There is no finer representation of “later in life” joy than finding love when you least expected it. Like after the loss of a beloved spouse, for instance. Love lost and then found again is magical for everyone, however it does seem to happen to men more often than women, I think. But whether it’s an online set up or one facilitated by friends, the search for love seems never to wane regardless of age. An excellent example of this involves a male friend who had recently lost his wife after a long marriage and a female friend who had been alone for some years after divorcing. Suffice to say, the fix-up has been a blazing success, except in the eyes of a friend of the gentleman in question.
“How happy is Donald?” (faux name) I gushed when I ran into her one day. I am usually good at reading the room before attempting anything controversial conversation but who can argue with love, I thought? Apparently some can.
“I am old fashioned,” she said by way of defending her opposition to the new romance. She had been very good friends with the deceased wife and it appeared unseemly to her that her friend’s husband would have taken up with someone else so soon after her death. “He’s almost 80,” I said bluntly. “And burning daylight,” I added. “How long should he have waited?” I asked her- not unkindly. “Five more years?” We are not promised five more years. Hell, we are not promised tomorrow. “I know,“ she said, clearly frustrated by her inability to share in her friend’s new found happiness and admitted that she was going to have to find a way through this emotional minefield.
There are those who will judge harshly the way others choose to live their lives when crisis strikes. And those judgements may or may not dictate the path any friendship takes once circumstances, like death, occur and shake up previously stable existences. Change is hard. For everyone. Maybe this woman wondered if she would be forgotten too soon as well if she were to go before her husband. A friend of mine, who had also lost her husband said, no one knows what it’s like to lose your love until you do. And no one but you can figure out how best to survive the loss.
I remembered a conversation I had had with “Donald” the summer his wife passed. With a strained expression he turned to me during a dinner party and asked, “ Darl, how long did you wait to date after Michael died?” Longer than two months, I thought to myself. But when I saw how forlorned he looked I couldn’t help but soften, especially when he confessed “ I’m lonely.” And why wouldn’t he be? You spend decades sharing your life with someone. And then, suddenly, you don’t. Despite their sympathy, everybody else has what you no longer do.
We are not meant to be solitary creatures, are we? Especially men. And I have often thought we could learn a thing or two from the male race when it comes to relationship issues. Those who divorce or become widowed seem to immediately seek a solution to their unwanted single status. They simply refuse to suffer for long and blunt their emotional pain by initiating a replacement plan. That is, finding a new wife. And it’s usually done in short order. I believe it is a natural instinct that kicks in for the relief of pain. Much like recognizing that you have been underwater too long and thrusting yourself to the water’s surface for the breathable air found there.
Women, on the other hand, know how to suffer. Even drown, so to speak. And the research bears this out. According to Wikipedia, “Men are more likely to repartner after losing their spouse.” In fact, Wikipedia adds, “More than 60% of men but less than 20% of women are involved in a new romance or remarried within about two years of being widowed,” the website revealed.
Perhaps the difference in the genders comes down to life long behaviors. Traditionally men take the lead in romance and are the ones to ask women out. Not the other way round. They are simply more proactive when it comes to curing loneliness. They don’t look at it as something to be endured, but rather, a problem to be solved.
This philosophy jives perfectly with my long held belief that men simply believe in action. They don’t “negotiate” peace, for instance, but, rather, react to aggression aggressively, by going to war.
I know that if I had died first and my husband had taken up with someone else my family and friends would have had a hard time. I once actually told him that I would too. Childish, but true. “You know, honey,” I told him when he was sick, “ if the roles were reversed and I was the one who was going to die first, I don’t think I would want you to be happy.” He smiled and said, “I know, darling.” How grateful was I that I had found a husband who knew me so well and still overlooked my shortcomings.
Does “Donald” diminish the memory of his wife or the richness of their marriage itself by moving on? Or is finding love again like the miracle of Spring? A natural rebirth? A testament to life’s rejuvenative power. That despite the dormancy of winter, another season will come and life will go on. Better to be a part of it.
If you are lucky enough to find love, like my 79-year old friend has, it can be a brilliant antidote to the grief you felt while your partner was sick and certainly after they passed away. Love is the answer, according to poets and scientists alike. Time magazine published a study (January 19, 2004) showing that falling in love triggers a chaotic eruption of neuro-chemicals like dopamine, adrenaline, serotonin and norepinephrine which simply make us feel better. Less sad. More hopeful. Childlike. Optimistic. What sad person doesn’t want to feel good again when offered the chance to laugh rather than cry?
“Your heart is a giant cathedral,” said author Elizabeth Gilbert. “Let it open. Let it love. Do not let your gorgeous loyalty to the deceased stop you from experiencing the marvels and terrors of your short, mortal, precious life. It’s OK to live, and to love.”
Yes. It’s okay.