The other night, I was getting ready to go out to dinner with my friends when I got a text. “Do you want to take a cab with us?”
“Yes!” I replied. I was standing in my bathroom and Claire was chatting with me about her day. “Isn’t it nice that someone thought about me and asked me to go in the cab with them to dinner?” I said.
“That is nice!” she said. “Who are you going to dinner with?”
I listed off three couples, noting that I felt lucky that these couples wanted to include me, even though I was coming by myself. “Usually I just go out with my girlfriends,” I said, “but tonight it should be fun to go out with everyone!”
“You should write a blog post about it,” Claire said.
I laughed. My kids know all about my blog and are constantly coming up with topic ideas. Austin wonders why I don’t write more about his basketball games. Tommy thinks I should write about Grandpa Tom’s cookies. Claire sometimes tells me I should write about various TV shows she likes. I point out that not every topic is relevant to my blog, though I’ve managed to talk about a diverse number of issues here.
“What would I call a blog post about my dinner?” I asked her.
“How about this: My friends went out to dinner with their husbands and they asked me to come too…and that’s so nice!” she said.
I laughed. “Well, I’ll think about it,” I said.
That night at dinner we ate strange food from across the world and sampled orange wine. I listened to a lot of great stories and I laughed a lot. The next day, I reflected on the uniqueness of the experience.
Yes, I am lucky to have friends who still want to go out with me, even when their husbands are also coming. But the thing is, this is a rare occurrence. I used to go out all the time with Shawn, sometimes by ourselves but often we’d have dinner or drinks with other couples. Now, I still go out, but it’s almost always with women.
I don’t blame my friends. I mean, I know they don’t get out that often either. They shouldn’t have to invite me out every single time they go out – that’s crazy. Instead, I get invited to a lot of group parties and housewarming events and such. And I always appreciate it.
But there’s something really special about going out to dinner with friends, especially groups of couples. So I wonder, why don’t I do it more often?
The thing is, there’s the little problems, and then there’s the big problems with going out to dinner with other couples. First, there are logistics. How do I get down to the restaurant? Unless someone offers to pick me up, I feel awkward asking to ride somewhere with a couple. Don’t they want that time in a cab without me? I always wanted that time alone with Shawn, especially when we were coming home and he’d put his hand on my leg. I get it.
Then, where do I sit at the table once we’re at the restaurant? I love that my friends want to include me, but this sometimes means that I have to sit at the head of the table, which can feel awkward. Or I have to be the only person without a spouse sitting directly across from me.
And how do we split the bill? Should I bring cash, since the other couples will want to just put in one credit card each? How do I ask to just pay for my portion? Should I pitch in as though I was actually part of a couple?
Those are little problems, and actually, my friends and I mostly figured them out that night. I went down to the restaurant with two dear friends, friends that are so lovely that they let me – even encouraged me – to talk about how I missed Shawn during the cab ride. Then, at dinner, we mixed up the seating arrangement, so no one sat next to his or her spouse, and I was in the middle. And when the bill came, my friend at the head of the table collected credit cards from four of us – one from each of the couples and one from me. “Put one-seventh on this card,” he said to the waiter, pointing at my card, “and two-sevenths on the others.” Yes, it was complicated, but really, it’s fifth grade math. The restaurant had no problem doing it.
These are all little problems, and the thing is, the little problems are solvable, although I think the more explicit a group of friends can be with a new widow, the easier it makes things. (I also think a bigger group can help, so a widow is more like a 5th or 7th wheel, rather than a 3rd wheel.) So really, it’s not the little problems that make it tough to go out. It’s the bigger problems about how to get myself invited to dinner in the first place.
I am an extrovert. I love having dozens of families over to my house for an impromptu barbecue and I love going to parties. And yet, over the past two-plus years, I have not planned a single dinner out with a group of couples. I think there are a few reasons for this, but some of it is that I feel like couples would rather not go out with just me, if they’re given the option. My friends never say this (in fact, they tell me the opposite!) but I still feel awkward. It’s like I’m back in high school, wanting to go to Prom but without a date. “Can I come out with you and your boyfriends?” felt awkward to say then – and it’s awkward to say now.
Then, there’s the problem that I don’t have a “better half” to do some of the organizing. My husband isn’t running into his friends at the gym or on the metro and making impromptu plans. My husband isn’t having drinks “just with the guys” and then deciding that they should do something fun with their wives next weekend. My husband isn’t reading about the best new restaurants and planning how we can go out to sample them.
These two big problems – that I don’t have a husband who is also helping with the planning, and that I feel awkward making plans with couples – they add up to a lot fewer invites out to dinner. I’m not trying to have a pity-party for myself, as I have great friends who do frequently think about me. They do call me and ask me to come out, and they do think through the smaller, annoying logistics so that I feel comfortable.
But these invites to go out are few and far between. Yes, I’m lucky that my friends invite me to their house parties and group meet-ups at bars. Yes, it’s great that I have such wonderful girlfriends who love to have a Tuesday night drink. Yes, I’m lucky to have such a wonderful community.
But it’s tough as a widow to figure out how to get more invites alongside other couples. And, if I can be really reflective here, I need those invites even more now that I’m a widow, because (obviously) I’m never going out with my own husband just the two of us.
That night – the one when I went out with three other couples – we waited in the front of the restaurant for the table to be ready, chatting about our days. The hostess eventually came over and asked if we were ready. “Table for seven?” she asked.
“That’s us,” my friend said, and I smiled.
Table for seven.