Sex and the Single Widow/er
Sex and widow are not words you often hear together. Bit of an oxymoron actually. And yet. It's been a dry spell, so maybe this topic is on my mind more than 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 my husband 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 my husband exactly, but to some unknown person who is just not there at the moment. I have love to give, but it has nowhere to go.
Wait, let me add that to my list above. I’ve wondered 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. My husband 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 it's the realization that sexual liaisons are not personal and it’s 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.
Sex in the long-term?
Hello, widowhood! OK, that’s on the list now too. I’m not sure I’m in the camp that believes that sex is more important than God. I’m 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’s possible. It's a fine balance. I do like feeling alive and human.
And we wonder why widows need so much chocolate…