Women who date widowers are sometimes stunned when an actively grieving man presses eagerly for sex. Our culture mandates no "correct" grieving process, and grieving is unique to every individual, but most experts agree that men and women mourn in different ways. Women are less likely than men to seek comfort in sex while grief endures, says a writer at hellogrief.org, citing one reason why a women who is dating a widower "might be amazed that he wants to make love to you."
Silent brooding, isolation, and even anger are stock elements of male behavior, while women tend to "talk it out" with close friends. Support systems are emblematic of the female experience; men do not cultivate support structures in the same way women do.
Does a man's brooding brand of anguish turn too soon to a quest for companionship and (ultimately) sex? Sociologist Katherine van Wormer suggests that a widower may find that sex can be an effective panacea. Because it is an intense experience, sex is one of few activities with inherent power to offset the terrible pain of loss. Denial of loss is a common thread in the grieving process, says van Wormer, recalling the Freudian-based idea that sex can be "a screen for terror."
Author and blogger Mark Liebenow does not dismiss the idea of sex as escape, or even as self-therapy, though he says, "this wasn't my experience." He agrees that forceful behavior can help a man cope with losing someone dear.
"Sex in the early, raw stages of grief might be more of a distraction, a momentary pleasure," he says. "In my first months all my senses were either shut down or numb, so to start dating and risk falling in love, with the possibility of losing someone else dear to me, was just too much."
Liebenow writes of his solo hiking in Yosemite, going through territory inhabited by bears, rattlesnakes, and mountain lions. "I think that that might be way up there in terms of intensity, especially when I took additional risks and accidental death was a possibility."
Abel Keogh, author of The Ultimate Dating Guide for Widowers, believes that a widower's impulse to find someone new is ultimately sex-related. "When it comes to sex," he writes, "most widowers find themselves in a tough spot. When their wife passed on, so did regular sex. The desire for sex is one of the reasons widowers start dating again."
The search for a new partner is not without complications, including what Dr. Walter M. Bortz calls "widowers' syndrome." Guilt about experiencing pleasure without his wife, or even the fear that his deceased wife is "watching," has prevented many a man's erection.
At the opposite extreme is a kind of sexual restlessness, which motivates men to score multiple encounters with no thought of commitment. The Internet is awash with the plaints of women who discovered too late that their hopeful couplings with widowers were mere temporary trysts with men unable to move on. Often the awakening comes when a man's photo-laden, memento-stuffed bedroom is revealed as a shrine to the departed wife. "Call me old fashioned," wrote one woman to blogger Abel Keogh, "but I'm not into threesomes."
Recently I posed the question of sex as therapy, distraction, or denial to a friend who was widowed some years ago at the age of 57. He seemed surprised at the question. "A man's grief doesn't mean he stops thinking like a man," he said. "Sex is -- what we do."
Sienna Jae Fein blogs at www.datingseniormen.com