path in woods for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley

It’s Not Up To You

“Wow, that’s great!” she says to me, after I tell her that my boyfriend Chris has been staying with me and the kids for much of the past few months. She is just an acquaintance, really, but I can tell that there’s a “but” that’s coming soon. “It’s pretty quick though, isn’t it?”

And there it is. Judgement. I mean, I’m sure she didn’t mean for it to sound judgmental. But I can see it in her eyes, and feel it in that question.

Because it is quick. Our love affair didn’t develop over years and years – it was the lightning-fast type of falling in love that sometimes happens. I always thought when my kids first met a man I was dating that I would have been dating him for at least a year before they met him.

But we can’t always predict what’s going to happen to us, can we?

Chris was different, I rationalized. My kids had known him for years, because his sister is a dear friend of mine. He had interacted with them at school drop offs and afternoon playdates. Once we started dating, he talked to them via FaceTime almost every day. I felt good about the decisions I was making as a mom and a partner.

So many people were elated for me. But not everyone, that was clear. “Were the children ready for him to come?” was another question I got more than once. It made me want to scream.

OF COURSE they were ready for him to come. Do you think I would have let him come otherwise? In the middle of a pandemic? Really?

Okay, I know I’m going off the deep end now, but I can’t help it. Because guess what? The best person to decide important things for my kids is… Yep! That’s right. As their mom, that’s actually my job. And yes, I asked them first, and yes, they were excited about Chris coming to stay with us. If they had said otherwise, he would not have come.

But honestly, that’s not really for anyone else to decide. In fact, if I can rant a little more, it’s actually no one’s business who a widow decides to date and how that romance evolves. Is she dating just three months after her husband’s death? Good for her! Has she decided to never date again, even though she’s only 45? Good for her! Is she living with her new boyfriend even though they’ve only been dating for six months? Good for her!

Listen, I’m not saying every situation a widow may be in will be a good one. Maybe she is dating too soon, and maybe the men she is choosing are not necessarily the best ones for her to someday settle down with.

But what do I – or anyone else – actually know about what a widow needs? I know what I’ve needed as a widow (and sometimes it’s not a long-term romance, but rather a night of fun) but that isn’t necessarily what any other widow needs. Hey, maybe that woman who keeps choosing the “wrong” men to date is doing exactly what she needs at the time. Maybe choosing someone “right” isn’t something she’s ready for yet.

Yes, she may be making “bad” choices or just choices that a non-widow could never imagine making. But unless those choices are truly dangerous, there isn’t a place for others to pass judgment on what a widow is or is not doing. If a real problem exists, the widow’s best friend or sibling or someone very close to her may need to step in. But that’s it. This isn’t a place for a casual friend to offer unsolicited “helpful advice.”

Your widow friend did not become a widow and instantly also become an idiot.

When it comes to dating, it can seem that everyone has an opinion about whether it’s too soon and what you should do if you have kids in the house and whether you’ve thought about how it will affect the kids or whatever. But here’s the deal: unless I’m specifically asking you your opinion, I really don’t need it.

I remember telling my sister that I was ready to date about 8 months after Shawn died, and she replied simply, “that’s great!” I told her I was nervous about what other people would think, and she didn’t miss a beat before saying, “well then, that’s their problem.”

I’ve never felt so supported in my life. I’m serious. I can remember where I was standing in my house when we were on the phone having this conversation and how it made me feel. I knew she loved me so much in that moment.

Because what she was saying was this: you know what’s best for you, Marjorie. You are a grownup who has had a terrible experience, but the only person who can figure out the way through this is you. I will support you through it, even if it’s rocky. I know you are making the best choices for you and your kids.

I know this, because I know you.


  • Lauren Wojtalewski

    I love this post and thank you so much for writing it!!! I started out dating and choosing guys who I knew were just for fun, but I want love and now I think I found it with the most wonderful man who I just never expected. He brings a out a new side of me that my husband didn’t and that’s okay. I love this new love and I am excited to explore it. I am 6 months out and I am happy. Dating for me has been a wonderful experience.

    • M Brimley

      I love reading this! Dating is already SO hard, so putting further judgement on a widow is just so unnecessary….we’re doing the best we can! I’m thrilled for you and your new love.

  • Jillian

    Spot on! I have been in this same situation. My husband passed away suddenly at age 42 and I was 40. Our son was 13 at the time and our daughter turned 11, 3 days after his passing. I thought my life was over. I never expected to find love again, especially as soon as I did. There was another widow in town who lost his wife 2 years prior to cancer and he was raising their 3 young children. He reached out to me through a mutual friend to have someone to talk to about grief, loss, and raising children. Our friendship grew and we fell in love. We got married 2 years after my husband passed. We did have people who talked about what they would have done and not done. Some gave their two cents and said insensitive comments about never dating again if their spouse passed away. But there were also so many people who are truly happy for us and supported us.
    We both lost our spouses after 16 years of marriage and were lucky enough to have great marriages.
    We speak of our late spouses all the time, their presence is in our new house, and our children with them is a reminder of the life and love we shared.
    The love you have for your new love does not take over for the love you lost. Your heart is capable of loving someone else. It’s evident after you have another child. You can’t understand how much you could love another child until it happens. And for me, that’s the same feeling I have for love for my second husband. When I read your post about Chris, I was so happy and excited for you. You both deserve love and happiness again and your children are blessed to have someone in their life.

    • M Brimley

      This is a beautiful story! And yes, I too got many comments like, “if my husband died, I would never date again” and I’d always think how silly those comments were. Who knows at all what you’d be like after your husband dies? I’m so glad you’ve found happiness!

      • Tim

        You live your life not other people! Nobody knows what they would do until it happens to them. No two people are on the same timeline or handle grief the same way. What you said about not predicting life above it’s so true!! You have to just let life happen and go with your ❤️ heart! I knew after going out on a couple dates with women I had dated years before that they were not the right people and now was not the time but I had fun!! Thankyou for your blog it is so helpful and gives perspective

        • M Brimley

          Thanks for reading. And yes – only we can know ourselves and what is right for us…even if others think they might!

  • Jen R

    Your posts give me such hope. I just turned 42 and have 4 children, ages 11, 9, 6 & 2. I started reading your blog before my husband passed – your older entries helped me realize the kids & I would get through… These more recent posts are helping me realize that we will indeed thrive. My husband died of cancer last month at age 45. I’m nowhere near ready to date again but I know that one day I will be… And thanks to you – and the other commenters – I will be better prepared for whatever comes my way. I know you started this blog to help you get through, now you are helping so many others. Thank you.

    • M Brimley

      I’m so sorry about the loss of your husband. It is just terrible. But yes, you will get through, and honestly, a lot of why I keep writing the blog is because it makes me feel a sense of purpose….like, maybe by showing everyone all the pieces of loss – the good and the bad – I can make meaning of it all and maybe even be useful to someone else. Thank you for reading. I’m holding you in my heart.

  • Nikki G

    It is useful Marjorie. We are out here in the world hurting and we find solace in knowing we are not alone. Thank you.

  • Kellie Brady

    This post really hit home for a couple of reasons. I have been a widow now for 12-1/2 years. My kids were 19, 24 and 27 and were in college, law school and newly married/new career. We were/are a very close family and my husband’s sudden loss was really tough and shocking. My biggest concern was to not fall apart and to support my kids trying to navigate a normal life with abnormal conditions. They wanted to come home and take time off from college and law school, and I just couldn’t let them do that. The years following found me working full time while supporting them and traveling to visit at their schools and homes and spending extra time with them in ways that was indulgent but necessary for us all. We navigated new apartments, graduations, the recession, new jobs, moving out of state, boyfriends, marriages (and one divorce), and a couple of beautiful grandchildren. I have had two dates during this entire time which were nice, but no one I wanted to pursue romantically. Other than that I have spent a lot of time with friends and even more with my three kids and their significant others. I have thought more than a handful of times over the years that I couldn’t imagine worrying about another person’s feelings or being present for someone else, even though from time to time I would think it would be nice to be in the company of a man. About six months after my husband passed, a friend and neighbor of mine passed away – again quite unexpectedly and tragically. Her husband called me the night of her passing and told me that he could not imagine being alone. He started dating a couple of months later and that set off all kinds of gossip and speculation. I had to speak up for him – I told people as much as I couldn’t imagine being able to date someone that soon after the loss of a spouse (because they knew how I felt at the time), you would never know how you would react to your life until you experienced that kind of loss and walked in their shoes.

    I also was impressed with the thought that Jillian made about the ability to love a second child. We almost didn’t have a second child because I was scared to find out if I would love a second child as much as I loved the first. I did finally decide that if I could love that much the first time I was sure I would love that much again (and again with a third!). I hadn’t thought about that comparison to a second husband/partner, but it makes so much sense. I have honestly wondered how I could love as much or strongly after my husband died, and then decided that I don’t need to be taken care of or remarried and that I wasn’t going to put that kind of pressure on myself. I know people have wondered why I haven’t dated again or found someone. Again – you never know how you are going to feel or react until you experience it (God forbid) personally.

    I am truly happy for you – it sounds like you have found someone who touches your heart and who is present for your kids. You can’t write the script – you have to keep your eyes and heart open to what is going on around you, and if you find that person and you are moving at the same speed, then who cares how this all plays out? The important thing is how you two and your kids feel about it. The passing of a spouse weeds out a group of people as the months and years pass, and I am sure that finding another spouse/partner will do the same. But people and seasons change and I think the people that you end up with at the end are the people you should be with and are worthy of your friendship and love – the rest is just noise and drama.

    Good luck with navigating life during the pandemic. I am sure the fact you are a teacher and have school aged children adds to the frustration of figuring out how to navigate during these times. Be safe, well and happy.

    • M Brimley

      Thank YOU so much for sharing your story. It’s all so hard but also can have some beautiful parts – I love that you stuck up for your friend who was newly dating! YES to that!!

      And this is so beautiful: “But people and seasons change and I think the people that you end up with at the end are the people you should be with and are worthy of your friendship and love – the rest is just noise and drama.”

      Thank you!

    • Natalie

      I am new to this blog. 45 and with 3 children. Widow for almost five years. I have had two relationships and neither were right. In the process of trying to find the strength to get out of the most recent one. It’s not dangerous but it’s not right or that healthy for me now. Your comments about how sometimes the ‘wrong’ men may be the right thing for certain times and that time spent with a man who is not the long term prospect you’d hoped is not always the worst thing in the world have really chimed with me. I have had a lot of comments about the fact I have had two relationships (‘have you thought about the effect on the kids?’ Eh yes). As if I have actively gone out there and try to find a shit relationship! No, I am trying to find a good one. I am not sure why it’s Ok for non widowed singles to make wrong choices but widows are frowned upon when they get it wrong. We are all trying to be happy.

      • M Brimley

        AMEN! I get that. I think it’s so funny that people assume widows are idiots sometimes. OF COURSE we’ve thought about our kids and we obviously want good relationships! It’s just not so easy. We ARE all trying to be happy, and I hope you can find the strength to do what is right for you. We’re pulling for you in life and love.

      • Tim

        Natalie you are so right!!! You have to do what is right for YOU and your children. Ignore the critics your life is not their life. I wish you happiness!!!

  • JB

    Spot on, as always.

    I often also worry about what others will think of me dating, especially family. But there is no playbook for this. There is no right or wrong answer. Everyone deals with things differently and in their own way. With the passing of a spouse, there is no ambiguity like there can be with separation and divorce; the finality of things makes it easier for certain types of people to move on. Others, not so much. We’re also not 16 — we simply don’t do things we’re not ready for. Because of what we’ve gone through, we feel like we’ve lived a lifetime at a very young age. Simply put, unless you’ve experienced this, you just won’t get it.

    Thank you for writing this post. I think it’s something all of us widows/widowers have thought about and feared.

    • M Brimley

      It’s funny – when I started writing this piece I thought, “maybe this is too harsh and I need to put it back in the drafts folder.” I worried I was being too touchy. But I have gotten SO MUCH MAIL – both public and private – about this post. I think it really hit a chord. It’s terrible to lose your spouse. Then to be judged on any choices afterwards by non-widows….well, that’s the worst.

      Thanks for reading!