"Sex and the GOW/WOW" is a topic I barely touched upon in my book, and for good reason. Most wives and girlfriends of widowers with whom I communicated while doing research for the book told me that they secretly bury their issues on this subject, feeling so embarrassed and/or ashamed of their fears, insecurities, and feelings that they found it difficult to even discuss them with me under a cloak of anonymity! WHAT a shock, especially in today's sexually enlightened society!
Shocking, yes - but understandable. As a happily married wife of a widower, I, too, have been loathe to personally discuss this topic for fear that I would be judged harshly, perhaps even thought of as a tad crazy. But the fact remains - there exists in our society a small segment of women who have battled or continue to battle things unseen…even in the bedroom.
When I met my previously widowed husband, his late wife had been deceased for over three years. However, he still resided in the house they had shared together during their 7 year long married life, complete with all of their furniture, pictures adorning the walls, and even her coats hanging in the foyer closet. It looked as though she had just stepped out to the grocery store, and not died prematurely and suddenly three years prior.
My first visit to his home was to be our first night of romance. However, I constantly felt "her" presence. The mementos of her that I faced during my visit were reminders that I was merely a guest and not "the lady of the house". The most chilling remnant of her life was, of course, their bedroom. I doubt that my macho husband had chosen the pink and white lace bedspread and matching curtains after she had passed, so it was a reminder to me that this was at one time HER domain, causing me to feel like a trespasser and an adulteress.
Needless to say, it was a tad intimidating to me as his new love interest. The bed itself represented not only a place where they once laid their heads in rest, but also the shrine of intimacy where they once spoke of dreams, shared their feelings for each other, and yes…made passionate love. How could I possibly even think of coupling in such a way with him on the very same bed where they climbed the heights of passion and intertwined their souls as happily married people do? With closet doors flung widely open, I could almost picture her in the neatly hung and pressed negligee's that draped their way casually from padded hangers there. It felt almost voyeuristic to me.
Their wedding picture and wedding invitation were displayed in gilded frames which hung in all their glory over the bed, as if to speak for her: "You're about to make it with MY husband - you hussy!" Of course, this was not the picture-perfect, romantic evening that I had dreamed of! Too many ghosts.
Her belongings, which produced images of her, were not the only windmills at which I tilted. There was also the issue of comparison. How would I measure up - sexually speaking - to a woman who knew my then-boyfriend so intimately? Considering the fact that they dated for a year before marrying, they collectively shared 8 years of a loving relationship. This gave them plenty of time to figure out how to please each other, to chart the roadmaps of each other's bodies, and to communicate to each other their deepest romantic desires. Foreplay would have been set in stone, each knowing what turned the other on, and the dance of sexual passion would have been played out in satisfying synchronization. Gulp! What a tough act to follow!
Of course, making love for the first time with a new love interest is always nerve-provoking. But as a new lover of a former widower, I had an eerie feeling that "she" was watching us, as if to make sure that I would not "best" her in the sexual arena. Add to that mixture an almost omnipresent feeling - one that nudges your competitive nature and makes you feel that you and your lover are not the only two people in the bed - and you have a recipe for insecurity and thoughts of failure before you even begin to take your clothes off!
When the lights were dimmed and our passion sparked, I almost forgot about "her"…until I turned my head to face my sweetheart, and found his eyes closed. I wondered if he was thinking of "her". With every one of his touches, I insecurely thought that he may be imagining my body as her body. I started to doubt his whispered words of love for me, and felt that he was pretending to say them to her. I wondered if all the grief information I had read was true - that perhaps he may have had feelings of guilt for "betraying" his late wife's memory. I was filled with confusion…and anger. I was NOT the kind of person who would be willing to SHARE my man with another woman.
Bolting from the bedroom, I suppose my sweetie thought I was insane. But we had shared enough time together in our relationship history to forge a firm foundation of trust in our relationship, so I finally blurted out the truth about my fears and anxieties. It was the beginning of a new understanding…and a new life of sexual fulfillment for us.
Eventually, her closet's contents were donated to charity and the wedding pictures stored away for safekeeping. Their bed was sold, as was their house, and we bought our own home and purchased our own bed. But until that time, we had sweet, romantic trysts in hotel rooms and other rooms of the house where the late wife's presence was not so overpowering for me, and we made our own beautiful sexual memories together, away from "her" watchful eye. With gentle reassurance, my husband guided me out of my fears and convinced me that he had never compared my sexual prowess to his late wife's. He confirmed to me that I was a wonderful lover, partner, and friend, so I began to feel more secure about myself and about our relationship.
After a time, the threat of the late wife's memory ceased to exist, and no longer haunted me or forced me to "out-do" her in the bedroom. The pink and white lace bedspread was replaced with and a royal-colored floral comforter that now graces the mattresses where my husband and I renew our intertwined spirits with passion and speak of our future plans. This is now MY domain, and I am now "the lady of THIS house", relegating the late wife to the role of the outsider …a stranger whom I accept my husband will always love, but one who no longer trespasses on our lives in our bedroom.
~~From the book "PAST: Perfect! PRESENT: Tense! Insights From One Woman's Journey As The Wife of a Widower" by Julie Donner Andersen. (Copyright 2002/2003 Julie Donner Andersen. All rights reserved. Reprints only by written permission of author.)