Thursday, June 27, 2013

Single Retirement: Living Solo-Life Is Good

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.


  1. This is all new, useful information. Thanks!

  2. My mother and sister are widows. They have no interest in marrying again (at this point). They seem to be as involved as they would like to be. They each like kicking back and shuttering out everone when it gets too crazy.

    I doubt I would remarry if something happened to my husband. My husband puts up with a lot and I'm not interested in retraining myself.

    Do you think the widow stereotype was formed by the women my mother's age and older who rarely outside of the home? My grandmother was widowed at 45. She took on borders until she got social security.

    A group of my college friends have talked about moving on the same block if our husbands pass. We are thinking commune with separate apartments. Love the idea.

  3. I think in a previous generation perhaps women were expected to be either less social, or rely soley on family as and church to serve that role. Love the commune ideas.

  4. I have lived alone 20+ yrs after divorce. I am open to a relationship if the right one came along however don't dwell on it. I dwell on leading a full and interesting life and cultivating existing relationships with people of both genders. I enjoy the freedom and independence of doing whatever I want. The flip side is that I have to do it all myself, both the day-to-day tasks and the big projects. My experience has been that it is easier to seek company than it was to experience solitude when the house was full. Aren't we lucky to live in an era when women can be independent?

  5. I also, in theory am open to a relationship, but I am not searching. I agree that doing it all yourself, especially in a home, can be a bit daunting. Yes, the more choices the better in my experience.

  6. Excellent, thoughtful post, and good comments. I also took a look at the issue and referenced his book in a Nov. 2012 post "Who Wants to Live Alone?" -- at -- and received some good comments as well. It's a topic that's important and relevant to all of our lives.

  7. Tom, somehow I missed that, will have to go bsck and check it out!

  8. I am not currently living alone (I have a significant other, some pets & a daughter here right now) but I totally agree with your post. If something happened to my love, I don't see myself rushing to get into another relationship. After the break-up of my marriage, I resolved only to live with someone else if it dramatically improved my life & the other person's. There is no reason that a single person household is any less relevant than a "family."

    Thanks for the post.


  9. I'm divorced and have lived alone forever. I lived in Manhattan most of my life in a small apartment that was worth a small fortune. My friends lived close by and it was like having many roommates but we went to different places to sleep.

    When we leave Manhattan we "upsize." Now I have a house with 3 bedrooms and a sunroom walking distance to the beach. (It's a small house) Friends are buying houses or townhouses in different cities that aren't difficult to get to so we can "co-house" yet be alone when we want. As we're only in our early 60's we might change our minds in ten years and want roommates--the Golden Girl fantasy

    But living alone has always suited me....

  10. I have a contingency plan to sell our current home and downsize to the beach if my husband precedes me. Not because I can't wait to get there, but because staying here wouldn't work for me without him. To many memories, to much work on my own. It gives me comfort having a Plan B tucked away, because I am certain the transition to living without him is going to be very painful.

    And moving on to another marriage? I can't even imagine finding someone my age at that point that could match my energy like my husband can. I'd rather live alone than be tied down with someone that doesn't share my passions. And in my urban area, finding a group to do almost anything with is a pretty simple matter.

  11. I divorced for the 2nd time back in 1985, and have had several "live in" relationships, always the female joining myself for friendship, intimacy, and shared same interests. I have lived with baggage from serving in Vietnam, and it has haunted my personal life greatly, with many issues, which have created fallout, and hampered long term relationships. After going from one to another, with hardly a break, I decided to live alone, and look introspectively, and find out much about myself, instead of drownding myself in studying those I dated. To my surprise, it was a healthy learning experience, about changes the war had on my life, and learning how to cope and get professional help was finally ackomplished. No, the battle is not over, but it's been a turn in the right direction. I have learned to see me thru the eyes of those who care about me, instead of my own, and it has created a new understanding on how PTSD can hamper "close relationships" and cause harm to others who have no understanding of it's cause nor it's symptoms. I hope to someday, maybe find a common ground, with someone who is resilient enough to cope with some of my fears of letting go, and becoming totally deeply intimate, but until that time, dating and sharing my time, and generosity toward those I cannot be close enough to, seems to make me feel like I've accomplished much, and have made some headway.

  12. Thanks for all of these messages and the entry. I am 74 and was widowed 17 months ago. Past the raw emotional level of grief I am trying to learn to deal with the isolation of my life, living alone in the suburbs. In my entire life I have never lived alone. Were I younger there would be a lot to do. I married young and while I was a professional and worked, and in my forties and fifties traveled I have no desire to do that. I think that volunteer activities are in my future.

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