A major loss can be devastating whether a job, family member, your home, or any number of unexpected events. In a nanosecond, your life as you knew is derailed. You can give in to the loss, sit in a corner and metaphorically suck your thumb, or you can use it as an opportunity to navigate a new path forward.
A friend of Margaret’s in her late 50s was a financial analyst for a boutique firm. Her children are out of the house, and her husband passed away almost five years ago. One morning, she walked into work, and a pink slip sat on her desk. She was out of a job--but not down and out. Instead of bemoaning the fact that she was laid off, she decided it was the opportune time to do all the things she never had time to do before since she was in good enough financial shape. She would shop, lunch with friends, go for happy hours, travel and try her hand at painting. She’s signed up for art classes and made plans to visit India, a country she’s longed to see. She looks great, is rested and feels pretty in the new clothes she bought after losing weight and starting an exercise regimen. Next in the works may be a consulting business.
Barbara was blindsided when her husband walked out after 29 years of what she thought was a happy marriage, not perfect, and with some cracks but not at the stage, she thought She tried to salvage the relationship, went for therapy with him and then for herself when she knew there was no hope. She kept busy with work once alone, exercised, spent time with old and new friends, and family. And she thought ahead to a new single life all on her own, which terrified her. Also to fill time, she started dating to test the waters of a possible new relationship, which also scared her since she hadn’t dipped her toes in the dating pool in more than 30 years. Her life now—16 years after being separated--is very different financially but she’s upbeat since she has her health, energy to work, work out, and enjoy her painting and visiting museums. And most of all, she’s no longer angry or bitter, but counting her blessings for what she still has.
Margaret, too, experienced gut-wrenching loss after her husband died from a protracted illness. She made several conscious decisions to deal with her pain through therapy and a grief support group, retired from her full-time job almost two years after he passed away, and put a set of ideas in place to lessen her aloneness. By focusing on herself and healing from the pain, she has rediscovered who she is today as a single woman and determined what she needs at this stage of her life.
Choosing a new life path when suddenly single can be challenging. We developed the following mantra to make our transitions easier:
- Make plans to meet friends. Go for a happy hour or dinner one night during the week, or at least make lunch dates weekly.
- Go to events where there will be others. Consider art gallery openings, wine tastings, concerts, lectures, and classes. You never know who you’ll meet, and it’s better than always sitting home alone. Margaret loves to go to wine tastings, has taken more time for photography, one of her passions, and frequents lectures and book reviews by good authors. Barbara now is a Pilates regular, and occasionally takes painting classes, a passion from her college and grad school years.
- Weekends are time to plan ahead since they can be very lonely. Margaret has a rule--she makes plans for one night of every weekend. That includes going out with friends or going out with her new best friend—herself. Barbara did so, too, and one couple always included her at least one night of the weekend. Friday nights we’ve found are best for eating out or going to a movie alone. We still consider Saturday nights “a date night” and feel uncomfortable sitting alone at a table or in a movie holding a tub of buttered popcorn rather then a guy’s hand.
- Fill days to add structure, just don’t overload yourself. Barbara focused on building up her workload to fill time and pump up her finances. She continues to work 24/7 but finds her range of assignments continues to stimulate her brain, adds to her knowledge, and has helped introduce her to interesting folks. After Margaret retired from her full-time job, she considered what makes her really happy and realized it is working with kids. She now tutors elementary school children and reads to pre-school kids at an inner city daycare center. She also has time to do more freelance writing and has the luxury to choose her assignments. On a beautiful day, she will don her Nikes and take a leisurely walk in her new neighborhood.
- Find time to read. Both avid readers, this is a real bonus now that we live on our own. If either of us wants to turn the light on and read at 3 a.m. or do some writing, we can. And we now have time to peruse the shelves of the public library or a neighborhood bookstore and sip a coffee or hot chocolate on our own.
- Make ourselves more presentable. We had forgotten to be superficial after so many years of marriage, so we each started caring more about our appearance as single women. Barbara remodeled herself by losing weight, inspired by a younger daughter’s wedding, and also wanting to be healthier. She started dyeing and highlighting her hair, and applying more make-up. Margaret started wearing good makeup, tighter jeans and shorter skirts and one day caught the eye of a former high school boyfriend. The two started dating and are still a pair.
- Check out dating sites. This can be time consuming but fun. Barbara is a pro, having gone out with 350 men before she met her current beau, who was her only fix-up…ever! She found it initially fun to peruse members’ listings, hear the guys’ stories, and expand her circle of contacts. Some were awful, boring, funny, and nice, and a few became friends whom she still is in touch with. She learned a lot about herself and what she sought in a potential new partner. Margaret wasn’t interested, particularly since her city sometimes resembles a fish bowl and word would have spread too fast.
- Both of us knew it was time to quench our thirst for the wanderlust. Barbara mostly traveled to see friends from living in St. Louis and Chicago, which made it affordable, but she also visited one daughter in the D.C. area. She traveled abroad with her elderly mom, and more recently started focusing on seeing more of the States. Margaret has mostly traveled to see two of her kids, one on the West Coast and the other on the East Coast, and visiting her two sisters in New York. Both of us have learned the ups and downs of traveling alone. Margaret planned a first-time trip to Canada, traveled to see her youngest son, a musician, perform in Chicago, and is planning a trip to Asia in the fall.
- Develop new friendships. It’s far from easy as a single woman past 60 now, but a fun challenge to add new folks into our lives. Barbara had already mastered the art of making new friends through her three moves in the Midwest from her native New York, but her move back East several years ago meant she needed to call on that skill again in settling into her new ‘hood where she knew nobody. She has, and also reconnected with childhood friends, though she does miss her Louis and Chicago close pals. Now that Margaret is on her own, she has the time to entertain more, be a better friend whether comforting someone who has a loss or an illness or just offering a shoulder for a gal pal in need. But she made new friends through her grief support group, and relishes the experience.
At first, when we lost our husbands, our worlds crashed. Who were we? Who would we be going forward? Who would want to be around our sad long faces? We slowly climbed our way back to enjoying our lives and with slightly altered personas. By crafting a list of survival techniques, relying on the support and largesse of each other and our circle of friends and family, we went from loss to gain, from hopelessness to hope, all documented in our book, Suddenly Single After 50.