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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.