…and Guest

The invitation sits on my kitchen counter, the hastily torn-open envelope nearby. A 60th birthday party for a good friend—one of Greg’s friends. I flip the envelope over, examining the address again. Michele Morris is typed like the rest of the address label with and Guest written by hand, added later, almost an afterthought, as if our friends struggled with whether I’d want that. Whether I was ready for that.

Long before Greg collapsed in Madrid, I used to emphatically tell friends, if I were ever divorced or widowed, that would be it. I’d never date again. Those sorts of cavalier statements are easy to make before we actually experience the thing for which we have no real first-hand knowledge. We only imagine what we might feel like in that instance and we react, naïvely, from our gut.

If my child ever …
If that happened to me I’d …
If I had cancer I would …

It wasn’t the first time I’d been faced with the prospect of dating. Shortly after Greg died, my kids asked if I thought I would date again. They weren’t kids concerned about a replacement for their dad. They were young adults, worried about me being alone, trying to be supportive. God no, I responded so fast it made their heads spin. It was a reflex. I was in pain. It was too soon. But it was also something more.

A long-term relationship, like my life with Greg, takes an enormous amount of work if you’re serious about making it last. I had negotiated and compromised, been surprised and disappointed, felt loved and misunderstood, been ecstatic and angry, had hope and lost it, and much more throughout the forty years that Greg and I worked to keep our relationship growing. It wasn’t always easy, and I just didn’t think I’d have it in me to start over and do that with someone new.

Friends responded by asking, but wouldn’t you like companionship again? Hard to say, because I’m not exactly sure what they mean by companionship.

The physical presence of someone nearby? My dogs seem to fill this role quite well, and although they can be a handful at times, they love me unconditionally and never argue.

Someone to do things with? I’m lucky to have a broad base of friends, both couples and singles. My life is full and my schedule busy. I don’t feel the need for a companion just so I can get out of the house. If anything, I’m not sure how dating would fit into my busy lifestyle.

The person you can say anything to? I do miss the small talk of everyday life with Greg, but it doesn’t feel like a reason to date. Besides, I have a couple of really close friends who will respond to my silly texts most any time of the day or night.

Someone to travel with? Yes, despite being comfortable traveling alone, something would be lost for me if I didn’t have someone to share travel experiences with. I fretted over how to find people to travel with after Greg died, and worried about being the third (or fifth) wheel traveling with the couples who used to join us. But it turns out I’m traveling more than ever now—with friends, with organized groups, to retreats, with family, solo, and yes, with some of those couples Greg and I treasured traveling with.

A therapist told me that statistically, people in happy marriages do go on to date again after losing a spouse. The reasoning is these people know what a loving relationship is like, so are more open to entering into one again. But how could I date someone new and not constantly compare him to Greg? Greg and I had known each other since childhood, so what would it be like to be in a relationship with someone with whom I had no shared past?

And then there’s this simple fact: Greg and I became a couple when I was 18. I’m turning 60 this year—you do the math—and the thought of an intimate relationship with anyone else, ever, is almost inconceivable to me. A friend joked with me that the perfect partner for me would be a gay man. I laughed, but understood what she meant.

Just last week a friend that I hadn’t seen since Greg’s death asked, so are you dating yet? Yet, as if it’s inevitable that I do. And a woman with whom I work, someone older who found a new partner later in life, asked the same. Do you think you’re ready to start dating? As if, in time, certainly that’s what I would do. You’re young, people say, as if that is reason alone to couple up. A divorced friend asked me recently if I minded sleeping alone. I can’t say that I do.

I would think you’d be lonely, a close friend suggested just the other day. That stayed with me, partly because of the press recently suggesting that nearly half of us struggle with loneliness. It’s true that I’m still young, and it’s true I’m alone more at home than I used to be, but I don’t know that I feel any more lonely than friends who have a partner. Loneliness is not the same as simply being alone. And missing Greg isn’t really loneliness.

I ask myself constantly, is there something wrong with me if I don’t have any interest in or need of another relationship after Greg? Could it be possible I’m just too frightened to try? My therapist reminds me that how I answer that question is simply how I feel on the day I answer it. So while I might change my perspective down the road, today I tell friends, no, I’m not interested in dating. Not today, anyway.

In the meantime, the invitations will arrive with their and guest or plus one, thanks to the thoughtfulness and generosity of my friends. I’m grateful they still include me and I’m touched, really, knowing what they are really saying in such a gentle way. We miss Greg too, but it’s okay to start over.

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