Two years ago, I was driving home from the west coast in early September, rather bereft.
I was a little scared and a lot lost.
You see, I’d been a single mom for almost a decade. I’d been single-mindedly focused on getting my Junior Tribe Members “all growed up”. That meant working, driving, cooking, connecting with them–rinse and repeat–for years.
That was my existence.
And I LOVED IT. Mostly.
There was the occasional night out when the JTM’s were at their dad’s house or at friends…but mostly those were nights I caught up on grocery shopping, work or sleep.
My finish line was getting the youngest through high school.
For years, I didn’t look past the finish line. I couldn’t. I was too tired and too busy. And loving my endless hours on the bleachers watching them play, or kicking back to watch a sit com with the JTM’s before bed or making a meal or a memory. I loved being a “hands on” mom.
Driving back from the West Coast where I left the youngest JTM at university meant I was done. I had reached the finish line, and I felt unemployed as a parent…and because my JTM’s were so much of my life, it was frightening.
I felt FIRED as a mom.
Not saying this is rational. I realize I was being melodramatic here. An older JTM was still living at home, needing to be fed and watered regularly. But he had a life of his own and a driver’s license. My life would largely be my own…and I was concerned.
I didn’t know what it looked like to have my own life…and I knew I had to figure it out, fast.
The last day of my trip as I was driving back to Winnipeg, I got a text from a recent widower I knew. He asked me to get together for a walk that evening. He told me he had some parenting questions he needed a mom could answer. It sounded great to go for a walk with a friend.
The park is a dark place for a woman to walk alone in the fall evening…but walking with him, I had great company and the safety to walk in the dark.
When he asked for another walk a few days later, it was easy to agree. The conversation flowed easy, and any silences had a friendly warmth to them.
I called a friend saying, “Help me…I have a widower crush”.
He did have the most beautiful blue eyes, and he was open and free in his responses. He took the time to listen to my responses to his thoughtful, caring questions. L told me all the right things: “He’s still grieving his wife. It will be a long time before he’s ready for another relationship. He’s vulnerable and you’ve got to be careful. Stop thinking this way.”
Thanx, I told her. I asked her to say this to me again, all over again, to ground me.
But in the meantime, he asked me for another walk, and then another. I had just gotten a bracelet that measured my steps and I was loving all these walks because of how my bracelet racked up impressive numbers of steps.
A friend of mine had sent me an article about keeping relationships light and breezy.
This is to say: not imposing expectations on him, not trying to make them fit in a category. Just enjoying him. It felt like it was a good reminder to just enjoy the cool fall evenings, the easy conversation. It was important to stay in the moment: enjoying the growing friendship with a man who longed to tell stories of love, laughter, sickness and grief to me. He loved to talk about his late wife. It was inspiring to hear a man honour her memory so powerfully. I came to trust him. The stories of struggle and commitment he told me about his marriage told me he was trustworthy.
I remember one evening, we wrapped up our walk at Starbucks…I had walked there, he had driven. It was now late, and he offered to drive me home. I accepted and we walked toward his car.
He started to walk towards the passenger side door to open it for me…and two steps before the door, he sharply veered away to get into the driver’s side. From there he leaned over and unlocked the door. The message that he would not be opening my door, as one might do on a date, was clearly received.
And internally, to myself, I thought, “Dude–message received. I get it. You’re still in love with her, and I get that you’re not interested in me.”
(And he told me months later, he remembered that moment too–he avoided opening my door because he thought that he might be giving me the impression that it was a date and then I would stop wanting to hang out with him.)
Truth be told, it was lovely to have a male friend when you’re single and you know he can’t possibly be interested, because his heart belongs to another:
- I didn’t check my hair or makeup.
- I never dressed up.
- Flirting wasn’t an option.
I could just relax and enjoy long fall walks in the dark evening with a good friend who made it safe.
So…one Saturday evening we were out at dusk and we were again chatting about this and that as we ambled along. He asked me something about the ending of my marriage almost a decade earlier, and that day I started to weep a little as I spoke.
He’s a kind and good man, and in the kindest and gentlest way, he stopped and turned to me in a warm and friendly embrace.
I knew that I was enjoying his friendship in a light and breezy way…but I knew that even a friendly hug could start my heart down a slippery slope that I would be unable to stop. It was not a good idea for me to be hugged by this man, who I was carefully keeping in the “friend” zone. This man wasn’t in a position to date or love another…and I was setting my heart up for heartbreak to have it go anything beyond light and breezy.
As quickly as possible, without being rude, I slid out of that hug and pulled myself together. We began walking again, with a change of topic to something much lighter.
I thought about that hug later on.
I enjoyed it. Probably too much.
And I thought about authenticity and vulnerability and knowing my own worth, and drawing boundaries as an act of self-compassion. I thought about how I would process this with a client. I thought about how I didn’t want to stop walking with him…and so I didn’t want to wreck it by falling in love with a guy who wasn’t available.
So…two days later, on September 29th, we were out walking again. It was a beautiful night and as we walked along Wellington Crescent, we stopped to sit at a park bench for a spell. We fell silent after some time…and that’s when he asked: What are you thinking?
And I took a deep breath, and decided to be candid. I decided I wasn’t ashamed of my position and that I could own it and could calmly declare what was best for me. I knew he was safe and would be respectful. So I responded: I’m thinking that you were very sweet and kind to give me a hug the other day when I was upset…but I’m also thinking that given that I’ve been single for 10 years and you’re still grieving your wife, it’s quite possible for me to experience a hug differently than you. So, I enjoy your friendship, and I’d like to stay friends…so I’ll just ask you to not hug me anymore.
He was quiet.
For a loooong time.
Every once in a while, he would start to open his mouth, as if to say something, and then he would close it again, wordlessly.
It was odd, this silence, because usually conversation flowed so freely. But it also wasn’t frightening.
I waited, for a long time. And then he said words which I replayed over hundreds of times later that night, trying to process: Carolyn, I’m not ready now, but I will be.
That was the night we realized we were each open to being a sumthin’sumthin’.
A few days later, I asked him about the night where he almost–but didn’t–open the car door after our walk that one night at Starbucks. He laughed because he remembered it too. He told himself a very different story about it…Husband “knew” that if he opened the door for me, I might know that he was interested in me, and then I wouldn’t be interested in walking with him anymore. So he chose to not open the door to keep me interested in walking.
Odd how we can have such different perspectives of the same moment, isn’t it?
Anyways, that night, I slept little…he slept none-at-all.
The next day, I wrote down some of the charmingly cherished conversation we had the night before. I wanted to remember it. I saved the document as September 29.
This relationship that developed out of a 15 year acquaintance and hours of walks of casual friendship because intense quickly. We grew to quickly love each other, which might seem odd to some as he was simultaneously still very much grieving his late wife, Car. I was smitten.
And then, late fall, as I was writing a blog while on a course in Chicago, I went back to look at his words on September 29th on my computer.
What I found left me utterly astonished.
When I put September 29 in my document search, I found not one, but two documents with that date.
The one was called September 29, and contained now-Husbands words from that night.
The second was called, My Decisions Sept 29. I opened it to look. I didn’t know what it was at first–hadn’t seen it in years.
That document was drafted 10 years to the day prior to our conversation on the park bench…
September 29–precisely one decade earlier
The document was one I wrote to myself in the middle of a dark and confusing time when my First Husband was most ambivalent about our marriage. I was destabilized with his uncertainty and new directions he was heading in…and I was working to stay in my authenticity. During times I was uncertain and anxious, I was concerned I would make decisions impulsively or out of fear. I wanted to find my centre, write it down, and remember it. I remember referring back to it often between September 29th and April 11.
Quite simply: I was terrified. And I was terrified I would do something stupid out of my terror.
We humans tend to do that, don’t we?
I read through the document. In it I decided I would work hard at the marriage, but be OK if he chose to leave. I wrote of my decisions to let him make his own decisions, but expect to be treated fairly. I declared I would be compassionate to a man who was suffering, even when that got hard. But I would value myself in it, and not be taken advantage of either. And then, my 7th decision was this, word for word, with names removed:
7. If ..[former husband] and I are not married, I choose to dedicate my energies towards my children, supplying them with a stable household by having a reliable income and nurturing home. I choose not to be open to another relationship, likely for forever, but will commit to a deliberate re-evaluation of that when …[youngest JTM] is 18.
Exactly a decade after I wrote this, and a month after dropping my youngest 18-year-old JTM at university, I found a forever love.
September 29th, 2004
…was a day I was desperately sought my centre. In the upheaval of a dying marriage by mindfully expressing my true thoughts, consistent with my deepest values. It was the day I recognized I might not choose the outcome, but I could choose my response in it–so that the end of the story would be written in a way that had my integrity intact.
I recognize that many would choose different decisions than I did. No judgement for others choosing other strategies to survive the death of a marriage. And it wasn’t like I never had a single date in those 10 years either…even a short time of seeing someone once gave me a needed experience of kindness and integrity.
September 29th, 2014
…was a day that I mindfully expressed my true thoughts. It was a day I recognized that I valued a friendship enough to be vulnerable and candid–I chose my response to have integrity in the relationship. And he responded surprisingly and delightfully.
It just seemed that it was Divine Intervention that the two experiences…one so devastating, one so exhilarating would happen on the same day ten years apart.
So, today, September 29th, I re-read the first document thoughtfully, reflecting on the me of years ago who was trying hard in a trying situation. I have compassion, and even some admiration for her. She bravely fought hard for integrity when it was so challenging to stay grounded.
And I re-read the second document delightfully, of the recent me who was brave in a gentle way. It was in being brave that I became connected to Husband for a lifetime starting that day.