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.)
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