Part Two: Suddenly Single After 50. What Do Women Want From a New Relationship?
Part two Q&A with author, journalist, columnist, and blogger Vicki Larson of OMG Chronicles*
Question: How much of their time are these older women willing to devote to a life partner? What are their top priorities if suddenly single after 50 and living alone for the first time in their life or since a long time ago?
Answer: Again, it depends if they desire to re-create what they had — hubby, wife, a home and shared interests and activities. Some may decide to change it up — maintain separate interests, hobbies, and friends. But they’d still be putting their romantic partnership first. Finding yourself suddenly single at mid-life can feel liberating or scary or both. Some may find themselves ill-equipped to take care of everything by themselves. Or maybe they hadn’t been in the workforce in a while and may feel lost. Many, especially after long-term marriages, will find navigating the dating world strange and uncomfortable. Others may feel liberated and empowered by all of it, and embrace a new beginning.
Question: You talk about Margaret Mead who said everyone should be married three times. Can you flesh this out more for us?
Answer: Lauded anthropologist Margaret Mead suggested that women needed three husbands: one for youthful sex, one while raising children, and one to be a companion in old age; she had three marriages herself and a long, loving relationship with a friend, a woman. Back in her day, divorce wasn’t easy to get and it wasn’t OK to have sex outside of marriage so a short marriage while young for passion and sex made sense. That’s not the reality anymore, but still, many people have short-lived starter marriages. Mead believed the only reason to stay together for any length of time was to raise kids. That takes about 18 years or so. So you’d want to marry someone who’s a good father — not necessarily a “soul mate.” After the kids are old enough to take care of themselves, you’d then be free to find the person to spend the rest of your life with. And given the rise in gray divorces, it seems like that is exactly what people are doing.
Question: When a marriage lasts through those three stages, why does it when in many situations it does not?
Answer: When you’re in your 20s, what do you know? You marry for love, he’s cute, this and that. Basically, if you’re lucky enough to weather the hard times and you’re both in the same space, same values, set boundaries, the marriage will survive. A happy marriage doesn’t end in divorce.
Question What if a woman is willing to make the compromises to be a “we” instead of a “me” and that person wants to get married. Do you find that these women give in just to hang on to the relationship, negotiate or walk?
Answer: In the study of women dating in their 60s and 70s that I mentioned above, that was one of the interesting findings: Some women said they had lost really satisfying relationships because the men wanted to get married but they didn’t, sometimes because it would hurt them financially and sometimes because they didn’t want to have to care for anyone else anymore. In fact, many said they were not interesting in care taking ever again — they’d been there and done that.
Question: If a woman over 50 does remarry, how does she handle the blending with her new spouse’s family, finances, and their space--both physical and emotional?
Answer: That isn’t my experience as I haven’t remarried and have no interest. The few woman I know who married again seem to have blended children, adult children, quite well; they were with their partners for many years before marrying. Remarrying impacts pensions, social security, alimony, and other mishegas like your kids’ inheritance. Before considering marriage again, it’s really smart to look at your financial situation and see how marriage is going to impact that. Then decide if this is the way you should go. And get a prenup. I just can’t imagine why anyone at midlife would marry without a prenup. Anyone who does is allowing the state to make the decision about distributing your assets after your death.
Question: Margaret met a sixty-something woman who told her she had been dating a guy for 20 years with no desire to marry. Her credo: the best relationships at this age are when you live no more than 20 minutes apart. Is this becoming more common and even the norm in our over 50 demographic?
Answer: Twenty minutes seems to be a specious number; it’s really up to the couple to decide. I know a couple who live in a duplex; she’s on the top floor, he’s on the bottom. That seems to work. More older divorced and widowed women are choosing live apart together relationships — he has his place, she has hers, and they can enjoy each other without the complications and complacency of living together. At the same time, an increasing number of older people are cohabiting, often for financial reasons (Social Security, pensions, etc.)
Question: How often does it work for the woman to have a relationship on her own terms? Dating without the hassle of emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally contributing and eventually committing?
Answer: I think it works great. Once you’re no longer looking for someone with whom to have children with and build a home with — or even commit to "until death" — you’re actually freer to find someone you just want to spend time with.
Question: You’re in the grocery store line and start chatting with a woman who tells you her husband just walked out on her or that her spouse just passed away. What would you say to that person who just had a loss and wants to date or thinks she wants to marry again? Any wise words?
Answer: Make sure to take care of yourself first because you had a loss regardless of who wanted out or what happened. You need time to grieve. Also, figure out what you want to have right now. Whatever you are missing cannot be made up by someone else. You have to take care of you before you get involved in another relationship.
Question: Anything else you have found that's important in older relationship building we haven't addressed?
Answer: People talk about the loneliness that often comes with being older and single. That’s a real thing that can’t be ignored. Women tend to be better at maintaining friendships while older divorced men sometimes struggle. It’s really important to find or create and then maintain a supportive community, and it's also important to free yourself from the pressure that the only “good” or “real” relationship is a romantic relationship.
Question: Any good stories of women who met men after divorce or widowhood?
Answer: Here’s a fairy tale story but true. A woman in her early 40s, divorced a long time ago, raised a child on her own and didn’t have a boyfriend for a very long time. It bothered her in the beginning. Then she resigned herself to: okay, this is how it is. Several months ago, she was Airbnbing one of her rooms and in walks a man. Low and behold, she is now packing to move to another state to live with him. I say, friendships often last much longer than romantic relationships. You can fulfill most of your needs by putting energy and passion into those friendships with kids, neighbors, co-workers as well as your family, and seek short-time casual relationships for sexual needs. In other words, you can have a very happy and satisfying life. And when you have that, a romantic partner is the icing on the cake.
Photo credit: Dieter Zander
*Vicki Larson is an award-winning journalist, author, columnist, blogger and freelancer whose work can be found in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian and elsewhere. She is the co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press), and the proud mother of two young men. Follow her at OMG Chronicles, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.