Recently I downloaded a new book to my Kindle. The book is titled Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. It’s author. Eric Klinenberg, spent seven years researching and gathering statistics that show a huge change in the way we live. It would seem that in 1950 only nine percent of Americans lived alone, while now more than half of us are single, and those of us who live alone make up almost thirty percent of households. More importantly, his statistics show that contrary to conventional wisdom, most folks who live alone are not isolated, but very involved socially and in other ways
This was in fact, something I knew through my own life, and those of my single friends. Single life in retirement gets a bad rap, especially single life for women in retirement. If you listened to some authors and writers, most of us are destined for the trailer park and cat food. Although I did not become single by choice, being single has been neither lonely nor unsatisfying, and any financial hits I have taken have been my own foolishness rather than a direct result of being single-or widowed.
Some folks may have read the book in question, others the article in AARP which highlights the book and the nine myths or generalizations about living alone. I’ll admit that I had to laugh when I read some of them, and that a couple I had never heard before. Here is my personal perspective on these myths about living alone-retired or otherwise:
1. People live alone because they have no other choice. Umm, no! I was VERY happy living alone, and did not need a roommate for fulfillment, a social life or much of anything else. My thirty year old chose to live alone for a very long time. Am I now choosing to share a home? Yes, but were it not with my sister I would have chosen a smaller home with no roommate and privacy. Our future home will have two complete living spaces, by choice.
2. Most people who live alone are elderly. Nope, the folks who live alone are primarily 35 to 64. My daughter chose to live in a smaller apartment alone, by choice. Almost all the singles I know, be they her age or mine, choose to live alone.
3. Older people who live alone wish they could move in with their children. No, no, again no! Almost all of my women’s support partners are older, and the value the separation from their families-it’s nice to have them close enough to visit and see regularly ,but the thought of living with their families is not what they had in mind.
4. Women who live alone really want to get married. I personally have no desire to ever marry again, though I enjoy close relationships with both genders. Having a life partner is not something I’m looking to again. Perhaps I am set in my ways. I have a thirty something child who has never even thought about marriage-and in fact told one guy that she liked their relationship just as it was (which of course, ended the relationship as it was).
5 Older people living alone are unhappy and isolated. Here we go again. In fact it would seem that studies show that singles are more likely to socialize than married retirees. Admittedly the marriage dynamic allows for a lot of togetherness, but I do know couples who rarely socialize at all, and never socialize apart from their spouse.
6. Older people who live alone are poor and desperate, or at least poorer than married couples. Not necessarily. One in three retirees lives alone, and many are in good financial state. I associate with two groups that by nature have mainly single retirees. Their net worth ranges from much to a middling amount. None of them are poor or on the edge. All socialize, travel on occasion and live full, rewarding lives.
7 Americans are more likely to live alone than people in other countries, because of our national faith in individualism and self-reliance. I have to say this was a new one to me. I had never heard this kind of assumption before. I did not really know the statistics but I have many friends in Europe who live alone. I think we have this idea set in our heads of the European immigrant model (families all living together above the store) and while that was often true of immigrants coming to America it was not the life model living overseas.
8. People living alone consume more of the planet's resources. Again, this was a new one to me. If someone thought it, they never said it. It is true that a 2500 square foot two car garage was too much, and that if I were living alone in the six million dollar home where we hosted our Habitat fundraiser last year, there might be a point. Apparently (and unsurprisingly) many folks who live alone are urban or inner suburbs folks-who use mass transit live in smaller homes, and use many resources. Were I to have chosen that condo alone, I would have lowered my energy use, and lived in walking distance to a great many places.
9 Aging alone leaves people extra-vulnerable if their health fails. This seems to be the other “biggie” used when mentioning the downsides of living alone-especially in retirement. This has not been my experience. Most singles have social networks. When my friend in Dallas had to have a knee replacement, the members of our Tuesday night group made casseroles for her freezer. When she was in rehab, we took turns for the most part visiting her different nights and getting treats. Phyl has a very close friend and for some time they speak with each other every day. Phyl makes the call in the morning and the friend makes the call in the evening before bed. That plus better health and increased medical support systems make a huge difference in retirement wellness and well being.
Again, I am a widow and became such not by choice, obviously. However, I was single for many years prior to marriage (I got married after thirty) and enjoyed that time, and the living alone-without searching for a husband. While I experienced depression and adjustment, I have enjoyed my single life and plan to keep it that way. Most singles are single by choice-through divorce or simply making the choice of living singly. There may in fact be some miserably single folks, retired or otherwise. But I have not met them, and rarely are they miserable just because of their single hood. Retired, divorced or otherwise. And certainly there are singles who WANT companionship and choose to live together-be it right out of college or at seventy-but they are not the majority.
Living alone, we are as happy, if not happier, than anyone else.