I Wasn't Sure if I Was Ready to Date as a Widow Until I Realized I Had Nothing to Lose
The night after my friend died, I lay awake in bed with my younger sister by my side, both of us in shock. I said out loud the realization that I will never be with anyone else again. Even though she assured me it wasn't true, it felt so real in the moment and so completely unfair. For a moment, Phil and I texted, made plans, and after an afternoon of fear not knowing where he was, my worst fear was fulfilled: at the age of 34, he was suddenly gone forever.
In the months that followed I forgot what day it was and how much time had passed. Showering was a minor victory, and people around me shared seemingly normal exchanges that suddenly had little meaning to me. We worked in completely different realities.
That January marked the year-long anniversary of Phil's death, which felt like a major milestone. The passage of time is not enough. Grief is real work. And in those 12 months I did the healing work, much of which was shaped by the loss of my mother at a young age. Even though I knew Phil, our love, and his loss would always be a part of me, I was ready to dip my toe in the dating pool again. Although I wasn't sure what dating would be like as a young widow, I hoped to begin this next chapter.
Before Phil, I had done many online dating activities, from the OkCupid days to Tinder and Bumble. It wasn't a strange, unfamiliar world to me - I had a lot of first dates with people I met through apps after sleeping extensively. Because of this, I didn't feel like the stereotypical Tom Hanks widow in Sleepless in Seattle, so detached from modern dating that I had to relearn how it worked. I was suddenly eager and cautious, knowing that the scariest moment would come when I had to tell the new man I dated that my last relationship had ended in a great loss.
However, everything changed in March 2020. When the shelter-in-place orders went into effect, I knew things would be different. But like most of the others, I didn't know how completely everything would change. I asked myself: how would dating work now? I was frustrated and angry. The past year felt like a complete loss, and the possibility of another lost year hurt to even think about it. Then a friend of mine gave encouraging advice: Maybe dating in a pandemic could be a good thing. It could be like an old world advertisement where things get slower and less stressful. I liked that perspective and it helped me feel less hopeless in a big, scary world. Still, I asked myself: How could I get on with my life in all this uncertainty? As it turned out, this was a question I didn't ask alone.
In the first few weeks of shelter-in-place, I went back and forth in my approach to online dating. At first I felt extra careful, but then my mood changed. What else did I have to lose? I decided to re-download the apps I used before - Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge. It was true that I was a changed person now.
Being a widow was part of me, but it didn't define me.
When I was recreating my dating profiles, I decided to leave this part out. I knew that if I found someone to be in touch with and it went ahead it would of course show up when the time was right. But this future hypothetical conversation still freaked me out.
In creating my profile, I tried to subtly acknowledge the pandemic by simply saying, "These are weird times," and that I was looking for someone to laugh and talk to about real things. I updated my photos and made sure not to use anything related to Phil - not just the ones he took with him, but also those that he took of me. It was a bizarre process, but I had to do it. When I started wiping, I was surprised at how split it was between people who recognized the state of the world and those who didn't - but it was still the early days.
As I agreed with someone and the conversation progressed, I had to smile. I looked forward to these little interactions in ways I didn't have before the pandemic. Like many others, I had FaceTime friends and family and roommates to chat with in person. But connecting with someone who was completely new felt both exciting and less scary than before. There was no pressure to meet because we were all in a pandemic together.
While wiping through various dating apps hasn't resulted in any serious relationships in the past seven months, I don't regret it at all. Even being able to text someone or fall in love with an internet crush is what I enjoy these days. Conversations with someone from a dating app can now continue in ways that they may not have had before. It's easier to talk about more serious topics as there is uncertainty around every corner. The pandemic has put so much in perspective that it's difficult not to think about what we want.
I started this March thinking that the dilemma I faced as a widow during a pandemic would only matter to me. Looking back, I was wrong. This desire for connection in order to find yourself in the great unknown is a universal feeling. It's like we've all lost our lives as we know it. I have no idea what my next chapter in love and dating will look like - but I know the best I can do is indulge in the ups and downs of it all. In a way, I learned a lot about surrendering to the unknown when I lost Phil last year. Now I know that I am not alone. For once, this is a collective experience that we all want to find out.
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