Podcast: Dating Advice for Widowers and the Women who Date Them

One of the big concerns I hear from women in relationships with widowers is that they love my books and find them helpful but their widowers aren’t readers or don’t have the time to pick up a book. If that’s the case, maybe they’ll listen to a recent podcast I participated in titled “Dating Advice for Widowers and the Women who Date Them.”

What I enjoyed most about the interview is that the interview focused on discussing the needs of widowers, how widowers can know whether or not they’re ready for serious relationship, and how they can know if they’re really in love with the person they’re dating. Listen to the podcast here then, if you like it, recommend it to the widower in your life.


Widower Wednesday: Guest Post: Are You Ready to Date a Widower?

Widower Wednesday

While I'm on vacation, I'm having some guest columnists fill in. Today's Widower Wednesday column is written by Heather Massey Coker.

Dating, loving, marrying, and living with a widower is an emotionally trying and, in my opinion, hugely rewarding experience. It requires patience, compassion, and most importantly, the ability to maintain healthy boundaries. My husband and I met and fell in love rather quickly. I am fortunate that when we met:  I was 35 years old, had earned a graduate degree in counseling, and had experienced some voluntary and mandatory (for the degree) counseling. I had also lost my father one week after he had lost his first wife. It is not clear to me which of those things helped me most to navigate this unique situation. I am willing to bet it was the combination of them all!

I felt drawn to my husband’s honesty; he was up front about his grief, his desire to move forward, and his plans to establish a life for himself and his children based in the present and facing the future, rather than staying stalled in the past. However, that being said, this loving, kind, tender, and gentle man had not only lost his wife of nearly ten years, but the mother of his children, a son, 7, and  a daughter, just four weeks old when she died.  His heart was broken while discovering it could love again. He was imagining a life with me while trying to close the door to his life with his late wife. He wanted me to be a mother to his children while trying to reconcile that his daughter would never know the woman who tried for 6 years to bring her into the world. Did I understand all of this? Yes. Were there days when it was so hard to be the living woman in his life when his grief overwhelmed him? Absolutely.

The first boundary I set in our relationship was to “unfriend” him on Facebook. This is how it went: we talked on the phone until 3 a.m. and I pulled up Facebook at 11:00 a.m. to find a status update that touted his love and affection and mourning for his late wife. I sent him an email the size of a short novel outlining how hurtful that was to me and how duplicitous I felt it was and explained that I would not be on his friends list anymore. I understood that he was in a truly conflicting emotional place and needed an outlet to express his grief, that he was unable to tell the world that he was falling in love with someone else less than 6 months after her death, and, most importantly, that I did not have to subject myself to it. My guy was shocked at the hurt that his status had caused me. Grief is a very self-centered experience. Fortunately, for us, I was also grieving at the time so I understood that well.  I believe that if I had failed to set this boundary for myself, I would have been unable to maintain my relationship with my guy. I would never have been able to withstand the outpouring of grief and affection towards his late wife repeatedly.

Early on, my guy and I agreed that we would keep our relationship known only to close friends and family. I was not going to meet his son until we were sure of ourselves and knew that this was going to be a relationship leading towards marriage. We set a date for when we would “go public.” The day came and I changed my relationship status and requested that he confirm that we were in a relationship. And, I waited. Several hours passed and it had not been accepted. I admit that I panicked. I doubted myself. I questioned his willingness and ability to love me. I overreacted a little. Okay, maybe a lot. Nonetheless, I pointed out that this was important to me and he recognized that I was important to him.

There would be other boundaries and limits in our relationship in regards to his late wife, her parents, and my role in his and now, our, children’s lives.  As in any relationship, healthy boundaries are important in a relationship with a widower. Boundaries tell someone how they are allowed to treat you. If you are a person who struggles to set boundaries for yourself in your relationships with others, then dating a widower is going to test you, push you, and perhaps, hurt you.

Widowers are no more likely to hurt a woman than any other man. Though, they are not dealing with the same issues as a man who has been divorced, separated, left, dumped, etc. It is different. The woman they loved died. He did not leave her and, in most cases, she didn’t leave him. She died.  He can and will respect her and love her and miss her. He can and will do that while falling in love with you. Sometimes, he will grieve. Sometimes, it is not going to be about you. If you set limits with the way you need to be treated, he will honor them. Or he won’t. Then, you have to decide what you are willing to accept for your life.

Are you ready to date a widower?  Taking care of yourself in any relationship is paramount and it is even more so when you’re involved with a widower. Set boundaries and limits. Communicate them to your significant other. Be compassionate and empathetic. Know that you are capable of leaving a relationship that is not honoring you.  Then, you’ll be ready to reap the benefits of a love that will hold you a little closer because he knows what it’s like to be unable to hold the woman he loved.

Widower Wednesday: Erasing a Widower’s Past

A widower writes to Dear Prudence with the following question:

I was married for 25 years to an amazing woman who came to a sudden and untimely end. I am now dating another amazing woman. After dating for a year, we moved in together six months ago and love each other like crazy. We have our differences, but nothing that I wouldn't expect for any two people trying to make their separate lives into one. Except one thing: I want to keep my late wife as a part of my life in the form of a few pictures, a couple of specific mementos, and the occasional topic of conversation. Sometimes my girlfriend is supportive of this but sometimes she is not and it causes her pain. I've read how you dealt with your husband's first wife and was hoping you could help me learn what topics are more likely to hurt my girlfriend so I can handle them more adroitly, or alternately give me some words I can use to explain better to my girl that I love her completely too. I've tried but sometimes she ends up feeling second best, like some kind of leftover, but she is not second best she is amazing. I don't think this is a long-term deal-breaker, I just want to make things easier for my girl.

To which Prudence answers:

It sounds as if you've done plenty to explain to your new partner that you love her completely. It also sounds as if the place of your late wife in your conversation and home is appropriate and not intrusive. Perhaps your girlfriend is trying to express to you that any reminders of your first wife are painful to her and that at best she indulges this, but editing your first wife out completely would be preferred. So it's up to you to explain that at this point in your lives you each have complicated histories that are part of who you are, and you are not comfortable if you have to catch yourself before you say things such as, "I love Florence. Rachel and I went there for our 10th anniversary." You two should have sorted this out better before moving in. But maybe a counselor will help you each understand the other's perspective.

Regular readers of this column know that I generally don’t agree with the advice Prudie gives widowers or those who are dating them. However,  I strongly agree with her that this is something the couple should have worked out before moving in together. But what really grated me was the following sentence that echoes a common refrain when the subject of taking down photographs of the late wife or putting away the late wife's personal items arrises.

Perhaps your girlfriend is trying to express to you that any reminders of your first wife are painful to her and that at best she indulges this, but editing your first wife out completely would be preferred.

For the billionth time: When a girlfriend of a widower (GOW) or a wife of a widower (WOW) objects to pictures, trinkets, or other objects around the house that remind the widower of his first marriage, it generally has nothing to do with wanting to edit or erase the first wife out of the widower’s life. Rather, it has to do with the home they share feeling like theirs instead of hers. It’s hard to move forward and concentrate on the now or even think about the future with someone when reminders of his past life are scattered around the house.

GOWs and WOWs understand that the woman he married helped make him the man he is today. They’re fine with the late wife coming up in conversation. Really, they are. They don’t expect widowers to not to talk about her. Unless she’s a constant topic of conversation, they’re not threatened by a story of his past. All they want is to feel like they’re the number one in a widower’s heart and don’t have to compete with a ghost for a widower’s love, affection, and attention. Asking for what anyone else expects in any other relationship isn't some extreme position taken by those who are insecure. It’s all about feeling like the center of the other person’s universe instead of feeling like they’re part of a threesome.

GOWs and WOWs who want the widower to edit the late wife completely out of his life are the exception—not the rule. In the 10 years that I've taken emails from women in relationships with widowers, I can count on one hand the number of times a GOW wanted to pretend that the widower was never married or never in love before she came into his life. And my advice to them has always been that they shouldn't be in a relationship with a widower if they feel that way.

Yes, we all come with a “complicated history” but that doesn't mean we should put our past out there for everyone to see. We don’t expect people to put photos of their past boyfriend and girlfriends, or ex-spouses up when they start a new relationship. Widowers shouldn't be given a pass simply because of the way their relationship ended in death instead of a mutual breakup or nasty divorce. They want the same fresh start anyone else would get.

If both parties are okay with some mementos or photographs around the house, there’s nothing wrong with that. If they don’t bother a GOW or WOW, more power to them. But can we please stop pretending that women who aren't comfortable with photos of the late wife around the house are insecure or trying to delete or edit her out of the widower’s past. It’s simply not true. All they want is to feel like is the widower is ready to give his heart to them and treat them with the same love, affection, and respect that the widower gave the late wife.

What, exactly, is wrong with that?