According to a study by the Pew Research Center, about 27 percent of American seniors live solo. They can include your aging parent or other loved one. Many are widowed or divorced. What is it like for them and what does it take to have a satisfying life?
Retired business manager (RM), age 65, is an example of making a success of the journey. As she put it, “I wake up alone every morning and I go to bed every night alone.” She is reasonably healthy and does a lot of walking. She had a failed marriage when she was young and has two adult children and a grandchild. There is not a lot of family togetherness. She married another man later in life, but his alcohol dependency ruined that and she divorced him.
Going It Alone After Divorce
RM found herself sad and depressed once again without a partner in her daily life. Her solution is to stay engaged and busy with a large charity, which she had committed to before the second divorce. She attends weekly meetings and serves on committees and in leadership positions. The frequent social interactions fulfill a need for connection to others. What is most important is her dedication to the group and its mission. She gets satisfaction out of her own contributions and meaning from the work the charity does. She travels, meets friends often for social events and entertains at her home. This looks like success as a solo ager.
A Widow’s Viewpoint
Former professional (FP) is 85 and lost her husband of 45 years suddenly and unexpectedly, she reports. She chose to sell her large home and move to a smaller condo in an age-friendly community. She finds social activities there and attends them regularly. She described how she travels. “I hate tours”, she says. She is planning a trip to Paris later in the year and looks forward to a month there, exploring on her own. She rented a house and has invited her daughter and some friends to come and visit. Like RM, FP is a walker. She does 3 to 5 miles a day just about every day. She’s in pretty good shape, she says, despite a few issues in her legs and an irregular heartbeat. Perhaps not too many of us would choose to travel solo in our 80s but she is brave enough to take that on without hesitation. As she described this, I was wondering how this smallish-sized elder could manage all her bags by herself while traveling to other countries. Apparently she has figured out how to do it.
What These Solo Agers Have In Common
Both RM and FP do seem to be navigating aging alone rather well. We look at their lives as examples of what makes the journey successful for them. Both are very committed to engaging with others every week, whether it’s with RM’s charity, or FP’s social events. Both enjoy travel and have learned to do this on their own. They book flights, find good places to stay and invite others to join them. They always have a trip to look forward to. Neither has strong, regular family support a solo ager might want but they make the best of it. You do not hear them complaining about it. They make and keep friends who fulfill their need for company.
Aging alone can be a daunting prospect. One does not necessarily plan for it but it is common. What makes it work for those who appear to be successfully managing it are the following things:
- Stay physically active. Walking is fine and so are other sports that involve partners. Pickleball, for example, is hugely popular with older adults.
- Commit to remaining engaged with something that gives meaning to your life. Commitment can translate to volunteering, or any participating regularly in any activity that is challenging or enjoyable or both.
- Understand that creating a satisfying life as a solo is entirely possible, but it’s going to take work. Planning and determination to avoid sitting at home and isolating one’s self are crucial. Successful solos do things. They initiate. They invite others into their lives. They meet their needs for connection with choices available.
For any person who is not alone by choice, because of divorce, loss of a partner or just never finding a partner, take some inspiration from the real characters in this piece. I have met them face to face and do respect how they are working things out for themselves. They don’t wait for others to do things for them. They inspire me, not a solo ager and I hope they will inspire anyone as we age.