There’s a new man in my life, and thus I expect to take a pause from writing this blog. My posts have been oriented to adjusting to life as a widow and building a “new normal.” While dating is but one of the many activities I’ve tried out over these past 20 months, I feel it is a new relationship to be explored privately rather than exploited in this blog.
I will, however, take this opportunity to write a bit about dating at this stage of life.
Last year my primary physician and I had a discussion about the difficulty I anticipated in finding a man or men appropriate to date. He shared his opinion that younger people often begin relationships out of physical infatuation which may grow into love and commitment, but that older folks not only want some level of attraction, they also want to be able to have engaging dialogue with one another. I made a list of characteristics I wanted in a date, along with one or two deal-breakers, but now I’m finding there are additional traits I missed. (A widow speaking at a conference last summer said her list had shrunk to: “Are you a felon?” and I laughed along with the other widows, but seriously – my list is growing!)
Almost effortlessly this new man walked into my life and we are finding a surprising number of commonalities. We converse about everything under the sun. We talk, too, about how we want to spend our last decades of life and if/how another person might fit into them.
As I said a few posts ago, it’s all good.
I recently fell into a conversation with two people who were discussing the difference between friend and acquaintance. Until I listened to them, I would have referred to both of them as friends – but now I see the distinction.
Googling friend turns up a definition of “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.” Right away I balked at this because I count my stepdaughters as friends, beyond our familial relationship.
One person in the conversation said he had friends, but he also had acquaintances – and I am an acquaintance, but not a friend of his, despite us knowing each other well enough to have exchanged greetings for years. Google defines acquaintance as “someone recognized by sight or someone known, though not intimately . . . casual . . . .” He also classified the other conversationalist as an acquaintance, to which she disagreed and fought for a closer designation, such as buddy. (I’m definitely an acquaintance, and not a friend or even a buddy, of his.)
Decades ago I met a happy man – he sang at weddings, he loved his wife, he and his neighbor had keyed their house locks alike. He told me he had five friends on whom he could count for anything. I’ve never forgotten him. I know a few single people who have built a tribe in lieu of traditional family and view them as fortunate beings, with a tightknit network of friends on which to lean in difficult times.
Since Rick’s death my friends and acquaintances have shifted like the desert sands. Some have blown away of their own volition; others I’ve jettisoned. I’m thrilled with those who remain and who I’ve found. In earlier years, I am not certain I knew anyone who was a close enough friend on whom I could count for anything – maybe for some things that didn’t interrupt/disrupt others’ lives perhaps – but not like that fortunate, happy man. Today, I have a few woman friends (including stepdaughters: see second paragraph above) on whom I could call 24/7 for help or even just an ear. There is a new man in my life who is developing into a constant, supportive presence, too.
I’ll take my friends with gratitude and look for more among my acquaintances.
As I work to improve as a paddler for my local dragon boat club, I am developing friendships among my fellow teammates – in and off the boat. Thinking about that took me down memory lane . . . .
Waaaaaay back in my 20’s and 30’s I was a very active member of a Jaycee chapter. Women and men were equal members (no Jaycettes in sight) and while our focus was on community service, it was also an opportunity to develop organizational skills useful both to our chapter and to our workplaces. After being elected to the board for the first time I attended my initial meeting, seated by my portfolio vice president. There was a lot of discussion about possible new events and overlapping conversations. I caught the words “dog and pony show” and in my then-ignorance I blurted out, “Oh, I love dogs! I’d love to work on an event with dogs and ponies!” My VP jabbed me in the side to stop me from talking further, but he was unsuccessful. Who knew it was a term for a sales presentation?
The Jaycees gave me an opportunity to learn project management skills, work on a team, supervise others, conduct post-mortems on events and develop leadership skills – all of which contributed to my professional trajectory. And I made friends; one Jaycee friend came to Atlanta when Rick and I married and has been a constant in my life since we met. (I also fought for my rights as a woman, becoming the lead plaintiff, with my chapter’s blessing and financial support, in trying to retain our chapter’s ability to have women as full members. In writing this post I googled my then-last name and it popped right up even after almost thirty years!)
It has been a long time since I’ve been in a career position, and my life has certainly taken unexpected turns along the way. Since becoming a widow, I’ve become a dragon boat racing enthusiast. I find there are similarities to my experience in the Jaycees. I am learning new skills applicable to my life and becoming a stronger, fitter woman. The team is all-important and we cannot succeed without one another. And I am making friends – new ones who enrich my life and I theirs – and who are becoming constants just as my Jaycee friend I met decades ago.
It’s all good.
Yes, I do. I swear.
Just the other day I had a long discussion with a woman friend about social behaviors and courtesies. With some friends, a swear word may pop out of my mouth during both carefree and care-full times. With others, my language is kept suitable. I would prefer not to use bad words. As my writing expands, I am more aware of the superior impact of well-chosen words over the alternatives.
Recent inner dialogue I’ve been having with myself has included consideration of how I want to be perceived in this new normal of a life; it includes being well-mannered. I don’t want to swear and ought to stop cold-turkey. In fact, at church services this past week I even made a silent promise to avoid swear words and asked for God’s assistance in keeping that commitment.
On that same Sunday I finally had time to read the prior day’s Wall Street Journal. Oh, my goodness, the issue included an article written by Emma Byrne entitled “The Many Benefits of the Occasional Swear Word.” (WSJ, January 13, 2018, p. C3) What? Really?
Dr. Byrne noted researchers have found that using off-color words when in pain actually reduces the pain’s impact. This is true not only for physical pain, but also social pain – leading me to infer swearing may help relieve emotional pain. I use inappropriate words more frequently since Rick’s death, and it is way beyond time to wipe them from my personal vocabulary. Somehow saying shocking words have allowed me to express my frustration and pain in a way that called others’ attention to my neediness. As I noted in my last post to this blog, I am feeling “whole” in a way I haven’t for over eighteen months so I don’t need them anymore.
Just over sixteen years ago Rick had his first surgical procedure for his newly-diagnosed bladder cancer. He was discharged from the hospital with a catheter. I know I don’t need to describe the immense discomfort a man experiences from one of those. As he sat home, waiting for the days to pass until he could be released from his unwanted tether, he discovered HBO’s “The Sopranos.” There’s a lot of profanity in that show. I think just simply watching others say words which rarely, if ever, crossed his lips, provided some relief from the physical discomfort. Over subsequent years his personal relationships, motorcycling, bicycling and lifelong learning habits were all better tools for coping with his disease.
There are better tools in my toolbox, too. So I will stop cussing.
A lot of people make New Year’s resolutions. In the past I promised myself I would lose weight, always say “thank you” and take other steps for self-improvement. Not anymore. As I enter the second calendar year a widow I turn more to bucket lists, challenging myself to explore my outer and inner world.
Here are two external experiences I want to try this year to test my bravery and overcome fears: take a zip line tour and try out scuba diving in a local river. I have already found a girlfriend who wants to try zip lines, too, and we’ll give it a go – I’m terrified of the thought of hanging off a narrow wire and flying through the air, high above the ground. There are a lot of pro dive shops here, so I’ll choose one which offers an introductory scuba excursion – again, I’m afraid of going so deep into the water that I have to rely on an air tank.
My inner world also requires some attention. I find I am becoming restless with solitude. Formerly I seemed to need almost an entire day of seclusion to regain the necessary energy to engage with others. Sunday was often that day, and if I had another activity that took up most of that day, I struggled the next several days, seeking silence and sleep. Now I don’t want an entire day, or even a full day – I’ll go out bicycling on my own or call up a few friends. This shift is a good thing; it indicates the way I present myself in the world is becoming more aligned with my reality. It is not so exhausting because I am not pretending to be all right when I’m not; I’m really all right so much of the time now.
I enjoy writing posts for this blog most of the time, but other times I struggle for appropriate material. While I am willing to share a fair amount about myself, I do not want to cross the line by writing about others in a way that makes them uncomfortable. Thus I refer to my beloved stepdaughters, but I try not to reveal anything private. As I step further into 2018 I need to find a way to continue to post in a way which meets both my and my readers’ expectations.
Time with friends is something I enjoy more than ever – individuals, team mates and neighbors of both genders. It feels good, albeit a bit scary, to step out with someone with whom I have a budding friendship. Life demands different characteristics to come to the forefront in different situations. Humor, commitment, empathy, judgment and competitiveness all have their place in my world, but sometimes I need to back it down and other times step it up. Upsy-daisy!
I flipped through a book on leadership not too long ago and found not only passages highlighted by Rick, but even a handwritten list of significant changes he had made to improve himself. I’ve shared the list with his daughters and we all agree each item on the list resonates true.
The book is Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within by Robert E. Quinn. Rick read it while transitioning from an executive role to leadership consulting. The major theme throughout the book is that “we must continuously choose between deep change or slow death” (Page xiii). Using his own resilience and self-knowledge, consultants, books and counselors, Rick had already taken huge strides into a life of greater integrity before he opened this particular book.
I do not have the strength of character I saw in Rick, but I end 2017 stronger and more self-aware than ever before.
“Time heals all wounds” is simply poppycock. I will always have our love embedded inside me and I will never stop feeling his absence. Time, however, does change things. I admit that I probably have tinted my memories of our good times a rosier hue. Remembering arguments and misunderstandings hurt, so I don’t linger on those. I revel in the knowledge of our passion and commitment to one another – we truly had an unusually close relationship.
If I had tried to continue with the life and activities we shared, that surely would have been a slow death for me. A widow cannot remain the same woman she was before; she has to undergo significant change. If you’ve been reading my posts, you know I have picked up activities and friends, and discarded some of both. I have tried to find my way to the best of my ability and overall I am satisfied with my journey so far.
Recently I was at a party to celebrate the publication of a new book. Also in attendance was a couple to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for pushing me into writing. Last year a local city’s marketing staff was looking for someone to write lighthearted posts about cycling; this particular couple, as leaders in the cycling community, was asked for recommendations and reached out to me. It was just a few months after Rick’s passing and I turned them down flat. After further consideration, I realized I was the perfect candidate for the writing assignment. That grew into a second assignment with the same municipality and this personal blog. At the book party two other possible writing assignments emerged.
With Rick by my side I was a different and more joyful woman. I am undergoing deep change to live more abundantly in my new life. I love my family, I value my friends, and I look forward to 2018’s adventures!
It’s hot; it’s cold. You’d think at my age swings in temperature wouldn’t affect my body as much as they do. And there are certain unreasonable rules of life. While I still had hot flashes they seemed to come unbidden after I was dressed and had on my makeup. Now when temperatures reach 80 degrees in Florida in December it seems to trigger something akin to those irksome hot flashes. The other night I was at a party which spilled out into a lovely lanai area, but there were insufficient breezes to keep me cool and dry. Thank goodness I didn’t wear a holiday sweater!
If I am bicycling, then I expect to swelter. If I am off to a social event, then I certainly don’t want to be a woman who “glows.” (Some Southerners say that horses sweat, men perspire and women glow. I am definitely a woman, but I do more than glow!)
Some of my cyclist friends are so efficient they don’t even have a bag on their bikes – the lighter the load, the faster they ride. I have a big bag behind my recumbent bike seat that has a folded tire, at least one tube, assorted tools, a lock and some first aid items. There’s the inevitable mobile phone and ID, too. This time of year the bag also may hold a brightly-colored vest, windbreaker and full-finger gloves! I may start out shivering, but in a few miles I start stripping off the extraneous clothes and stuffing them in my bag.
I have been going through my closets again. Do I really need to hold onto more than a few wintry coats in case I ever find myself in northern climates in the winter? (Uh, maybe not.) Do I really need black pants in a light weight, mid-weight and thick ponte knit? (Yes.) Even if Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year is Ultra Violet, does that mean it is a “must” to have a purple tee-shirt, purple blouse and purple sweater? (Definitely!)
Going through closets also means assessing my need to hang onto Rick’s clothing. Most of his items were donated long ago, but there are some pieces with which I am loath to part because they were favorites of his. I also keep his bright yellow bicycling vest and windbreaker hanging next to mine for no other reasons than that’s what we always did and it brings me comfort. I have come so far in these past 18+ months, yet every day — multiple times a day — I think of him and wish he was still here. (I’d even cull my clothing to give him more closet space!)
As you think of loved ones no longer at your holiday tables this season, I wish you love, peace and joy.