The Saturday Farmer's Market
REFLECTIONS: On the Paranoid Style

Partnered Aging – Solo Aging

category_bug_journal2.gif It's amazing sometimes how readers' thoughts parallel mine. With the intention of writing about it soon, last week I made some notes about getting old as a single person versus as part of a couple. Lo – the next morning, Tarzana left this note on my most recent riff on the fear of getting old.

“Ronni, I get a tiny bit envious of your freedom to live your own life without factoring in someone else's agenda. Of course, there are those who appreciate having company on the journey. Perhaps the issues of partnered aging/solo aging could be hashed over in this space someday.”

A few minutes later, Genie followed up:

“I think Tarzana has a point. Balancing someone else's agenda with our own needs can be rewarding but it is not always easy.”

I feel both ways: sometimes I'm envious of people who have a partner and other times I'm relieved that I'm single.

In 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 29.6 percent of people 65 and older – 11.7 million of us - were living alone. The majority, 6.5 million, are women, mostly widows. Elder men who live alone are often widowed too, but they are more likely than women to be divorced or never married. Of course, the percentage of single elders increases when older groups – 75 and older, 80 and older, etc. - are considered, as spouses die.

It is conventional wisdom that throughout life couples are better off than singles, and the medical community mostly agrees. Research studies going back as far as 150 years support the health and well-being benefits of marriage, speculating on the existence of a “marriage advantage” - that married people apparently suffer less pneumonia, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, etc. and therefore live longer than single people, they say.

But according to The New York Times, there is a glitch in that long-held belief. A recent study of 9,000 people in their 50s and 60s found that when formerly married people became single through divorce or widowhood, “they suffered a decline in physical health from which they never fully recovered.”

And further – a new discovery:

“...people who had divorced or been widowed had worse health problems than men and women who had been single their entire lives. In formerly married individuals, it was as if the marriage advantage had never existed.”

For several reasons, I think statistics about wellness, disease and marital status are inherently flawed and I don't necessarily accept any of them. However, the larger difficulty is that married and single people are pitted against one another in the health sweepstakes.

Much more interesting (and, of course, hard to quantify so ignored by researchers) is nature and inclination in our living preferences, and how those might change with events and experience as we get older.

In the 55 years since I left home, I have been partnered in only 10 of them. My six-year marriage was in trouble from the beginning. A later live-in relationship was much better and although I couldn't explain at the time why I left after four years, I think now it was because I prefer living alone.

Tarzana and Genie referred to my ability, as a single, to live without consideration of another person's agenda. You bet. I never understood, in my marriage and second relationship, how much I owed to togetherness and how to behave in that regard.

Could I have a drink with a friend after work without checking in? What if I wasn't hungry tonight, but it was our custom that I cook dinner? When I went out for a walk or shopping, was I required to tell him when I would be home?

(Understand I say that with the firm belief, too, that in all living-together situations - parent/child, unrelated roommates, committed couples, even house guests – each person has the obligation to let the other know when he or she will be late so no one worries.)

Marriage seemed to eliminate spontaneity and since I have trouble committing to anything farther into the future than two or three days, that was a constant problem – what were those boundaries? What were my decisions and which ones had to be shared? Certainly my move from Maine to Oregon could not have happened with such ease if there had been another person to consult on every decision.

Also, when I come home, aside from greeting the cat who requires no conversation, I am almost always glad I don't need to make polite conversation. That applies to first thing in the morning too.

Obviously, it is in my nature to be comfortable alone. Certainly, other people (most people?) are as naturally inclined for togetherness. Listen to what Elizabeth Rogers wrote here last week:

“As far as traveling solo through aging, again speaking strictly for myself, I'm so grateful that I haven't had to face that to date. I truly can't imagine life without my wonderful, understanding, kind, patient husband who actually continues to put up with me after 32 years. He's also my guide to the increasingly complex world of technology - even at 80, he understands it better than I ever will.”

A part of me would like to know what it is like to have been married and gone through life – 40, 50 and more years – with the same person, surviving and thriving through the ups and down, triumphs and tragedies, good times and bad.

Too late now at age 69.

There are times I wish there were someone else here. Someone, for example, to turn to when I've read something interesting or funny or strange and say, “Wait til you hear this...”

It's unlikely to happen at my age, but I can imagine having that again – along with the parts that would annoy me. Or, maybe I'm more tolerant in my old age. I'll probably never know and that's all right with me.

We all do the best we can, I think, with the choices we make and the curves life throws us. How are you doing?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, A. Peri: When I'm Gone


In my life, I have only had the odd weekend completely on my own. Those times were heavenly, in a way, but that's not the choice I made for myself. No regrets now. I agree...we generally do the best we can. (We meaning healthy, functional individuals with the wherewithall to have and make choices.)

I am partnered and while there are times we disagree on things we are both in sync on 80% of our lifestyle. If I don't feel like cooking, he does it. If he also does not feel like cooking we graze or go out. After almost 40 years of marriage (with one or two very difficult times) we are now in almost perfect rhythm. While I could manage on my own, he brings an energy in activity that I do not possess and I bring a carefulness that keeps us safe.


I am fond of saying that I have had 45 happy years with Roy and that's not bad out of 60.

There are times when I wonder what it would be like to be on my own and just do whatever I please and at other times I am very happy that I have a partner to share my life with.

I am fortunate that my husband is good natured and generous and I'm sure that those things alone makes a huge difference in whether or not you are content in your later years.

Companionship is not everything; personality and good humor make the difference. If you don't have a happy person to live with then you might as well be alone. You are better off.....

I am a widow of four years, age 58, no children. I think I've always had a solitary nature (writer/former journalist). Creative writing requires a good bit of alone time, so in that regard I have adjusted to living alone. Having been married 34 years though, I can say the loss of a long-time partner is devastating. Over that many years, both individuals do make compromises, but if it works well, then you accept that and compliment each other's nature. So I consider I had a good marriage, lucky I know.

Having said that, though, the longer I'm alone, the more sure I am that I will never marry again. Not saying I won't, but from the few dating experiences I've had, it has seemed less and less appealing to have someone sharing my home/personal space full-time. I miss male companionship, but I've learned to cherish doing what I wish, making my own decisions, being independent, etc.

Living alone or with someone - both have advantages and disadvantages. But honestly, many of the studies try to group people together, instead emphasizing individuality. Not sure I believe half of studies, even in regards to health matters.

What I find most difficult about a single life is (1)the logistics and (2) the income. Logistics means somebody to help me roll up the winter rug and put down the summer rug, somebody to pick me up when I lose the car keys, somebody to entertain the guests while I panic in the kitchen. Income is, I suppose, self-explanatory.

My feeling about being single has changed over the years. I used to enjoy it more than I do now. And I would like to be loved, to be that special person to somebody. And I'd like to have somebody to play with, without having to plan ahead and juggle schedules. ("You wanna go see a movie?" "OK" instead of "Well, how about the *next* Saturday...")

But I agree, Nancy - if it were just companionship, or even logistics, I'm fairly sure I could find somebody to move in. There's a saying - it takes a might good man to be better than no man at all. (Or a mighty good woman...)

I'm a six of one half dozen of the other on this. I got married at almost 21 and think it was too early mostly because I didn't live on my own first. I went from parents' home to husband's but that wasn't unusual back then. Now in September we will have been married 47 years and that amazes me. It's like two lifetimes and at one time it would have been.

My husband and I have talked of divorce off and on through the years, not usually in anger but more in how would we handle it, and really neither of us could say for sure we will stick it out until death do us part; but we get along pretty well and he is my best friend. Whether we stay married to the very end, I would hate to lose that relationship.

When I read about it, I well understood why the Gores did what they did and it's not about not loving the other person but just wondering maybe what it'd be like to be alone. I guess though nobody gets it all; so some of us experience one thing and only through other people's stories the other. I don't really think one is better than the other (whatever the ads are trying to tell us) but it's how satisfied we are with it probably.

My husband's aunt never married and she had a happy life as best I know it with trips to Europe, her own home, a career she enjoyed, a few years of retirement; but she did die earlier than average but I don't think because she was not married but more she ignored a warning symptom that she could have also ignored if she'd been married.

oops, make that 46 years this fall. I am always aging myself quicker than I should ;)

Like you, I won't ever know if I could have remained with one person for 30 or 40 years (or more). I admire the couples who have stayed together many years. For me, that did not happen. But my husband and I have been together almost five years and he is the only person I know who I could stand to be with many years. I am happy to be with him and work out the kinks that need working now and then. We both read books and like to share some great writing or description. I know I would be fine living by myself and some day that may be the case if he passes away before I do. I have gone through so many changes in my life already and I know there are plenty more ahead of me.

Just this month - 45 years married.
Honestly, can't imagine life any other way because we've been together all this time (one year off - he was in Viet Nam). It suits us just fine. We get along very well. It's nice to be married to someone smart and humorous and we think we both are!
As long as each is doing their share in general, and, extra depending on the needs of the other, then it works.
Can't forget love. And what it comes down to is that love is a verb. It's to be worked at to see it thrive.

Took me three times, but the old saying about the third being charmed certainly held true in my experience!

I don't do alone well. Maybe because, like Rain, I went from my parents home to being married. Even between marriages I wasn't long without a male companion.

Conditioning, or whatever you want to tag it, I am just happier in a relationship. (Though a couple of them probably took YEARS off my life expectancy from sheer stress.)

And I think I am less dependent on my daughters now with "003".

Looking at my Mom's situation as a widow with no siblings, without my brother and I, I can't imagine how she would have survived her many health issues alone.

It took me a 20 year marriage, raising 3 kids, and a couple of semi-serious relationships to realize I'm just happier living alone. That said, I still need people to love and to care about. I just don't want them living with me 24 hours a day.

My first husband and I ended a fractious 24 year marriage in 1990. I was 48 and felt like a 100. A year later my sons were in college, I felt great if disoriented, and spent many pleasant years getting to know myself maybe for the first time. Then in 2004 I married again. He's 9 years younger than I and our biggest points of stress are the shrinking of our 410K's and the fact that I, at 68, am retired and he is still working and will be for some time to come.

Being single for 10 years made it difficult for me to compromise. I was a manager at my work and a single mom, not to mention the bossy oldest sister in my family. Surprisingly to me, I discovered he wanted a traditional marriage, dinner on the table when he gets home and he'd take out the garbage. Oops! We both have learned a lot about sharing (the cooking and garbage removal among other things) and about compromise. Sometimes we thought about chucking the whole thing, but after 6 years we've discovered we're attached and miss each other.

We live in a small house and he has accepted and cares for the hoard of grandkids (6 girls under 13)clumping through the place as well as visiting by the rest of my large family, three sisters with families, that came with the package. A big deal to me, and as his own family is quite small and far away, I find it very generous of him. I wanted conversation, company, and affection, and he did too. We think we are going to make it now but there is the option of one of us locking the other in the cellar on occasion if necessary (just kidding). We do take trips separately at times, visiting old friends and some of the relatives. I no longer wish to be alone and am hoping with the 9 year age difference, as frequently women live longer than men, that neither of us will have long widowhood alone, God willing.

How about throwing (adult)children into the mix? I can't imagine life without my dearly loved children but they do add stress -- a difficult divorce,financial problems -- & certainly one can't be as independent in making major decisions when there are children & grandchildren to consider even when one lives alone.

Upon reflection, I think I brought up this subject because I am in constant conflict with myself. My husband of 20 yrs and I live more like roommates than spouses. We give each other the freedom to live parallel lives, sharing very few interests and, certainly, very different dispositions. I mostly do my thing and he does his, but sometimes this feels pretty lonely. We've very nearly split up two or three times, but always, he apologizes and I relent because I need the "security" and he is basically a decent guy -- just drinks too much. My kids think he's great. So, I vacillate between wishing I were fancy free and being glad of the company without intimacy. In a way, I have the best of both options, but pay the price of emotional loneliness.

There's a whole lot more to this story, but it speaks to the many compromises and life choices women of my generation, who were raised to be wives and mothers rather than self supporting, have to make as they face aging with limited work history and cash flow, to be honest.

And then there are those who live & have lived many, many years with a spouse who is physically or emotionally unwell. The additional stress of having another dependant on you is no doubt, terribly trying, frustrating & just plain lonesome. :( Dee

@Annie - Over the weekend, I talked to an old friend who just had his sixth step-grandson. It got me thinking that having kids (one way or another) is nature's way of providing change in your life. When they're grown, you don't have to initiate the changes; they come to you.

Your post reminded me that not all those changes are positive. But do you find it keeps you engaged with other people? I feel like so many of my encounters are superficial. (I hope this isn't too much information?)

Well one has mentioned the overriding concern that has kept me a single woman. I am a widow and was once loved and valued. I will not spend my remaining years with someone who primarily wants "someone to take care of him"...and furthermore, will not make the same financial arrangements he would have had with his first wife. It is as if he is shopping for a Rent-a-Wife. I know my value.

At almost 51 and never married I honestly can't fathom living with someone else. While I whole heartedly agree with a previous poster about it being a pain being single when you are needing to move furniture or any job that requires four hands instead of two, I truly relish living alone with my cats. My work entails being in contact with many people throughout the day and I love coming home to my own thoughts. My friends say that I don't want a husband, I want a handyman!

My only complaint is that after a particularly bad/stressful day at work I will come home and complain to the cats that the very LEAST they could do is to have a "cold one" ready for me when I walk through the door. Inevitably one will then hold up his paw to show me that without opposable thumbs, what I'm asking for is pretty impossible and then will start begging for his dinner ;-)

Many of my friends are single. One friend just got married so her partner could be on her health insurance. I notice that my unmarried or formerly married friends are often too eccentric to live with others, but that means they are often more fun to be with than my more staid married friends, especially the ones who make a sentimental fetish out of marriage.
I've been married for 46 years, and it is not a state that I idealize. To me it's about love and loyalty over the years, yes, but I find it also to be a practical arrangement. Two people can paddle along through life better than one. And our long marriage has provided the stability and material means that our children have needed and still need. It's a tradeoff.
I don't see much difference in happiness between married and unmarried people among the people I know. But this could be because I select my friends so well!

Another thought:

When I started blogging and was blogging pretty regularly, if I stopped, I would get emails or blog posts wondering where I was. It almost made me stop blogging! I thought to myself "jeez, one of my FAVORITE things of being single is to not be accountable to anyone in my spare time. I'll be damned if I'm going to start making sure I notify people if I decide to take a blogging break!"

@possumlady (I just discovered this "@" way of addressing previous posters - G-) . You may be on to something. I interview people a few times a week, but for the most part, my job as a writer has me working in isolation most of the time. My colleagues aren't a very social bunch of people to start with. It's very possible that's a big part of my coincidentally? simultaneous chafing at being single.

At 53 I am just beginning to think about aging and only because of the natural aging signs I am seeing, such as graying hair and menopause. But I don't give aging too much thought. I have no health issues, I'm active, a vegetarian, eat organic foods, have good mental health, friends, and a job I love. I've heard and read the statistics about aging and who lives longer and who doesn't. Maybe because I am single, and always have been, I choose not to give too much credence to those statistics. I just figure to some degree genetics will play a role in how I age and how long I will live, but the rest is up to me. I'm not overly concerned about being single in my old age. What I do give more thought to is the quality of my life and my relationships.

Marriage of 25 years - produced 4 great children and now 5 grandchildren. Divorced, relationships I stopped 7 years ago. I am happier, healthier and more at peace then ever in my 70 plus years. As I look back - I smile - guess I have had it all. Now is time for me!!!

I was married two weeks short of 48 years when my husband died. I had never lived alone before as i married at 20. I have been single 18 months now. I am still learning how to cook for one.
I can live well enough alone as I have lots of interests. I volunteer for the American Bladder Cancer Society. I facilitate a Tai Chi class twice a week and play bridge a couple of times a week. I miss the companionship of marriage but I do not want to marry again. I don't want to make the adjustments and compromises that living with another person entails. I did it once happily but I am not willing to adapt again.

Married to a good guy who enjoys the same things I like: traveling, exploring backstreets, people watching, reading for hours, cycling, kayaking, walking.

He's a Mister Mom, doesn't mind cooking, laundry, cleaning up. We both want to see as much of the world as possible before we take off on our ice floes.

But there are always compromises. We are each busy with part time work, volunteering, family.

Ours is an equal partnership. I hope we live a long time, so we can complete our journey together.

One thing I love about my husband- he can still make me laugh hard. He's an excellent mimic, acting out people he knows or saw around town.

I wish he'd do that a whole lot more. It totally cracks me up.

We love going to movies, eating at delicious little hole in the wall Montreal restos, and taking road trips.

We worked like sled dogs to get this far in life, and we take nothing fo granted.

Ronnie - that was a well-thought out essay. Thank you.

On topic, I've lived both existences and each with great fondness, joy, happiness, success, pitfalls, and pains but view life rather like a garden, “bloom where you're planted," I guess. In looking at relationships over the years, one thing always tugs at me and that is a prevailing co-dependence emerges, which paralyzes people, indeed, limits them. People who love and/or care for one another would, I believe, delight in the others' happiness, achievements, et al---but I cannot believe that anyone can make another happy, that implies a perception of too much power over another.

On the topic of children (many, for me) -- Children are often what one looks to in the aging process but, realistically, there are far too many variables in any size sample (numbers of off-spring) to be certain there will be suitable “likeness” in a brood of any size—especially in our society, where socioeconomic impact appears to do more than “split” DNA. As the aging populace, it behooves us to remain steadfast in our maturity, and outlook on life especially for the next generation; they’re not getting those values anywhere else the past few decades. Thus, as we age, the processes of “letting go” and building one’s life are prime acts; we must learn to seek our deepest, innermost pleasures, and build on them; we are unique.

For those who are seeking, and doubting they must realize that nothing on earth stays the same—it never has, and it never will, so for whatever one is hoping for, change will come, but in the meantime, it is so important to spend our lives in doing what gives us pleasure, or change something. If we don’t take care of ourselves, no one is going to – at least not like we would like to have it done. Surprises are wonderful, indeed, but they are soon forgotten, and only the feelings linger. It’s far more important to work on enjoying life, and making sure that we manage our existence, instead of vide-versa.

Overall, methinks that sometimes we do well in some situations, and other times we do not . . . our needs, joys, and pleasures change and no one around us can actually, affect those changes other than through extreme actions - none of which I would favor.

By the way, a feline greets me in this round of my life, but quite vociferously, and happily – almost to distraction.

Having been married, divorced, lived with a man, and now single again, I pretty much have come to agree with Katharine Hepburn when she said, "Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then."

It would be hard to find someone more naturally solitary than I am. I really don't mind having almost no social interaction for days. I think many acquaintances think me some kind of odd recluse.

Yet it would also be hard to find someone more marriage-able than I am (not possible legally.) I had a 7 year relationship that eventually foundered and am now in a 31 year relationship that remains a delight of energy, intellect and sheer fun to both of us. We've had struggles, but being very much with someone seems to work for me.

I was divorced in 1978 after 9 years of a difficult marriage, and was very glad to see it/him go. Later I had a 6 year live-together relationship until about 1985. Since then I have lived alone, or alone once my son left home at age 18.

In the ensuing years I have been torn. I am very happy many times with being alone. at first I missed having someone to chat with at dinner, someone to whom what I did today matters. But then, I got to really like eating alone and being mistress of my own home/self/life.

However, I am also, lately, often lonely, esp in the cold winter months. I feel isolated. And think it would be nice to have a special someone, living nearby perhaps, to share intimate times with. Not sure I want someone in my own space however.

Not counting widows and widowers, it feels to me like the world is made of couples. Maybe on Cape Cod, there are more obviously single(older) women, and maybe in Florida. But I have to say up here in the frigid, unfriendly north I feel my aloneness more.

After losing my husband seven years ago after forty years together (mostly happy), I have adjusted well to living alone. I have many interests and friends and family to keep me busy and then my two dogs and two cats to love me. I wouldn't mind having a male friend to have dinner with or even to travel with, but I am really not interested in marriage or even living together. I LIKE my solitude and my privacy. Life is good!

I think I probably have the best of both worlds. My first mariage was beset by many of the problems that others have spoken of here, and if that husband had not been in the merchant navy (and thus absent two weeks out of every three) the marriage would probably not have survived the 23 years that it did.
But now I have passed the 23-year mark in my second marriage (his third) and both of us have learned a lot from our earlier experiences. In fact, in our wedding ceremony, which we made up as we went along, one of the things we did was to give thanks 'to the people we practised on.'
This time, not only do I have someone whose core values eactly match my own but I experience the most wonderful sense of freedom within the relationship. We have some separate interests as well as our shared ones and we encourage each other's learning and growth. We share all household tasks. Our food preferences differ so we each prepare our own meals but often eat them together. Our daily routines differ somewhat too, but we stop for a hug many times throughout the day.
It wasn't always as smooth as it is now. We built a house together once - literally, out of mud bricks - and our different ways of working caused endless conflict.
But we see our relationship as a spiritual path. He is my 'guru' and I am his. We hold up mirrors to each other and work together on our 'emotional 'stuff'. Anything goes wrong, we process it together till it is resolved. I learned this approach to intimate relationships from John Welwood, with whom I studied in the early 80s (here's an article by him if anyone is interested) and it has changed my life.
One of the best things about getting old is that it gives all of us us the freedom to throw out all those pesky 'shoulds' and craft exactly the sort of lifestyle that we know best suits us. And, in the case of relationship, to craft it together in a way that suits all parties - and keep working at it till it does.

I said I'd never do it again after 2 marriages (one for 21 years ) and 1 live-in. But I did after 8 years alone, very enjoyably with wise, single, older women as friends, at the age of 63. That was 6 years ago - I wonder, will we arrive at the 7 year itch! It's his third too, after being widowed twice.

We both value solitude so make space for another, neither asking nor expecting permission to do things or go places alone. We are learning to accommodate differences as we go along, which I would rarely have been able to do 10 years ago.

If I were pitched back to singlehood, I would adapt to it again and enjoy it. I do value the companionship of of a live-in partner but with good friends, I don't believe it's an essential. In the main I'm with Katherine Hepburn - the best of both worlds.

Syd and I have been married for 47 years. We raised two children who are married with families of their own. We are quite content, for the most part, living in our house - sharing meals etc. yet doing our own things. We are friends and companions who have lived through issues and stress, just like our parents both of whom made 50+ years of marriage, as well. We each like our solitude and with separate bedrooms now, since the children have left, and two levels in our house, Syd has his "man cave" computer and all and I have my son's old bedroom as my office. Our marriage is good, albeit short of money, because we each have our own REMOTES!!!!! Amen....thank you Ronni - I don't know if I could make it alone...but did have one month a few years back when Syd had hip replacement and was in a nursing home down the street. It was the first time that I ever had the WHOLE HOUSE to myself and it felt AWFUL, especially at midnight when we usually have our icecream.

Well, again you've hit it, Ronni. I have lived alone now for about 14 years after two marriages that ended first, with my husband's death and second, in divorce. I also had about nine years between the two marriages, but the children were at home. I so appreciate reading about your comfort with solitude, a comfort that is not much recognized in this culture as anything but an aberration.

And I get deeply annoyed at the statistics about who's healthier, singles or marrieds, which do not take into account the many stresses of a bad marriage.

After my divorce I didn't have the time or the energy to look for another partner, nor did I think I had the emotional stamina for another failure. I'm happy now, happier than I've ever been. I love the freedom some have mentioned. I'm constitutionally a solitary. I'm a writer who needs lots of empty space around me. I have two dogs who greet me ecstatically at the door, friends. My children are grown but in close touch. AND, dammit, I am very healthy.

I'd love it if the right companion dropped down the chimney, but even so, I don't think, at 70, that I'd want to live with him.

I have a friend, older, whose husband was just diagnosed with Altzheimer's. I cannot bear to envision what's ahead of her. The statistics would land her in a different category--"caregiver."


Enjoyed the input....Information I had wondered about...divorced since 1972...Neither marriage was I treated as an equal....felt too much like another childhood...UGH...My dad was a bully & tyrant...Autonomy for me thanks!...

Married 4 times, divorced 4 times. Happily and devoutly single for 35 years!
Thinking of writing a book called, "Never Marry An Only Child", which refers to me, not any of my husbands or lovers. Took me a few years and a few husbands to realize that, growing up as an only child, I never really learned how to share. Came happily to terms with who I really am and learned to relax and enjoy my inate preference for the single life.

I married rather late, at 47 to someone much older than me. I like being married, the love and cherish thing grabs at my traditional soul. Things have changed a lot in our thirteen years of marriage, Alzheimers changes everything...without mercy. Oh yes, and then there is his family... their entitlement and that unfortunate reality that bites, and bites hard.

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