The last thing I was looking forward to was re-entering the dating scene after 20+ years as a married woman. In fact, something Rick used to say came to mind: “I’d rather poke hot needles in my eyes.” And that’s saying a lot, because I have a weird aversion to looking at eyeballs – even seeing bloodshot eyes make me want to vomit.
But back to the issue at hand. I was happy being married. The obvious reason was that I was deeply in love with the man I chose to spend the rest of my life with, but after a few decades of being a single woman, I also grew to like the married lifestyle. Yes, there’s definitely a lot of compromise involved, but having Rick there to experience all aspects of life with me was comforting and enjoyable. I liked doing things as a couple. I liked discussing things and getting his take on issues. I liked how protected and loved he made me feel. I loved sharing my life with him. So, obviously, besides recovering from the pain of losing him, I was saddened by the idea of being alone in general and plagued by the difficulty of finding my rhythm as a single woman after all those years of married life.
Next week, it will be two years since I shared my life with Rick. In that time, I’ve gradually adapted to living life on my own – well, I really had no choice, did I? But I’ve had two years to accept that I’m on my own, two years to develop a new life for myself. Despite the fact that none of this was what I wanted, and I still miss him terribly, I’m content with the way things are now. I enjoy living alone in my comfortable home, and I’ve carved out a life for myself that includes lots of exciting and fulfilling things. I have a full and interesting life with a promising future. I have survived two years alone, and I’ll be okay on my own.
But dating? No way! It’s difficult to explain, but all this time, I’ve felt like a woman who’s husband isn’t here, but not a single woman. I feel like a widow: the wife of a man who died. He’s obviously not here with me – physically, but he’ll always be a part of me. Bottom line, until recently, I didn’t feel single. I didn’t want to feel single. And I certainly didn’t have any desire to go out to singles groups or any other activity that reminded me that I was. In fact, I dreaded the return to those days of long ago, when I was twenty-something looking for Mr. Right.
In the past couple of months, I finally forced myself to face reality. There is no man waiting for me at home at the end of the workday. I vacation alone. I go to movies and dinners and parties alone. I wake up alone and I go to bed alone. And generally I’m okay with it, but in the back of my mind I finally admitted to myself that there is something missing. I miss the company of a man. I don’t need a man, but I spent twenty one years with a man ever present in my life, and it was enjoyable. So, despite being content with things the way they are, the question kept nagging at me, and I kept wondering – What if I tried getting back out in the “singles” world? What’s the worst that could happen?
So I did. I took off my wedding ring (oh! that was painful!) and I finally admitted that I’ve been longing for a past that no longer exists. I am a single woman who mostly hangs out with married couples and family members. I’m a third wheel. So, I decided to try to find “my people.” I joined a couple of local singles groups and I created a profile on some online dating apps.
I wasn’t thrilled about either task. Deep down, I had a nagging feeling that I was “supposed” to do this. It was the next stage of healing, a new goal to be conquered. It was a stage I “should” be in if I was to continue moving forward after two years of grieving. And, after some initial (non-rational) guilt feelings that I was somehow betraying Rick, I also had to admit to myself that this is something he would want me to do. So I did. But I had no sense of excitement or anticipation about it. I was honestly dreading going back to the dating scene, especially at my age.
But, after a couple of weeks in this new world of meeting other singles – and even flirting (!) with single men – I discovered something quite unexpected…it’s fun! I’m having fun!
I’m enjoying this new stage of my life. I never would have guessed this would happen. I remember back to the days of my late teens and early twenties and how much I enjoyed dancing at the local bar with all my friends. Life was carefree and I lived in the moment. Only then, I was also an insecure young girl. I was always looking for Mr. Right, always hoping in the back of my mind that a man would fall in love with me and give me my dream: marriage, children, the cozy home with the white picket fence. So, all the fun I was having out in the singles world of the late 1970s was also fueled by feelings of anxiety and insecurity that overshadowed everything. I was continuously hoping that some wonderful man would come along and make me feel lovable, that he’d fulfill me, complete me. And looking back at the younger me, I had no idea who I was, and I was definitely “incomplete.”
Fast forward forty years, and that’s not the same woman who is dancing at the singles events, or the woman who fended off the man trying to get her to bed on a recent date. The woman I am today is a whole person who has lived life and experienced all of its ups and downs. I know myself and I’m a confident individual. I’m a woman who is no longer looking for Mr. Right, for a man to rescue me and give me the house and the child and a life. Between the 1970s and today, I had a child, I made a career for myself, I married a wonderful man, and we created a home (or two) together. (Okay, perhaps those experiences all happened in an untraditional order, but that’s life!). Oh, and I never got the picket fence, but I can buy one at Home Depot if I decide I still want one.
The point is, all those insecurities about dating are behind me now. The fears, the need for someone to complete me, seeking a man to rescue me from singleness – none of that is a part of the woman I am today. I honestly don’t give a damn if some guy wants me or doesn’t. I’ve been loved by a wonderful man named Rick Palmer, and my time with him has left me a legacy of fantastic memories. I’ve had the life I dreamed of so long ago. Now, I just want to enjoy the time I have left, and if that includes dating some nice men, that’s great. If I’m alone the rest of my life, I’m fine with that, too.
A huge difference in the way I feel about dating now is the result of Rick loving me. When re-entering the world of men, I’m finding I don’t fear rejection like I did as a younger woman. I have been loved by a man who taught me what love is all about. I know what it is to be pursued, won, and treated like a queen. I have had the experience of a 20+ year relationship that helped me discover what was important in a mate and in a relationship: honesty, communication, a sense of humor, spontaneity, the ability to forgive, and the desire to spend as much time as possible experiencing life together even after many years have passed. The bar has been set high. If a guy isn’t interested, then he can take a hike, because I won’t be chasing him down and trying to catch him. Rick taught me what real love was all about.
As I have ventured into the world of dating, I’ve discovered a side benefit of being a widow of my “advanced” age: I have a myriad of friends and family members who care about me and are watching out for my safety. On my first date since being a widow – with a man I met online recently, I texted seven people his name, photo, phone number, the time when we’d be meeting, and the name of the sports bar where I was meeting him. Then I dutifully checked back in with them when the date was over. It’s so nice being loved.
The date was okay. We didn’t have much in common, but I had a (mostly) nice time and it got me over the big “first date” hump. Unfortunately, it was also good practice gaining insight to some of the come-on lines I may be hearing as a dating widow, and drumming up polite responses to deflect them. One of the reasons this man thought I should have sex with him was, “You’ve been a widow for two years and you need intimacy.” Sigh. But, then again, I found the whole evening kind of humorous and I’m taking notes, because his pick-up lines may provide some fodder for a future novel. So it was a win-win, and confirmed that I am now truly a single woman who’s well equipped to handle the dating scene.
And then, unexpectedly, after texting my guardian angel squad to let them know the date had ended, as I prepared to start my car and head to a friend’s house to debrief, my nephew sent me a text. He said, I’m so excited for u. I know it might be wrong to say, but I know Rick would want u to do this, because he’s watching over you.
So, at the end of the date, I sat alone in my car and cried for a minute or two, because I know he’s right. Rick would want me to live a full life in the time I have left. Rick would not want me continuing to live in the past any longer, dreaming my life away, wishing for what used to be. And yes, I know he’s watching over me, and he’ll always be with me every step of my new journey. So, I may be officially a single woman, but I won’t ever really be alone.