Wives of Widowers
Just Because He's a Widower
Society tells us a lot of things about the widower. He seems to be a lost, tragic figure who will never smile again because the "love of his life" has been lost. Hollywood loves this storyline, as does country music, and popular fiction. The man is viewed as being virtually without faults because his relationship ended by chance, and not by anything of his own doing.
These images are misleading. This man is simply an ordinary man, not a saint. And he can be happy again. He does need to grieve before he moves on to a new relationship or the next phase of his life; that is essential. But loss does lead to rebirth and new life. An examination of the ways of nature tells us this. So do many spiritual views. The widower should not be held hostage to the role society expects him to play for all time. And the widower is human and has faults, just like anyone else.
A woman who dates a widower encounters these assumptions frequently. Her partner is viewed by the world with a sad, long face, even when he clearly is in love again.
This attitude not only shapes the behavior of the man and chains him to his tragic role, but it renders his new love virtually invisible. This suppression takes its toll on the woman, especially if she does not have support from others who understand.
Additionally, most people assume that a widower had a wonderful marriage since it did not end by choice. They assume the widower was a wonderful partner, and a great human being. These assumptions may very well be true, but sometimes they are false.
The widower's partner risks her emotional well-being when she buys into this myth. She may begin to believe she isn't as worthy of being loved as the late wife was. She may blindly accept being treated badly by the widower because she believes his decency as a person is implied by what he went through. Or she may feel she needs to tolerate more due to his assumed fragility.
Death is not selective. It does not just happen in happy families. Death happens in alcoholic families, in abusive families, in troubled families of all kinds, just as often as it happens in healthy families. Criminals can experience the loss of a spouse. Controlling men can too. Men with pre-existing depression can experience loss. Men with every hardship imaginable to the human condition may become widowers.
Yet society assumes that the poor widowed man must have had a wonderful marriage and he must really be a terrific person. When the woman who will later date this men believes the widower myth, hardships may arise when she learns of the man's true nature.
A woman should not tolerate being treated poorly by a widower or by any man. Having experienced hardship is not an excuse for poor behavior, contrary to society's teaching.
It can be challenging to feel special and cherished in a relationship with a widower, even in an ideal situation where the man has worked through his grief and does not compare his new love to his late spouse. Even when the messages that contribute to this insecurity don't come directly from the widowed man, society continues to bombard his new love with assumptions that are often hurtful. A woman may feel like no one else understands her plight, and may feel very alone. She may often feel guilty for having negative thoughts of resentment toward the late wife, and may feel that there is something wrong with her for feeling that way.
Glamorized assumptions fuel these uncomfortable feelings. The new love often experiences great relief when she learns that her feelings are universal to being in a relationship with a widower. When the woman discovers how much of her discomfort is caused by erroneous and trumped-up cultural messages in society, she often experiences a resurgence of her inner strength.
The truth is that a relationship with a widower is really just a relationship with an ordinary man. He's not more special or privileged than any other because of his loss. When a woman realizes this, she can protect herself, if she needs to. She can learn to recognize the difference between a man's unacceptable behavior and behavior that she may choose to tolerate for a time out of empathy for his situation.
The fact that a man has been widowed does not automatically translate into meaning he will be a worthy partner. The cliche, "all the good ones are taken" does not mean that a man was a "good one" simply because he had been "taken."
The widower really can move on with his life after loss. He can love deeply again. He should not remain a tragic figure to be pitied forever, as society might expect. He also should not be elevated to extraordinary status. His marriage to his late wife was not perfect, and he was not perfect. None of us are. If a man had tendencies toward addictions, battering, or other undesirable behavior, those issues do not go away because he is widowed.
The saintly image that society gives him may mask undesirable traits to the woman he dates in the future. She must break through the inaccurate messages the world gives us and determine for herself what the truth is.
It's not easy to challenge the many messages that surrounds the widower. The woman who dates a widower, and knows what she wants in spite of the world's assumptions, is a strong woman indeed.
Talk about it at the Cafe! Just Because He's a Widower