The 60+ woman who is looking for a partner is likely to be a widow looking for a widower. Women have a longer life expectancy, and they tend to marry men older than themselves. In consequence of this age disparity, there are slightly more than 2½ single senior women for every available senior man.
If you are a widow or divorcee who is dating a widower, you probably know that because of these odds there’s a certain fragility to your pairing. Both of you may be working to move past attachments, disappointments, or grief, as well as the inevitable flood of memories that can impede progress toward mutual contentment. I say “working” because building a relationship is indeed hard work that must be shared by two. Nurturing a relationship is challenging at any age, but some hurdles to satisfaction are unique to 60-plus couples, especially when widowhood is involved. How to cope, grow, build trust, and come out a winner with a widowed senior man?
ALLOW HIM TO EMBRACE HIS PAST (AND EXPECT HIM TO DO THE SAME FOR YOU)
Allowing a man to talk about his loss will go a long way to building trust – such open conversations happen in healthy partnerships. A man’s loving memories of his late wife can actually make possible fresh and powerful feelings for you. Conventional wisdom has it that the best candidate for re-marriage is someone who’s been exceptionally happy – and fully in love – before. Why? Because such a person has the habit of loving and giving, and because he has opened his heart in the past.
HANDLE CHILDREN / SIBLINGS / FRIENDS WITH CARE
It may take time for his family and friends to accept you. They may worry you’ll be a replacement, and that his memories of his wife will fade. Sexual intimacy with you may seem to them like betrayal. Attitudes like these usually fade with time, but some offspring are never reconciled. They may actively work to destroy their father’s happiness. If you have given his children time and space to grieve and if you have behaved in their presence with respect and dignity, their failure to accept a new reality is not your fault. I hesitate to call this selfishness and / or narrowmindedness, but whatever it is, it’s a function of their character makeup. You can try to wait them out, but if he remains unwilling to defend you and the relationship you will never find contentment, because he will not be fully committed.
BE REASSURING WHEN SEX DISAPPOINTS
Senior men worry about loss of potency; senior women worry about losing their looks. When a man fails to perform as he’d like to, both partners lie awake worrying – he about losing his manhood, she about being insufficiently sexy. I don’t have to tell you how sensitive this situation is. It may be that a man is feeling guilty about sex with someone who is not his lost wife. It may be that he fears being compared to your previous lover. He may be out of practice and think he’s too old for sex (multiple studies show that men in their 80’s are doing just fine). Patience and understanding are important, but don’t overdo it by quoting Psychology Today articles about erectile dysfunction. If after several tries he is unable to maintain an erection, it may be that he should see a doctor (he won’t want to, and will need gentle encouragement). Meanwhile, joint counseling will help to convince you both that penetration is not the only means to achieve enjoyable sex.
BE FAIR (BUT NOT TOO FAIR) ABOUT CHERISHED MOMENTOS
Like you, he has cherished mementos. Many of these are tied to his life with his wife. Being sensitive to your widower’s need to have some of her things in his environment is important, but there are limits. Her favorite oil painting? Yes. Her cookbook collection? Yes. Her clothes and jewelry? No. And, believe it or not, more than one disappointed woman has complained to me that years (in one case a decade!) after losing his wife a man has unapologetically maintained a large framed portrait of a wife over the fireplace — or (worse) in the bedroom.
DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO HIS LOST WIFE
Comparisons are normal, unless they feed insecurities. Whatever your predecessor’s accomplishments were – a great cook, a community leader – it’s unnecessary and unwise to make comparisons. If you have good reason to suspect that he admires you for being a replica or clone of his late wife, you’re heading for hard times, and you may even have to decide he’s not the man for you. On the other hand, if he consistently demonstrates appreciation of your unique and special qualities, both of you benefit.
ACCOMMODATE GRIEF EPISODES, BUT SET BOUNDARIES (GRACEFULLY)
The anniversaries of her death, their wedding anniversary, her birthday, or special holidays may not be grief-free. When they are acknowledged with joyful memories, they can be healing. Trips to the cemetery can be made together, sharing whimsical stories about a former spouse or partner can be a natural part of conversation. Your partnership will be healthy when neither of you has to tiptoe around displays of grief or references to happy times with someone who is gone forever. I am speaking here of brief and temporary episodes, not constant references to the past with lost spouses.
BUILD A MEMORY BASE
Memories that are special only to the two of you will not obliterate previous remembrances, but they will be independent of them. Visit places neither of you have seen before. Shape holiday celebrations in a way that honors the past but incorporates the fresh approach. Sleep together on a new mattress. Enjoy ethnic cuisine neither of you have ever tried. Shared memories are the bedrock of a healthy, happy relationship. A memory base is the quickest and most effective way to turn the man you’re dating into the man you’re sharing your life with. Memories, as they grow in number, create a mutuality that is truly yours and his.