Before I met Paul, I was one of those habitually single people and quite happy that way. I did what I wanted when I wanted. I never had to consider the thoughts, opinions, likes, or dislikes of someone else. In the first few months after we got married, changing my habits was very difficult. I had to learn how to make joint decisions for the first time and I had to remember to get input from someone else on what to make for dinner, what colour throw pillows to get for the couch, and where to hang what pieces of art on the walls. It was so hard to do and caused so much frustration on both of our parts.
Note: This post was originally shared on my “widowhood” blog, “Frances 3.0: Still in Beta”.
After a few months, I got used to consulting Paul on these issues and more. I found that I really valued his opinion and actually wanted to do things that would make him happy. From the way I wore my hair (within reason) to the clothing I chose, I got his input. Dinner menus were decided together as was the placement of furniture and the colour of our guest towels. Even when I knew he’d go with whatever I wanted, I got in the habit of discussing options before making a move.
When Paul first died I found it difficult to make any decisions. There was no one around to confirm that I was making the right choice or to complain that I was making the wrong one. I couldn’t decide what to make for dinner or where to file that important paperwork. I couldn’t decide if I liked the look of that jacket or if I wanted to cut my hair or grow it even longer. From the simple and mundane to the complex and exciting, I just didn’t know what I wanted without Paul’s influence and input.
A few months after he died I started to make decisions again; out of necessity more than desire. Some of those decisions were simple enough: what I would wear to the office that day; what I would eat for dinner; what I would watch on television. Others were quite difficult: how I would have my hair cut; what new sweater I would buy; what new gadget to purchase. But the more I began to make decisions, the more confident I became with them.
Once I was back in decision-making mode, I found that I still stopped to ponder what Paul would say; how Paul would react. I found myself choosing the clothes that he would have chosen for me, getting my hair cut the way he liked it, and even picking foods that I knew he’d like. This goes in that drawer or cupboard; that goes on this shelf. Can’t put that there because it’s too cluttered; don’t use that thing for that purpose. And I followed that guidance, even though he wasn’t here to roll his eyes when I did it my way.
Of course, some things have changed. As I look around now, I know that Paul wouldn’t like that I’ve put a second vase on the mantle place. He wouldn’t like the way I’ve re-stacked some of the books on the shelf. He wouldn’t like it that my handbag is habitually stashed on top of the dining room table with my coat on the back of the chair. But none of these things bothers me, so it’s what I do.
Recently, I cut my hair in a way that I know Paul wouldn’t like. Not because he wouldn’t like it, but because I wanted a change. I bought a green sweater that I know Paul would hate, but I love it. I watch what I want to watch on television – and don’t give it a second thought anymore. It’s my choice of music, my choice of dinner, and my choice on how high to set the thermostat. I’ve bought the gadgets that I want and I’ve rearranged a few things in the kitchen. I’ve started to park the car at the front of the house (it’s easier for me) and to check the mail at the post office only when (and if) I feel like it.
I’m not doing these things out of spite, although on occasion I stop to think about how much Paul would cringe with some of my decisions. I’m doing these things because they make me happy – because they are things that I like for one reason or another, or because they fit my mood at the time. Part of me feels guilty for being so selfish, but another part feels that I need to do what I want because it’s all about me these days.
I miss having Paul help me with decisions. I miss dressing to please Paul. And I miss doing things that I know would make Paul happy, even if I would prefer something slightly different. Compromise isn’t something I need to think about these days though. I only need to think about what I want. It’s hard to be so self-centred in my decision making after all of this time, but I will get used to it eventually.