Within a relatively short time of becoming one half of a couple, well-intentioned friends and acquaintances begin to offer advice - don’t make any important decisions too quickly, don’t spend too much time living in the past, don’t isolate yourself from the world, and many, many more.
I accepted all of the suggestions in the spirit in which they were offered - as helpful ideas to consider based on the experience of others.
When you enter a new phase of your life, especially one that wasn’t planned, you are totally unprepared. Angela used to try to get me to think about a plan B for us, what to do when we can’t continue to do everything we had always done. “Let’s think about it together”, she would offer as a point of discussion. I was always the one who resisted. “I’m not ready for that conversation, I would respond”, while feeling somewhat guilty about my unwillingness to participate. I kept reminding myself that I just needed more time to figure things out. Of course, as things turned out, I was left to figure it out on my own, something that Angela wanted to avoid.
And so, I have been listening to those wiser than I, those who have had experience. It’s these issues that change your life and challenge you to be thoughtful and wise.
Age, of course, doesn’t guarantee wisdom as we all know from experience, and what wisdom we can gather isn’t always adequate for the tasks at hand. As parents, we are accustomed to offering advice to our children, so we don’t initially think to look to them for thoughtful suggestions. They haven’t lived their lives yet, so how can they know what to offer as an option for us to consider? Besides, they’re busy with work and family responsibilities, why would you want to bother them?
But, eventually, you find that the questions that you ask and the problems that you identify probably have solutions that will come from multiple sources, including all of the above.
I have found it helpful and useful to listen to advice from friends and acquaintances, their experience informs me and helps me not only to decide what I might want to do, but also to eliminate those things I know that I don’t want to do.
One of the problems is that you have to try to figure out next steps while you are moving forward with your new circumstances; something akin to trying to change a tire on a moving vehicle.
What have I learned so far? It’s better to make decisions together rather than to leave one person with the responsibility to do it alone. It’s alright to just do nothing until you’re ready to do something. It’s always going to be difficult to do the things alone that you always did together. It’s important to involve your family in your decisions and even ask for advice, even though it may seem like a reversal of roles.
It’s probably always going to feel strange and it’s probably always going to be awkward for you to be alone in social situations. You will probably always be just a little bit lonely, and alone with others.
You will have downtime, you will have periods when you really feel as though you have lost your purpose and you will probably always yearn in some way, for the life you had.
But again, I see parallels in other life-altering situations. Retiring from a lifetime of working can cause a similar personal crisis; what do you do with yourself now that you don’t have to go to work every day? In much the same way that we define ourselves as half of a couple while married, we also define ourselves by the work we do. All these situations that may cause a reshuffling of our status in life will undoubtedly require a reassessment of our definition of normal.
Life changes are almost never welcome or invited, but they always happen, so we need to be ready to adapt and figure out how to live the best life that we can.