People write me sometimes for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common things I am asked is, “how are you navigating love after loss?” After some prodding (he initially said, “who am I to dole out advice?” and I countered that he knows a whole lot about this specific topic), I got Chris to let me publish a discussion that we had. When he re-read it, he said, “I hope people understand that most of our relationship – like 99.9% of it! – is happy and joyful!” That’s true, of course, but today’s discussion is about the tough stuff – because that’s what people ask me about. Here it is…and hopefully there’s more to come from him in the future!
Marjorie: I often hear from widows – and people trying to date widows – who want to know how we’ve navigated all sorts of relationship challenges. “Chris and I talk a lot,” I say to them, and that’s true. But I also know that we’ve had some tough discussions, and we’ve probably had to talk about issues that many couples don’t confront in the first year of their relationship. All of our discussions are obviously not about widowhood. But some are! What’s one really hard conversation that we’ve had, and how did you feel when we were having that conversation?
Chris: We have had some hard conversations, that is true, but they have usually seemed to feel more like an exercise in helping each other navigate something tricky, and less like two opposing forces in conflict, which I know is how it can sometimes (unfortunately) feel in partnerships. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but I suspect that there is some underlying security that we both feel that allows us to engage more from a place of care and shared interest.
But I’ll stop dodging the question. One conversation that I remember being hard was one we had this past Fall after a blog post that you had written that touched a nerve for me. Interestingly it wasn’t about Shawn, rather about dating as a new widow. I felt nervous about bringing it up because I didn’t want you to feel like I was telling you not to write. Your writing, in addition to being such a part of who you are, plays a role in your grieving. I love your writing.
One thing that I’ve noticed myself doing when we have these kinds of conversations is beginning them with lots of caveats. Maybe that’s annoying, but sometimes I think it’s as important to be clear about what I’m NOT saying/feeling/implying as it is to tell you what I AM saying. I remember starting that one by really trying to emphasize “I’m NOT asking you to stop writing, or censor your writing on my account.”
I certainly don’t have any answers, but considering it now, perhaps one of reasons that we’re both able to navigate these tough conversations is that we’re both pretty good at staying untethered from any particular outcome. In this conversation, specifically, I don’t think we reached any grand conclusion. But I said my piece and you listened. And I think that is maybe as far as we needed to get.
Marjorie: I remember that conversation. We were running, actually, when you brought it up. And since you didn’t write it above, I’ll say what (I think) you were thinking: it’s been hard for you to read some of the things I’ve written about dating because you don’t love thinking about me dating other men. Of course you don’t! I don’t like thinking about you dating other women. The difference is, I don’t have to read about your thoughts on dating as a single man all the time on some blog you write!
And yet, you know that I write this blog, and that I write not just about dating as a new widow, but also about the love I shared with Shawn for many years. I remember one time in the early days of you visiting, when we were making a bed for you. You put the blanket with Shawn’s t-shirts on your bed, and I balked, big time. I didn’t want that blanket on your bed. I tried to pretend it wasn’t a big deal, that I was changing it for a warmer blanket. But you knew, and the next day you brought it up on our run. I guess running is where we talk through a lot of these conversations. It wasn’t that you even felt weird about the blanket, you just wanted me to be honest when I felt a strong emotion like that.
I get questions a lot about how we navigate these tough issues, ones that raise strong emotions for one or the other of us. What is a widow supposed to do to navigate tough conversations with a new partner? What’s the new partner supposed to do?
Chris: I’ll try to be more direct than I was in my last response. It might sound reductive, but the short answer is “have the conversation”. Just have it. Say what you’re thinking. Of course be considerate to how it might be received, and maybe don’t choose a night when your partner is exhausted from a long day of working and parenting, and whatever else might weigh heavy, and all those other considerations that any thoughtful partner (widow/second act or not) should take into account. But say it. One of the things that you and I often joke about is how some of the conversations we have feel like they would maybe scare a lot of folks off. And I think that’s ok. If you have a hard time communicating your way through conversations that include talk about death, grief, or a past partner, then dating a widow might not be for you. And that’s ok too.
And if you’re a widow dating someone who seems unable to confront these sorts of conversations, you should of course be patient – extend that extra bit of grace – for them it may feel incongruous to have a partner who has lost in a way that is foreign to them. But you should also be ready to face the possibility that your partner might not be the right fit if they consistently dodge the chance to engage with the entirety of your experience.
If you’re dating a widow, you have to embrace the tough conversation. Don’t just embrace it – recognize it for what it is – an act of trust. It’s your partner telling you: “This is hard. Let’s do it together.” Maybe that’s not just a widow thing.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.