Author Topic: After Losing the Love of My Life, I知 Dating for the First Time in Decades  (Read 2354 times)


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After Losing the Love of My Life, I知 Dating for the First Time in Decades

The Other Side of Grief is a series about the life-changing power of loss. These powerful first-person stories explore the many reasons and ways we experience grief and navigate a new normal. 

After 15 years of marriage, I lost my wife, Leslie, to cancer. We were best friends before we壇 started dating.  For nearly 20 years, I only loved one woman: my wife, the mother of my children.  I was and still am grieving the loss of a woman who壇 been the Robin to my Batman (her words, not mine) for nearly two decades.  Still, quite apart from missing the woman I loved, I miss having a partner. I miss the intimacy of a relationship. Someone to talk to. Someone to hold.  The leader of a grief support group I attended talked about the 都tages of grief but also suggested that it wasn稚 as if you processed those stages linearly. One day maybe you raged, then the next you accepted your loss. But that didn稚 necessarily mean you didn稚 rage again the next day.  The group leader considered grief to be more of a spiral, winding ever closer to acceptance, but also taking trips through blame, negotiation, anger, and disbelief along the way.  I知 not sure I was ever on board with the spiral analogy.  My grief seemed like waves radiating out from a droplet of water in a larger pool. Over time, the waves would be smaller and further apart, then a new droplet would fall and start the process all over again a draining faucet trickling empty.  After some time, the droplets are less frequent, but I can never seem to quite fix the leak. It痴 part of the plumbing now.  In many ways, you池e never 登ver such an enormous loss. You just adapt to it.  And I suppose that痴 where my daughters and I are now in our story of navigating our lives without Leslie.  If you池e never truly over someone you love passing away, does that mean you can never date again?

Never find another partner and confidante?

The idea that I had to make my peace with permanent loneliness because death had separated me from the woman I married was ridiculous, but figuring out when I was ready to date wasn稚 easy.  When is it time to date?

When you lose someone, there痴 a feeling of being under a microscope, your every move examined by friends, family, coworkers, and connections on social media.  Are you behaving appropriately? 

Are you mourning 田orrectly?

Are you being too somber on Facebook?

Do you seem too happy?

Whether people are actually constantly judging or not, it feels like it to people who are mourning.  It痴 easy to pay lip service to the sentiment, 的 don稚 care what people think.

It was harder to ignore that some of the people who might be confused, concerned, or hurt by my decision to date would be a close family who壇 also lost Leslie.  About a year after her death, I felt ready to start looking for another partner. Like grief, the timeframe for each individual痴 readiness is variable. You might be ready two years later, or two months.  Two things determined my own readiness to date: I壇 accepted the loss and was interested in sharing more than just a bed with a woman. I was interested in sharing my life, my love, and my family. The droplets of grief were falling less frequently. The waves of emotion that radiated out were more manageable.  I wanted to date, but I didn稚 know if it was 殿ppropriate. It痴 not that I wasn稚 still grieving her death. But I recognized the very real possibility that my grief was part of me now, and that I壇 never truly been without it again.  I wanted to be respectful to the other people in my wife痴 life who壇 also lost her. I didn稚 want anyone to think that my dating reflected negatively on my love for my wife, or that I was 登ver it.  But ultimately the decision came down to me. Whether others judged it appropriate or not, I felt I was ready to date.  I also believed I owed it to my potential dates to be as honest with myself as possible. They壇 be taking their cues from my words and actions, opening up to me, and if all went well believing in a future with me that only existed if I was truly ready.  Why do I feel guilty?

What can I do about it?

I felt guilty almost immediately.  For nearly 20 years, I hadn稚 gone on a single romantic date with anyone other than my wife, and now I was seeing someone else. I was going on dates and having fun, and I felt conflicted by the idea that I should enjoy these new experiences because they seemed purchased at the expense of Leslie痴 life.  I planned elaborate dates for fun venues. I was going out to new restaurants, watching movies outside in the park at night, and attending charity events.      I started wondering why I壇 never done the same things with Leslie. I regretted not pushing for those sorts of date nights. Too many times I left it to Leslie to plan.  It was so easy to get caught up in the idea that there would always be time for date nights later.  We never really considered the idea that our time was limited. We never made it a point to find a sitter so we could take time for us.  There was always tomorrow, or later, or after the kids were older.  And then it was too late. Later was now, and I壇 become more of a caregiver than a husband to her in the last months of her life.  The circumstances of her health痴 decline left us with neither time nor the ability to paint the town red. But we were married for 15 years.  We got complacent. I got complacent.  I can稚 change that. All I can do is recognize that it happened and learn from it.  Leslie left behind a better man than the one she married.  She changed me in so many positive ways, and I知 so grateful for that. And any feelings of guilt I have about not being the best husband I could have been to her have to be tempered with the idea that she just hadn稚 finished fixing me yet.  I know Leslie痴 life痴 purpose wasn稚 to leave me a better man. That was just a side effect of her caring, nurturing nature.  The longer I date, the less guilty I feel the more natural it seems.  I acknowledge the guilt. I accept that I could have done things differently, and apply myself to the future.  The guilt wasn稚 because I wasn稚 ready, it was because by not dating, I hadn稚 yet dealt with how it would make me feel. Whether I壇 waited 2 years or 20, eventually I壇 have felt guilty and have needed to process it.  Being ready to date and being ready to bring your date back to your house are two very different things.  While I was ready to put myself back out there, my house remained a shrine to Leslie. Every room is filled with our family and wedding pictures.  Her nightstand is still full of photographs and books, letters, makeup bags, and greeting cards that致e remained undisturbed for three years.  The guilty feelings of dating are nothing compared to the guilt of trying to figure out what to do with a 20 by 20 wedding photograph over your bed.  I still wear my wedding ring. It痴 on my right hand, but it feels like such a betrayal to take it off entirely. I can稚 quite part with it.  I can稚 throw those things away, and yet some of them no longer fit the narrative that I知 open to a long-term relationship with someone I care about.  Having children simplifies the problem of how to handle it. Leslie will never stop being their mother despite her passing. Though wedding pictures might get stored away, the family pictures are reminders of their mother and her love for them and need to stay up.  Just as I don稚 shy away from talking to the kids about their mother, I also don稚 apologize for discussing Leslie with dates (I mean, not on the first date, mind you). She was and is an important part of my life and the lives of my children.  Her memory will always be with us. So we talk about it.  Still, I probably should clean and organize that nightstand one of these days.  There are other things to think about other milestones to address: Meeting the kids, meeting the parents, all of those potential wonderful terrifying moments of new relationships.  But it starts with moving forward. It痴 the opposite of forgetting Leslie. Instead, it痴 actively remembering her and deciding how best to move forward while still respecting that shared past.  This reboot of my 電ating days comes easier with the knowledge that Leslie herself wanted me to find someone after she was gone, and had told me so before the end. Those words brought me pain then, instead of the comfort I find in them now.  So I値l allow myself to delight in the discovery of a great new person and try as hard as I can to keep the regrets and past mistakes I can稚 control from spoiling that.  And if after all of that my dating now is judged 妬nappropriate, well, I値l just have to politely disagree.