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A Widower’s Bitterness

You’re a senior woman looking for a senior man. You hope he has a heart full of generosity.

No, not that kind of generosity. Not a man with lots of money, but a man with kindness, with nobility, a man with the self-confidence to fully enjoy who you are and admire what you have accomplished.

Many men seem to fit that bill on the first few dates. There are dinners at fine restaurants, flowers for no reason at all, frequent texts and phone calls. But a disproportionate number of women who are dating widowers tell me that that just when they become really hopeful, just when they’re hooked – the widower’s bitterness begins to emerge.

Why are some widowed men bitter? Hostility is supposed to be the province of the divorced. We expect suspicion, jealousy, and antagonism from someone who’s been through the wringer. But — widowers? You’d hope that decades of sharing life’s ups and downs with a cherished partner would shape a widower into a patient, tolerant, ideal later-in-life companion.

So why the big-heartedness that over time spirals down to thoughtless behavior, even meanness?

  1. He Hasn’t Reached Sufficient Closure. When a widower enters the dating pool, he may not be as ready as he thinks he is. He may still be grieving, as yet unable to fully engage with a potential partner. The really bad news is that some men may enter a relationship with every good intention and then spend years – even decades – with someone whom he secretly regards as a mere footnote to his long term bond with a lost wife.
  2. You’re Not Sufficiently Like Her. Maybe you hate cats while she adored them. Maybe you’re a worse (or measurably better) gardener. Maybe you’re a CPA, while she had no interest in finances, and he resents the ease with which he finds himself talking to you about taxes, insurance, and estate planning, things that were beyond her reach. Someone who has lost a beloved life partner warms to familiar quirks and qualities in a new companion; at the same time, he mistrusts new patterns and anomalies.
  3. He Thinks He Could Have Done Better. He’s perturbed about “settling” for you, and despite appearing to have made a commitment he may be still looking. This could be because your support, patience, and admiring glances have had a too-salubrious effect on his confidence. Eventually he may realize that at his age he is not the hot commodity he once was. Until then he will be only marginally present in your relationship, on guard against settling in too comfortably.
  4. He Worries That He Should Have Remained Celibate. On the occasions when runs into old friends and imagines they are eyeing him disapprovingly, he wonders if a new relationship is not an act of disloyalty to his wife. This is doubly difficult for him when those who disapprove are his kids. Friends get used seeing you together and begin to regard you as a couple. But kids who begin as antagonists rarely lose the fear that you may be replacing their mom.
  5. You Are a Placeholder for Someone Else. Before he met you he had a fling with another woman; it didn’t work out but he still wants her. It’s hard enough to follow a deceased and idealized wife, but a live ghost can be even worse. I don’t like to give advice in specific circumstances, but in a case in which an old love affair can be suddenly revived (dashing your dreams to smithereens in mere moments), it’s best to beat a retreat. This threat will shadow you forever.
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'A Widower’s Bitterness' have 9 comments

  1. July 25, 2017 @ 6:42 pm Sienna

    Jenny – I’m sorry you’ve had to experience such disappointment after what seemed a promising start. A widower who is actively grieving for 15 years is purposefully isolating himself from what is present and real. His passive aggressiveness may be interpreted as a signal that he feels guilty about seeing you and having real feelings for you. His daughter is his shield against that “transgression”. I’m afraid I must agree with you that leaving this relationship is the only way ahead.

  2. July 24, 2017 @ 6:03 am Jenny

    Leave. It doesn’t get better. It was heaven at first but after 6 months he became passive aggressive. His 32 yr old daughter who still lives at home is his priority. She decided if I could join them for holidays. They share their lives as a couple. I was told I just didn’t understand close father daughter relationships. After 15 years the house is still a shrine to the late wife. Her handbag sits on the doorknob of bedroom. Her memory becomes more saint like every year.

  3. July 21, 2016 @ 7:00 am Sienna

    Roxxii – Thanks so much for your comment. Sadly, it confirms what many women have endured: finding a good man late in life (difficult enough!) and being effectively neutralized by disapproving offspring. Hard on one’s ego, one’s patience, and one’s heart, but not usually something that can be overcome. I’m sorry this years-long relationship was so difficult for you, and that it had to end.

  4. July 20, 2016 @ 1:51 pm Roxxii

    So glad I found your site. I’ve just come out of a several year attempted relationship with a man in another state, both of us widowed. His three adult children were openly disapproving, hostile & nasty, which eventually informed his attitude. Thank you all for your understanding.

  5. July 20, 2016 @ 10:11 am Shelley

    Life is not fair. I am such an optimist even though I have my own sorrows. Why should a man be this arrogant, like he’s the only one who has needs. I have had it with men like this. They start out sweet and then you end up being the brunt of their anger because their wife died and left them with the housekeeping chores.

  6. July 15, 2016 @ 5:26 pm eveleen

    I was recently a victim – yes that’s what I call it – of a man who played me along while he tried to get back a woman he had been seeing for years. Its’ bad enough to lose to someone new but this was just plane dirty dealing.

  7. July 14, 2016 @ 12:28 pm Karen J

    I am always in the shadow of his late wife. Whatever I do it seems she could have done it better. He treats me nicely and we have good sex but I always feel he thinks he is settling. I am not asking for advice becuase there is none. I’m just going to have to deal with this and enjoy as much as I have with him.

  8. July 10, 2016 @ 8:25 pm Cokie

    Maybe you were thinking of me when you wrote this. I have written to you about this before. Sienna. It’s upsetting to see that my situation is the same for other women. I appreciate your advice and I’m trying to be patient and things are getting a little better. I think this is the man for me. I just have to convince him that I am the woman for him.

  9. July 10, 2016 @ 5:12 pm Shelly Q

    Oh boy do i ever get this. I am with a widower who calls three times a day and then not at all for about a week. I don’t know whether he has someone else. He treats me like a queen though when we’re together. I don’t want to look for someone else but I don’t like the uncertainty, either.

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