Q&A with author, journalist, columnist, and blogger
Vicki Larson of OMG Chronicles*
Question: Is there a timetable as to when most women who are divorced or widowed decide to date and get involved again? If divorced, a woman may need verification that she is still desirable (like Barbara) and rush into some unhealthy, but also healthy, relationships. Have you heard this? A widow might have this fantasy that a new relationship will start the way the relationship in her marriage ended (as with Margaret). What about a feeling of betrayal to a late spouse for a widow?
Answer: I haven’t seen any studies addressing that per se, but a 2009 AARP survey of midlife divorce indicated that a third of men began dating before their divorce was final while just a fifth of women did. This could be for many reasons—older men may find it easier to date, women may have full custody of the kids, limiting their ability to date. If someone’s too eager to replicate what she had, especially if she hasn’t allowed herself time to grieve, the relationship and come to a happy, healthy place as a single women again, it’s likely she may enter into a bad situation. For widows, bereavement can last for years. According to one study, many widows tend avoid intimacy, in part because they fear they might lose someone again as well as a sense of betraying their late husband. Plus, they are judged much more harshly if they start dating “too soon.”
Question: Don’t many women of our generation think if they date again after divorce or widowhood that it should lead to marriage? Isn’t that what many of us over 60 were brought up to think?
Answer: Yes, it’s a generational thing. I just turned 60 and my kids are in their 20s. I have a number of friends in their late 50s who are in second marriages and others who have moved in with boyfriends. And then there are a number of women who feel like I do; they don’t need to get married again but want companionship. When you look at trends today, there are more and more older couples living together rather than marrying. However, some feel more comfortable in the social construct of marriage. We understand what a husband and wife are.
Question: What are you hearing are the reasons women who are divorced or widowed do not want to get married again yet crave companionship?
Answer: Many say they finally feel free to do what they want to do, which is why studies indicate that women are often a lot happier after divorce. At this age, our children are grown and many are exhausted by the years of care giving. Many women lose their sense of identity in long-term marriages; now, we can not only reclaim it but also re-create it. Some do not want to give that up by marrying again, plus all the complications of blending families and perhaps finances. That doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t want companionship and sex. Many are happy to have short-term partnerships. But some are content to focus on themselves and find non-romantic companionship with their children and grandchildren, and with their girlfriends.
Question: Do divorced or widowed women bond better with their kids after divorce or widowhood? And how accepting are the kids with their mother dating and possibly getting remarried?
Answer: I didn’t bond differently with my kids because I was as close with them as a mom could be. But these were challenging years. At the time of my divorce, my kids were 9 and 12. Their dad and I did not fight about the divorce. We mediated without attorneys. The kids spent one week with their dad and one week with me. I did not date for a year after we split and only did so when my husband had the kids. Then when I was in a committed relationship, I introduced them to my boyfriend. But I didn’t do the one big family thing and let’s go on vacations together. I slowly made them part of our lives. I never had anyone stay over until much later in a relationship. The kids were okay with my dating because I didn’t force it down their throats.
Question: If not married but in a long-term relationship, is the woman responsible for taking care of her partner if he becomes ill? What’s the commitment? Doesn’t this play into the fear women have of becoming a nurse after years of being caregivers to kids and parents and, in Margaret’s case, a caregiver to her sick husband for five years.
Answer: The joke is that at this stage in life, men are looking for a “nurse with a purse.” Which may explain why for those age 45 or older, a third of men remarry and just a quarter of women do. Since women still do the bulk of the care giving, many might be loathe doing that again in a new partnership, especially if they were caring for an ill spouse. In fact, a recent survey indicated that older women do not want to date a man in poor health or who isn’t financially stable. They’re not interested in having a partner who will be on drain on them.
Question: What if they’ve been dating say 10 years, they’re not married and not even living together, but the man becomes ill. What is a woman’s commitment to that person?
Answer: You don’t need a legal commitment to care take. You just need the moral compass. Some men are caregivers but traditionally they are not raised to do so. There are studies that show men check out for divorce when their wife has several illnesses. Think John Edwards. The obligation is whatever you feel. Marriage does not make you a better person.
Question: In general, how do many women over 50 who are suddenly single view marriage? More positive or negative?
Answer: A bit of both. A lot depends on whether the woman wanted to divorce, it was mutual or it was something her former husband wanted, which have come as a total shock to her. A recent study looked into why older women — in this case, women in their 60s and 70s — date. A few things became clear to the researchers early on — the women loved their independence but still craved companionship. They wanted both. But not necessarily marriage.
Question: If they do want marriage, why?
Answer: Some people don’t do well by themselves and want to re-create that familiarity. As I said, society is more judgmental of widows and widowers who date because oh, my, gosh, your spouse died. How can you go out and date? I say be happy for people who found what they want, whatever that is and they want to have.
Coming in Part Two: Vicki addresses how much time to devote to a life partner. Top priorities. Compromises to be “we” instead of “me.” And much more.
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.