Although it’s been five years, Melissa* vividly recalls the “talk” a close friend had with her:
“I know you’re widowed now but I just want you to know that my husband sees you only as a sister,” said the girlfriend Melissa once considered family.
As Melissa stared at her, slightly bewildered as to where the conversation was going, her pal continued:
“Please know that he’s just very protective and in no way is he flirting with you. You’re a single woman and I don’t want you to get the lines of communication crossed or take anything he says the wrong way.”
Melissa said she was in total disbelief, wondering where her friend’s sharp words were coming from. Unfortunately for her, it wouldn’t be the last time she would be warned about her married friends’ husbands.
“When my husband was alive, we did lots of things together with other married couples. We had gatherings at our house and went to their homes for get-togethers. I would laugh, talk and joke with the husbands with no suspicion or problems from their wives…that I knew of at least. I saw them as my brothers,” said Melissa. “When my husband died, things changed quickly. I was no longer invited to their homes. If I hugged one of my “brothers” at church, their wives would give me a hard stare or disapproving look. One older woman even told me it was inappropriate for a single woman to hug a married man. I changed my greeting to a handshake but that didn’t make their wives any more comfortable. It was hurtful because we were all friends prior to this. I had not done anything to make them feel threatened and I definitely did not want their husbands.”
There seems to be a misconception by some (sadly our close married friends are included) that a woman simultaneously becomes a widow and a man-eater when her husband dies.
Simone* says she’s had similar experiences to those of Melissa:
A friend once came over to offer ‘sage advice’ then proceeded to describe my new life as being “a temptation for ‘bored’ married men who own a Toyota”. She said now that I was single, I was “like a brand new Ferrari”. Losing my husband was the worst event in my life. I could have done without all the ‘advice’ about how to carry myself as a single woman.
It’s not uncommon for the dynamics of friendships to change for no other reason than the new widow, once non-threatening, is now single and a perceived threat to others’ relationships.
“Some of my friends act like I will try to steal their husbands,” lamented one widow. “I’m sorry but I don’t need that problem. I have my own problems to worry about. I hate that people act different towards me now that I’m widowed. I’m the same person; actually a lot wiser.”
It may seem these widows’ stories are isolated events or merely coincidence but an informal poll in the Young, Widowed & Dating online support group found an overwhelming number of widows have been given the cold shoulder by at least one married friend.
From lectures about never being alone in an elevator with a friend’s spouse, to recommendations on appropriate attire to wear when visiting, to warnings about not “tempting” married men to be unfaithful, the group’s members have heard it all.
“I’ve found there are these new set of rules for me now that I’m single and I’m expected to abide by them,” said Melissa. “I pray I never behaved in this manner towards anyone while I was married.”
As widows, we understand death makes people uncomfortable. We know our friends—married and single—may at times feel inadequate, not knowing how to be there for us. We get that you hate seeing us in pain and hurting. Relationships may even become strained. I beg of you however, to not put an additional layer of hurt on our shoulders.
We didn’t ask to become widowed. This isn’t a life we would ever choose or wish upon our worst enemies. And, we know the sadness, hurt and loneliness of not having our soulmate around. We would never want you to experience a tenth of that pain, friend. Your husband – no matter how picture perfect he may be for you – is not our beloved. He cannot and will never be able to fill the hole in our heart.
“Yes, we’re sad, but we know our answer is to not take the very thing that we lost away from someone else,” said a member of the support group.
While some widows chalk up their friends’ behavior to insecurities, I think it’s a reaction to fear. You see the sadness in our eyes and the emptiness in our spirit. You don’t see how we’re able to make it through each day and you fear your own ability to even survive a divorce, let alone a death.
Friend, we’ve known each other for years, if not decades. You know our character and the type of person we have always been. We’re still that person. Yes, our heart is broken and we’re still trying to make sense of why our happily ever came to such an unfortunate end but we’re still the same, beneath the all pain.
“I’m widowed; not desperate for a man,” said a group member who lost several friends not long after her hubby’s passing. “My morals didn’t get buried along with my husband.”
* Names changed to protect members’ privacy