It’s been almost three years since I sat down with my dear friend Kristin, looked her in the eyes and said something I was terrified to say:
“I think I’m ready to start dating again.”
It felt like a confession.
It was the end of the summer of 2018, and I’d had a very brief encounter with a man (you can read about that here) which left me feeling changed. For the first time since Shawn died, I desired men. I wanted to be around them, and I knew I didn’t want to remain celibate anymore.
Shawn had only been gone for about 7 months at that point. I hadn’t signed up for a dating app or gone to a bar looking for a man or really done anything that would actually get me in a position to meet someone. No – all I’d done was make a decision, in my own head, that I wanted to date again.
And I felt tortured by that decision.
I felt tortured for two reasons: first, because I felt guilty that I wanted to date again, full of shame that I wanted to touch someone that wasn’t Shawn, and worried that I had done it all so quickly. That took a long time to work through, honestly, and I didn’t feel truly comfortable dating for a long time (this is the subject of many of my “dating” blog posts throughout 2018 and 2019.) But aside from my own self-loathing, I was tortured by something else: the worry that my family and my friends would judge me.
I told my sister first, and she said, very simply, “that’s great.” When I told her that I was worried about being judged by others, she said, “well, then that’s their problem” (she had some other choice words that I’ll leave out). But what would it mean to tell my extended family, and my friends?
I’m not sure why Kristin was the first person I told, but I knew it could be hard on her. She was really close with Shawn (she was the person we called to come over the night Tommy was born!) and we grieved intensely together. I hadn’t broached the idea of dating with her – or anyone – at that point. I was nervous; so nervous, in fact, that I just blurted it out when I saw her. “I think I’m ready to start dating again.”
“That’s great,” she said, and then she smiled.
I kept talking. “I’m just nervous about telling people. I’m worried about what people might say.”
She shook her head. “What are you worried people might say?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I’m worried that other people might say it’s just too soon for me to be dating.”
“Well,” she said back to me, “I know you’re ready when you tell me you’re ready.”
I can’t remember exactly what I did next, but it felt amazing to hear those words. It was one of the best things anyone said to me that first year of widowhood. It wasn’t just that she supported me dating. It was that she told me, very explicitly, that the only person who would know when it was the right time to date – or do anything – was ME. She was saying, in effect, that she saw me as a grown-ass woman who could know my own emotions and make my own choices.
Was it best that I dated during that first year of loss? I don’t know. It certainly wasn’t pretty, and maybe if I had waited longer, it would have been smoother. But that wasn’t for Kristin to decide, and she knew it. So instead of saying, “It’s definitely time for you to start dating again!” or something else encouraging, she instead told me that whatever I wanted was the right decision for me.
For years – years! – I replayed that phrase over and over in my head. It gave me courage to do all sorts of other things, because I reminded myself what Kristin reminded me: that I was the best person to make my own decisions.
I know you’re ready when you tell me you’re ready.