When I was in my early twenties, I had one great aspiration in my life: to be a widow.
Death was foreign to me. Love even more so. I once had a pet goldfish that died, and this was the nearest I had come to loving and losing. Of course, I didn’t really love it. I tried to. I tried watching it swim and adapting some sort of feeling to its journey through its tank. I even gave it a name, Clarence, but upon second thought renamed it “Phish” because it seemed more appropriate. In the end, it was just a fish on my dresser, a piece of art that matched my orange rug. When it died, I flushed it down the toilet and felt nothing. I kept its empty aquarium in my room as a memorial, a testimony to coming close to love.
Of course, I had studied love. I had read books on intimacy and lack of intimacy, watched movies and documentaries, even researched the scientific evidence of love and romance. I knew all the different kinds: heterosexual, homosexual, asexual, pansexual, etc. Still, it eluded me.
I decided that I wanted to feel it, but not for a long period of time. Length was risky. Someone could get to really know you if they were around for long and eventually come across your flaws. I didn’t want this. Then again, I didn’t want a one-night stand either. I wanted a short-term, highly committed partnership. I wanted to share a life with someone, but a short life.
On a Friday evening, I joined a dating site called NeverLate4Luv and made my username aspiringwidow94. My profile was brief and direct: female, early thirties, aspiring widow. Practical, direct, unsentimental. Enjoys red wine and researching humanity’s latest diseases. Seeking: committed partner soon to be finishing up life. Message me if you are serious, committed, and on your way out.
By Sunday, I had received over 66 messages. Some of them were quite angry with me, especially those who were already widowers themselves. They called me a sociopath and said I had no idea what I was talking about. I replied that this was perhaps true, but this also clearly pointed out that we were not a great match.
Others asked if I wanted to meet up for casual sex, and three more asked if I was goth. No, no, and no, I replied.
In the end, there were only two that were of any interest to me. The first was a man in his late sixties who had found out the year before that he had lung cancer. I’m not looking for sex, he wrote. Just someone to be by my side during my last few months.
The second message was from a man who said he was addicted to dangerous sports. Any day might be my last, he wrote. Tomorrow I’m flying to South Africa to swim with hammerhead sharks. Fancy a drink tonight before I go?
I met with the second man first. He was ruggedly handsome with a hooked nose that had clearly been broken more than once and a mess of blonde hair.
“Why do what you do?” I asked him. “Why risk your life?”
“Call me crazy,” he said. “But I just don’t feel alive unless I’m facing death.” He winked.
The two of us slept together, and the next morning I kissed him passionately before he boarded the plane.
“It was nice knowing you, love. Maybe we can do this again if I make it through.”
I watched his plane depart through the window, trying to feel remorse or sadness, but I felt nothing, just as I had with the fish. I suppose it was too much to ask to love someone after only one night.
That evening, I met with the first man who messaged me. He had a thick head of gray hair and bony shoulders. We drank red wine and ate medium-rare steaks at a restaurant with burgundy velvet chairs. He lifted his glass in cheers, and there was an expression in his eye that was alarmingly calm for someone who knew he was on his way out. I clinked my glass against his and jokingly asked him to marry me, to which he replied with a laugh.
“I could never marry you,” he told me, his knife slicing through the meat on his plate. “You’re much too docile.”
“Docile?” I repeated.
“You know what you need?” He looked me in the eye. “You need to get your heart broken.”
“I know that,” I said. “That’s why I’m looking for someone like you.”
“That won’t break your heart,” he said. He shook his head. “No, I most certainly won’t. Besides,” he said. He placed a forkful of steak into his mouth and began chewing it, talking to me as he looked down at his plate, his hands busy with cutting the meat. “When you are on the brink of death, it begins to come clear the things you want and the things you have no patience for.”
He looked at me. “I would have no patience for you.”
I went home alone that night. The following week, the man who had gone swimming with the hammerhead sharks messaged me again to let me know he had lived. He asked if I wanted to meet him before he went bungee jumping into a crocodile den. I realized I didn’t even know his name.
I sat at the computer, staring at the screen. The words blended together. I blinked, then exited from the dating site. I pulled up the website for the local pet store and ordered two goldfish.
Aspiringwidow94 still gets messages sometimes. Neither of the goldfish have deceased.