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WHY MANY SAY "I DO' AGAIN
by Dr. Eleanor Hamilton
In a recent column I asked the question, "Do older widows seek remarriage?" And the answer was that most do not. They welcome lovers but value the freedom to pursue individual interests without the constraints of marriage. What about older widowers, men in their sixties and seventies? How do they feel about remarriage?
By the time a man has reached the age of 60 or so, he has usually achieved whatever material success he has striven a lifetime for. Economically, he belongs to the most secure segment of our society.
Yet he has probably not developed an intimate relationship with anyone other than his wife. His men friends may have been buddies with whom he could play golf or share a hand of poker or attend a men's service club meeting, but it is unlikely that he has had the comfort of real intimacy with a friend.
Even with his wife he may not have dared to share his deepest feelings. When she dies, he feels lost and disoriented and may also suffer a growing fear of his ability to be a virile sexual partner to anyone. Then he not only experiences great loneliness but begins to ask himself, "Who will take care of me if I become ill? Who will care deeply about my well-being? With whom can I open up my heart's longings?"
This is the point at which men who have developed resilience and flexibility in their lives have a distinct advantage over men who had led conventionally restrained lives.
Resilient men have already had long experience in accepting challenges and trying out new solutions to problems. After a period of grieving the death of a beloved wife, they may plunge themselves into some new and absorbing activity. Or they may devote themselves to a pursuit they have always dreamed of but couldn't indulge in while young and carrying the responsibilities of a young family.
For a while these resilient and resourceful men may keep themselves feeling alive and vital as they go about their new enterprises. But the time soon comes when they long for the intimacies that they realize will exist for them only in a marriage or a committed relationship.
At that time they begin to look for a younger woman as a possible marital partner. Rarely do they look to older women for this role. As one man said to me, " I don't want to go through again the agony I suffered when I nursed my wife through the last days of cancer. I want someone who is young and healthy enough to nurse me if I get sick."
The interesting thing is that such a man soon discovers that he wants more than the revitalizing effects of an affair. He wants love and the stability of marriage. He wants to know, deep in his soul, that there is someone "there" for him.
Furthermore, he may now feel released enough from the financial burdens of his life to enter into a more playful and adventurous relationship with a woman. He has leisure and resources and he wants a loving wife to enjoy these with.
His sex life may also take on a new dimension as he gives up the compulsion to insist on penile penetration for amorous satisfaction and learns to accept and enjoy caressing initiated by his wife. Their love-making may reassure him that he doesn't have to "get it up" to please either himself or his partner, nor will he be diminished in her eyes or his own.
But what about the older widower who is "stuck" in his ways? When such a man loses his wife, he tends to cling to his old routines and stays huddled in his home rather than reaching out into the world for new challenges.
Statistics indicate that these men die within a very short time of their wife's demise. They become more and more depressed, more and more vulnerable to illness, until at last they feel that there is nothing left to live for, so they simply give up the ghost and die.
Today the lives of men are eight years less than those of women. Identifiable factors in this discrepancy may be the rigid upbringing of boys to repress all expression of feeling, the compulsion laid on young men to engage in life-threatening exploits, and the pressure on adult men to be monetarily successful. All of these factors increase tension and lack of resiliency when a disaster strikes.
About the author: Dr. Hamilton, a retired psychologist and sex therapist, is the author of five books and a recipient of the American Library Association award. Her television appearances include "The Phil Donahue Show," "The Merv Griffin Show," and "The Tonight Show."