Single by Choice: Why I'm Perfectly Content
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Relationships

Single by Choice: Why I Am Content to Be Without a Plus-One

And, no, I don't have an affliction in need of a cure.

illustration of woman sitting on bench and couples together at park
Molly Snee

Third wheel. Fifth wheel. One hundred thirty-seventh wheel. I have been all of these as often the only unpartnered person for the past 10 years at weddings, dinner parties, New Year’s Eve bashes (I tend to leave before midnight), black-tie fundraisers, reunions and awards ceremonies.

Yes, waiting for my car at the valet seems awkward, standing alone in a sea of couples headed home together. But then I hop into my Nissan Rogue, turn on Adele and drive home singing and smiling.

Who I am with does not define who I am.

Married for nine years (we were together for 12) from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s and divorced for the past 26 years, I have been in one serious, nearly seven-year relationship since my divorce. It was a mostly calm alliance that he ended with his declaration that he never was number one in my life, and needed to be.

He was right. Because I was the parent with sole custody who was the sole support to my three sons, they and my career took precedence. Except for the occasional dates, plus-one adds to an event and a recent, very promising option, I have been mostly single.

Proposing a rebuttal to Three Dog Night's 1969 cover of “One Is the Loneliest Number,” I suggest that for many women 50 and older, being single is not just a holding pattern until the next best person comes along.

In her latest book, Not Too Old for That: How Women Are Changing the Story of Aging (2022), award-winning journalist and author Vicki Larson writes, “What if being self-partnered is nothing to fear, but something actually to celebrate?”

Single for 17 years after her divorce, “with a few relationships sprinkled in,” 66-year-old Larson told me in an interview that so many women have been caregivers for others and may feel, I would really like to take care of myself. Especially if women have been divorced or widowed, there is this feeling of not wanting to settle.

She observes that many women looking to date men are discovering a paucity of options.

“You have to dig a little deeper to find a man who is interesting and interested, age-appropriate and attractive. … It is harder to find a connection to someone who is an intellectual, emotional, sensual and financial equal.”  

Amen.

At 64, I contend there may be theoretically a lot of fish in the sea but a paltry few I want to hook. I will make concessions, but what I have learned since my first date five decades ago at 14 (my father allowed me to have a “boy” over to play pool in the basement) is that discernment and caution are crucial.  

My calendar is full, with both work and play; I’m a journalist, author, amateur artist and live storyteller. My three sons (though grown) keep me involved in their own very busy lives, including family dinners. Still, I am happy being with just me, and I won’t settle for less than what I deserve.   

Some potential dates lie not just about their age, but their names, where they live, work, went to school and, yes, if they are married or not. Some ask for money and make angry scenes in public. Still, I have not slammed the door forever on coupledom; it remains open for the right person — a partner who complements my life, not just complicates it.   

I am not alone in that mindset; there is an expanding sisterhood of satisfied older singles. Margaret is a 58-year-old patent attorney in Chicago who has been divorced for more than 20 years. An artist who dabbles in pottery, painting and music for fun, Margaret says she likes the ability “to do things on your own when you are not part of a couple” and recently returned from a solo trip to Jamaica.

As a mother of three and grandmother of one, Margaret also has two cats, a dog and a parrot, and men friends she hangs out with; she is hardly lonely. As this busy woman claims, “I just don’t have time for trying to find the right person.”    

According to a 2020 study of singles conducted by the Pew Research Center, 50 percent say they are not looking to date or find a relationship. And 56 percent of divorced men and women and 74 percent of those who are widowed declaring they are not on the dating scene.

The study shows 65 percent of women say dating is difficult because “it is hard to find someone looking for the same type of relationship,” and 56 percent of women report “it is hard to find someone who meets their expectations.”

Yes, it would be marvelous to have an intellectual, fun, kind, thoughtful, truthful, confident, trustworthy (attractive helps) partner in my 60s to share experiences, intimate moments and joy. I would appreciate someone who is not grappling with past baggage or confused by what I do or who I am. I would embrace the chance to be with someone who is as comfortable in his own skin as I am in mine.

Though I believe being single is not an affliction in need of a cure, if the right person who meets my expectations does arrive, I will happily open the door to a healthy relationship. Until then, being single is a choice, and in this moment, it’s fine to declare, “I choose me.”  

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