Both research and demographics confirm your observations. In a 1996 Annals of Clinical Psychiatry study of 249 widows and 101 widowers, 61 percent of men and 19 percent of women were remarried or in a romantic relationship by 25 months after a spouse’s death. (Younger widows were more likely to wed than older ones.) And the U.S. Bureau of the Census estimates that 10 times more widowers than widows find a new mate. One reason for the lopsided numbers is that fewer men are available as women age. The supposed “weaker sex” still tends to live longer than males, although the gap is narrowing. About 600,000 people lose their spouses every year, but only 200,000 (one-third) are men.
Many older widows also discover and enjoy new freedoms in their lives after a spouse’s death. For a 2001 article in Ageing & Society, researchers interviewed 25 widows and 26 widowers 65 and older in the U.K., who remained unattached two or more years. Widowers felt deprived by the loss of married life. But most widows appreciated the chance to be “selfish” and focus on their own wants and needs now that they were on their own. They were unwilling to swap these benefits for companionship plus the possibility of becoming caretakers later on.
Another issue is that widowers often lack the close friendships common among women, relationships that can help them buffer the loneliness of loss. Research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2004 found that widowers’ interest in dating or remarriage depended on the amount of social support men received from friends. Six months after the death of a spouse, men with low or only average support were more interested in remarriage than other widowers.
These findings help explain why some older widowers I know have carved out lives for themselves without the slightest interest in dating or remarriage. One has expanded an acquaintanceship with another man who lost his wife. They attend community center and theater events together, and frequently dine out. A second widower in another state takes classes that interest him at a local college and spends a great deal of time with children and grandchildren.
Greater psychological well-being for both sexes is associated with remarriage and other romantic relationships. But some thrive on other paths.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist,author — and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is Ill,What Do You Say When and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons, Peter Paul Rubens