Confessions of a Dating Neophyte

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 4.33.03 PM.pngOnce upon a time, many years – heck, decades – ago, I was a teenager dating and I wasn’t particularly good at it. I had a couple of boys I dated for a decent length of time and a handful of guys I went out with once or twice, but I suspect I was a bit more forthright than expected at times, quite a bit of a smartass a good deal of the time and independent enough to not necessarily want a boyfriend all of the time. Come to think of it, it’s pretty much who I still am today.

Like my friends, I had romantic notions of soul mates and everlasting love, but I did not plan to get permanently attached to anyone until I was at least 30. I had things to do. Yet a month before my 17th birthday, a few months into my senior year of high school, I began dating someone I met through a part-time job I had and soon became engulfed in a relationship that would be the pivotal one throughout the majority of my life. He was eight years older than me – a friend of my brother’s – and had just returned to school for his master’s degree in counseling psychology. How this came about and why my parents hadn’t firmly put their collective feet down on such an age difference is still beyond me, but I sense given my rebellious nature and a stubborn mind of my own, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

After dating for a couple of years, he proposed to me and I didn’t accept. Fast forward a year later to another proposal and this time I said yes. A lot of people, my father included, doubted it would last. But it did, for 24 years, until physical and mental illness and circumstances far beyond our control took their toll and divorce became the only feasible course of action – yet one that didn’t break the bond we had or the influence we had on each other’s lives. He remains, in fact, the only man I have ever loved and perhaps his death earlier this year has brought the thought of dating back to the forefront once again.

That’s not to say I haven’t considered it intermittently but it’s been far from an earnest effort. As a mom of four now-grown kids, my primary focus since their father became ill when they were still quite young was on being the best parent I possibly could be for them. While that’s true for most of the parents I know, my situation felt a bit different because I was all they had really. Their dad, as much as he loved them, became incapable of truly being a parent at all and there was no shared custody, no shared responsibility, nothing that either the kids or I could rely on from him. Taking care of us and dealing with everything else in my life, from work to the kids and more, became my focal point.

Some friends and acquaintances touted online dating as the way to go. While I saw plenty of success stories based on meeting that way, I heard lots of horror stories, too, and some pretty darn amusing tales, too. But the thing that bothered me most was  putting myself out there on display publicly (kind of funny given I have no problem writing about my life in blog posts and articles for anyone to see). It just didn’t feel cool. It still doesn’t in spite of giving it a whirl a few times. The profiles seem generic, the questions asked don’t offer responses that are relatable to me and everyone seems to be pushing for things that, to me, should be a natural transition.

I’ve often compared looking for a job and interviewing to dating. That it’s not about someone choosing you to fill a need, but rather both an organization and an individual getting to know one another and seeing if it seems right. But it’s a lot of work even getting to that point, a lot of auditioning and a lot of time spent trying to dazzle someone enough to get to that interview. I’ve gotten several jobs because people knew me and thought I’d be a good fit – it wasn’t an audition; it was organic and natural and it led to some very good professional experiences. I’ve also run the gamut of the countless resumes and cover letters, the multi-layered interview process and incremental exchange of important information. I don’t care much for the latter. Perhaps it explains a lot about how I feel about dating.

I don’t want the process. I want organic. I want someone to meet me somewhere in the regular course of my life, get to know me a bit and think, man, she’s someone I want to know better. A natural transition and it goes both ways. I don’t want to comb through profiles, create outreach messaging, answer or pose carefully chosen platform questions and the rest that goes with it. It just doesn’t interest me – and I’m someone who absolutely loves meeting people and hearing their stories, just not in this context. I’d rather meet someone, find myself a bit fascinated and take it from there – and maybe I will.

I’m not alone in this either. Friends in long-term relationships shudder at the idea of starting all over again and many that are now single, whether it is through divorce or a partner’s death, wouldn’t even consider dating again. They wouldn’t know where to start or whether they’d even want to open their lives again to someone. For them, it’s too much at this point to make that kind of change or even want it. Our lives are good – we’ve worked hard to achieve what we have with the people we most care about already and our lives are full.

My own life has been so busy, what with family, with finishing my bachelor’s and getting my master’s over the past five years, with friends and volunteer projects and work, I feel like I would have had time to carefully schedule someone in maybe every two weeks.

I hear so much of the same from friends – life is definitely good and we feel blessed with what we have, but every now and then, we think, what if? What if we met someone to add to the mix, to bring some extra fun, someone really special to share good things with?

I’ve struggled with that myself, eventually realizing that like anything else, there’s a natural flow that broadens our world and allows what we want to fit in. I just haven’t made a goal of pursuing it or, to be honest, putting myself out there to see what might transpire.

Perhaps part of it is not wanting to be that vulnerable and part of it is that I like my life as it is, but it feels like I might be ready to see what might unfold if I actually let it. I guess I’m opening myself to the possibilities.

Time will tell.

In many ways, I’m no different than I was so long ago, a bit more forthright, yet understanding; still a smartass, but with a real appreciation for other smartasses and a great sense of humor, too; a little too independent for my own good sometimes, but vulnerable as hell. I’m far more confident, more accomplished and experienced in living life, conquering challenges, loving with all of my heart and having street smarts and sass and loyalty that can’t be beat.

I remain the real deal, and I guess I’m open to someone who’s the real deal, too. No bullshit, no auditioning, just someone who cares for and appreciates others, wants to help in whatever ways he can in this world, can laugh at himself and laugh with others, and embraces adventures and magic and the best in those around him – and appreciates independence and music and quiet times, too, and gets how important my family is.

That may be a lot, but it doesn’t seem like too much to me.

What We Didn’t Know

We always knew this would end badly; there were no good solutions and never the promise of a cure.

What we didn’t know was how it would come about or when the end might be.

Death is tricky, and even in days of waning health and absolute signs of what was to come, strength can arrive from seemingly nowhere and final days sometimes become final months.

We knew it would be hard, knew it would be painful, knew it would release feelings that had been buried for years, and recognized that we didn’t know what else might erupt.

What we didn’t know was just how much it really would hurt.

We knew it was for the best. There were too many years filled with too much suffering, too many tears – his and, of course, ours – the pain of his illness and our collective loss, of seeing a life taken away from all that he loved. We wanted to ease his pain, perhaps to ease our own.

We just didn’t know how hard it would be to say goodbye to someone who left us so long ago.

What we really didn’t know, didn’t even suspect, was that with his death, John would suddenly become himself again – the person we knew so well, missed so much and hadn’t seen in so many years.

When someone is sick, like he was, for such a long time, life becomes reactive, a series of phone calls, medical and managed care facilities, emails, solving problems, taking care of needs, dealing with issues and never feeling like you can ever possibly do enough. Mostly because you can’t. So you do what you can and take care of what’s in front of you and all the best parts of a life you once lived become background noise, seldom listened to, examined even less, because it hurts too much and there is too much in the present to attend to.

What we didn’t know is that in the end, there was nothing else to focus on, except the life we once lived – together – and the memories, and the pictures; so many pictures, bringing back sensations and smiles and the recognition of a life once lived with joy, with a lot of love, lots of laughter and the chaos of many kids and too little time. Yet we didn’t know then how little time we really had, but even if we did, I don’t think we could have cherished it any more than we once did.

We knew once John was gone, we could finally begin to grieve, but we didn’t know what form that grief might take. So tonight, out of nowhere, I wept in earnest, the first time with no restraint, for the husband that’s gone, the life we led, the family we had together and the father and grandfather that would have loved it all so. I miss him so much and have for so long.

What we didn’t know, although we thought we did, was that somewhere inside of us, we clung to the hope that someday he’d be back, be part of our family again, even if we had to have known it would never be. Illness can delude you, give you a glimpse now and then of the person still there. It’s brief and it’s painful because it offers hope where none should really be.

We knew we had lots of love surrounding us – from family, friends that feel like family and even people we barely know well. We could feel it, even before this, and it magnified as the days blended into one.

And as that last day began to come and we finally knew that this was really it, not an illusion or one more close call, what we didn’t know was that almost 20 years would somehow melt away and the worst of it all didn’t matter anymore. Here we were all these years later, remembering decades ago as if they were yesterday.

In death, John became ours again. In life, we’ll miss him every day.