Being alone is a choice for many older women

Interviewed for the April issue of Harper’s Bazaar, 83-year-old Jane Fonda said she was through with romantic relationships. 

“I don’t want to be in a relationship, a sexual relationship, again,” she said. “I don’t have that desire.”

Three-quarters of my women friends of my generation are single, with the single numbers equally split between never married and divorced or widowed. Having been divorced for 45 years, I can almost forget that I ever was married. 

Some years ago — I can’t pinpoint when, it happened gradually — the topic of men faded from conversations with nearly every single, straight woman I knew. The subject is so rare now that it’s as if romance and sex weren’t a part of life. 

What’s going on? Did we give up for lack of opportunity? The picture for straight women who want to pair up is indeed discouraging. Not only do women increasingly outnumber men the older we get, but aging men tend to look for younger women. 

“Finding a good match can be particularly hard for straight older women, who outnumber their male counterparts,” The Atlantic confirmed in a 2020 article. “[T]he older they get, the smaller and older their pool of potential partners grows.” 

For some, however, giving up is more like Jane Fonda’s giving up — choice, not settling. From rare discussions, I know that a couple of friends have no interest in “taking care of a man again.” (Both used the same words.) Only one friend has mentioned that she’d like to meet someone. I’m not sure how anyone else feels because the subject hasn’t come up.

As for myself, for a couple of decades after my divorce, I said that I was open to remarriage and wanted to believe it possible to meet potential partners by going about my normal business. I said that to a therapist who had raised the topic of dating. “The only way to meet romantic partners now is online,” she contended. She turned out to be right that I wouldn’t meet a suitable someone through my normal routines. 

In a 2017 study, Stanford University demographer Michael Rosenfeld found that only 5 percent of 65-year-old straight women had met at least one new romantic partner in the previous year.

But do most of us care? Another online article reinforced my observations of my friends. Helen Fisher, senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, said to website considerable.com, “The annual Single in America Survey I work on found that people over 60 are least likely to give up the lifestyle they have unless they are head over heels, and they often can’t be bothered to look.” 

The considerable.com article suggested a number of reasons why only 15 percent of divorced and widowed women over 50 told the Pew Research Center that they want to remarry. Those who had unhappy marriages may not want to take another chance, but there are more positive reasons: enjoyment of independence and of not having to cater to anyone else; no social stigma anymore to being single; full lives already. 

I remember reading decades ago that therapists were seeing many young women who were panicking about their single status. I never panicked, but I hoped for a partner. The hope receded as I aged, and that’s apparently happened for lots of my peers as well. It seems healthier than craving something that, given the statistics, is a long shot. Besides, it doesn’t feel like there’s an unfilled hole in my life.

Comments

Leave a comment
  • I'm single and always was. I remember a country song I laughed at in high school, "O Lord, it's hard to be humble" -- one line was "Who cares? I never get lonesome, 'cause I treasure my own company." That gets less and less funny as the years go by.

    I have seen friends happy in marriage, and repeatedly miserable in it, and I think the whole difference is whether they treasure their own company. I am going to do what I can as well as I can, and if I happen to meet someone along the way, great. If not, I'm doing the best things for me. It had me ready for the pandemic's solitude, at least.

  • I agree with doing what you can for yourself and letting the rest take its course.

  • Very interesting, Marianne. I loved the closing sentence.

Leave a comment