Recently I was asked to contribute to a discussion on this topic that attracted over 4,500 online comments. The topic was launched by a woman who confronted a widower about his wearing a wedding band eight months after his wife passed. The following article was featured on Bored Panda, an international online publication.
Have you ever been the one to make everyone in the room suddenly freeze, their puzzled sights pointed in your direction after asking something that seemed completely okay at the time?
When a 32-year-old woman by the username u/Ideal-Mind3099 decided to ask her new colleague “James,” a recent widower, about the wedding band on his finger – things went in an opposite direction from what she expected. Annoyed that he was giving people the wrong impression about his relationship status, the author of the story couldn’t help but give “James” a piece of her mind.
Causing a very uncomfortable lunch break by getting a reaction she did not remotely anticipate, Ideal-Mind3099 turned to the ‘Am I The A-Hole’ subreddit to see whether it was her morally-dubious approach or colleagues’ interpersonal skills at blame.
AITA (Am I the Ass***e for telling my new coworker it was misleading of him to be wearing his wedding band when he’s a widower?
Hi. A couple of weeks ago we had a new employee hired. He’s a good guy and a widower named “James” (36), and to my knowledge, his late wife passed away eight months ago. Me (f32) and the other coworkers got along well with him. However, I noticed that he still wears his wedding band on his finger. It confused me a bit, and I couldn’t help but bring it up with him while on lunch break.
We talked, and I pointed out that he was misleading others by still wearing his wedding band as a widower. James said that he didn’t give it much thought (meaning he doesn’t care what people think) and that even if he wasn’t wearing his wedding band and some woman approached him, he’d still turn them down since he’s not interested. He looked pretty bothered by what I said. Still, I tried to explain that he was giving people the wrong idea or impression about his relationship status since he’s technically single and on his own right now (I don’t want to sound cruel, but I’m speaking from a technical angle).
For some reason, things got awkward, and everyone stopped eating and just stared at James and me. I told him I don’t know, but that felt generally misleading of him in making people think he is in a relationship (married) when he is not, regardless of how he felt about being in a relationship. He got upset, called me rude, and said that I repeatedly disrespected his marriage and his late wife’s memory with what I said, then took his stuff and walked away. My coworkers said regardless of who is right or wrong (though some said he overreacted), there was no reason for me to bring this up in the first place and cause a scene and make James upset with us like that now he’s not speaking to me and others who sided with me.
AITA? Did I overstep, or did he overreact?
Everyone agreed that the lady should have kept it to herself. The following is a very brief sampling of the 4,250 comments.
How is his marital status relevant to his function at work or remotely related to yours?
Misleading to whom? You? Nobody cared but you… The only reason why you would feel “misled” is if you were eyeing him in the first place because otherwise, it is of zero importance of his “availability” or how he communicates it.
James isn’t single; he’s grieving. Stop telling him how to do so. His relationship status is the very definition of NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
Everything got awkward at the table because of how creepy you were. Leave this man (and everyone) and his relationship alone. None of your business!
There is no timeline for a widower, or widow, to remove their wedding band. That is to be done on their timeline and not anyone else’s.
He could wear that wedding band until his own dying day, and it WOULDN’T BE ANYONE ELSE’S BUSINESS. OP is definitely YTA.
It is not up to you to determine how long it’s acceptable for someone else to grieve, or to police what they wear, jewelry, clothing, or otherwise. How dare you!
Dealing with the loss of your loved ones, after all, is one of the most gut-wrenching experiences people go through all the time. The level of anxiety and pain that grieving spouses have to cope with is so high it’s ranked as the highest level of stress on the Perceived Stress Scale a person must go through. That’s why “a lot of people usually don’t know how to pick the right words or feel uncomfortable touching on the subject,” Fred Colby, the co-founder of Pathways Men’s Grief Group and the author of ‘Widower to Widower’ told Bored Panda.
As the survivor of such a life-shattering loss himself – a beautiful marriage that lasted almost 50 years – Colby knows the everyday struggles perfectly grieving widowers must face. “Most men tend to be loners. And I know that for a lot of us, taking the ring off is an act of disrespect.” The way he sees it, “James” is experiencing what he calls the ‘Deep grieving’ phase, the most challenging of them all, and it’s completely normal that the ring is still on his finger.
“Many of us, including myself, have a hard time visualizing our wives in our thoughts,” Colby explained, adding that “James” is probably wearing it for her memory and to show he’s still committed to his wife.
While he knows better than most people that grieving widowers can be socially awkward and the whole subject a conversational minefield, Colby thinks this story sets a good example to others of how sometimes we tend to misjudge our understanding of what’s socially acceptable when mourning or going through a rough patch. “I’m afraid the lady has poisoned the well in the whole workplace for “James.” If only she had left that part alone, they might have become friends.”
Whatever the author’s intentions were, Colby reminded us nobody should expect too much from a grieving person in the first year. “Just be a friend, and then, maybe as he heals, he will be able to establish a real connection.” Small steps, as he puts it.
Colby also advises that it’s best to let widows tell the story themselves, as it’s part of the healing process. But for those who want to start the difficult conversation themselves, help a struggling friend or colleague overcome this barrier, there are a few ways to approach it.
According to Edy Nathan, a celebrated psychotherapist and the author of ‘It’s Grief: The Dance of Self-Discovery Through Trauma and Loss’ and Psychology Today’s column ‘Tales of Grief, ‘the first step is to get them to imagine what it would be like to take it off. “‘I see you’re still wearing your ring. What would your partner think if you took it off or left it on?’” are some of the appropriate questions Nathan suggests to Bored Panda readers, reminding everyone that “there’s no right or wrong timeline when a ring needs to be taken off.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that any of this will certainly help to avoid conversational pitfalls when talking to a mourning person. As Nathan pointed out to us, each case is different. “There is no right answer here. Many of them grieve in such a way that it is complex and complicated by other factors.”… Nathan sees that more and more widowers are searching for the truth. “They want to honor their emotions, and we can see it in the way they are responding to work/life/joy balance.”
Finally, Colby gives us his final advice: “Just be understanding. That’s the least we can do.”