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I’d been with Neil for 16 years when he died.
I would say it was love at first sight. He would smile and say “we got on okay”. I was pregnant with twins within two years of us meeting – which came as a surprise, but our girls couldn’t have been more loved. We made time for us, and for romance with date nights amid the chaos of a young family. Neil was always there for all of us.
The pain of his loss was searing. Our twin daughters, by then 13, were my only priority. Once I was widowed, I was lonely for a long time – but lonely for no-one else but Neil. I was grieving for the intimacy we’d known in a fulfilling sex life and couldn’t bear the thought of anyone taking his place. We both loved sex, and would laugh about how suited we were as we navigated the demands of a young family to find time for each other.
Nobody understood. Friends nagged me to give dating a go, and my support group of young widows and widowers told me of ‘widow’s fire’, a supposed attraction to lots of people, with flames of yearning often raging.
I understood their longing for being close, for that skin-to-skin feeling that had been ripped from us. I empathised with the joy and release of orgasm, or just the chance to lose yourself in the enjoyment of sex. Some, I thought, were undoubtedly using sex to escape the pain of bereavement – though I would never judge any woman for quelling their widow’s fire, just as I would never judge anyone for enjoying a lively and fun sex life.
“Before him, I’d had several boyfriends and experienced one-night stands – which only seemed to damage my self-esteem more than they boosted it.”
But I didn’t envy them. I put this down to the fact that I’d settled down quite late, meeting Neil when I was 28. Before him, I’d had several boyfriends and experienced one-night stands – which only seemed to damage my self-esteem more than they boosted it. Grief hugely knocked my confidence, and I considered a fleeting liaison a toxic prospect.
It was seven years before I returned to dating. I selected ‘nothing serious’ on my dating profile. This was a big mistake. Some men told me I looked a lot younger than 50. Others asked if I would watch them pleasure themselves, perform oral sex in a lay-by, or meet at a motorway service station so they could smack my bum. Would I let them sniff my underwear or my feet? Would I take a picture in my toilet?
It was often vile, a Wild West without the horses. Sex still wasn’t my motivation: I wanted companionship. On my first date, a man told me how wonderful his not yet ex-wife was, then asked me back to his hotel room. I declined. On the next, the man exposed himself in his car. “I thought you’d like it,” he said, shrugging, when I protested.
I found it all far too soulless and depressing. I was terrified of sex, and pushed any thought of it out of my mind. I was scared of breaking down, crying. I’d read this could happen and felt I needed someone who understood the enormity of this. I wasn’t going to risk anything with some chancer off a dating site. I felt a responsibility to get it right, and avoid more emotional pain from making the wrong choice.
“I didn’t cry. It felt right. It didn’t feel like the massive deal step I’d imagined – I was happy and laughing when we first took tentative intimate steps.”
Still, I went back to the dating sites some months later. I ended up seeing a lovely man who was gentle and caring – but it transpired emotional health issues hindered his sex drive. I was devastated – I never got a chance to see if I’d break down like I feared.
Our relationship remained unconsummated but our split remembered how important sex was to me. After weeks of dodging feckless potential partners back online I met Simon, an intelligent man and a breath of fresh air. When I kissed him on the cheek at the end of our date, he was so surprised he jumped. He had gone more than a decade without a physical relationship after his divorce.
We took things slowly and helped each other to be ourselves, to remember what we love. Simon held me tenderly as I knew he would. I didn’t cry. It felt right. It didn’t feel like the massive deal step I’d imagined – I was happy and laughing when we first took tentative intimate steps, there was no thought of breaking down. Sure, I was a little emotional but that was because I knew I was loved and secure. We’ve now been together two years and laugh lots, both in bed and out of it.
If you’re reading this because you’ve been widowed and contemplating a physical relationship, I’ve learned the most important thing is to go at your own pace. Don’t feel pressured into anything, either while dating or from well-meaning friends who don’t understand why you’re scared to get back out there. Looking for love after loss isn’t easy, it can be fraught and complicated, but I know it can turn out okay. The best thing you can do is relax, do what feels right for you. It’s your life, and nobody else’s.
Linda Aitchison is a journalist and agency owner. Follow her on Twitter at @LindaAitchison
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