A widow's yearning

Dilemmas
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Angie's husband died several years ago and now she's overwhelmed by the loss of sex and physical cherishing. She has lovely grown-up children, stimulating work, and good friends and social life. But there seem to be no unattached men around and she craves the closeness of both cuddles and sex

Crave a drink and you can glug down a bottle of wine; crave a cream bun and you can buy one and shove it in your face. But craving sex and cuddles is horrible, particularly if you're a woman, because it's all the wrong way round. It's men who should be on the hunt, not us.

But if all Angie wants is cuddles she can probably up her physical contact with other people by about 100 per cent if she sets her mind to it, without involving men at all. She could book herself in for a massage, she could look after a friend's baby for an afternoon. She could also turn herself into a more tactile person by taking more squeeze-initiative. Angie should try slipping an arm through a girlfriend's while out shopping, or lingering over her hello kisses to friends of either sex. What if her hugs are over the top? Other people, even married people with reasonable sex lives, are often desperate for non-sexual, affectionate physical contact and, with few uptight exceptions, revel in a tight and lingering hug.

But Angie wants sex. Presumably she's tried masturbation and has considered the varieties of sexual gadgetry now available. If used in a spirit of shame and disgust they'd probably give no more than bleak physical relief; but if used in conjunction with fantasy of Angie's dead husband, they might well assuage the emotional longing of sex as well.

And talking of her husband, isn't Angie rather dismissive of him? I wonder if, though he's dead, he is actually buried, in Angie's mind at least. Perhaps she doesn't acknowledge how very much she still misses him. In other words, this longing for sex is a way of grieving for him. Sexual feelings are always meant to be nicely stamped down after a bereavement, since sexual feelings are associated with life and fun, but many's the bereaved person who's incredibly embarrassed to find themselves beset with fierce and even inappropriate sexual cravings after a loved one's death. Aren't their sexually predatory feelings some of the reasons that widows are so often kept at arm's length by other, married, women?

Finally, Angie says there are no single men available in her neck of the woods. But I'm certain that's not true. They may be much older than her, or much younger, but there are single men all over the place and although she may dread the idea of getting back into training for the singles game again, if her eyes sparkle enough, if she knows when to give a sly smile, when to blush, when to give a knowing lowering of the head, soon enough the single men will creep from the woodwork panting with desire and dripping with lust. In other words, perhaps she's forgotten how to write: "Open to all reasonable offers" on her forehead.

There are also good married men whose wives just aren't interested in sex and crave a discreet sexual outlet with no strings attached. Or what about a series of short-term male lodgers? At some moment one of them is going to find how comfortable it is to have not only clean sheets and teabags available, with no responsibility, but who would very much appreciate a twice-weekly sex session in order to make themselves feel sensual and cosy as well.

Angie is not, by any means, the only widow to have these physical longings. But men have these feelings, too. Now is not the time to wait coyly by her window, waiting for them to arrive. Drag as it may be, it's time for Angie to get on the hunt again herself.

How I found a sexual partner

Angie's problem so exactly mirrored my own that I could have written the same letter a few years ago. Now I have learnt to recognise, then separate the problems.

It has not made them easier to solve but it can be done if you are brutally honest and prepared to forget how you thought of yourself. I can never replace the love of my husband and now I accept that. The physical side was the hardest to overcome. At first I resorted to masturbation, which gave temporary physical relief but caused mental anquish as a result. Like Angie, I, too, looked for unattached men until I realised that they just were not there. I became friendly with a lady in similar circumstances and, eventually, confided to her all my pent-up emotions and problems. In return she told me that she had suffered too and I learnt another lesson. I was not alone! Asking how she appeared to have very happily overcome them she then reminded me that there are men who, although married, have no sex life either. The thought of whoring myself disgusted me but, subsequently, through her, I met a man who was in no position to form a lasting or permanent relationship but with whom I was completely at ease. We had sex and began a regular routine of visits.

I now find that two of my problems are solved. The love of my husband can never be replaced but is now a very cherished memory. I have companionship through an enlarged circle of friends and the sexual side is more complete than I had ever visualised. If Angie is honest with herself and can separate her needs, she can solve them.

Assuming that you may not wish to publish this owing to its frankness I can only say that the very act of "confessing" to someone has been enormous relief and convinced me that my chosen path was correct.

Anon

Facing up to grief and widowhood

I can sympathise with Angie's feelings as I, too, was widowed in middle age 10 years ago. I admire her greatly knowing, as I do, the personal strength required just to survive such a blow, let alone maintaining relationships with children, friends and social contacts. I wonder, however, whether Angie, in working so hard to lead a full and happy life, is consciously or unconsciously avoiding the stark facts of her situation, ie that her husband is, sadly, dead and that her life has been changed for ever.

It seems that her rational self has coped admirably, at least on the surface. However, those troublesome sexual longings cannot be rationalised and are a powerfully instinctive reminder of the extent of her loss. When Angie, with her undoubted courage, can face the sheer bloody awfulness of the fact of widowhood she can then start to live her life on a more realistic basis. There is still time for her to be truly happy but perhaps not just yet.

With my very best wishes to her.

Poppy, Canterbury.

Turn the longing into a gift

The grace you express by counting your blessings is endearing to say the least. We are all so differently endowed by warmth and sexuality that I believe in your perceived physical needs at a time when all other needs are satisfied. Somehow, you have to turn these inward needs into outward gifts. Do not be dismayed or haunted by your longings, which are perfectly normal. Embrace them as a part of your own good self, while realising that no one can have everything, however much desired.

Stewart Fleming, Glasgow.

Searching can be fun

There are many opportunites to meet men if Angie will set out to do it. She could join a singles club, church or a society that engages in a subject she is interested in. Perhaps she is becoming too discerning in her requirements for a man. She must be positive if she does want to meet another man, and remember that she must not look for an image of her husband. Remember the search can be fun if she has a female friend in the same situation.

Derek, Kent.

NEXT WEEK'S PROBLEM: SHOULD I BALE OUT MY EX-WIFE FOR THE SAKE OF MY SON?

Dear Virginia,

My ex-wife divorced me three years ago. One of the areas of conflict was that she said I was too mean and I thought she was too extravagant. I pay towards our son Paul's maintenance - slightly more than the CSA's estimation. Now Paul's 13 and needs to go on a school trip costing pounds 100. I've offered to pay half, but my wife says she can't afford the balance and has asked the school's charitable fund for the difference. If neither I nor the fund pays, Paul can't make the trip. I want him to go, and I could just about find the money. But why should I? If Paul doesn't go he'll blame me; if I pay it'll open the way for more arm-twisting. Should I draw the line here? If not, where?

Yours sincerely, David

All comments are welcome. Everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Please send relevant personal experiences or comments to me at the Features department, the 'Independent', 1 Canada Square, London, E14 5DL (fax 0171-293 2182) by Tuesday morning. If you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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