If someone calls themselves a Strohwitwe, they’re probably feeling lonely. A “straw widow” is someone who has been temporarily left alone by her partner.
The word Stroh means “straw” and Witwe means “widow”, but fortunately this type of widowhood does not last forever – so don’t offer your condolences just yet! A Strohwitwe has been left to sleep alone in her shared bed for an undefined period of time. Back in the Middle Ages, Germans still slept on beds made of straw, which is where the analogy most likely comes from.
Throughout German literary history, “straw” has often been used as a reference to a bed. A Strohbraut (“straw bride”), for example, was the term for a bride whose groom was not her first bed-partner. And in Goethe’s Faust, there is a passage that reads, Er geht stracks in die Welt hinein / Und lässt mich auf dem Stroh allein (“he goes straight into the world, and leaves me alone on the straw”).
There could be many reasons that someone calls herself a Strohwitwe: her partner might be traveling for several weeks or too busy to come home one night. And there is also a male equivalent: Strohwitwer – a man whose partner or wife has left him alone. In American English, the closest equivalent would be “grass widow” or “grass widower”.
But if you’re a Strohwitwe or Strohwitwer in this day and age, look on the bright side: you may be sleeping alone, but at least you’re not sleeping on a bed of straw!
By Nicole Glass, German Embassy