Nobody imagines their marriage ending in their 30s.
When I became a young widow at the age of 33, one of my best friend’s divorce was finalized a month later. We bonded in the year after our losses in a way I couldn’t with others who were not widows. We understood the need to empathize with each other while not trying to fix the other person’s hurt.
Grief is a universal experience we will all encounter one day, multiple times and on varying levels. Apples to oranges: my grief was different from that of my friend. Each of us with our own unique set of losses. Yet, we found ourselves crying some of the same tears.
We listened to each other on our weekly phone calls and found some similarities in moving forward with life. Many of our conversations were about our children; their anxiety, sadness, and how we could help them. But a lot more of our conversations were helping each other through this bizarre twist life had thrown at each of us.
We were thrust on an unexpected journey to find ourselves. Searching out questions we didn’t have before because our identity was wrapped into our marriage. What do I do with my time after the kids are in bed? Do I even have any hobbies? How do I relax now and take care of myself?
One common, positive change in our lives was dating again. It also provided comic relief at the expense of ourselves, but we didn’t mind. My friend and I were each married to our spouses for over seven years and have multiple children. Our bodies have carried and nursed babies. We look and feel different now than we did a decade ago. However, with age we realized we are developing a confidence we did not have in our young 20’s. Being intimate with someone new, someone who wasn’t our spouses, was a new thought and well, just weird. I was thankful to have a girlfriend to share this with who really understood and could laugh along with me.
Love, a second time around was different for both of us.
We each found that with age and maturity love develops faster and stronger. Every person brings a different past of relationships and life experiences to the new one. I learned it would be less about the one-on-one bond like my husband and I had before kids. My late husband and I had all the time in the world for each other. We could go on dates without finding a sitter. Plan vacations and travel last minute without the guilt and stress of leaving our kids home. Cuddle up each night and watch a show before bed versus falling asleep early out of exhaustion from parenting.
Dating with children means you are a package deal. The relationship becomes more about how your new person loves your children, interacts with them, and supports you as not only a person, but as a parent too. There is a steep learning curve on how to parent with someone new.
Like all new relationships, there was a honeymoon period. Everything was wonderful despite my grief and all the tears I cried. My second love is my (deceased) husband’s lifelong, best friend. Every past girlfriend of his I adored, but, to my advantage today, they never worked out. He even lived in our basement for a year before my husband and I had our first son.
Our change in relationship status came by surprise in the months after my loving husband died. We were both grieving a tremendous loss of the same person and he made a promise to my husband to help me. Where we are today is a result of persistence, difficult arguments and conversations. It has not been easy. Comprises, letting go of control, patience, and allowing him to help me co-parent. All parts of our relationship we will always have to work at.
To throw a cherry on top of this melting sundae, my grief was changing rapidly, and unpredictable in the first few years. Waves of anger and depression, followed by happiness, if even for a brief moment, left us both confused. I wasn’t content, and it wasn’t his fault. I learned he could be part of my happiness, possibly even the reason behind my smile but wasn’t solely responsible for it. I needed to find my own joy by discovering hobbies and self-care. If I wasn’t proud and in-love with my new self, how could anyone else really love me?
It took a lot of patience to feel some inner peace again. I turned to grief counseling and writing as self care to discover the root of my emotions. When I have confidence and patience within, I can handle disagreements between us in healthier ways.
My friend and I didn’t have the fairy tale ending we imagined when we said our “I do’s” in our early 20s. Since then, we have both redefined what happily after is. She is remarried with six children total in their blended, modern day Brady Bunch family. I have not remarried but have blended families in a different way. This spring my boyfriend and I bought a home together, where we will make new memories together as a family. A different kind of blending families, but the turning point I need to truly keep moving forward.