This blog is focused on helping you have a satisfying retirement. In one particular regard, however, I can be of little help with direct experience: being retired and single. Being retired and unmarried, either due to never being married, divorce, or widowhood is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon. I believe this is an issue that I have overlooked for too long.
The Internet has lots of information and insight that I have been reading. There are all sorts of sites loaded with suggestions on how to live a full and active life as a single. What I found rather interesting is that most of the suggestions are very similar to those for retired folks who are married or in a long term relationship. The basic steps to stay involved and connected aren't very different.
An Important Difference
But, there is an important distinction to be made. Being alone, either by choice or fate, does affect someone differently than being part of a couple. Being alone is not the same as loneliness, but there can be a strong link. Some people relish solitude. Their basic personality is such that they function best without having to interact with someone else on a regular basis. That doesn't mean someone who enjoys solitude doesn't enjoy being with others, having friends or joining groups. Rather, it seems to be a state of mind that says I do not need another person to feel complete.
Others find solitude to be debilitating. A major cause of depression in older people is the loneliness that can overwhelm someone after the death of a spouse or having to confront a life crisis alone. Richard Norgaard wrote in an article that says what tends to happen is these people become isolated, afraid to change, or maybe don't know how to change anymore. Learning something new and engaging with other people takes too much energy and dedication. The world keeps shrinking as friends and relationships slowly slip away.
In April 2012, blogger Carolyne Marshall said, " Loneliness is more of an emotional state consisting of a hollow emptiness and profound unhappiness. It is not a voluntary condition like solitude might be. Loneliness can affect us all at different times, in different ways – whether it’s a fleeting feeling or a constant state of disconnection or isolation." Blogger Dave Bernard asked an important question in one of his posts: ""How many relationships exist where couples stay together out of a fear of being alone when they would really be better apart? How many people rush into a new relationship because they do not want to go through life alone, preferring a bad match versus no match at all?"
Sex Plays A Major Role
Women live, on average, seven years longer than men. Therefore, being alone at some stage of life is more likely to be a problem for women. Of the nearly 14 million widows in the United States, over 11 million are female. Estimates are that 25% of all married women in the United States will be widowed by age 65, and that 50% of the remaining women will have lost their husbands by their 75th birthday. Coupled with the statistics that shows divorce is growing fastest among those 55+ and being retired and single will become more of an issue.
As I noted the suggestions for those who find themselves retired and alone are not unique. Getting a job or volunteering so you interact with people is suggested by many. Staying fresh by learning new things, taking classes, reading non-fiction to stay up-to-date on important issues, attending plays and concerts....all good ideas but maybe they miss something important that someone who is retired and alone can add to this discussion.
I am a person who enjoys solitude. I need "me" time and a clean and clutter-free space on a regular basis. But, I have been happily married for 36 years, retired for 11, and expect my wife to be by my side as we age together. I really can't place myself in the shoes of someone who is on the retirement journey alone.
Interestingly, the PBS web site, Next Avenue, had an article a few days ago on the perils of aging alone. I guess we both arrived at the same conclusion: this is an important topic.
Retired and Alone: Can You Help Us?
So, this is where I need you. If you are retired and single for any reason I would really appreciate your insight. If you have friends who are single and retired and would consider adding their thoughts, please ask them to visit here.
How does being alone affect you, your lifestyle and your choices during retirement? Is it nice to be able to do what you want when you want without meshing schedules with someone else? Have you always been single and can't imagine any other way?
Or, is your aloneness in retirement something that you didn't plan for or think might happen to you? How are you handling this life change? What suggestions do you have for others in the same situation? What makes it better?
This is an important subject and one that I can't believe I have overlooked for so long. A satisfying retirement is our goal. How does our relational state affect it?