Alone at fifty
By Michele Tjaden, an Experience 50 Podcast listener
Why is it so many people think that because I live alone, I must be lonely?
I went through a divorce at the age of 52, and have lived alone for 7 years. What comes as a surprise to people is that I plan to stay that way.
Ok, I don’t technically live alone. Truth be told, I have a house full of non-human room-mates. A pack of rescue dogs, a few
special needs cats, a few birds, and a tortoise named Beatrice. Wait, it gets better. I live at the end of a dead-end street. Yes, it’s official, I am that weird crazy lady with all the animals on the dead-end street. It’s ok, over the past 7 years I’ve reconnected with my inner weirdo, and it turns out I like her.
I’ve reconnected with someone I thought was lost, and I now embrace her – my inner weirdo. She’s always been there, hiding behind convention, but wasn’t brave enough to show her face. Being on my own, and in my late 50’s makes it a bit easier. Let’s face it, most middle-aged women are basically invisible to society. I’ve come to think of it as my stealth super-power. No one notices my weirdness, because no one notices me. It’s freeing in a way.
I’ve always been a bit weird (just ask my family). Unlike many young girls, I never thought I’d get married, or have children. It wasn’t something I wanted or thought much about.
I didn’t start dating until I was in my early 20’s, and I still didn’t think I would end up married. Then I met someone who knocked my socks off. He was a bit older than me, intellectual, funny, kind, attractive… and broken. Perfect for me, since I’ve always been a rescuer at heart. At first, we were just friends. He was still reeling from a broken engagement and had only recently ventured back into the dating world, and I had just started dating my very first boyfriend. Over the next three years, we became close friends. A few years later, we found ourselves both single and started a passionate love affair.
We married when I was 29. Like all marriages, we went through our ups and downs, and over time developed a few relationship issues, but we always worked through them. Twenty-two years later, my husband went through what I can only describe as a classic mid-life crisis and decided he wanted out of our marriage. At first I wasn’t willing to call it quits, but eventually decided I wasn’t going to say where I was no longer wanted.
It was a difficult time. I moved back to the Chicago area to be close to family and attempt a fresh start. I was understandably confused and scared. Over those first several months on my own, I spent a lot of time looking at my life, and wondering what the future held. I was 52 years old, didn’t have a job or any prospects, and was looking down the barrel of a divorce. Imagine the anxiety that surfaced when I suddenly found that I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. I realized that I had revolved my life around my husband for so many years, I’d lost track of myself and who that person was. It was not a fun time, to say the least. Fortunately, I did have a lot of supportive people in my life, and I also had the benefit of time, a lot of time, alone. I took advantage of my time alone to think, process, rant, question, and reflect. Slowly, I found my way back to myself. Yes, that sounds a bit “self-helpy” but that’s what happened.
Looking back now, I can honestly say I think my ex-husband did me a favor. I am happier and more content than I’ve ever been. Being alone has given me the opportunity to reconnect with myself. I’ve come to realize the only person who knows all my secrets and flaws and will be with me no matter what, forever, is me. Being older when this happened has given me the added benefit of previous life experience to apply to my life going forward. I now look at the divorce as a catalyst. It provided me with an opportunity to start over.
I have also made peace with the whole event. Although it hurt me, and I did not like or trust my ex-husband for a long time, as it turns out, I do love him. Don’t misunderstand, I am not in love with him anymore, that would be pathetic and creepy, but I was married to the guy for almost half of my life, and the marriage was good… until it wasn’t. We were both part of that marriage, and I have accepted that I was part of the failure as well. I love him in the same way I love all my friends.
Now that I’ve been living on my own for several years I find that people often ask me if I’m dating, and if not, when I plan to start. I suppose people assume that because I’m alone, that means I’m lonely. I’m not, and I certainly don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy.
Some people seem to think that everyone needs to be in a relationship. Well, I am in a relationship, with myself, and that’s enough for me at this point in my life. I’m not saying I will never be in a relationship again. I kind of doubt it, but I can’t say for certain it won’t happen. If it does, that would be lovely, but if it doesn’t, I won’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.
I haven’t been on a date for over 30 years, and frankly, I’m not interested in dating or in a relationship at this point in my life. Sarcasm is my fall back, and if possible I like using humor to make my point, so now when someone asks me if I’m dating I usually say “No, I’m having trouble finding someone who deserves me.”
The whole dating scene was complicated enough when we were young, but at my age all kinds of fun things fall into the mix, former relationships, kids, grandkids, and retirement plans, to mention a few. Then we have the interesting challenges of navigating older bodies, and all the ailments, mysterious smells, and interesting folds and wrinkles to bring to the party. Nah, I’d rather skip it, because I like living alone, and I like spending time with myself. Plus, now I don’t have to shave my legs.
I realize being alone isn’t for everyone, take my ex for example. After our divorce, he waited a whole month to get married again. Yeah, I know…suddenly the reason he wanted out of the marriage makes sense.
I suppose it’s not unusual for people in mid-life who suddenly find themselves alone due to a divorce, or death of a partner, to feel an urgency to find someone. That’s ok if that is what you need, but try to remember that not everyone needs the same things.
I’m comfortable with my life and am perfectly happy being alone because I’m not lonely. If I do find myself feeling a bit melancholy after watching a romantic movie or looking at old photographs, all I need to do is call one of my married friends and talk to them for about 10 minutes. Inevitably, they start complaining about their partner and then I smile to myself and remember why I love living alone.
Michele Tjaden, 59, lives in the Chicago area. You can learn more about Michele and her love of dogs at thelandofmisfitdogsblog.com
A note from Mary:
I want to thank Michele for being my first listener to share her story with listeners as a blog post! If you would like to share your personal story of midlife transition, please email me at email@example.com