I have a lot of memories from 2018 when I was sitting in my kitchen talking to my friends Becky and Michelle. Of course, I have a lot of terrible memories from that spring, when all I did was cry, but I also have a lot of memories from later in the year when I felt more varied emotions and we laughed a lot more frequently. (As a side note, I’d like to reiterate one thing that I’ve said before – my relationship with my friends was pretty one-sided during that time period. They got me through that terrible year by doing a lot of listening and other support.)
Anyway, I have this one specific memory from that time period that stands out for some reason, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I believe it was the fall of 2018 when I had started dating again. It was a bit of a disaster, and the three of us were trying to strategize about what I could do to make it easier. Of course, none of us had been on the dating scene for over a decade, so we were spitballing creative ideas for meeting new people.
I don’t remember any of our actual ideas (I mean, I spent my days teaching high school kids and watching elementary school soccer games which made our “how to meet single men” conversations more complicated) but I do remember that it was this specific discussion that day in my kitchen that actually felt fun, in a way. We were strategizing about fun ways to meet men and getting excited about some real possibilities for my dating life, and for once I was smiling about it. I remember feeling just a tiny bit hopeful that maybe – maybe! – things were going to get better. Maybe there was hope for my future. Maybe I’d meet someone who could sweep me off my feet?
We really delved deep into my emotions surrounding dating, men and relationships that day, and at the end, I told them that I was hopeful – at least intellectually – that if I never found someone I could still live a full and happy life.
“Of course you will!” they insisted.
“The worst part is the not-knowing,” I said. “I feel so unstable not having the answers to my future. I feel like if I could just know that I’d never meet anyone, or that it would take five or ten years, I could be more content right now. It’s the fact that it might happen for me right away or it might never happen for me makes it difficult to plan. It means that I have to figure out how to be happy without any knowledge of my future.”
They agreed with me that the uncertainty was really hard. I reiterated that it was the hardest part of dating. In fact, after about 18 months of dating (before I became involved with Chris) I still thought it was the hardest part.
Trying to find happiness alone is hard. Trying to do it while also dating is an interesting study of contrasts. You have to decide how to be happy as a potentially forever single person while also opening yourself up to new people over and over again.
But it always seemed pretty do-able, I thought, if I could just know what the end would be. If I knew I’d never meet another real partner, I could treat dating with a light touch, as a place to have fun. In this scenario, I could spend most of my emotional energy on myself and my kids and know that I didn’t need to look outside of the four of us for any other validation. OR, if I knew that I’d meet someone, but it was likely to be 5 or 10 years, I could know that those interim years were for growing my career and investing in hands-on time with my kids. I wouldn’t have to feel pulled towards “making things work” with men that weren’t the perfect fit. OR, if I knew that a great person was right around the corner, I could intensely invest myself in dating for a short period of time, knowing my time wouldn’t be wasted.
I spent too much time pondering this idea, because of course the future is unknowable for all of us. It was frustrating for me back then because if I let myself imagine what life would be like in a few years, I just felt so uncertain. Not just with dating, but also with my professional life and my kids and my role in the community. I could deal with things not going my way, I reasoned, as long as I knew those disappointments were coming.
All of this is somewhat silly, I know. No one can know the future. Lord knows I certainly didn’t know where I’d be at age 41 when I was 25.
And yet, it’s the not-knowing that’s been so hard for me as a widow. Yes, I wanted to know what the future would bring. But more than that, I wanted to know if I was going to be happy.
So maybe it wasn’t about having a crystal ball. Maybe it was more about knowing that things would be okay, eventually. I wish somehow, I could have known that I’d find my way back to happy.
But the future remained a mucky blur of rejection, possibility, fear and hope. No one could tell me how the cards would play out, exactly, so I had to forge my own path. And yet, even now, even years later when I’ve found the next love of my life and I’ve gotten my kids through the worst – even now, I think, “I wish I knew the future.”
And of course, I never will.