When you’re out there on your own, after almost half a century of marriage, as I was, socializing is very complicated
Caregivers, depending on their circumstances, might occasionally find themselves navigating the social landscape on their own. Widows have to do this this every single time.
For caregivers, there’s the problem of dealing with questions about your spouse, some of which are insensitive and can make you feel horrible. Even more awful is the realization that no one is even asking, or that your presence is making people feel uncomfortable.
But when you’re out there on your own, after almost half a century of marriage, as I was, socializing is very complicated. I’m sure this is equally true of those married for a shorter time. You’ve gotten used to being a part of a couple. When this is no longer the case, none of the options — going out with female friends, socializing with couples, or doing things alone — is ideal.
The most comfortable scenario, at least for me, is going out with friends. The most consistently available ones are those who are unattached, but I often have a meal with a group of married friends eager to have a “girls’ night out.” These same friends are also happy to accompany me to places their husbands aren’t interested in visiting. High on this list are museums.
However, they’re generally not available on Sunday afternoons or holidays, and once they become part of a retired couple, they become less available during the week as well. Still, when it’s just women, the playing field is level. My widowhood not withstanding, we’re pretty much the same.
Things get a bit more complicated when I’m socializing with a married couple. I’m grateful to have a close circle of married friends and to be invited to Shabbos and Yom Tov meals as often as I am. My friends go out of their way to make me feel like family — and I do.
Still, my use of the word “grateful” implies a slight level of discomfort. I didn’t used to feel grateful when my husband z”l and I had dinner with these very same couples. Now, I’m keenly aware that everyone — or almost everyone — is paired off and I’m an add-on of sorts.
Moreover, I can rarely look around the table without reminiscing about the past. My husband was a wonderful conversationalist. He also told the best stories and jokes. In these settings, I’m keenly aware of his absence and can’t help feeling a pang of longing when the men sing Eishes Chayil to their wives. I keep these feelings to myself, and because my friends are warm and loving, I am, for the most part, happy to be there.
Eating out with couples is a bit more problematic. Invariably the man wants to pay for my meal. While I know he means well and I appreciate the gesture, it makes me feel diminished. The message I get — which I’m sure is unintended — is that they’re feeling pity for me, or that I’m someone who needs to be taken care of. I always insist on a separate check, explaining that it’s important for me to feel independent. On a few occasions when the men have been insistent, I’ve allowed myself to be treated, but only on the condition that I pick up the tab next time.
The widow’s last alternative is going solo. Depending on the nature of the activity, I’ve both enjoyed it and found it intolerable. A while ago I spent a wonderful day by myself at the Morgan Museum poring over manuscripts. I loved not being rushed and not feeling obliged to make conversation with anyone else. I often go walking by myself — not as much fun as with a friend, but okay. Not okay, though, is eating out alone in a nice restaurant. One person at a table for two reading a book and broadcasting loneliness is something I did once and will never do again.
Even worse, at least for me, is going to a wedding alone. Weddings are about coupledom, and wandering about at the reception all alone, I’m prone to ruminate about this. Such rumination definitely isn’t conducive to enjoying oneself. There to celebrate the union of two people, I’m acutely aware that I don’t have a spouse.
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 657)
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