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Se*man*tics (noun) 1. the study of meaning in language – the study of how meaning in language is created by the use and interrelationships of words, phrases, and sentences.

There are words in our language that are so well known we don’t have to define them to anyone when we speak.  When I say, husband, wife, significant other, love interest, boyfriend, girlfriend, and even widow, people know what I mean.  We know that these words define relationships for us.  We know that these words hold a significant place when we call someone one of these things.  I had a husband.  The problem is, I don’t anymore. He died.  Most of the people around me know this and understand what this means.  Most grown-ups know what it means when someone tells us their wife, husband, girlfriend and boyfriend, has hurt them or done something wonderful for them. Most adults have an experience of a significant relationship.  Please forgive me for speaking in such generalities, I promise there is a point.

So, as a widow, when I speak about my husband, I still call him my husband.  I do this for several reasons I guess, he was my husband, we weren't divorced, he’s my kid’s dad, and I never want them to loose the sense that of that.  I think it’s important to them and most days it’s important to me.  Heck, my husband is the only reason I’m a widow.  Without the husband’s dead deal, the widow deal doesn’t make sense.  But here’s the rub – I’m in my seventh year as a “widow”.  I know what that means.  What I don’t know is how my semantics affect the people around me.  In my small world, everyone knows this about me…but what about the world of the unexpected.  What if I am caught off guard and there is a new person who might have interest in me?  To a new person, I am single, I’m Chris.  They may or may not know how I got there.  What if I am interested in someone, but my semantics get in the way…

It’s so hard to separate the old me sometimes.  After lots of years as Dave’s girlfriend and then Dave’s wife and now Dave’s widow, many parts of me have been defined by who we were together.  Lots of my stories, my history, have to do with his story.  Does this mean that if an interest presents itself that I’m not interested? No, not really.  I could be very interested in a new someone, but will my story, my semantics, put the kibosh on it before it can even get started.  When I say, “my husband this", or “my husband that", what will that trigger in the man across from me?

For the first time, in a long, long time, I am thinking about this.  For many years, my response to the continual question “are you seeing anyone YET?” has been that there have been no interested parties…what, if there were interested parties, but perhaps my words spoke so loudly that even I couldn’t hear that they were interested.

The truth is at this point in my life, widow and all, I would like to have someone to flirt with, someone to hold, someone to kiss, someone who is interested in me and me in him…but, I don’t want to scare this person away with an occasional slip of “my husband did” or “my husband and I” or “when we”.

My hope is that when that mutual interest occurs, he can forgive me for those slips.  It won’t and doesn’t mean that I’m less interested in him.  I hope he will hear my other words, see my actions, sense my intent and know that I’m still a work in progress.  I hope he recognizes that I’m still trying to integrate my story into my reality.  So much of grief seems so nebulous and unreal while other parts are so concrete and tangible. Balancing this has always been part of my healing.  I know that I don’t want to miss the present moment, but those moments in the past, those moments of my story are so woven into who I am. I hope he will see this and know that there is still room for more in my life and know that what’s around the corner may be just as wonderful as what was.

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Comment by widowisland on March 18, 2012 at 6:57pm

Hi Chris - no such luck...still saying husband...haven't been able to transition it quite yet.  I'm lucky that new fella can hear through the words. I do call my husband by his name tho' when I talk about him more often instead of by his role...don't know if that helps??? I totally get the ex thing with divorce too...so different being widowed.  I've had both...divorce (1st marriage) and widowed (2nd marriage).

Comment by chris on March 18, 2012 at 6:44am

Hi widowisland, I'm interested if you started saying "late husband" instead of "husband"? How hard was it to do? Did anything make it easier? I would like to start doing this myself, but the habit is twenty years old and very hard to break.

It is funny, divorced people get unmarried and have an easier time using the term "ex". Widows don't get unmarried. We're left behind and need to relinquish these bonds on our own.

Comment by widowisland on November 28, 2011 at 3:14pm

Thank you both for your comments...Chris, you are very funny and clever - thanks for the fresh perspective.  I think your on target- Thanks for reading!

Chris aka widowisland

Comment by CrazyWidow on November 28, 2011 at 5:45am

Semantics are so difficult.  I often refer to Kevin as my late husband, but I know the reaction I will get when saying that to someone who doesn't yet know I'm a widow.  It puts the "kibosh" on it as you said (Kev LOVED that word BTW).  I hate that he's my LATE husband.  I have a boyfriend now, so I've gotten a bit past that, but it still happens at times.  I feel I can't call Kevin my husband anymore because I have a boyfriend and that would just make it awkward.  It seems there is no "right' way.

Comment by chris on November 27, 2011 at 5:29pm

Hi Widowisland, as a guy I wonder if you overestimate the subtly of the average male mind :). I hope you don't mind if I'm a little blunt but I see this as mostly a practical matter. Can I assume that you don't have a big sign around your neck saying "I'm a widow, leave me alone!"? No? Good. Are you wearing your wedding ring? That's a tricky one -- I still wear mine and am a long way from taking it off. I would venture that if you're still wearing it, then you're not ready to date. Let's move on and assume you're not wearing it.

The semantic issue is like a wedding ring; you need to take it off somehow. Think of bumping into a man somewhere and asking if he's new to the place and he says: "No, me and my wife vacationed here". Darn, nice guy, but not available. If instead he said "No, me and my late wife vacationed here", then it is a different story because, well, because it is a different story. I'm willing to bet you already do this when you meet new people because otherwise all sorts of awkward misunderstandings would ensue.

The rest of it seems like the normal problems associated with dating and being open and receptive to other people. Is being a widow more or less appealing than being single at your age? or being divorced? Is being a widow more or less appealing than being a computer geek who learns new languages for fun? (that's me, and eventually I did date and meet my wife...). Some men are going to be turned off by widowhood, some men will assume you're starved for intimacy and try to take advantage of that. Move on, don't let them depress you.

Someone once told me the best way to attract a woman is to have a conversation with her. I think it works both ways; have conversations with men you find interesting. Nothing stimulates a man like a woman pay attention to him. If the conversation stalls on widowhood, well okay maybe it's not right, or maybe he doesn't know what to say. Change the topic. If it still stalls move on.

The right man will accept that you had a full life before him. If you're both moderately normal this shouldn't be a problem. I would expect that when you reach certain levels of intimacy that you'll cry or experience some string emotions. Again, a good guy will understand, he might cry too -- then wipe your tears away and get back to being intimate. Don't feel like you're less of a woman because you're a widow. There is a Carly Simon song with the line "There's more room in a broken heart."

Hope this helps, but from your writing I suspect you already knew all of this.

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