How to Talk to a Widower

“I had a wife. Her name was Hailey. Now she’s gone. And so am I.”

That’s the reigning sentiment throughout Jonathan Tropper’s novel “How to Talk to a Widower.” Here’s a book that I reluctantly picked up after reading a quick review in a magazine. I started it off thinking I was reading a non-fiction book. About 3 chapters in, I was amazed at the conversational detail and descriptions of occurrences outside the scope of the main character. That’s when I looked at the cover and saw in small, yet quite visible letters, that I was reading a novel. Sometimes I amaze even myself.

Throughout the novel, the main character is consistently being set up on dates, or approached by neighbors, which turns the novel into a bit of a commentary on dating and relationships. Tropper has an interesting take on dating and initiating conversation. He writes:

…Because no matter what I’m saying, you know I’m just saying it to break the ice, so that I can ask you out, so that we can go out, and if that goes well, so that we can have sex. So basically, I go from being this nice guy with no agenda to this sleazy asshole who’s trying to sleep with you before he even knows you.

Does anyone else share that sentiment? Sure, ideally there’s someone out there who’s a friend of a friend that you’re going to meet and get along with and have something develop, but more often than not (at least in my experience) you’re shooting in the dark. I think I’m a pretty nice guy over all, but how does one get over that sleazy/slimy feeling on the initial approach?

Most of you will probably have a response similar to that of the other character in the novel:

You think maybe you’re over-thinking the whole thing a little?

To which I respond in the same manner as Doug:

That’s what I do

Another forlorn look at dating is taken in a lengthy montage:

In the weeks that follow, I have enough lousy first dates to merit a musical montage. Cue the pop song and watch Doug try on different outfits and pose in front of the full-length mirror as Claire directs him, laughing from the bed. Watch Doug escorting various attractive and semi-attractive women from central casting in and out of different restaurants and coffee shops. Fast cuts of different women seated across the table: speaking or not speaking, painstakingly scraping the dressing off a piece of Bibb lettuce, angrily underscoring some clearly salient talking point with a violent jab of her finger, weeping uncontrollably, and sucking up a seemingly endless piece of spaghetti. And then more fast cuts of Doug dropping each of these women off at their homes or apartments, shaking hands, or awkwardly jockeying back and forth between handshakes and chaste goodnight pecks, the camera lingering on them in the background to show on their faces the sad certainty of another man who won’t be calling again, and then Doug coming into focus in the foreground as he heads back to his car, his expression bated in the abject worthlessness of it all. The song choice is key here, something slow, but with a beat, a gruff smoker’s voice singing romantic lyrics laced with irony to convey the utter futility of it all; the boredom, the wasted time, the awkward beginnings and ending, the instantly forgettable, canned-date conversation, the sad, damaged lives to which he is now unwittingly privy, a song that ends in fading minor piano chords as Doug drives home with windows open, his face sadly vacant as he stared blankly at the empty road ahead.

Having read my fair share of books that seem to center around dating and relationships lately, it may seem as though my take on the process is as forlorn and worthless as the above passage illustrates. This is not the case, although I do find it so at times. I can empathize with Doug’s wonderings and feelings of simply going through the motions at times. The other side of that coin, though, is the excitement of meeting someone new, and that spark you share with another person, if only for an evening.

I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this book, aside from the fact that I found it funny, uncomfortable, emotional, and touching, was the fact that it seemed to follow a thought pattern similar to my own. As I mentioned above, the spark that you can share with someone else can be truly amazing, even if it’s only for a moment:

Sometimes you walk past a pretty girl on the street and there’s something beyond beauty in her face, something warm and smart and sensual and inviting, and in the three seconds you have to look at her, you actually fall in love, and in those moments, you can actually know the taste of her kiss, the feel of her skin against yours, the sound of her laugh, how she’ll look at you and make you whole. And then she’s gone, and in the five seconds afterwards, you mourn her loss with more sadness than you’ll ever admit to.

Spot on.

The last passage that I’ll talk about here takes place in the form of a conversation between Doug’s dad and himself. He touches on how people deal with hardships in life, and I feel does a good job at embodying one of my own philosophies:

This is just your time, son, that’s all. Your time to hurt and bleed and tear apart your notion of what makes you who you are. Life knocks us all on our ass at some point. And then we get back up, and we make some change, because that’s what men do. We adapt. And when we’re done adapting, we’re better equipped to survive.

How great is that? Get back up. Make some change. Adapt, and become stronger.


One Response to “How to Talk to a Widower”

  1. Sara Says:

    Dear bmf,
    I know how much you think about (and often overthink) your dating and relationships. Stop looking so hard and be happy with the little moments when you get to meet someone new and spend some time with said new person. Though it’s a bit depressing as you say goodbye to yet another hopeful, treasure the excitement of having met at all.

    In the end, when you do meet your final lover, it will come to you like a wave of relief and in that moment peace will fill your heart. Until then, enjoy the spontaneity while wishing on a star.

    Love and hugs,

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