I will celebrate my 48th wedding anniversary next week, alone, as my husband, Bruce, died in 2015. Actually, he preferred to celebrate the anniversary of the date we met, Oct. 14, 1969. This because he believed it was fate stepping in, not a Saturday night that happened to serve as our legal ceremony.
He was right about fate; one minute either way would have made the difference. My husband and I met while he was hitchhiking and my friends and I were driving in downtown Washington, D.C. We picked him up, and that was that.
We grew up together, through college and graduate school, first jobs, fledgling careers, a major move to Vermont, two children and extraordinary adventures. We buried his parents in Vermont and buried mine in Maryland.
We were in our mid-60s, healthy and looking forward to eventually retiring and enjoying our children and grandchildren. Bruce followed a careful diet and was an athlete. He biked, hiked, kayaked and became proficient at yoga, and lived long enough to know three of our four grandchildren.
When it struck, it struck hard — a glioblastoma. There was an initial successful surgery, followed by radiation and oral chemo. Bruce continued to do well. He used the guided imagery I taught him to overcome his fear of doctors, hospitals and treatments. He worked on a modified schedule in his job as a financial planner.
Our last Thanksgiving as a family was spent in the hospital, eating turkey between blood draws. He was sent home with hospice round-the-clock care. On Jan. 11, 2015, he passed away peacefully, with no pain and no fear. I still cannot believe my lover, my comrade, is gone. We did get to spend his last summer on the Atlantic Ocean at a beach house.
After almost a year, I moved from our family’s house to a nearby apartment. I decorated it as I chose, having no one else to please. With loving family and my wonderful posse of friends, as well as my therapy practice, I am busy and fulfilled. Almost every day and some nights bring activity and community.
A year after his death, I decided to date. While I still so clearly adored my husband, I desired to experience the same factors that made my marriage so wonderful. As the only widow in my group of friends, I felt alone, even with the constant invitations.
It is still a couples' world, and I wanted someone to share my life. And, frankly, as my 90-year-old aunt declared, I was too young to live without sex.
I began to date casually, just for practice, and later, more seriously. I’ve had two serious relationships since Bruce died, one from a fix-up and one from a dating site. The first ended with my boyfriend’s death, although we had severed our romantic relationship before he became ill. The second is still going strong. There is no drama, basically, because we communicate honestly and compromise often. He is respectful of my need for privacy and my extensive social life.
Do I love him? Yes, but that’s a bonus. More importantly, he is a good, honorable man who improves my life. Since 2015, some of my acquaintances have become widows as well as women who have been referred to me for support. I’m not their therapist, but I do offer suggestions based on my personal errors and successes. As my mother always said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. Life isn’t long enough to make them all yourself.”
Here are my six tips for widows who want to date.
- Realize that you can continue the relationship with your husband, only differently. I talk to Bruce daily, and, sometimes, he answers! However, I know there’s room for a physical relationship with another man in this life.
- Know what you want in a relationship, and ask for it early. If you want a platonic friendship, that’s fine. There are lots of men who desire a relationship without a sexual component. If you want romance and a sexual partner, that’s available, too. If you discover your date has other things in mind, move on.
- Discuss with family and close friends your intention to date. Assure them that this has nothing to do with not missing your spouse but, rather, your personal needs. Adult children with their own kids may have gotten used to your being available whenever needed. Discuss how things might change. Ultimately, they should realize that a happy mother and grandma is better than a lonely, resentful older woman.
- Try not to make broad assumptions about men. I had a rule about dating only widowers, believing they would understand I wasn’t interested in replacing my husband or entering into marriage. I was wrong. My first boyfriend wanted an exclusive, codependent relationship in which he was in control, despite my vehemently objecting. Naturally, we fought constantly. Second and current boyfriend is divorced and engaged in therapy to better understand his part in his 20-year marriage breakup. He has learned how to communicate effectively, which is what fuels our relationship.
- Go on dates whenever you get the opportunity, and don’t be afraid to try online sites — sometimes this can lead to a real relationship, as it has with me. Initially, meet someone in a safe place for a short time. Get to know different types of people you may never have noticed in the past. Have fun! After being in a long marriage (hopefully, loving like mine), you know you’re worthy. No need to feel rejected if someone doesn’t call a second time — keep at it.
- Know that nothing is irrevocable. If you get tired of dating, take a break. If you decide you’re happier without a relationship, stop dating. Use these opportunities to learn about your new self, your widowed self and what fills your heart and soul.
It’s your mission, if you choose to accept it, to find all the relationship possibilities out there. One possibility, as my aunt advised, became a reality. The sex is great!