Sex and the Single Widow/er

Its my birthday and I can write what I want to…

“Sex” and “widow” are not words you often hear together. Bit of an oxymoron actually. And yet. Its been a dry spell, so maybe this topic is on my mind more that it ought to be. I am pretty certain there is an interesting link here. I have come up with a bunch of reasons why sex would play a large role in a widow/er’s life:

  • Replace lost intimacy
  • Feel alive
  • Stave off loneliness
  • Be touched
  • Feel comforted
  • As a way of giving love that no longer has a place to go
  • Rediscovering oneself after a long marriage
  • A release of sexual repression
  • A form of spirituality
  • Overcome separateness

In my experience, and judging from some conversations I’ve had with other widow/ers, sex often becomes a large part of one’s recovery. In fact, widow/ers seem to have a kind of “wild stage” where getting laid takes on greater importance than it has since they were newlyweds. I know that I personally discovered an entirely new side of myself – a sexual side AFTER Arron died. I threw myself into the act, surrendering in a sense, to what? Life maybe? A sort of “I choose life!” kind of declaration? I became ravenous. It was surprising and unsettling. It felt unseemly and I felt guilty that I had become something that I had not been in my marriage. Yet it was comforting – a perfect grief-relieving mechanism.

Being single after 9 years was not my plan. I figured I would start dating a couple of years after my loss, and probably be married by year 5 or so. I still go to sleep every night with the words “I love you” in my head, not directed at Arron exactly, but to some unknown person who is just not there at the moment. I have love to give, but it has no where to go. Wait, let me add that to my list above. I have wondering if sex might have something to do with my singledom.

OK, that brings me to self love. I have a very good friend, Mr. Hitachi. He’s not exactly quiet in bed, but effective and quick. With a little hit of dark chocolate after lunch I can get by. For a while. Arron used to think the act of self love was cute, and thought it was funny if I “diddled” (his word), and so I became incredibly self-conscious about it, and rarely did it. Married sex had become an act of extreme infrequency (surprise!). It was only after I was widowed that I discovered this new side of myself – My repressions had been released through my loss. Perhaps that is common. K, that’s going on the list too.

And then there are the relationships. How many have I entered inappropriately, more for physical satisfaction than for emotional? Is this a widow’s curse? or the curse of anyone who has lost? A divorcee’s curse then too? I worry constantly that I am looking for relationships in all the wrong places, doing things I might not normally do because I am trying to fill this hole with sand instead of good soil. Sexuality is our most human attribute, our most base instinct, and instinct is how one lives during crisis which is why, I assume, sex and widowhood are inextricably linked.

Finally, there is the spiritual element to sexuality. There is a whole school of thought out there that finds the whole sexual act is akin to getting closer to God. But spiritually is where I think the whole need for sexuality falls down. Spiritually, the need for sex is distracting, and in relationships becomes complicated.  One that has certainly appeared in some of my own relationships once the intensity of the romantic/sexual relationship subsided. Perhaps its the realization that sexual liaisons are not personal and it is difficult to derive a true sense of connectedness with another person through just sex. I found this quote in an interesting essay written by Andrew Cohen about the link between sex and spirituality:

Sex is in fact the sacred cow, the ultimate importance of which we rarely dare to question because we fear that, if we discover that it was not what we imagined it to be, there would be nothing left, no final refuge from the misery and torment of almost unending existential doubt.

Do we really fear we would become nothing without sex? In another interesting article on the relationship between sex and spirituality, I found this quote:

Psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in The Art of Loving that the basis for our need to love lies in the experience of separateness and the resulting need to overcome the anxiety of separateness by the experience of union.

Hello widowhood! OK, that’s on the list now too.

I am not sure I am in the camp that believes the sex is more important than God. I am beginning to see Andrew Cohen’s point that sex is a delusion which indeed bears some weight. The impulse sex offers is rarely fulfilling in the long term. I am not going to become celibate anytime soon, but I am learning to temper my wild thang, control it, if that is possible. Its a fine balance. I do like feeling alive and human.

And we wonder why as widows we need chocolate…

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17 Comments

  1. Jackie   •  

    Again, Abby. Nail on the head! Thank you, my friend. You help me more than you know. xoxox

  2. Cathy   •  

    workshop next year? Okay Dr. Ruth..I mean Dr. Abby.
    Happy Birthday dear woman!

  3. Andrea   •  

    I relate 110% to this, and I also feel guilty even though I know I shouldn’t. Amazing timing for this post… It’s like you wrote it for me! Thank you – I needed some perspective. xoxo

  4. BigLittleWolf   •  

    Every word of this could be applied to those who have divorced – right down to the assumption that by year 5 we’d be married, the many aspects to a sexual relationship, and the need to feel alive and human.

    Perhaps the only caveat is the stigma (and assumptions) around divorce (and the aggravations of an unfriendly ex) – rather than the stigma (and assumptions) around widowhood.

    Perhaps we all need chocolate, and have far more in common than we realize.

    A beautiful, honest piece. (And happy birthday.)

    • Abby Carter   •  

      i have always found there to be more similarities than differences between widows and divorcees. Loss is loss.
      Thanks for the comment.

  5. won   •  

    It’s not been the curse of this woman who’s lost. Quite the opposite. I lost my daughter almost six years ago. There’s been one adult encounter since.

    I think I just don’t feel lovable, or that I could give that part of myself away and get hurt again. I’d rather be alone than risk that.

    At least alone is something I can control.

  6. Jessica   •  

    Thank you for this post. I’m 7 weeks out (today). I was in the middle of a divorce when my husband died unexpectedly. I feel that I can relate to both and neither at the same time – except when it comes to this topic. Luckily (in some ways) I was already dating when my husband passed, it allowed me to have intimacy during the hardest time of my life. THANK YOU for making me feel a little better about turning into a sex-fiend AFTER my husband is gone.

    Oh the sick ironies.

    THANK YOU!

  7. Kristine   •  

    Wow, so much wisdom in such a concise, revelatory and compelling post. Where were you 20 years ago when I was widowed????!! But, I believe your experience is applicable to divorce as well as widowhood…. thank you for sharing this!

  8. Pfeeney   •  

    I can’t thank you enough for “normalizing” what I thought was my irrational need for sex after the sudden loss of my soulmate/best friend/sexiest man alive..husband!

    Two months after he died I was desperate to make passionate love to just about anyone that fit my physical criteria..yet, at the same time, I could not even bear to move my husbands coffee cup from the last spot he had left it before leaving for work the day he died (from a brain aneurysm).

    All practical and rational thinking goes out the window for many of us that have lost the love of our lives.

    Thank you again for making me feel less crazy in unbelively difficult time.

    • Abigail   •     Author

      Glad my post was helpful. It does feel frightening when your body sort of takes over trying to make you feel better. It even works for a little while. My advice is to put guilt away and just acknowledge the feelings and know they are all normal.

  9. Frances   •  

    starving for life and passion, I prepare for the possibility of love and lust with another man again. But my dream world is dark and confused, guilt ridden, why do I get to feel pleasure when he is so dead? Daytime rationality and trite comments telling myself “I must go on” dissolve in the semi-conscious night where disturbing dreams awaken me and I am alone, except for the calico cat.

  10. Celia   •  

    “I have love to give but it has nowhere to go.” Yes, you did indeed nail it.

  11. will   •  

    Thanks – my wife passed away suddenly just 3 months ago and I have thought it odd that my sex drive is on overdrive. Even after 25 years together we had a great sex life and my body has been very aware of what I am missing. Widow/er related sites seem to treat this as a taboo subject with no open admission / discussion like this one so I’m glad to see I’m not the only one whose passion has not died with their spouse.

    • Abigail   •     Author

      Will,

      Yes, it is a weird phenomenon isn’t it? But very normal from my observations. But it can make you kind of crazy.

      Sorry to hear about your wife. Such a difficult path you are on, but it can be rewarding in many ways if you allow it to be.

      Best wishes for the New Year.
      Abby

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