Crashing ocean waves for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley
Dating

Widowhood and Breakups

I’ve been thinking a lot about breakups lately, which I guess is super strange since I’m also wedding planning. Let me be clear – I’m not thinking about my own relationship breaking up! But I think being in love (and knowing that I have a future with someone new) has made me reflect on all the times when it didn’t work out.

And there were a lot of times when it didn’t work out.

I wrote very little about it at the time. I told some of my friends that I was dating, but I was shy about it with most people. I felt judged by everyone, even though the worst judgement came from my own head. Was it too soon to date? What did it say about me that I didn’t even wait a year after Shawn died? Why couldn’t I just find someone wonderful, now that I was “ready”?

I could write an entire book about the dating I did over the (almost) two-year period when I was doing it. I realize most people date for much longer than that after widowhood, but even still, I’ve got a number of stories from that time period. There was the guy who ghosted me after a series of dates (people still do that, even in the age of the internet!), the guy who took me to the most romantic spots but wouldn’t kiss me because he wasn’t sure either of us were ready, and the guy who I wanted so badly to fall for – but I just didn’t feel that way about him, no matter how hard I tried.

And then there was the guy who broke my heart.

I didn’t even love him – that I knew for sure. I was simply happy to be in a real relationship since Shawn’s death. I was simply happy to have someone paying attention to me. I was simply happy that I could imagine a future, even if it was pretty hard to imagine it with him.

When we broke up, I was so sad. I remember telling my sister, “I didn’t even love him! Why am I so heartbroken?”

At the time, I wrote about it in my diary. It took four months for me to put it out on my blog. Here’s a portion of what I wrote, from the blog post (with one of my favorite titles), “Happiness Is For Other People“:

It was over. That brief affair, the one that had helped you through the darkest days of winter, was fading as the spring approached.

And you were heartbroken.

Your friends tried to console you. “You will find love again,” they said.

But they didn’t know. They didn’t know what it felt like to try again after tragic loss. They didn’t know the bravery it took to look into someone else’s eyes and say, “I will let you in, at least a little.” They didn’t know what it feels like to be so terribly alone and then to get a tiny reprieve from that horror….only to have it taken away.

I’ve talked to many other widows – both on this blog and in my regular life – about their breakups after loss, and I seem to see a similar pattern. It’s really, really painful. Of course, most breakups are painful for most people. But I think it’s a bit different for widows, or at least it was for me. It got easier (there were a few other heartbreaks in there, before I met Chris) and I did eventually build up my resiliency. But the first major one was brutal.

And there was little closure with that first major breakup, which made it worse. We broke up over text message, which is to say he broke up with me over text message (for real – you can’t make this shit up) and I was left to try and pick myself up with no real explanation of why things had ended the way they ended.

It was messy. And every single day for over a month, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “maybe there’s something wrong with me.”

I mean, it was a logical conclusion. Maybe I was too badly wounded to have a real relationship. Maybe I didn’t know how to do it. Maybe I was destined to just have failed relationships.

But that conclusion was wrong. Yes, the breakup was ugly, and none of the relationships I tried to have after it were really that great, either. But slowly, I started to realize something: it wasn’t about me. I was a perfectly fine person. I might meet someone great, or I might not. But I wasn’t going to keep thinking that I was fundamentally flawed just because I didn’t meet someone – or just because I had a messy relationship or a messy breakup.

I remember the day I looked at myself in the mirror, sometime in the late summer of 2019, I believe, and actually thought this: “It’s not me. I’m a widow, yes, and I’ve had some bad luck. I may not find anyone. But I am a perfectly good human being.”

I am not totally sure if this is helpful information for anyone who’s currently navigating a breakup post-widowhood. I can’t comment on every relationship and I know it takes two people to break up. But I’ll say this: being a widow doesn’t mean you deserve a shitty breakup, or somehow can’t ever be expected to navigate a new relationship.

Yes, you’ve had some bad luck in your life. But there’s nothing wrong with you.

18 Comments

  • Natalie Cummins

    This is resonating with me hugely and I am pretty tearful reading it. It is just over three months after a grim break up. Relationship was deeply flawed and always floundering but I did love him. We live in the same town and whenever I see him in the street he ignores me. Didn’t even return a call when I suggested this is not the way either of us would want to be after a three year relationship. Anyway, nothng I can do and I was right to end it. But post widowhood break ups are terrible because so much is at stake. Not sure he ever got that. I love your posts and am so happy for you and Chris x

    • M Brimley

      Oh, I’m so sorry that you’re hurting like this. It’s awful. I’m not sure there is much more I can say except that it will get easier at some point. Until then, take care of yourself as much as you can, and hang in there.

  • Eva Spiegel

    I have been dating for two years and have had my heart broken or bruised badly several times. It is hard. I am taking a break. Your blog gives me some hope but I know that I may always be single Eva.

    • M Brimley

      I think taking breaks is VITAL for everyone who is dating, but especially for widows. There’s only so much you can take at a time! I’ll be thinking of you.

  • Angie Nicholas

    I swear that you wrote this for me. I met someone on an international vacation seven months after John died. I took my wedding rings off that night for the first time before I got into bed with him. We had a long distance relationship for two months and after meeting up for a really amazing two days he broke up with me a week later by email. (WTF. BREAKING UP W A WIDOW BY EMAIL?!?) It will be a year in three weeks and I still think about it every day. I wondered for a long time what I did wrong. Logically I know I did nothing wrong. I was my usual self and it just it wasn’t right for him. A year later I am a better version of myself. And this new version wants something and someone who treats me the way I deserve to be treated. So thank you for putting on paper what I am feeling! Angie

    • M Brimley

      UGH – I hate that you went through this and also I am glad that we can bond over this. Who breaks up with someone via text message or email?? I mean…come ON. I’m glad you’ve reached a better place, though I’m sorry it took such heartbreak to get there.

  • Rachel

    I dated someone to get me through the holiday season. Then he caught covid, and that time apart was the beginning of the end. We talked on our second date how we weren’t right for each other long term, but I thought he’d be a companion for at least a few months.

    At least it got me through the hurdle of knowing I could enjoy spending time with someone new. The worst part of the breakup was returning to the empty loneliness. The dating was a welcome break and I’m afraid I’ll keep chasing that.

    • M Brimley

      I get that. Post-widowhood breakups are so terrible for a number of reasons, but right now, during Covid, it’s even MORE difficult. Hang in there. I’m pulling for you.

  • Lisa

    I have just started my venture into online dating. A month in, and I’m ready to give up. I’m taking a break right now, because part of my heart doesn’t feel like I can do this. The other part wants to do this, but it’s terrifying.

    • M Brimley

      Oh, if it helps to know this: I started and stopped and started again like a half-dozen times over the first six months. So that seems like a perfectly normal reaction to me!

  • Sophia

    I lost my husband from CoVid last year, it’s almost a year later and I’m still very lost. I would love to start dating, I’m in my mid-40’s and kids will be in college in the fall. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know if I’m ready. How do you know when you’re ready to try and love again?

    • M Brimley

      First of all, I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your husband. It’s awful. And I could say all sorts of things to answer your question about dating, but here’s the truth: I have no idea. None. I didn’t even know if I was ready when I started! I think you just get to a point where you feel ready-ish, and then try it out and if it’s too much, take a break and try again. Trial and error sounds silly to say but…it’s honestly the only thing that worked for me. I’ll be thinking of you.

  • Bastiaan

    I love this post! I met a woman who made me feel like there was a life to live. I’m not sure if COVID was a blessing or a curse, but it forced the relationship to be slow and comfortable. She was amazing! But then it happened “ I think it’s better if we were friends!” Holy shit , we haven’t even really started a relationship (the physical relationship was hampered in so many ways (COVID, me?). I was devastated and did not expect to feel that pain. I love your statement “ they didn’t know what it felt like to try again after tragic loss. They didn’t know the bravery it took to look into someone else’s eyes and say, “I will let you in, at least a little.” They didn’t know what it feels like to be so terribly alone and then to get a tiny reprieve from that horror….only to have it taken away. But one think was for sure…. I felt alive!

    • M Brimley

      Yes, I get that. I feel like a lot of widows have a similar story – feeling pretty crushed by the first time back, but also recognizing that it can make you feel really alive to try again. It took a few false starts for me to try dating again after that initial first let-down, but I did it. You will too, of course. Right now it’s tough – hang in there!

  • Nat

    I lost my husband 9 months ago and randomly decided to try online dating…. it was more of an experiment to see how I’d feel and what kind of guys were out there. Well out of nowhere I met and connected with the sweetest guy. He found out my story and that I was a widow with 3 kids and still wanted to get to know me. And here’s the good part, he going your blog (this blog) in his own initiative to learn about widowhood, dating etc. It touched my heart. We spent the past month taking on the phone for 4-5 hours and were looking. Forward to meeting in person in June. He’s away on an overseas trip now. Anyways, here’s the punchline, we were messaging daily until 2 weeks ago. Then all communication broke. He’s ghosting me… ignoring me and there’s zero contact. My heart is so confused as to why such an amazing connection could be severed suddenly. It doesn’t make sense. If it’s intensional then that’s so cruel… especially reading the blogs and knowing what it must be like for a widow to put their heart out there again. Who knows, he might have freaked out or his family found out and had a big negative impact. I wonder if I’ll ever find out….. The sad part is that we were really looking forward to meeting in June when he returned. The anticipation was incredible and exciting. None of this makes sense to be honest. Maybe he’s not ok either and I can’t find out because all messages are being unread + unanswered. It’s a scary feeling. This feels like a secondary loss to my husband. My last messages to him were unanswered because he was killed, and now I feel a level of trauma having my recent messages left without reply too. This is so painful. I feel regret that I opened my heart and trusted someone.

  • Nat

    I lost my husband 9 months ago and randomly decided to try online dating…. it was more of an experiment to see how I’d feel and what kind of guys were out there. Well out of nowhere I met and connected with the sweetest guy. He found out my story and that I was a widow with 3 kids and still wanted to get to know me. And here’s the good part, he actually found your blog (this blog) in his own initiative to learn about widowhood, dating etc. It touched my heart. I was so surprised how much effort he was putting in to learn and have empathy for my situation.

    We spent the past month taking on the phone for 4-5 hours each day and were looking forward to meeting in person in June. He’s away on an overseas trip now for family stuff. Anyways, here’s the punchline, we were messaging daily until 2 weeks ago while he was in quarantine. Then out of nowhere all communication broke. It seems like he’s ghosting me or ignoring me because there’s zero contact. My heart is so confused as to why such an amazing connection could be severed suddenly. It doesn’t make sense. If it’s intensional then that’s so cruel… especially when he read the blogs and knows what it must be like for a widow to put their heart out there again. Who knows, he might have freaked out or his family found out and had a big negative impact. I wonder if I’ll ever find out….. The sad part is that we were really looking forward to meeting in June when he returned. The anticipation was incredible and exciting. None of this makes sense to be honest. Maybe he’s not ok either and I can’t find out because all messages are being unread + unanswered. It’s a scary feeling. This feels like a secondary loss to my husband. My last messages to him were unanswered because he was killed, and now I feel a level of trauma having my recent messages left without reply too. This is so painful and confusing.

    • M Brimley

      My heart goes out to you! Oh, I have BEEN THERE. It’s brutal. I am just realizing right now as I write you that a very similar thing happened to me at the same point as you – about 9 months after my husband died. I knew the guy was okay as we had mutual friends, but it was so hurtful. I’m so sorry.

      But here’s the thing: YOU ARE GOING TO BE OKAY. Maybe not right now. Maybe not for a number of weeks. But you are going to get over this guy. Even though it seems like the same type of loss as losing your husband (right now) in a while you’ll realize that while the ACUTE pain was terrible, the long-term pain just isn’t that bad. I promise. And I’m so sorry. Ghosting a widow is THE WORST and it makes me so angry.

      For now, be gentle with yourself. I’ll be thinking of you.

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