Most FAQ After the Loss of My Spouse

After I lost my husband four years ago, I was subjected to a barrage of questions from close friends and many acquaintances:

How are you doing? Are your kids OK? How are you doing financially?

Thinking about moving out of your home? What do you do on weekends when you’re alone?

But the one question most often asked was: Are you dating yet? And then the questioner would be all ears anxiously waiting for my answer. I would respond vehemently, “No way,” while shaking my head “No” vigorously, smiling politely, then changing the subject.

I lost my husband all too soon. Meltdowns several times a day were commonplace. I would have one in the grocery store and run out leaving my cart full of groceries for the store to put away. I would sob when a familiar song came on the car radio, and I’d have to pull over, or I’d spot someone on the street who reminded me of my late husband and the water works would begin again. I knew after months of therapy with a grief counselor and by joining a grief support group that this was normal behavior after such a loss. I had to grieve…to remember and to cry in order to move forward.

I had been sucker-punched by fate; my world as I knew it was gone. I was not only grieving but at the same time trying to deal with the mundane imperatives of my life: job, bills, making it through each day when I felt like I was mired in quicksand and thinking about what was next.

Then two years passed. One day a friend insisted that I meet an unmarried 70-something male friend of hers. He tutored kids, something I did, too. He was smart. Seemed caring. She pushed and pushed. Felt it was time I stepped out with a man again. The fact that she was nudging me to do so was typical of the preoccupation of a grounded and long-married Midwesterner.

“Everyone needs someone,” she said.

I balked. The possibility of my dating after such a loss and at age 60-plus seemed as remote as taking the expensive trip to Africa my husband and I had been dreaming about when we had talked about retiring together.

“Just meet this guy for coffee and see what you think?”

I made a face. Rolled my eyes. My friend could sense that I found the whole idea anathema.

Then a few weeks later I caved. “OK.” I finally said, trying to sound enthusiastic.

“You’ll learn to like dating. Just wait. You’ll come to feel comfortable with it. This is the first step.”

I was tense the day of our meeting. Getting ready, I felt like I was about to make a cameo appearance in some movie as I labored over what to wear, applied my makeup carefully and selected the right earrings to match my outfit. Then I headed to the coffee shop. I walked in, looked around and realized I was the first to arrive, went to the counter to order a cappuccino and settled down in a booth to wait. I was nervous and fidgety and played around on my cell phone as a distraction, every so often looking up to see if they had arrived.

When they came in, I spotted them and did a quick check of him, my eyes scoping up and down. I remember a pleasant first impression of his lean and tall frame. Not bad, I thought. He was nice looking with a boyish face framed by wire rimmed glasses, raisin-colored eyes and had a thick shock of salt and pepper hair. After shaking hands and exchanging a few cursory, “How do you dos,” we started chatting. It was then that I felt no spark. He was too intense, serious, almost sullen. If I were going to enter into any relationship–even friendship, it needed to be with someone who was upbeat and positive. As I swallowed the last of my cappuccino, I stood up, held out my hand, and said, “Nice meeting you.” And that was that. I had zero interest in his calling me for a real date.

Two weeks later, my friend called to say the guy wanted to meet me again for coffee. This time I said emphatically, “No, thank you.”

“What about online dating?” Barbara chimed in when I told her about my first sort of fix up. She wanted me to take advantage of the magic of technology to help me find a mate. “It’s the transformative way of dating today,” Barbara reminded me. She was an expert having become a serial online dater. Interestingly, all this talk of dating and the notion of being with a man again caused feelings I had suppressed to rise to the surface like heavy cream. It was now part of my consciousness when I went out in public with freshly coiffed hair, new makeup and tighter, more figure-flattering clothing.

And then one day it happened serendipitously. I ran into a former high school boyfriend at the Apple Store. It had been 50 years since we last laid eyes on each other. His features were sharper; no longer was he the wide-eyed boy I remembered. He was bald, midline a little softer with a paunch, but he had the same sparkling translucent Windex-blue eyes. We agreed to get together and met for wine and conversation.

It turned out that he was single. His demeanor was genial and I started to relax especially after I had a few sips of Pinot Noir. I wasn’t smitten but not turned off either. He was kind, funny, interesting, had worked hard and was retired. He was fluent in subjects I wasn’t as familiar with such as art, law, travel, movies and certain kinds of music. I shared with him my interests in classical music and opera, wine, current events and literature.

We started dating. He introduced me to his friends and family. I did the same. We thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. I felt safe, pretty and sexy with him almost as if I were back in high school. I relished the fact that he was understanding. Patient. He had no expectations and gave me lots of space. It was the first time I had ever lived on my own and I didn’t want a permanent entanglement. He was on the same page.

Want to be friends or more? That’s fine. “There are no rules, only our rules,” he said, but asked me: “What do you want?” He encouraged me to be me and think for myself. I wasn’t used to thinking of me. I was brought up to put others first and had done so throughout my long-term marriage. Now it was all about me, me, me. What did I want? I wanted to be appreciated, held, loved and hugged with passion.

I quickly slipped into his world and he into mine. This was all part of navigating my new life as a woman on my own for the first time. I had married right out of college at age 22, and went from living with my parents to living with my new husband. We had a traditional marriage that was typical of the era—the late 60s—when we married. He made most of the decisions and his work was the most important, although I had my writing career. Throughout our 42 years, we grew up together and fortunately never grew apart. And then he was gone leaving a hole in my heart so large that even stitches couldn’t have mended it. Eventually it would heal on its own.

In my new life, I made it clear to family, friends and any potential dates that I didn’t need a man to complete my life. And when I found someone I wanted as a male companion, I set the boundaries. I even surprised myself when I told him he had to be monogamous and asked if he had been tested for STDs, another rule of dating, especially for our age group, Barbara explained. Who was this new person I had morphed into? I couldn’t believe the words dripping from my mouth. I was learning, experimenting, growing, risking, moving away from what I had been used to and stepping into a new life that began to wrap around me like a warm fur coat. (Note:That doesn’t preclude the fact that I will always miss my late husband and still think about him multiple times every day and especially after the day of our anniversary, what would have been No. 47.)

I’ve been a very lucky woman. I had the love of my life, unfortunately lost him all too soon but in doing so, have found out so much more about who I am and what I am capable of doing on my own.

Today, what is the most often asked question? “Is life as good the second time around?”


You can read more about two women dealing with the loss of a spouse, one to death and one to divorce, in our forthcoming book, “Suddenly Single After 50,” to be released by Rowman and Littlefield later this year.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published