So, you’ve decided to begin dating a widow. You met this person online, in a bar, through a mutual friend, or via an interest group of some sort. You may have met by chance at a convention, or at a singles night nearby. The point is, when you met that person, you didn’t necessarily know them as a widow.
Disclaimer: I met Sarah at Camp Widow, so I was kind of privy to that information beforehand.
Regardless, you’ve shown an interest. You may be just starting to date, or have known this person for years. If said widow also shows an interest, buckle up, because it’s going to be interesting. Here are four things that are somewhat unique to dating or being in a relationship to a widow or widower.
1: There’s going to be random tears, for no apparent reason.
The two of you will be at a restaurant, let’s say Applebee’s, because you both enjoy the finer things in life. The evening is going well; you both smile as you discuss the day's events with each other over your cheese sticks. The waiter, let’s call him Duncan, takes your entree selections, tops off your water, and leaves to go put in your order of chicken wraps. Upon Duncan’s departure, your dining partner bursts into tears. Bewildered, your first instinct, as always, is to ask “what’s wrong?”
You will never know the answer to this question, and you will always know the answer to this question. In this case, you can only hope it’s something simple, like her late husband’s name was Duncan, or that his late wife’s favorite food was blandly seasoned chicken wrapped in a tortilla. Really though, it's because someone they loved died, and at that moment, they thought about that person for one reason or another.
Solution: Tell them “It’s OK, I get it” (but NEVER because “My dog died, so I can really identify with it”...no need to elaborate), hand them a napkin, allow them the right to cry over “nothing”, and quietly listen to them while you eat your chicken wraps.
The wrong way to do things: Use their tears to convince Duncan that your order should be free, because the “mexi-ranch dipping sauce” was just a little too “ranchy”, and it made your partner cry. Also, tell your partner that “You’re with me now, so you shouldn’t be thinking about your dead person”
2: You’re going to feel like a “replacement” sometimes.
After the Applebee’s incident, you’ve vowed that the two of you will avoid Duncan and make a dinner together at home. The standard discussion of what to actually make goes on for days, until you defer to your partner’s desire for macaroni and cheese with little hot dogs cut up and simmered ever so gently in the salty yellow goo. The night arrives, and you tell your partner to relax with a nice glass of wine, Boone’s Farm, preferably. You’ve selected a 2015 Strawberry Hill, as its gasoline-like bouquet compliments the carbon-rich flavor of the macaroni you are about to burn. It’s was a good year for cheap alcoholic fruit juice.
As you plate the food and light a candle, your partner partakes of the first bite. “Wow!” they say. “This is just like so-and-so made it for me! You have to do this all the time!” You smirk, eat the rest of your dinner, and the two of you decide to watch a movie on the couch.
Tonight’s entertainment has been chosen. “From Justin to Kelly”...a true masterpiece. As the two of you listen with awe at Justin Guarini’s siren-like voice, your partner casually exclaims “such-and-such and I used to watch this all the time just like this!”
You’re now miffed. You’ve been bamboozled. All you’ve really done tonight, is replicate a normal night that your partner had with their past person. You simply acted as a surrogate, and your partner doesn’t enjoy your company...just your ability to BE their prior person.
Solution: Shut up and enjoy the fact that they can enjoy a night with you, doing activities that THEY enjoy. Appreciate that they had an enjoyable experience in the past, and that you are not replicating another person, but rather, allowing them to be remembered in a happy way.
The wrong way to do things: Immediately turn the movie off, state that “Kelly Clarkson is a pretender to Justin’s throne” and tell your partner that you’re never doing this again. Also, drink all of the wine and leave the burnt cheese powder in the saucepan as you depart in a huff.
3. They’re going to love you more completely, or drop you like a rock.
“Been there, done that”. Widows and widowers, in general, had their person. Said person was taken away through death...not divorce, not adultery, not incarceration. They know exactly what they loved or disliked about the person they were with. They enjoy macaroni and cheese and watching movies that exploit singing-contest winners. You love that too, and they love that about you. They also love that you hold the door for them, even though their prior partner didn’t.
Then again, their prior partner helped them wash clothes...you would rather watch football. The point is, you’re in a relationship with a widow/er, but that’s not what makes them who they are. If they have chosen to date, and they are ready, they have the experience to know what works, and what doesn’t, for themselves. They’re called “deal-breakers”, and everyone has the right to use them, not just widows. It’s just that the “deal-breaker” for a widow was generally that, you know, their prior relationship ended because the person died. Death has a funny way of changing your relationship status.
Not wanting to use that deal-breaker again, a widow has every right to drop out of the relationship for whatever they perceive to be “not right for them”. They know what those things are. Just the same, they have the same right to “take things further” at what seems like an accelerated pace. Yes, it’s true, you can be a widow, love your dead person fully, and still love someone else just the same, if not more.
Solution: Actually, you kinda have to just deal with this one. There is no solution but to be yourself, hope for the best, and let things progress as they will
The wrong way to do things: Collect an entire dossier on your partner’s past person, and do everything you can to BE that past person. That’s the only way to be “right” for them. This includes, but is not limited to, cosmetic surgery or legal name changes.
4: If they love you, their biggest fear is you dying.
Your relationship has progressed. You’ve become more comfortable with “mac-and-cheese-and-hot-dogs” movie nights, even adding a dessert of tapioca pudding to “jazz them up”. Duncan ensures that there’s more “mexi” than “ranch” in your dipping sauce when the two of you decide to have a night on the town. Your partner loves you for you, and you love them for them. You give them a shoulder to cry on when needed, and you don’t try to convince them they’re in the wrong when they miss their dead person, at any time.
Everything's just peachy. Then you decide that you’d like to try bungy-skydiving, as a couple. You’re both still young at heart, and it would be such an adrenaline rush! It’s relatively safe, and only one person has had an accident in the past week.
An emphatic “absolutely not” are the first words out of your partner’s mouth. All they hear are the words “relatively”, “only”, and “in the past week”. Those words aren't’ red-flags. They’re giant flashing billboards with fireworks shooting out of the top to a widow/er. Haven’t you noticed that they always expect a text when you arrive at the grocery store to pick up macaroni and kleenex? Did it occur to you that the fact that you woke up next to them that morning is a special thing in more ways than one? They point out that you’re speeding, going too slow on the highway, or doing unhealthy things, and never want you to be more than a phone call away.
This, my friend, is because you could die.
There is no bigger fear in a widow’s new relationship than their person meeting an untimely death. Given the option and legal precedent, they would encapsulate you in a bubble and roll you to Applebee's like a giant hamster. Your choice of vehicle would be an Abrams tank, and you would eat only the healthiest cheese sticks and hot dogs. There would be GPS trackers on both ankles and both wrists, and they would monitor your vital signs at all times and report it back to your partner (there’s an app for that).
The point being, they’ve been in a loving, committed relationship, with both good and bad times, and said relationship was forced to end because of an accident, illness, or other unforeseen circumstance resulting in death. Thus, now EVERY circumstance is “forseen” It’s pessimism on steroids.
It doesn’t mean they don’t want you to enjoy life or do the things you love. It means that they have a very real fear of losing you BECAUSE they love you.
Solution: Do you love this person? Then respect their fears as real things, and try to be healthy and safe. Don’t compromise yourself or who you are, but ensure you weigh the risks of your decisions. Also, maybe pick a safer hobby that you both enjoy...like watching that masterpiece of modern theater, “From Justin to Kelly”. They are really, REALLY scared of you dying, so don't put unnecessary stress on them for something unimportant.
The wrong way to do things: Tell them that your dream has always been to tie a rubber band around your ankles, jump out of a perfectly good plane, and plummet towards earth, and if they can’t support that dream, then they don't really love you. Also, do said bungy-skydiving, and die.