Friday, March 23, 2012

Am I Dating Through Grief...or Grieving Through Dating?

Well, spring is here and true to form it seems like love is in the air.  Oh, I know it looks like pollen, but, really…it must be love.  Because I’m noticing a lot of people talking about it (love, not pollen).

I’ve seen online, I’ve been getting emails about it and then, ironically, it came up again this morning while I was talking to EllenGerst, the expert on finding love after loss.  So I thought I’d give it a go in a blog.

Let me preface this by saying I hope this blog makes sense.  Because while spring has not brought me a new love, it has brought me a whopping cold.  So if this is a good piece, I’m glad.  If it’s not…blame it on the Mucinex.

I think there is some sort of rumor going around - not just in the widow community but in the dating-the-second-time-around community in general – that dating should be smoother as we get older and wiser.  I fell into that trap, too, when I first started dating after my husband died.  I thought that I knew what I wanted, how I was going to go about getting it, and was hopeful that because I was older…I wouldn’t have to put up with as many “games” as I did when I dated years ago.

Unfortunately – and this took me a while to figure out – I had no idea what I wanted, how I thought I would go about it didn’t work at all, and the “games” were still there.  Just with better technology.

Everyone seems to think that there comes a point when you know – you just know – that you’re ready to date.  And yes, I think there are signs that we’re ready to date - like noticing bare ring fingers in the frozen food section at Wal-Mart and looking at other couples wondering if that could someday be you making other people nauseous – but as far as being completely ready to date…I have yet to meet the person who wakes up one morning, says, "YES!  This is the day!" and then meets her dream guy while pumping gas at the Conoco down the street.

(And incidentally…if you try and pick up on that guy in the frozen food section at Wal-Mart, pay attention to what he’s shopping for.  Vegetables:  Yes.  Liver and Onions Hungry Man Dinner:  No.)

Now, brace yourself for what I’m going to say.  Because it may shock some of you who thought that dating the second time around would be a no-brainer. 

Dating is a process.

First of all, no one knows what in the hell they’re doing and the people who say they do are lying.  No one knows when he’ll call, why he hasn’t called, why you’re hearing from one and not the other, and what most of those text acronyms mean.  You may be 30 years older, but dating is the same whether you’re 18 or 58.  Everyone is insecure and unsure and that means we’re all bumbling around with our cell phones in our hands, willing it to vibrate, and then feeling stupid about being “this age” and finding ourselves in this position again.

Yes.  It’s annoying.  But it’s part of the process.

We would all like to think that since we’ve lived a little, we know exactly what we want.  Take me for example.  When I started dating the second time around I thought, “Screw this love business.  Next time…I’m marrying for money.”

Well, not really.  But sort of.

I had a list of what I wanted, what I was sure would catapult my inner being into a bliss I never before knew was possible.  I took the qualities I loved about my husband, mixed them with a few things I thought he was missing and – viola!   I had the recipe for the perfect man. 

And you know what?  I got him.  And it didn’t work out.

I didn’t really know what I wanted because I didn’t yet know who I was.  And, to be honest, part of finding out who I was meant dating.  Because I couldn’t figure out what was going to work if I didn’t know what wouldn’t.  And in a way – and I know this sounds twisted – dating became a part of my grieving process.  Oh, I didn’t go out on a date, wait until my dinner partner took a sip of his first drink and suddenly say, “Have you ever cried so hard you thought you had physically ejected your tear ducts out of your body?  Well, let me tell you about the time I did that!”

But there were phases to my dating.  Times when I couldn’t wait to date.  And then times when I knew I needed a break.  Times when I thought a guy was just about perfect.  And then times when I realized I wasn’t ready for perfect yet.  There were times I would have been happy with a fling and then times I thought for sure I was ready to get married again.  I dipped in and out of the dating pool as my phases ebbed and flowed.

And even when I found myself in a relationship that worked…there was still more work to be done.  And that has taken time.  A LOT of time.

There is a certain amount of guilt associated with moving forward with a relationship and I have news for you:  It’s going to happen whether you wait a month to date or 10 years.  It’s part of the process.  It’s a phase that I can guarantee 95% of you will go through in some form or fashion.  It doesn’t mean that you’re not ready to date and it may not be about the new relationship at all.  It could just be about one little part of it.  I’ll never forget, after one very sweet guy did something very sweet, thinking, “Now, why didn’t my husband ever do that?” 

And then immediately thinking, “Oh shit.  I can’t believe I just thought that.  I’m still thinking about it!!!  STOP IT!!!”

But after a while, I realized…I shouldn’t stop thinking that way.  It’s part of the process.  It’s okay to wish my husband could be here to do certain things and then be grateful that I have someone else who might do things that my husband never thought to do.  It’s okay to be happy with someone else and at the same time wish my husband could be here (it’s confusing…but it’s okay).

It’s okay to date without constantly worrying what the end result will be. 

Because, sometimes, the journey is not all about the destination.  It’s about what we learn about ourselves along the way.  That way, when we happen to pass by someone who seems like they might be worth stopping for...

...we'll know it's time to pull over.

Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014).  She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

We Don't Say That In This Family

Ugh.  I feel like lately I have been in the middle of a whole lotta kid drama.  It pretty much consumes my day.  And I’m not happy about it.

For one thing, pretty much every day, my oldest daughter comes home from school and says, “So-and-so was mean to me.”  The names change a little…it’s usually the same 3 or 4 girls over and over again…but someone is always mean.  And then the next day, it’s someone else and she has played all day with the mean girl from the day before.

I know I can’t solve this problem for her.  She’s getting to the tail end of her 5th grade year and, if memory serves, I was coming home pretty much every day at that age, saying to my mother, “So-and-so was mean to me today.”  I don’t know the exact hormone that sends female bitchiness into overdrive during the preteen years, but believe me…if I could isolate it, I’d come up with a cure so that my daughters wouldn’t have to go through it like I did.

Because, right now, the only thing I can say to her is, “I know.  This sucks.  But sweetie…you’re just going to have to ride it out.”  And listen to her as much as I can.

That problem, while annoying, I feel like is pretty typical.  I’ve watching, waiting for the “mean girl” stage to hit and just hoping that it wouldn’t be my daughter who was one of the mean girls.  And so far…I don’t think she is.

Not that one, anyway.

The bigger issue I’m having is with my 6-year-old.  It seemed like for a while, there wasn’t one day where I didn’t hear the words “I hate you” or “I hate this family” cross her lips.  And while the typical mother in me knows that this isn’t unusual (believe me…I’ve spent enough time at Wal-Mart to know that most kids say this at some point), the widowed mother in me can’t stand it.

She was only 18 months old when her dad died and while being the daughter of a deceased father is her reality, there is a part of me that wonders if she really has a concept of what that means.  My son and older daughter know that there’s something about our family that’s special, something that sets us apart.  We’re quick to be affectionate, tell each other we love each other several times a day, and do our best to communicate what’s wrong when we need to.

And while my youngest is also extremely affectionate and has a huge heart…she also has the passion of someone who can fly off the handle at any moment and we never really know when that’s going to happen.

After almost a couple of weeks solid, hearing her say that she hates us and trying to curb her bad behavior, sending her to her room and taking away privileges, by Sunday I’d had enough.  I don’t know if I was especially tired from the time change or if I was still emotional from sitting at church (something that still gets to me over 4 years after my husband’s death), but after hearing her say she hated us all, yet again…I just couldn’t take it anymore.

“You guys go inside,” I said to my two oldest kids after I’d pulled into the garage.  “I need to talk to her alone.”

I sat in silence in the car for a moment, my daughter sitting mulishly quiet in the seat directly behind me so she couldn’t see my face.  And when I turned around, a look of surprise replaced the stubborn glare that had been there just moment before.  Because I was letting her see something that I almost never let anyone see.

Tears streaming down my face.

“We don’t say that,” I said, shakily.  “We don’t say we hate anyone, especially in this family.  Our family is special.  We know that bad things can happen and we know what it’s like to lose someone and not see them again.”

I took a deep breath and fresh tears rolled down my cheeks when I thought about what I was about to say to her.

“The last thing I said to your dad when he left for work the morning of his accident was that I loved him.  I am so glad that I said that to him as he kissed me goodbye.  If I had said that I hated him as he left…I’d find that pretty hard to live with.”

I got out of the car and she sat there in silence for a little while.  Then she came into the house and gave me a hug.  And I didn’t hear that dreaded 4 letter word the rest of the day.

You see, I know that she doesn’t hate us.  I know that she gets angry and she hates a situation or a punishment.  But I know that she loves us.  She tells us that all the time, making little cards and leaving them on our pillows, snuggling up when we’re watching a movie.  I’m not worried that she doesn’t love us.  I know she does.

What keeps running through my mind is that I don’t want her if (God forbid), something should happen…to live with the memory that she told us she hated us when she should have told us she loved us.  I think the people who have gone before us know how we feel, how we felt about them.  I think they move on, carrying that with them.  I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what I believe.

It’s us, those who are left behind, who have the memories of fights, hugs, love, and, yes, sometimes hate.  We’re the ones who have to live with how we’ve treated others.

And we have to decide if how we’ve treated others is something we can live with. 

Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014).  She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hormones...Grief...Bitchiness...Oh My!

I’ve come to the conclusion recently that being a young widow is very complicated.  But not for the reasons you might think.  This realization was brought about when I spent about a week solid, completely irritated at the world.  I don’t know if it was the pull of the planets or what, but everything just annoyed the heck out of me.

So, as a young widow, I’ve noticed that when I go through phases like this, I have a little mental checklist that I have to go through.

Am I PMSing?
Is there a milestone coming up that I didn’t realize?
Am I just grieving in general and angry with the world?

And lately, after I’ve been through this little mental checklist, which only takes me a few seconds, and the answer to all of the questions above is “no” that has left me with only one conclusion.

I’m a bitch.

No, no.  That’s okay.  Really.  I’m okay with it.  Because for years I spent so much energy NOT being one that I think there were some areas of my life when I got completely run over by people who had the fine art of being a bitch perfected.  I would cower when asked a direct question by someone who seemed surer of herself than I did (never once thinking, “How is any of this her business anyway???”).  I would take something in the chin because I was too concerned about making the thoughtless deliverer feel uncomfortable in my presence (something that they were obviously not concerned about).  I would smile and nod at whatever life threw my way, never asking myself, “Do I really have to put up with this?”

And I think that’s starting to change.

It’s probably a combination of getting older and a little wiser and even though I hate the wrinkles that come with age and the rolls that just won’t go away like they did in my 20s, I really don’t mind this little side effect.  I grew up in the Age of Oprah when she constantly talked about how much she loved her 40s because she was really starting to know who she was and what she wanted.  And even though she didn’t come right out and say it…I’m starting to think that she might have been talking about embracing this inner bitch.

Bitchiness is not always such a bad thing.  Actually, the reason for my reoccurring bitchiness is probably because I’m reacting to something that has probably bothered me for years.  I mean, let’s face it.  We didn’t fly off the handle the first time someone cut us off on the highway when we were 16.  Hell, no.  It took years for that aggravation to build up.  So that now, when it happens, we have no problem rolling down our windows and yelling, “Stop playing Words With Friends at 80 miles an hour and drive, moron!!  And get a car wash while you’re at it!!!”

Well.  Maybe that’s just me.

I remember years ago, my husband and I fighting over PMS.  Now, his answer to what he thought was my irrational irritation was to pretty much ignore it until the storm blew over.  One of his favorite sayings came from Everybody Loves Raymond when Raymond says to a PMSing Debra, “This is not Debra!  This is a woman who shows up once a month and rips into me like a monkey on a cupcake!”

For some reason, my husband never seemed to understand when I tried to explain to him that whatever I’m “ripping” into him for…I’ve been irritated about all month.  I just had the sudden hormonal surge to get it out of my mouth.

Same thing with grieving.  It always surprises me those days and weeks when I get weepy and irritable.  I either want every person I run into on the street to give me a big hug…or I want to run over them with my minivan.  And when I think about it…it’s not that those feelings haven’t been there all along.  They’ve just built up so much that I have to let them out.  So being a weepy, angry, irrational, Chardonnay-drinking mess isn’t coming as out of the blue as I think it is.  It was always there.  It just took my husband’s birthday or an anniversary to purge it.

Given the time I’ve spent thinking about my bitchiness (which is considerable), I have to come to somewhat the same conclusion:  That it was always there, just as the irritation was there before the PMS and the weepiness was there before the milestone.  It just took age and wisdom to draw it out.  And I’m not perfect.  Puh-leeze.  I’m just tired of dealing with all of the people who figured this out before me, handing me their own bitchiness on a platter while I take it with a smile.

There is a mental warning sign that I have when I know my inner bitch is about to emerge.  The moment the words “life is too short” flash into my brain, I know I either need to remove myself from whatever situation I’m in or be prepared for the fact that whomever I’m dealing with will probably not be speaking to me in the morrow.  And that’s okay.  Accompanying my bitchiness has been this wonderful ability to accept the consequences, whatever they may be.  So I guess that makes me a morally responsible bitch?

The only thing that I worried about at the beginning stages of my bitchiness was that I would wake up one morning, alone and friendless, wondering why no one calls me anymore and thinking back to the many things I shouldn’t have said.  But I’ve decided to stop worrying about it.  After all, if you’re nice, I’m nice.  If you’re considerate then of course I will be, too.  If you’re not either of these things then I’m better off without you.  And if you’re one of those magical people whose bitchiness coincides with my own…our friendship was meant to be.

‘Cause let’s face it.

Us bitches like to travel in packs.

Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014).  She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.