In the widowed community, the topic of “dating again” seems to be somewhat of an obsession by many. When did you start dating? How did you know it was time? What did you do to “get yourself out there again?” Knowing this about others seems to fascinate everyone, and it usually begins with a list of probing questions and possibilities about wedding / engagement rings.
Some people continue to wear them. Others wear it but move it to their opposite hand. Some people keep their rings tucked away in a jewelry box or safe somewhere. A lot of widowed people add inscriptions to the rings, or add the rings onto a chain to make a special necklace. Some widowed parents might hold onto the ring to give to their son or daughter one day. The combination of things that people do or don’t do with their rings is endless. And really, it’s a highly personal choice, and everyone is different. I remember, awhile back, one widow friend telling me that after awhile, she took hers off, because she was no longer married, so wearing it “felt like a lie.”
I remember thinking to myself: That’s funny. That’s the exact same reason that I keep wearing mine. Because taking it off feels like a lie.
This entire existence feels like a lie, if you want to know the truth. Every morning that I wake up and live in this universe where my husband no longer gets to breathe air; where my future was stolen from me in a flash and replaced with darkness and confusion, where his heart stopped beating and mine stopped caring; feels like one gigantic, ugly, vicious lie.
And yet, I know the truth. I am quite aware of the harsh and horrible truth. I live inside of the truth every single day. But there is a huge difference between what you know, and what you feel, and I feel like Don’s wife. I feel married. I feel that lifelong bond and that forever connection and promise and vow, and I don’t know how to figure out the rest of my time here, knowing what I know, yet feeling what I feel. How on earth do you just stop feeling that? It doesn’t make any sense to me. None of this does. And it never will.
Ever since losing my husband, people have been constantly asking me about finding someone new. Dating. Everybody has to know if I’m dating yet, or when I will be, or why I’m not yet, and if I’m not, maybe I should get on that immediately in order to make them all feel better or more comfortable or less awkward with my existence. I have been asked and probed rudely about the dating thing by friends, non-friends, co-workers, family, and total strangers. Never was the very fine line between the comfort of the widowed community and the return to the harsh, brutal world more clear than on my return flight from San Diego to New York, after spending a week in the understanding company of a couple hundred other widowed “family” members at Camp Widow.
I was seated in the very last row, in the Aisle Seat, right next to the restrooms. Lines of people formed all around me over and over throughout the flight, as passengers rotated turns to get up and pee or take a crap, inches from my head. Everytime the toilet flushed, it sounded as if it was flushing inside of my eyeball. Seated next to me was a very young military wife and mother, all of maybe 24 years old. Next to her was a 6 year old boy, her son. She began striking up conversation with me, because we were both terrified of the bumpy takeoff, and shared a second or ten of bonding in our mutual fear of impending death upon crashing.
Our bonding time ended with the inevitable question that you always get from a stranger: Are you married? How I answer this question changes daily, depending on the situation, my mood, and what response I feel, at that moment, might cause me the least amount of pain and anguish. It’s a crapshoot though, because I rarely know or expect what people say to me, and therefore, I find myself with a dull ache in my side no matter how I approach this. For whatever reason, with this woman, I decided to tell her the truth. She is a military wife, after all. Maybe she understands a bit about life and unexpected death and compassion. WRONG! When I told her point blank that my husband died almost 2 years ago very suddenly of a massive heart attack, she didn’t even flinch, or offer up the ole’ Im so sorry for your loss. Nope. Instead, she launched into an endless lecture that had me wishing I had a parachute to jump out of this plane and away from this offensive horseshit I was being forced to listen to:
“Two years and you’re not dating yet? Why not? I’d be so excited to meet people and go out! Oh you need to get yourself out there, girl. He ain’t comin’ back. I know some good clubs and places, I could hook you up with some hot guys. I’m serious. Gimme your number. You are lucky I’m not your close friend, cuz I’d be gettin’ on your ass for not movin’ on and finding someone else already. I’m very blunt and I tell it like it is.”
I felt like saying: “You’re also an asshole”, but I was stuck on a 6-hour flight next to this clueless dummy, and suddenly the smell of other people’s poop didn’t seem nearly as terrible as being wedged next to this person who showed zero compassion or understanding for what my life might be like. When we arrived back in New York and at Baggage Claim, we both waited by the carousel for our things. As I spotted my suitcase and struggled to lift it off of the belt; she spotted her husband, in uniform, and ran into his loving arms, just like in the movies. He picked up their son and twirled him around, and gave them both kisses and hugs. They had each other, and I had Akmad or Rashim, who would be showing up in a taxi-service soon, so I could pay them to get me home.
Why is everyone so concerned with my dating status? Why the hell does a total stranger on an airplane care if I date people or not? What is with people? Do they think that if I find a new love, maybe get re-married, that I will finally be “over this?” That they will no longer have to worry about me, that I will no longer think about Don every single day, that he won’t be more than half of the puzzle that makes up my life? Don’t they understand that wherever I go, he comes with me? Whomever I love, he loves too? There might be a day in the future when I can see myself with “someone else” – but that day is not now. Right now, the idea of “someone else” makes me feel physically sick. It feels like I’m betraying him. It feels like I’m cheating. It feels impossible to me that I can be in love with someone else, when I am madly and deeply in love with my dead husband. I know, logically, that being with someone else is not betraying him. But as I said before, what I know has nothing at all to do with how I feel. And right now, I feel like my marriage and our promised time and years together, was violently pushed into an imaginary ocean where I can’t see it, and I dont know how to swim to it. It’s just gone, and I’m still here, trying to comprehend what to do with this massive and intense love that I have for my husband, who will never be able to hold me or laugh with me or love eating my dinners.
The other day, I was on a crowded subway going into the city, for my weekly grief-counseling appointment. A man who looked to be in his late 30’s, Latino, squished himself into the middle seat, right next to me. Again, just like on the airplane, I was trapped with another fool. The entire 40 minute ride into the city, this dude hit on me, and would not give up. In the last scenario, I told the girl the truth. This time, I decided that lying might be better. If I say Im married, it will make him stop. WRONG AGAIN! He pushed even harder.
Him: Where you going? You going to work? Play? Can I come with you?
Me: No. You don’t want to go where I’m going.
Him: You give me your number? I take you out later, another time maybe? You very pretty. Let me take off my shades so you can see my eyes, so you can see Im attractive. (takes off) You see? I look good, right?
Me: Uh-huh, you look amazing. I’m married.
Him: Oh well that’s okay. Those things never work out the way we want them to anyway.
Well, he is right about that, even though that is not how he meant it. But in the past 2 years since being without my husband, these are the types of people who approach me. These clueless, creepy, weirdos with no real sense of reality. And they always have that look on their face, like they are either a pedophile, serial killer, or chronic masturbater. The selection of male species that I encounter that seems to show interest in me, does not exactly inspire one to feel the need to “fall in love again.” Or even date again.
I’m not afraid to fall in love again. I am not ready right now, but I am not afraid of it. I will tell you what I am afraid of though. I am terrified that nobody will want me again. I am scared that I will put my heart out there, and get rejected. I am fearful of developing feelings for someone, maybe another widower or someone who “gets” this life, and and having them not return my affection. I don’t want to look for love again, because I am scared as hell that I will never find it. I met Don by accident. Meaning, I wasn’t looking. It just happened. A music chat room where two people ended up talking about music for 5 hours, deceloped a friendship, then a relationship, then love. Neither of us were looking. It simply happened.
If I ever were to meet someone in the future, I have a strong feeling that it would “just happen” in the same sort of way. I really cannot imagine ever actively going out to seek it, or “dating” again. I did that shit in my 20’s, and it took me so long to find my person. I’m too tired to go through that again. I don’t want to live the single life. I just want to live my life, and maybe somebody will come along and want to live it with me. Maybe not. I dont know. But I really wish everyone would leave me the hell alone about it in the meantime. I have accomplished so many things in the past 2 years, things that I am proud of. But because I am not “with someone”, I am not moving forward? This is how people make me feel when they badger me about the dating thing. It’s offensive. I would like to be in love again, but I don’t need that to make me whole. I am whole. I do not define moving forward as being in a new relationship. Moving forward means you are living your life. Your new, complicated, painful, wonderful, joyful, difficult, hellish, sad, beautiful, precious life.
When I got off of the subway the other day, the guy who kept asking me out, followed me into the station. He asked me one last time if I would please go out with him, and I told him one more time, the lie that feels like the truth: I’m married.
And he said, with absolutely no irony: “Okay then. Good for you. You’re doing the right thing.”
And I am. At least for now. I’m doing the right thing.