Tom Pisello 0:02
My guest today is a very special one. He’s the author of the book, Widower to Widower and he’s Fred Colby. Fred lost his wife of 45 years, and mother to their two daughters, Teresa in 2015 to cancer. So sorry, Fred for that.
Fred has had a long career in politics, education, nonprofits, worked in leadership, fundraising and marketing for those. And he leveraged all of that extensive writing experience during those careers to help capture his grief journey and the lessons learned in the important book, Widower to Widower. And I do recommend this book for all widowers. We have it listed in our Tools section as one of the best widower resources.
We’re here to talk today with Fred about the three common challenges he sees in the widowers community, the issues he sees many widowers facing time and again, and how to potentially transcend these to help with healing and growth. Fred, welcome.
Fred Colby 1:33
Hello, Tom. Thank you. I’m looking forward to our discussion.
Awesome. So I love origin stories. Tell me how you and Teresa met.
Well, I was attending a community college on my third attempt, completing my education. And I had met a friend there and we would alternate when our parents were gone, hosting parties at each other’s houses.
And he had met this gal in one of his classes and told her we were gonna have this big party. Why don’t you come by? And she and a group of her friends, all gals were on their way to Los Angeles for a really big party. So they said, well stop by for a little bit.
So when they stopped off, I met Teresa. She was there for one-half hour. I had her number. And I knew it was all over when she left. We’ve dated exclusively ever since. It was all she wrote. We dated exclusively from that point forward and got married about a year and a half later
That’s amazing. And I always love how chance. Happenstance, fate and certainly destiny plays into this. You know, what if she thought the party was too small compared to the big party she was going to in LA? What if you didn’t have that third attempt at school?
Oh, I know for sure.
So amazing, but also so precious that we get to meet our life partners a lot of times in these special ways. After this, you built a family with two children. Tell us a little bit about that.
Well, I had to complete my college. After I left Mesa Community College, I went to McKenna College, which used to be Claremont Men’s College, and she worked at PacBell. So she was able to work there while I completed my four year education. Then we moved back to San Diego, and it was a bad time for finding employment.
So I ended up in retail, as many of us did back then. And worked for Long’s Drugstore for five years. Absolutely hated it. After the first year. I didn’t know what else to do. So we moved in near one of the stores I was given the floor management for, and started having babies – a first daughter and then a second daughter three years later.
And by that time, I moved out of retail and into the marketing side of things. So I’ve had all Southern California as my area. Then I happened to go to a political campaign for John Garamendi, he was running for California governor. And I was very impressed by him and his ability to know all the topics that were on the table at the time. And so I did some work for him through the campaign.
And after that one was over, I signed up for another campaign and I broke out of that whole retail thing. I started working for nonprofits, primarily fundraising to start. And at that time, Teresa left PacBell and stopped working there, started volunteering in the schools and so on.
And we had her family nearby and my family nearby. So it was a great situation for us at that time. And then the kids grew up and graduated from Mira Mesa High School. And at that time, we moved to Oregon for three years. And then both the daughters moved to Fort Collins, Colorado and started having grandbabies. So, you know, what are you gonna do?
And Fort Collins is not bad, right? Boulder is my favorite, but Fort Collins is a good second.
Yes, you’ve got the mountains right there. Like Estes Park. It’s a great place.
But then we found out in 2014, about a year before she passed that she had uterine cancer. And she went through the whole gamut of things, surgery, chemo, radiation. And during the chemo, I knew something wasn’t right. Because I’d go to the place where she was getting the chemo at the hospital and talking to the other people that were there getting it, they would have a good week and a bad week – aa good week where you kind of recovered quickly and then you’d have a bad week where it just dragged out for the whole week. Theresa only had one good week overall. So I knew something was not quite right.
And we ended up taking her in for a blood transfusion. She walked in, but came out in a wheelchair. That night, she had a heart attack. We took her into the hospital. They did her complete checkup and found out that the cancer had returned full blast and that there was nothing else they could do for her. So that’s when reality hit for me. And I realized there was no getting out of this.
And you wound up losing her in 2015.
Yeah, it was June 30 2015. And I was fortunate to be with her.
We had called hospice once the hospital said there’s nothing else we can do. They were there before the day was over, had all the equipment set up in my house, ran my daughter’s through the obstructions and what we had to do. We took her home that evening, and she was so relieved to be there rather than in the hospital, you know where they’re coming in every hour to check your blood pressure, draw blood …an environment where you can’t rest at all.
So she had about a week. And the good thing about our situation was that I knew all of her friends. So I created a page on Caring Bridge, which is a godsend. It’s a godsend. Through that I was able just to enter everybody’s email addresses in it. And all I had to do was on Facebook, do a post, and it would go out to everybody on that list. So they were kept informed. We were able to schedule, with my daughter’s handling, so that every friend got to come in and say goodbye to her. And you could just see her eyes light up. She couldn’t talk at this point. But you could just see your eyes light up as each one came in, and I was so grateful that she got to say her goodbyes.
And the night that she passed, I knew we were getting close. And I decided to take a nap. So I set the alarm for two hours later. So I would be up. I woke up in about an hour. And I heard her breathing was different. Immediately. I knew something had changed. So I went down to be with her. I knew the way she was breathing, that this was different. It was really weird. It was kind of like, she could inhale but she couldn’t exhale. So it’s like she was taking life in still, but she couldn’t express it anymore.
And I just stroked her arm, put on some music, saying to her that it was okay to leave, you know, and this was probably the most most painful single moment in my life, watching her pass away. Fortunately, my daughters lived nearby so I called them both, and they both were able to come over and say their goodbyes before we had the mortuary pick her up.
I’m so sorry, Fred. Those first few moments and months after. I know that for us, there was a lot of care prior and you know, the food still came after. So the community just pulled together greatly. You still had a lot of friends after. And then I would say about a month in for me and I don’t know what it was for you. It kind of just stopped and then we’re kind of hit with this reality. That didn’t quite sink in right away because there was just so much going on and so much to figure out and how was it for you that first, that first maybe month after and then the first little while after that.
Well, that first week, I was totally numb, and was sleepwalking through the motions you had to do, you know, arranging for the celebration of life, which we did a week after passing. And thank goodness, my daughter’s helped. My three sisters all came all volunteer to help in different ways.
So we got the event arranged. After the event, I was very fortunate in that I was able to escape to a cabin up in the mountains all by myself. And I will tell you, I took as much material as I could on grieving, because I had no idea what this thing was that I was going to have to go through. I didn’t find a lot, because there just wasn’t a lot out there for men.
So I took what I could, but when I got up there, the thing that was most important was, I went outside and just screamed. I screamed as loud as I could and as long as I could because I was just stressed to the max in pain, like I hadn’t felt before. I had to express that side,
I always recommend that if you can do that, do it. It is helpful. It’s not something you want to do a year later. But it is something you kind of need to do during those first few months. It’s just: let it out.
After that, I did read what I could find. And some of it was a little bit helpful. But I found when I got home, the next week, I had to really start digging. And I still wasn’t finding a lot. The only book I found was at the hospice that I was starting to go to for some therapy. And they had a book called When Men are Left Alone. And it’s the only other book I found in that period. That was helpful. It is no longer in publication.
I haven’t seen that one on Amazon. I was gonna ask you about it.
If you find one, it’s like 300 bucks, then, you know, somebody got it at a garage sale. They’re trying to sell it. They know there’s no other print copies available anymore.
And you’re so right about the lack of resources. When I started to do the research, and I started to look for help myself, your book was one of maybe four or five that are out there. There are literally more books on how to date widowers than there are to actually help widowers heal, which blew me away.
Yeah, me too. So I did find that during this period, for I’d say up to about six months, that my challenge of being able to sleep was horrendous. I’d have nights where I was lucky to get two hours just because I was so stressed about everything. And you already are emotionally totally messed up from the death of your wife. Now you throw in the lack of sleep, and it just accentuates it to the max.
Dealing with it is really difficult. The only thing that helped me a little bit was going to a therapist. I did find Eckhart Tolle in particular as helpful, I found his resources online, and he’s got a lot of little podcast type talks. And he has a wonderful demeanor. And he really focuses on: don’t dwell on the past, don’t freak out about the future, just stay focused on the now. And if you do that, it just makes a little bit better sense. And you can manage it better. But if you’re in either of those other two places, you can just ger to healing.
Yeah, exactly. Because we just ruminate on the past, of all of the things that we might have had done: the regrets the guilt. And then if we’re thinking about the future, which is very uncertain at this time, you have to now live without your partner and you have many years left. There’s, there’s no comfort, going back and now you know, there’s a future that is obviously going to get you anxious.
So Tolle’s new book, The Power of Now, I cannot tell you how powerful that book is. And that’s another recommendation in our tool section. So we’ll include the link to it at the bottom of this transcript for those who are interested along with your book Fred.
So the sleep deprivation definitely wears on you. I love how you were able to escape up by yourself for a while and I think honestly, I was afraid to be by myself. I crave connection with people and essentially medicated in a relationship.
And then the other thing I did was I went back to old comfortable things, and for me work was something I always threw myself into, especially during the most despairing times in my life. I know a lot of men are like this. So you put on that stoic mask, you go back to work.
But what are you not dealing with? You’re not dealing with the reality of, “Hey, your world is just turned upside down”. And you probably haven’t let out the screens that you need to let out. You haven’t let out right here, the hurt, that you need to let out. Right.
So I think it’s so good that you were able to get some of that time to be by yourself and also that you went to “school”. That’s the other thing that I think folks should make sure they’re paying attention to in this journey, taking grieving books to find out “What is this? , What am I going through?, How can I get through it better by learning from other people?”.
And also not being afraid to go to a therapist as well, which I know some men in particular tend to be reluctant to do, right? We weren’t taught to ask for help. We were taught to get up, brush it off, you know, don’t don’t cry in front of anyone. Be stoic. So the thought of going to a therapist and letting out your true feelings and other things, I think this is something that I see a lot of widowers struggle with, as well.
Yeah. And you got times during that early phase. I know. I felt it, and almost every widower I talked to validates it, is that you honestly feel like you’re going crazy. You have no control over your thoughts. They’re just all over the friggin’ map that you just had half of you ripped away from you. And you don’t know who this new person is.
So I’d be walking down the steps and I would just suddenly feel like I was getting punched in the stomach. I’d collapsed to the floor. Sobbing. Sobbing without tears. I will mention this because we men for some reason have less tear ducts when we cry, it’s like the dry heaves of cry?
What it felt like? it was miserable. Because of this delusionary state, you can’t really distinguish between what’s real and what’s unreal. And that’s a scary place to be, when you have things affecting you. For example, my God, you’re craving your wife, you’re craving her to be with you right now. And I mean, physically be able to touch her, you’re desperate for it. But you can’t do that any longer.
So our mortal mind, the way we’ve been raised is you think, okay, I’ll get another woman, have somebody to hug, make love to just to touch. You know, because as I explained in the book, my wife had she had survived me, she would have had 20 close friends that would have been encircling her and embracing her, loving her, touching her, you know. But guys, we’re lucky if we got two friends, and they don’t particularly want to hug us. We’re just not trained to do that.
And so it’s kind of weird the way that it works. And so we have to learn how to ask people for support, to ask them to love us. And I did that through my Caring Bridge posts, to the same group of people, all of Teresa’s friends, all of my friends, my family. And that helped me because I stayed in touch with everybody. They felt engaged with my story, I’d tell them what the progress was and what I was dealing with. And, you know, and it allowed me to stay in touch with a lot of people that otherwise I’m sure I would have lost touch with. Some of those people still call me today and say, “Hey, Fred, let’s go out for a beer. Let’s go out and do this”. You know, so it’s worth the effort.
Yeah, definitely. And not being afraid to receive that hug because a lot of times we will push it away, will push the help away, will push the affection away, and we need it, especially during these times.
Let me go back to when you’re not sleeping, sleep deprived. That’s something that several of my brothers and I’ve had conversation about, our Brother widowers. How did you wind up getting to sleep again? Because obviously, it’s so important. I mean, your mental facilities break down, physically you start to break down with so little sleep. In fact, I monitor mine all the time, just to make sure that I am getting enough sleep to recover from my exercise and everything else I do. How did you get to sleep again?
It was a combination of a couple of things you mentioned. So I started working out regularly again. So I do it every morning, every afternoon. And then I If possible, I get out for a third time and go do a walk.
I would listen to meditation tapes or Eckhart Tolle before I go to bed, trying to get my mind off of all the other stuff that was going on.
I’m averse to taking medications of any kind. But I did test out Melatonin, which is an over the counter supplement. It did help some. But just like any other drug, it is addictive. And when I had to get off of it, I had to gradually cut back by dosage and then just, go through three or four nights of hell before I was able to sleep normally again,
Definitely, that’s great advice. Because I know, it’s definitely a challenge that a lot have fallen into.
And like you, I had to exhaust myself for bed, physically and then mentally. Make sure that I’m listening to the right content ust before bed, whether that be relaxing music, or, for me, I put on the soothing waves of Santa Barbara, one of my favorite plays. I have those waves in the background to lull me to sleep.
Now a lot of widowers I know fall into what they refer to, and I’m not gonna refer to it like this, because I’ve learned that we all have our different time lines, but getting stalled or getting stuck in grief. You know, two, three years in, they’re frustrated in that they’re just as depressed or just as triggered, or just as wherever. And they feel like they shouldn’t be at this point in their journey. Talk about why so many fall into depression. I mean, neither of us are clinicians, right? And we’re not psychologists, but, but let’s just call it not clinical depression, but just they feel depressed, they feel they can’t get out of their rut.
There are some common elements I find in the men that are experiencing that. And again, like you say, it’s unique for each one of us. So it doesn’t apply to every guy.
But some of the elements are, there’s a separation from family and friends. Maybe they live in a different place, or maybe they’ve alienated each other, I don’t know which it is, so there’s nobody to fall back on. Sometimes they literally drive away all those friends and family. And as a widower, you have to recognize that. Remember how you were before you were a widower. When somebody lost their spouse and how you reacted? Was it any better than your friends are reacting? Probably not.
Everyone has a hard time dealing with it. We’ve got to give grace to ourselves and grace to everyone around us, because they’re all dealing with loss.
Everyone is gonna ask you, how are you doing? You know, the question, we all know, we’re gonna get 200 times each week. So you have to understand that and accept that, but challenge yourself to maintain those relationships.
The other element is, I find that some guys fall into anger. Oh, my God, they’re pissed off. Maybe they were pissed off before their wife died? I don’t know. But they’re pissed off at everything. And sometimes there’s a legitimate reason. There may be a real bad doctor, you know, a bad medication? I don’t know.
I had a friend whose husband died in the hospital. She had very clear evidence that probably there was some malpractice. And she asked me, you know, Fred, should I keep pursuing this? I said, Do you want to move on? Do you want to be happy again? Do you want to have a real life again? then let it go. Because you’re just going to drag yourself through this mire of anger and pity and everything else for another two or three years, if you go to court over this and who knows if you’ll win. Is it worth it? So she decided not to pursue it.
And the other element is, of course, alcohol and drugs. And as a person who drinks on a regular basis, a couple glasses of wine is kind of my go to, I had to really be careful about taking that third glass or that third beer, because I was good up until that point. But that third glass, it entered the pity pit and bemoaning and groaning and whining for my wife and everything else. it accomplished nothing.
But each time I did it, it was trapping me further into it. And I recognized it after a while, so I I limited myself to a maximum of two glasses of wine and I did fine after that. So that’s an issue. Everybody has to be aware.
And then of course, some people have pre-existing mental issues that they haven’t yet dealt with. And obviously the loss of your wife is going to aggravate that even further. So that person more than anybody needs to be seeing a grief therapist as soon as possible. I started seeing one within two months, and am very grateful for that. I always emphasize that it is a grief therapist, not a general therapist or counselor.
Grief therapists are used to dealing with us and all the weird issues we have. A regular counselor is not usually prepared for that and cannot advise you as well as a grief therapist. So I’m not saying there’s no counselor, general counselors who can’t do it. But for the most part, when I asked somebody and they say I talked to a counselor, I didn’t get any help, either. I asked him, was it a grief counselor or regular counselor? It was a regular counselor in most instances.
And then they wonder why after seeing the therapist, they’re just getting prescribed the antidepressant and maybe not moving to healing. They’re not getting the EMDR for the trauma and some of the other things that a grief specialist would recommend.
On the alcohol, I’ve been sober now for five years. The day after my wife passed away, I gave up drinking, because I realized I had a problem through the disease process., as well, as I’m sure you did, too. As our wives were sick through a lengthy illness, we’re grieving. We’re grieving the loss of them. My wife had a brain tumor, and she was not the same the last year, or for three years prior for that matter, where she almost became a different person. Unfortunately.
There was a loss there that you experience. And so I was medicating through that, having the third drink the fourth drink. Two bottles of tequila, grand maniere bottle, an amaretto bottle, and so on.. a week, Margaritas were my poison of choice. And I overindulged and it wasn’t healthy for me, because obviously, those sugary drinks are so bad for you. As a result, I ballooned my weight up to 250 pounds, and I’m now 60 to 70 pounds lighter, which is a good thing, good for your healing. Just having the clarity to face this situation head-on, I think is important.
Now, I agree in the beginning, it’s tough to do that. It might be an anomaly, giving it up the day after, I mean, most people need more time and perhaps a program. If you’re drinking a little bit, having the one or two glasses of wine to calm yourself down that’s not the issue. But do realize that if you’re medicating with the drinking, and you can’t say to yourself that you’re not, then at that point, you need to think about cutting back as you did, you’ve got to implement a hard limit.
Or perhaps giving it up for a week or two and seeing how you feel. And for me, that was all I needed to do was give it a few weeks and then before you know it, eight pounds dropped off of me and you’re locked in. And all of a sudden, you’re like, “Well, I’m feeling better. I’m not cloudy in the morning. I can feel. I can deal with the business, and then I can deal with my grief a little bit”.
You know, it’s kind of easy now. But I know back then it wasn’t, because there is definitely alcohol being consumed over dinners, and at gatherings, because people are like, “Hey, have a drink, you need one”. Or “Let’s toast your Your late wife.”
There’s also a difference between staying home and drinking by yourself, and going out with your friends and having a social experience, which is therapeutic for you. And I know too many people have done this, stayed home alone drinking, with their gallon of vodka s, and then they wonder why they’re “stuck” in their grieving.
So another point that you make in the book and that you make in your writing is that many times as widowers, we feel pressure to make big decisions. A lot of widowers struggle with the familial house that they were in. They might be unhappy with their business or their jobs. And maybe they feel pressured to sell or give away assets, particularly those tied to the late wife. “Oh, can I have a ring? Can I have this?” Tell us some of the challenges that we always face there with big decisions and pressure?
The generic advice that you hear everywhere is true. Don’t make any major decisions that first year, because there’s a good chance they’ll be wrong or regrettable.
So if at all possible, just tell everybody “Listen, no major decisions for the first year, then I’ll hear you out”. or “I will think it through and I will make that decision after I’ve gotten through this thing”.
You’re not going to be on a totally solid foundation at that time, but you will be on a more solid foundation than you were in the first six months for sure. So that’s really important. And you know, some guys as you dive back into work, full blast, and oftentimes, I don’t care whether it’s a house project or a job job, you know, I did it with my wife in terms of redoing her craft room and sorting all the photos and all the cards and stuff like that. But when you do that, you can do it two ways. You can do it in a way that’s therapeutic, as when I was looking through all the photographs and going, “Oh, God, that was a great moment”. You know, a few tears. Okay, move on to the next photo. Oh, yeah, that was a great moment. Yeah, a few tears, but very therapeutic. But if I’m doing it to not forget what has happened, and to not confront it, there’s a good chance somewhere down the road, this is going to come back and bite me in the ass. I’m going to feel like, oh, man, I should have dealt with that last year. But now I’m in here’s the problem.
If you are dealing with that stuff in your first six months to a year, your friends and neighbors and family are all going “Okay. Yeah, he’s going through some bad shit. We’re going to support him”, you know. But when you haven’t done that in year two, or year three or year four, they’re going “What’s wrong with that guy? Why is he as he grieving now?”. It’s very hard to get help, then even to go back to the hospice and say, hey, now I need counseling support. And they’re going “Wait it’s been three years, what are you talking about?”
So you really have to think about how you’re going to do this. And I know that’s very difficult when you’re thinking it’s not good. But my best advice is to dive into doing what is therapeutic rather than escape. And I know, that means you might have to leave a job. I had to leave mine. And it was by choice. And it was the right decision.
I know that won’t be right for everybody else. So you know, any of those major decisions, really learn to step back and say “I’m going to take a little while to figure this out”.
The most common and most dangerous thing I’ve heard happen with great regularity is there’s a second marriage where you’re with your second wife. She has kids, you have kids. She dies, her kids are all saying, Hey, give me my share right now. And they can be off in how they insist on it. They want you to sell your house so you can split the assets. And I know one guy who thad to do it, but again, if you don’t have to, wait. You don’t let them drive you into an immediate decision, because it’s not likely to be a great one. And you’re not likely to be talking to a lawyer and really making sure everything’s been done properly and the decisions may come back to haunt you for years.
I agree. And I think if there is a big decision, where the kids are waiting for a decision, or family or boss is waiting for a decision, just tell him “Look, 12 months, just give me 12 months … one year, I’ve just lost the most important person in my life. I don’t even know who I am. You’ve got to give me those 12 months, and then after that, I will decide”. I think most people will be comfortable with that, I think when it’s hard is when they don’t know how long that decision is going to take. So I think giving them that duration as a courtesy is a good one.. And I love that way to deal with it. Fred, I think that’s a good tool.
We spoke about therapy as a tool. And I kind of didn’t address it when you mentioned it. But one of the things I think is really important is that therapy for me, was not just about the loss of my spouse and a loss of who I was in image and ego and everything else, but we really had to go way, way back…we had to go into the Wayback Machine to my childhood, my teenage years and a lot of other issues. Those issues were really amplifying now in going through this loss process. Things I hadn’t dealt with from back-then much less within the relationship with my wife and through the loss. Talk about that. And did you experience that same thing where there was a lot of foundational work that maybe you hadn’t done, having not been to a therapist before?
Yeah, I had one experience with a therapist when I was like 16 for one visit, so I had avoided this stuff.
Even though I’m gregarious, and all that kind of stuff. I kind of keep to myself for the most part. So it was a real challenge for me to reach out. But I recognized, as crazy as I felt and unsettled as I felt, that I had to have somebody to talk to. And this was stuff I couldn’t talk to my kids or my family or friends about. It was really deep stuff that was troubling me.
And I would agree that some of it’s obviously going to be rooted in your past in some way, how you dealt with things and everything else prior, and a lot of what the therapist can help us work through without going back. If you go to a general counselor, you’re gonna get a lot of that going back deep into your history and all that kind of stuff. But with a grief therapist, you tend to say more focused on what’s going on now? And how can we deal with it.
So the more open you are with them about the challenges that you face that are having an impact on what’s happening now, the better it’s going to be. And you just have to be willing to be open and transparent with that person, or they can’t really help you.
And they don’t tell you what to do. They advise you on how you can make a decision, how you can get to where you want to go, without being intrusive, and acting like the expert is going to tell you everything you need to know. Yeah,
A lot of times. if we don’t have the mental tools or mental framework to put some of the things in perspective, I was dealing Fred with a lot of “Less Than” issues that had gone back to my Dad in my childhood and teenage years, and I needed to work on those because those were manifesting themselves post the loss of my wife, where I felt Less Than, “Hey, I wasn’t able to help save her… I was I was a loser. Right? Right?”. And so it brought up all of those old feelings.
And so we did have to go back to address some of those issues because those were the ways of grief and how it was manifesting in me, which was this kind of defeatist attitude, like, oh, I had just lost lost the biggest battle of my life,
And I talk about that a bit from the other angle, which is to learn to forgive yourself. Absolutely. A lot of this is about learning to forgive ourselves. Because sometimes during our wife’s illness, we will feel looking back that we failed, that we did not get her to the best doctors, we didn’t get her to the treatment fast enough, we didn’t recognize when she was becoming ill, all of these things.
And then, of course, it’s very easy to go back even further and say, Geez, I should have been a better husband, I should have treated her better, I shouldn’t have had that argument with her. All those things. And learning to forgive yourself is just such a huge part of the healing process.
When you learn to forgive yourself AND express gratitude for the relationship, until you get these two things, you probably are still on the healing path. Those two things will get you not only on the healing path, but accelerating a little bit faster every month or two, as you begin to make these a normal part of your thinking, rather than the exceptional.
Yeah, I love that. And I love that benchmark for it – exactly what to strive for and to strive towards.
Many of us as widowers, we didn’t choose to be alone, we wouldn’t be alone under normal conditions. We like relationships. We love having that partner and many times exclusive partnerships. But now, we don’t have that.
This can lead us, because we relied on the relationship for a lot in our lives, and it was our identity in a lot of ways, to maybe get into some serious “next” relationship challenges. Talk about that please.
Well, most of the widowers I know have had this challenge. There’s some who have had such a great long relationship, and they’re in their later 70s, or 80s and they say “I’m not interested in having any more relationships”. And I’ve met some who, no matter what their age group might be, there is a drive for many of us to find a new friend. Whether it has to be a wife or not, isn’t relevant. But we need somebody in our life that we can share things with, and that we can touch and we can hold that will embrace us and support us all those things. That’s what we used to know.
Where women, you’ll notice the widows of the world. A lot of them don’t care to date. And they really get tired of it, or they are just fine just having a group of girlfriends and that’s enough for them. But guys, again, we don’t have many close friends. And so we’re kind of driven back into this and the sexual drive is still there for many of us. And it’s weird. It’s kind of like you’re friggin’ 18 years old, again, with some of the bodily reactions you start having. And it can be pretty scary mentally as well because it’s been so long since we’ve been out there.
Yeah, it’s scary. And it’s like you are a teenager again. Once you start dating again, you’ll be back in that mode that you had the first six months where you won’t be able to get sleep, and you’ll be racked with anxiety over your new girlfriend or friends. Are you saying the right things, doing the right things? What would my wife think? Would she be pissed off at me?
You don’t know what’s normal. And a lot of this is about returning to a new normalcy for you. And so I always try to, and I preach to the widowers, do not get married in the first year.
Remember that first year, no major decisions.I can’t tell you how many guys I run into that in 2,3 or 4 months after their wife has passed, they’re moving in with somebody or they’re saying “this is it….this is the new girlfriend, this is my chapter two”. And I’m going “Wait a minute, that’s a little quick, don’t you really think your mental state is in a good place to make that decision?”
Because I will tell you, at least 50% of those relationships fail, just like they do in regular marriages. And I would guess a much higher percentage. So there is a drive, and there is a need. So you just have to accept that “It is what it is”.
So what what am I going to do about it? Well, I’m going to try and protect myself by not being taken advantage of by some cute young gal showing me a picture with cleavage showing, the “go to” picture on Match.com when you don’t age group properly.
And learning how to date again, I mean, it’s so different now. And the women are so different, you know, they’re more self-confident, they’re more independent, just like we will become if we allow ourselves to wait a year or two before we get serious about anybody.
So it’s a process and you have to enter it as if you are going into a nice little experiment, I’m going to learn how to date again, I’m going to take one gal out and decide whether I want to see her a second time: just have coffee, just a glass of wine, just to enjoy yourself. Put yourself into social situations, like I joined the Breakfast Club up in my area, which is people 55 and over who and it’s about eight women for every guy. But I got used to talking to women to make a real conversation. And a couple of them, I dated and eventually dated the woman who I’m still with now five years later. So you know, it was a good opportunity for me to do this.
If you get out there and you’re thinking about who your going to sleep with right away, or who you’re going to date exclusively and marry, you are putting too much pressure on yourself. It never works. You’re too anxious all the time. You’re not who you need to be, right? So you’ve got to practice.
And I agree, get into these networking groups. For me, I love group exercise classes. I have my spin group – CycleBar family. I’ve had a couple of coffees with different people from that group. , My yoga group. Group exercise is a wonderful way to meet new women. Different hobbies are a wonderful way, and try to get the groups where they have the ratios just like you’re talking about. It tends to be less scary when you’re not in a room of 50/50, when you do have that better ratio.
And then, make it not about a date or any romantic interest whatsoever. Just go to coffee, right? And do that or lunch several times before it ever leads to dinner. I see these folks, they go into dating apps and are immediately taking someone out for a big dinner, or accepting dinner on the opposite end for a woman and I’m like “No”. It should just be a coffee date, to see if there’s any chemistry, and to make sure they’re not a serial killer!
And so, there’s no pressure with coffee and a casual meetup ,and and I think that’s the key. I’ve heard so many men struggle with the dating world when they get back to it. And it’s like, you got to take the pressure off. You’ve got to just make it about “I’m out to make friends and to meet as many people as possible”. Not as many girlfriends as possible. potential future wives as possible. None of that pressure. Right?
Yeah. And I I did that at the beginning. I mean, when I signed up for Match.com it’s like all the single gals, they know when a new guy comes on because there’s many more of them than there are of us. And I had like 10 dates in 10 days with seven different women. And some of them you go on one date and you go “Nah, not interested” so you do learn. What am I really looking for… if I do want a new friend or not. So it can be a platonic friend, or a serious romantic friend, either one.
And you learn that, well, for me, I didn’t want the gal who just talked about how she was buff, how she was running up and down in the mountains or this and that I don’t want to work out four or five hours a day, No, thank you. So you kind of eliminate the ones that don’t match what you like. You eliminate all the opportunities out there that you don’t have a chance to get, and you focus in on the ones you do have a chance to get.
You’ve got to get out there a little bit to know what you like and don’t like, and then also do some introspection. And one of the things that I did was, when I started to be more successful in dating was, I literally wrote down a list of “here’s everything that I value”, my value system, and I actually have that posted on the site: “Here is my value system”.
And then I also had a similar list of of “Here’s what I’m really looking for, in a partner”. Now, not everyone is going to check every box, and I don’t hand the form to someone and say, “Hey, fill this out,” you know, like, filling out the forms when you go to see a doctor. It doesn’t need to be like that.
But you need to do that work to know what you want and don’t want and what you value and don’t value and, and just make sure it’s all aligned that there’s alignment there. Because it is too easy to get fooled by the pretty package, and we’re all drawn to “They’re paying attention to me” kind of thing when we haven’t had a relationship for a while.
Right. Definitely some risk there. And I agree with you. Try to have that “Year” fast rule, in that you’re not going to move in, you’re not going to marry, you’re not going to get serious. That doesn’t mean you can’t be in a platonic relationship. But it does mean, you just have to make sure that you’re not over committing that first year in that decision.
One last word I’d say on this, is “Do allow that if you get out there, and you do your homework, and you kind of figure out who you are now, and kind of figure out what you’re really looking for in a woman, do allow for the times when it can strike just like it did when you were 18 years old”.
And that’s how it happened with me and my new girlfriend. You know, we’d seen each other at these events and talked to each other a couple of times. One night, we ended up sitting next to each other and talking all night.I walked out of that connection and said as I walked out, now that’s what I’m looking for. Just a really nice, sweet gal, you know, and when I dated her a couple more times, I knew this was as good as it was gonna get.
Lightning does strike.
I love that. It still can strike.
There’s a couple of books Fred, and I don’t know if you’ve read any of these, but a couple that were really helpful to me too. Because just like in the grieving process, where you want to learn or the process, I think we’ve got to learn how to date again.
And so his book Beyond Boundaries was a big one, being able to set boundaries and understand boundaries. Getting to Commitment was another book that I read, that was a really good one.
And another that I needed work on, because I tended to be “too nice of a guy” was the book No more Mr. Nice Guy. And I don’t like the title, because it’s not about being an asshole at all in a relationship. It’s just about setting boundaries and not not having someone walk all over you to the point where you’re the one that’s giving all the time, and then all of a sudden you explode six months later, because you’ve let them do that. Right?
So there are things we have to go to school on. And that’s definitely one of them is new relationships,
Fred, we can talk forever, but I know we’ve got a time limit. So what is the one piece of advice you’d like to leave our widowers, our growth warriors with today?
Well, the most important thing I tell guys, when I first talked to him is: know that this is perfectly normal, and that you are NOT going crazy. You’re gonna be okay.
But ask for help. And accept it. I know you may think you don’t need it, but I’m here to tell you, you do. And it can help.
You don’t have to go through this alone. Definitely Fred. And thank you so much.
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