ELDER MUSIC: Rock Around the Clock
What is Ageism and What Is Not?

One Hard Truth About Getting Old

EDITORIAL NOTE: Due to a technical glitch (read: Ronni screwed up), Peter Tibbles' Elder Music column did not go out via email and rss feeds yesterday until evening. If you missed it, please do check in – it's worth your time.

category_bug_journal2.gif After accounting for 16 years of childhood, one six-year marriage and a four-year relationship – all of them long ago - I have lived alone for 45 of my 71 years.

I am good at living alone and I like it. Some others want people around much of the time but not me. I don't believe I have been bored for a moment in my life. There are books and music and cooking and projects and exercise and movies and writing and friends and the internet and the cat and - sitting quietly. By myself.

The bigger problem is finding time for all the things I want to do, especially all the things that piled up during the 50-odd years I worked and had no time for them.

Plus, I can eat whatever and whenever I like without wondering if the other person will be happy with just soup tonight. And when I decide a pint of Haagen-Dazs will be dinner tonight instead, there is no one to chastise me.

I can slum around the house in my ugliest old sweats all day without brushing my hair. There is no one to see me while my denture soaks, or to notice my balding pate. I would hate that.

My home is arranged to suit my sensibilities. No compromises. No world's ugliest chair because it's his favorite; only my own. And no one with whom to grapple for the TV clicker. You can accuse me of selfishness about such things as these and you would be right. That's okay; I don't mind the label.

I can go out and decide not come home all day or even overnight without worrying that someone wonders where I am. And there is no one to offend if I'm feeling grumpy and don't want to talk – or listen.

I realize that for people married a long time most of this is not a burden and that, probably, those who become widows and widowers have a terrible time adjusting to what is comfortable for me.

My house never feels empty because aside from serial cat companions, it always has been empty. That is as normal to me as sunrise and has pleased me for more than four decades.

Except, just recently, for fleeting moments now and then, it pops into my thoughts that it would be nice – more than in the four decades past - to have someone to love, someone besides me and the cat to care for day in and day out.

And that's a hard truth about being old. Whether, like me, you've been single most of your life or are newly so, it is likely to remain as is for the rest of our lives.

It is in this situation (and some others that arise) when it is easier to see how strong and brave and resilient old people are – you and me and every elder. We keep on truckin' whatever our circumstances and most people we meet never know what aches in our private hearts.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Higher Than a Kite


"most people we meet never know what aches in our private hearts."

I have felt that way a lot, especially lately, as I am getting closer to retirement and also watching my Mother in Law shut down her life.

I was alone for forty years myself and very content. I thought I would never want a second marriage but that changed. I have been remarried 18 months now and it was never the adjustment or sacrifice I imagined. Having someone to love and love you in return is a priceless gift. I never knew I could value companionship as I do now.

Most people do not WANT to know what aches in our private hearts.

That's one of the reasons I volunteer. My beloved G loves being alone. If I died, he would mourn but quietly. Maybe it's time to get out of the house at least one day a week. Then again, who am I to say anything.....

I love living alone, too. It feels great to me and not like a burden or source of pain. The only time I get a "pang" about being alone is when I see couples who do kind things for each other and I think, "that must be nice." When I did actually live with other people, there was seldom anything nice done for me, so the pang quickly turns back into being happy about being alone.

Because of what Virginia says, I also think that people living alone are more likely, when they feel the need for kindness, to do an act of kindness for someone else.

And most people who live with others are also living alone.

"... most people we meet never know what aches in our private hearts." Spot on, Ronni! That and Shelley's parting comment: ". . . most people who live with others are also living alone."

I fully relate to and understand both comments, and would add that most people don't WANT to know, either.

I agree, Shelley: Most people who live with others are also living alone. I think what we really want and need is to have another person really see us and really hear to us. Whether they live with us or not. /// Seven years ago I retired and moved to another state. I'm always genuinely interested in the life of a friend-in-the-making, and I'm always asking questions, albeit as non-invasive as possible. But I always ask if they are married, have children, are working, are retired, are natives or transplants, etc. And people can and will talk non-stop about themselves. They start with the present and work their way back to their birth. And the next thing I know I'm hearing about the life of their strange cousin, twice removed. At that point, I realize I don't want them as friends. I start out genuinely interested and by the third or fourth meeting, I'm totally bored. They can't even talk about current events. /// In the seven years I've lived here, just two people have been genuinely interested in me: "Where did you live before? Why did you move here? What did you work at most of your working life? Were you married? Do you have children? etc., etc." /// All I want is a good, mutual connection with another person. I think we don't know how to connect with each other anymore. H, we don't even have basic manners anymore.

You certainly speak for me, Ronni. There are time when I miss having someone to talk to, but then I get on the computer or phone and that person on the other end fills in the gap.

As I become more dependent on others though, a tiny thought creeps in. How much longer will I be able to do it? And then what?

Karen said it: "Spot on!" Whether alone by choice or by the loss of a mate, choosing to live fully with kindness and grace, in spite of challenges of health, finances and other aging issues, is an act of courage. And yes, such courage and the aches of heart are often unrecognized. I am an elder now, and I have been blessed by examples of such courageous models in relatives and friends.

We are what we are and we live in a different world now that allows us to live alone.

Not everyone is designed to raise a family and in fact not being so restricted allows a freedom for some that encourages ideas and creativity that we can all benefit from.

Being alone is not the same as being lonely. You have aptly demonstrated that Ronni in doing what you do here at TGB. There may still be that someone to fill that void in your heart however, if even for yet another brief part of your long life.

Thank you, Ronni, for always spurring me to reflect on what is most important in life! When I first remarried and had moved to Arizona, I was horribly lonely for quite a while, despite my loving husband. I struggled to stay connected with "long-time" friends, and to make a few new ones. Talking with and visiting my brothers back in WA helped a lot. Connecting online with you and the TGB commenters helped. Getting involved in politics helped.I think what i am talking about here is a need for companionship along the way, of shared values, and the feeling that "I make a difference to someone."Maybe that's why pets are so important to us!

As I read this post
the thoughts much are my words. Alone for 30 years
now and I have to say that most of the time I like it.
I never catch up and can do or not do.
Think like Darlene also.
Nice that I do have 4 children and 5 grandchildren
and they keep in touch.

Lonely in a room full of people I know. Content on my own, knowing no one. People will fill in the blanks and add their own assumptions. For me, it helps to know that what I'm feeling today will, no doubt, change tomorrow.

My mom has found comfort in communal living, tho she loved her "just me" time after my dad died, too.

When I was young, I didn't want to marry. I thought it would obliterate my sense of adventure. But I did marry, to a man who imparted a very long leash and I'm forever grateful for that. We both have kept our outside interests and pursued them (and that includes going on trips; taking turns caregiving to kids, etc. ) I wouldn't have it any other way. My women friends were always important, and I never dropped these friendships when married. I love being alone, and it equates in no way with being lonely.

I am older than you Ronni, but I have different priorities. I have been married four times. I divorced my first after twenty-two years. Since then I have been widowed three times. Every loss is hard, but I got to share many wonderful years with three fantastic women. Sharing isn't a burden as you imply. It's a fulfillment. Everything you say about loving to live alone has truth in it, but I can counter with all the benefits that come with feeling the love from a well-chosen companion. I say "well-chosen" because my first marriage was when I was young and naïve…and it wasn't well chosen.
I vote for being careful in the picking, complete in the sharing, and as it happens when you are old, sad in the loss. I am not bitter; I am ready and willing to love again…even if I have to give up my favorite chair!

When I was much younger, I lived alone for short periods of time between marriages, which was O.K. at the time, but I'm not at all sure it would be now. I've been married to my wonderful husband for 33 years, and one of my greatest concerns is that I may have to go on without him at some point. At 83, he's 7 years older than I am. We're both in good health for our age, but neither of us can presume to take good health for granted.

He's a true companion and my best friend. I've never felt alone since we've been together. We've always had each other's back. I'm basically an introvert and don't have a social circle, as such. We have 2 much-loved and spoiled cats. I volunteer with a cat rescue organization and am still working part time, but I realize on a rational level that, should I still be around at 85+, I probably won't be able to do what I'm doing now. If I'm alone--especially when I'm no longer able to fend for myself--as Darlene writes, "What then"? I don't know. What I do know is that I don't want to end up slumped in a wheelchair in a nursing home!

I agree with Fran...its really rare to talk to anyone who has a genuine interest in you! My eyes glaze over after awhile and I am not sure if it as one gets older, the loquaciousness or just being self absorbed in general. Thanks to Ronni, I did my math, 68 years old, married 26 years and one subsequent three year live in relationship. So I have been alone going on 39 years - wow, no wonder its getting easier!

Ronni, now I know why you are one of all-time favorite people. Thanks for this blog ... you've taken the words right out of my mouth! I don't even have to take the time to write any of this down now, all I have to do is print you column, frame it and hang it on my wall!!

I have always figured that the reason I feel this way is because I was an only child and never really learned to share my life with anyone. I'm quite content where I am and who I am.

Thanks again for your thoughts, I now have a contented smile on my face.

PS Have you ever read the book "The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World" by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.?

It took two marriages and almost 60 years for me to figure out that I'm much happier living alone -- for all the reasons mentioned above. I regret much of the messiness I've left in my wake, but I wouldn't be who I am today if my decisions had been different. Apologies to those I hurt while trying to figure out who I am. (Still working on it.)

You are strong and brave and resilient, Ronni. You are willing to look at the bad and the good, resulting from the choices we make and the choices that age foists on us without our consent. Those "never more" moments are particularly hard to face, though, aren't they, when choices no longer are available.

"She's leaving home after living alone all these many years..."
After 40 years of marriage (my third and final try) I live alone with my spouse. There is something very sad about sharing solitude. Another case where something ("someone") is not much better than no one. Then along come the Gores or the Petraeus and I realize that I am not alone in my lonliness - just not connected to all the other "lonely hearts"
A few years back I lost my oldest and dearest friend and since then I have had nobody to talk to. That's the hardest part.

I have lived alone for the majority of my adult life except for two short-lived attempts at marriage. I find the joy of being able to do what I want, when I want, and even the choice to do nothing, to be the best gift I've gotten since my Shirley Temple doll when I was 8! To think I had to wait over 45 years for real freedom. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

as i age (73), i find my heart keeps expanding of its own volition.. even as the world its known keeps shrinking. a coexistence both full and empty at the same time.

i have lived alone for many years..in harmony. happily.
i still do.

though.. quietly..secretly

i have no need of 'seat fillers' for the rest of my days. i'm fine the way life is.

yet, oh what i wouldn't give to share games of scrabble,
a belly laugh or two,
the silence..the noise..
the space between
and the pure joy of just being..
in the company of a companion heart.

a longtime favorite quote from the poet rilke

"..love consists of this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other..."

thank you ronni..
once again you've struck a chord

A soul sister :)

Most of my life has been spent living with someone. I've been married for 35 years now. However, in the last five years, my wife has worked out of town and I live alone M-F, and some weekends too. I've gotten addicted to it. I've told my wife if she ever quits her out of town job that we might need to get two houses.

I'm very social and go out a lot with friends, but the older I get the more I just crave to be at home alone.

I think blogging could cover for a lot of real life contacts, but I don't know that for sure.

I volunteer a lot, sometimes it seems that I'm hardly ever home, but there are times now and then when I feel alone and that does suck a little bit. Thank you for sharing.

I can only say this: <3.

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