I’ve been listening to The Chicks a lot lately. I like their new album and I’ve been remembering back to when I re-discovered them in the fall of 2018. At the time, I was starting to re-discover a lot of things about myself, and the song “Cowboy Take Me Away” made me reflect on how I was struggling with men. I decided to write a blog post about it. Here’s an excerpt (from “Smash the Patriarchy,” November 14, 2018):
When I heard the song the other day, I sang along, and I felt that same emotion – a yearning for something else. But it wasn’t particularly for a new lover. Instead, I realized that what I was feeling was this:
I want to be rescued.
I want a cowboy – or really any other man – to come and rescue me from my life. Of course, I want Shawn to do that most of all, but since he’s unavailable, I just want someone – anyone – to come and save me.
Save me from single parenting. Save me from being the only person who deals with my kids’ emotions. Save me from taking the car to the damn repair shop yet again. Save me from being the only person who’s arriving solo to parties in my neighborhood. Save me from the guilt I feel when I can’t attend yet another event at the kids’ school.
Save me from my life.
As I re-read this blog post, I reflected on how self-aware I was 18 months ago. Yes, I was still in the first year of biting grief, and my thinking wasn’t often clear. And yet, I was able to articulate 1) how much I wanted to be rescued by a man who could somehow “save me from my life” and (later in the blog post) 2) how I knew that wasn’t a useful way to be thinking about my life.
I knew I had a lot of growing to do.
I often reiterate to my boyfriend Chris how important it was that we met in the spring of 2020. Yes, we knew each other for a long time before we actually started dating, but we didn’t start anything up until this spring. So, in theory, we could have dated much earlier than we did. But as I’ve told him on a number of occasions, it would have been a disaster if we had started dating sometime in 2018.
He doesn’t believe me. I tell him that I was in a bad place back then, and he tells me that he would have helped me through the terrible times. “We would have made it work,” he says.
Maybe that is true. I think Chris and I are so well-suited for each other that we probably could have persevered through my shaky emotional state. So in that way, he’s right.
And yet. I’m not really talking about whether or not Chris and I as a couple could have made it if we had started dating six or eight months after Shawn’s death.
No, when I say, “it wouldn’t have worked,” I’m really talking about something that’s totally separate from him – or from any relationship. I’m talking about my own independent emotional life.
I needed time after Shawn died to forge my own path and I needed to forge that path without feeling that I needed to be rescued by a man. I needed time to quiet the voice in my head that said that I was only okay with someone by my side. I needed time to feel constantly lonely, and then to wake up one day and think, “yes I’m lonely, but actually, I feel okay.”
I needed time to become a new person, in a way. Sure, I continued to appreciate a good glass of wine and swinging in a hammock on a summer afternoon, but what I needed was to be able to figure out who I was as a widow. And I needed to do it without anyone else by my side. I needed to figure out how to stand on my own two feet, without wanting constant rescue.
I’m not saying everyone needs to have this same kind of timeline, or even that others have a similar process to me. It’s not like I reached some sort of “widow enlightenment” and then I met Chris. That’s silly. After two years I still had many lonely nights and many times when I hated single parenting and many days that I just wanted to bury my head in the sand. It never really got easy to be alone and I still had a lot of tough days.
But eventually I got to the point where I could face the world without constantly wishing someone would come and save me.
So when I tell Chris, “it wouldn’t have worked,” I don’t mean that we wouldn’t have been able to date each other. It’s more that I may have seen him as my cowboy, as the guy who was going to swoop down and rescue me. And that isn’t what I wanted for myself.
Instead, I got a partner who stands by my side.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.