[Bella's intro: On Christmas Day of the year that Singled Out was first published, I got a wonderful present - an email from Tricia Hoffman (someone I did not know) telling me how much she enjoyed the book and sharing stories of her own love of single life. Tricia has experienced many different living arrangements over the years so she has a variety of points of comparison in assessing her single life. She was once on a panel on singles at Sonoma State University, along with Kay Trimberger, and Kay remarked that Tricia's experiences would enable her to sit in every seat and tell a different story each time. I am so grateful to Tricia Hoffman for sharing her stories of single life at 64. Myths and stereotypes, brace yourself - you are about to come tumbling down!]
Celebrating Senior Singlehood
By Tricia Hoffman
In a perfect world, wouldn't it have been wonderful if our parents and our society had given us this message as we were growing up: "We don't care if you're straight or gay, or if you choose to be single or get married, it's fine if you choose to have children with or without a partner or no children at all, it's great if you pursue a business career or want to be an artist, have religious beliefs or be an atheist.... just as long as you're happy." Wow! Just imagine what a wonderful world this would be!
Now, let's just pick one of these and carry it a little further... what if you overcame the matrimanical pressures of your peers, your family, the media, entertainment (consisting of movies, books and song lyrics), political and legal pressures and decided that you wanted to be a single person in a world of mythologically gleeful couples who ride off into the sunset and live "happily ever after." Have you ever wondered what happens after the sun sets??
For some people, living outside marriage box works very well for them. Not that living inside the box is bad, it just that it doesn't work for everyone and can seem too structured, confining, limited or simply not a viable option. It's like the saying, "Don't go where the path leads; go where there is no path and leave a trail." Walking down the aisle is like walking down the path. There are other choices, other paths, such as wanting to be a single person in a matrimonious world.
I had tried being married and living with others for over 30 years, since I was 19. Then, when I was almost 50 years old, I found myself single, living in a new town, and made the conscious decision to give singlehood a try. And, lo and behold, I found that it worked very well for me! So well, in fact, that I'm still single 15 years later. I felt a sense of freedom that I had never felt before. I also discovered that I was more motivated than ever to go out into the world and make friends, volunteer and get more involved in life outside of a relationship. Also, for the very first time, I got to know who I was. This was quite a revelation... getting to know myself for the very first time at age 49!
So, one of the first things I decided to do, was to take a hiking class at the local Junior College. It was kind of like: Do what you love and maybe you'll meet others. Well, I did. I met several wonderful women in the class and we started our own hiking group, calling ourselves the Wanderwomen. This group has expanded over the past ten years. There are now a couple of dozen of us who still hike, bike and kayak together. Besides our outdoorsy activities, we have women-only parties, brunches, dinners, and attend plays and movies together. Most of the Wanderwomen are married, but we have bonded as a women-only group. I've never even met many of their husbands and some of us have become travel companions and go on vacations all over the world (without the guys!). I have found that I really enjoy traveling with a variety of people. This is one of the many great things about being single.... you get to pick and choose and you get to be picked and chosen to do a myriad of different things with different people!
In the past few years, I've joined other groups where I've made more new friends and acquaintances. I've started square dancing twice a week and belong to an over 50 single women's potluck group, where we get together monthly for games, good food and talk. There are about 30 women that come each month to join in the festivities.
I also play table tennis several times a week either at senior centers or at a local table tennis club. And, even more recently, I've started playing the ukulele and am now a member of a co-ed uke group. Because I belong to these "special interest" groups, most of the people I associate with seem "single" because even if they are in relationships, their partners don't necessarily share their interests and aren't with them. So, I basically know all of these "play-mates" as single people.
Now, as a retired senior (64 years old to be exact), I'm more socially active and have more friends and community than I've ever had before. When I worked part-time as an independent contractor doing therapeutic massage at a spa, some of my associates became friends and acquaintances. But, when one retires, it takes more time and effort to meet people, as work is no longer a source of comradery and structure. Also, when one leaves the workplace, some of those people get left behind, too.
Between the square dancing, country western dancing, table tennis, ukulele playing, potlucks, hikes, bike rides, dinners, parties, game nights, going to movies/plays/concerts, volunteering several hours a week, travelling with friends and visiting my family, I am rarely, if ever, bored or lonely. When I need some down-time, I read, write, draw or play music.
Some people have the misconception that if you're single, you'll die alone. What's with that? First of all, if people are coupled, one person is going to die "alone".... without their partner around. Also, if a person passes away in the middle of the night in a nursing home they, too, may die alone, whether they are married or single. And, if you get right down to it, we all really do "die alone" as no one's going to take that final leap with us (unless, of course, there's a suicide pact... but, we won't go there).
And, what about when singles become ill? Who will care for them? If they're at home, their extended family and community of friends can definitely be there to help. I've had several friends who've gone through serious illnesses or surgeries and have been part of a group that provides the care-giving. It's such a burden on one person to care for those that have infirmities, especially if they are the only one doing the care-giving. There's a wonderful web site called Lotsa Helping Hands where you can set up a schedule so that all friends will know what the person who's sick needs... a ride to the doctor, food, shopping, their house cleaned, or just a little TLC and hand holding. It just takes one person to coordinate it from the beginning, then those who've signed up as helpers can just check the site and do what needs to get done. It's kind of like spreading the wealth; but, in this case, you're spreading the health... care.
There's also a wonderful local group called The Ceres Project that teaches teenagers how to cook organic, health-promoting food for people with cancer. Every week we, the drivers, pick up a whole week's worth of food made by these wonderful young volunteers in a large, supervised kitchen facility and deliver it to the homes of the clients. So, whether you're single or coupled, you can have healthy, nutritious "home made" food delivered right to your door. It's a wonderful program and I'm so honored to be part of it.
I think my living arrangement is rather unique. A very dear friend of mine and I bought a duplex together five years ago. Her son calls it our little "compound." We occasionally travel together, go to the movies, out to dinner, take walks, go for a bike ride, take care of the property, are there for each other, have some mutual friends and yet have separate abodes, separate friendships/ social lives/interests. So, I guess you could say we live alone, but together separately. It's working out great! Who knew?
Not having been single as a young adult, I'm sure that some of the peer/family pressures are different than when you're older. No one ever asks me if I'm going to get married or have children or have a career or be a stay-at-home mom. But, I would think that if a young person is considering being single, having a career, profession or trade would be very important because you'll be the one responsible for financially supporting yourself. Even if a woman plans to get married, she should have something to fall back on if things don't work out as expected and she needs to support herself and perhaps children someday.
Anyway, I know that right now I have many friends, many diverse interests, I love volunteering, and am financially independent. I truly feel that it's very important to have a community, friends, interests and activities to have a fulfilling and happy life as a single senior. It works for me!
[Tricia Hoffman also shared a wonderful poem that she wrote, "Same-Self Marriage." You can read it here at All Things Single (and More).]