I am a widower in my 80s. Like one of your recent correspondents, I was bereft after losing my wife, but after a year or so I pushed myself into socialising again. From being almost totally lacking in self-confidence during my marriage, I now routinely talk to anyone sitting next to me on trains, at concerts, anywhere – and have made some good new friends as a consequence.
Here is my problem. My friends – some old, some new, both male and female – indulge in a great deal of innuendo about me behind my back and even to my face. I am seen as a sly old dog on the make. It is not meant without affection, but I find it totally offensive. It is just company and conversation I seek. Even if I weren’t the age I am – and on hormone therapy for prostate cancer, which very effectively deals with any remaining interest in the opposite sex, I can tell you – I still miss my dear wife bitterly and view the idea that I’d marry or take up romantically with another woman as a slur on her memory. How can I set my friends straight?
Your friends, as you acknowledge, mean no offence. They see you getting on with your life and are happy for you. What they say may be mistaken or even inappropriate but in their own clumsy way, they are attempting to encourage you. If you really want to shut such comments down you have the perfect ammunition. Every time they make an off-colour remark, simply smile and mention how much you miss your dead wife, or the ways in which your cancer treatment has affected you. Either topic will wipe the smiles off their faces and create the sort of social awkwardness that they will try to avoid in the future.
I must admit that I think if I was you, I might allow the winks, nudges and comments to continue. You know how you feel and really that is all that matters. You have found the courage to continue with your life and your friends are your cheerleaders. It seems a little churlish to tell them they are “doing it wrong”. The love you feel for your wife is real and no joke can change that. The memory of the woman you shared your life with lives on in you and those people that knew and loved her. Be happy and proud that your grief hasn’t crushed you. You have shown remarkable strength so don’t let a few people misunderstanding your motives make you doubt yourself. Try to enjoy the joke. Being able to laugh is not the same as forgetting. Your grief will never leave you but it is possible to experience joy at the same time. Surely that is all your friends and your wife would wish for you.