It’s Time to Play “Rip-Off the Widow”

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I had heard of it before. The bizarre phenomenon of complete strangers to sense a newly-widowed woman. A kind of radar that auto repairmen, home improvement workers, and lawn care professionals possess. A dark side of them they would never dare to try on a female who had a man in the picture.

Lots of women have noted this instantaneous shift in their business dealings with others, mainly men, but sometimes with women, too. Although these seem to be confined more to being taken advantage of by women friends than women in business. One blogger described it as suddenly having a neon sign switched on over her head that said, “I’m a widow! Take advantage of me!”

This happened even while I was married. A local tire shop was notorious for quoting prices $100-$200 higher to female callers than men callers. I used to make my husband call and ask for the same thing I had the day before. Every time he got a cheaper quote. And I went down the road to the competition.

Just weeks after I had become a widow, I went in to my trusted tire shop for new brake pads. I remarked that my husband had just passed away and I needed some help getting the car in good order. $1200 later I had new brake pads, rotors, and tires. I’m still not sure I actually needed anything but the brake pads. And one year later, the whole thing was still squealing like a stuck pig.

Why one year later? Because I was loathe to go back and complain, to risk being fleeced again. But I eventually mustered the courage and told them I had been unhappy with the service the year before. They apologized. They took time to explain the details of the repair. They redid my brakes for free. And they won back my trust.

As disgusting and sinful as this practice is, there isn’t much point in disputing it or curing it. And if you don’t believe it exists, then you aren’t a lone widow in the wide world of wolves. But there are a few tips to help stave off the worst offenders. I’m sure you can spot where I made my first mistake.

Don’t tell people you are a widow. Make up a fictional husband you must confer with before any repairs or purchases can be made. Time and distance can create the boundary that was previously established by his presence.

Learn the Lingo. Before you go into an unknown arena (auto mechanics shop, electronic purchase, or other unfamiliar zone) take a moment to research some of the terms related to what you know you need. Using some of this jargon will deter a shyster from assuming you are ignorant, and therefore helpless.

Take Your Business Elsewhere. Know what you need and about how much it should cost. Get multiple estimates. And if someone isn’t treating you fairly, move on. Go with your gut. Every. Time.

Learn the Facts, and a few swear words. Be able to defend yourself with factual information. You aren’t going to marry these people, so stop deferring to them. For the hard cases, use hard language and accuse them straight up of trying to take advantage of you.

Get comfortable with being a bitch. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, if you are single, independent, and assertive, you WILL be perceived as a bitch. Get over it. You’re here to do business, so you’d better mean it.

Now, you may not like that I’m promoting a few white lies and some vulgar language. But understand this – I’m not proposing that you become that person. It’s a persona. Just like the nice, fake, smiley one on your social media. Or the subservient, acquiescent one you used with your husband. Or the fun-loving, free-spirited one you have with your friends.

Except that this one saves you cash and keeps vultures on the fringes of your existence where they belong. Stop being the next contestant on a losing game.

Strays

One night at Wednesday Writers, Chet was telling us about his experiences in Chile and the stray dogs that roam the streets – even ride the buses, knowing their stop and trotting off on their unknown missions. We decided to come back the next time with a poem about strays, whatever that meant to us. Here is mine, framed in my work as the owner of a tea room and floral shop, the favorite haunt of widows and retirees…

They trickle in, one at a time,
eyes grazing the board for today’s special
Before gravitating to the table they share
Every Thursday.

Presbyterian, Methodist, Agnostic,
Retired, Working, on Social Security,
Bemoaning the odd ache and grey hair and
Extra pound.

Lira, Lila, Pat, Barbara,
Ann, Muriel, Violet, Jean,
Joyce.
They laugh and celebrate another year
and never speak of their silent mates
Left Behind.

I bring them dessert and
endless cups of coffee,
Taking my place on the fringe of
Their Pack.

Time makes strays of us all.

Fallout

One death follows another,
But without the fanfare,
The flowers,
The sympathy cards
Of the First.

A long-time friend is uncomfortable
with your grief
and departs in a murmured apology.
They really have become so busy,
But do call if you need anything.

The congregation looks askance,
Wondering what you did to deserve
Such misery;
An army of Job’s comforters
Twisting scripture into a
Cat ‘o Nine Tails.

The fatherless child taunted,
The inflated bill from the workman
The lazy man requests a loan.

Like a lover’s blows,
Only the first punch surprises.
The rest rain down
and are hardly felt.

For those who are meeting grief for the first time, it can come as a shock that life (at least for everyone else) returns to normal so soon. And that the widow radar comes out and creates a target on your back for every shyster in the tri-county area. Or that those around you can be so callous as to suggest that you – or worse, your child – need to develop a thicker skin.

I hope that you, if you find yourself in this unenviable position, are able to turn inward and recognize the traits of PTSD that you are probably experiencing. That you put everyone else outside the fence of your existence and focus only on what has a right to live in your space. You may not be able to stop the assault, but you can let it wash over you until you are stronger, knowing that it is their burden and not yours.