Single File: Middle-Aged Singleness
DEAR SUSAN: Happy 58th birthday to me. I just read your column, and thought it was very nice to be asked for my opinion about SOMETHING.
I've learned that as a mother of grown children, with grandchildren of my own, it's the best technique to keep my opinions to myself -- and smile. Sometimes it's difficult, but it's often necessary.
I had a happy marriage for 25 of the 28 years it lasted. When it broke apart, we still managed to be civil to each other. It was more a matter of growing apart after the children left the nest; we wanted different things out of life. I have been single 10 years and have seen lots of single people in action. I had a steady boyfriend I lived with for two years, but his smoking and persistent memories of his ex-wife were too much for me, so I moved out. (We've gotten along much better since I've got my own place.) I've got a neighborhood bar that's very friendly... lots of dancing and interplay among the regulars. I met lots of nice people my age, and as I look upon them 10 years later, most of them are still single, living alone and loving it. A few remarried -- but not many. The older men (45 and up) married for the most part women a few years younger, but not very young. The middle-aged women (40 and up) were not so anxious to remarry. Most of them have their own homes that make their lives very comfortable.
During these 10 years my longest relationship was four years with a married man; we were both unhappy with our sex partner. I also had a boyfriend who was separated from his wife for years; they didn't live together, but he didn't want to divorce because he had sizable assets he didn't want to split. So, who pays? Me! I didn't encourage him because of his questionable priorities.
In my opinion, most middle-aged men (45-plus) aren't ready for remarriage. (If they've been so pampered that they're now helpless, they're more ready.)
But assets, children and grandchildren are tops on the preservation list of the rest of that age group. They want a girlfriend, but that's all. Many have alcohol-related problems, health risks and suffer from impotency.
Middle-aged women are almost the same, except they know they can take care of themselves. The hardest thing they face is being able to support themselves financially. When you're over 45 it's very difficult to crack well-paying jobs. I was very lucky to get a civil-service position. It took my share of the divorce money (after we sold our property) and built a smaller house. But my knees are not good, so I'm not sure about my next move. And my credit card debt worries me.
To sum it up, though, I have no burning desire to be married. (If Mr. Right falls into my lap, though, I might consider it.) I just want peace with my children and love from them. Their time is the most precious thing they can give me. Thanks for letting me say these things out loud. It was a very nice birthday present. -- Dale D., Tucson, AZ
DEAR DALE: Happiness is being free to speak your mind, and you know "Single File" is the one place you can let down your hair. Some words may have to be changed in the interest of public decency, but a return envelope gets a response from yours truly. Guaranteed. This is the one place where the unmarried can compare experiences and strategies for dealing with the situations that arise only in single life -- where the entire single community (and it is indeed a community) renews its kinship. As the population of this country is aging, it becomes increasingly crucial that we hear from those who've been there first, so that our path is smoother. Thanks, Dale, for the personal history that gives us a glimpse into the future. Happy birthday -- and many, many more. We hope another overview is in the works. Don't make us wait another year.
SINGLE LOGIC: It's not true that being single is better than being married. That's not at all what this forum is all about. There are pluses and minuses to both. Singleness does have its lonely moments. But being legally linked to someone who's not a friend has got to be the pits, the most alone feeling of all. So, if marriage isn't the solution to the blues, and we agree it isn't, what's a person to do? The answer comes loud and clear, sharp and ringing: Develop yourself. Build a full, rich personhood now, in the present, since today is here and now. And what will come -- will come. It's not ours to see, so let's seize each day and shape it to our delight. Carpe diem.
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