Dating? Where is the Manual

I am a widow. I became a widow with no time to prepare for a brutal death that instilled fear, destroyed my confidence, and caused me to question my relationships. My Phil was brutally assassinated by someone he liked and trusted—should have been able to like and trust. Phil died just past his 44th birthday. He was young and he looked much younger than he indeed was. He was popular with men and women, vibrant, and he was the man that liked to help people. I was deeply in love with him for 23 years. Sure we had rough moments and sure there were times he was not sensitive or there for me, but from the start it was the two of us standing against the world. I know a relationship that bears the test of time, deployments. children, financial strain, illness, and I could go on. His traumatic death stripped all my normal relationship barriers because I know how short life can be and I no longer wait to tell people how I feel or to give the time or energy into that relationship. That is my standard for a relationship. I simply do not have the skills for anything less. This change, this expectation, unfortunately, causes me and many other widows to put too much validity into a relationship too soon or with a person that should not be an option.

It did for me. I dated someone for ten months and recently we had a painful breakup. Rather, I suffered. He did not. He wasn’t a bad man, but he did not have the skills for a long term relationship. He readily admitted it early on. I hadn’t been interested in dating at all at that point and it took him months of a friendship before I finally began to let down my walls. I should have listened to my gut instinct, but like many widows, loneliness and the want of the companionship and friendship that Phil and I once had seemed possible in a new manner. Part of what made this seem like it could be a reality is how different this man was from my Phil. He looked and behaved nothing like my Phil. Initially, it made it easy because it was fun and I never once thought of Phil when we were together. I hadn’t expected that.

I overlooked many things because as time went on, I thought in terms of a progressing ten month relationship. I thought we were both on the same trajectory. That was mistake one. Because of traumatic loss, I know how short time can be, thus I was always available and willing to go to where he was and invest in his friends, family, and goals. While he did some of that, it wasn’t on the same level and when he began to have work and life pressures, he didn’t want me as much as he wanted his other friends because it was easier. I wanted face to face interaction on a deeper level where the computer offered an easier relationship and quick interactions that asked nothing more than a ten minute interaction. I wanted and did run to him when I was assaulted and when I had hard days. I missed him when I returned home and realized how much I liked having someone at home again. I wanted love again and companionship so much that I missed all of the signs I should have seen.

I think that is the problem with being a widow. I just kept waiting for things to get better. I just kept explaining the lack. It wasn’t until three people came to me—three different people from three different ways, that I finally listened. I need that village to help. The first person asked me, “What are you getting out of this relationship?” You should not have to apologize for needing time, reassurance, or for wanting the niceties that come with a relationship. You know. When a girl is being pursued, she knows it. Phil had no money and yet he would send an e-mail, write a letter or card, or call for no reason when we were dating. Yes, this man made an effort because we were not even in the same time zone, but he began to resent it and it never moved past messages and an occasional phone call because he had so many other friends that needed his time. My son put this into perspective.

I was saying how much I had afforded the man because of his busy work and family schedule this summer. I said that it was easy to do because I had done the same with my Phil. My son got indignant. He said, “Mom, XX is nothing like dad. Nothing.” He went on to tell me that his dad had been married to his job and the job was his dad’s mistress. He reminded me that his dad always felt like he had to prove that he was worthy of the citizenship given to him with his military service at 18, BUT that there was one key difference between his dad and this guy (who he had liked, by the way). The difference was that when Phil was home, there was nobody else. It was us. We were his investment and his time. We always were. If we did anything, we were all invited and we did it as a unit. That wasn’t happening in the relationship always. There were times I wasn’t invited, and I certainly wasn’t showed off or even named in social media. Where there were pictures of many female running friends, I was a footnote.

The third person who caused me to recognize that I had been guilty of the same traps I knew to look for, talked to me about the moth analogy. Some people make better friends (and I hope to keep him as one) than boyfriends. They need people hovering and fluttering around to build their self confidence. Where I reset my batteries with this man, he needed me to be in the shadows while many circled around him. I loved that he was needed and liked by so many, but it was difficult to wait and want his attention and time. When time became difficult, the time didn’t come to me. While he made an effort every day, the interactions changed. The resentment started creeping in. I kept trying to fix it and in that act of neediness and clutching, I began to lose pieces of myself.
I started apologizing all of the time for knowing that what I was asking was normal, but that he was not able to give it. I began to hate myself because I couldn’t walk away because I had put too much validity into the relationship. The defining moment came when I got my dream job that just fit about 90 miles from him. I was excited about the job and also about the opportunity to see if we could grow our relationship in a semi normal manner. 8 hours later he dumped me. It devastated me and it took me weeks to get up off of the ground, but bit by bit, I have. He did me a favor and he warned me early. Now? The problem is this. Where do I start?
I know it is possible to give my heart away now and I know that I am capable of having a Chapter Two. I just need to figure out how and where to start. I have no dating skills. I have long term relationship skills. I am a woman of faith and I am quite active. Unfortunately, at my age that doesn’t make it easy to find someone. Throw in this huge public journey and my voice for military causes and I want to cry uncle now. This man opened my eyes to possibility and hope in this area, however. I just need help. The kind of help that few understand. I once dated a ton (college) and I once trusted my instincts on every level. I don’t so much any more. The dating world has changed and many men are not the same open books they were in their youth. They have been broken in a different manner than death. I am not that girl who is looking for casual flings or to fill my hours. I am a simple girl looking for it all. I just do not think that I have the heart to try because I fear that I will put too much validity into a relationship and I fear that I won’t recognize the behaviors that should make me end a relationship soon enough. I fear wanting too much too soon and I fear losing myself. There is no manual and most military widows are younger than I am. I want to try…I guess that means that I have to figure this out as much as I would rather not. It will take a village to be my voice of reason, my eyes, and my logic. I will need for my village to be my courage and my encouragement. I stand on the edge of the ice cold pool poised and ready, but holding back.

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