I went online in search of a date 9 months after being widowed. I did it not out of any interest in dating but as a preemptive strike. I foresaw that after a full year of widowhood some well-meaning person was going to cock his or her head and ask; “Have you thought about dating?” Like a good boy scout, I was going to be prepared. I never felt guilty about dating, (I suppose knowing what he wanted for me helped with that), I did feel angry however. Each time I spent an hour or two with someone I never would’ve chosen to talk to but now was forced to because I agreed to the date, I grew angry. Not stop in my tracks rage at the world angry, but tears burning my eyes angry. “How could you have done this to me?!!!” angry. No matter how sad, boorish or even offensive the date, I stayed out of a sense of decency. I would drink the drink or eat the meal thinking; “You are seriously cutting into my crying time.” There were so many dark walks or cab rides home gazing at the illuminated windows of happy homes as my stomach lurched. There have been pleasant surprises along the way, several of them in fact.
At its core, dating is really trying people on to see how they fit. I’d been with my husband for 18 years, almost my entire 30s and 40s. Dating again felt like I’d had radical weight-loss surgery, and now had no idea how to dress or what suited me. I tried on people who were of my faith (and then some!) and those who weren’t. I tried on younger, older, silly and serious. There were widowed, divorced and never married (never, the separated as that is merely a state of married mind.) I tried on different styles of dating as well; committed, friends with… My newly singled life felt like a call to experimentation. I never strayed far from my comfort zone but I did try to keep an open-ish mind.
After about three years of it I think I have a pretty clear sense of what would make me happy. It’s a pretty exacting list. But the thing is, I had a happy marriage. I feel no need to right some sort of wrong or check off the married box. Unless someone is going to make my life better and me happier, I’d rather be on my own. When I first dipped my toe in the dating-over-50 waters, my list was very short. In fact there really was only one item: don’t hurt me. I learned pretty quickly that the only people who don’t hurt you are the ones you haven’t met yet. Now my list consists of; emotional maturity, intellectual curiosity, humor, empathy, generosity of spirit and kind. You know; just your run of the mill, soul of a poet mind of an adult kind of guy.
I have taken dating sabbaticals a few times these past three years (I refer to is as “the penis embargo.”) Without taking a break it would be too easy to get hardened and cynical. During these embargoes I don’t avoid men, I just avoid entanglement (in and out of the sheets.) I’ve never been a fan of using men as trapeze (i.e., not letting go of one until you grab hold of another), so the “cooling off period” is an old habit. The embargo helps to realign my world. There is time and space to look inward and reengage with things sidelined for the sake of a relationship. As the years pass I have become more adept at these periods of intensified self-care. There are bubble baths, lavender pillows and the music that I like playing loudly and frequently. I spend time at the theatre, my first love and language and catch up on my reading. When I venture back into the dating pool, and I will because I always do, I will be ready. I will not come at it from need but from desire. A desire to meet new people and feel desire and desired.