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How I've Found Joy By Being an Adventurous Older Woman

My life is filled with love and surprises.

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animation of woman with glass of wine and book sitting on airplane traveling through sky and passing buildings
Cécile Dormeau
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At 70, three years before her recent passing, Czech beauty and businesswoman Ivana Trump pithily explained her divorce from 48-year-old Italian hottie Rossano Rubicondi: “I have the freedom to do what I want, with whomever I want to. … I just want to be free.”

An unexpected heroine, that Ivana.

When I was younger, during the brief moments when I thought about this stage of life at all, I imagined women’s post-50 lives to be filled with security and stability. I’d be married, roasting a chicken or brisket for my husband every night in the suburban ranch house where I’d eventually die in my sleep. Truth be told, in those fleeting visions, every day after 49 involved deceleration, including of my earning potential, my sex life, my physical and mental vigor, my zest for the world.

Instead, like Ivana Trump, for me this time has turned out to be the most adventurous period of my entire life. Crazier than college. More travel than at the peak of my business career. Lots of sex. I turn 57 this week. To celebrate, my friend Linda and I sipped frothy iced drinks on a rooftop bar in the sweltering summer heat of Washington, D.C.

“Don’t you feel … unmoored?” she asked.

She was referencing the fact that in the prior eight weeks, I’d been in eight cities. I’d hiked Yosemite Falls. Got an award for my work in domestic violence in Los Angeles. Went to an NBA playoff game in Boston. Climbed two New Hampshire mountain peaks. Detoured to Oakland to see about buying a horse. Hit both my 35th college and 30th graduate school reunions.

I got her point. To some, this kind of older-lady life sounds frenzied. It feels glorious to me.

The factors that restrict most seniors, often inhibiting our ability to pursue later-in-life adventures, are simple and widespread. First, the demands (or limitations) of our loved ones: partially adult children, spouses or aging parents. Second, our own health challenges, work commitments and lack of travel funds.

However, if your kids, spouses and parents are independent, and if your body/career/pocketbook are healthy, a blank slate of adventure awaits. Even if you are bound by a partner or dependents who don’t share your need for adventure, there are still ways to find freedom within the confines of your commitments.

Older women are fueling a boom in the worldwide travel industry. Forty-four percent of solo trips are made by women over 55. Travel companies dedicated to female-only customers have increased by 230 percent in the last few years. Thirty-two million single women went traveling at least once during the last pre-pandemic year. Sixty-five percent of American women have vacationed without their partner. Women overall spend millions of dollars annually on travel. Few people have Ivana Trump’s bank account. Perhaps airports and travel are not your jam. There are other ways to explore adventurous living. Case in point: a neighbor who stopped me in the hallway yesterday. She’s been married to her second husband for over 40 years.

“So what are you doing tonight, Leslie?” she asked with genuine curiosity.

“I’m having a party all by myself. Making my favorite dinner, watching my special streaming show …”

She looked at me in wonder. “That must be nice,” she responded with puppy dog eyes.

“My husband goes out once a year,” she went on. “Maybe twice. I never get to be alone.”

Now it was my turn to respond with awe: “I couldn’t survive that.” It’s true. Truer now than when I was younger. We all need “me time.” Some of us need a lot of it. You don’t have to spend money or leave town to transform your life after 50. The real roadblock is mental: You and you alone are responsible for bringing adventure into your life. Are you hiding behind your spouse, your parents, your kids, your creaky knees, your church duties, our culture? Isn’t this your life? You are the boss of yourself, no matter what anyone tells you (or you tell yourself).

You can dye your hair blue. Start wearing a miniskirt or Ninja Turtles pajamas. Go vegan. Eliminate sugar. Learn to cook Ethiopian food. Read every Shakespeare sonnet. Move out of your suburban empty nest to an apartment downtown. Take up snowshoeing. Vow to make a new friend every week. (A good place to make this happen is at Trader Joe’s, where everyone always seems to be smiling.)

The journey at our age is an inside job. Transform your attitude and your life will follow.

One of my most adventurous friends now finds escapades in an unlikely place: inside her 150-year-old New England farmhouse. Her beloved husband died five years ago. He was a painter and an intellectual introvert. She compensated by being extremely outward-facing during their six decades together. She raised their children. Worked as a realtor. Handled all financial and health care decisions. Traveled internationally. Ran their social life. She did it all with gusto, joy and aplomb.

A few days after his funeral, she retreated to the homestead they had enjoyed before his dementia necessitated a move to a care facility. Now 86, she rarely leaves the hilltop farm. She enjoys the spread of purple lupines they planted together. Reads fiction on her screened porch. Keeps an eye on the robin’s nest in the tree next to the chimney. Entertains an occasional visitor. I’ve never seen her happier.

“Life is filled with love and surprises. My journey is inward now,” she told me. “If you keep your heart open, the adventures never end.”

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