A Message for my Fellow Widows About SexDec 01, 2019
Here’s the elephant in the room that makes widowhood different from other types of grief: Most widows have not only lost their life partner but their intimate partner too. And there’s nothing like watching your young, strong lover’s body waste away from cancer, to f*ck you up sexually, at least a little bit.
I was initially surprised by how quickly I started feeling attracted to people again after my love, Brian, died. Hello: Shock, trauma, and “Holy sh*t, life is short and my body still works!”
But during those early days, my sexy visions of a beautiful person in front of me would often transform and I’d suddenly see their body wasting away, grey, and deathly. Fun.
I was afraid that if I didn’t “pull off the bandaid” and try, I would never get back out there. So, one day, I decided I was going to find someone to go on a date with. I downloaded a dating app and away we went.
One date was what I wanted and one date, was exactly what I got.
Shockingly, there are people out there; nice, decent, kind men, who are interested in going on a date with a young solo-parent and widow. Even one who is brutally open and honest about how in love they will always be with their dead husband and how traumatized they are. Go figure.
The next week-end, I found myself sitting across a table from a nice man who bought me a drink and asked me thoughtful questions. He was the first person who had looked at me without pity in what felt like so long. He was looking at me like he was interested. And that was life-giving. I felt like I was in a movie of someone else’s life. Like for those few hours, I had a short break from the agony of my existence.
At the end of the night, he asked me if he could kiss me.
We stood outside under a streetlamp, the sticky, July air hanging around us like curtains of heat. It felt like the world was closing in on me.
I paused for what felt like an inappropriately long amount of time. Thoughtful conversation and a few drinks was one thing. A kiss, was something entirely different.
“Okay,” I finally said.
Might as well get it over with.
He leaned in and suddenly, our lips were touching.
I found myself looking down from above, watching this man devour my face and wondering why I couldn’t feel any of it. I was there and I wasn’t.
The last person I had kissed was Brian. And he had been dead.
I pulled away.
“Gotta go,” I said abruptly. And I turned around and ran.
I ran all the way home, through desolate city streets, sobbing.
Now I understand that this was a trauma response. But I don’t regret any of it. This was another layer to process and it helped me grieve more deeply.
That man and I stayed in touch. But I wasn’t ready for anything more and our texts slowly fizzled out.
Since that night, I have kissed someone else and guess what? Working through trauma and facing grief actually makes a difference, because I was able to feel it and shockingly, it felt good.
So now I am capable of enjoying kissing an alive person while being forever in love with a dead person, which is an awesome life skill to have.
We all deal with trauma and sex differently. I know young widows who have found that sex has been therapeutic, even from very early on. I understand this. Sex helps us feel alive. It connects us to the physical, to this life, to ourselves. I also know widows who can’t even imagine being sexually attracted to anyone, ever again. I understand this too. It’s painful to imagine losing anyone else. Some widows feel guilt or shame around being sexual with someone new.
For me, there is a dichotomy within my heart between desire and pain. I know that I am alive, that I am still here, and that he is not. I know that he wants me to be fulfilled and loved in every possible way here on earth. But there is no getting around the fact that sexuality was a big part of my connection to Brian and that there are grief and trauma triggers involved in being with anyone else. There is no getting around the fact that at least at first, sex will always remind me of him and of what I have lost.
I can’t tell you how often the posts on our private widow support group online focus on sex, dating, and love after the death of a young partner. And yet, I see so little of this spoken of publicly.
It’s all ok. It’s all normal. But we need to talk about it because we’re sexual people and this is a unique part of grief that clearly affects us.
We owe it to ourselves to acknowledge this and to pull back the blinds so that the sun can touch us again. We owe it to ourselves to talk about it.