“So are you seeing anyone these days?”
That’s an interesting question to ask someone who’s widowed. And by “interesting” I don’t mean offensive. If you are going to offend me you have to stop just short of kneeing me in the crotch and pointing and laughing at me while I writhe on the ground. When it comes to the subject of Emily, I’m pretty candid. I find strangers’ reactions interesting when I tell them about her. They give me a sympathetic stare often times accompanied by a head tilt. The more savvy ones are trying to tell if I’m bullshitting them, but mostly I get the “Oh, I’m so sorry!” or, “You’re so young!” From there they either leave it alone or continue asking questions. I’m fine with either. People want to be polite and not to pry and express guilt in asking. The truth is Emily is never far from my mind. To date she is my favorite person ever and why would I not want to talk about my favorite person ever?
The only time I’ve ever seriously thought, “Holy shit, did you really just say that?” was a few weeks ago at a friend’s party. I was walking around with my sleeves rolled up. On my right forearm I have two tattoos that help me remember how lucky I am to have known, loved and been loved by Emily. I placed them there so on my darker days I can see them and in a weird way they help me to remember to breathe. Anyway, I was talking with a very nice lady and she asked about the significance of my body art. So I told her the story. College sweetheart, engaged, cancer, break up, married, death, very sad, yadda yadda and so forth. About three quarters of the way through this story another lady walks up and comments about the tats. So for her benefit I backtrack and give her the cliff notes. Once I finish, the late comer looks at me, and says in all seriousness.
Her: “So it wasn’t all of a sudden like an aneurysm?”
Me: “No. It was two separate tumors, well three if you count the kidney, over the course of three or four years.”
Her: “Oh well that’s not as bad as if you had lost her all of a sudden.”
Other lady: “………..”
Her: “Well you know blah blah blah back peddling and digging herself deeper and deeper”
Me(Internally): “Wow. That’s kind of dumb and a little insensitive. How many spouses has she lost? Oh God, someone stop her. She’s stuck on a loop. Holy hell did she just try to compare losing Emily to her dog dying? Damn. At least it’s not me shoving my foot in my mouth for once. Come to think of it it’s been at least three minutes since you’ve said something stupid. New record, Mackin! *mental self-five!*”
Her: “I’m going to go to the bathroom.”
Me: “Good talking to you.”
I’m the last person to take that kind of thing personally. She probably had a few drinks and I’m sure she is otherwise a lovely and tactful person on any given day, just not that one. And I’m not saying losing your loved one all of a sudden is not as bad as a drawn out illness. As best I can tell both are terrible. I’ll leave it at that.
Anyway, back to the question at hand, “Are you seeing anyone?”
Here I sit a full year and a half after Emily passed and feel only a little less conflicted about the issue. I know what you’re thinking, something along the lines of “Emily would want you to move on.” And or “You are so young, there is plenty of time.” Yes yes, so I’ve been told, often times by people who never met Emily. I know in my analytical mind that Emily would want me to move on. If the rolls were reversed and I kicked the bucket, hopefully in a comical way like getting my head stuck in an empty economy sized can of Hormel chili, that Emily would meet a wonderfully kind, smart, handsome, educated, employed gentleman fifteen minutes after my funeral and live happily ever after. I’m dead serious about that, especially the chili part.
I also know that I am quite a bit younger than the average widower and it takes most people decades and decades to find someone they love enough to marry, if that. But that’s just the thing, It seems unreasonable for me to expect that twice. I was 19 when I met Emily. I was 20 when I had a rare stroke of genius and guts (in my case the two rarely travel together) and asked her out. From there I found a love and intimacy that I had no idea was possible. Someone who looked at me for all my pros and cons and said, “You there. Yeah you. You’re mine.” And I dumbly nodded my head and marveled at my good fortune. Somehow things worked out from there. Before I knew it I was head over heels for her and she was for me. When I start thinking about dating again, I think about all those things. I’m terrified that I’ll never luck into that again. Because at the end of the day I really feel luck is what it amounts to. Luck that I met her and terrible rotten luck that I lost her.
Despite that fear and the astronomical odds I’ve waded into the dating pool a few times in the last year and a half. I’ve met some nice ladies, had a few drinks, had a few laughs but nothing has come of it. There were several reasons why it never progressed very far, the biggest one being that I just haven’t been ready. Having a relationship with someone has been a bridge too far but it took me a long time to realize that. I would go out because that’s what I felt like I had to do. Looking back I liken it trying to run ten miles too soon after major knee surgery. I was hurting badly and was willing to do most anything that might make the pain stop.
I had some friends tell me not to worry about the relationship aspect. Just go out, have fun, sew the wild oats to use the parlance of our times. Well that’s a fine idea for some people I reckon. For me however, I’ve never been smooth enough to be a barroom lothario. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll talk to any woman. After six years of being in a relationship, I got to be one hell of a wingman. My early twenties were spent striking up conversations with women and after a few minutes introducing them to a buddy who would normally squander whatever progress I made for him. Now that I’m on my own though I realize that I am not a closer. Of course I’ve never had to be. But you know, that’s fine because in my limited experience, one night stands and flings, while fun at the time, always leave me feeling empty. I think a lot of people who have been in a happy monogamous relationship would agree that sex without intimacy, without a real emotional connection, is fruitless and ultimately unsatisfying. So yeah, that’s out.
So, am I dating anyone? No. Am I open to it? I think so. I’ve come to the realization that I am as far as I’m going to get in the mourning process. I have weathered the harshest parts of this storm, not as well as I would have liked, but the seas have calmed a bit and I’m able to stand up on the deck without clinging to the mast for dear life. (I have never sailed a day in my life, I just like boat metaphors.) Enough time has passed and I’m in a place where I could contribute to a relationship. She just has to be the right person. Someone who knows there is no competition with Emily. For my part I won’t ever compare her to Emily or hold her to some impossible standard. As a good friend told me, you can’t compete with a dead woman, she can do no wrong. That’s a losing situation for everyone involved. I’ll always love and in some way mourn her, but presumably I’ve got a few more decades before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Emily is a key component to my past and who I am today but I’ve got a future that I intend to enjoy, hopefully with someone nice, pretty, smart, funny, likes and or tolerates Bob Dylan. You know, the important stuff.