Widowed and Dating
This is my Three Hundredth Blog post, and a very personal one to me.
It’s a long one, so the TL; DR version:
Dating as a Widower sucks, it has complications more so than Divorcee’s, Separations or the end of a long-term relationship. It’s possible to feel love again with the right person, but don’t be taken for a ride, trust your instincts and certainly don’t let your heart override your head. I tried it, it didn’t work out, that’s apparently life!
Followers know I lost my Wife after a very short and aggressive fight with Cancer over five and half years ago, to say I was devastated would be an understatement. I’ve been to some very dark places during that time, but that’s a story for maybe another day.
From time-to-time people would say cheer up! you’ll love again, you’re too young to be alone and various other clichéd phrases that someone in the raw stages of grief really don’t want to hear. The thought of being with anyone new, horrified and appalled me, probably as much as someone could can as blasé about your feelings. Unless you’ve experienced deep grief, how can you?
Fast forward a year later and I’m having major surgery with added complications. The Surgeon tore the ligaments in my ankle making walking extremely painful. The following year I came with an hour of death due to Sepsis which was missed by the hospital who discharged me twice with Sepsis. If I hadn’t been found at home by friends, I wouldn’t be here writing this, that’s for sure… All this whilst still waiting for a second major surgery for my other knee to be replaced.
You’d think that would be the end of my health woes… Since Sepsis I’ve had ongoing complications, repeat infections, extreme pain, lethargy, multiple surgical procedures and generally a pretty sh¡tty time of it. It’s fair to say I’ve more than had my share of negative and dark thoughts… why would the consultant save me from Sepsis instead of leaving me to join my wife. They ignored my DNACPR…
Later that year, I organised an evening meal at a local pub by the river for the local Widowed community in my area, as I was then a member of charity for those of us unfortunate enough to be widowed at a young age, some of us would arrange gatherings.
And then that’s when I met her, A newly widowed member who’d been brave enough to join the charity lead group, attending her first event, not knowing any of the members there. This I felt was very brave given that most members feel awkward and nervous (as I) when meeting other widowed folk for the first time.
Over a period of time, we became friends visiting the Cinema or go for a bite to eat. Despite probing from friends, it’s fair to say we were just friends, nothing more. I wasn’t looking to date anyone, especially not before I got my health back on track, and for her it was early days of raw grief. It’s just an escape from staring at the same four walls in utter loneliness and left with painful thoughts about why this happened. In the early days, distractions can be good.
Very early 2020, I was admitted to hospital having gone into hyperglycaemic shock as my blood sugars went from 14 to 28.5 in less than two hours, continuing to rise I was told by the NHS to get a taxi. I remember walking through the doors of A&E and then waking in a hospital bed. Apparently, I’d collapsed the moment I walked through the door, my blood glucose went sky high forcing me to pass out completely…
My friend was concerned for my welfare and messaged regularly throughout the week, until that Friday night when she drunkenly flirt texted with me. The next day she came to the hospital to check on me and that’s when our status changed from friends to dating.
First date in a hospital bed, how mad is that? To make it more memorable the Health Care assistant asked how long we’d been together, I explained it’s our first date. He chuckled, pulled the curtains around to give us “Privacy” and then started singing “You’ve lost that loving feeling” by the Righteous Brothers. The whole ward joined in, patients, doctors, nurses, everyone! We had to chuckle, it was pretty funny and embarrassing too.
And that’s when it started. The following weeks were pretty intense, and I would ask if this was real or just the “Widows Fire”, a phenomenon that the widowed community understand very well, but muggles certainly can not.
She assured me it was very real and after two weeks, looked me deep in the eyes and said “I Love You”. This was unexpected and so quick, but I also knew that with my late wife, I knew within those first few seconds of seeing Janice for the first time that she was the one.
We talked and both agreed complete honesty with each other, after all feelings can change, was it just the fire or what other issues might manifest themselves? Open communication and brutal honesty with each other are what’s needed. After all we aren’t teenagers anymore, plus we’ve been through possibly the worst emotional trauma dealing with death.
It’s fair to say that when you date someone for the first time as a widower, and after being intimate for the first time after death, there’s a combination of intense passion, euphoria and sickening feeling of immense guilt. It feels like you’ve cheated on your late partner and destroyed the trust you had in one another or dishonoured their memory, lacking respect and a multitude of other negative emotions. These feelings take time to subside, but these are absolutely normal. You don’t realise it at the time, only talking with other widowed folk or counsellor you realise that what you’ve experienced is expected.
It had been three years for me and six months for her, and whatever your views (You can keep them to yourselves), everyone has an opinion for how long you must wait before daring to date again. I’ve heard it all, usually from judgemental people who go home to the safety of their significant other at the end of each day to whine about how they think it’s too soon etc.
A young nurse in hospital once told me “You’ve had your shot in life, it’s unacceptable to date again”. Believe me, the Widowed community have heard most of it before, and given the immense guilt we all carry around of not being able to save our partners, these negative opinions have no place, or better put, I have no more F*ks to give.
Dating whilst being widowed has its challenges, more so than what I would have classed a “Normal Relationship” during my muggle days.
Why? That’s because usually when widowed folk lose our partners, it’s an unnatural or unexpected end to the relationship. You’re still very much in love with the person who died, after all you both had dreams and plans for the future which now will largely go unrealised.
Pre-death, relationships may fail for a multitude of reasons, usually one falls out of love, or both realise it’s not working for them. Whilst painful for one, it’s eventually accepted as a natural end (unless one of you become a stalker). Assuming you’ve processed the end of a relationship, it’s very rare to give a second thought to your now “Ex”. Then again that’s a subject in its own right. Prior to my wife, I’d been in a long-term relationship, where my girlfriend cheated on me (Well technically she tripped over her Trainee’s Aubergine and that was that!).
When dating a Widow/Widower, it’s only natural for them to talk about their late partner. Muggles can see this as a threat or red flag in their relationship, but let me assure you it’s further from the truth. It is healthy to talk about these feelings, which will resurface from time to time, the further down the road you are, these feelings will crop up at the most inopportune moment.
When a muggle dates a Widower despite the assurances, in general they don’t understand because they often feel they’re in competition with a ghost, someone whose standards they could never attain, or an unachievable level of love or acceptance etc, and sadly it’s not uncommon to see relationships fail when muggles and widowed folk get together. There are exceptions and that depends on how secure that person is in themselves and the trust extended to one another. Remember, we cannot cheat with a ghost.
Put another way, if you were dating someone who is divorced or come out of a long-term relationship who is still talking about their “Ex” would you feel comfortable with that?
Of course, you wouldn’t, more red flags…
What about previous partners milestone dates, anniversaries, birthdays, festive events or personal dates to you, where you break down in a crumbly mess, tears and wailing like a banshee? Or the plethora of photos of their “Ex” still on the wall or in frames around the home?
More red flags in a relationship, right? This is relatively normal in a widowed relationship. I would support her when she needed to visit the crematorium to speak with her late husband, or support as best I could when she was having bad days, flashbacks and tears… The kind of days you can just about muster enough energy to hold the sofa down.
These are the things to expect in the early days of dating someone dealing with their grief and moving forward once again. When widowed folk date one another these things are considered relatively normal, though they do usually dissipate over a period of time.
During late 2019, a couple of old friends said to me, “Don’t you think it’s time you started finding love again? “, I was a little taken aback and went into my usual defensive mode, but they seemed quite keen that I should… I didn’t have the heart to tell them I was seeing someone as it was still very much early days.
In March the same year before lockdown, when I knew things were relatively stable with my new partner, I decided now was the time to tell a select few friends that I had found someone, it wasn’t a one-night stand, she made me smile once again and a reason to wake up in the mornings. I was starting to enjoy life.
The two close friends who suggested I should start dating again, I called up and invited them out for a bite to eat and catch up, they were friends from Janice’s past who looked after me when I spent three months in hospital with Sepsis and Complications. Towards the end of the meal, I said I had something to tell them. I explained I’d found someone when I wasn’t expecting or looking for it. She was funny, caring, lovely and the complete opposite to me, in that she was uninterested in technology or computers. It just happened, friends one minute, dating the next and I thought they should know that I had followed their advice.
I certainly wasn’t prepared for what happened next…
They went very silent and appeared shocked, disappointed and possibly a bit angry too. I suspect the difference between saying you should date to the reality of actually saying you’re dating someone who isn’t your late wife didn’t sit well with either of them. The rest of the meal was met with Stoney silence and a very quiet ride home, something clearly wrong and they were upset with me, despite their faux assurances.
Naturally they claimed nothing was wrong, said they were tired, but you just know that going from chatty to silence after dropping a bomb shell like this, followed by silence, there was many thoughts going through their mind. I pushed forward anyway and said I’ll organise something for them to meet her.
My Birthday was coming up, just before the start of lockdown, I organised a Curry night with twelve of my close local friends, some widowed, others I’d known for decades. Taking this as the perfect opportunity to introduce my new partner.
This was nerve wracking, you don’t know what to expect, I’d told everyone beforehand, though I was nervous, as you might expect a lot of silent judgement, that said, I knew it would be particularly nerve wracking for her… especially as they all knew my late wife. To be fair, my new partner was very brave and I reassured her that they would be ok and make her feel welcome. (How wrong was I) … To be fair to her, I thought she’d bottle out… she did pull up her big girl panties and joined me in the restaurant to meet my friends.
Well… This was awkward, the (now ex-) friends who looked after me in hospital, the ones who went quiet, completely snubbed her, not saying a single word all night, not even an “Hello”.
They were sat next to me and her, I said “Why not say Hello, she’s nervous as it is”, they both shrugged their shoulders and continued to ignore her, walking to the other end of the large table to talk to other mutual friends.
It was clear judgement had been made on us both (well me… ), despite never seeing or talking to her before. I strongly suspect the realisation of telling someone to move forward and actually seeing it, didn’t sit well with them and it wouldn’t have mattered who came with me that night. I know it wasn’t her. Thankfully my other friends did at least say hello and make some small talk.
That said, it was however, the shock and very negative response that understandably made her very nervous about saying anything to anyone given the adverse reaction experienced, which would not be easy, given she was still in the very early days of grief and loss, and it turned out my so-called friends turned out to be a bunch of cnuts…
I refer to an earlier blog post in respect to the three stages of friendship loss.
Lockdown was announced a few weeks after she’d taken possession of her new home, but didn’t have things like an internet connection, sofa or chairs yet (the new sofa was delayed due to the Rona). Given how early we were in the relationship a decision was taken to stay with me for a couple of weeks, because we thought lockdown wouldn’t last that long, there’s enough room and a spare office for her to work from.
To be fair she reluctantly agreed, after all it’s a bit weird living with anyone new and especially so soon into a new relationship. Something I later found out that decision still grates on her today in her list of annoyances. What was the alternative, sit on the floor for months? Plus, we didn’t know if we could see each other once lockdown commenced.
As the relationship grew, my feelings for her intensified and knew that I had truly found love once more, and more importantly, clearly capable of loving someone again. To me she was perfect, her gorgeous smile, loving eyes, her weird sense of humour, I felt a connection with someone so deep I hadn’t experienced since my late wife, nor ever expected to. I felt vulnerable, scared, excited but also more confident around her, feeling that anything was possible. She made me feel wanted.
There will always be challenges dating anyone new, especially when widowed. It’s even harder when you’re dating during lockdown and ongoing health issues, then again, that’s true for anyone in a new or established relationship, because frankly we weren’t allowed to leave our homes for a while, with restrictions on outdoor activities etc. You end up quickly in the equivalent of a 30 year rut watching Netflix and chilling! It’s frustrating because you want to go out and do normal stuff, restaurants, visiting places, even a holiday etc. of course we were all affected. She has a Camper Van, something I’ve always wanted to try but never gotten round to. The plan would have been to visit places at the weekend and sleep in the van. The thought of which was exciting. My late wife would often look at VW Camper Vans with the idea of going away more frequently and much further than our respective offices.
Admittedly some of these activities have been hindered of late with my ongoing health issues. I’ve been bounced from various consultants all scratching their heads, trying to get to the root cause of what’s going on with these infections, struggling to stay awake and pain.
I thought things, although challenging were going well given the state of the nation and lack of external activities to do. I supported her the best way I could, and then we come to the end of the first lockdown…
It was then I started noticing the little things, after all we were still a secret to people in her world/bubble. I would ask when she would talk to her family to say that we were dating (We’d been together for six months at this point), and the answer would be, “Why does anyone need to know? “, “Can’t it just be our secret? “, or “You’re my dirty little secret “. Initially I put it down to the adverse reaction experienced by my now ex-friends, plus she was feeling guilty dating someone new after only six months.
That said… If anyone would understand, it would be your immediate family. Admittedly I did agree to being a secret for a while, because you never know what’s going to happen in a relationship, and the downside is that the muggles think “You’re Cured” because you’re seeing someone else. Anything could be further from the truth. We’re never “Cured” we learn to live with grief, but it’s always there with you. Always there to catch you unawares, and the same is true for those who have been widowed longer than I.
She continued this charade pretending to anyone else in her circle that we were “Just Friends”, looking back this should have been a huge red flag, but I wasn’t wanting to rock the boat after all this was her life too. I tried to be as accommodating as I thought I should, but each time we had this discussion it would hurt that little bit more.
She would go on holiday with her family, but as she hadn’t told anyone about us, it meant I had to remain at home keeping up the pretence of “Friends”, and that was bloody hard, the first-time round, as she was off for two weeks, telling me she’s missing me, alone in her Camper Van at night, when the solution was sitting alone at home… Her family get togethers also meant I couldn’t be invited for the same reason… again in retrospect more red flags. This continued for every holiday (She takes Three a year) with one over the Christmas period. Christmas being one of the times of the year that widowed folk need a bit more support than normal.
By the end of the first year, I felt that she was continuing to pull away, maybe unhappy, maybe thinking it was all a mistake. Having asked outright and whether she was having second thoughts etc, I was assured that’s not the case, “It’s all in your head” she would say, or you’re “Being needy” … but again the behaviours of at least saying anything to her family would be met with short shrift, with phrases like “You’re backing me in a corner”. In retrospect more red flags.
2021 wasn’t a great year, more lockdowns, and restrictions on travels, and, again I was on more antibiotics than the NHS could shovel into me at a time.
Things were, let’s say tumultuous, in that there would be spurts of affection, followed by what I assumed regret and it started to feel like we were more friends at this point. Again, I was assured it’s all in my head and she loved me more each day etc. she was just dealing with the effects of grief due to milestone dates coming up early in the year. Which as a widower I fully understand all too well…
I felt we needed a break somewhere. Once travel restrictions were lifted, we managed a few days away in a hotel and visit another widowed friend up’t North. Though again I had to keep up the pretence of staying in different rooms to her family.
It had been a particularly shitty year for her as we found out her father was diagnosed with the same cancer that killed her late husband. Going through cancer with someone you love is horrendous, to then have to experience it again with the same cancer knowing the outcome was slim at best, was inevitably going to resurface past trauma, much of which is unresolved. Even today at five and half years in there are certain triggers that catch me unaware and she’s relatively still in the earlier stages of grief too.
That said, we’re at the hotel, when suddenly like the flick of a switch, it was like being back to the early days of dating. I figured it must be staying at our respective homes with the same four walls not helping matters. It was clear an escape from the day-to-day problems we faced, coupled with a beautiful change of scenery is what was needed. I felt we had an amazing time, and thought we reconnected on a new level. Especially when she asked after a few Gins if we should get married…
Side note: I can’t see me getting married again, it’s just too complicated.
Shortly after our return, she’d had too much to drink and said some really nasty stuff that crossed the line, I went home and we didn’t speak for two weeks. She claims she doesn’t remember, but seriously how many of us have been that drunk we genuinely don’t remember what we said or did the night before?
However, for harmony and because her father was going in for major surgery, we reconciled and agreed to continue where I would support her from where I can. She was due to travel and stay at her mums to support each other during surgery and to help out when her father returned home to recover.
This is a tricky situation to be in, I want to be there to support her, but her family are still unaware we’re a couple and it’s nearly two years at this point. Now was not the time to push the point again, because it would be met with short shrift and unfair given the trauma she’s undertaken.
I can’t imagine dealing with the same type of trauma for a second time in such a relatively short timescale too, so I waited patiently for her lead on when she needed to talk, and when she needed space with her mum who she was staying with for support. Some days she wasn’t feeling peopley which again I understand all too well.
Unfortunately for her father, complications set in and it was a fierce battle for a number of weeks by the medical team to try and save him. With great sadness her father passed away.
During the months he was in hospital, lockdown meant no one was able to see him. I cannot imagine the pain and trauma experienced, it’s bad enough when you’re able to sit with them whilst all this is going off, but to be denied access because of the Rona and later find out our PM was spaffing beer with multiple parties…
This was devastating news, because he was one of the kindest, loving, humbling and loveliest person I’d ever met. Truly humbling, it seems unfair that decent honest kind people are taken too early with cancer, where selfish arseholes who are self-centred usually go in to remission. Ok, that’s a generalisation, but in my limited experience of those I personally know who got to ring that bell, have been outright sociopaths.
Whilst these events were unfolding, news about my long-awaited surgery arrived and the initial date offered was the same week as her father’s funeral. I couldn’t put her through a double whammy of stress, so delayed the surgery by a few weeks. To ensure I was able to support her at the funeral. I think her mum must have known/suspected something between us, as I was invited in the family car to the crematorium to help support her on the day. Her mum made a point about thanking me and asked if I hoped I’d felt more part of their family. Did I mention how amazingly lovely her family are? It just goes to show that there are parents that are capable of being normal and loving.
She continued to stay a while longer to support her mum after the funeral. We both know all too well the early days and extreme rawness of grief. Whereas neither of us had someone to stay and support us, the least she could do was support her mum.
Valentine’s day came and went, I sent a huge bunch of flowers, which went down like a lead balloon, because apparently that “Forced her to come clean” with her family. Rather than actually “come clean” and be honest about everything, she told her mum and sister that we’d only been dating a short time as an “Experiment” to see how it goes and asked me to stick to that story. You can imagine how that made feel, to have our over two-year relationship downgraded to just an experiment. Her mum knows it was 2.5 years! Albeit the last six months of that being completely apart due to awful circumstances.
In the background, I was trying to get a revised date for my major surgery, dates of which were changed twice due to either surgical team availability or hospital bed. I received confirmation by telephone literally a few days before surgery was scheduled to take place, and thankfully she returned back to her home a couple of days before my surgical date.
It was hard, I didn’t say anything about my surgery because the new dates were very fluid and had only been finally confirmed the day before she returned. I’d been quite stressed about the surgery because of the high risks involved. A few years before I’d have been more cavalier with my life. I felt it wasn’t appropriate to say anything to her given the stress, trauma and anxiety experienced in such a short space of time. I just wanted to give her a distraction free welcome home evening by going to one of her favourite restaurants and having a very pleasant evening, and we reconnected.
The next day when the time was right, I explained I was going for major surgery in a couple of days. This news went down like a lead balloon (Understandably). She was tearful, upset and angry with me for not saying anything sooner, I explained my rationale that I didn’t want to add to the stress she’d already undertaken in the last nine months or so. I understood her fears, she’d lost two people she loved recently and didn’t want to lose another. I asked how could I have done things differently to have also reduced the stress on her.
Due to the amount of time, she had off work with her father, sadly she was unable to drive me the two hours to the hospital, and so a friend stepped in and helped get me there and back again.
I had my surgery and a week later returned home from hospital sporting a new Twelve-inch surgical scar across my abdomen, along with over Sixty staples. Thankfully she came to stay to look after me whilst I was still tender and recovering.
Again, something didn’t feel right, I was told it was in my head. I knew she was annoyed with me for not saying anything about the surgery and not giving her enough time to get her head round things. After all the people she loved (in her words) died.
It didn’t help when my surgical wound Dehisced due to infection… The wound had burst open, it looked like a set of Mick Jaggers lips opened up over the wound site and you could actually see my insides… It took the district nurse over half an hour to stop the fluid and gunk flowing from the wound site, running out of gauze and a couple of loo rolls to soak it all up. These new complications involved multiple trips to A&E, another Hospital stay and further complications… All scary stuff to be fair, I was freaking out in my own mind and tearful a few times given what was happening to my body. I look like Frankenstein’s monster…
One morning, I was feeling low, she blurted out she “Resented Having to Look After Me”, all she wanted to do was spend time in her own home, around her own things and try and decompress from the stress and events of the last year.
Long story short, I told her to go home and do just that, even though it wasn’t safe for me to be alone at this point since another infection was building pressure around the wound site causing pain etc. and another trip to hospital. At which point I was told “There’s no coming back from this” and dumped me. The time I really needed support and help and … gone…
She said she needed some time to process things and to leave her alone, however after a chat a week ago and one on Sunday she confirmed that she hadn’t loved me, it was clear the thought of being in a relationship with me repulsed her, and I reluctantly agreed to respect that, and that’s the end of that.
Of course, relationships breakdown for various reasons, I understand that and will respect her final decision, Afterall she’d exhausted her 50/50, Ask the audience and Phone a Friend option. For me it was the lack of honesty and integrity throughout the relationship, which is pretty ironic given the job she does.
I didn’t appreciate the gaslighting, when my instincts said something was wrong and her assurances that wasn’t the case it was all in my head, or I was being needy etc. It was the lack of honesty, and the feeling of being taken advantage of, as she knew she wasn’t feeling the same, despite saying daily how much she loved me.
When we sat down to talk for a couple of hours, she claimed it was only recently she realised the feelings weren’t there, then last Sunday she said it’s not been right for a long time. Which tells me she knew it wasn’t working for her. Maybe it’s a case of some relationship is better than none?
I strongly suspect she’s someone who doesn’t cope with being alone, it won’t surprise me that she will be dating again in less than six months. Hopefully this time she might afford the next person more honesty?
There’s lots I could say, but none would be helpful or change the outcome, nor would I want to, given how I feel I’ve been treated. I thought I was investing in a relationship, but that was only one way.
Whilst I’m clearly heartbroken (again) and the pain from this was initially similar to the first day of raw grief having sat with my wife as she passed away. It’s taught me that I’m still vulnerable, it was possible to love again after death, though I will never forget my wife or the love we had for one another. For my widowed friends that have made it work and have married their next chapters, you’re winning at life.
After this experience, it’s only made me put up my walls even higher than before, before trusting someone implicitly again. Something I find hard to do at the best of times, maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the job I do? I’ve tried to be as understanding given the circumstances, and maybe I was too laid back or not pushy enough? I know I overcompensated in many areas of a relationship, letting stuff not bother me as much as it would in the past.
Who knows, the fact is, it’s not meant to be and I don’t wish them any hard feelings. I just have to focus on getting myself better and work on mending this fragile heart of mine.
For those of you new to being Widowed and Dating, try not to overcompensate for the challenges you had in your previous relationship. Remember we’re vulnerable, trust your gut instinct, don’t let your heart overrule your head. Sure, it sucks coming home to … nothing… and some think a poor relationship is better than none at all. You deserve better than this, you’ve been through worse.
It does get harder dating the older we get and to start all over again. Don’t lose hope and whatever you do, don’t give them money or sort their finances out until you’re absolutely 100% sure they’re as committed to you as you are to them.