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Dating a Widower, compared to Dating a Divorced Man

My friend and colleague Abel Keogh writes a popular column on his blog, and runs several areas on Facebook, about the perils and pitfalls experienced by women who choose to date widowed men.

I have various quibbles with this topic, which he and I have discussed many times. To me, the Dating a Widower movement, such as it is, looks like it's just based on following Google to high readership. Just because people ask a question, doesn't mean there is a substantive answer to be found... though it can be created by someone inventive, responsive to readers, and with tremendous knowledge of the subject... as well as first hand experience as a member of the population in question. Abel is far from the only author tackling this subject: in addition to his two books, Dating a Widower and Marrying a Widower, there is Julie Donner Anderson's Past: Perfect! Present: Tense! and her associated forums and other activities.

I'll admit that those who date widowed people is not a group I have chosen to speak to or for... and that knowing how few men under 55 are widowed compared to women (at one time Social Security told me it was 1 man to 7 women) makes me quite skeptical... but some of the stories Abel and his readers share are pretty dreadful.

Many of the men in question seem to have significant trouble living comfortably with their past lives and experiences. Perhaps some of them were even a little nuts before they were widowed (we are changed by our losses... but not that much).

I also think that widowers with children still at home (most of the widowers I know fall in this category) are a bit more justified in hanging on to "stuff" from their past lives and sharing family (like in-laws) and memories a bit more actively. This is a giant set of exceptions that negates, for me, a lot of Abel's advice.

To be honest I have been pretty suspicious of these areas in part because when I was dating, at 40 ... I looked only at men who had been married. To me, the only relevant person to compare a widower's baggage to was... a divorced man. (I mostly restricted my searches to men who had been parents, because I had a young child and needed someone who'd understand that if I cancelled a date due to flu that he shouldn't take it personally... and I considered never-marrieds undateable... prejudices which had been confirmed by experience.).

I do not doubt that many women DO ask these questions and that
people are confronting some difficult situations with this "baggage." But emotionally unavailable men come in many flavors. And it seems too easy to me to provide advice to women who are dating... probably the most insecure people in the world. What makes widowed men so much more "difficult" to deal with than, say, divorced men? Or men who reached 40 without ever marrying?

So let's do a comparison of baggage. I married a divorced man and we spend more time dealing with his feelings about his 23-year marriage disintegrating and their divorce than we do with Gavin almost literally disintegrating before my eyes and his death. (Although the score does even out a bit if you start counting the time I spend on managing his posthumous career as an artist and the fact that I spend tons of time on volunteer work for widowed people like Widowed Village and the Soaring Spirits board. )

I've always wanted to do a comparison that went beyond "my husband didn't WANT to leave me." Abel has just published a huge list justifying why this is a legitimate area... some of the ways that widowers behave badly in the dating market. So let's tear in and see what we find!: 

Some widowers ... 

Do divorced men do something similar?

Have shrines to their late wives in their living room or large portraits in other places in home or office.

No. Often the ex-wife has been cut out of the family photos and pictures are spookily absent. Sometimes this means there are no pictures of the kids, either, or that the divorce lives in hotel-room-like impersonal environment. Having some amount of old photos on display is a good idea if he and the late wife had kids. Advantage: widower.

Hold the late wife as a perfect saint who can never be spoken ill of.

Frequently bring up the ex-wife as a demon about whom no good can ever be said. Advantage: widower.

Keep the late wife's clothing in the closet or toiletries in the bathroom, or offer the new girlfriend their late wife's jewelry, clothing, etc.

No, sometimes the ex-wife's possessions have been burned or tossed from a window, though, or sent to storage without her knowledge. Advantage: widower.

... same for lingerie or sex toys.

Just.... ew.

Want to be buried next to their late wives.

Well, it would be nice if the widower would at least pretend that this choice got complicated. If they had kids, the old plan MIGHT still make sense. Advantage; the fresh start of the divorce'.

Have a bedroom in their home dedicated and reserved for the family of their late wives.

If it's a huge house and they had kids together... maybe. I think I'd find it hard to complain about living in a house with that much extra space.

Talk about how their late wife was a great athlete, professional, mom, and an all around perfect human being
Frequently divorced men share with their dates their feelings that their ex-wife was a skank, dumbass, or spendthrift. Both behaviors are tacky and unnecessary in most situations. Both widowed and divorced men should be able to talk about people in their past without cartoonish characterizations. Advantage: widower.

Organize and participate in 5ks or other charitable events in the name of their late wife

No, but sometimes people who've lost a child or parent or friend to a disease continue these activities, and is that weird?

Wants to be reunited with their late wife in the next life

Okay that is pretty weird, but isn't it a question of theology, like, are you healed when you get to heaven? Even if you had an amputation? (Sorry. Not my personal set of beliefs so I don't quite "get" it.) And it doesn't apply to divorce anyway, unless the ex-wife has also died.

Have the late wife's pots, pans, dishes, spices, etc. in the kitchen

Well.... yes. We use a lot of items that belonged to Mr. Fresh's first wife. (Plus we live in their house but dude, I KNOW that's weird, and it was equally my choice.)

Have the late wife's voice on their answering

Okay, I personally think that should be taken care of before you date, at least, by the time that person calls your home number. Advantage: Divorce.

Live in a house that has their late wife's touches everywhere

See pots and pans, above.

Have tattoos of their late wife that they’re not willing to get rid of

Blech, but isn't a tattoo supposed to be permanent? I have mixed feelings about tattoo removal... because what is a commitment anyway? Unless he's out of space for a new one with your name on it.

Constantly compare you or have family members that constantly compare you to their late wife

People "compare" me to Mr. Fresh's first wife all the time, and they compare him to Gavin all the time, but kindly, and without excessive characterization. We both do it, too, but again, most of the time, we do it gently and usually we're talking about behavior and not, say, waist size. It is hard to avoid, but "constantly" would piss anybody off. Mr. Fresh and I have had our issues with it.

Wear rings that symbolize their love for their late wife
See answering machine, above.

Make a giant six-acre heart-shaped meadow for their late wife

No. As stated in many examples above, divorced men do not tend to have fond memories of their ex-wives. I believe however that new partners benefit from displays of love like this.... not to mention tourists: the Taj Mahal was built to remember the Shah's late wife. (History does not record for us how that affected his next relationship or the other concubines, concurrent or subsequent.) Isn't it possible he would do something like this for you, too? Advantage: Widower.

I have to admit my "baggage comparison" isn't really as decisive as I might have wished. I realize that it's probably not reasonable to compare dating a widow (a nice normal one like me) with dating a widower, but I think widowed people generally are treasures in the dating world. (I only managed to find one widower when I was dating. It didn't go well, but it had nothin...)

So I tend to wonder, why is there no comparable community (and books) for those dating widowed WOMEN,given that they are 7/8ths of the widowed population? (Annie and Able share their thoughts on this here). "Dating a widow" is probably an even more popular Google term than "widower," but leads you only to spam, irrelevant or disreputable dating sites, and p0rn ... not to an entire movement. While there is some discussion of dating widowed women, most of it is pretty low quality and it doesn't seem to have any traction. Nor does it seem to generate this much controversy, even though widowed women talk about dating a lot. (A LOT lot.)

It still seems like an insult to my friends who are widowed men (who are frequently outraged by these blogs) to admit that there is something there... but surely there is. Perhaps men are more frequently bad daters, overall? Who knows.

There is certainly scads and scads of material about dating divorced men... but those men are so prevalent it would be impossible to avoid them. Which I suppose is part of the peculiarity... it IS possible to avoid dating widowers, and look at all this advice on WHY.

What do you think?

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Comment by Soaring Spirits on July 22, 2012 at 5:33pm

Kim and Suzanne, yes, he is widowed. I agree with you and this post is part of an ongoing conversation... I tried to respond only to a few small points.

It is indeed weird that this is an entire movement and that their concerns are so uniform. I don't agree with it, but it is interesting. And I have no ability to stop them, either the pundits or the daters. Oh well.

Thanks for reading!

Comment by celestia (Suzanne) on July 19, 2012 at 10:13am

I agree with KK. To generalize like that can sow more harm than good.

Comment by kimkirt (KK) on July 19, 2012 at 4:58am

Okay, first and however sexist this may sound. The blog/books are written by a man, is he dating widowers? How would he know? Is he interviewing widows who are dating widowers? Is he interviewing widows dating divorced men? Is he a widower himself and doing some soul searching? Let's face it, we know that the people on the other side of this fence don't "get it", they really don't. So, if he is not a widow, how can he sit and judge and point fingers at them? (He could be a widow, I don't know, I don't know anything about him). I'm not so sure how much stock I put into all that. We all have baggage, widowed or not, at our older ages (meaning, it's not our first rodeo). Is it wrong to want to date someone who knows how you feel when you cry over the loss of your spouse, or who "gets it?" Not in my opinion. Perils and pitfalls? Wow, do they have some personal vendetta against widowers? Plus, why lump everyone into that category? It would be like lumping all divorced people into the category of "their marriages didn't work the first time, so they will never work the second, stay away!" I find it sad, actually, that they are placing labels on widowed men. I don't understand really what you mean by "to admit that there is something there . . . but surely there is."  Of course I have not read the books and blogs either, so I cannot comment on their findings.  I just think if we go around comparing baggage, then we are a really sad society that isn't looking at the good in a person. I was the third wife to my husband (he was twice divorced). I was never married. Should I have run for the hills? Or should I have not even tried and looked for a single never married man like me? Should he have run away because I had never been married and he was? We need to remember that everyone is an individual and should be treated as such and fairly. Whatever happened to just getting to know the person and then deciding? Okay, off my soapbox now...

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