It’s now 18 months since Rosie passed. Alongside grief it’s been a journey of discovering the new Ian James. A great deal has happened since I last posted on my blog… Rosie’s birthday, the first anniversary of her death and funeral, Merryn and Liam’s wedding in December (a very special day laced with the sadness of Rosie’s absence), a second Christmas without her, then our wedding anniversary. It’s commonly said the ‘firsts’ are the toughest… in my experience some of the ‘seconds’ are harder.
The journey is unique to each person losing a loved one… two steps forward, one or more steps back. No‑one told me I may also feel stuck, not moving forward or back… months of this was the most difficult of all.
Nonetheless, with encouragement and support from my wonderful family, close friends, and a professional counsellor skilled in cutting to the core of key issues, my life has undoubtedly moved forward.
Standing on the threshold…
Of nine cruises to date this is my first without Rosie. Alongside times of sadness, I’m experiencing excitement, and even joy (something new for me!).
I always knew I’d cruise again… somehow it’s part of my healing process and a step in finding out who I am now. Far from being on my own I’m travelling with three people I’m very close to and love spending time with… my daughter Liesel, grandson Flynn and my honorary daughter Alexis.
There’s another reason this cruise is significant… I believe it’s time to initiate a new phase of life. Tonight I’m beginning an exciting and scary adventure… I’m going to ‘dip my toe in the water’ and go to a Singles event!
While much needs to happen before I’ll consider a serious relationship, it’s time to learn afresh what this aspect of life entails. My last ‘date’ was over 35 years ago… no doubt women, the times, and myself have all changed a great deal.
I have no doubt if Rosie’s watching she’ll be cheering me on. She frequently encouraged me to find a new partner after she was gone… in typical fashion she’d have enthusiastically given me her list of ‘suitable candidates’ had I let her! I politely but firmly refused… this part of life is mine alone to figure out!
Landing on the ground…
Fast-forward a few hours…
The Singles event is over (but my heart is still racing)! Thankfully on returning to the cabin I had two very supportive daughters eager for me to ‘spill the beans’…
The venue for the event was a dimly lit bar on the ship. I arrived a little early, ordered a drink and sat on my own in one of four empty chairs around a table. I chose the seat that was under a downlight… no point hiding my presence! I made sure I had a good view of the room… no point being unable to see others!
Shortly the host stood up and introduced the event. He encouraged people to mingle around the room and talk to one another, indicating excitedly that the process might result in one being ‘lucky’.
That was it!! No group activities, no ‘get to know you games’… just take the initiative and go for it!
So I did. Surprisingly I felt no hesitation. I stood up with my ‘security beer’ in hand, walked to a nearby table and introduced myself to the two women there. What ensued was an hour of intense, enthusiastic discussion as the three of us ‘put ourselves out there’.
Marilyn and Ruth (not their real names) were chalk and cheese from one another. Marilyn was somewhat older and her face told the story of a tough life. Ruth was about my age… her face and appearance were pleasant but gave little away.
Marilyn talked a lot and risked dominating the conversation… we heard more about her friends than who she was herself. It was very clear from the outset that there was no chemistry happening here.
Ruth was a counsellor dealing with people in very difficult life circumstances. She loves her work and was clearly a caring, compassionate person. She mentioned she’d been a pastor… interesting. The three of us then covered a range of topics… work, family, a little of the history leading us to the event. I sensed some potential chemistry with Ruth.
At the 40 minute mark Marilyn announced she needed to leave for a few minutes (relief!) and I took the opportunity to pursue Ruth’s pastor role. I soon learned she was a very enthusiastic woman of faith whose current passion is studying all the arguments proving that her beliefs are true; her motivation being to inform “lapsed believers” so they have no option but to believe again.
Having revealed earlier I had intentionally moved away from faith, Ruth’s spoke of me as one of these lapsed believers, unknowingly labeling and judging me in the process. (I find it very sad when people acting out of genuine love and compassion are unable to see how alienating and disrespectful this is to those who don’t share their particular beliefs.)
I told her with integrity that I was well beyond such ‘proofs’ and experienced great freedom as a result, having left behind a faith that had bound, confined and tormented me (my own experience, but not necessarily that of others).
Quite clearly the chemistry developing earlier in the conversation had now vanished.
Marilyn had returned by this point so I warmly thanked them both and said I was taking the opportunity to join another conversation.
Before I could move it was all over. The host stood up, thanked everyone, and announced he will ‘spice it up a little!’ at the next event. Oh wow, I can hardly wait, not! I probably will attend, but not for the reasons he seemed to be implying.
It was a relief to finish. An hour of intense conversation and high adrenaline was exhausting.
Was it worth it?
Absolutely. It was a healthy first step and a valuable learning experience. I had no expectation of an instant connection and felt no disappointment. It was a great confidence boost knowing I had the courage to go and had initiated a conversation without hesitation.
So where to from here?
Thoughtfully and carefully is the way to go…
As I’ve moved forward the benefits of being single have become more apparent. I don’t want to rush into a new lifelong partnership because it’s “the thing to do”. The freedom I now have to invest myself in a wide range of life possibilities is not to be taken lightly.
Balancing this is awareness that developing a number of close (not necessarily romantic) friendships with women (as I currently have with some great blokes) will add a new richness to my life. In time a romantic relationship will likely emerge out of one of these. I think for me a committed, loving partnership is ultimately the best place to be… being on my own long-term is not a wise option. I am inherently relationship orientated and know I have the capacity to give and receive a great deal on many levels.
As a ‘mature man’ in my fifties I’d like to think my maturity will protect me from emotion carrying me away should a woman who ‘presses my buttons’ appear. Life has taught me however that emotions can easily highjack rational thinking in decisions big and small. A steady hand is needed on the steering wheel, especially if strong attraction and passion take hold!
Finally, there’s another trap I want to avoid. Actively seeking a new relationship is not just about me! It’s not all about getting what I want and need. Relationships involve two people. Both need to care for and respect one another as they learn about each other. Committing to become partners, should this be the outcome, needs to be life-giving for both.
My motto from here is…
Be bold, be gentle and caring… and enjoy the fun and richness of life!