“Are you all planning on wearing your wedding rings?”
It was an innocent question coming from a friend of mine, another young widow named Alexi. In a few hours, we were slated to meet up with a few other young widows for a night on the town. We discussed the issue at length, eventually deciding that wearing a ring at a dating event would be pretty weird. Especially because we’d have little time to explain our complicated histories, as we were going speed dating.
Yes, speed dating.
Believe it or not, it still exists. Invented almost 20 years ago by a rabbi, speed dating is exactly what you think it is: you’ve got 5 minutes to make an impression on someone and then it’s on to the next person.
And we were just about ready to find out what would happen if a group of young widows all showed up together to such an event.
We agreed that we needed to have low expectations. Who attended stuff like this anyway? And what were the men going to say if they realized that half of the women there were young widows?
The goal, we decided, was to see each other and try something new. And I’m certainly trying new things! (I should have a category on my blog now called “trying new things.”) As we arrived, I signed in and got a sheet to rank the men I met and then I went to the bar to get a drink to try and lighten the mood.
I sat next to Alexi. “What to you think is going to happen when these men realize we are all young widows?” she asked.
I rolled my eyes a bit. “Ugh,” I said, “I can only imagine the responses. I just hope no one says I’m ‘so brave’ or something like that.”
She laughed. “We should keep track of their responses.” She drew a little chart. “If he’s silent, that’s one point. If he expresses shock, that’s two points. If he tells a story about his dead grandmother, that’s three points.”
We brainstormed other possible responses and how we’d play this ridiculous game of what we termed “dead husband bingo.”
Don’t ever say young widows can’t have a bit of fun. Dark humor is our thing.
Eventually, it was time to start. “Hi, I’m number 8,” the first man said to me, “and I’m really into numerology and handwriting.”
Wait – what? Was this how you started a conversation at speed dating? Or really ever?
But I decided to roll with it. I mean, there’s only one way to try stuff like this, and it’s to go all in. After a few minutes of listening to this guy (he didn’t appear to care much about my interests) I had him analyze my handwriting because….well, why not?
“You are guarded,” the man said, after taking a 3-second look at what I’d written, “and you don’t make yourself vulnerable to others.”
Hmmm. I decided not to tell him about this blog. I also passed on telling him about being a widow.
But I couldn’t get away from my status that easily. Right next to me, Alexi was chatting with her 5-minute partner about how we were all young widows. I teased her during the break, and she pointed out that the only way to play “dead husband bingo” is to tell everyone that we are widows.
“I know,” I said, “but you don’t lead with it!”
“Why not?” she said. “You can tell a lot from someone’s reaction.”
She had a point.
The night continued and I met men from all walks of life. The was the guy who told me a funny story about using an entire head of garlic in a recipe that called for one clove (“who knows what a clove of garlic is, anyway?”), the guy who described, in detail, the death of his favorite bartender after learning I was a widow (which should be at least double points for dead husband bingo), and the guy who was unemployed but “would get a job someday.” But there were other men too – a man who had lived in the Pacific Northwest and chatted with me about all the tiny towns I knew from my childhood, a man who made me laugh with his story about doing yoga that morning, and a man who was a war correspondent and told me all about what it was like to be in Afghanistan in 2001.
And then, at the very end, there was a guy who asked me a question that made me pause. It wasn’t because he was overly invasive. It was because he was trying to be the opposite. “Tell me,” he said, “how do you feel about pineapple on pizza?”
“I like it,” I said, “but I know that’s not a popular opinion.”
He laughed and then told me all the reasons why he couldn’t stand pineapple on pizza. It was funny and really entertaining.
And it sounded exactly like something Shawn would say.
I hadn’t thought about Shawn’s opinion on this topic for almost two years, but the “pineapple on pizza” debate was our favorite fake fights to have in front of our friends. Less than a year before he died, Shawn’s Facebook update was a link to a story (in Foreign Policy!) on this issue. Above the link, he’d written, “This is a major point of disagreement in my marriage to Marjorie. I find pineapple on pizza to be an abomination.”
I did not share any of this with the man who sat in front of me. Instead, I joked about other terrible pizza toppings with him until our five minutes was up.
But God, in that moment, I missed Shawn so much. I didn’t miss the fact that he loved our children desperately or the brilliance that he showed in every piece of writing or the way that he always pulled me close in the kitchen late at night. I didn’t miss all the big things about Shawn.
I missed that he hated pineapple on pizza.
Maybe I also missed him because in the dozen or so men that I met that night, none of them could hold my attention. I wanted to find someone that I thought was really interesting, because it would be fun and (at minimum) make for a better blog post. But I couldn’t fake it. Those guys were all nice and engaging and (mostly) gainfully employed.
But they just didn’t have it. You know – it – that thing that makes you say, “oh yes, I want to keep talking to you and maybe stand closer to you.” And try as I might, I couldn’t force it.
That’s okay. I had a great night with my kick-ass widow friends doing something that was fun. Maybe none of us will find love this way, but we laughed a lot afterwards and I left feeling content. Not because I found anyone new to date. But because I got to remember a piece of Shawn as I was trying something new.
And I’m going to call that a win in this new life I’m living.