I remember my mom saying “women mourn, men replace” years ago, but I don’t remember in what context. I put it in the same mental box as “a daughter’s your daughter for all of your life.” (That would be the “harrumph!” box.)
Anyway, here we are however many years later, and my mom, divorced since 1995 or so, is in some kind of relationship with a fella who is a widower of maybe a year, and is waaaay into mom, talking marriage and everything. She seems to like his company, but is uninterested in his profession of life-long devotion and legal entanglement.
I was discussing this with Becky, whose family has its own anecdata to add to the pile of men-replace, and the Dude overheard me and was really offended by the idea, saying “that’s just a stereotype!” He claims not to know anyone (presumably other than MamaDork) who fits the profile. Fair enough. But then why is this one of those sayings?
Is this due to the fact that despite cultural messages about women’s desperate hunger for weddings and commitment and blah-blee-bloo, men need women more? That marriage is actually better for men than women? That dudes always want a mommy? That in the dark all cats are grey? And is this idea on its way out, as marriage and gender relationships are changing?
Personally, I know many women who have not remarried after divorcing or being widowed (my step-grandmother never remarried after being widowed at age 50. My paternal grandmother outlived her husband by 24 years and never remarried. Even my maternal grandmother, who was widowed at age 31, didn’t remarry for almost 10 years–and that was in the 1950s!) They were able to support themselves without husbands, and so they did. I know very few men with similar stories—most of the men I know who have lost their wives have remarried, and fairly quickly (like, in 5 years or less). So I see examples of this phenomenon everywhere.
PhDork: I imagine there may also be a simple numbers game; since men don’t live as long, there are fewer of them, and so they seem even more precious, especially for those women who for various reasons, didn’t have their own careers and are struggling with poverty in their later years. Better maybe to have a crappy baby of a husband than to go homeless and/or hungry. …Maybe.
BeckySharper: I also think that this was probably more true for previous generations than it will be for ours–men of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation were often married for most of their adult lives, and never developed the kind of social networks or caregiving skills that younger generations of men have—men who delayed marriage, lived by themselves, and have taken a greater role caring for their children.
PhDork: And women today are more likely to have supported themselves, have pensions, etc.
I do think men, and even I would say a great many of them in this generation, are socialized to be looking for support in a partner, a particular kind of support that often does come from having had parents who “took care” of things for them. I think that simply comes from a great many parents who modeled that gendered division of labor in their own relationships, to an extent. It’s obviously not as simple as that, but I seem to know a fair number of hetero couples my age in which the partnership is less than equal. And I would say that in many respects the men in those relationships would identify as feminists, be stringent defenders of equality. It’s simply that as regards certain tasks they have blinders on. They imagine the toilet cleans itself, so to speak. And whether out of a desire not to appear like a “nag,” or simply not to be anybody’s mom, the women simply pick up the slack.
PhDork: I think this is part of what’s keeping Mom a bit cool towards her suitor. She’s mentioned that his home is kind of a pit–and that she’s told him that if they’re going to continue to spend time together, he’s going to have to do something about it, because she’s not comfortable with it. (Which I totally love.)
Of course, I’ve never met the guy, so I don’t know what sort of dynamic plays out when they’re together, but I think Michelle’s right that this isn’t just an older thing. It may be more common in my mom’s generation, but it isn’t gone yet.
Readers, have you heard this saying? Is there any truth to it, d’ya think? And do you think it’s changing?