If there’s one thing that people love to say to widows, it’s this phrase:
“It’s a journey!”
I’ve heard this statement in so many different widow-related contexts, it’s hard to count. Sometimes, there’s a softness in the voice of someone saying it, as you cry and try to imagine the day when you aren’t sobbing every fifteen minutes. Sometimes, you hear it from a friend as you try to organize the many boxes of your late spouse’s stuff, a gentle reminder that you don’t have to do it all at once. But the time when people liked to say it to me the most was when I started dating.
Because the early days of dating as a widow? They were rough.
That’s actually an understatement. Once I decided to actively date, I cried more while I was chatting with someone online than I did in almost any other part of my life. I’d read something thoughtful that someone wrote to me, and instead of feeling hopeful, I felt awful. How was I really dating in mid-life? How was this the place I’d ended up, texting random strangers as I waited for my children to fall asleep?
I hate Bumble, I texted a friend one night. It takes too much time and there’s never a good outcome. It’s hard to see how my life is going to be anything but more of the same shit that’s characterized 2018. I feel like dating may be pretty impossible going forward, which is depressing as hell.
It’s so terrible, but it’s all part of the journey, she wrote back.
Ugh – there it was again. “It’s a journey!”
Seriously, I’m so over the fucking journey, I replied.
We laughed about this later. She was close friend, so I could tell her how much I hated the phrase “it’s a journey” while still maintaining our friendship. She knew it was rough for me back then. She was just trying her best to support me.
But that phrase wasn’t one I heard from just close friends. I also heard it from coworkers and acquaintances and people at the damn grocery store. No one said it to be hurtful. They all simply wanted to say something that was at least mildly encouraging, without saying something that would be much worse, like “God has a plan” or “it will all work out when you least expect it.”
I didn’t fault them. But still. I hated the phrase, “it’s a journey.”
Because, of course, it is. Life is a goddamn journey, and widowhood is that journey on steroids, with a broken leg and only one crutch and a path that seems only to go uphill.
In my life before I was widowed, I liked journeys. Not just the physical kind, though I have always loved a good hike. But also the emotional ones, the spiritual ones, the professional ones and all the others. It was kinda awesome to try out different places to teach. I went to a number of different churches before finding my own. And I loved growing into my role as a mother.
But widowhood was not a journey I liked. Especially when I was trying to date again. And so I really hated that phrase. I mean, couldn’t things just get easier? Couldn’t my life just go back to how it had once been? Or if that wasn’t reasonable, couldn’t I just find a perfect guy without having to date?
I wanted no part of the journey. And yet, I was on it.
I dated for a long time before it started to feel fun, at least sometimes. (It never felt fun all the time, because that’s not dating!) But one day, I realized I was having fun on a date with a man who I didn’t want to go out with again. How was that happening? I mean, usually I either liked the guy or I didn’t. But there I was, chatting with this newly-separated man I’d just met, knowing I didn’t want anything else but enjoying the company nonetheless.
The thing was, he was on the first part his journey. He didn’t know what it meant to be single in midlife, and for some reason, I was a bit of a light for him. We didn’t have the same circumstances, but it didn’t matter that night.
After we parted, he texted, asking for another date. But I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do again, as I didn’t feel much of anything for him. I tried to let him down easily, and I texted him a long note about how fun our date had been but how we were in really different places.
He replied thoughtfully. I understand and I appreciate your openness, he wrote, noting that we’d had a conversation filled with deep intensity, at least for him. Then he asked a question. I know you get asked all the time, but any parting words of advice for someone embarking on a new chapter?
I replied, Oh, just know there’s no timeline. I went in and out of ‘being ready’ like ten times. I finally got there but there’s a lot of false starts and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. I hate the phrase ‘it’s a journey’ but…it kinda is.