I never really knew my maternal grandmother. She died before I was five, and I can no longer separate what I remember from what I’ve been told. But I remember my maternal grandfather, a kind but faintly abstracted man who outlived her by seventeen years. He never remarried, although he could have easily enough, but, now that I’m a widower myself, I imagine that I understand why: he wasn’t unhappy, but after his wife of over forty years died, nothing seemed to matter much any more.
Those who lack his experience or mine might leap to the conclusion that my grandfather suffered from depression, and that I do as well. Even if they can make the empathic jump to the understanding that melancholy would be a more accurate description, they would still be prone to tell us to not give up hope, that we might still find someone else with whom to share our lives.
I don’t know about my grandfather, but I know that I haven’t entirely ruled out that possibility. However, what other people have a hard time comprehending is that I don’t particularly care if I do.
Still, let me try to explain: My attitude has nothing to do with grief. I am not telling myself that I’m staying faithful to the memory of partner, much less keeping a promise I made to her. If anything, she would have preferred me to find another relationship.
Nor do failing health, a reduced sex drive, or any of the other ready-made explanations that some people are no doubt preparing to categorize and dismiss me with relevant. If anything, I’m fitter today than I have been for over a decade, and as appreciative of good looking and intelligent women as I have been at any time since puberty.
Okay, I am reluctant to take up again the tired games that most men and women play with each other. I thought them demeaning the last time I was single, and I am even more contemptuous of them now. They seemed to be changing about the time I married, and one of the great social failings of our time is that to a large degree they changed back again.
I admit, too, that it is harder in middle-age to make time for someone else in my life now that I’m middle-aged. When I was a young adult, everything about my future was uncertain, not just who might become my partner in life. But today, how I earn my living and the pattern of my days is well-established, and I am much less inclined to change my routine to search for someone, let alone make to make changes to accommodate someone new coming into my life. I’m more settled than I was as a young adult, and I have far more of what I want.
Almost certainly, self-defense helps shape my attitude as well. When you think you know the pattern of the rest of your life and who will feature in it, then have those assumptions swept away, it is only natural to be wary of falling into such pleasant complacency again. The effort of rebuilding alone is enough to make my uneasy – suddenly reverting to a state I last endured in adolescence is not something I would care to do again. Once is more than enough to instill caution.
Yet all these are secondary. The main explanation is this:
Being married was the central part of my life in my youth and early middle age. I regret none of it, not even the bad times, because they were easier to struggle through in company. Nor is there a day that I don’t miss Trish. But I’ve had all that, which is more than most people can say, so I’m not greatly concerned if I don’t find it again. Almost certainly, the odds are against it.
In other words, being a widower has taught me stoicism. The ambitions that everyone has for themselves, the expectations they have for me and their advice on how they think I should spend my life simply aren’t important to me. I might still manage to do or say some worthwhile thing (although my own ambitions matters less than they once did, too), but whether I do or don’t, it doesn’t greatly matter – not even to me, except in the most abstract sense.
My present attitude is neither something I’m proud of, nor something I feel ashamed about. From habit, I try to step back and describe it as accurately as possible, but trying to change it? Why would I bother? In this attitude, I suspect, I am no different than my grandfather was, all those years ago.