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How Long Have You Been on Your Own?

By Mary Lou Harris September 23, 2023 Mindset

I was visiting in the UK, traveling by train between Manchester and Shrewsbury en route to Wales. Seated in one of those foursome seats with a table between, I shared conversation with two women traveling from different locations in England.

We chatted as strangers on a train will do, comparing and commenting on the different final destinations for each of us. One of the women mentioned meeting with friends for a holiday weekend for the first time since she lost her husband.

As the conversation continued, the third seat mate asked the widow, “How long have you been on your own”? Her question struck me as a kind and forward thinking way to approach a loss.

Directing Life Forward

She wasn’t expressing condolences or asking when the husband died or anything else about the deceased. She was asking this woman who had suffered a loss how she was moving forward. I found it to be a thoughtful way of saying, you are important. How are you moving forward, looks to the horizon of the widow’s life rather than questions about how long she had been married, when her husband died.

No, her question was, “How long have you been on your own?” The question opened up the widow to respond that it had been 13 months, describing changes she had made to her home in the meantime, and plans for the future which included this particular holiday weekend with friends in a seaside village in Wales.

New to Being on Our Own Through Life’s Transitions

That conversation and the questions of ‘how long have you been on your own’ can apply to many transitions and take various forms, whether it be a divorce, estrangement from family members or perhaps loss of community due to a location move that is beyond our control.

As the topic arises with friends, or with strangers, how do we engage? There may be need to commiserate and hear out a friend, a mother, a sister. But after doing so, as the seat mate so beautifully did, how do we ask the questions or invite comments about how are you since this disruption in your life, and how have you been moving forward. We already know what was behind us, but what is on the horizon?

As we pass the ages of 60, 70 and beyond, the likelihood of loss in the form of people in our lives or a beloved home we must move on from, even when it is unspoken, even when, and especially when, relationships with people and place were a part of us, the need to move beyond sweet memories and regrets will come.

By the time we are reading a publication such as Sixty and Me, most of us will have already experienced some transition, whether an unexpected job loss or a death of someone close to us.

We need the time to mourn and digest our loss, but hopefully, when the time is right, someone will be there to ask the questions about you, not about the person, home, or employment that was taken from you. Someone to ask about you, how you are moving on, asking the questions, “How long have you been on your own since that loss? How are you doing since then, and what is on your horizon?”

If no one is there, asking us these questions, perhaps we will need to ask it of ourselves. “How long have you been on your own,” with the unspoken subtext of “How are you moving forward since your loss; since your life changing event?”

Thank you, stranger on a train, for offering me this tool as those close to me will inevitably face life’s losses. 

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How long have you been on your own? How are you moving forward? What’s on the horizon for you?

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I really appreciated this article. I’ve been on my own for 10 years, and I still feel like I am transitioning into becoming on my own! I feel like I am slowly making my home one that reflects my needs and personality, and I’m definitely still building a social life. I hope that a sense of feeling whole, or being “myself” will be on my horizon soon. I do like the phrase “How long have you been on your own” and I will use it with others.

Patricia J Painter

I totally disagree! I lost my husband 3 years ago. I live alone but I am not on my own because I have my sister, daughter and many friends close by. Because losing my husband was a loss I refer if someone asks “when did you lose your husband?” Much more appropriate for me!

Jan J

A lot depends on which other people are in your life. If you don’t have children, and whatever siblings you once had are gone, and friends have relocated – it’s a different situation.

his f

Same. I’ve just started to realize this fact and accept it as ‘normal.’


I’ve been on my own 11 years. Part of me feels that I’m adjusted and doing just fine and part of me still feels a little lost, not sure how I see my future.
I moved to another city two years after my husband passed to be closer to my kids and grandchildren. My “home” feels like home now, but I also still feel like fish out of water. Communities of women similar to the one in the UK are very appealing to me. I wish I could find one around me.


love that ‘how are you moving forward’. it makes me feel good about meeting my neighbor’s mother. she’s lovely, but i hadn’t met her; i only knew my 30-ish neighbor, who was so very nice. he died, and i wanted to reach out to her. ‘i’m sorry for your loss’ has become trite to me. i told her the World had lost a Good One, as indeed it has.

then i invited her over to paint. i craft -mostly for friends and family- and play with paint more seriously. i was at that time painted personalized rocks. i got a rock for her, and we chatted about nothing while we painted with music in the background. i planned to go up to SF, as i used to live up there, and i can get my Bay Area fix by just driving around old haunts. i invited her, and -lo and behold- she was actually driving up there that same day to take her other son home. i met her up there, and we spent 4 hours of me driving us around, showing each other sights.

it was just a day off.
i hope to go play with her again.
i feel like i met a new friend, but i want to let her have her space.
she’s not in the ‘i met a new friend’ space that i am.
just a break. i can’t imagine.

i can only hope this is relevant and makes sense;
your article sure was and did!

Sheila Gunther

Thank You for asking how I am doing after 6 years of being alone!


I’ve been on my own since I was 22 years old (married and divorced young). I am 63, so that is 41 years! It has been a true learning experience, sometimes with tears, but never without an upside too. I have my own little farm with goats and chickens. I’ve loved almost every moment of it. I’ve been lonely, but so has folks in long-term marriages. I have my health and good friends to lean on when I need a shoulder. I’ve made some wrong decisions with men but who hasn’t? My animals, including rescue dogs and lost cats have always been here to love and enjoy their company. I’ve finished a master degree, wrote two historical novels, and just finished up a master gardening class. So, you see, I keep busy and try to stay out of trouble. Life has been a blast, even given all the losses and sadness.


I was married in my late 30s and widowed 18 short months later. I love the questions here. I love how you’ve moved on. I have learned so much and made a beautiful life for myself. Thanks for sharing.

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The Author

Mary Lou Harris is a proponent of active living, community volunteerism and inquisitive travel. After a post age 60 retirement from a career in public service, she expanded those interests to include ultra-trail running, hiking and extended-stay travel. She can be contacted through her website or on Twitter at @stillarunner.

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