Someone sent me an article recently about how widows in America are perceived. The author concluded that we are lumped into two categories and they are – hold onto your hats – Grandma or Vixen. The “grandmas” are those who decide to throw their energies into kids and grandkids and – oh, I don’t know – knitting mittens and baking cookies and other things that our tiny minds ascribe to excellent grandmothering. They stop coloring their hair, stop fighting the wrinkles and embrace the wisdom and invisibility that comes with old age. The “vixens” are those who have decided it’s not too late for a second act. They take singles cruises, shop dating sites, invest in botox and aren’t often invited over to couple’s homes for dinner (I’m not making that up – turns out widowers are included far more often in couples’ events, since the women planning the events are not threatened by them.) (I’m also not criticizing the article – it wasn’t bad or accusatory.)
I know. You’re shocked by that grossly oversimplified compartmentalizing of an entire group of women. I was too. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that the heart of it is this: widowed women are generally perceived as either wanting to remarry or not wanting to remarry. In spite of the fact that the institution of marriage has taken a beating in the last few decades, it’s still a central focus in American society. We still love love and romance and weddings. We still subconsciously gauge someone’s happiness by their relationship status. Every time I go out to dinner with couples, I feel the weight of their sympathy at the end as I walk to my car alone. And the reason I think I feel it now that I’m single is because I remember feeling it towards others when I was married. We are a society obsessed with belonging to someone and we assume that most widows are focused primarily on the will I or won’t I question as well.
I certainly don’t speak for all widows on this subject, but I can give a little bit of insider information from those I’m privileged to know. While a few women in my circle have decided that remarriage is absolutely, positively not in the cards for them – now or ever – most have not made that decision. However, I also cannot name a single woman who is dead set on remarriage either. Because it’s so much more complex than that. The idea of marriage is different at this age and stage of life than it was the first time around. Couple of reasons for that:
- We’ve already done it and we know it’s pretty hard. Even those of us who were married to amazing men have very realistic views on the complexities of joining two lives together in holy matrimony.
- We have kids and families in the mix now. Part of what held Steve and I together during the seasons when marriage wasn’t fun was our shared love for the children we created together. It’s hard to imagine sharing a marriage with someone who doesn’t also share your love and commitment to your children. I know it isn’t impossible, it’s just hard to imagine from this vantage point. It’s also hard to envision the seamless mingling of two family entities.
- For widows my age and older, we just don’t need marriage for the same reasons we used to. There are definitely still reasons to want it, they’re just not the same as they were when we were twenty. When I married Steve, I was focused on the family we would create, the home we would build, the ministry we would share, the money we would save. Now, I have all those things, which means I’m making decisions through a different grid.
- We are afraid. We have endured the death of a beloved. In some cases, we cared for them through the long, treacherous process. The idea of loving to that degree again is all tangled up with the very real risk of losing that love again. And it’s almost impossible to consider surviving it again – at least it is for me.
So you can see why it’s a hard question to answer with a Yes or a No. And, I tell you what, I am asked this question a lot (or I wouldn’t waste blog space on it.) At first I was shocked that people asked – not offended, just shocked. Now I’m neither (though I am thankful no one has so far asked: Grandma or Vixen?) My answer – and I believe this would be reflective of many widows I’ve talked to – is this: I haven’t made a decision about the idea of remarriage and I don’t think I need to. The institution of marriage, in and of itself, will never be enough to overcome all the concerns I have enumerated above. However, the possibility exists that somewhere in this great big world is an actual person who could convince me to take a risk on love. Not yet. Maybe not ever. But also: maybe. Someday.
I do not kid you when I say I feel zero inclination to push my way forward on this or to spend any precious minutes worrying about it. I feel 100% peace in living and building this amazing life God has given me, while trusting Him with every person, project and possibility that exists in my future. I don’t want to disappear into grandma’ing, though I love it. I’m also not going to fight my age (except I still color my hair and I won’t apologize for it!) or live on the lookout for someone who will please, please love and validate me. I just want to live out every minute in an all-caps YES toward the plans God has for me and the days He’s already written for my life. And most widows I know are in the very same place. So maybe, in the final analysis, our categories are too weak to hold the weight of life’s complexities. Maybe we should just let widows be women. Regular, wonderful women who want to live and love well with the days they’ve been given. Wouldn’t that be a good start?