April 7 marks the five-year anniversary, if it can be called that, of my husband’s death from a stage IV malignant brain tumor. He died in hospice, alone, at roughly 3 a.m., while I was home sleeping with our son, Alex, then a year old. The ensuing months were a haze of gut-punching grief, eviscerating fear of the future, and too many bleak moments of drunkenness in a misguided attempt to deal with the above.
Within a year of my new life as a widow — a word I still can’t process — I had moved us from filthy, crowded Midtown to a bucolic Brooklyn home with a backyard, near a playground, in an area with a stellar school district. Where before our street reeked of stagnant exhaust, now we lived within minutes of Prospect Park, a 585-acre urban oasis, on a wide, quiet street where my son could ride his scooter for hours.
And within two years, I had switched jobs, weathered a layoff, and landed back on my feet, professionally speaking. I’d cut back on the booze and taken up barre classes — an activity that actually cut through the maddening, emotionally kneecapping thoughts that had raced through my head, instead making me focus, and greatly easing the crushing back pain I’d been living with.
Meanwhile, my son and I have become a team; we hang and eat roast duck and discuss the pros and cons of Nexo Knights and hit the farmer’s market so he can pick out his own produce.
I’ve also formed an ad-hoc family in Brooklyn — a support group of sorts, made up of smart, strong, inspiring women (and a few dudes) who helped us move into our new place and step in when I need help, offering to grab Alex from school if I have to stay late at work. Our weekends are brimming with playdates and dinners and birthdays. His life is rich and engaging. My life? Sure. Maybe. At times, at least.
I say all of this not to brag, but to make the point that my existence is far from being a wasteland of loneliness and forlorn isolation. Some days I even allow myself a moment of emotional swagger: I never planned on raising a kid alone, but, tantrums and meltdowns and freakouts notwithstanding, I’m doing it. And, at times, even killing it.
And yet … none of this matters, apparently, because I still have yet to go out on a single date.
Friends, all of them well-meaning, come over for a drink. Some of them I haven’t seen in months, or even years. And the first (or, for the more reticent ones, second) thing they ask is this: “So, are you dating yet?”
I try to keep my frustration in check, answer in the negative, and change the subject. And I know. I know. They’re just trying to help. But somehow my value lies not in being a stable, responsible, loving parent — a working mom who relies only on herself to pay rent and save for Alex’s college. A woman who carves out time during a nutty week to work out, just for her own well-being. To those around me, those who are just as often mired in their own dysfunctional and broken relationships, my value lies only in whether or not I’m involved with a man.
I get it. We’re all conditioned to be part of a couple. And according to the Pew Research Center, there’s a major gender gap in remarriage: Of those whose first unions ended in divorce or widowhood, 64 percent of men say “I do” again, compared to 52 percent of women. Similarly, the Pew Center found, men want to remarry more than women, as 29 percent are into it, versus 15 percent of ladies. What this tells me: Men need to be in a partnership more than women. And women are fine flying solo. I can relate.
One is, after all, the loneliest number. Or so we’re told. And a woman who hasn’t found her mate after a while is still an old maid. Then there’s the unwritten sell-by date for women, especially moms. I’m 43, which means that mine is racing towards me, if not already here. But the thing is, my husband was, hokey as it is, the love of my life, the peanut butter to my jelly, the soy sauce to my sashimi, the Tom to my (wishful) Gisele. I have pictures of our outdoor Texas wedding hanging up in my hallway, and a relative recently gazed at them and said how unbelievably giddy and glowing I had looked, like an entirely different human.
Looking at those pictures fills me with an explosive sense of joy — and of devastation over burying not just my husband, but all of our dreams and goals and aspirations. Together, we’d planned on teaching our son to ski. On taking him to a wine crush in Italy. We’d eventually retire to our place in the Hill Country of Texas and maybe open a wine bar while we were at it. And there’s the more prosaic stuff: Alex doesn’t have a dad to teach him to ride a bike or help him put together those intricate, maddening Lego sets he loves; mommy, sadly, is failing in those areas.
Then there’s the reality of actually dating someone else — making small talk over drinks, and retreading superficial territory that I covered with Justin 10 years ago. Plus the thought of taking my clothes off for another person terrifies me, and makes me feel itchy all over, as Justin knew my post-C-section body, with its scars and little rolls and imperfections, and he loved it.
There’s also the inherent strength and satisfaction I get from not having to answer to anyone but myself. And if I’m entirely honest, there is the deep fear of rejection: You can’t be dumped if you’re never picked up in the first place.
So, about that dating thing? No, thank you. Please ask me in another year. Or not at all.
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