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The first time I heard the question it shocked me. Then it angered me. Then I felt guilty. Then I became numb.
“Are you dating anyone?”
The answer always remained the same: “No.”
Within days of losing my husband, I told a friend, “I’m never going to let another man touch me.” She thought I was in shock. I was. We had married only 11 days before his death, so I was a newlywed widow. In my mind, we were married, and his absence didn’t change that.
A few months later, I slept with two former lovers, the kind of men who are only interested in sex and light conversation. They hadn’t cared when I started seeing my future husband (other than the inconvenience of my no longer being available), and were more than happy to pick up where we left off after expressing their condolences. Every cell in my heart wanted to resist them, but my body and mind were hungry. I desperately wanted to be held and feel less alone.
Of course, being with them made me miss my husband even more and feel even lonelier.
So, I stopped inviting anyone up to the apartment, even after I renovated it and got a new bed. It was the place where my husband had lived before I moved in, where we had lived together, and where he had died. It was still covered with photos of him and us. It was the one place where I could still talk to him and hear his response. It became a “no fly zone.” But I still craved companionship.
Around the first-year anniversary, I met an acquaintance of my husband’s at a party who said he had a voicemail from him on his phone. I took this, and the timing, as a direct message from my husband that this guy was special.
We went on a date, my first with another man since I met my husband four years earlier. I was so nervous that I forgot to take off my wedding ring, drank like a fish (“What happened to your ex?” I asked him at the bar), and practically crawled into his lap on the drop-off. I was what my gay friends called “a hot mess.” I still didn’t invite him up. He never could produce the voicemail.
18 months after his death, I adopted a puppy. I had tried to convince my husband when he was sick that we should get a dog. I thought it would cheer him up and give him a reason to live, one of many wild ideas I thought might save him. He convinced me that a dog would be too much responsibility on top of my caregiver duties. Now I missed those duties.
The first few months were a blur of house training, behavior training, and vet visits. I gave up on crate training within weeks because I couldn’t endure her cries at night, and the puppy found her way onto my bed. My father was the most vocal critic about this, presumably on behalf of my entire family.
Some friends thought the puppy was a great idea. Others shook their heads. “What if you meet a great guy who doesn’t want a dog? Would you give her up?” “If a man doesn’t want a dog, then he’s not the right man for me,” I replied.
To make sure, I brought her with me on the next date, which was with a man who lived at the beach. As he waxed on about his under-construction beach house, the puppy peed on the dusty floor right around where he was planning to put the piano. Later, in an attempt to show that he was dog friendly, he chased her up and down the beach. But she barked at him because she was scared, and he got offended.
There were a few other dates, including the guy who tried to get around the “no fly zone” by asking to use my bathroom after he dropped me off. When he came out of the bathroom, the puppy and I were waiting. “Gotta take her for a walk,” I shrugged. We escorted him back to his car.
After the two-year anniversary, I went on four dates with a friend of a friend, three of which ended back at his apartment. I was just about to propose a meeting with the fur-child when he admitted he thought her breed was “twitchy” and “ticking time bombs.” I might as well have gotten a “love me, love my dog” tattoo on my arm.
A few months later another friend mentioned three people she knew who had met on a site called OkCupid and gotten married. Those were pretty good odds. I decided to try it. I set up my profile (the word “widow” in the second sentence), and guys started emailing me.
The first man I emailed back happened to be an Orthodox Jew. Not the ultra-religious kind that wears the black coat and hat, the kind that dresses like an average person, he reassured me. I’m Jewish, but not that Jewish. We did have some things in common, but he used a lot of Yiddish words in his emails that I had to look up.
After a bunch of emails, we made plans to meet at a kosher vegan restaurant (his idea) on my lunch hour. After waiting 15 minutes, I ordered a chicken quesadilla with fake chicken and fake cheese. It was the most disgusting food I’ve ever tasted. Later, he sent me an email, “I didn’t write it down and forgot about our date. What are you doing tomorrow?” I deleted his number from my phone.
In year three, I had lunch with two widow friends. One had been married for 25 years, the other for five, and me for 11 days. I asked them if they had thought about dating again. Each shook her head.
"I'm just not interested," one said.
"Me neither, I don't think I could go through it all again."
Then one said, "Sometimes I wish I were gay. It would be so much easier."
We all agreed on this point, though we never discussed why.
I figured it was because women sometimes understand each other better than men do, so dating a woman might alleviate the need to explain everything. I also thought it might alleviate the tendency to compare any prospective man to our late husbands.
My late husband set the bar high in every area — wit, intelligence, personality, chemistry, values, even the way it ended. Not that either of us would have chosen that ending, but let’s face it, there is no more intimate or dramatic experience than taking care of a loved one and witnessing his last breath. After that, everything else just seems “meh.”
The real, deep-down truth is that I’m scared of repeating this scene. I can barely stand the thought of losing my dog; the thought of losing another person I love is so painful that it’s difficult to move past it. Unfortunately, death and dying is part of the deal. Whenever we fall in love and commit to each other, we are saying we’ll be there until the end. Well, I’ve seen the end, and I don’t want to see it again.
Don’t get me wrong. Given a chance to go back in time, I would do it all over again (hopefully with more grace). But losing my husband was one of the biggest disappointments of my life (a bigger disappointment for him). Part of me is still heartbroken. Another part of me is still angry about it — at whom, I’m not sure.
After he died, one of his friends told me that the only way to heal was to build new memories and new experiences. For this and other reasons, I left Los Angeles a few months ago for the East Coast. I now live in a rural area where I’m surrounded by fields and farms. The dog and I spend lots of time outside, enjoying the fresh air and natural beauty. I’m writing and reading. I’ve even started cooking again, something I stopped doing after Kaz died. My family thinks I’m living a “monk’s life.” Considering this is the first time in my adult life I’ve been celibate, they might be right. But I see this time as a “reset.”
Sometimes I have moments of panic and think what if I’m alone for the rest of my life? Then I think, what if I am? Moving forward can’t and shouldn’t be rushed. If I meet someone again, it’ll happen organically. If I don’t, that’s okay, too.
The most important thing is that every day I feel a little more at peace, a little more grateful for the love that Kaz and I shared instead of resentful that he’s no longer here. Some people can go an entire lifetime without experiencing that kind of love. So, even though I’m alone and still miss him, I also feel lucky. No matter what the future holds, my heart will always be full.