Aging alone can be wonderful — or terrible.
It can be Frank Sinatra singing, “I did it my way.” It can be a house that contains exactly what you want, in the style you want, with the pets you want. It can be days full of eating exactly what and when you want — while doing the hobbies and supporting the causes you want. It can also be filled with friends YOU choose.
Or… it can be loneliness (and boredom) so overwhelming you sink into dementia just to avoid your life.
There are two keys to success here:
- Know yourself. A good question to ask yourself is “Which do you hate the most — feeling lonely or feeling crowded?” Obviously neither is fun, but most people are strongly in one camp or the other.
- Personally, I get absolutely crazy when I feel crowded. I’ve tried marriage and living with someone, but I spent too much time in each wishing he would just go away for awhile. When dating, I don’t see why I need to spend the entire weekend with my date.
- On the opposite side, neither of my brothers did well living alone. And an aunt of mine living alone was so lonely it broke my heart — except it made her so clingy I felt I needed to escape or I’d be trapped forever. One 40-year-old male business executive disliked being alone so much that if he was facing three hours of being alone — he’d call up someone and get together. Just the idea of aloneness made him crazy.
- Make a change if you need more companionship. That same aunt of mine confessed she really wanted to live with someone. She enjoyed having a companion in the house. She had lived with her mother until her mother’s death. Yet my aunt took no steps to change her desperate unhappiness. She wouldn’t go out; she wouldn’t even let me take her out to dinner. She didn’t try to meet anyone. She had pictures of her family that were on a continuous loop on her TV and she watched them for hours. Each day. There was zero surprise when I heard she’d developed dementia. It’s (for some) a way of “giving up.”
- Find a roommate.
- Move in with a family member or friend
- Talk to people at the local senior center. There are undoubtedly several who would want to cut housing costs by becoming a roommate.
- Move into a senior community, or assisted living. I know two women who worried about the idea initially, but ended up loving it. These communities offer lots of people and lots of scheduled activities that can ease feelings of loneliness.
- Find a roommate.
So you’ve chosen to age alone. Now what?
Know that you are not “alone”! There are an estimated 8.8 million men and 10.6 million women 60+ who live alone (26% of seniors 60+). Also, a rough estimate of 2.3 million of women 60+ never had a child (demographics say nothing about men without children, but 15% of women from age 40 on up have never had a child).
While most concerns are similar to others in our age brackets, people aging alone have some different needs. Check out Aging Alone, a great book by Ruth Alvarez, for some interesting ideas and strategies. And look for next week’s blog on protecting yourself from being forced into an involuntary guardianship.
How much companionship do you want?
People who choose to live alone vary greatly on the amount of companionship they want in their lives. But all of us — except for hermits living in a cave(!) — want some human contact.
Don’t feel bullied into thinking you should want more — or less — contact than you really prefer. A lot of psychologists get their names in the papers from writing articles (and books!) on how not enough social interaction will cause seniors to sink into depression, develop all sorts of diseases, and die early. It gets those psychologists more book sales and more attention saying “there’s a crisis of social isolation for seniors” instead of saying “some seniors but not all wish they had more social interaction”(!)
If you want lots of social interaction…
- Perhaps you should reconsider living alone(!??)
- At a minimum, you will want at least one — maybe two? — volunteer activities daily.
- Consider taking up golf — a single can squeeze into any threesome and you’ll have 3 hours or so to get to know new people.
- Get involved in your church. Or your town. There’s usually Rotary clubs, garden clubs, and beautify-your-city organizations.
- If you live in a college town, consider opening your house to a foreign exchange student each semester (once students can attend in-person again)
- Join a walking club, jogging club, biking club, hiking club — anything that gets you moving and introduces you to like-minded people.
- Check out your local YMCA or YWCA. The swimming pool at our YMCA offers lap swimming at 6AM and 7AM. Pick a time and you’ll “meet” others regularly who swim at that time. Chats can move to getting breakfast afterwards.
- Teach something at your local Y. Think of what you know that others would like to know.
- Schedule regular weekly (daily?) calls with your friends. It’s too easy for months to go by otherwise.
- Spend regular time with your grandkids! Or, if you don’t have any, consider being a Big Brother or Big Sister to someone.
If you only need a little bit of socialization….
- Consider picking just one or two items from above.
- Get involved in one hobby where you meet with other people. Ideas you might not have considered include:
- If you have the money, why not get a sport pilot license? You can get one for about $15K these days — and you’ll be training with a pilot and hanging out at small airports with other pilots.
- Line dancing? Ballroom dancing?
- Why not join a cooking class/school? Or teach cooking?
- Take classes in really anything — pottery making, car repair, creative writing, etc.
Advice? Something else to consider? Please post ideas for us all in the comments section!