From Hungover Widow to Available As Is, Debbie Weiss
This week, I’m speaking with Debbie Weiss. When Debbie lost her childhood sweetheart at 50, she was forced to take a look at her life and start asking what SHE needed to be happy. When she finally started dating again, she found that many of the men she encountered weren’t it – and there were enough “schmucks” out there (her word, not mine!) to write a book about it…
For more on Debbie and to order Available As Is: A Midlife Widow’s Search for Love:
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/debbieweissauthor/
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On The Second Chapter, serial careerist and founder of Slackline Productions, Kristin Duffy, chats with women who started the second (or third… or fifth!) chapter in their careers and lives, after 35. You’ll find inspiring stories, have a few laughs, and maybe even be motivated to turn the page on your own second chapter!
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This week, I'm speaking with Debbie Weiss. When Debbie lost her childhood sweetheart at 50, she was forced to take a look at her life and start asking what she needed to be happy. When she finally started dating again, she found that many of the men she encountered weren't it. And there were enough schmucks out there.
Her word, not mine to write a book about it.[:[:[:[:
Sorry to start on such a down note. But could you tell us a little bit about that?[:
I'd sit outside the door. I couldn't tell my dad's like, leave her alone. Don't don't bother her. And then one night he said we're going to the hospital. And that was a few months before, a couple, a few weeks actually before my 10th birthday. He never took me back in again. And then, you know, over the next few weeks, I'd hear, oh, I'd say, mom, where's mom obviously.
And he'd say well, she's in the hospital. She's not doing that well, And then finally, one day he took me out and he said, she's probably gonna die. And um, he was crying. I'm crying, talking about this. I can't believe it. And um, I said, I know she's already dead. I could just tell from his voice. And so she died four days before my 10th birthday.
And I found out later he hadn't taken me to the hospital because she'd had a heart attack when she was in there. So he didn't want me to see her like.[:[:
And he was always pretty gruff and stern. It seemed to me when I was a kid. So when his voice was breaking. And his face was crumpling. I could tell. And also he said, mommy, I remember that too. Cuz my parents always talked to me like I was a little grown up. So when he said your mommy, that was it.
Cuz he was seeing me as a child then.[:[:[:[:
George is older man of 11. His mom introduced. George was such a well behaved little boy shaking hands in his little black swimsuit. I saw his model train set. He was just so cute. And then over the years we got thrown together at various family events. And we finally clicked when I was 17 and he was 21.
I was a senior in high school. He was a senior at UC Berkeley, majoring in engineering, and we started dating and it last.[:[:[:[:
And then, I joke that. I hated high school.
I was bullied in junior high, and I think that kids who wanna become control freak, who are control, freaks, become lawyers. I was basically pretty much of a control freak, and law seemed a good way to work with that.[:[:[:[:
And we all wanted to buy homes. Real estate in California was not as crazy then. And somehow we wanted nice cars and we wanted security. So I looked into the law as something that worked with my skillset that would give me a lot of options. It was designed for that. I didn't have an adventurous spirit and I don't think the people I knew then were like the millennials I see now who are more into adventure, which I actually really admire.[:
now I'm back to that. I didn't expect to come all the way, you know, full circle, but there was this kind. I want this really creative, cool career, but I also need to make money, which I remember being such a driving thing and being similarly, I am very English driven, very creativity, driven, all of this kind of stuff.
And it was always what do you do that can make you money? So I do obviously wanna talk about George and and how your relationship continued, is the best way to put it.So:[:
He said, or later you're not gonna have women friends. So it was interesting as even back then he got the idea that I would need women, friends which I think is interesting. I did wanna break up with George actually my first year of college, because I wanted to be free to go to parties and not even necessarily meet boys, but I wanted to be free and I wanted to have a more college kind of experience, but nothing really gelled.
And George was pretty strong. I remember he physically carried me out of a fraternity party once it was really cute. It was like officer and a gentle. I'd said I was gonna go to a party with girlfriends. I'd come home. I was late. Remember I was 18 looking back. I'm not thrilled with myself, but I was 18.
I was on the UC Berkeley campus. He came in, said hi to everybody. He was a super friendly, nice guy was a sweetheart. Put me over his shoulder, carried me out like an officer and the gentleman. And it was just so cute. And I was, I matured pretty quickly after that, by the time I was 20. I was pretty sure I was going to law school and that I, my life was with George.
I never really got to go through that phase, but it also passed.[:
And I guess this is why I brought your mom up at the beginning as well. But you have this potential to stay in that. I don't wanna say childhood romance cuz it's not, but you grow up, you wanna be with that person and the relationship that's the relat.[:
And that you are with the same person you've been with. So you don't do different kinds of things. You don't see yourself on your. Maybe you don't change that much from the person that your partner sees you as, right? Like your person, if you married so young, your husband saw you a certain way. So you probably saw yourself that way, even though you were young.[:
Was it just something scary to talk about almost.[:
He was an 800 S a T math kid. He was national merit scholar. So we were just these nerdy folks and. I don't know that we really saw ourselves as parents. I've wondered if I'd married somebody else who really wanted to have kids. If I would've possibly seen myself as a parent, but I think I still always saw myself as these people's daughter, this daughter-in-law this wife.
So it didn't feel that plus I was practicing law and I just didn't have the bandwidth,[:
Cats is 10 years younger than me. and I was like, I'm not sure if I do because same thing, just spent so much time, not really. Growing. I don't wanna say I wasn't growing up. I'm a full-fledged adult. I've done, very adult things, but yeah I was for a long time somebody's daughter, somebody's wife and yeah.
In a weird way that responsibility level always seemed a bit scary.[:
So that, that might be part of it. But I also think at another level that maybe not all women feel that deep urge to have children. I think of getting beyond the scope of this show, but it's something I certainly read. You know that not everybody feels those urges and that's good. That's okay.[:
And I think that. That's a huge thing that we should be talking about as women. So it's not beyond the scope at all. And I agree with you, if I can't even take of a tear of a dog, I might not have a maternal instinct.[:
And I would just throw so many obstacles down, but I think if I'd had a real urge to have children. I could have worked with it, but somehow it seemed insurmountable. So I'm thinking that it was more that I just didn't have that deep maternal urge[:[:
And it was an insurance defense firm and it was extremely sexist. One more time, extremely sexist. There were no women partners. When I left, there were a couple, but they were non equity, which means they could get kicked out and they did for no good reason. The first time I went to court, this old judge guy just yelled at me and now I would laugh.
I'd think, okay, he's a Dick. But then I was just mortified. It was hostile. I joked that I left law because people got to be mean to me all day. I don't like working in an adversarial setting. I'm not a gladiator. Back then, I wasn't as strong as I am now to deal with things like that, but I really didn't enjoy it.
I'd worked there well for 11 years, I was very stressed. I don't do well in stress and I asked to take a three month, take the summer off, take an unpaid sabb. Again, after 11 years, three months off unpaid sabbatical. And I didn't do a lot of litigation at that point I have, but I was doing things that were more giving opinions.
So I didn't have a lot of deadlines. And they said, no, you can't take an unpaid sabbatical. And George said, great, you quit tomorrow. We're done.[:[:d, if you quit right. We can [:
We, we did fine on his salary and, I don't know. I've had doubts like, oh, I was a bad feminist for leaving the workforce,[:
I also think being, in a firm that was so sexist and being miserable is not very feminist either to be.[:[:[:[:[:[:[:
He would not deal with this before Quicken has shipped and said, Quicken has shipped. I'm going to the hospital tomorrow. All right. People don't usually choose that, but um, was that okay? Maybe he was getting a physical and then he came home and said, they're running tests. And I said, I don't know what that means.
He said, I don't either. We're waiting a week, but we did if I recall it was an extremely long week and then he came home and he said I've got metastasized male breast cancer. And. The next thing he said is I will always tell you the truth, but I'm gonna be the only one who talks to you about it.[:[:[:
I'm gonna call the doctor right now or you.[:
I mean, Had a brain. No, right now I would say, no, this is, I'm not gonna be, I don't need to be involved in every single thing, but I'm gonna find out what's going on. I'm gonna go be on Google. I'm gonna talk to the doctor, this not happening.[:[:
I was always really concerned, but he functioned just as he always had. He just, didn't have hair and didn't look, always look perfect, he functioned, he kept working. He drove himself to, and from chemo, he made it pretty easy for me to think everything was okay.[:[:n, he started to really, his [:
The cancer started to win. I should also add that, you know, I went, through his medical records. I looked at everything. I read everything. I Googled everything. It was just kind of secret. Looking back. I can't believe it, but I think and I go into this book, he was in denial about having cancer.
He was working, living normally. And I also felt that if that's what's keeping him going, I will be his cheerleader.[:[:
Again, he was working pretty all the time. I couldn't really get him to take much time off, but I wanted to protect him living the way he wanted to live. I think that I felt like at the time that was the best thing I could do for him was protect what he wanted to do.
If he was coding at the time Quicken for cloud, that was very innovative. If that was gonna be his legacy, then okay. If he wanted to be cooking meals together, All that then that's what we were gonna do.[:
I love your name of the blog, the hungover widow. I think, there's a lot of people that could probably relate to that name, but what inspired you following his death to start writing?[:
I didn't really see a lot of writing that talked about how I felt and including the anger and the drinking Manhattans, and then not doing anything productive.[:[:[:[:In:[:
I've been in tears several times, but also some of the dates and things that you went on when you finally started dating again, have had me, sometimes shuttering in fear, sometimes laughing out loud. So tell me a little bit about the.[:[:[:
So that's kind of what came into the forefront. And it was just crazy. I was meeting these ridiculous characters and my life felt like a Fellini movie, not a very, not one of his best with this sort of bizarre group of people who said these things that made no sense to me. And they really seem like characters in a book, so I decided to start writing about it.
And then from there I got an editor and when you get someone critiquing your work, people say go deeper, more interiority. That was what my MFA professor said, which means reveal more of your emotions. What were you really thinking? So from there, I got past some of the dating stuff to what was really so hard.
What was my marriage really like? that was the hard part. I had a really great editor. She's a famous author fiction writer. And at one point I did a review of the book that she'd suggested, and I was all done. And this is good. This looks very nicely written. And she said, you know, you've missed the point.
You've completely idealized your marriage. You need to talk about what it was like to never grow up and to have that kind of marriage. So that was, that was hard.[:[:
I still don't. But I looked at what do I wanna do or what kind of life do I wanna have? And those question. The answer actually revealed themselves to me very slowly because it took me years to get over the death. I think that's another thing is people don't talk about is how long it takes to return to yourself or a different self after loss.
People seem to think it's something you can just go through, but after losing George for a while, I did start to think about what do I wanna do? I'm really isolated. I don't have women friends. So it's like, well, what are you gonna do with that? I don't have a lot of hobbies while I have to go out and start doing some different things.
I'd never left the us. George hadn't wanted to travel. So I started to do a few UC alumni tour group things. Actually, his parents took me on my first trip abroad, which was kind of them to say well, I should probably look at the world a little bit more[:[:
So that, that changed. And I also, I think I like to think I became a. Authentic less judgey person with more potential for happiness.[:[:
And that's something I would I'd want to share with other people who were putting off living their dreams or the things they really wanna do for work, because they think there's more time but there might not be. And my current partner, I do have a new partner of four years. Now we look at our lives a little differently and not think, oh, we have this whole future.
We're also average age 60 right now, but we're also looking at. There isn't like this, you can't just put off having the life that you want or the things that you wanna do,[:
And he was so like, oh, that's gonna take a long time. I can't take the time off work. And obviously we didn't stay together But I mean, I just feel like I always thought the same. I would always say you don't know what's gonna happen.
You don't know what's gonna happen in life. You don't know what's gonna happen to physical fitness. Things like that. You have to do them while you still have the chance.[:[:[:[:[:[:[:[:[:
but both of them were very similar to me in the way they treated me and their attitudes about me as being this naive, stupid widow.tudes of two men who were on [:[:[:
And it's like, that's great for you cuz you could get laid very quickly once a week, but it doesn't do much for me. And I was really shocked. Nobody had any idea or interest in what I wanted. And they seemed to think that they could bull me over with oh, but will be exclusive.
It's like, that's not such a prize. I mean, I was a pretty unevolved woman when my husband died. But E even I knew that in this day and age exclusivity, isn't the ultimate gift. And it isn't a thing that women have to.[:[:[:[:
I'm not happy I can get in my car. I can drive myself home. I have agency. So that was, it was a gift in that way. But no, none of these things were good. None of these things were good. My late husband was a software engineer. I just wanna say, these were bugs, not features.[:[:[:
I know I'm going along with this, but it's not.[:
Anyway, they have a beautiful home in a successful career and they wanna be exclusive. And they're hitting all the check marks that I should want. And so I didn't trust my instincts. And that's what I would tell a listener right now. If someone said what would you do differently? I'd say, trust your instincts.
You meet this guy. He thinks he's a schmuck. You don't like him. He's not gonna change. Your instincts are just fine. And that's something I learned through this process.[:[:[:[:
He cares about our home. He's very loyal, but on the other hand, one thing that I have been able to do. Over time is to turn off the Georgia meter because I love my George, but he was a pretty old fashioned kind of guy. So I can, I can, I can also quiet him.[:[:[:[:[:[:[:
But I, like I said, it made me laugh. I've cried. I think it's, I think it's such an amazing book and definitely out of everything that you said in it, if you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting fresh, whether it's after loss or in their career, what would that piece of advice.[:
And if you're lonely, figure out how to do it with other people.[:[:[:[:[:[:
You just have to be interested in it.[:[:
This is what there is. No, it isn't, don't settle for things you don't want.[:
So I definitely think, if she found the right person, that might be something, but she's never gonna settle for what she doesn't want.[:
I know a lot of women, my age, who are simply I've raised my children, men are children. I don't want another child. I'm done,[:[: