thinking about dating again as a widow


Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Prudence over at The Slate received an email from a widower recently asking for insight into an issue he has with this girlfriend. Seems the girlfriend, in the opinion of the widower, is “touchy” about anything to do with his late wife and the fact that he is close to his in-laws.

Nothing surprising about that. If you haven’t been widowed yourself, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that widowed folk really don’t go through the same separation process that one does when a relationship ends in a mutual or acrimonious break-up or when a marriage ends in divorce. Different end games result in different emotional processes.

Prudence aka Emily Yoffe is the second wife of a man who was widowed young. She’s written a rather touching essay on the subject and occasionally outs herself and him in her advice giving. That said, her experience hasn’t made her particularly sensitive to the plight of the widowed. You can’t really be a vicarious widowed person even if your contact with a widowed is rather intimate, so her advice veers off into the cliché, the assumption and the insensitive more often than not when anything widowed comes up.

A person could get speculative here. Perhaps her marriage has experienced more than a few unsettling moments due to her husband’s widowhood and advice seekers on the topic get to bear the brunt that her husband doesn’t. But assuming gets a person into trouble as does reading between lines. Let’s not go there.

Instead, the focus should be on the term “insecure”. Prudie/Emily replied that she felt the girlfriend in this widower dating scenario was simply being insecure and that he need only reassure her before laying down the facts that 1) he had a past and that past includes a deceased wife for whom he will always have feelings though these feelings didn’t preclude him from loving her just as much and 2) his in-laws were his family – get over it.

The insecure wife/girlfriend trope is not exclusive to widowed dating scenarios. It’s a rather effective way to disarm women who have issues within a relationship that their partners simply don’t want to admit are issues that need to be discussed and dealt with in a mutually agreeable manner.

Labeling a woman “insecure” is the first step in making her feelings irrelevant by labeling them irrational. It’s a great way to win any disagreement provided you are totally okay with stomping your opponent into the mud by using such a disingenuous douchebag method.

So why am I talking about advice giving?

It’s easy to give advice. Advice is like opinions, which as we all know everyone has – just like they have assholes.

And it’s also quite easy to fall into the trap of believing that because you’ve experienced something, you are automatically an expert and therefore qualified.

I am not an expert. Nor do I play one on the Internet.

I’ve been widowed. I’ve dated in the aftermath. I’ve remarried.

If one were looking for a bit of wisdom on the topic of successful dating, relationships, remarriage and marriage to a widower, I would be a safer bet than someone who hasn’t managed any of those things or who isn’t married to a man who was widowed himself. However, I have only my individual experiences to draw from and I am not you. Therefore anything I might say needs to be weighed heavily against your own reality.

Prudie is my example of this. She’s married to a man who was widowed, and yet she mostly gives sketchy to bad advice on the subject of widowhood and relationships in the aftermath. Her experience hasn’t translated into much of anything worth seeking out or following.

Of late, I’ve had emails from widowed and comments from those dating and I have tried to reply as best I could. I really do reply to all emails and comments because I know what it is like to have questions and no one to ask. Or to ask and have no one reply or reply in less than helpful ways.

But I am firm believer in weighing everything. There are blogs, books, message boards, Facebook groups and even conventions. All well-meaning but of varying degrees of useful. Certainly there are no experts. Just people with experiences to share and who are no more qualified than you are to solve the issues in your life.

I have written quite a bit on dating, grief and moving on. All based on my experience. Just the opinions of one “asshole”. If there is something that you can take from these writings and put to good use, wonderful. I am glad to have helped.

But there is no one size fits all.

When I was teaching middle school, I would run across this or that student who really didn’t mesh with my teaching style. The best solution was always to find a teacher who did. My seventh grade English teaching partner and I probably traded two or three kids a school year based on our philosophy that for every student there is a teacher – somewhere.

It’s good to shop around. I am flattered and humbled by the blog traffic I generate on widow dating. My husband thinks I should write a book – or at least blog more often -, but I am not a fan of the self-help genre, and I don’t write it for the same reason I don’t write about my first husband’s illness and death. It feels wrong to make money off it. That’s a personal thing rather than a judgement. I admire people who can write and do real good rather than simply exploit an issue for personal gain or fame. Those people do exist. I just question the idea of being one of them myself. It’s too easy to get full of yourself and I am as human as anyone.

So when surfing about, shopping at Amazon or joining this or that group, be careful. Be a critical thinker. And remember that you really do know yourself best. Take and apply only that which fits you and your situation.

I don’t know what ultimately happened to the man who wrote Prudie. Hopefully he did not approach his girlfriend from the stance of “I know you are insecure, dearest, but here is why you are wrong …”.  Don’t be that guy. And don’t worry so much. Whatever issues has brought you here in search of answers are likely as not fixable with a little bit of thought, open honest discussion and taking a few good deep breaths. The yoga teacher in me feels we should just all breathe more because all things pass. You are going to be okay.


Young Widow

Young Widow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“….. and everyone has baggage.”

I ran across this quote on a widow blog. It was written by a widow, lamenting/raging/venting after her second break up with a post-dead husband boyfriend. And the thing that struck me was the negativity of it. Which is odd because the idea behind the concept of “having baggage” is relatively common in our modern culture. Most people, at some point or other, will christen their histories with the term because they are frustrated and see the past as an obstacle to what they want right now.

It’s a curious way of framing things. After all, how can events that are chronologically behind you be blocking your future? Unless, like Lot’s wife, you are still looking back. In which case, the fact that you are tripping up shouldn’t come as a surprise. Walking backward is a good way to fall down.

After the question of “how soon is too soon to date again”, the problem of how to put away the past and not use it as a measuring stick in potential/new relationships is one of the bigger issues of dating again. Whether our late marriage was good, bad or ugly, any future significant other and the relationship formed deserves its own space where it is not judged by or compared to the late spouse and marriage.

Sure, everyone has “baggage”, but its less than helpful to label what is merely a chronology of events as such rather than simply calling it what it is – your history.

You have a history. It shaped you, taught you what you know for good and not so much good, and that is all that it is. The minute it becomes “baggage”; it’s time to rethink your readiness to date or to be in a serious relationship. Nothing good is likely to spring up from negative comparisons, blame and generally wishing your new someone was your now deceased someone, who has magically stopped being human and levitates in an photo-shopped state of romantic perfection. Constantly going back to “SoNso would never have x, y or z.” whether it’s just in your head, or worse, thrown out into the open spaces  at your new partner, is the teenaged emotional blackmail weapon of choice that adults should hesitate to pick up again.

Baggage is synonymous with issues. And still having active issues will, more often than not, hamper the development of a new relationship. It’s good to know what you want out of a relationships and what can’t be tolerated no matter how sexy, charming and good on paper someone is, but don’t confuse idealizing the past and the dead with a checklist for new love.

Love me/love my baggage?

Um, no.

Why should anyone have to sift through your issues in order to get to know you?

And why should anyone have to be your grief counselor or help you work through your bad relationship habits (the ones your late spouse let slide because you were both too young to know any better)?

The answer, of course, is that they shouldn’t. If you are ready to date again, you are ready to be an adult who is honest with yourself about who you are and what might be a problem as you move on with your life. Seek real professional help if your “baggage” needs to be filed away under “past life”, but don’t expect someone else to carry it for you or accept being treated like crap because “… everyone has baggage”.

Everyone has a past – a history that often has bruised squishy spots in it – but no one but your mother has to “love you anyway”. If you want love, you have to earn it and part of that process is getting your history together rather than using it as an excuse.

 

 


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.


I have never had much use for New Year’s resolutions. They are usually lightweight and things that a person should be doing anyway or too big to just impose on a whim dictated by the calendar. But, this is an important year.

For me anyway.

I am not going to call them resolutions but goals that I need to work towards now that I am ending a year without Will and starting to seriously consider what shape my life should start to take.

I am at a crossroads with my career – which I hesitate to call it because I am not someone who has ever defined herself by her job. I have a job. It is one of the things that is required of you as a grown-up. I am lucky that I have nearly always enjoyed teaching but it simply funds my life, nothing more.

So, how can I be a crossroads?

I need to decide if it remains a job or becomes a career, I think.

Lately, I have been thinking that perhaps I will not remarry. My single years vastly outnumber my married ones and even my married years when boiled down to an active state of give/take between two people are just a bit more than an eyeblink. I wonder if I truly want to live with a man again and put in the time and effort, make the compromises.

But if I don’t, what fills up that time. My daughter?

Most certainly, but even though she insists she will live with me forever she won’t.

Friends? I have a few and am going to make it a priority to expand my horizons in the coming months.

Family? I think I have struck a happy balance there. I am not going to move home. My sisters are more than capable of taking care of our parents and I think it is time I stepped back from the role of family rock anyway.

So, I need to decide about the career. A career is a labor of love you happen to be paid for too. Is that what I want? I am going to think about it.

I mentioned broadening my circle of friends and that is also a goal for the year. I have acquired yet another babysitting prospect which seems more hopeful than prospects past. If she pans out then I am going to work to find activities to attend, and fun things to do that will help me break out and be a grown-up again.

Finally, I need to decide if I am living in the right place. Assess my compatibility with the area and its occupants. Have my realtor, Tanis, give me a good assessment of the house in case I decide to pull up stakes.

Goals. Things to work on. Positive and necessary. Nothing that requires superhuman willpower or club dues.


So, today I did something mildly social. I went to the Taste of Des Moines. It is like Taste of Chicago only smaller, much smaller and not as cool. My husband and I used to work one of the concessions there years ago when we belonged to a local Jaycee chapter.

I went with my friend, Vicki. Going anywhere with Vick guarantees that I will pay at least partial attention to my surroundings because she pays close attention and it rubs off. We ran into people I had not seen since the wake. Before that I had not seen any of these people in two years or more. Most since before Will got sick.
Read Full Article