I’ve been reading a lot lately about the increased divorce rate among people over 50, with one study by Bowling Green State University citing it at more than double what it was 20 years ago. My first thought is, there are many more people over 50 today than there were 20 years ago, so of course there are more divorces. My second thought is, no matter how you look at it, these statistics still mean that millions of boomers are single.
CNN did an interesting segment (Divorce Among Baby Boomers) on this in which one boomer divorcee, Margie White, commented that she had been married and thinking that at least one of them would get a second chance at love when the other died. She eventually realized how sad this was and what it said about their relationship, and that they both deserved second chances.
The CNN report also referred to the Bowling Green study, which found that more boomers are remarried, and these marriages tend to end in divorce more frequently than first marriages do. More interesting, I thought, was that longer lifespans and changes in what people want from marriage are two key factors in the rising rate.
Many people are realizing in their 50s or 60s that they potentially have several decades still ahead them, which can lead them to reevaluate whether the marriage is everything they want it to be, whether they both really want to be together for all that time. Some people realize that they do not want to be married or even spend the rest of their lives with a single life partner.
No matter the reasons behind it, the fact is that being over 50 and single carries with it issues that simply did not exist for most when they were single in the past. It can mean isolation and loneliness that career and grown children no longer replace. Many single women are considered “Cougars” and are feared to be husband-thieves, when all they crave is the company of dear friends. Single men may find that the long-dreamed-of “Sugar Daddy” role appears alluring until it goes bust in real time.
Living alone means not having someone there if something happens to you. Carrying a cell phone or similar device or making an arrangement with a friend, relative, or neighbor to regularly check in (or check with each other) are common ways for people to offset this.
Many people over 50 are caring for aging parents, a responsibility that often falls heavily (and unfairly) on the single children in a family. Emotional and physical exhaustion and time constraints are just a few of the obstacles to dating and socializing in general that can come from being a caregiver. If this is your situation, check out this pamphlet from Emeritus, “When Your Only Date Is Mom”.
In general, I think this situation is just one more example of why we need to rethink our social networks and communities going forward, so that we include more intergenerational activities in our lives (see “The Ever-Narrowing Generation Gap”) and build self-sustaining, accessible communities of multiple generations, among other attributes (see “Communities of the Future”). Being single does not have to mean being isolated and alone.
Are you over 50 and single? What specific challenges do you face and what solutions have worked for you?
Image credit: flickr.com photograph by alvaroarriagada.com