03/11/2013 07:57 am ET Updated May 11, 2013

Fill 'Er Up? No Thanks!: Why It Is Impossible To Fill Another Person's 'Shoes'

I can think of a lot of things that need filling up at one time or another. Some of those things might include:

** A bank account
** A gas tank
** A martini glass

Now... do you know what definitely does not need "filling"?

Somebody else's shoes

Call it anthropological curiosity. Call it abject boredom. Whatever the reason, a couple of years ago, I found myself watching a "How in the hell did this get so popular" television show, wherein the object of this long-running program is to meet someone, ostensibly fall in love and commit to a lifetime of marriage; all within a time span of approximately eight to 10 weeks... but not before participating in ridiculous "challenges" and competitions (presumably to impress the person doing the choosing) and thereafter behaving in what can only be described as a highly inappropriate manner with at least a dozen other people while on national television.

I am clearly not a fan.

However, while watching on this particular evening, my heart did go out to a young man participating on the show who had decided to venture back into the world of possibilities after losing his wife. The young lady for whose affection the gentleman was competing (yes...competing) listened to his tragic story of the death of his young bride and in response, looked balefully at him, let out a sigh and not-so-sympathetically groaned, "Boy, I would have some big shoes to fill".

(Now there's a way to let someone know how sorry you are for their loss -- think about and actually voice how this heartbreaking situation affects you).

It was only mere moments later that this same young man who had courageously stepped out in faith and back into the dating world was unceremoniously booted off of the show.

(While they may refer to the boot-off as a "ceremony", in point of fact, it is nothing more than public humiliation set to contrived, apocalyptic, horror-movie-reject music.)

Fast-forward to the young man being whisked away in a car, a dejected look on his face and wondering aloud why he had even bothered trying to find love again. My immediate concern was that he would take the aforementioned young lady at her word (because after all, who is going to fill his late wife's shoes?) and will retreat to a place of raw grief and mourning, genuinely believing that there will be no love or happiness in his future.

All because one ill-advised and unintentionally insensitive person felt that they could not "fill the shoes" of a late spouse.

I grant you that I would not have recommended going onto a nationally televised show as a first (or second or tenth) foray back into the World of Dating and Love. However, the potential for souring on living and loving post-loss and the message that this particular show sent made me ask myself:

What about filling those "shoes"?

When I made the decision to begin dating two years after my husband's death, at no time did I pull out any figurative shoes for anyone else to try and fill. Why? Because...

People are not replaceable

I certainly would not want to be compared to anyone else. I wouldn't want someone to open a fashion magazine, point out a tall, willowy, brunette and ask, "Why can't you be like her?". Unlike our young lady on the television show, I would also never look at someone and make a remark on how I would have "big shoes to fill"... because in contrast to what was being said on the television show, the actual reality (as opposed to "television reality") is that... repeat after me:

People are not replaceable

The very expression, "filling shoes" is a poorly disguised way of either making comparisons to or outright expecting someone new to be exactly like someone's predecessor. Quite simply, people cannot be replaced, nor can they be compared one against the other. It is patently unfair to draw any comparisons between a late or previous spouse or partner and anyone who is currently or may become a part of your life. It is for this reason that I was never interested in filling anyone's shoes, nor was I interested in attempting to fill my late husband's shoes (code for "legacies") with someone new.

After nine years of widowhood, I was blessed to have found love with a man who never once expected me to replace or "fill the shoes" of any of his predecessors, nor did he once try to replace or "fill the shoes" of anyone that was a part of my previous life. My Dave came complete with his own fabulous "shoes" (i.e., his legacies) and expected the same of me -- nothing more and nothing less. Neither one of us is now -- or was -- ever expected to allegorically put on and clomp around in anyone's ill-fitting, not-quite-right shoes... because the fact is that none of us are capable of replacing any other individual.

And we should not be expected to do so.

Whether you unreasonably expect it of yourself or you expect it of another, attempting to replace a person who is no longer in your life (for whatever reason) is yet another way of holding up an invisible "yardstick"-- the yardstick that no one will ever quite measure up to or against. Do not expect anyone that comes into your life to replace a loved one -- or "fill their shoes". It is impossible and it cannot be demanded. Companionship and love is not about any kind of competition (be it for someone's affections or with a past life); it is not comparison-shopping and it is certainly not about metaphorical shoe-filling. Instead, revel in the uniqueness that is you, as well as the person or people that you welcome into your life, now and going forward.

In other words, the only shoes that you should ever be interested in filling... are your own.

Carole's latest book, "Happily Even After..." has been selected as a finalist for the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award. For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit

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