The Greatest Love Of All

I had a friend who routinely confessed that she just wanted to sleep with a man, any man. She didn’t mean sex, although she was “willing” to have sex with the man if it meant she could sleep in his arms.

The first time she told me this I was still married and heard her statement as a proclamation in a foreign language. I couldn’t possibly begin to understand her motivation. Once I was stabilized in my widowhood and dipping a toe into the dating waters, she said it again. It felt just as foreign to me at that point and I assumed she knew something I didn’t having been at the dating game for at least a decade. I’ve now been unmarried for a respectable amount of time (6 years) and am no closer to understanding how a stranger in my bed could be anything short of a reason to call 911.

I love going to bed and when I don’t have evening plans I skip off to my sanctuary rather early in the evening. The satin bedding (a birthday gift to myself, the first birthday there was no one to buy me presents) is turned down as are the lights. Frank Sinatra’s voice and lavender scent fill the air. Most nights the windows are open (as it is only my own body temperature that needs consideration) and a breeze blows over my toes. My 5-pound narcoleptic dog is tucked into his bed, silent and immobile for 12 hours. There is always an engaging book (usually more than one) propped open on my nightstand, and sometimes a small glass of scotch. The idea of a stranger invading that slice of heaven is horrifying. (I am delighted to share my bed with people I love, and do so from time to time. My friends Kim and Joe sleep like statues and share my king size bed (separately) whenever they visit (restless sleepers are relegated to the couch). It is a great pleasure to awake and remember someone I love is just inches away.)

I can not imagine how long it would take for a new someone to feel like a welcome addition to my sanctuary. Even if I could get past the intrusion of my tranquility I would need to contend with all the middle-aged man stuff: the snoring, the sinuses, the thrashing (I’ve been hit more times in my sleep than I care to recount), the sleep talking, the smells, the neurosis, the apnea… ‘Nough said, right? Part of me is charmed of how utterly lacking in self-consciousness these men are. A 63-year old man who has never once slept through the night without listening to A.M. radio through earphones? Bless. Another who had no compunction about looking for an outlet in which to plug his breathing machine? Cheers.

Something happens as we get older. Well, lots of things happen, but something good happens too. If we’re lucky, and I think I am, we get much more comfortable in our own selves. Our lives become less external. We are less susceptible to trends or FOMO. We know who we are, what we like, what we dislike and what we’re willing to compromise. I have always been a very private person (says the woman posting this on the internet) who actually enjoyed quiet and solitude. But for several years after my initial widowhood I was completely unmoored, “a housewife without a husband”, and looked to immerse myself in someone else’s life to regain the rhythm of a life lost. I no longer feel that way. In fact I feel much like I did when I first met my husband. Back then I was not looking to date, let alone marry. I had survived a perfect storm of personal tragedy and was doing the best I could skating atop of a very disorienting new life. I met him and blah blah blah. I’m older now by far and more settled into myself (in more ways than one, thank you gravity!) and delighted by the peace I have cultivated.

I’m not that evolved that I don’t harbor romcom fantasies. Who doesn’t dream of a cinematic romance? But losing myself in someone else’s life is not on the table nor is sharing my sanctuary with just anyone. If there is another great love in store for me, I’ll know. In the meantime I will bask in the love of my peaceful life filled with small moments of joy and enormous amounts of gratitude.

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Grief, Loss and All That Jazz

“Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance” is a really bad name for a law firm. Can you imagine the poor receptionist who has to rattle that off every time the phone rings? If you are not familiar with the 5 Stages of Grief, courtesy of Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, perhaps you’ve heard those five words spouted by daytime talk show hosts. (My first exposure to them was via the film All That Jazz, but I’m a bit of an odd duck.) This poker hand emotion summation has been as quoted as it has been misunderstood. The stages; anger, denial, bargaining, depression, acceptance, reference the typical response to being diagnosed with a terminal illness. It is not about grief or loss but about how one deals with their own imminent demise. If you’ve mistaken the Reaction 5 as being about losing someone, you’re not alone. There are many mental health practitioners out there who don’t know the difference either.

Semantics, you say. Or perhaps you’re thinking “potato, potahto” Or perhaps you’ve stopped reading this altogether. Let’s pretend that you’re still with me.

The difference is critical if for no other reason than loss does not follow a predictable trajectory. No one has (or probably ever will) collected any data that results in a bereavement proclamation such as the Reaction 5. There are simply too many variables. At what stage of life is the survivor? What was the relationship between survivor and deceased? How did the person die? We could go on and on. Being told that one’s expiration date is imminent is much more clear. The Reaction 5 is to the idea that “I’M GOING TO DIE!”, there really are no other variables, and after stage 5, you’re done. Let’s keep in  mind that this is not a competition between the terminally ill and the bereaved. I merely would like to share how the bereaved are ill-served by the Reaction 5.

“Time heals all wounds” is as much a big bag of bullshit as “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. Time changes all wounds. But every day, week, month, or year will bring a new reminder or old anniversary. Triggers don’t disappear they just get more stealth. The rawness ebbs and the fog and terror abate but that is not the same as healing. The healing a wound metaphor is at best meaningless and at worst offensive. You’re not getting over a break-up or a job loss. The hole in your life and heart doesn’t come together like gathering clouds. Life changes, and the heart never forgets. No matter how much time passes you will also be your deceased child’s parent or partner’s spouse. You don’t “heal”. Don’t even get me started on the “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. That rubbish adage is as ridiculous as bird poo on your head or rain on your wedding day being good luck. If this were true we’d all marry in the rain forest. It’s just the malarkey we throw around in our attempt to make people feel better during a crap time. What doesn’t kill us can leave us seriously damaged.

The thing about these platitudes and the misuse of the Reaction 5 is we’re telling people how to feel. I know how hard it is to come up with anything sincere and useful to say when someone is in a fresh hell. I have held a friend whose child was killed and felt nothing but impotent. I have listened to a childhood friend whose wife had just died and desperately scrambled to say something hopeful. My telling him that it is a journey of discovery and not a process of stages was not what he needed in those moments. He needed me to listen and to say that it will get better. I told him it does and I was not lying. It does get better, but it doesn’t go away. Life changes (with or without loss) and the human spirit is not designed for sustained, permanent grief. We are wired for recovery. Our bodies recharge with every good night of sleep and we seek nourishment several times a day. We go forward, like sharks. If we’re lucky we discover new sources of joy and beauty and perhaps even peace.

 

 

 

 

 

Must Hate Dogs

I’m no stranger to online dating; I’ve flitted in and out of that surreal world over the past four years. And what a world it is. I have seen and read things I can never unknow. Men (presumably the typers are in fact men) are still able to shock and offend me; bless. A profile is a first impression and the things some grown men (again, we’re assuming they are what they say they are) put on a profile are just extraordinary. Their judgement is questionable at times. Claiming you are 54 and having a profile picture that indicates you are well into your late 70s or have rapid aging disease is odd, as is having a grainy college graduation pic of you in mutton chops and a wide lapel polyester shirt. The latter choice being far too odd for me to tease apart. Is the gentleman proud of once having colossally bad taste or of having graduated 45 years ago?

Someone should make a coffee table book of profile pics. Someday it could be a useful archeological tool. There is no end to the amusement and head scratching that comes from some photos, but the choice of words tell a richer and often darker story. Now keep in mind that what I’ve seen over the years is by no means a scientific sample. I am mostly looking at middle-aged men in my (urban) geographical area who have chosen to use dating sites. That sample will never be representative of all heterosexual middle-aged single men. (Aside: shall we discuss how many of these men are upfront on the site about not in fact being single?! To their credit(?) they flat out say they are cheating on a partner or are separated which is not single it is only a state of mind. You can argue all you want with me about that one but good luck arguing with the IRS; you’re either married or you’re not, end of story.) We can agree that my sample is just that; my sample.  That said, OMG! The most stunning and disheartening takeaway is how openly hostile many of these men are. Their profiles or initial chats are so often combative I’m left wondering what it is they are looking for? A good fight? In what universe does bullying work as courting? Profiles are chock-full of what I should look like, act like, speak like, and think like. All these demands listed in a platform with serious word limitation. This is how they choose to talk about themselves; to list their demands. Charming. I’ve seen profiles that talk about how much money a woman should have. Money! Discussing money before you’ve even met someone. Eeh gads. I’ve seen men require a love of their own dog while others have listed what dogs I am allowed to have. No, I’m serious. I actually saw a profile in which the man stated; “if you have a terrier, swipe left.” Hand to G-d I am not making that up. A terrier. Did he have a Toto trauma as a child?

The open hostility is a mystery to me. I have been bullied more in four years as a dating adult than during three years in junior high (and I was a dork.) “Give me your number” as an opening line is not charming. Why would I give you my number? The app is designed for texting! I don’t want a stranger calling me, or doing a rudimentary google search with my number! When I’ve gently pointed out that we can exchange necessary texts on the app, I’ve been the subject of outbursts more appropriate for having recorded over their winning high school touchdown. Dude, if you have no interest in my needs we are not destined for greatness. How about the guy who did use the app for texting, but only in emojis. True story. He had (what no doubt he considered) entire conversations in emoji. After several of these hieroglyphic exchanges he asked me to call him. I suggested we might try typing words first, so then he began texting me one word communications. Is this a battle of wills or a courtship? When one man with whom I’d exchanged all of two sentences asked for my number, I explained that I don’t love talking to strangers on the phone and would prefer a little more texting. He blew up. No, I mean he lost it. He treated me to a lengthy diatribe on what was wrong with me and why I was destined to live and die alone. Charming, just charming. Gentlemen, first impressions count.

The thing is, these are not young men. Presumably they’ve been at this for awhile. Even if they’re out of practice with dating, they have met other human beings before! I’m not willing to say; well that’s why they’re single, after all I’m single too. I think what we have here is a perfect little storm of; online anonymity mixed with insecure and disappointed men (aka: bullies). I’m a rose-colored glasses hopeless romantic. I don’t live in a Hallmark movie delusional state, but I do presume people show their best self at first and want happiness. Anyone using the biographical portion of their dating profile to say: “You must be fit, petite, no taller than 5’2″, dress well and be well-groomed. Take pride in your appearance. Don’t say you’re comfortable in jeans and a little black dress. Don’t post pics wearing sunglasses. No selfies. Don’t pout. Work-out 5 times a week. Be successful and independent. Know what you want. No needy chicks. Share my interests. I’m not your sugar daddy. No drama. No terriers.” is in pursuit of something but not necessarily happiness.

 

 

 

 

Dear Deceased

I don’t think I actually know anyone foolish enough to ask me when I’ll be over my husband’s death, but I’ve had the answer queued up just in case: When I stop getting mail addressed to him.

My favorite bits of mail addressed to him are the ones marked: “URGENT”. Sender, I’m calling hyperbole on that. I find the credit card offers amusing, in a sinister sort of way. I like to indulge in the dark fantasy of me engaged in risky or nutty behaviors. Imagine the grief induced spending bender I could go on with all those credit cards and their ridiculous $25,000 limits. Crikey! I’ve also been known to let out a titter or two when receiving life insurance offers in his name. My doorman no doubt has wondered at what my “ship has sailed” mutterings at the mailbox actually mean. Some of these communications to (versus “from”) the beyond have been jarring if not deeply upsetting. I’ve had more than one conversation with development officers explaining; “the customary reply to my news is to offer condolences!” I mean, if you’re going to ask for money from people, particularly dead people, you best learn some social niceties. The other day I received an email addressed to him (odd but true). It was from an NPR affiliate asking for money. My husband and I had not lived in listening distance to the station for fifteen years, so the solicitation was odd to begin with. I hit reply and asked to have my late husband’s name removed from their list. Clearly I unleashed a beast, because I then received several more emails also addressed to him. I replied to them all before I considered that a high school intern was probably manning the mailbox. This morning first thing, I emailed the director of their development office and zippity zappity do, he immediately apologized and took care of it. He was professional and human; a breath of freaking fresh air (get it? Fresh Air!) well done NPR, it’s only April but you’re in the running for 1st Place. (For those keeping score, the loser was determined very early this year: my wedding photographer, also a former colleague, Facebook messaged me asking if my husband and I would like to buy the negatives of our wedding photos. Upsetting? Sure, but not as gut wrenching as when I explained that he died and the response was: “They’re $250.” Duuuuuuuuuuuuuude.)

These communications are amusing or distressing depending upon where I am and what they are. When I’m sad and feeling small and alone, seeing his name stings like a back of the hand across my heart. It feels like a cosmic confirmation that the world doesn’t care. There are times when I’m feeling strong and hopeful and it still stings as it’s a reminder that I will forever be his widow. But there are times when I’m a bit numb, a shadow me, when it doesn’t exactly hurt. It’s more like when you run your fingertip through a candle tip; ah yes, I felt that. Other times, I just have to laugh.

While I never run to the mailbox hoping for a piece of mail addressed to my husband I have no doubt that some day I will and it will be in vain.

 

 

 

 

 

What You Can’t Plan For

I dreamt of him last night. This was not the “I know you’re dead but let’s talk anyway” usual affair, nor the “How could you of faked your death? Do you realize what you’ve done?!”. No, this dream had not even a whiff of death. He was very much alive and the feelings so vivid it felt more like a flashback than a dream. He was telling me that he had Monday off (but would have to work a little from home) and I was so utterly brimming with joy that I ran and jumped into his arms, wrapping my naked self around him. That feeling of joy was so accurate, so real. It’s been a long ass time since I’ve felt it, but I recognized it immediately. I was as happy to see it as I was my husband!

I’m not romanticizing my marriage by saying that I just loved spending time with my husband. He made me angry and sad at times as I’ve no doubt I did him. But for 18 years there was absolutely no one with whom I’d rather spend time. No one. He didn’t take enough time off, so when there were those unexpected days off I really was thrilled. He (almost) always took off for my birthday and every holiday his workplace acknowledged. But when it came to planning time off he was rubbish. My husband was many things, but a planner was not one of them. He was an idea man, and I was and still am a details woman. There were times, I’ll admit, that I really resented his lack of planning. I hated how tending to all the details made me feel like the “mother”. I envied friends whose husbands planned and executed their travel. I remember a particular tense travel dust-up: once upon a time, during the age of mapquest, my husband printed out directions and handed them to me. Once behind the wheel, he kept asking me to navigate. He had not looked at a map before we left and had no idea what direction we were headed. My “you have one job!” outburst was a long time coming. I planned the trip, got the cash, shopped for and packed the picnic, packed my bag, the dog’s bag, cleaned out the fridge, stopped the newspaper, etcetera, etcetera. All he had to do was pack his back and drive the damn car. Our division of labor was much more balanced in every other domain. But anything that took planning? Eeh gads.

Funny thing; one of the first things I did after he died was to cancel all our plans. (Psychological aside; he canceled my happily ever after plans by dying, and I responded by canceling all our immediate plans.) Just hours after he died, I enlisted friends to cancel the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve plans I’d made for us. The four days at the beach making turkey with our best friends? Gone. The Christmas show at Birdland? Poof. The New Year’s Eve dinner cruise with friends? Over. All of it, over. Really and truly over. I’ve been on a dinner cruise since then, and to the Birdland Christmas show. I’ve been at the beach since New Year’s Eve this year. They’ve all been fine, sometimes pleasant and always monochromatic. For as long as anyone would listen I’ve maintained that a happy marriage makes life technicolor. Last night in my dream I saw all the colors of the rainbow.