I have given a lot of thought to being alone since I am approaching my year’s anniversary of picking up and moving north. Also it’s almost a year since I retired. My friend, Beth, and my sister-in-law, Jill, and I have frequent conversations about friends and acquaintances who find themselves alone after many years of being part of a couple. One of Beth’s friends said that, after 40 years on “The Princess Plan,” she is now a caregiver. Jill is also a caregiver. It requires a great deal of physical and emotional effort for her. I was a caregiver for many years and we all agree that this was never what we expected, not what we signed on for. Recently I was reminded of one of Jill’s long-time friends, Gil M., who lost her husband about the same time I did. She is having many of the same issues that I have with going out as a single woman, not having someone to discuss things with, and generally having to reconsider what it is to manage day-to-day. It isn’t easy going out especially when most places you go, people are in couples.
Not to be all gloom and doom, there are many things to be thankful for of course, but roles are so clearly defined when you are part of a couple. Our culture easily recognizes how that works, what the expectations are, and even in an unconventional marriage that doesn’t fit the image from my generation, there are many assumptions that others make. I’ve noticed this a lot lately. Judy at the diner mentioned to me that some of the people who come in assume that Kenny (her brother) is her husband and call her “Mrs.” Somehow people are surprised if a woman is on her own. I think this is because women of a certain age are expected to be part of a relationship, to have a partner. And, if you were lucky enough to be part of a relationship and have a terrific partner, being alone is that much more difficult because you are fighting not only the perceptions of others but your own idea of what going out should look like.
Having good friends is key to surviving this! I am always thinking ahead and worrying about not having enough to do after a life of work and an active social life. Somehow things come together and the solitary life isn’t so bad. Friends and family fill in the gaps (whether they know it or not) and offer a stability that is hard to find on one’s own. So…I also signed up for the Princess Plan — there’s no doubt. Now the plan has changed and I get to set the agenda and identify the elements of the plan itself. Whether others understand this is not my problem. I have enough to deal with just restructuring the plan!