Note: This post was originally shared on my “widowhood” blog, “Frances 3.0: Still in Beta”.
I’ve heard a lot of things over the past five months that have taken me by surprise. From “helpful” comments about how I should be grieving to hurtful questions asked by people wondering if there was anything I could have done to prevent Paul’s death. I try to remind myself that people just don’t realise what they’re saying and that no one means any harm by the questions asked and comments made. I’ve spent some time visiting online forums about grieving, some specifically geared toward young window(er)s, and have found that the questions and comments I’ve received are very similar to the experiences of others.
As I’ve visited these forums, I’ve noticed that there is a common theme to some of the questions and comments some people have shared. It seems that there is a pretty harsh myth out there about widows, and to a lesser extent widowers, and their desires and intentions toward the spouses and partners of others. The basic premise is this: All widows are desperate for love and attention and are out to steal your partners; or at least to have sex with them.
So I’ve done some research on this myth over the last couple of weeks. I’ve talked with other widows, read information both online and in the library, and have even spoken with a couple of grief counsellors and behavioural psychology researchers for their input. There are several theories as to why this myth is out there so I thought I’d just give a quick recap of what I’ve learned.
When it comes to widows:
First, there is the evolutionary need. There used to be a time in human history when a woman without a male partner could not survive. There was no one to hunt for them, to provide for them, to defend them, or even to keep them warm in the cold winter months. It was a matter of survival for a woman to immediately partner with someone new should her current partner die. Because we are still animals on some of these basic levels, a woman who is grieving her spouse kicks into “cave-woman mode” and sets out to find a new protector immediately—even if it means stealing the mate of another woman. It’s all about survival. (What a load of bunk! I put this theory up there with ‘men are biologically programmed for infidelity’.)
Next, there is the physical need, sometimes referred to as skin hunger. Crudely put, widows are extremely randy and want to have sex with any man who so much as looks at her; even if he’s already spoken for. There isn’t too much more to say about that theory.
Then there is the happiness factor. When she was a wife and everything was going well in her own life a widow was more than happy that you were contently living with your spouse. But now that her husband has been ripped from her grasp, she wants you to be miserable, too. And if that means seducing your husband in an effort to destroy your marriage, she’ll do it!
Loneliness and sorrow seem to play into all of these theories, too.
Now the general idea is this:
As a widow I want your partner and I will take them from you by any means necessary. This is why I want your husband to help me with yard work and to fix my leaky sink. This is why I want him to help me paint the living room or to run some errands for me.
Your husband will be so eager to assist me because he is a good man and his natural instincts as a man tell him to help the grieving widow. He is a sensitive soul and loves you very much, but when he sees me in a desperate state he will try to console me, and I will take advantage of the situation. He will be completely innocent and protest against having relations with me, but I am a terrible woman with needs and he will be too weak against my powers of evil.
When it comes to widowers:
Widowers seem to have it easier when it comes to these myths. It seems to be commonly understood that whist they are grieving and showing a softer side of their being, married women are throwing themselves at their feet, essentially seducing a grief-stricken man who is completely innocent in the situation. Damn those bored and desperate housewives for corrupting that innocent widower!
OK, I admit it sounds funny and I’ve maybe written it slanted that way. But the myth really does seem to be out there.
No one has come out and declared that I am trying to steal their partners, but I have been asked a few questions related the myth by people who are curious about if it’s true because they’d heard similar stories (mostly the skin hunger part). I have also had the misfortune of overhearing conversations where concern was noted about my newly “available” status (they didn’t realise I was present at the time, and as I didn’t hear the entire conversation I’d like to think they were taking about a character from a soap opera). For the record: I am not available, I am grieving. And if I were available I would certainly not be interested in someone else’s partner.
If nothing else, this myth gives me a bit of a chuckle.