he and I, I know it’s Shelley. And so what? She was there. Rob spent all of his adult life before me with her. It’s not an “I” thing for him. And it’s not a big deal. She isn’t part of his past as a personal insult to me or as an obstacle in my relationship with Rob.
Here’s the thing. When you marry a man who’s widowed, you are accepting the fact that you didn’t come first. Yours is not the first proposal, wedding, child. You’re walking on ground that’s been traveled and possibly sleeping in a bed that’s been occupied before you. Deal with it. Because it’s reality and it’s your issue. You can let it eat you, or you can put it in perspective and work on building the life you want.
But there are shrines! Yearly memorial tributes! In-laws who constantly compare me to her! And he does nothing about it!
It’s still your issue. You still have to decide whether or not these things are going to control you or diminish you or even if you can live with them in spite of your Widower’s “awesome potential to some distant day being Mr. Everything”. It’s still your life, and people need your permission to make you feel less than entitled to it.
Which brings me to this point – your sparkly sister-wife isn’t the problem. She’s not really there. Other people might be using her for purposes of their own and in doing so they make themselves problems, which you can choose to take on or not. And you use her to when you compare yourself, act on jealous impulses or whine like a high school girl because the fairy tale isn’t as Disney as society told you it should be. There’s always a root for an issue to be sure, but she’s dead, so she can’t be it.
If it’s your Widower, you speak up, initiate a conversation and come to an understanding. And just a fyi, doing whatever he wants because he’s played the grief card or you are worried about appearing “strident” or “shrewish” or “bitchy” or whatever other pejorative our culture has for women who won’t stuff their needs and shut up and take it – is not an understanding. Understanding is mutual.
If it’s family. And if you can’t talk to them – he has to.
It’s friends. Same deal.
But it’s not her and she isn’t ever going to be gone. If you are waiting for that day, you’re going to wait forever.
I like Shelley. I am in awe of the fact that her sparkliness lingers on. She helped Rob raise two of the most fantastic young women I’ve ever known, who I love and for whom want nothing but sunshiny fields with filled unicorns. Her influence is some of what makes Rob the amazing guy I love and who loves me. Who am I to begrudge her the place that she earned before I got here, and why would I do that unless I wasn’t sure of my own place?
Are you sure of your place? Do you know who you are? Do you know what you want, and do you ask for and expect to get it? You have control over precisely you. You can’t coax, empathize, sympathize, enable or nice girl anyone into being the kind of partner you expect for yourself. And it’s not your job to fix things for him but it is his job to be a 50/50 partner.
Oh, and you don’t get 100% from 50+50+50. Just saying.
Title courtesy of Norah