Grief and the Double Standard of Love

It seems as if our whole culture revolves around and reveres couplehood. Most songs, novels, movies, are either about people looking for someone, finding someone, losing someone, or getting a second chance at love. A large percentage of non-fiction books are written to help people find a mate or help them stay mated. Hundreds of websites are devoted to matching people with their true love or a reasonable facsimile. Many holidays are geared toward love — Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, kissing your love at midnight on New Year’s day.

Clichés about love abound, mostly because they are true (or feel true). When you meet the right person, your life suddenly make sense. Whatever has been missing now is found. Love fulfills you. Love makes the world go round. All you need is him/her. Love is all that matters. Two hearts beating as one. Soul mates. Everlasting love.

It’s so inbred in us, this need for true love, that few people question it. In movies (and maybe even life) when someone has an affair and ends their marriage to be with the new love, all they ever feel the need to say is, “I fell in love,” and that explains everything.

But . . .

When you lose your one true love to death, all of a sudden you are supposed to be able to slough it off as if love didn’t matter, and go on with your life. Everyone else is celebrating their love, but you are supposed to accept that yours is over and you are supposed to have a good attitude so you inconvenience others as little as possible.

This double standard is hard to deal with. Not only do we bereft have to contend with the effects of suddenly being deprived of love, companionship, fulfillment, not only do we have to contend with being alone in a coupled world, we have to deal with our culture’s belief that love is all important. Other people can continue to have the benefits of a living love, but somehow we bereft are supposed to be able to make do with memories.

My life mate/soul mate and I didn’t have an easy life, in large part because of his illness and other setbacks beyond our control, but like most couples, we hoped for a payoff sometime in our golden years, and his death killed our hopes.

I’m finally to the point where seeing couples doesn’t bother me, but for many months, just the sight of two people, middle-aged or older, holding hands brought me to tears. I realize some people never find anyone to love, but others have been married for forty, fifty, even sixty years. I try not to compare, try to accept my situation, but the truth is he was my home, and now I am homeless. When I was with him, I had a sense of belonging, but now I belong nowhere, especially not in this coupled world.

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9 Responses to “Grief and the Double Standard of Love”

  1. Holly Bonville Says:

    Seeing couples and families still bothers me.

  2. Malene Says:

    My goodness, Pat, you say it all so well. I read your blog posts about this topic and invariably find myself agreeing. Often, I have to fight a strong urge to forward them to my friends as a way of trying to explain to them what this horrible experience is like.

    I thank you!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I wish I didn’t have to go through this experience, wish none of us did, but I’m glad I developed the ability to write about what I’m feeling. Grief is lonely enough without thinking that no one understands, and I do. Mostly.

  3. Joy Collins Says:

    It still bothers me, too. I HATE the Cialis commercials. Yes, they are goofy anyway but it bothers me to see the depiction of people in love. I can’t walk past the men’s counters in department stores without getting upset.
    In fact, I wrote about this in my blog the other day too. It’s very hard to be a bereft in a coupled world. I don’t like to refer to myself as single because I don’t see myself that way. I am not looking for another mate and identifying myself as single, in my mind, implies that.
    But I found myself invited to a group dinner last week and I was the only person there without a spouse. Number 13. Odd woman out. Everyone was very nice to me. These were people John and I had socialized with for years before so it was not a new situation in that respect. But it was uncomfortable in that I was not going home with my Love as before. And his absence was more acute during dinner as I looked around at everyone and wished with all my heart that John was with me.
    I HAVE a soul mate. He is just on another plane. But it hurts to see people together for so many years in their marriage and ours was cut short.
    And you’re right, Pat. Our entire culture is geared toward coupling yet when someone is suddenly without their mate through death, society expects us to just “move on”. As if it was just a small thing. Like losing a coat or misplacing your keys.
    Not me. Not ever.
    They’ve even now coined a new phrase for us who mourn “too long”. Complicated grief.
    Is there a simple grief? What does that look like? Ad what constitutes “too long”? Is there a secret mathematical formula? Years together divided by length of separation?
    Give me a break. Walk in my shoes for a while and get back to me. Tell me how complicated my grief is then.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m tired of people trying to herd all us bereft into nice neat little pigeonholes. All that does is give them a reason to not have to think about the truth of living without the one person who makes life worth living.

      Besides which, they don’t know what they are talking about. If we were huddled in bed in the dark, unable to face the world, then it would be a problem. My sadness is not causing anyone a problem, and I doubt that yours is. We’re just over two years. Generally, it takes three to five years to find your way back to life after such a grievous loss, so we’re doing just fine.

  4. joylene Says:

    I think of all those couples who are still together and yet miserable. I feel for them too. It must be terrible to be alone and still the other half of a couple.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Joylene, That’s what the last years with him were like. He was sick, in pain, wanting to be alone, and I was miserable and lonely. That’s one reason why my grief stunned me. I thought I’d be glad that particular misery was over, but I exchanged one sort of misery for another.


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