Since going public with my dating relationship on Facebook, I’ve heard from lots of widows. They have been kind, gracious and most of all, curious. These brilliant women who have been through enormous levels of loss and sorrow, and who are still processing the way their lives and expectations have changed since their spouse died, want mostly to know if there’s hope that moving on is possible. They ask me things like:How did you know it was time to date again? How do you feel being with someone other than your husband? How can you trust that you won’t go through loss again or that if you did, you would survive a second time?
These questions capture so many angles of the fear and hope that surround widows and the wondering that is attached to nearly every single element of our future, but especially our romantic future.
Here’s where I answer all the questions definitively in a bullet-pointed, well-reasoned, intellectually honest way.
Except I don’t. Because if the question is: “Should I or should I not look for love again?” my answer is: I have no idea. But I have discovered a couple of things I think most widows will need to do, be or believe if they’re going to swim in these waters. Feel free to take or leave ‘em. I’ve only done this once myself so I could have this entirely wrong for you, but this is what has been true for me:
You will need to be brave.
Because it’s hard to trust again. Harder still, to start over again. If you had a brilliant marriage, it will be hard to imagine how anything could be as wonderful. If you had a difficult marriage, it will be hard to imagine that trying again could be anything but heartbreaking. Since you’ve been through loss, it will be hard to imagine how you would survive that loss again. You will need to be very brave.
You will need to tune out some voices.
Many people will have an opinion on when or how or with whom you begin this new season of your life. Their opinions will vary wildly. You will need to determine which voices will be invited into your decision making process. I invited four. They know every single detail of my story, his story and our story, and they have been my sanity. Beyond those four, there are maybe a dozen others who matter very much to me and have been bought along at various points as our relationship developed. Outside that circle of 12-20 people are about a million other opinions which I have come to view as the Cheap Seats. The Cheap Seats are not filled with bad people, but they are filled with people who cannot possibly know all the details or angst or prayer that has gone into this decision and so their opinions – like a broken clock – may be right twice a day, but they cannot be counted upon to inform our choices.
You will need to allow yourself room for mistakes.
Because you will make them. I have made plenty. These mistakes are humbling, but not fatal unless you let them push you into the land of no-risk, no-reward. This summer I discovered something very big about myself: I had been looking at the second half of my life as the time when I would be so wise and experienced that I would be virtually fail-proof (and wouldn’t that be such a relief to my friends and kids and stuff?) One day I had this awakening: I don’t want to live that way. I want to use the resources and wisdom I’ve gained in my 51 years to try something new, to live with all my heart, to lean into the great adventure that is ahead of me. I don’t want to live just avoiding mistakes. So, I said yes to dating, yes to a month in Italy this fall and yes to loads of smaller but still exciting opportunities and I have never been happier.
You may have to be willing to suspend an old mindset (or a couple of them.)
Like…an arbitrary measure of time you’ve attached to how long one should wait to date after being widowed. Or…the need to know for certain that someone is THE one before having a cup of coffee with that someone. Or…that dating is somehow unfaithful to the memory of your first husband. And I would especially suggest suspending the mindset that I have heard more than any coming from widows: “What will my friends/kids/church/coworkers think if I start dating again?” (And the probable answer to that, by the way, is: some will think it’s awesome and some will think it’s awful.) You don’t have to get rid of those mindsets forever, but you may need to suspend them while considering the possibility that you formed them with less information than you have now. You can always go back and worry what everyone thinks about your decisions later.
You will need to give yourself permission to love the adventure.
Because the thing is: Dating is really fun, unless it isn’t. And, like anything, whether it is or isn’t fun often has so much to do with how we view it. It can be a necessary evil, wherein the world is filled with frogs, dogs and no princes (aka: no one who measures up to the memory of our beloved), or it can be a daring adventure, where dates in and of themselves are an opportunity to discover things about us and about the world. Maybe they’ll also produce a fun new friendship, or a run at romance or even the ever-elusive True Love. Regardless of the end result, acknowledging that you will enjoy this season of life rather than resenting it or feeling guilty about it is a good way to set yourself up for success. And I know you didn’t ask for it, but here’s my opinion from the Cheap Seats: You are brave and strong and beautiful. You deserve an epic adventure.
You will not need to leave your memories or your sorrow behind.
Since I’ve talked about dating, people have said it’s good to see me moving on. But, no. I haven’t moved on from Steve or from sorrow. I’ve found that grief is pretty light-on-its-feet. It has a way of finding us in every season. My memories of Steve are less sharp and painful now, but occasionally still quite achey. It is a testament to the good heart of the man I am dating that he has never once resented my need to talk about Steve and process the life I had with him. He holds my memories, my marriage and my still-hurting heart with so much grace and has been a safe place for my sorrow to land. (I could be wrong about this, but I’m going to go ahead and say it: If you run into a man who cannot deal with the fact that you had a life before him, keep on running.)
So, that’s it. Easy, right? Nuh uh. I know it isn’t. I know it’s terrifying and treacherous and feels like one wrong decision will send you and all your people spiraling. I wish I could help you with that, but I can’t. All I can say is that whatever decision you make in this regard, hang on and trust hard. God is good at love; you can count on Him again.