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Friday, 24 February 2012

Elders Living Alone

There was a lot of response yesterday at The New York Times about the living alone story where I was mentioned and many commenters there said that none of us who were interviewed were particularly “quirky” as the headline claims.

They are correct but the difficulty lies with the headline writer trying to make the story “sexier” than it is and failing. Other than that distraction, I enjoyed reading about the other people in the story and the responses in the comments. Oh, wait. I do want to call out the ageism of a Times reader named Shannon from Raleigh, North Carolina who wrote,

“For the 70-year-old lady, forgetting to close the bathroom door when she has guests over seems to be a product of old age, not living alone. I would die of embarrassment.”

First, I do not “forget” to close the bathroom door. It's a choice; I don't see the point of closing it when I'm home alone. But always, in our culture, anything slightly out of the ordinary in old people is identified up as a failing. Shannon's assumption is that I leave the bathroom door open because I'm stupid, demented or at best, addled just because of my age. I'm so tired of this kind of stuff.

But that's not why I'm here today.

It was nice, as Susan Pope noted in a comment yesterday, for a 70-year-old to be included in a story with younger adults because we share an attribute, living alone, that is unrelated to age. It is a rare occurrence in human interest stories to include an elder in the sampling of examples and the writer, Steven Kurutz, is to be complimented for doing so.

There is, however, an aspect of living alone that did not pertain to his story and I would like to follow up on with you: in old age, we are more likely than young and mid-age people to be forced into single living after the kids are grown and/or a spouse dies.

If in our youth or mid-years we become single, most of us expect to find another permanent relationship, and many do. But when it happens after 60 or 70, it is usual for the majority, especially women, to be single until we die.

Widows and widowers come in all flavors. After a lifetime of daily shared experience, some have a terrible time overcoming newfound loneliness. But there have been more than a few, too, who have told me that as much as they loved their spouses, they are happy have these alone years and relish being on their own.

Happiness can't be generalized. What works for me, won't for you and it will be entirely different for others. I not only tolerate a lot of time alone, I crave it. Always have. When too many social engagements get crammed together in a short space of time, I get cranky and seek out quiet places where I can be by myself.

On the other hand, when friends come to stay, for a few days or a few weeks, I enjoy every minute of it. It is a precious gift to spend enough time together to relax into comfortable camaraderie and not rush through our stories and expand our understanding of one another.

Their visits are never a burden partly, I suspect, because even with long visits, the end point is known and then I like being alone again when the time comes.

On the other hand, I know people who love to have lots of people and lots of noise around all the time. It would drive me crazy but they thrive on it.

So, when we are young, such people might be stuck alone in between relationships but they can probably count on finding another loving companion to share a home with.

At our ages, we probably cannot. For me, I have no doubt that if I did find myself sharing living space again – either romantically or as a roommate – I would adapt without much fuss. (Yes, I'd learn to close the bathroom door again.) Others might not feel that way.

As Steven Kurutz noted in his Times story, one-quarter of Americans overall now live alone. That percentage is, necessarily, much higher for elders and this post barely touches on many points we might want to discuss about living alone at our age.

So how about you? If you live alone, do you like it? Do you indulge in ways you would not if you did not live alone? What's good and what's not about it?

If you are married, what do you make of all this living alone chitchat? Do you ever envy us? Do you think we're being silly when we cling to our "quirks"? Or...

Oh, wait. One more thing: The terrific, young woman, Leah Nash, who photographed me for the Times, sold me the rights to a different shot from the session which I've used for a new, updated photo in the TimeGoesBy banner above. I'm much happier with this new one.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today – Jeanne Waite Follett: Sunshine Chimera


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

I enjoyed the article and that is a terrific photo of you, too.

I like your smile But [yes there's a "but"] I'm older than you [will be turning 80 in a few months] and have lived alone for most of the years since I moved from my parent's house in my mid-20's athough I did have roomates for a few of those years Mostly, living alone suits me, perhaps because I was an "only child" in a quarrelsome home and never learned how to share. I do get lonely though now since I live in a big house in a rural area and have to drive for most everything. But the "social media" seem to have replaced good=old-fashioned my predecessors used to enjoy.

I should have edited my last comment. I meant "good-old-fashioned" teas....

It is a great photo of you, Ronni. I am one of the women who is totally happy to be alone. I made this choice almost 30 years ago, even though I had liked being in a long-term marriage, and, later, being in a committed relationship. I crave lots of solitude and alone time, and know I would not be able to adjust to sharing quarters with anyone at this age.

The new photo of you is wonderful!

I didn't have time to comment yesterday, but I did have thoughts -- more time today so you get them now.

I live happily with my partner of over 30 years and the tenor of our living together has lot in common with some of your descriptions of the pleasures of living alone. We don't close bathroom doors either. We have periods of not even pretending to keeping up household appearances when we are both engaged in intense work. We've been known to turn to each other and say: "we live like 8 year-olds left in a house by absent parents."

All this is fine. I personally need a lot of alone time and she needs more and more -- and it is probably critical to our happiness that we've learned to take that alone time when we are physically in the same space and even sometimes carrying on life's necessities like the dishes and the laundry.

I feel very lucky.

I love your new photo!!!

I've been living alone since 1999 and while it was difficult at first, I've become very used to my own company. At this point, I don't see myself sharing my life with anyone and I'm pretty picky about who is welcome here and jealously guard my space against those who annoy me -- particularly those who keep telling me that I need to marry again.

My blogging friends provide all the mental stimulation and support I need and I don't have to apologize for not feeling like dusting every day.

I'm a widow of six years this month. While I loved my late husband greatly, there were times during our marriage I needed alone time. I think, since my husband was an extrovert, it was difficult to accept at first, but we both adapted. And we neither wanted children.

A couple years after he died, I dated a bit - met one fantastic gentleman. But when he began to hint about living together and/or marriage, I ended the relationship, though we still keep in touch via the internet. I am fairly sure I'll never have another romantic, live-in situation; I cherish living alone. I'm more of an introvert, a writer, so this suits me well.

However, I do have family nearby, and also love their visits and interactions. Especially my ten-year-old grand niece, who visits almost daily. Indeed though, when the company leaves I'm glad for my solitude.

At 60, I think I have a wonderful life without a lot of the stress related to a full-time job and/or live-in relationship. I do have a few quirks, but none I necessarily didn't have before my husband died. The best part of living alone: the freedom to be myself and have my pets, my time to do as I wish.

My biggest fear is becoming either too ill or too frail to care for myself; I've always been independent.

Agree with others - super photograph, full of laughter

I can stand only so much company and need solitude time: so does my partner. I spent many years alone, very happily, before I met him and vowed never to live with anyone again. All that changed 10 years ago when I was 61, he 67, and miraculously we got along because we both value our space.

As for quirky.... nothing unusual among retired people - slobbing around in pyjamas all day, if I/We want to. And why not.

Funny on the bathroom door bothering the lady. I don't close mine when nobody is here and do when someone is around-- unless my cat pushes it open as I rarely close it hard-- and never have at any age. When by yourself, what is the point of a closed bathroom door?

I've never lived alone for more than the trips my husband would be gone or when I would sometimes be in Tucson by myself when he was still working. I think it's something I missed but I didn't see it as important back when I made the choice to leave my parents' home for one I would be putting together with my husband. Now I really recommend young people get some years on their own. I might someday have that or maybe it'll be my husband who will depending on who dies first. I enjoy the living with him though ad we both have our own things we do; so not together 24-7. Still it'd be different to not have someone living here. If I lost my husband, I don't know if I'd want a new mate or not. As you said, it might not be possible whatever I wanted.

Married and pretty much happy although I will be alone for the next two weeks and certainly looking forward to that. I would not want to live alone permanently, but that may be a future change if my husband dies before me and I will have to adapt. I think that is the key. Adaptability.

My 90 year old father, single for the first time after a loving marriage of 67 years, feels so lonely. And he is so eager to have one of his many women friends be open to romance and marriage. I think I would be different were I in his shoes. But I'm not, so I really don't know. I'm 61, happily married for 12 years, but I spent almost a decade as a single parent between a first and second marriage. I'm very glad for those years because I know that I can have a full and happy life as a single woman. The scary part for me would be health -- physical and emotional, if my husband, 13 years older than I, were to die first. I like to think I'm doing the same thing now as I would as a single person: enjoying my friends, giving back to the community, and staying healthy as best I can. Actually, my new relationship with the elderblogging community is emerging as a rewarding part of my life whether I'm single or married. thank you for this post.

Terrific photo!!
Always say, we look our youngest when we genuinely smile or laugh.
The thing I like about my mate (not the only thing) is that he gets busy quite easily and doesn't overly focus on or fuss at me. I'm a private person and when I say I like to be alone , that never means he shouldn't be around.
Works perfectly and couldn't imagine life without him.
I know, we'll have to be struck by lightening at the same time!

I've spent about half of my adult life living alone. I'm happy to have had two husbands (divorced from the first and widowed by the second), and I'm also happy to have had a lot of years being on my own. At age 70, I'm not interested in marrying again and prefer to spend my time MY way.

At age 95, my mother has been living alone for more than 17 years. She and my dad were married for 53 years; after his death, she adapted quickly to being by herself. She is amazing and a great role model for us "youngsters."

My partner works most evenings, so I have a lot of time to myself, which I like alot. My worry is about being alone near the end of my days. For those of us who don't have children, or who live far from our families, this will be a big issue.

What happens when we can't drive? Will we all end up in assisted living? And who can afford the nicer places that cost so much?

This is a topic I'd like to read more about and how cities and communities are dealing with elders. In Tucson we have a number of "Aging in Community" groups that help neighbors remain in their homes as they age by offering to help with rides to doctors and shopping.

I'd love to hear from people and how their communities are working on this issue - if htey think it's an issue.

I also love your picture, having visited you once, it is seems so like you, full of life. I am living alone. 95% of the time I am content. I've been divorced from my second husband of 7 years for a year and a half now. We married after my living alone for 10 years. He was a nightmare for me and I am very happy to be alone again. We never could make it work. Two people too used to living their owns lives maybe, who knows. I have a very full life and leave the bathroom door open also. And so does my son who is single and lives alone and is much younger. I asked. So do many of the family members I asked except when engaged in more personal things like bathing or trying to shut one of your siblings out. I imagine entering their teens will cause the grands to shut the doors more often.

I'd be interested to know whether other people who live alone talk to themselves. I do it a lot unless the dog's around and in a mood to listen, and then I talk to him. When my husband was alive, I never felt this need to confide in myself.

I'm 68 and have always been a shy introvert despite two marriages and a career. Now I finally have the one thing I never had - solitude. I feel I earned it, and if more social types think I'm "quirky," so be it. I dread someday becoming dependent and having to be around people again but in the meantime I'm fortunate to be living the way I want to - with no pressure, no stress, and no deadlines.

I live alone and cannot imagine ever having to live with someone again. I enjoy the silence and lack of chaos.

On another note, I've applied for HUD housing for seniors and in order to rent from this particular housing authority, you must have a sponsor who essentially takes responsibility for you, from making sure the rent is paid to placing you in a nursing home if they think you need it. You cannot lease from the housing authority unless you have someone sign a form agreeing to be your sponsor. This only applies to the senior housing. Other housing does not demand a sponsor. Of course, this is Oklahoma so they probably have the law on their side.

Apparently many of us have a need for alone time. I am also one of those. I will be 76 next month and it occurs to me that I have never had a time when I was not responsible to parents, children, spouse, or partner. Fortunately my partner of over 40 years is also an introvert with little need for socialization. Still, he is not in good health and I have always thought that I would be alone at the end of the road. As an only child, I lost both parents by the time I was 12 so have had many years to adjust to not having family to depend on. Still, I do have children close by, a handful of close friends, my four footed buddies, and my blog friends even though I mostly lurk without commenting. My biggest fear is becoming dependent on others. Well, the future will bring what it does and I will figure it out as I have all the other challenges of life.

Ronni, I love that new photo! You look so joyful and ready to "play".

Last thursday my husband went out of town for a few days leaving me to enjoy some alone time. It is interesting that I feel I get more accomplished with him around - and that is a new observation for me. I don't feel as compelled to keep myself organized as I do when he is around. That would no doubt change if he were not here for longer periods of time. On the other hand, I sure do enjoy the bathroom more with him gone. For some reason, he likes to share the close space of the bathroom when I am in it. It drives me crazy sometimes.

What a winning smile. I hope since we both live on the west coast our paths might cross someday. As to living alone, I've done it but preferred being married now, but if that changes well that's life. I'll just face things as they arise and hopefully with a smile.

We all have such varied experiences. I love it when my husband leaves, and this is curious because we live in a large home on acreage, and I have an art room I go to to do my work. I simply like the quiet. I like the sound of silence. I eat less too. No need to make meals, and am quite content with a small bowl of rice and an apple for the day. I'm never lonely. There are too many things to create and read. I do at times, however, worry about my boys finding mates. They live alone, nearing 30, and I wonder if they won't get set in uncompromising ways before they've had a change to experience togetherness...which is quite wonderful too.

This post reminds me of a book I’ve not yet read, but heard about--Eric Klinenberg, "Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone".

I believe it states that more people are living alone than ever before and much of it depends on their financial situation.

Many times people would rather live alone, but are forced to live with relatives/friends due to financial necessity.

Great picture!!

Love your new photo!! Just throw your head back and feel the joy....my own interpretation, hope you don't mind.

I am a widow now for ten months, and I don't like it one bit!!! I miss my husband every day, and talk to him often - at home, in the car, in synagogue. I was single for many years before marriage and it was an adjustment to be married. Now, I miss it so much. I miss being part of the couple that we were.

To each his/her own, some like it hot, some like it cold, some like it alone, some not -- do like your new photo. -- barbara

I loved the article and seeing you in it. And shame on the poster who suggested you were so addled as to forget to close the bathroom door. I leave mine open so my dachshund can come in and curl up by the bathtub.

I've been married twice, and didn't really live alone until about 15 years ago--what with offspring coming and going in addition to husbands. I've found that I take to living alone very well indeed. I love it. I agree that the "quirky" habits of the folks in the article aren't very quirky, I still love keeping my own hours, coming home and letting down completely, not having to worry when someone i love is late, decorating my house--or not--as I please, etc.

I do have to use discipline, do have to maintain a schedule, but it's mine. The bad news is i have no one to blame if I waste a day. The good news is I can waste a day if I want to.

My husband is an introverted scientist who is very easy to be around. We've been married for 47 years and brought up two daughters. Neither of us spends much time in the bathroom!
But we don't sleep together. My husband is a restless sleeper and a LOUD snorer.
I think a problem is that people want ideal roommates, and none such exist.

I live alone (and have done so for forty years), as does Norma, the Assistant Musicologist. We probably get along better because of that. We eat dinner together – she rocks around to my place and sits down to a meal I’ve prepared. She thinks this is an admirable deal.

I've lived alone for most of the time since 1975. Now I would have it no other way. I don't close the bathroom door either--why would I? My cat would howl outside the door if I did! I enjoy my own company far more than I enjoy sharing. I've tried it. I've learned the hard way that I am good at living alone and being able to do things my way, at my own time.

I read the article, Ronni, and most of the first hundred comments, then came over here and read these. I had been alone for twenty years when I met and married my husband in 1993 when we were both fifty. He is introverted and I'm extroverted; we live together and cohabit but have maintained our independence from each other. He loves to buy and prepare all the food and I only cook occasionally, happy to have what he offers. We each do our own laundry and leave the bathroom door open. As an extrovert, I meet and visit with lots of people -- away from the apartment so he can have his privacy.

It works out great. I couldn't imagine living with someone who wanted me to be joined at the hip, but once, a long time ago, I thought that was the only way to be together. Now I can't imagine a better way to live.

I don't think I will have a problem living alone should my wife pass on before I do. In fact I would likely relish it.

Yesterday I intended to comment, but went off page to read the article that included the story about you. I got a phone call before I got back to this page and then forgot to return. So, belatedly, I want to tell you how much I love your new photo, Ronni.

I have lived alone almost as many years as I lived with someone and doubt that I could live with anyone other than my daughter now. We share the same values and that's important to me. We also respect each other's space and we don't have to do the same thing at the same time. She stays up later, but I get up earlier.

I have my routine and am no longer willing to change it. I get cranky if I have to.

I love being able to get up in the middle of the night when I can't sleep without worrying about waking someone else. I love eating when I am hungry and not having to go by the clock.

The only time I wish I had someone living with me is when I am sick. It would be nice to be waited on then.

Like you, Ronni, I enjoy company and talk a blue streak
when someone visits. It's as if I had saved up all my conversation just waiting for a willing (?) ear. But I quickly adapt to the old routine when they leave.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each lifestyle. I prefer to concentrate on the many advantages of single living.

I've lived alone for twenty years and can honestly say I've never been lonely. I, like you Ronnie, crave quiet. My job as an itinerant special ed teacher has me on the go, literally, all day long, driving from one place to another. So when I come home in the evening I am so ready to be still in the quiet. I am grateful of no demands on me other than to walk the dog, which in itself is relaxing to me, and feed the cats. I have habits just like everyone else and don't consider them quirky, like not showering on the week ends unless I have to go out. What's quirky about that. I don't close the bathroom door unless I have guests. I love living alone, I relish my quiet weekends, hanging out in my pajamas or sweats and not having to plan meals or entertain someone. I've lived with both men and women and don't like the unpredictability of their energy (I lived with a girlfriend who partied every weekend and a boyfriend that I lived with for seven years who would berate me because all I wanted to do was relax after a busy day and not go out and have cocktails). So let "them" say what they will about those of us who think nothing of living alone. I say I cherish it.

BTW great photo Ronnie.

It's definitely not old age, I've lived alone for over 10 years and I'm still in my 30s. I never shut the bathroom door and have even caught myself from time to time when visiting friends' homes nearly forgetting to shut it out of habit.

Yes, Flora. In answer to your question. I live alone and talk to myself all the time. Some pretty good conversation and hardly ever an argument.

I'm so happy to see all these responses. Have always needed big chunks of solitude and felt guilty about my lack of socialibility. Now I see I have lots of company. It's nice to be in style for a change.

Charlotte D

When I was married, whenever I was home alone, I felt that I "filled" the house to the corners. The minute he came in (even while I still liked being with him), I felt that I shrunk back. I realized later that I wasn't completely myself when he was there. Fast forward a few relationships and one live-in, I now live alone. I love it. And when I'm the only one here, I leave the bathroom door open. Always have. Doesn't everyone?

Love the new picture! It's pretty late to be posting any further comments on today'post--so I won't.

I grew up with several brothers and sisters, had roommates, lived alone now and then until I was married and have not lived alone since I was 19 years old. When I was divorced, I already had a small child and when I remarried I had three more children.

I actually LIKE some solitude but since I have my own office, and since I travel frequently for work, I spend plenty of time in a room alone. By the time my youngest child leaves home, I will have lived with at least one other person (more often 3 or 4 other people) for 40 years.

Eventually I'll live alone, I suppose, and I am sure I will adjust to it just like I have the many other changes in my life.

It's nice to read this site and comments after reading the NYT article.

I've lived alone since a divorce in 1995.

Although there are things I miss about marriage, I have come to relish living alone. My sister urges me to live closer to family members for health and age reasons - I'm 69 - but the work of moving after living in one place for so long seems overwhelming. I have a cabin where I spend the summer hiking and also visit my family members.

It would be so difficult to find another mate close enough to my liberal politics and generic non-belief in any religion that it's not worth the effort. (I live in the conservative West.)

I eat well, exercise well, and pursue my own interests in my own time. Would be nice to see family members more often and may find a way to move closer, as I love them all. But I do so enjoy my solitude.

Have enjoyed reading the comments.

I promised not to comment but then saw that I'd made an error in my response -- 2nd sentence should read "today's post". That opened the door to adding a concern expressed by several others. I'm very happily married to a fellow introvert. Not socializing a lot is perfectly normal for us. The downside, however, is that the survivor won't have a support system to fall back on when one of us dies. My wonderful husband is 8 years older so chances are I'll be the one left alone. I would miss him terribly and don't look forward to living alone, but I've done it before and could do it again.

However, I definitely share some other responders' concerns about how we would manage if we become disabled and can no longer attend to our own basic needs. I fervently hope I never get to that point, and have tried to make contingency plans (i.e., advance directive, medical POA, POLST, etc.) to assure that I won't fall into the hands of the medical-industrial complex during my last 3-6 months of life.

I had never lived alone until I became a widow in 2007 so it was very different for me. After about six months, however, I realized I loved it and now would have it no other way. I have been married four times and it just occurred to me that maybe it's because I'm too selfish of my time. Huh. Anyway, I love the new pic and I don't shut the bathroom door because my boxer, Emmy, would tear it down thinking I'm in there eating.

I was an only child and have preferred to live alone all my life. I'm used to it and very comfortable with it. My favorite companions are books -- always have been and always will be. It would appear that an only child is very well suited for this living alone thing.

Was married 4 times and none of them worked out well. Only one lasted more than a couple of years, which has probably been due to my preference to live alone as well as my poor choice in men.

Even my kids learned to respect my need for privacy, and I theirs. They especially liked this when they got in their teens, or course.

Thinking of writing a book titled "Never Marry An Only Child". ;-)

I haven't lived alone since I was in my 20's and I hated it then. Since that time I've been in a long term marriage, then divorced and immediately sought roommates. At the time, I believed it to be out of financial need but realize now that I was, and remain, a deeply social person but not in the usual sense. I probably lived in a tribe in another life and crave and enjoy the awareness that others are near. To this day (for 23 years) I continue to share my house with others and for the most part consider myself to be far richer for the experience because many of my housemates have shared their lives, families, and interests with me. How great is that?

thanks for the "shout out" Ronnie. I live alone and love it however I wish there were more people around outside the home for me to socialize with.

I am sitting here in my rattist sweatshirt and baggy sweatpants enjoying the last of my tea because I live alone. I have a dog who wiggles her ears and sticks out her tongue on command because I live alone. I have a crazy looking rug on my floor because I live alone. I love living alone because I can indulge in many odd, selfish little things and it makes it easier for me as a teacher to extend understanding to the children I see everyday and their odd little quirks.

I loved living alone, although I didn't love that "Alone" feeling you get once in a while. I say it's the price you pay though and that's OK. Right now I'm joyfully surrounded by grandchildren and that's OK too but I do look back on the "Living Alone" days and am grateful for the experience.

I "always" leave the bathroom door open and have for years (I'm 68 now) - my mother always left the door open too.

As for the woman from NC, I lived in the South for 10 years and although many days I truely miss the kinder gentler culture there, I don't miss the perfectly coiffed women who always looked like they just stepped out of the shower no matter where they were or what time of day it was.

Looking good Ronni. I'm an only child and have always had this wanderlust thing going on. One thing I totally enjoy - my own company.

Not to say there is anything wrong with those who find living alone stressful.

But for me, I like people to visit after daylight and leave before dark.

I love hosting dinner parties, going to restaurants and having long two hour conversations with my women friends...but when it's over, I need time to re-energize.

Now that I'm in my late 50's, I'm having this wonderful relationship with the "older woman" I've become.

There are new things that happen to my body that simply amaze me. My face is gorgeous with it's little lines. How can I not like being with me - I'm an interesting woman to be around.

I find my writing takes on more depth and meaning. Somewhere I've learned a few lessons, and left regrets behind.

I don't get lonely without the constant chatter or invasion of other people.

When I read the article, I felt a bit insulted. It's as if once you live alone for more than a week without a sexual partner, you've grown 3 heads and collect dust bunnies.

Will I get lonely the older I get? Who knows. And if anyone doesn't like my looks or how I live my life from here on - suck eggs. I really don't care:)

My wife has worked out of town for 3-4 years now and I'm getting so used to living alone that I worry about us living together again.

And what's the big deal about leaving the bathroom door open. When I'm alone, to shut the door feels unnatural. But when people are over, to leave the door open feels unnatural.

We live with others for more than just company. They say two can live as cheaply as one, so there are economic benefits, but the main benefit is help when you need it, usually in the event of illness or injury. Without the extended family, we depend more on institutions, so to live alone comfortably, you need resources (mainly money) and good friends to help when needed.

love the new pic of you
, so joyous!

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