I'll start by thanking the She Explores podcast (if you don't listen already, you should start) and the guest on episode 41, Amanda Machado, for sparking this post idea. To inadequately summarize the episode, Amanda was struggling to reconcile her love of the outdoors with her identity as a Latina (full article here). The big picture idea is feeling out of place (culturally, in Amanda's case) in a location/sphere/space where you were never well-represented before and/or don't feel welcome because you aren't the "typical" hiker/mother/astronaut/whatever that is arbitrarily shown in the mainstream.
“I wanted someone to give me permission for that kind of stuff. I felt like I needed to hear from lots of people that it’s okay to do it and I think that was probably what restricted me from doing it for a really long time. I wish that I would have just done it without permission from anybody. To just trust that eventually by doing it I’m going to meet all these other people who do it as well. And will validate that it’s not weird or crazy or doesn’t make you strange. And that it’s totally normal and wonderful to do these things anyways.”
You may think this is a bit of a stretch, but I immediately related to her experience as "other" in the outdoors based on my experience as "other" in world of grief (no, I am not equating them). I am not your typical widow (yeah, I just said widow). I wasn't married, I didn't have kids, I wasn't of an advanced age. From the moment Mark died, I felt like I'd been widowed. But as soon as my brain used that word, I flinched. I told myself not to say it out loud, I didn't want the shit storm to be worse than it already was. On the worst day of my life I was more concerned with how people outside our relationship would react. How fucked up is that?
From day one, Mark and I fought for the legitimacy of our relationship. For external validation from numerous people that would never come. I didn't truly accept the impossibility of that task until Mark was gone. It was made painfully and abundantly clear that acceptance would never come. I've since spent the year dancing around that word. It is an ugly and exhausting dance that I have performed in support groups and counselors' offices, at my job and among friends. Hell, even basic adult paperwork these days includes a question on marital status. Who am I, unmarried person with dead partner, to lay claim to the widow mantle and all that comes with it?
I'm not one to have a strong backbone most days. I do care too much about what people think and I waste an inordinate amount of time making decisions, large and small, because I wonder who will judge me. Grown-ass woman, still insecure as hell. More often that I would like to admit, I let that fear of judgement steer the ship. I would rather have everyone like me or approve of me than live my own GD life. I've gotten better in the last year (that happens when you run low on fucks to give) but only with the smaller choices that don't seem important anymore. That ends today. I'm a fucking widow.
I don't need permission from his family, my family, or my friends to be a widow. I certainly don't need (or want it) from anyone who has never lost their significant other. If you knew us, you knew we were it for each other. You know that my age has no bearing on me "finding love again." There is no "at least you weren't..." there is only "I will never get to." The fact that we never had the piece of paper that serves as the sole measurement for legitimate relationship status in this country no longer matters to me. If you disagree, feel free to go kick rocks because I don't need you in my life anymore.
Beyond what I am giving myself permission for today, I wanted this to serve as a blanket permission slip to anyone reading to do (or not do) whatever has been weighing on your heart. Whatever you afraid to do, say, be, or think because it is scary or other or a path different from the rest. Dearest person, you hereby have permission to:
Don't have kids
Don't get married
Be happily single (yes, that is a thing!)
Take that crazy trip
Register for that intimidating race
Take that class to start learning that hobby/skill/trade
Quit the job that eats your soul
Take the job that pays less but fills your heart
Go camping/hiking/climbing alone
Go minimal and get rid of most of your material possessions
Fill your home with items that give you joy and comfort
Live in a van and hit the open road
Stay happy right where you are
End that toxic relationship with your friend/coworker/family member
This is a woefully short and surface level list of what you have permission to do. If the only thing holding you back is permission, and this thing would make you happy and will not cause irreparable harm to others, the wait is over. I know it won't be easy. If these were easy choices to make we would have made them already. I fully expect fallout from this post but the weight lifted off of me is beyond worth the risk. If you want to share what you've been waiting to get permission for, I'd love to know. For now, I will leave you with these words from She Explores host Gale Straub:
"We so often look around us for permission to take a risk, when we just might not find it within our close circles. Amanda’s advice? Take the risk, with or without external approval."