Since becoming a widow, I’ve started to study other people’s relationships. I didn’t start doing this on purpose, and for many months after Shawn died, I didn’t really notice other people.
But then I started to look out. I began to watch my friends and acquaintances for clues as to how I was going to navigate the world without my husband. I did a lot more observing than I’d ever done before.
The other day, I met up with a new friend and although we’ve known each other professionally for a while now, I don’t know much about his personal life. I hadn’t seen him in a few months and was excited to get caught up.
We went to a coffee shop and sat down. “So,” I said, “tell me what’s new with you.”
“Actually,” he said, “I just got married.”
“Oh my gosh!” I said, “that’s so exciting!”
I wasn’t faking it. I like him a lot and he was clearly happy about this new life experience. “She’s the best,” he said. As he talked, it became apparent that he was madly in love with this woman I’d never met.
We talked about their City Hall ceremony and about what it means to get married when you aren’t a 25-year-old. He sported a shiny new wedding band.
“What’s next for both of you?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “we’ve got a lot of moving parts, but she’s working as a designer and doing really well. Actually, do you want to see what she’s been creating?”
I said I did, and then he showed me her work. It was beautiful.
But that wasn’t what I noticed. What I noticed was the way the he talked about her, and the care that he took describing her work. “Isn’t it stunning?” he asked me as he scrolled through images of her work. The question was rhetorical, in a way. He thought everything she did was beautiful. His love for her was obvious.
And it took my breath away. Because I remembered what that was like.
It took me back to the time that I went out to dinner with some of Shawn’s new colleagues when we were in our mid-20s. They all wanted to know more about Shawn’s work, and he immediately turned to me. “Really, you guys should talk to Marjorie about what she’s doing,” he said. “You know she’s working in a low-income school in DC and she has so much to share about what it’s been like.”
And then he listened while I talked about my students. At one point, I glanced at him after I told a particularly compelling story. He was smiling and intently looking at me.
I actually remember in that moment thinking, “he loves me so much.”
It’s a beautiful thing to have new love. And it was beautiful to see it emanate from my my new friend about his new wife.
Later that day, I met up with my old friends at the pool. The kids ate popsicles from the ice cream truck and everyone laughed as we sat around the pool. It was a perfect afternoon.
Well, it was almost perfect. One of the couples was arguing about something and they separated themselves from the group. I watched them from across the pool deck.
I guess I should look away at moments like this. But I can’t. I used to look away, at least most of the time, when Shawn was alive. But now it’s like I want to remember what it was like to be married – even those imperfect moments of marriage. I want to remember what it was like to navigate the world with the same person, day after day.
I couldn’t hear them. But I could tell they were discussing something important, and their faces looked a bit pained.
This went on for a few minutes, and they seemed to be at a stopping point. But then the husband looked at his wife and reached out his hand. He touched her on the arm. I watched her visibly soften.
It was a peace gesture. He was saying, “I don’t like you right now. But I love you, always.”
I thought about these two displays of affection. One, so new and fresh and happy. One was like when I met Shawn and in those first few years of marriage when nothing could come between us. The other was something Shawn and I had both done a million times as the stress of life came between us.
Both were pieces of a love story. New love – the kind where you can’t stop talking about each other and have to always be nearby. And old love – the kind where you know you’ll never be apart, and even when you disagree you’ll have each other’s backs.
Both are beautiful to me. And both are pieces of what I miss when I think about the 15 years I had with Shawn.