Rings and other jewelry for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley Hale
Ask A Widow

Ask a Widow: Why Does It Feel Like Cheating If He’s Dead?

It took six months after Shawn died before I took off my wedding ring. I did it on a short trip, unceremoniously, as I sat in a hotel room by myself. Shortly thereafter, I met a man at the hotel’s pool, one who made me laugh and made me feel something I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

And yes, before you ask, it didn’t end there. He came back to my hotel room, and I let him in. And yet, before it could get too far, it struck me that I had a stranger in a hotel room with me. I’m not cheating, I said to myself, but my mind was racing even as I was kissing him.

My wedding ring was in a bag mere inches from me. I’m not cheating, I said again in my head, but it was fruitless. The guilt was overpowering.

The man was kind when I told him this couldn’t go any further, which I appreciated, and yet I was still sad when he left. The previous six months had made me feel inhuman, and that was the first time I had felt alive in that specific way. I wanted someone else, and for a brief part of the evening, it hadn’t been Shawn.

Was the reason I could feel this way because I’d finally taken off my wedding ring? Or was the fact that the wedding ring was still there – right next to me in my overnight bag – the reason that I felt too guilty to let the man stay?

I felt bad about everything. I felt like I was cheating on Shawn and I felt like I was also being dishonest to this guy in the hotel room.

I cried a lot that night. The guilt was overpowering. The next day, I put my ring back on. The man from the night before saw me at the hotel restaurant that day and we chatted. “You’ve got your ring back on,” he said.

“Yes,” I said simply. We didn’t talk further about it. I knew I’d never see him again, so I didn’t need to elaborate.

I thought about this the other day when I got a note from a reader. She had a question for me, which I’ve reprinted anonymously below with permission (edited for clarity):

I am dating and feel like I am cheating whenever I wear jewelry that my late husband gave me. I am not sure who I think I am cheating on because our vows were “til death do us part” – and yet, it feels like I’m cheating on both my boyfriend and my husband. I had my wedding rings resized for my right hand but no longer wear them unless I’m at a function with my late husband’s family. I just feel weird wearing this jewelry (the rings and also things like a necklace my late husband bought me) around my boyfriend.

Ooh, boy. I wrote her something back like, “I totally understand how you feel!” because wow, I know that feeling.

The thing is, I don’t have those feelings of guilt anymore. But I can remember exactly what it felt like to have such emotions.

In fact, once I finally decided to remodel my wedding ring, I wrote a post about about wearing that piece of jewelry on my right hand. It was called, “The Ring“, and here’s an excerpt:

Claire took the ring in her hand and studied it. I felt her hand in mine, and thought about everything that the ring stood for, especially my marriage and my children. I held her hand tightly as she touched the stones in the ring.

That evening, I went out and I twirled the ring around my finger as I laughed into the wee hours of the morning over too many Moscow Mules. As the night ended, someone else held my hand. As he did, I could feel the coolness of my ring on his fingers. It was an odd feeling, because I felt Shawn with me in that moment, even as I sat next to someone new.

I wasn’t beginning a new life and leaving my old one behind that night. I was just holding the hand of a man who was not Shawn. In a way, I was trying out a new reality. I was experimenting with what the future might look like for me. 

When I wrote the post in early 2019, I remember thinking that I’d always feel married to Shawn, so I’d always want to wear his wedding ring. I still felt like I belonged to him – like I would always belong to him – even if I was temporarily dating someone else.

But maybe the point of this post and maybe the point of my entire blog is this:

Things change.

Time passed, and somewhere around the summer of 2019, I started to feel like I didn’t want to always wear the jewelry Shawn had given me. Every once in a while I’d wear my reconstructed wedding ring, and sometimes a necklace, but it was rare. The only thing that I wore a lot? The diamond earrings he gave me for our wedding anniversary.

Once I started dating Chris, in the spring of 2020, I didn’t think much about the wedding ring and the other jewelry. I didn’t really wear them, though I’m not sure this was a conscious choice. Once, it had felt comforting for me to wear the wedding ring of Shawn’s – first, as the original ring, and then as the remodeled ring. But by the time I met Chris, the ring meant less to me.

That ring had once meant I belonged to someone. Not in the patriarchal sense, but in the reciprocal-love kind of way. The ring, and the other jewelry – when I wore it, I felt like I was his.

But at some point, that changed, and the jewelry became just that – jewelry. I wore the things I thought were beautiful, and it didn’t always make me feel something. Sometimes, it was just pretty.

So I guess the answer to the question about when to wear certain jewelry is one that’s hard to answer. I think it depends on the meaning that the jewelry has to you, and the feelings that it evokes. And – if I can draw conclusions based on my own experience – I’d say it’s important to remember that those feelings can change.

I still wear the diamond earrings. One is from Shawn, and the other one is from Chris (that’s a blog post you don’t want to miss, if you haven’t read it.) But I only wear one wedding ring, and it is one from Chris. The other one sits in a box, waiting for Claire to be old enough for me to give it to her. That’s what feels right for me.