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The Care and Handling of Newly Single Friends

 

 

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The question I am asked most often right now is: What is the best way to relate to and care for widows and widowers?  It’s usually closely followed by, “I’m afraid I’m going to do something wrong, so I don’t do anything.”  First,  it’s such a good question.  Secondly, I struggle to answer it.  I know the ways my community has blessed me, but my situation is only mine. I don’t have a complete worldview on this issue.  So I turned to my friends who have been widowed in the past year or so and they sent me amazing input.  Then I had a conversation with someone who was recently divorced and was struck by how different our experiences were.  That’s when I decided to talk to a few people who haven’t experienced the death of a spouse, but they have experienced the death of a marriage.  Now, I’m not sure which one is harder – they’re both so difficult and so different, but both leave us all in the same place: the land of the newly single.  We’re different than the always-single.  Used to being part of a couple and usually part of a community of couples, this strange land is fraught with frustration and heartache and, in some cases, shame.

 

These ideas are not my own, though I do share most of them.  They are the collective thoughts from my conversations with some of the bravest people I know.  They are by no means exhaustive nor universal, but I hope they inspire you to new levels of love and compassion toward the newly single in your life.  Here are our thoughts:

 

 

It’s never bad to invite us to…well, pretty much anything.

Holidays can be hard and lonely, but so can regular old Tuesdays. Events with mostly couples can be hard, but invite us anyway – we’ll decide if we can handle it or not.  And even though we’ve said no once or twice or five times, please keep asking us. Our ability to move out into society changes from day to day, so please don’t be offended if we have to decline a kind invitation – it still felt so nice to be asked into your world.

 

 

 

Be willing to listen long.

We have, in most cases, lost our primary processing person. We don’t necessarily need answers as much as we need to be able to talk our way to a conclusion or solution which is why we may cover the same ground over and over again.  It’s tempting to want to give a lot of advice and it’s okay to offer some – but those who listen well are an amazing gift to us.

 

 

We appreciate your love for our kids – especially when you run it through us first.

Again, this one can be difficult to navigate because whatever it is that made us single has undoubtedly caused heartache for them as well. We have our eyes out for signs of fallout in their hearts and are cautious to expose them to anything else that might be hurtful.  Offers to take them to coffee, or school clothes shopping or on your family vacation are so kind, but there may be reasons it won’t work, so just ask us first.

 

Here’s a tricky one: be careful in your attempts to set us up.  

So, so careful.  Some of my  newly single friends are eager to welcome the involvement of their married friends in their dating lives, others are not. And across the board, my friends expressed a fair amount of shock and awe at how they’ve been set up and with whom.  Let’s tackle those separately, shall we?  Now understand, please, that I’M not in the dating market, but I’m going to speak collectively for the people who trusted me with their insight and so it will sound weird, but that’s just how this is going down.

 

  1. HOW to set up your newly single friend.  Here are the don’ts:  No blindsiding.  No secret invites of other single friends, hoping they’ll meet, mingle and marry (totally going to trademark Meet, Mingle & Marry for a new dating web site. Because I have time for that.)  Here are the do’s:  Do ask permission. Do be honest about your motives (wanting to introduce two people who may become friends or more is not bad, it just becomes bad if people feel tricked)  Do give your friend a way out if they are not comfortable.
  2. WITH WHOM:  This one is a little tricky to talk about, but talk about it we must.  We understand that the dating pool gets smaller as we get older.  However, that does not mean our standards shrink along with it.   We want someone who shares our beliefs and values.  We want someone who has character and integrity.  We want someone who – and I can’t stress how many times I’ve heard this, so it must really be a thing – is not crazy. I get that crazy can be subjective and a little crazy can be cute to some – but use good judgement here.  And here are some random don’ts:
  • Don’t put your friend in a situation that you yourself would not want to be in.  Ask yourself:  If roles were reversed, would I think this person was a legitimate option for my dating life?  Then, add in all the pain and sorrow that comes from divorce or widowhood and multiply by 17 and you have the level of caution and disorientation your friend is feeling as he or she faces the whacky world of dating.
  • Do not be offended if your friend asks to see a picture or a Facebook page before committing to a meeting. You would want one, too.
  • Do not be offended if, after viewing said Facebook profile, your friend takes a pass.
  • Do not be offended if, after one date, your friend doesn’t want another.  Love and attraction are entirely subjective and what makes sense to you may not make any sense at all to them, and that’s okay. Almost every one of my friends made a comment along the lines of, “I’d rather have no one than settle for something that doesn’t feel right.”  In my conversations, people who had lost their spouse to divorce were much more adamant on this point than those who were widowed.  Though walking a spouse all the way to the end of his life is difficult, it also re-emphasizes the beauty and strength of committed love.  Those who have watched the wedding vows die, on the other hand, do not always enjoy that same faith in relationships.
  • Do not offer the possibility of finding a mate as a source of comfort.  “Don’t worry, you’re  young  – you’ll love again” just really isn’t comforting.  It implies that what we lost is replaceable and often times, the thing we lost was our faith in the safety and sanctity of marriage itself.  So “again” is loaded with all sorts of emotions.

 

 

 

Speaking of people who have been through a divorce or difficult break up:  This one is very tender.  Every divorced friend I spoke with had a word in their lexicon that the widowed group did not, and the word is a powerful one: shame.  They are carrying the weight of failure, whether perceived or actual.  They are often locked in bitter battles for children or property or reputation.  They haven’t just lost the friendship of a spouse, each one expressed the depth of pain in losing half their friends or their church or their in-laws. Sometimes they feel that married people eye them suspiciously when they get near their spouses. It is sorrow on top of sorrow.

 

 

Widows and widowers usually receive an outpouring of love and sympathy (at least initially), but divorced people are often tragically neglected as communities choose sides and scatter.  The bottom line here, however, is love.  Be willing to love your divorced friends without condition and without needing explanations or apologies. And in those situations where the social dynamic must change in your relationship  (you probably won’t keep having your ex brother-in-law over for Christmas dinner), refuse to get caught up in the mudslide of gossip and slander that so easily rolls through communities (and social media!) in the aftermath of a marriage breakdown. Refuse to throw mud. And love instead.  For the sake of broken hearts and hurting children and in honor of the grace of Jesus, choose generous, covering love.

 

 

Finally, stay in the game.

Many I talked with mentioned feeling that their friends gradually began to slide out of the picture.  Sometimes it’s friend fatigue, sometimes it’s just forgetfulness.  Once the initial shock is over, the surrounding community returns to their regular lives while the newly single person stands in the wreckage, wondering if rebuilding is even possible.  If you’ve lost touch with someone you love who is rebuilding, it’s never too late to reengage. So many people have told me how sad they are for neglecting to stick close to their hurting friend and that they’re now too embarrassed to reach out.  Don’t be that friend.  Reach out.  No need to over-explain or over-apologize, just say, “Hey I love you and I miss you and I want to get together whenever it works for you.”  And then make it work.  Because we’re all in this together, guys.  And from my side of the newly-single fence:  I need you.  And I’m so glad you’re in my life.

 

And hey – single or formerly-single friends – comments are open: what did we miss?

 

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

March 24, 2016 - 2:22 pm

Kayrin - Thank you Bo! I am married to a man who was widowed very suddenly and unexpectedly at age 35. There was no handbook for what he was going through, or what I went through when we began dating. I LOVE hearing your perspective on this. Thank you.

March 24, 2016 - 2:43 pm

Debbie Wilson - I lost my husband last July too. You have hit the nail on the head for most of my questions. However, how do you transition your adult kids in seeing you as not only ‘mom’ minus dad now, but a woman that sees many changes ahead? Like, moving out of a family home, the potential of a new partner or even just traveling. Mine seem to picture me at home in this lost state, forever.

March 24, 2016 - 3:11 pm

Joy - Dearest Bo: I cannot be certain, never having experienced the heartbreak of losing a partner to death, but having had the experience of a delightful, long-term (23 years) marriage ending in divorce and the horror of all the losses involved, I’d have to say that this kind of divorce is worse than death. How often in the days and months following divorce did I long for the peace and comfort of death? Daily. What did I lose, exactly? My confidant, best friend, lover, pastor, peanut gallery, admirer, fellow life-warrior-at-arms, accountant, navigator, sounding board and co-parent. I lost the one person who faithfully said “Is it just me, or is this THE best meal you’ve ever tasted???! !!” I lost upwards of 50 people, many of whom exchanged “I love you”s with me for more than two decades…literally overnight. Gone. Without a trace, without a word and I still have NO idea what they were told to cause them to vanish when he decided to depart. But vanish they did. To the accompaniment of my broken heart. I also lost nearly every legalistic friend of our then-circle…which was nearly everyone. I also lost the confidence that I was called to be an excellent wife & mother because what kind of a woman would lose her husband to such a degree that he who loved her so deeply now openly hates her??! I lost the benefit of the doubt that maybe there were two sides to this story — because our circles? OUR circles “knew” that a truly excellent Help Meet could not possibly let her husband stray. I lost my son. He was 18 and felt like leaving might be the grownup thing to do, you know, since his dad was doing it. I lost all financial security. All of it. When I asked one of my formerly “dear” friends why she never checked to see if my girls & I were even hungry during the months after he left, she said “Well, you didn’t seem to believe the way we do.” I asked her if she knew he had left & she said “I heard it but didn’t want to believe it.” Why were we talking now? She had called to make sure I wasn’t moving away & taking any of her homeschool books I’d borrowed with me. I cannot even express the blow to my heart. Multiple blows. There is more, but this is hard. I will say more later, perhaps, but for now it’s been six years & I am just now gaining my balance and learning how to live single and strong. I say I believe divorce (from a happy marriage) is worse than death because I lost the heart & soul of my life — the one who said I was his rib, his bestie, his destiny…and overnight my “I love you to the moon & im not worthy of you!” became “I hate you and you are a witch!” Over. Night. It took a hella long time before I stopped crying in envy when I’d hear of someone dying. I never considered suicide nor took to my bed. I plugged along doggedly surviving in the hope of thriving again someday. But the peace of death in exchange for my lover’s hate-filled, lava-laden words was a heady thought indeed. And the loneliness and rejection from people’s fear of my Divorce Disease? Indescribable. Truly. The memories of a dearly departed’s adoration of his surviving partner & family is a beautifully healing balm. But this? This adds fiery darts of insult upon injury that just never lets up. And it stinks, honey. It really stinks. From all directions. But my love for you grows daily, Bo. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your journey and inviting us to share ours. It’s cathartic. <3

March 24, 2016 - 4:07 pm

kat - I just want to say, even after 25+ years from a divorce, i am still experiencing some of these feelings. Failure, lonesomeness rejection. And the why am i alone? Along with so many other feelings. Watching your world you knew slip away, and facing life alone, and watching friends slip away seems to be a thing that happens even after all these years.
But i do know i am over the top thankful for the unconditional love of our Lord. He is my everything. Thank you for the post Bo. God bless.

March 24, 2016 - 5:27 pm

Teresa B. - Joy- I am so sorry for what you have gone through. Please know that I will be praying for your continued sense of being and Independence. Continue to rest upon the Lord and he will be beside you at all times. Thank you for this Bo. I wish I could send this to all my dad’s friends. He is in the “newly divorced” area and has many friends who try to set him up. He gets invited to ball games, concerts, and every time there is an extra female along for the ride. He said to me “I just want to enjoy being single!” Hes started to decline invitations because of the prospect of having a “blind date” and then he doesn’t want to be rude to turn them down for a one on one date. So the dating comments are so very very true and something everyone should consider, it may even be the #1 point!

March 24, 2016 - 8:56 pm

Sally - Oh what good reminders these are to reach out and reach out again to the widows who continue to hurt.

May I add another category? Those of us who are in limbo; in my case a spouse who is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. As Pauline Boss says in her book Ambigious Loss he has said goodbye without leaving. He is still very much in my life, but he has said goodbye. I have a husband, but I am not part of a couple. I am still committed to caring for a husband who does not even know my name. Long time friends have drifted away. Neighbors ask how he’s doing but don’t offer to help me shovel snow. My church family is busy visiting people who are dying of cancer or having surgery or are unemployed. They grew tired of this long ten year illness

I’m partly at fault. I don’t return phone calls because I don’t always want to discuss the latest decline, I don’t want to be sad. I don’t want to hear how you understand because your grandmother or your mother had Alzheimer’s. You could visit your mother at the memory care facility and go home to your normal life with your husband. I go home with his dirty laundry to an empty house.

March 25, 2016 - 7:20 pm

Marlys Johnson - Great info for friends and family of the newly single!

If I could add one thought to your list – speaking as a 16-month widow – it would be this: Don’t be afraid to tell stories and share memories about my husband in front of me because I love to hear them. My brother-in-law mentioned he was thinking of posting something about Gary to Facebook, but wasn’t sure how I would take it. — Yes, please do! — And so he posted a photo of Gary and said that March Madness wasn’t the same without him, and that he missed him (Hubby, computer geek, maintained an annual computerized March Madness Johnson family pool, which kept us connected to each other throughout the basketball series, including some good-natured trash talking).

His post was honoring of his brother. And I felt honored, as well.

March 27, 2016 - 2:45 pm

Kimberlie Ott - Dear Bo, Your post today was beautiful. I have been following your blog for the past few years, and Steve’s too, up until his final post. This resonated with me as it was 16 years ago you walked into the Bend Blockbuster and said you had heard through the grapevine(our mutual college friends) of my divorce and how sorry you were. I remember that meeting as clearly as yesterday as I was overjoyed to see you , and then mortified with the wave of shame and loss that came with the knowledge that the world knew my problems. I have been on a long journey of healing since………….walked through many years of pain and frustration at not “succeeding” where others did……but since, I have seen God’s grace enter my life and fill my children’s hearts with peace…….I remarried a widower whom I had known for many years and together we loved a blended family of 8 children whose hearts were torn with loss from cancer and divorce. God came in and remade a broken heart and I am still learning to trust, in my maker and in my husband. My children’s dad died almost four years ago………and we remained friends (as best we could) for the sake of our children. Losses………..deep and abiding, of church family, friends and others who pick sides caused such pain, but God brought new connections and new paths…….learning to walk and traverse those paths is a moment by moment testing of my faith. I pray for you continually……..the beauty of this blog is so evident……you are spot on in your musings and have gleaned much from dear friends. Keep your head held high………His Grace does carry you through the storm, when the quiet hours are sometimes the hardest. Much love for your future.