Relationships Post-Grief

Here’s my advice to those who are single and in grief: don’t date. It might sound appealing. Odds are, while you were losing that special loved one, you wished you had a partner by your side to support you and make it better. You might be drawn to dating to prevent going through something that shitty all alone again. Or maybe you think finding love might be a start to filling that gaping hole in your heart.

But don’t do it. You’re vulnerable in ways you don’t even know. And if you add a break-up on top of it, a break-up from someone you really liked, you’ll be grieving for two. And that break-up grief will trigger more mourning for your lost loved one.

I should know. I dated more after my mom’s death than I ever had before in my life. I went from one guy to the next to the next to a girl, to a one-night stand, to whatever I thought would made me feel better. I dated a guy whose mom was sick with cancer because I thought he’d understand (he told me he was not suited for “long-term partnership”). I’d date anyone. Just to feel the closeness, the momentary comfort, the sense that life was moving forward. But none of it ultimately worked. The only thing that made me feel better was being around people who were grieving.

Death gives us a sense of impending urgency. And spending years in grief — both while my mother was dying and as I awaited the inevitable, plus the years now spent after her passing trying to get back on track — made it feel like I had no more time to lose. I was 30 when my mom was diagnosed. I was 31 when she died. I am now 33. A ticking clock rests on every moment, and my biggest fear now is wasting my life, the last shreds of my youth.

This fear of wasting my life has created a form of paralysis. Nothing feels worthy of my time because my time is now so valuable.

A remedy to this conundrum has not yet been revealed…

When I dated before my mother died, I did so with a concrete set of standards and a sense of indefinite time to find my soulmate. Those days are gone. Looks are not at the top of my list any longer. Neither is passion nor excitement or all of those things that lead to volatility or a supernova-like intensity and burn out.

I just want a companion. Someone who gives a shit how my day went. Someone who’s there for me and supportive. In retrospect, it seems so simple. How it eluded me before my mom died, I have no idea.

But I know that despite the simplicity of my desires, it’s incredibly important for me not to date right now. I cannot handle being responsible for someone else’s needs because I have so many. That’s what loss creates: massive need. And the sheer size of the need created by the loss of someone so significant means that no one, except the magical reappearance of my deceased loved one, could make me feel complete again. No one can fill that void. That realization makes me frustrated and angry. Frustrated because alone is the last thing I want to be right now. Angry because I feel overwhelmingly unsupported.

And fyi, feeling unsupported arises from being vastly needy as a result of my loss. I corral call my friends, and few return my calls. I make plans to get out of my house, and the person I have plans with flakes. And I am decimated, alone, miserable, wondering why I moved back to this city where I allegedly have friends and yet no job, income, or people who seem to care.

How to move forward, I wonder. How to feel relevant, a part of the world again. I look at my dog. She keeps me going. Her needs I can handle. And that gives me hope.

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