Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Living Alone in Retirment-Sharing a Few Downsides

A few months ago, I wrote an article about Living Alone in Retirement. The point of that article (which appears on the sidebar) was to show the positives of living alone (in retirement or any time), as well as getting rid of some "myths and misconceptions" about single retirement.  That blog post is one of the most read on the blog ever, so it definitely struck a chord with many people.

It's only fair to talk about both sides of any issue, as there is no perfect retirement or perfect life. As such, I've been meaning to talk about a few of the less positive sides of single-hood and single retirement for awhile.  Some of these single retirement downsides I have yet to experience, and some of them are part of my life on occasion. Almost all of the downsides can be controlled and dealt with, but it's only fair to look at all the sides of this issue. 

I would also add that some of these downsides to living alone are more age-dependent, and some are experiences that the formerly coupled may have that long term single folks may not:

Help, I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up Syndrome While we all, even retirees, like to joke about these commercials, they show a difficult issue, especially as we age in retirement.  Many of us don't have the regular commitments that we had in our working lives, and if I simply miss a Wednesday knitting group the other gals may wonder what happened, but are unlikely to be come immediately concerned. For those of us that are by choice more solitary and are comfortable spending a day or two at home without "getting out", it can be a bigger problem.

Obviously there are ways to deal with this (beyond the necklace, although it certainly has value). One example is my good friend from Texas who was living alone in her late seventies had an arrangement with another friend from church. She called her friend in the morning when she arose, and her friend called her every evening before they went to bed. In theory, cell phones should make us feel more safe in our homes-perhaps more easily for men, who always have pants and shirts pockets for their phones (I could and sometimes will, write a whole post on how women's pants rarely have phones and jackets and blazers no inside pockets like men's do).

We are often unable to recognize small physical (and mental) changes that can be indicators in our lives.  The other day, one of my family members said "You really are limping today". This is just a small example, but it was something I didn't even realize myself as I went about my day and the yard. It also is the kind of thing that a casual social acquaintance might not notice, and the same thing for doctors you see a few times a year. And even if someone in my knitting group did notice, would they feel comfortable sharing such a thing, or even pointing it out to me?  These are the kinds of things that close friends and family members share. In my case, even if I was not living with family members, I still have a core support group that I see a couple times a week who would feel comfortable pointing out issues like this, or at least contacting a family member if they were concerned.

We also need to learn ways to evaluate ourselves, by looking in the mirror or even making notes on our health as part of our diaries and daily journals. 

It can be more difficult to make new friends as you age. While this does affect married couples as well, singles can feel it more intensely-especially if they are newly single, or have recently moved to a new area. Since loneliness has a correlation to depression for some people as well as cognitive issues, having at least some social interaction is important to all of us. I've written previously about "having a social life" in retirement, mainly from the frugal aspect, and it's probably time for me to do that from the single aspect.

The primary trouble, of course, is that in some areas people have established groups of long standing and breaking into that mindset can be difficult and take time. It's easy to say "I love to golf" and join a league (or in my case I love to sew and join a group). That certainly gets one out of the house and into a social situation. The problem is breaking to those often smaller groups that socialize afterward or at another time. Those are the interactions that lead to friendships. Or, as my knitting group friend says, "You really get to know someone when you go out to lunch or happy hour".

In my own life, my social group varies, and my level of involvement friendship wise varies. I was one of those people who relied on family for social involvement and friendship prior to widowhood, if you will. I've joked on more than one occasion that I have church friends, crafting friends, book club friends and exercise friends. Some of those social groups are very casual, but others are the type where I can say exactly what I think at any time, and we all need a few of those types of friends.

We have to do everything ourselves......or pay for it to be done. This applies to everyone, but more to single retirees and single women. Singles need to plan their homes in away that they can do as much themselves as possible and recognize what they cannot do. Because of my injuries, I cannot stand on a ladder, even a step stool. This morning, my smoke alarm gave a giant cheep at about six am. I could not have reached this myself, and would have had to call someone if I were alone-all the while it was cheeping and scaring canines. My son took care of it for me, but what if I did not have a tall person to call who could come immediately? I probably would lower the detector to a normal reach, in spite of the guidelines on the side.

There are certainly are singles (and single retirees) who are great do it yourself-ers, including women. The bottom line though is that maintaining a home, and a yard, doing repairs, cooking and many other things are obviously easier when more than one person is involved-and more difficult when we age. Long time readers know that I originally did the downsizing thing because I did not want to have to do it all in terms of the yard and home repairs. My choice so far has been to rent and share a home with someone who is happy to do all the yard work.  Married or single, when thinking about a home and lifestyle, all of this needs to be factored in.

The money thing probably has to be mentioned. Singles are bringing in one paycheck or retirement, while more than a few of today's retirees are sharing a two income retirement, and yet they are often maintaining the same home and expenses that a married couple would with more funds.  This is not always true by any means. There are many examples of my generation where the spouse was either at home, working part time, or doing so called mommy track jobs, and I am one of them. If you compared my social security income to my husband's you would laugh (and he often did). This is also not a "woman's issue". It is true that traditionally even today women can earn less than men, and that some women have little experience with savings and investments. The world is changing though, and when it comes to single life and retirement, many men experience the same issues as women.

I don't know that two people can live as cheaply as one, but sharing a home via marriage, a room mate or other ways, can certainly lower expenses. This does not mean that singles live in poverty though as such, it simply means lots of advance planning and some lifestyle adjustment. We are all different. One in three retirees live alone, and it is usually by choice. Just like with anything else, we weigh the pros and cons, consider lifestyle choices and desires and go on from there.

And there you have it. A few off the top of my head downsides of retirement. I would not say these are negatives, but certainly something to consider as we look forward to choosing where and how we will live.

And so it goes, this Tuesday in retirement.



  1. You bring up some good points about retirement and living alone. My husband and I are retired and some of your points make sense for everyone, like paying someone to do repairs instead of doing it yourself. Yesterday we hired a plumber instead of my husband doing the work.

    1. I'm sure at this he point where I need to hire out on occasion. One of the reasons I'm okay renting

  2. I have lived alone for 25 yrs. It is a privilege and a responsibility. I get to do what I want but I sometimes have to do it by myself. Sometimes that means hiring it out. I think I would be down for 1 wk before anyone came to check on me. For many years, I have travelled x 1 month with a chuckwagon racing team, which involves living in a 40-ft holiday trailer with 3 kids and 2-3 other adults. It's quite an adjustment for the first few days. One thing I notice is how I feed off other people's energy. I can handle the 16+hr days and non-stop demands on my energy because I get energized by others. "It's easy to say you're a nice person when you live by yourself." Extending myself in this social situation gives me a reality check and makes me appreciate my peaceful solitude.

    1. I think we all need a certain as mount of energy activities every so often, but I love aloneness.

  3. Thoughtful post which covers some issues for couples as well (It can be more difficult to make new friends as you age.) From my experience I can say that two cannot live as cheaply as one; but they do live cheaper than two singles.

  4. Harvey has made me start bringing my phone with me when I go for a walk. Just in case I have a fall and can't get up. It is a bit of a pain, but it makes him feel better about my morning walks winter and summer.

    God bless.

  5. Good recap of living alone issues.

    Years ago my children insisted I get a cell phone which I finally got in the habit of taking everywhere. We had to have a landline when my husband was living for his pacemaker check. I've kept it because it's superior reaching emergency help than cell phone, so I have portable phones around the house and always within reach.

  6. Barbara, this is such wonderful information. I think you are so right about what can go wrong but you have also made it very clear that it doesn't need to with good planning. Thank you.

  7. My mom is 79 has been living alone for 20 years, texts me every morning at the same time, I give her an extra 20 min past the time in case she got caught up in a book, then I call. She also lets me know when she has appts, when someone is coming to fix something, then when she gets home or comes in from her outside chores.
    Thankfully she is becoming very in tune to her health after 1 gallbladder scare and most recently she got dehydrated and called my sis to take her to the hospital.
    She has plans to move closer to my sisters as her only friend in her current location is moving and they were "check in buddies". She currently lives in a summer home on a lake and has no permanent neighbors and like me (a total introvert) no plans to make new ones.
    If she goes outside she always takes her cell phone
    Most things she can repair herself but she will wait for family members to visit and do repairs if she can't.


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