Till death do us part – but what comes after that final, bleak separation? For lucky Rio Ferdinand, it has meant a new bride and a second chance at happiness.
Three years after his wife, Rebecca, died of cancer, the former footballer is to marry his girlfriend, Kate Wright. He proposed to her in front of his children on a rooftop during a holiday in Abu Dhabi. Everyone is apparently thrilled.
"You can’t even remember what it’s like to feel happy. And then, bam, out of the blue, you meet someone and everything changes," loved-up Rio told his biographer, the journalist Decca Aitkenhead.
In a recent interview with The Sunday Times, he also encouraged her to follow in his footsteps and find love after suffering her own bereavement.
"You need to get out there and meet someone too. Trust me – you’ll see what I mean," he said.
In 2014, Aitkenhead’s partner, Tony Wilkinson, drowned in Jamaica while trying to rescue their four-year-old son (who survived), leaving her a single mother of two young boys.
When she began contemplating her future without him, she initially worried she’d be romantically taken advantage of as a widow. Now, she wryly concludes that what wise friends told her nearly five years ago has turned out to be true.
While widowers seem to become ten times more alluring to the opposite sex practically overnight, men are not attracted to widows in the same way. Look at Decca: attractive, intelligent, successful – and still single. Love after death certainly seems much easier to achieve for men.
A year after his wife, Gemma, died of cancer, and vowing that she would never be replaced, Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas has just announced that he is in a relationship with a new girlfriend.
"From the early stages, she had this empathy towards me. She’s been an incredible support for me," he said, which tends to suggest their relationship has at least partly revolved around him and his grief.
Not all men would be so empathetic if the circumstances were reversed. Some might say 12 months is far too early for a fresh romance, but Thomas has a young son and found the loneliness of widower-hood "brutal".
Perhaps one reason why men find new love more successfully than women is that they are less likely to have close friends they can talk to, or a social and emotional support network to help them through bereavement. Or perhaps they are just more selfish.
A recent study found two-thirds of widowers were in a new relationship within 25 months, in contrast to less than a fifth of widows. Over the age of 65, the discrepancy is even larger, with ten times as many widowers as widows remarrying.
But don’t worry, ladies, it’s not all doom and gloom. Becoming widowed is associated with a 48 percent increase in risk of mortality.
So, if you are really miserable, you can cheer yourself up with the thought you’re going to die soon anyway. Excuse my jest! For what else is there to do but cackle with dark humour when contemplating this sea of wifely despair?
But why is there such divergence between the sexes in love after death? The fragile male ego, Decca Aitkenhead is warned, cannot reconcile itself to the indignity of a relationship with a woman still in love with someone else.
Most men don’t want to be the second choice or to feel inferior, whereas women find it easier to show a kind of deference to their predecessor, as they know it’s expected of them.
They also know that men are hopeless by themselves, so they make themselves indispensable. They mould and adapt emotionally in ways men find more difficult.
And we cannot overlook the romantic allure of a widower with young children and the torrent of feelings, both maternal and carnal, that can arouse in a woman.
According to the old saying, women mourn, men replace – and hopefully with a younger model, if the devils can possibly get away with it. Instead of forever dwelling on the past, many men aspire to repeat the happiness they knew as husbands, sometimes aided by women who see bereavement as opportunity, not tragedy.
After his wife’s death, Rio Ferdinand talked often about risking a new relationship and revealed that, in the past, he had judged the bereaved harshly.
If a widower began dating within five years of losing his wife, it was Rio’s belief "he never really loved her". Now he says that if a husband started dating the day after the funeral, he wouldn’t be appalled any more. He would understand. Who is anyone to judge?
Most men and women would want their surviving spouses to be happy above all – to love and be loved in the years to come.
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