It was 50 minutes before I was due to leave for my date. I was nervously getting ready when the text message from him arrived. ‘I just Googled you. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot ... I’m not going to be able to make it tonight.’ Everyone on the dating scene dreads their baggage being seen as unappealing. Most suitors (or swipers!) accept that everyone has an ex, but it’s a little more uncomfortable when your ex is six feet under.
Seven years since I’ve been single, I was reminded of my days of dating as a widow, as I watched the latest episodes of ‘And Just Like that’. After Big’s death, Carrie is back on the dating scene — a date which quickly becomes uncomfortable when both she and her date reveal their partners are dead. Trust me, it’s not a sexy icebreaker.
Unlike Carrie, I wasn’t married to my husband for over a decade. My husband and I were married just three weeks before his terminal cancer became unliveable. However, watching Carrie hold her dying husband in her arms, I was spring-boarded back to the moment I did the same, whispering in his ear “it’s okay, you can go now’.
Unlike Carrie (who is encouraged to start dating by her book publishers), I launched myself onto the single’s scene quickly after my husband’s death. I had spent a year nursing a man to his death and I was desperate to prove I was “just a normal 23-year-old.” I was also desperate to feel something, anything, besides this numbness.
Dating as a widow is …. tricky. When to share, how to share. What happens when a Google search announces your past for you? I’ve had every reaction: pity, avoidance and awkward silences. I’ve been ghosted after revealing I was widowed on the fifth date. I’ve also felt incredibly supported and ‘seen’ by guys when I’ve told them.
The biggest lesson I learnt about dating as a widow, is you have to hold yourself responsible for your actions. In the first two years, I certainly wasn’t the dream date! I’d get too drunk, I’d come on too strong or I’d get close to people and then disappear. It was all coming from a place of grief (and fear of falling in love again), but I let my widow-status become an excuse for my poor behaviour.
The truth is, I just wasn’t ready … but I was also incredibly lonely. If I brought a guy home, I’d have to run into my bedroom and pull down photographs of my late-husband from the walls, before my date saw them. I felt like I was playing a part and constantly ‘role-shifting’ between grieving widow and ‘breezy’ single. And, that doesn’t make for a very authentic relationship.
By the time I met my now-husband, when I was 29, I had been widowed for six years. I had moved countries, from the UK to Australia, put some distance between myself and my grief, and done a lot of therapy. However, that doesn’t mean it’s been seamless.
Before our first weekend away together, I freaked out and invited my roommate as a buffer (thankfully, we laugh about it now!). For the first year of our relationship, I wouldn’t tell him if I felt sad or upset about anything, because I wanted to be seen as “just fun” (e.g baggage free).
Eight weeks after we met, I told him I had been widowed. The strong and silent type, he didn’t ask many questions but he also continued to lean into our relationship. Since then, I’ve shared details when it’s relevant. For instance, when we were getting married and I was terrified he would die on his Stag Party. I had to explain that my erratic behaviour came from a memory — because, in my past, that risk was real!
I know my now-husband would prefer that I wasn’t a widow, because he’s told me. But, only because he hates thinking of me going through that, especially so young. I also know he admires my strength and resilience.
When I was watching ‘And Just Like that’, what struck me was the pressure from Carrie’s publishers to give them a “glimmer of hope” — the beginning of a happy ending after her loss.
I’ve felt that pressure from people who love me — and from myself. Being around death, and people in mourning, can make people uncomfortable. We (‘the widows’) can feel pressure to move on quickly and prove that we’re doing “great”, because nobody likes to see the destruction that death causes … or face the truth that it does take time to heal.
If you told my 23-year-old-self, I would be almost thirty before I felt secure in a relationship again, I’d be appalled. Dating wasn’t a quick-fix, but it did provide a welcome distraction.
If I had my time again, I’d still date as quickly, but I’d do it more gently — without the desperate urge to put my past behind me.
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