The trolls came out to criticize Oswalt’s engagement
Last week, Patton Oswalt, whose wife Michelle McNamara passed away unexpectedly in April 2016, announced his engagement to actor Meredith Salenger. The internet was abuzz with happiness for the couple…well, most of the internet. Like trolls riding happiness-seeking missiles, some people criticized Oswalt for getting engaged “too quickly” after the death of his wife. Now Oswalt and Salenger, with the help of a widow’s blog post, are responding.
On April 21st of last year, Oswalt found his wife of over ten years dead in their Los Angeles home due to a combination of prescription medications and an undiagnosed heart condition. Her loss left Oswalt devastated. As he wrote later that year in an essay for GQ, “I was looking forward to spending my life with the single most original mind I’d ever encountered. And now? Gone. All gone.”
Now, Oswalt and his eight-year-old daughter, Alice, have found love and light again in Salenger. Last week, a little over a year since the loss of McNamara, Oswalt and Salenger got engaged.
It didn’t take long for some on the internet to share their unasked-for and unnecessary negative opinions. Because when a widower and single father gets engaged, particularly when they’re a stranger, it’s important to assume the squat of moral superiority and take an enormous shit on their happiness.
Here’s a sample of some of the comments left on a tweet about the engagement from People Magazine: “Wow, that certainly didn’t take long,” “That didn’t take long……like at all…….very strange,” “Didn’t his wife just pass,” “Most dudes can’t be alone for too long,” “Hmm…to each to their own but it seems too early. I can see dating but engaged? Maybe he thinks life is too short??”
Yes, perhaps he does. And no, it didn’t take very long — what a lucky man.
A widow named Erica Roman, who unexpectedly lost her husband just days after Oswalt lost his wife, wrote a post on her blog responding to those who criticized the timing of Oswalt’s engagement. Her post made it’s way to Oswalt, who tweeted it out and posted it on his Facebook page. He thanks Roman for expressing his “rage” about the “bitter grub worms [who] weigh in (anonymously, always anonymously).”
In her post, Roman addresses the “ignorant, judgmental assholes” who took to social media to frown upon Oswalt’s happiness. “You aren’t entitled to an opinion,” she writes, “You don’t get to comment on the choices of a widower while you sit happily next to your own living spouse. You didn’t have to stand and watch your mundane morning turn into your absolute worst nightmare.”
She’s right. I can’t imagine what that’s like, and I can’t imagine how I’d respond or what my life would look like after that. It’s easy to take whatever the clichéd example of “the right decision” is for a certain situation and say that that’s what we would do, when really we have no idea and “the right decision” is usually some horse shit that we got from watching too many movies. We want our widows to be pale, sad, always wearing black, and committed to a life alone because that fits into the romanticized ideal we have of what “true love” is supposed to be.
Well, guess what. That’s not real life. And the timing of Oswalt’s engagement has nothing to do with his feelings for his first wife. There’s no timetable here. Writes Roman: “How long should a widow sit in isolation before YOU are comfortable enough to release them from their solitary confinement?…Oswalt’s heart [has] expanded…I say expanded because that’s what widowed hearts do. They expand. One love isn’t moved out to make room for someone new. An addition is built.”
Unfortunately, we the people love our martyrs — we heap praise and admiration on those who suffer in silence. We’d rather read about tragedies than celebrations because they’re reflections of our own deep unhappiness and we’re comforted by the fact that someone else is as miserable as we are. So when that person climbs their way out of grief and finds happiness, we are all too quick to look for the flaw that will explain away and neutralize it. We’re under the impression that someone else’s choices mean something about us. They don’t.
Salenger wrote about Oswalt’s struggle to overcome his grief and their newfound happiness together in a post responding to the negative comments:
“Most [important] of all,” she writes, “Alice is happy and feels loved…Creating our family unit while honoring the brilliant gift Michelle has given me will be my life’s goal and happiness.” No one is trying to forget Michelle — it is clear that she is honored and loved not just by Oswalt, but by Salenger as well.
So let’s climb down from Mount Pious and celebrate this couple’s happiness. As Roman so beautifully puts it: “[Widows and widowers] know intimately that the price of love is pain. So if you see a widow or widower overcome that knowledge and choose to open their heart to that pain once again, instead of judging, you should be celebrating their bravery and fortitude. That much courage deserves a freaking parade.”