When I first became a widow, I thought I'd never date again. My 10-year marriage to my late husband Justin wasn't perfect, and we didn't always see eye to eye, but we had something unique. We had the kind of relationship people spent their entire lives searching for, that perfect blend of lover and friend.
People often wondered if I ever regretted getting married so young. I was 20. "You missed out on dating," they said. But I didn't think of it like that. My devotion to Justin was something I held in high regard. You could say it was a badge of honor, and I wore it proudly.
A few months after his death, I considered remaining a widow forever. The thought of kissing another man seemed bizarre. I figured the dating world belonged to 20-year-old coeds, not 31-year-old widows. I was also a mother to a brand-new baby boy. I delivered my son three days before my husband was killed. I felt used up and assumed my situation would frighten off any guy.
I was flipping through the channels one evening when I came across a familiar flick, He's Just Not That Into You. I'd seen the movie a few times, but it never struck a chord with me. Then I remembered it was originally a book, a dating guide for single girls. If I was ever going to get back out there, I needed to be prepared. I devoured the book in two nights. Prebook, I felt depressed, insecure, and vulnerable. Postbook, I was prepared, confident, and fearless.
At the end of traditional wedding vows, most couples recite the line, "Till death do us part." I wasn't violating our vows; I was actually abiding by them.
After days of Googling dating sites, I finally signed up for eHarmony. It seemed the most private and the least scandalous. I was embarrassed about dating again. My husband's death had made the national news, and I was still being recognized around town. What if someone spotted my photo online? What would they assume — that I had moved on? That I was over it? That I was already in love with someone else? I felt a sense of allegiance to my late husband. Were we still married?
At the end of traditional wedding vows, most couples recite the line, "Till death do us part." I wasn't violating our vows; I was actually abiding by them. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, but divorcees don't get judged the way widows do.
Comedian and widower Patton Oswalt was recently criticized by internet trolls after announcing his new engagement to Meredith Salenger 15 months after his wife's death. People wrote things like, "He's getting grief-laid" and "I'm judging him in my heart for getting it on a little too soon." The engagement spiked so much controversy that it inspired a fellow widow blogger, Erica Roman, to defend him in an emotional post: "You don't get to comment on the choices of a widower while you sit happily next to your own living spouse," she wrote.
So why do people throw divorce parties and jump at the opportunity to set up the recently divorced but criticize widowers for attempting to move on with their lives. I decided not to let the fear of judgment consume me, but I did take a little extra precaution. I filtered out anyone in my hometown. If someone was going to take me on a date, they would have to drive 60 miles or more to do so.
I was on the site for months before I finally took the plunge. A handsome guy sporting a sombrero hat had sent me a "wink." He looked like fun, so I sent one back. I had butterflies as I sat there waiting. Within minutes, I had a message. "Hi, blondie," it said. We messaged back and forth for a little while before he finally asked me on a date. "I'd love to," I wrote back. "When were you thinking?" "Are you free tonight?" he wrote. It was a Tuesday. I had no job, I had no social life, and I lived with my parents. I was more than free. My mom agreed to watch my son. The cutie said he lived in Alabama and it would take him three hours to make it over my way. I felt even better knowing he would not be familiar with my tragic story.
We met at a Dave & Busters. I dressed casual yet sexy, wearing a flowy green top, skinny jeans, and wedges. I was excited to see that he looked just like his photo — fit, tan, and a little rugged. We sat down for dinner and began to chat. I was a bit surprised to hear a thick country accent exit his lips but found it adorable. We were having a great time until he decided to ask me how long I'd been single. "I'm a widow," I replied, hoping to squash the subject matter. His jaw dropped. He proceeded to coax more information out of me, asking how my husband died, asking me about the trial, and even asking me about the man who'd killed him. There I sat with a strange man telling him about my husband's death. My fun carefree night turned into my worst fear.
There I sat with a strange man, telling him about my husband's death. My fun carefree night turned into my worst fear.
We went on to play some arcade games and have a few margaritas, but the date was ruined. Perhaps the highlight of the night was winning a stuffed toy for my son. My date had attempted to win the toy numerous times, but failed. Then on my first attempt, the silver claw scooped up an orange bear and dropped it in the slot below. I felt like a superstar! The following day, my date sent me a few messages, but I was over it and ghosted him. He got the hint pretty quickly.
It took me a few weeks to recover from my disastrous first date, but I wasn't getting any younger. I set my sights on Round Two. For a few weeks, I chatted with an older fellow 13 years my senior. He was a runner (like me) and a computer nerd and had a few shirtless photos that I couldn't take my eyes off of. He was coming from 75 miles away so we met at a restaurant 30 miles from my home. I spotted my tall, sophisticated, handsomely dressed fellow at the bar. "What's your drink of choice?" he asked. "Ketel One dirty martini, please," I responded. I had a good feeling about this one; I oozed confidence this time.
While taking a bite of my filet mignon, this new guy said something that sent my "red flag" sensor through the roof: "Do you have bad dreams after what happened to your husband?" he asked. He knew I was a widow, but we'd never discussed any details of my husband's death. "How do you know what happened?" I asked. "I read about you online," he responded. That was the moment I should have stood up and walked away, but I didn't. I found a clever way to change the subject, and we easily moved on. I was damned if I was going to let another date be ruined like the last one.
Over the next few weeks I made some major changes in my life. I moved out on my own, got a professional singing gig, and was finally starting to find myself again . . . that person I used to be. I was driving to meet up with that same guy for our fifth (and final) date when I got lost and showed up 45 minutes late. He looked less than enthused. "My sitter was late and I got lost," I said. He didn't seem to care for my excuses. We ordered drinks and food like normal but the evening had a different tone, a sour one.
He then started with another question about Justin. This was not the conversation I expected to have again. "I thought you already knew," I said. "Yes, I've read your blogs and news reports," he said, "but I want to hear your side of the story." I was feeling pretty tipsy and began to tell him everything. My winged eyeliner became smudged and my speech was a little slurred as I spoke. Upon finishing my dark and depressing story, he said nothing. I'd just shared details of the worst day of my life, and this the man had nothing to say besides, "Shall we go?" I was flabbergasted. "I will meet you in the lobby," I said and excused myself to the bathroom. As I closed the bathroom door behind me, my tears were unstoppable. I was drunk and feeling taken advantage of mentally. I called my best friend to come and get me. I was in no shape to drive.
I wondered why this guy ever bothered to string me along like that. He dropped an easy $1,000 on our lavish dates and never even tried to kiss me. I racked my brain for months. The only reason I could come up with was my front page tragedy. It must have seemed intriguing to him. My personal misfortune was this piece of sh*t's entertainment.
I wasn't proud of my inebriated night on the town, but I did learn something from it. My husband was one of a kind. The girl he fell in love with made no apologies for who she was. She was courageous yet cautious. She looked for the best in people and braced herself for the worst. She never compromised her morals and made it her job to understand other people's flaws. She was loved in the best of ways and hurt in the worst. I was now determined to find a new partner in life, one who would not only love me and my son, but also love himself. He would be the kind of man that my late-husband would've been delighted to share a beer with. No six-pack abs or country accent would ever cloud my vision again.