03 November 2008

Q&A

One of my readers, masteroftheuniverse, recently widowed himself, asked me this question in comments:
When your husband died, did you first say, "I'll never be with another person for as long as I live?"
The answer to that question is a resounding, unequivocal yes. The idea of being with someone other than John was initially so alien as to be incomprehensible. I missed John so much that I could not imagine anyone else filling the void he had left in my life. Add to that the stress and logistics of dealing with the twins by myself, and I couldn't comprehend how or why I'd want to find another partner.

I felt that way for about a year, I'd say. During that time, I gradually came to realize that I missed not only John, but just having a spouse. As that realization hit me, I began to think that perhaps I could figure out how to integrate another person into my life perhaps when the twins were older, in school. I thought that once they were a little more self-sufficient, I'd have some time to think about myself, my needs, and my desires.

Then I went through a really, really rough period of very deep sadness. I was angry a lot. I was short with the twins all the time. I was cranky and tired. And it lasted for months. Then in August, I had an epiphany. I had been assuming that I felt like utter crap because I was grieving. I'm sure that was part of it. But I realized that some of my anger, sadness, and crabbiness came from other sources. The grief felt completely out of my control; if the grief experts agree on one thing it's that you just need to feel the feelings and experience the experiences. You can't control them and you shouldn't try. Fine. I can try my hardest to accept that. But the anger and sadness in my life that's not grief-related? I'm going to do my best to fix it, because it feels like total shit.

And thus I began dating, because I realized that at least some of my anger and sadness came from a place of loneliness. The twins and I are blessed to have more friends than we can count, more friends than we can see on a regular basis. I never felt isolated, or like we didn't see people enough or have enough support. In fact, I often found that I craved less social interaction, which makes dating seem like a counterintuitive leap. The thing is, all the friends in the world don't make up for having an intimate partner. There's something (obviously) physical but also emotional about dating someone that your friends can't give you. Sure, it takes time to find an build a relationship that's really meaningful, but I personally have always enjoyed the process leading up to that, so I was not daunted by the thought of being back on the dating scene. In fact, I looked forward to it. First dates do not make me nervous. I could talk to a wall for a couple of hours, so I never worry about conversation (other than me dominating it). I truly enjoy meeting new people; you never know what someone will have up his or her sleeve. And I do like that thrill of the chase, that giddy potential of wondering: Could this person be the one?

And thus began the well-chronicled tales of Mr. Coffee and the brief meetings (or lack thereof) with Mr. Nice and Mr. Tango.

Here's something interesting. Jeff (aka masteroftheuniverse), continued his comment from above by saying:
Plus, what [my wife and I] had was perfection and anyone else would pale compared to her.
I have had pretty much no problem comparing my current relationship or any of my potential dates with John. The main reason for this is that my relationship with John was not perfect. In the time immediately following John's death, I did remember our relationship as perfect. I totally forgot about some really difficult stuff we went though before we got married—things I'm not ready to write about in this blog mostly because they are thing that John would never want Out There, and even though he is dead, I feel a need to respect that. Suffice it to say that there were some things we worked through that were very challenging. His cancer diagnosis made those things seem like trivial bits of a long-lost past, but they were in fact real issues that could have—and I think would have—continued to plague us if he had not been sick. Do I think they would have been the demise of our marriage? No, or I would not have entered into that marriage in the first place. Do I think John was a wonderful, amazing, supporting, loving, caring partner? Absolutely. But lately the imperfections of our union have been more on my mind than the good parts, even though the good parts were more plentiful.

I think there's a bit of self-protectionism in this. As I open myself up to another person, I need to remember that my relationship with John had flaws so that I don't make unfair comparisons. I don't want to put my relationship with John on a pedastal as some kind of unattainable goal. Cloaking my relationship with John in perfectionism feels, for me—and I do not generalize this feeling to others—like an excuse. It's risky to think about being open to another serious relationship, even a marriage. I did that once and suffered a big loss. The idea of experiencing that kind of pain again can feel foolish and reckless, and if I manage to convince myself that there was no way anyone could compare with John, I wouldn't have to open myself up to the possibility of that pain again. The thing is, the payoff of being open could be huge.

I was recently in touch with a young widow Internet friend of mine, and she said something really profound to me. Her husband died a year (or more?) before John, and she is now in a very serious relationship with someone else. She told me that the man she is with now is actually a better match for her than her late husband was. It had never, ever occurred to me that I could find someone who would be a better match for me. When I started dating again, it had crossed my mind that I might find someone who was an equally good match, who made me feel as fulfilled as John did, albeit in a different way. But better? No. Hadn't considered it. Frankly, it was a thrilling thought. I have lost so much, felt so much pain. The idea that the experience could end up leading me to something better is oddly comforting.

This isn't to say that I will find someone who is a better fit. I might, I might not. But one thing is certain: if I do, that has no bearing whatsoever on the love I shared with John. Young widows and widowers face a lot of judgment about this. Some people (and I am not pointing fingers at any of my readers) would have us unfortunate souls believe that if we move on, if we find someone else to date or someone else to marry, we've somehow diminished the love we have for our late spouse. These folks want us to think that the only way to prove that the love we had for our spouses was pure and true and perfect is to martyr ourselves and be resigned to never finding love (or just having sex!) again. To that, I say: BITE ME. I loved my husband deeply. But he's never coming back. Nothing I do with the remainder of my life will change what I had with John, or the depth of my feelings for him, which were as deep and true as I was capable of at that time in my life.

So to Jeff: There is a very long answer to your question. Thanks for the food for thought.

41 comments:

Elspeth said...

This may sound utterly silly, since I'm just a stranger inside the computer but here it is: I am so proud of you! What you're doing -- reaching out to create a fulfilling life for yourself after all you've lost, that's huge.

Anonymous said...

You never stop to amaze me!! So well written and great insight.

CuriousBelle said...

as always, your willingness to share is deeply moving to me. thank you.

also, mr. coffee sounds hot. :)

Victoria said...

Amen, from one way-too-young widow to another. Getting back into the dating game (I assume) is terrifying, overwhelming, and exhilerating all at the same time. I commend you for being ready to take that step, and for recognizing the inherent flaws in the thinking of people who don't know any damn better. I would ask any of them to walk a mile in our shoes--if I was a heartless witch. Being widowed is not for the faint of heart, and shame on those who would try to inflict judgement on those who are living it! Kudos to you as always, Snick, for saying what the rest of us only think.

http://www.thefellows.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

See, I lost a child, not a spouse, and oddly no one told me to stop having children nor do they judge me for loving the living.

In other words, word.

Ali said...

Oh I just love your writing. So insightful and just plain truth! Good for you for knowing what you want and going after it. Even if it did take a while to figure that out. And the thought of a "better match" now that sounds interesting. I am not one to believe in soul mates. Yes you love your husband and create a life, but that doesn't mean that in this large world of ours that there isn't someone else too. You go find that new one for you and enjoy every minute of it.

Keen said...

I was intrigued when I read that comment on your post, and I love your response. It was food for thought for me, too.

django's mommy said...

I will admit to thinking that I will never find another love like I shared with J. Different? Sure. But better? Can't fathom it, honestly.

I expected this to be my big struggle in dating, and it has been thus far. My marriage was not perfect, but it was happy and perfect for me. Being married to J was effortless 90% of the time. I just don't know how a happy relationship and/or marriage looks different and is still happy, if that makes sense. I struggle with not looking to 'replace' him, which I cannot do, but seeking those qualities which I found so attractive in a mate (most of which he possessed).

As always, I appreciate your insight and candor.

yatima said...

My grandfather Paul lost his wife, my grandmother, when she was only 36. An old schoolfriend wrote him a letter of condolence. That was Rosa, and she became his second wife.

He loved them both dearly. I have pictures of my grandmother and grandfather on my wall, and I have Rosa's wedding and engagement rings, and I love them and keep them safe. Love is love and family is family, and death can go and f*** itself :)

Kim said...

I hadn't thought of that "better match" thing either - it makes a lot of sense; although considering your deep love for John, I'd say you were well matched, and I do hope that you are well matched again!

My friend whose husband died of brain cancer at 45 (A month after John) says that anyone who she seriously dates has to have an MRI, and possibly a PET scan. The guys who think she's kidding ;) are the ones she weeds out.

Lizard said...

I am not a widow, so this may be talking out my you know what, but here's what I think when I read this post:

1. you sound so incredibly healthy and strong right now. it's really wonderful.

2. the thing that best honors your love and life with John (and this is trite, but I think true) is that you are open to having another partner. It was good enough to repeat, possibly. That speaks well of John and of your marriage.

3. anyone who wants you to be a martyr to your widowhood is an a**hole

Michele (Moosh) said...

Your strength and integrity continue to amaze me.

I hope you come back to PDX soon!
Michele

Tami said...

hey there~ i've been reading your blog for a long time, brought here by that article on cnn.com awhile ago. i just wanted to mention how awesome it is when you point out that nothing you ever do will bring back John, and the only thing you can do is go on living your best life in the best way you know how. what can anyone say to that? except, amen.

Chris said...

These folks want us to think that the only way to prove that the love we had for our spouses was pure and true and perfect is to martyr ourselves and be resigned to never finding love (or just having sex!) again. To that, I say: BITE ME.

Queen Victoria was a martyr to Prince Albert for decades. It made her a crabby old woman long before her time. You are thoughtful and loving and Queen Victoria's fate as the perpetual widow isn't the way I think of you. Blessings on you all!

Kim said...

I can see what you are saying but I also cannot imagine wanting anyone else if anything happened to my guy. I just remember being on the dating scene up into my 30's until I met my guy and nothing came close to him so I can't imagine meeting someone else who I would love as much and more importantly who would love me as much, flaws and all. I think the older you get the more stuck in your ways you become and the more baggage you carry around. May be a negative view. Anyway, nice post, gives hope. Good attitude.

Cobblestone said...

I was 28 when my John died {7 years ago almost} and I never thought that I would get seriously involved with someone else.

My thought process was very similar to Snick's {minus the children as a reflection of moods} and ultimately I was in a serious relationship {now married with a baby}.

They are completely different relationships because John dying reshaped my heart and the fit could no longer be the same with someone. Still, it's ok.

Heather said...

I'm coming to this from another angle. My mother died young and my father was left with two children (we weren't babies tho'). My father is now happily remarried but THANK YOU so much for your perspective. I know my father holds my mother in a special place in his heart and that she can never be replaced. Thank you for helping explain it better.

Caustic Cupcake said...

What. a. great. post.

Sandi said...

I am a complete hypocrite. My mother is also a widow and I have always encouraged her to date. She has not met a GREAT man and while I love and miss my father, I am thrilled for her and I adore this man she is involved with.

I, on the other hand, wholeheartedly refuse to date, to even think about it, to even dip my toe in the water.

kate said...

I'm hopeful for you, that you'll find a "better" match for yourself. I can see how you find that comforting. This was a great post, thanks for sharing! To masteroftheuniverse-time heals all wounds, hang in there!

graham's mom said...

I am just, always, so impressed with your ability to think about yourself, and John, and your life. And then write about it. And then we get to read it! Huzzah!

Anonymous said...

Kim said:
"I can see what you are saying but I also cannot imagine wanting anyone else if anything happened to my guy."

Kim, that's because nothing HAS happened to your guy. Of course you can't imagine it. Neither could Snick, that's what she's saying. But now that she's at this point and has slogged through this much of her grief, she can... and that's a Very Good Thing.

Snick, this isn't the same but maybe sort of analogous -- before I was married, there was one other man I can imagine having married. I'm quite sure he wouldn't have been as good of a match for me as the man I ultimately married. But f the timing had been different I might have wound up married to him, and it would have been great too. Kudos to you for being so clearsighted about all of this.

Shelley

Anonymous said...

The growth that you've gone through with John's illness, death, and being a widow/single mother, have made you different person from who you were back then.
It would be sad to just hang on to who you were and all those emotions. It's good to get back some of who you were growing up and growing through those changes, but the best part is who you are now, and giving that to yourself and to someone new will allow you to have a relationship that may or may not be better than the one you had before, but could very well be happier because you realize that you are not the same person and the relationship will not be the same.
I often think if I were not in the marriage that I'm in, that I wouldn't want another because I've already had that. But seriously, I don't know how I would feel on down the road after not having that for a while. I do know I would not be the same young woman in the next realionship with the same issues, because I am much older with lots more live experience. And I for sure wouldn't let in-laws be as big a part of my life now that I'm older. Maybe as friends, but not as an intrusive part of my life.

Stacy said...

You know, I'm not one to leave comments. I guess I just had to today.

I can totally relate to your post, but in a different way. Our situations are so different and yet our emotions relating to grief are similar. I think that is why I've been drawn to your blog. I sadly found it after John had died so I have read all the history. Get to the point, right?

My firstborn daughter died just after her first birthday. She was an amazing girl and I miss her so much. I admit that after she died I put her on a pedestal and still sometimes do. However, taking care of K. was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done. She was born with a serious neurological disorder, hearing impairment, vision issues, and lots and lots of other mysterious stuff. After she died all I thought about what how perfect she was ... and she was. But taking care of child with her medical issues was so f'ing hard. I cried when she was alive almost every day. Why do I choose to bury those memories with her? All I can think of is because it.was.so.worth.it. It really was.

About a year after K. died I realized I wasn't just missing her. I was missing being a mother. We had mixed comments from people. We had people say, "just have another baby" as if she was replaceable and that infuriated me. And then the people closest to us worried that it might happen again and were concerned. As you are learning, it is a leap of faith.

I knew I was ready when the hope for joy FINALLY outweighed the fear of pain/sorrow/loss. I admit it outweighed it by a smidge and my DH had to give me the push I needed and I am so glad. We now have 13-month-old twins that bring a joy to our lives that I never thought I would feel again.

Do you ever feel like you are hitting a "do over" button by dating? Maybe it's just me! LOL! I felt that way when we decided to have more children and I still feel that way. My life is so different than it was when K. was alive. I admit it ... it's easier. And I feel guilty about that.

This grief thing is hard. If I've learned anything it is to be gentle with yourself. I no longer "apologize" or feel bad for the direction my grief takes me. It is what it is and I am who I am because of what I've experienced.

Wow - for someone that never posts comments I guess I had a lot to say.

Good luck with Mr. Coffee ...

Katherine said...

Thanks for your great post, Snick. It's food for thought for me, a fellow young(ish) widow. My husband died 2 1/2 years ago of pancreatic cancer. My kids are now 10 & 14. I dated someone for about 6 months earlier this year--nice guy but ultimately not a good match. Now I'm taking a break from trying to date, because a full time job, the needs and activities of two kids and an older home that is falling apart around me demand my attention. Or perhaps I've been taking a break because I'm chicken. I have to admit that I have feared I will never find a man as good for me as my husband was. We had a GREAT, though certainly not perfect, marriage. But the idea of someone even BETTER than that--wow, that's a thought I'd never entertained. And, you know, with all I've been through, I would certainly deserve that. Thanks for giving me some hope and helping me examine my own perspective.

Karen said...

like so many others have already said - its amazing how amazing you are. i wish, on my GOOD days, i could have half the perspective and judgment you exhibit on a constant basis.

thank you, as always, for sharing.

karen

OTRgirl said...

My comment disappeared! Grr...

My sister and I chatted about our Mom one time in front of BIL. After we commented on a couple things she did that used to drive us crazy, he interjected, "Wow, you two are harsh!" We were confused. Remembering the bad as well as the good is part of how you survive. If all you remember is the good, then you infect the rest of your life with dissatisfaction.

As for loving more than one person in a lifetime, aren't parents able to love more than one child equally but differently? Loving someone else doesn't negate the previous emotion or invalidate it in any way.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and brave.

Crash Course Widow said...

"She told me that the man she is with now is actually a better match for her than her late husband was." You know, I've actually thought (and said) several times that I'd actually have to have a man better than Charley this next time around. Just like you said about John, Charley wasn't perfect either, and if you look at both phases of our relationships (when we dated in high school/college and then later as adults), it certainly wasn't a perfect relationship. The sum total--the give and take of the wonderful and not-as-wonderful-but-manageable, as well as the maddening bad parts--of our marriage is what made it perfect for me. It wasn't without its flaws and limitations, but the sum total was really good.

But I've been aware several times in widowhood that I don't know if even Charley could have lived up to my needs and expectations in grief. He would have been wonderful about some things, but I don't doubt that he still would have been as flummoxed and at a loss as other people. I simple hope that the balance of them would have worked out into a positive result too...but I can never know.

And so when I think of the future or the next Mr. Wonderful Husband, I think he's going to have to be a mix of the things I liked best about Charley's and my marriage, but he's also going to have to have a whole let extra to be understanding and supportive about my life as a widow--particularly a remarried widow. And in the end, he'll have to be a bit better match for me than even Charley was.

So is this the incorporation of that half-drafted post you mentioned in a comment on my blog? It seemed like it could be. ;o)

Thanks for this post! The weird thing is that I think I believed, knew, from the very beginning that I wanted someone new, that I never wanted to be alone or with no one but Charley. But that's just me...and who knows if you can reliably trust a widow's memory of what she felt and thought in those first weeks and months. ;o)

Crash Course Widow said...

And I second what michele (moosh) said: Let me know if you're ever in Portland too, because I'd love to get to actually sit and talk each other's ears off in person. ;o) I always forget you're originally from here....

Anna said...

Well said. I read many blogs by widows and widowers, although I am not one, and the recurring theme I see is that the spouse was perfect, the marriage was perfect, everything was perfect - before cancer. No marriage or relationship is perfect and I'm glad you are able to talk about that.

amber said...

sad, but lovely post. i really appreciate your honesty in your blog posts.

Nancy said...

Once again, I must say that you rock. I should stop being amazed at your wonderfully honest writing, your insights, and your self awareness...but every time I read your posts like this, I do a little dance for you.

Jenny said...

Thank you for such an articulate, honest post, Snick. I'm a 6-month widow with a 2-year-old (just your twins' age), and I am comforted to read my own half-formed thoughts written so beautifully. I loved my husband unconditionally, and sometimes he was a pain in the ass. I'm not at all certain our marriage would have lasted, to be honest, though my love for him was never the issue. And I also loved being married, having a partner in life. Unlike you and many others, I remember having a conversation with a dear friend within two weeks of Steve's death, when I said I was going to want to find someone else. (I remember so vividly because I had forgotten Steve's sister was in the next room, and I'm still afraid she thinks I'm coldhearted and callous to have been thinking about a new relationship so soon!)

And I know Steve would want his daughter to have a father figure, if he were not around.

All that said, I know I have a long way to go in processing my grief and acheiving closure on our marital issues before I will be ready to date. However, like you Snick, I'm looking forward to the chase!

Vacant Uterus said...

Beautifully, eloquently said, Snick. What a lovely and truthful answer.

xo
Flicka

Watercolor said...

Amen.

Terri said...

As always, eloquent and thoughtful. And so very insightful and wise. Thank you. And best of luck

Anonymous said...

Well said. I seriously think that John would want you to find someone else to love and be loved by. That is what I told my husband when we married - if anything happens to me, find someone new - you are too good to waste. Same goes for you.

Heather said...

Snick, thanks so much for this post. I have really been struggling lately, and like Anna, noticed that many widowed blogs include comments to the effect that their marriages pre-tragedy were perfect. I'm pretty sure that if my husband had died in the first five years, I would totally be in that camp. But now, at ten years and falling apart, I'm clearly not so certain that we're for forever. It's nice to see that both sides of the story can be completely correct at their appropriate times in life.

Anne said...

Snick--

As my mother always says, "Life is for the living." It is your right and your privilege to live your life as long as you're alive. I absolutely agree with you about moving on and finding satisfaction (and love, passion, companionship, etc.) in other relationships, and second that "bite me" to all who suggest otherwise.

June said...

I admire you more each time I read your posts. I appreciate your honesty..seems you have a good insight on how you feel about yourself/life/dating. As for myself, I'm still learning... I've been married 38 yrs & I'm not so sure I could write about my husband as you do about yours. There's been LOTS of muddy waters in these 38 yrs. Some memories are precious & I'll NEVER forget, but there are other times when I'd gladly have given him away to the first bidder!!! I try to NEVER be a martyr -ya know, for having to have 'stuck it out' these 38 yrs. I've learned some very hard lessons, & I find each day I'm learning more & realize what I DO WANT out of life. Since I've been reading your blogs, many times I wonder "who am I, & what do I want for the rest of my life?" TRYING to convince my husband that life is not always bleak has to be THE MOST DIFFICULT challenge I've EVER encountered. I'm basically an optimist, ...it's quite difficult to understand anyone who only sees/anticipates the worst in life. I admire your willingness to create more happy times, & search for someone who can bring you & your precious children much DESERVED happiness. Looking forward to visiting w/you & the kiddos when I visit again in Dec.