Loneliness is a terrible emotion. It steals the fun from life, hurts our health and prevents us from following our dreams. Unfortunately, it is also a taboo subject, which few are willing to discuss in public. So, we let it sit quietly in our hearts and convince ourselves that we are alone in our loneliness. I want Sixty and Me to be a part of the solution and, as a first step, I reached out to the members of our community to ask them about their own experiences with loneliness.
Despite everything we know about the importance of maintaining social connections as we get older, finding friends after 60 can be a challenge. As we age, the easy social connections that we enjoyed as schoolmates, parents and colleagues change. As a result, many women find themselves facing shrinking social circles and needing to make new friends. In other words, we find a void in our lives and no easy way to fill it.
Most boomer women have a strong work ethic and derive a great sense of identity from their work. After all, many of us started working when we were 15 and have worked for 45 years, so when work ends, there is often a huge void in our lives. This leaves many of us looking for ways to avoid loneliness in retirement.
Many women have to deal with loneliness in retirement as their personal roles and responsibilities change and evolve. Often predictable routines and support systems that gave life meaning in the past are no longer in place.
Midlife women are doing it again. As we did in our 20s, we are questioning fundamentals, challenging the status quo, being stubbornly bohemian and embracing the unconventional. Boomers are tenaciously breaking down stereotypes about aging and redefining life after 60. However, this raises an important question.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It is so strong, instinctual and deeply woven into the way we interact with our world. A lot of spiritual teachers and psychologists say that fear and love are the only real human emotions and that every other emotion comes from them.
Fear is also a primitive emotion. It is the anticipation that something bad is going to happen – like a sabre tooth tiger jumping out of the bushes. These are the things our primitive brain had to worry about.
There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Every woman over 60 understands this. Being alone is something we have all experienced in our lives at one time or another, sometimes by choice, sometimes by circumstances beyond our control.
What do medieval beguines, communal living apartments, the Golden Girls and Suzanne Braun Levine all have in common? They’re all examples of how women can support one another in dealing with the challenges of getting older. There are many things that today’s women can learn from the idea of shared living communities.
According to the New York Times, 200 million adults worldwide are living alone. This represents an increase of 33 percent from 1996 to 2006. In addition, many more women over 60 are living alone than previous generations, whether it’s by personal choice or due to divorce or the death of a spouse.
Women over 60 are entering a new chapter of life. We have lived and loved and recovered from heartbreak and loss, we have strived in the career arena and tended the home fires and (often) nurtured children and cared for aging parents of our own. And as we get older, because of all that we have experienced and surmounted during our lives, many women over 60 find themselves feeling more optimistic about life than ever before.