Out of the Corner of My Eye

DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley with family in field

Back when I was happily married, I used to have these moments that made me long for another life. I’d be doing something like picking out eggs at the grocery store while I fed my baby Cheerios, and I’d see something out of the corner of my eye. Maybe it was a magazine with a cover story on European train trips or a newly-in-love couple trying the free samples together. Whatever it was, I’d wish for a little bit of excitement, a little bit of something new. I’d think, I like my life. I am happy. But I just wanted a little bit more.

Now I want to go back and slap my pre-widow self. I had everything! Why did I want more? How greedy of me.

But I think it’s something that’s actually pretty common in this world. It’s hard to sit with what you have, see your blessings, and not want anything else. It’s human nature to strive, I think.

So here I am today, feeling a similar feeling. One where (all obvious caveats aside) I know my life has gotten to an okay place. I have three awesome, healthy and happy kids, I have a loving extended family and community, and I can pay my bills. I miss Shawn desperately. That will always be true. But when outsiders see my life, I think they think I’ve pulled it together fairly well.

And I feel like I’ve done okay too. I am not a wreck all the time anymore. I have hours, days, and sometimes an entire week when I feel mostly okay.

But then I’ll see something out of the corner of my eye.

Maybe it’s an older couple getting out of the car at the parking lot, moving slowly together. Or a middle-aged man trying to pick out an anniversary card at the drugstore. Or a father carrying a child on his shoulders.

And I will wish for another life.

Since I’m a proactive person, when I feel like this, I’ll resolve to try and meet someone. I’ll go back on my dating apps, scroll through a few available men and tap out some sort of message to them. I’ll go back in a few hours, and reply to any new messages. I may even try to set up a few dates.

At that point, this is what will happen: one or two of those dates will actually happen. I’ll go out and share a drink or a coffee and some banter.

And I will be disappointed every single time – either because I don’t have any interest, or he doesn’t have any interest, or neither of us have any interest.

Do you know what I should feel in those moments? I should feel glad that I’m able to recognize what a good relationship is. I should feel grateful that God/the universe gave me three great kids with a man who loved me every day he knew me. I should feel appreciative that I am surrounded by friends who will listen to me gripe about dating.

Do you know what I actually feel in those moments? Totally demoralized. I’m not sure I can fully describe it to anyone who isn’t single in midlife, but just trust me, it’s terrible. I don’t even really understand it myself. I mean, I am a self-confident individual. I do not need a man to validate my life or assure me that I am happy. I have so much that is good in my life and furthermore, my 2020 goal was to notice the happy parts of my life and be grateful for them.

But when I have a brief peek at a life where I could be back in love, I want it so badly. And when it doesn’t work out I feel crushed.

I’m working on re-framing my narrative, but it’s tough. After one failed date, I decided I was going to be positive and I texted a friend, “It wasn’t a match. But I feel proud of my resilience. None of the guys I’ve gone out with have been remotely right for me. But I am still trying. And that counts for something.” Of course, my friend was super encouraging about my future, as any good friend should be. But I knew it was an act. I didn’t feel proud. I felt sad that it didn’t work out, again.

I keep telling myself that having a positive attitude is the only way I can face my life, if I want to try and find new love. I have to put up with setback after setback because that is dating. And if I want to find someone else, I have to date. That’s just how it works.

But damn it is hard. I mean, sometimes it’s crying-in-the-bathroom hard. That’s a bit embarrassing to write, actually, because (according to my own goals) I’m supposed to be seeing the beauty that surrounds me. I’m not supposed to be constantly looking around the corner for what’s next.

It’s a strange thing to do, if I’m being honest. I’m trying to see a future in which I can be happy and alone, but I’m also simultaneously dating and hoping for a future where I’m not. Holding both at the same time can sometimes feel impossible to do.

Would it be easier to barrel down, focus on my kids and my teaching job and not look up for the next 10 years? Maybe.

But I know myself. I’m still a striver. I know it makes me a bit less happy to constantly want more. I tell myself to focus on what’s good and not to get derailed by trying for something new.

But then I see something out of the corner of my eye and I think, “I want more.”

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.

22 Replies to “Out of the Corner of My Eye”

  1. I’m about 14 months out. I just downloaded my first dating app after reading many of your posts. Everything you wrote here is spot-on. I want to be both able to be happy and single, and searching for an (ultimate) partner. I’ve not had the app for 24 hours and I feel like crap. But I look to you to remember to keep trying. It’s a journey, right? Thanks for putting this out there.

    1. If it’s any consolation, I had to install, delete, and re-install different dating apps about a dozen times before I could stop feeling like crap every time I went on them. It’s a damn process! But for me, it eventually got easier. I think it probably will for you too.

  2. Science Vs. has an interesting take on online dating, including a bit of optimal choice theory that is both fascinating and preposterous. Perhaps you’re just in your calibration phase!

    https://gimletmedia.com/shows/science-vs/rnho8d

    1. I can’t wait to listen to this!

  3. Understand. Am a widower in the last third of life (62). Lost her in 2018 to the evil cancer. Going about the quotidian chores of living and working to enjoy it. I count my blessings everyday and even each moment. Am a Boomer with little trust in dating apps. Rather i hope for the providential serendipity of a chance encounter. That’s how i met her the first time…Best in your endeavors…wishing you that providential serendipity.

    1. Yes, I think every age bracket has different ways of meeting each other. When I was in my 20s, it was easy to meet someone at a school event or at a bar. Now in my 40s, it’s the apps. I have no idea what it looks like in later life, but I know people meet in all sorts of ways.

  4. I am in awe of your ability to capture in words these complex emotions of widowhood!

    1. Thank you!

  5. This post hit home for me. I’m 22 months out. Holley and I had a wonderful marriage, and my time with her was a happiness I have never felt before or since. I know I should be grateful for our marriage, for that level of happiness, and for the wonderful memories we shared. But sometimes it’s hard to feel that gratitude when I am facing (potentially) decades of life without Holley, knowing that I will probably never feel anything close to the love and happiness I had with her. I will try to make the most out of the life I have remaining, but there is something very disheartening about knowing that, at 48, the best years of my life have already come and gone.

    1. I get that sentiment. I really hope that my best years haven’t already come and gone, which is (I guess) why I’m still searching. But even if I do remain alone, I think the question becomes: how do I make my life happy? That part I am still figuring out.

    2. I feel the same way. My husband died just over 7 months ago at the age of 48 and I feel that the best years of my life are over too. I have my two boys but it’s not the same as having a partner. I was so sure we’d grow old together. People say I need to have a plan. My plan is to get through the week.

      1. That seems like a good plan!! Really. I mean, one damn step at a time, especially in that first year. Hang in there.

  6. I’m over 3 years out. Everything that you’ve said has rang true for me. I began dating one year out and it was rough. I was different. I wasn’t sure what I wanted out of dating, or out of a new relationship. I had a beautiful 21 year marriage before my husband died suddenly in a skiing accident. I was disheartened. I wanted to love and be loved again. I kept at it. A short relationship that failed. One sparkless date after another. I just kept at it and one day I met him. Someone who I clicked with in a way that I hadn’t with anyone else. It was rough for a bit. I was always doubting myself. I was overthinking everything in the relationship as it was growing. It was rough being 49 and trying to date after such a long hiatus. However I’ve hung in there and am so thankful for it. There are people pot there for us. However we shouldn’t settle. There are so many out there who want to love and be loved. Widowhood makes it so much more complicated. Feelings run high and deep. However 13 months in and I’m happier than I ever thought that I could ever be again. Hang in there and take your time. Be picky. This life is hard enough. However it can be so worth the patience in the end. .

    1. What great advice: “Be picky. This life is hard enough. However it can be so worth the patience in the end.”

      I am going to think about this as I keep dating – it’s great advice!

    2. Thanks for sharing this Rebecca and giving us all hope. I am only 9 months in and am not near ready to actually date, but I have instead been working my way towards the mere idea. I have a coworker who has a few widow friends and she had something to say about them/us that stuck with me, and made so much make sense to me. She said, “I’ve learned one thing about widows, they don’t settle”. Those words seemed perfect to me. I immediately thought “yes, this is true. Why would we? We know greatness, we know true love, and we know that there was someone that knew as we did that we deserved true love”. We hurt today because we know true love in a way that many don’t. We miss our life partners because we were blessed.

      We count our blessing today because we know the importance. We hope to gain new blessings in the form of love again, because why shouldn’t we?

      1. Oh, that’s so true – I’ve found that with a lot of my widow friends. If you were in a happy marriage, then what you want is another happy marriage….not just another marriage.

  7. I just turned 56 and lost my wife from multiple myeloma 7 months ago and I must say you have such a beautiful way to express the feelings which I am feeling daily. I am devastated and find myself struggling to prove to the world that I can manage this with grace and strength. Although the structures and world around me are familiar, my new life is alienating and lonely. I will never let Shaila out of my heart and my life. We were together since we were 21 and I too fear I may be alone for a long time. I’m okay with this…. I say to myself. I will have time to appreciate my new life, my family and friends that have been there to support us, the extraordinary gift of having loved someone as beautiful, intelligent and caring as my wife, and the unknown turns that lay ahead. And I will never stop my tears from flowing when they come.

    1. I think you do a beautiful job expressing the emotions of grief – we do the best we can, but we also let the tears come when they need to come.

  8. I got some great advice from a close friend who had a serious cancer at 21 and survived. He told me that in grief I should move towards things that feel good and away from things that don’t. That’s all I have to do. He gave me the same advice when I recently met a man on vacation, which I used to guide my actions. He also told me I don’t have to look for anyone because they will find me. All I have to do is just be.

    I also find there is this idea out there that we have to be this perfect, happy well-adjusted person to attract love. I totally disagree. I was quite sad and homesick when my husband spotted me at a party and I was quite sad when this man on holiday noticed me. But lo and behold, someone “saw me” and that is the beginning of connection.

    1. Oh, I AGREE. I think that being a perfectly happy person is a stupid qualification to put on widows for being “ready” to date! (Though I’ve heard it a lot!) And yes – I hope that someday I’ll attract someone who can see my whole self (and this massive blog) and think, “I’d like to be with HER.”

  9. I never comment, however this post was my heart. I lost my husband when I was 39 and I was pregnant with our 7th child. The first year was filled with activity mental and physical, it was the second year that brought the challenge, where I am today. I happen to encounter a gentleman that I thought was interested, but so many convoluted details that have come up recently it forced me to wave goodbye. Even though I walked it is hard and your description of how it feels was spot on. I am a very confident woman who knows her worth, yet his actions did have me feel a bit demoralized. My good friend just introduced this blog to me and it has already encouraged me.

    1. Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s death. And I’m also sorry to hear about your recent lost romance. It’s obviously not the same as losing your husband, but it does sting. Since I’ve now been through this a few times, I can promise you this: the dating stuff gets easier, if never easy. Hang in there.

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