Satisfying Retirement In A Changing World: Retired and Alone

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A few facts:

* 27% of Americans over 65 live alone

* 69% of those folks are women

* 61% say they would like to stay in their own home with the assistance of a caregiver

Living alone can mean the person has never married, is single because of divorce or the end of a long-term relationship, or is a widow(er). Whatever the definition, being retired and single (at some point) does present a different set of challenges and decisions than if part of a couple.

As a guy, married for almost 45 years, I cannot speak about this important subject with any personal insight. So, I must depend on Internet research and your input. 

There are all sorts of sites loaded with suggestions on how to live a full and active life as a single. What I found rather interesting is that most of the suggestions are very similar to those for retired folks who are part of a couple. The basic steps to stay involved and connected aren’t very different.

Now, that raises the obvious question: is that similarity real, or just what some people presume? Is what a single, retired person faces quite a bit different? And, if so, what to do about it?

An Important Difference

There is an important distinction to be made. Being alone, either by choice or fate, is not the same as loneliness, but there can be a strong link. Some people relish solitude. Their basic personality is such that they function best without having to interact with someone else on a regular basis, and I don’t mean during a pandemic.

That doesn’t mean someone who enjoys solitude doesn’t enjoy being with others, having friends or joining groups. Rather, it seems to be a state of mind that says I do not need another person around me all the time to feel complete.

Others find solitude to be debilitating. A major cause of depression in older people is the loneliness that can overwhelm someone after the death of a spouse or having to confront a life crisis alone. Richard Norgaard wrote in an article that what tends to happen is these people become isolated, afraid to change, or maybe don’t know how to change anymore. Learning something new and engaging with other people takes too much energy and dedication. The world keeps shrinking as friends and relationships slowly slip away.

Several years ago blogger Carolyne Marshall said, ” Loneliness is more of an emotional state consisting of a hollow emptiness and profound unhappiness. It is not a voluntary condition like solitude might be. Loneliness can affect us all at different times, in different ways – whether it’s a fleeting feeling or a constant state of disconnection or isolation.” 

I still remember blogger Dave Bernard asking an important question in one of his posts: “”How many relationships exist where couples stay together out of a fear of being alone when they would really be better apart? How many people rush into a new relationship because they do not want to go through life alone, preferring a bad match versus no match at all?”


Sex Plays A Major Role

Females live, on average, seven years longer than males. Therefore, being alone at some stage of life is more likely to be reality for women.  Of the nearly 14 million widows in the United States, over 11 million are female. Estimates are that 25% of all married women in the United States will be widowed by age 65, and that 50% of the remaining women will have lost their husbands by their 75th birthday. Coupled with the statistics that shows divorce is growing among those 55 and older, being retired and single will become a greater issue.

As I noted, the suggestions for those who find themselves retired and alone are not unique. Getting a job or volunteering so you interact with people is suggested by many. Staying fresh by learning new things, taking classes, reading non-fiction to stay up-to-date on important issues, attending plays and concerts….all good ideas but maybe they miss something important that someone who is retired and alone can add to this discussion.

I am a person who enjoys solitude. I need “me” time and a clean and clutter-free space on a regular basis. But, I have been happily married for 44 years, retired for almost 20, and am confident my wife will be by my side as we age together. I really can’t place myself in the shoes of someone who is on the retirement journey alone.

Retired and Alone: Can You Help Us?

So, this is where I need you. If you are retired and single for any reason I would really appreciate your insight. If you have friends who are single and retired and would consider adding their thoughts, please ask them to visit here.

How does being alone affect you, your lifestyle and your choices during retirement? Is it nice to be able to do what you want when you want without meshing schedules with someone else? Have you always been single and can’t imagine any other way? 

Or, is your aloneness in retirement something that you didn’t plan for or think might happen to you? How are you handling this life change? What suggestions do you have for others in the same situation? What makes it better, or at least bearable?

Being single, divorced, or widowed brings financial concerns. Social Security spousal benefits are not as generous as two separate accounts. Any pension may not continue after a partner’s death or departure.

Not having a partner or family member to help with illness and injury changes how one thinks about convalescence needs and costs. Where and how to live as we age is a different calculation for someone who is single.

As you can tell from the number of questions above, this situation is one in which I am the student and you are the teacher. This is an important subject and one that deserves our discussion. A satisfying retirement is our goal. How does our relational state affect it?

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Note: I think I have finally found a way to eliminate all ads from this blog, even the ones Google inserts on its own. They have irritated you (and me) for quite some time. I hope this makes your time spent here more pleasant.