I’m 60 years old. I’m female by birth, and I’m fortunate that I have always felt okay with my gender from birth. I’m an introvert and I have the good fortune to live alone by choice and to be able to finance that preference.
I happen to be single.
When I considered writing this piece, I wanted to write about being an older, single female. And yet, my primary focus kept being on the issue of preferring to live alone, rather than on my so-called single status.
From the time I left my parents’ home at 18 to the present (over 40 years), I have spent about 13 years of that time alone, usually between significant relationships. That’s almost a third of my adult life.
While my longest relationship lasted 12 years, even then, I spent the first 7 of those living in my own space and actively savouring that as my preferred way to be. Since then, I have lived on my own for the last 8 years, and I relish it.
When I think about the way I have made a home for myself over the years, whether single or in partnership, I see I have always preferred to live on my own, EVEN when I was in a serious relationship.
Society’s focus on relationship status
I am often irritated by the world’s insistent focus on my so-called “relationship status”. My what? And why on earth is THAT so important? Why is our society so obsessed with whether I’m “taken”/occupied/in a relationship? Why does it matter whether I have ever married or divorced? I belong to myself. I am no-one’s extension or sidekick. I want to be met on my own terms – as and for myself – whatever I engage in, whether I’m in a relationship or not.
Other people’s’ preoccupations
Even in my little world, from time to time, I am asked: “How do you cope with living on your own?” (I thrive). “Don’t you miss having someone around?” (Mostly, no). “Don’t you get lonely?” Er — not often!
Thriving single and alone.
In truth, when I look over my life to date, I thrive when I’m living alone. Alone, I’m able to single-mindedly focus on what’s meaningful and most important to me. I put enormous energy into my work and learning ever better ways to do what I do. I focus on my friendships, my animal companions, my health, interests and inner life. If I need to make a course correction, I do it, and the one person I am accountable to is me.
Usually, I find the “don’t you get lonely?” question is asked by people who have most likely never lived alone (or been single) much themselves, haven’t liked it if they did, and who may, in fact, dread the idea of having to be or live on their own. They seem to equate being single with being lonely or living alone with being single.
To me, they’re not the same thing at all.
In my experience and observation from hearing many people speak about it, the kind of loneliness one can feel when one is in an unhappy relationship is far, far worse than the transient moments of loneliness I experience occasionally as a single person.
Sex and sexuality
In addition, there seems to be an assumption that ‘older single’ means not sexual, or not sexually active. It doesn’t. I have often encountered the assumption that, if it becomes clear that I’m not currently either in a sexual relationship or open to being so, that’s an odd thing. Most people don’t understand celibacy as a potentially active and positive choice. And yet it’s one I have made before for periods of time in addition to being single.
The only time celibacy is referred to in our society is in a pejorative way (“incels” and “old maids”), usually on the assumption that the person in question is involuntarily celibate. It’s assumed that they “can’t” get anyone to have sex with them. It’s seen as a character flaw or red flag about them if they’re celibate. Or maybe they’re seen as weird – e.g. celibate on religious grounds.
But celibacy doesn’t necessarily mean one isn’t sexual.
Considering dating as an older single woman
As a 60-year-old woman, I’ve paused my dating efforts for the moment. After the end of my last long-term relationship, it took me some time to process what happened. I’m still not in a hurry to reconnect with new people in a dating sense.
If I were to open myself up to dating again, I anticipate either meeting someone through friends or through my interests (the arts and activism) or work.
I don’t currently set out to do that. If I re-join the dating field, I anticipate going to meet-ups for activities and interests I enjoy as a possible context. Or join a volunteer group or a social club around an activity I enjoy or feel passionate about.
I listen to friends, colleagues, and clients talk about dating apps and I start to break out in hives.
Recently, I chose to trawl through a pet sitting website to find a minder for my dog while I would be overseas on holidays. I had to create a profile for her – upload a picture, describe her personality, charms and preferences, talk about her relationship with cats and other dogs. I had to talk about her health challenges, her quirks and idiosyncrasies in such a way that I wouldn’t turn potentially interested people away. As she – like me – is an old dog. There were a number of distinguishing characteristics that aren’t really negotiable. I was also aware that I had to stay on the right side of truth, or reality would expose any effort to make her out to be something she’s not. I felt like a pimp.
I felt like I got a taste of what it might be like for me to join a dating website. The whole presentation of self, so-called branding, curating of carefully chosen images with an eye to please gave me the creeps. Maybe it’s an old dog thing.
So, I (still) haven’t tried any dating apps yet. And I may well go to my death without a dating app profile.
When I occasionally think about exploring dating again, a number of fears come up for me.
The mix of being older, having done a fair amount of personal growth and reflection (and valuing conscious living and cultivating awareness), having a reasonably strong sense of myself, what I like and don’t like, having strong values about a range of issues, being happy on my own with a solid network of friends, and enjoying a mix of a deeply satisfying career and interests, needing a fair amount of alone time, and being used to running my own show, means I’m really seeking someone with similar characteristics. I’d also like them to be materially independent — as am I. That’s quite a big ask, I realise.
In other words, their presence in my life needs to bring at least as much joy and interesting new things to my life as I generate on my own.
My fears about dating again are about not finding someone who will be a good ‘fit’, given all of that.
I sometimes fear greater age as a single person living alone when I get sick or have an injury. At those times, not having someone around feels difficult and I wonder about the future. But then I think about all the folks I hear about who are in a relationship and lose their partner anyway to death or break up and still end up living alone. I hear about the excruciatingly painful aloneness of people who are partnered in a stably unhappy union, or who have children who do not have contact with them, and I know I’d prefer to work things out myself if life/health challenges come to me while I live alone and I’m single.
Most of all, I take great comfort in remembering that I have dear friends who are my family of choice, who show up when I need them, just as I show up for them in their lives.
I’ve come across some people who sound like they pity me when they find out I’m single (and for how long), and who make faces and comments about that, making odd remarks (“that doesn’t make sense?! You’re so interesting/ nice/ lovely”). The “I feel sorry for you” looks, and the assumption that life is tough or painful, or less rich because I’m single really annoys me. It’s not.
There are also a related group of people – those who judge me for having chosen to be child-free by choice. “Don’t you think that’s selfish?”, I’m asked. “Don’t you think you’ll regret it when you’re older? Or you’ll be lonely?” Er, no, actually. Au contraire! I like kids a lot. But I’ve never wanted my own, and by now, that’s not about to change. Single-shamers seem surprised at my answer, and often look like they don’t believe me, think I’m lying to myself, or know that I’ll change my mind at some point.
I think we need more examples of older women who live single and enjoy it. I particularly think it’s important for people to know there are single older women who thrive in that context.
Freedom to and pressure against being single
I think it’s easier than ever to be single, AND there’s also pressure to not be single. I book a holiday, and I either have to share things with a stranger or pay extra because a lot of things are ‘twin share’. I hate that. Some people get weird about including singles to dinner parties. I’m not sure why. Some people get threatened/jealous around a single person chatting to their partner.
As a woman living in Australia, I can live single on my own in my own place, and that’s accepted as my right. I’m very thankful that’s the case for me in the country I live in. I can make my own decisions about who to see and where to go, without being pressured to have a family member or partner vet those choices/make them for me. I get to choose the movie, the play, the exhibition I want to go to – even if no one else I know wants to go. I can go alone or with a friend. I do not feel I miss out.
What being single and older has taught me
If anything, I think being single (and living alone) requires me to cultivate and explore my tastes, speak up and back myself up when things go awry, take initiative, discover my individuality, my independence, my self-reliance. I’ve learned to back myself up when the going gets tough, to sort things out myself.
I’ve also learned to ask for help, without overly relying on it if I can help it. These days, I’m good at that. Given how unpredictable life can be, I think that’s a good thing. Being single and living alone all this time has made me appreciate and nurture the community around me. I make it my business to know the names of my neighbours, I reach out to them, acknowledge them, and watch out for them. They, in turn, watch out for me. I know very well that no (wo)man is an island.
Over time, those qualities have meant I have come to know myself pretty accurately, I’d say. They have challenged me to face my limitations and challenge some of them, deal with adversity on my own, made me resilient, and I’ve emerged with a solid sense of liking and respect for myself.
From the standpoint of choosing a potential partner, I think my extensive experience of living and thriving as a single older woman also gives me the foundation from which to choose another for what they too bring to the table – not out of loneliness, neediness, or fear. I think it frees me to choose someone for who they are, and not to fill a gaping chasm of deficit in me. Hopefully, that means I too bring things to their life to enrich it and standing on my own two feet adds to that.
Potential complicating factors
As I get older, I’m not sure which challenges relate to age, rather than being single as an LGBTIQ person.
I’m aware I don’t relate to the club scene anymore, so that’s removed a potential source of socialising or finding potential partners. While I still sometimes go to a dance party or club with a friend, I am very aware of the age gap between myself and the other patrons. And I’m aware I’m likely to be the oldest person there!
As a gay woman, I’ve never felt the sort of pressure to physically conform to certain norms of beauty and size in order to attract a partner in the way I know heterosexual women face. There’s great freedom in that.
As I age, however, I don’t experience myself as much on other people’s’ sexual radar as I used to feel. Mind you, I’m not on my own sexual radar as much, either.
As an older woman, I know that what’s attractive to me has changed – it’s more about who they are as a person than what they look like. That needs certain contexts to discover – requiring time, a number of meetings, and different situations to bring out the aspects that matter to me.
Many people get into a partnership in a way that can be quite exclusive of others. I tend to socialise with others who relate to me as an individual person they find interesting and care about, and share values and interests with, rather than with people who see me as a “single”. So, meeting other older single potential partners open to a relationship is likely to be a challenge.
But that’s not for now.
Right now, I’m still digesting the last adventure holiday I went on – snorkelling with whales off the coast of an island in the South Pacific. I went on my own. And yes, I had a really, really amazing time. And I’m still thinking about when I might go back!