My friend, Marcia, is a vigorous woman in her early 80s. Thirty years ago, she moved into an apartment on Manhattan’s upper East side. Last year, I visited her place for the first time. There were bars outside her ground floor windows, but I didn’t see them when I stepped through the door because I was overwhelmed: the place smelled just like my mother’s!
My mother, like Marcia, had bought an apartment in Manhattan after her divorce and lived there for decades. Her place was in the upper West side, across town from Marcia’s, but shared some features: a refinished wood floor with scatter rugs; house plants atop the radiator cover beneath the window; piles of written material (magazines, newspapers, miscellaneous papers) stacked up in baskets set in corners. Artworks hung on Marcia’s walls that my mother would have loved. The nostalgia hit me hard.
How could the vibe be the same in two places widely separated in space and time? Both Mom and Marcia had been teachers, hence the profusion of paper. Or maybe the steam-powered radiators in both old buildings emitted something that wrung a similar flavor from the furniture?
But the two women had lived differently: Marcia still went to work and traveled often with friends and family, while my mom had stayed home in her later years. Marcia considered herself to be in excellent health – never mind those surgeries she’d undergone in past years – while my mom had issues with her blood pressure and her teeth.
I concluded that the main thing the two women had had in common was they’d both inhabited their New York apartments alone.
For a couple of years now, I have lived alone, and my behavior has certainly changed from when I cohabited with my late husband. Because there’s no one else to consult, no one whose tastes or eccentricities demand consideration, I have loosened up. I tack odd-ball illustrations on the walls; I talk to things in the kitchen, not just the plants, which are known to appreciate it, but to toasters and ice cube trays refusing to let go of their cubes.
I curse freely when vexed, and I make Alexa repeat the same song again and again, if I feel like it. I eat what I please and leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight and bits of leftovers in the fridge until mold renders them inedible. I make all the rules, and I love it.
Since there’s no one to tell what’s going on in my mind, though, I’ve become a busybody. When I take my daily walks, I can’t help chatting with perfect strangers. “Planning a birthday party?” I say to a woman wrestling balloons out of her car. “How far are you going?” I ask a teenager in Spandex packing two bottles of water on her back.
“Is your dog friendly?” I ask the man setting out garbage with one hand and pulling a leash with the other. I mean well, and no one has said “Buzz off, lady.” Not yet. It’s just a matter of time until my white hair stops protecting me from scorn, or something worse.
My freshman year college roommate has observed that it’s harder to make friends as we age. Finding new people has ceased to be organic: there are no more playgroups, sports tournaments, or after-hours office parties at which to strike up a conversation. New acquaintances don’t share as much life experience with us as older ones do, and it takes so much work to establish a friendship with any depth.
Another college friend has confessed that when she’s tired of rattling around her big house by herself, she sometimes goes to the supermarket just to talk to the clerks. For her, when the desire for human connection strikes, any face, preferably a smiling one, is better than none.
How are we older women living alone to find company when we want it? We know the time may come when dashing off to the supermarket just to feel human energy may no longer be feasible. Nor will we open a dating app just to see a smile.
My friend, Trish, has an answer. Her son and his fiancé are planning to move across the country and asked her to come with them. She doesn’t want to abandon her life here in Phoenix, but she couldn’t deny his logic: she’s in in her 70s, he’s worried about her taking care of her house when she can’t call him to come switch a breaker she can’t reach. And they would miss each other.
Trish hit upon a compromise. She agreed to move into a senior independent living apartment in a few years, and her son promises he will have a guest room available so she can spend summers in his new home. Big plus: a friend of hers already lives in the community she has chosen. In fact, that’s a big reason she chose it and the activities and services offered.
My late husband and I tried congregate living toward the end of his illness. He’d been house-bound for a while, so he loved the mobility the place afforded him. Until he became too ill to enjoy it. After I no longer needed to care for him, I moved out of the community because I didn’t like the institutional food and I could still change lightbulbs and drive myself anywhere I wanted to go.
My mother, who didn’t drive, used New York City’s extensive bus system to get around. She also made friends with the bus drivers on her regular route. I imagined I would follow her example and age in place, but without the buses.
When new, noisy neighbors began disrupting my peace, though, I began to reconsider. I’m healthy now but decrepitude is inevitable, and I’m at the age where I have to make decisions about the final stage of life.
My western metropolis lacks the abundant street life my mother enjoyed in New York, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Trish’s idea makes sense. When the real estate market allows, I will move into a condo in a development where a widowed friend already lives.
My friend and I are old enough to let each other go our own way. Yet she’ll be there to bring me back from the eye doctor when my pupils are dilated or whenever else I need her touch. And vice versa.
Will I still consider myself living alone? You bet, and relishing the freedom it bestows. I will keep on cussing loudly and sleeping on the couch when the spirit moves. Over the years, things may pile up in baskets in corners, like in Marcia’s place, and my condo may develop a characteristic smell that only visitors notice. I should be so lucky.
What does living alone mean to you? Has it been an adventure? Do you find yourself more liberated? What decisions have you had to make on your own? What have you planned for your later years?
Tags Getting Older
I’m 76 year old and have been living alone for almost 5 yrs after losing my Iongtime boyfriend. I had bought a home in FL and was fixing it up so we both could enjoy it as snow bunnies. He passed suddenly and since he singly owned the home we enjoyed in Upstate NY for over 20 yrs, I had to quickly move out when his sons wanted to put it up for sale. I permanently moved to FL and have been living a pretty lonely life here.
Soon to be 71 and divorced for 17 years I evaluated what I wanted out of life going forward. I inherited a FL property and replaced it with a condo on a marsh just outside of Charleston SC. I use it as a seasonal rental to generate income. Sold my family home and bought a small house in 55+ community near Asheville NC. The neighbohood has a clubhouse and pool and lots of social activities. I chose that area becauseI knew it would create opty’s to make friends. It has a vibrant arts and dining scene, is very dog friendly and has a branch of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) which has locations all over the US with a huge array of fun classes targeting Seniors. Most importantly I took care of health problems that were fixable (hip replacement/cataract surgery) so I could enjoy this next chapter. It took alot of research to put this plan into action but it is so worth it! .
Hi Ladies, I’m Linda and have a house in Queens, NY. I would enjoy to have a senior house mate. I’m well over 65,still work part-time.
If interested or know someone, please feel free to contact me.
I am 63 and living alone for the first time in my life. I am the mom to six kids and six grandkids. My youngest son launched in August 1922 and for months I was devastated. I realized that I never fully grieved my late husband because I was so busy raising my last two kids. It didn’t really hit me until I was a complete empty Nester. Now, several health issues have popped up that I am dealing with, but I really hope to get to the point where I enjoy my independence and can embrace this season of my life. My children are spread out across four different states last year I downsized from a four bedroom colonial on 5 acres to a two bedroom apartment in a different state. I struggle with where home is now. I am retired home educator and nurse. My entire life centered around, serving my family and my late husband to the neglect of developing myself. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated.
The first thing to do is look at your world as a new beginning/ adventure, like when you left home for the 1st time. As a retired nurse & a mother, I, too, have spent my life taking care of family, running my husband’s businesses, being a single mother when he traveled for work, working full-time caring for others, & the upkeep of a house & yard. I now live for me.
Take a deep breath & decide what YOU want in your life now. You are young (age is only a number), you can travel, raise plants, volunteer, join a club, start any hobby you want to try….go for it. Get a dog or cat for a companion, have the radio on low for noise in your home, read the books you never had time for, exercise as your health allows & above all don’t feel sorry for yourself (an occasional pity-party is ok then shake it off).
A psychologist once told me just because your life doesn’t go the way you want it to, find another path to follow & always be honest with yourself.
Carol, good luck to you. There’s a whole new world awaiting you for you to enjoy!
I am 66 and have been living alone since I had my divorce at 48, after 25 years of marriage. Although I have been asked to marry again (a few times), I found I have been unable to give up the independence of living alone, and I’ve found a companion that wants to spend time and travel, but is also happy living independently. I have no children, and yes, I do think about the future sometimes. But today is real and “the future” just a construct at the moment. So I will take one day at a time, feel gratitude for all my blessings, and continue to enjoy the life I have created.