2.09.2010

My Response to the Today Show, Part 1: The Baggage of Surviving a Happy Marriage
















A young widowed friend of mine, Brenda Boitson, recently called in a question about dating as a widow to the Panel of Men who give women advice about men on the Today Show. The video is online if you wish to view about four minutes of embarrassingly shallow behavior, starting with “Why? We don’t want to become your next victim.” You’ll see that the response of this small group of 6 people illustrates the problem the stigma of loss brings to any social situation, without shedding much light on Brenda’s question of what to do about it.

First of all, I have to point out that the “next victim” comment, which annoyed so many viewers, is actually a prime cliché (it’s not meaty enough to be called a joke) and can be a little funny in the right situation. I use it. If I’d been the one calling in instead of Brenda, I might have said, “Dudes, why y’all afraid of widows? It’s not like I killed him.” I’m sure, in fact, that I did use that line sometimes. Possibly even in bed.

We widows are pretty used to feeling like we have cooties, and expressing this jokelet on our own time can cast folks’ hidden, negative thoughts in such a ridiculous light that it neutralizes the social situation.

Yes, it was a horrendous comment in the context of Today, and it may have hurt Brenda’s feelings (doesn’t sound like it), but mostly it just exposed panelist Chuck Nice as a man of weak humor and low maturity. (Later in the show he’d helpfully point out that he’s also shallow and not a very thoughtful husband). I’m not used to the low standards of morning television, but I’d have expected the producers of a national show to prepare the men (I can’t say “gentlemen”) better for her call.

Second, the responses of all the folks on stage can teach us something about why people have such a hard time dating, or rather, why it’s so easy for them to date and so hard to find a partner and live happily ever after.

Third, I have some words for Kathie Lee Gifford, whose incessant giggling is the prime irritant in that segment. I’d like to be constructive and compassionate even though she was neither. But I’ll make that a separate post.

So what can the response of these “boys” (not men) to Brenda’s question tell us? Their laughter and avoiding the question says they are scared of death and feel threatened that it would hit someone in their age cohort. (If you’ve faced a loss, you already knew that). Their words tell us that people who date are perfectly comfortable dealing with divorce. Above all, it demonstrates why marriages don’t work out and then the same people date and date and date: they have no fricking idea that they are looking for the wrong things.

Because here’s the thing: Everyone says widows have baggage. But by the time we’re ready to date, most widows and widowers have learned to stow it neatly under the back of the seat in front of them.

By age 40, everyone has some kind of “baggage.” (Often, it’s a code word for “kids.”)

Maybe a widow has the baggage of having fulfilled her vows, “till death do us part.” If she feels cheated, she’s likely to blame God for it. And we have some contempt for the polite world’s denial of death because we know everyone will go through loss sooner or later. We just had it happen earlier, when we were young and had many responsibilities.

As a widow, I often felt that if believing in your own mortality was “baggage,” I didn’t want to exist without it. After all, no one gets out of this life alive.

Divorced people enter the dating world working hard to get over their strong sense that they gave everything and in return, were rejected. The men’s ads often say “seeking an independent woman” and the women’s ads say “Looking for a man who MEANS WHAT HE SAYS.” Read between the lines and you’ll find that he felt milked by the divorce and she couldn’t get over a cheating episode. Sometimes the roles are reversed, but divorced folks feel BURNED.

If you haven’t lost a love you’ll think we’re crass and brutal, but every widow I know has said this statement: MY husband didn’t WANT to leave.

Don’t get me wrong. I love divorced people. I married one. But if you think I have more baggage from losing my husband than he has from losing his wife’s affections AND his children – you’re wrong.

Widows argue that we had good marriages, but they ended as we pledged they would. We’ve been through tough stuff too and we figured out how to stay together. While we may not be ready to get hitched again, as daters, we’re arguably the only ones on the field with great track records. I remember thinking: I had one good marriage, I can have another if I like. I know how to make it work.

So here’s what’s wrong with their response to Brenda: the expert daters were framing all the questions wrong. (Not their fault; everyone does).

If you are looking for a good partner, you should date someone who was a good partner. If you want to marry, date women who think marriage is a good thing and who are able to be fulfilled within the institution. If you want to be treated well, date women and men who expect to be treated with respect and who view you as a potential commitment.

Yeah, death sucks, but if it’s baggage, you still have to accept it. After all, why else do you date, if not because you don’t want to die alone?

(Go to part 2, an open letter to Kathie Lee Gifford.)

* * * Comments * * *

17 comments:

letterstoelias said...

Hey Supa,

You totally need to send this letter to those goofballs on the Today show . . .

You are absolutely right, that widows/widowers would be a great choice based on our track records - as well as our ability to let small stuff ride and live in the moment a little more often too.

You can also clearly see that their male egos were threatened by the fact that they would be 'competing with a ghost' - not that I'm ready to date again myself, but I've often figured that, if/when ready, I would have to find a man confident enough in himself to not be insecure about my past relationship - these guys proved that.

And, yeah. Kathie Lee Gifford. Are you kidding me???

~C~

Sara said...

Thank you!!!! I started to write a blog post on it, but couldn't get it to say what I wanted to say. Weird. You nailed down my sentiments very well. Can't wait to read your letter to Kathie Lee.
Sara

Alicia said...

Excellent!

Split-Second Single Father said...

You've hit the proverbial nail on the head once again Supa. The only man who seemed to have a respectful handle on the situation was the one in the purple shirt and his comments were overshadowed by the shallow likes of Kathie Lee and Chuck Nice. Thanks for putting into words what so many of us widow/ers think and feel and for helping to educate those who have not yet been in our shoes.

Anne said...

Thanks for posting this. I was appalled by the lack of sensitivity in the video. I've been pretty lucky, I haven't really found anyone very uncomfortable with my marital status (widow), unless they have been and didn't express it. I have, however, found a disconnect with dating because my experiences with marriage have been positive, while some people have been very hurt. I agree that widows have LESS baggage. Maybe we just have a different viewpoint since we've been through the experience. Unfortunately, sometimes it's the most difficult situations in life that teach you the most lessons.

Andrew "Fry Guy" Fried said...

Supa,
Very well put. I watched a little of that episode, because I knew Brenda was going to be calling in, but couldn't stomach listening to either the idiot boys talking about their ideas on relationships or the inane ramblings of the "hosts."
It is really too bad that there is the stigma that widows - and widowers, although I think it is more acute for widows - have more "baggage" than divorcees or single people who have been in and out of relationships for their whole lives for that matter. As you said, and I agree with 100%, widows/widowers (for the most part) know what a good relationship is and rather than being shunned for "baggage" should be seen as people, when they are ready, who can recognize that good relationship again.
From what I watched, that show, the hosts, and the boys they had to represent men, was a pathetic display of ignorance, false machismo, and fear - fear of the reality that we widows and widowers represent. I hope you'll remember that not all men are such children about women and relationships, and that anyone who watched it doesn't adopt their irrational worries about widows and widowers.

Keep well and sorry for the somewhat rambling comment.

Andrew

Widow in the Middle said...

Thanks for posting about this. Because I don't watch much t.v., I would have totally missed this. It was worth watching just for the peculiar behavior of Kathie Lee and her bizarre laughter!

Anyway, I think that the insensitivity/ignorance/immaturity demonstrated in this situation was worth it. It appears the clip is getting some attention and feedback, even upsetting people out there. So that is bringing more attention to this issue than would have resulted if the guys had responded in a normal or more expected way.

I really believe that some good and growth will come out of this in the future!

Craig Waterman said...

Supa,

As always I find your thoughts well put together and generally on the mark. Perhaps a few others though.

First, I don't know what Brenda expected from the "man panel", but I am a little afraid this is a case of bashing on stupid people. Maybe I have always experience most of the world as kinda dumb, and don't really feel a grand need to point that out. It is true that (as you say) "their laughter and avoiding the question says they are scared of death and feel threatened that it would hit someone in their age cohort."

The only thing is, I am not sure this is entirely there fault. I think they saw themselves as representing STEREOTYPICAL male opinions, and I think they did that (perhaps frustratingly so, being as a general rule unimpressed with my gender.) If the question was how do you not scare off guys, I think the advice of not have it be the first thing you say is a reasonable one. Maybe this shouldn't be the case, but I don't generally look towards the Today Show for social change.

When I have dated, I mention early that I am a widow, but generally don't talk about it a lot at first. After a person gets more comfortable we might talk about it more. I don't censor my comments about Elizabeth. "Oh you like to knit, my wife did that a lot too." However, I think I have to make sure and give people a chance to hear it and digest it before it really hits them. I know my first reaction would to learning it would have been kinda off-putting to a strange. The death of my wife is a seriously intense thing, and I want to create a safe space for someone to really experience that. There are many reasonable people out there, and while it is hard to find them, I think this is often the case for everyone, and not just widows, since everyone's definition of "reasonable" is quite different.

I feel like I have learned a great deal from being a widow, and much of this is as much a gift as baggage. And I have enjoyed sharing those gifts with people when they have a chance to adjust and listen.

Star said...

I agree with you. I kept my promise. I was faithful and a good wife. Albeit for six months, but I am one of the only women in my family that kept her vows. I should be honored not outcast.

Love your blog!

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Chelsea, Sara, Alicia, 3SF, WITM, Star: thanks for your comments!

Anne, Yeah, I think that’s the key point: we had good associations with marriage, which is really different from the others in the dating pool at, say, 40.

Andrew, I certainly hold NONE of it against men in general. I LOVED the men that I met when I was dating and wondered where they’d been all my life – at least, the last time I was available. Of the men who were interested in me – a small and I’m sure, skewed, sampling – they were smart, considerate, sexy, responsible… whether the change has been in me, in men in general, or in the world (or more likely all 3), I found folks who I’d be proud to call my friends.

Craig, of course, in a way you’re right: picking on these guys is like shooting fish in a barrel. In general, I can’t stand shows like TODAY because they represent such a low level of discourse. I really do wonder why the group was not better prepared, given that all the comments had been vetted, but then, it’s not my business if they choose to run the show poorly or to favor lowest-common-denominator reactions.

I thought a LOT of their advice was pretty bad, and couldn’t believe Kathie Lee Gifford was clucking about how a wife should leave a cheating husband. She didn’t! (And in her case, I think she made the right call.)

But I do consider the popular image of widows and widowers decent fodder, and potentially illuminating. If I didn’t succeed, that’s just bad rhetoric on my part, I still think this video clip can be interepreted in some ways to shed light and make the world better. Not that I am right about how that might happen… but I do keep trying in my own way.

I agree, for sure, that we must be careful how we present our widowhood to folks we aim to impress, especially if we have little background on their own experiences. I love the way you describe discussing it, which I think is similar to where I got after some trial and error. We all have our own learning curves! I think Brenda is savvy about how she presents it, but it’s still a good question: widowhood, for us, is also just a factual answer to “what is your marital status,” such a basic question, met in so many situations. I wanted to focus the post as much as I could (ha, maybe?) so I didn’t include my discussion. Maybe another post? Maybe too boring?

Inspiring outrage is a good way to get like-minded folks pointing in the same direction. OTOH, outrage is a crappy way to start a date.

As I mentioned to Andrew, I really like men, and didn’t find their responses to my widowhood stereotypically bad. If anything, Match helped me screen: I said “widowed” up front, and if it freaked them out, I never heard from them (or back from them). Others, like Abby Carter, have concealed “marital history” and found it was like dropping a bomb. I don’t have the courage to live through this experience.

Also, as you’ll see in my next post, I felt I could share something unique about May-December relationships and widowhood with Kathie Lee Gifford, so I hope that part of the discussion helps her, or someone else.

Hope this (additional) hot air helps justify my (previous bursts of) hot air because I respect your opinion a lot. If not, hope it doesn't seem to close off the conversation.

Thanks for reading and commenting,

X

Supa

Abigail said...

Very beautifully said.

I might also add one of the stigmas that widow/ers must endure which is that proverbial "you're still in love with your dead spouse" misconception. It becomes a very handy way out on both sides, and one that seems particularly difficult to shake.

PattyB said...

As the daughter of a widower I have some advice for dating as a widow: Date other widows. Easier said than done, the pool is only so big, but I fully agree that you folks are the best deal on the dating market, and don't you want a good deal as much as the rest of us? As widows you may recognize the value of a good deal better than folks who haven't had a successful relationship.

My Dad had a good relationship with my Mom and the divorced women he's dated have been *really* threatened by his lack of baggage. They search pretty hard to find baggage to match their own.

GF1: "I don't think your father has truly mourned the way he needs to, that's why he doesn't clean, he wants her to come back and do the cleaning."
Me: "No, he cleans ineffectively every week, he just didn't know that vacuum cleaners have bags."

GF2: "He maintains that house as a museum to your mother, that's why he won't let me change anything."
Me: "Actually we kids have rearranged most of the house several times since she died, and the last GF rearranged or replaced every item in the kitchen, he just likes the living room couch [i.e. what you were trying to change] on that wall."

GF3: "Your father won't let me paint [decorative flowers on various pieces of furniture] because your mother didn't paint them, he wants to keep everything exactly as it was when she died."
Me: Something polite or non-commital that stood in for "That's because he doesn't like your flower paintings and doesn't want them all over his house, plus you don't just paint flowers all over antique furniture, and in this case, yes, he wants to keep it in the condition it was when she died, the furniture's been in my Mom's family for four generations, and he feels some responsibility to get it to generations 5 and 6 without decoupaged looking pansies!"

I could go on, but then, I think I have gone on long enough.
As a contrast, at my grandmother's memorial service, her boyfriend referred to their relationship as "a reprise of their wildly successful marriages," which was quite wonderful and mirrors what I've seen in other widow-widow relationships.

Anyway, I think the guys on this panel really reminded me of my Dad's girlfriends. They talked about being afraid of the widow's baggage: Death is scary, so you must have baggage, therefor all problems in any relationship you have must stem from your widowed status, then no one else (i.e. non widows, like the guys on the panel) ever has to have any blame. I think the real threat felt by the non-widow dating a widow is not the loss that the other person has suffered (though that's totally the threat bringing giggles to KLG) but the fact that the widow has succeeded where the other person has failed.

Maybe you don't have to date other widows - just make sure you date someone who recognizes what a good deal you're lack of baggage is.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

PattyB, GREAT stories. I LOVE the idea that divorced people are desperately shopping for folks with matching baggage. I think we all are, in a way, what a way to look at it, though.
Thanks for your awesome comment!
Supa

Anonymous said...

I am dating a divorcee,' and am fully aware that there is a ton of baggage involved on her end. It seems that the baggage that I have, that I am worried about her accepting is the things that my late wife put up with, because she didn't know about them when we got married, and we went through a "honeymoon period." I didn't realize they would bother anybody, of course, because I was a 20-something. Also, the habits and things I picked up along the way during our marriage that she tolerated, that I know she didn't really love. Now, with a fresh marriage, I wouldn't have to reveal these things, because I could claim ignorance that these could annoy. Now, I feel obligated to tell my gf everything that irritated my LW, so she can decide if any of them, or the sum of them, are dealbreakers for her. I look at myself now, and wonder how my LW could have loved me so much. I see how in years of marriage you can develop a love deep enough that you can overlook many faults. How can you do that at the beginning of a second marriage?

The baggage I have is the knowledge of my faults. That may be the worst baggage of all when it comes to attracting a new mate.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Hang on.
You're calling "not being perfect" baggage? I don't think anyone's perfect, even if we all would LIKE to be. We ALL have annoying habits.

And self-knowledge is DEFINITELY not baggage.

Consider your baggage a treasure chest and see if that helps.

(Sorry to be simplistic. I'm in a mood today. Thanks for sharing your story and good for you for being "out there!")

You might enjoy meeting Abel Keogh: http://www.abelkeogh.com/blog/

bisected soul said...

Hello,
Thank you for a really helpful blog.
I just wanted to add my experiences here. I have only been back on the dating scene for a few months, but I haven't received any negative feedback over my widow status. In fact, I seem to be getting better responses from guys than I used to get back before I was married. I am using online dating sites and put a paragraph in the profile about my loss and how I've grown from it.

I think I'm getting very positive responses. In fact, I did get a few who indicated that they saw me as someone who wouldn't be as jaded and bitter about the dating scene! Apparently, a lot of people in their 30's are serial daters. A couple of guys indicated that they saw me as someone who wasn't like that.

I thought I'd let you all know, it's not all bad out there :)

Maybe just stay clear of Today Show viewers and you'll be fine :P

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Hi Bisected,
Yes, my experiences were positive, like yours. I do think stating it up front and not being defensive, having a strong and positive attitude about it, helped frame things correctly and screen out the ones who would be uncomfortable.
I'm looking your blog up now!
Best,
Supa

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