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What it's Like to Still Be Single at Age 66

I'm not the plus-one ... I am THE only one.

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heart shaped hour glass on gray surface
Adam Voorhes/Gallery Stock
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A holiday that speaks directly to me is National Singles Day, on Sept. 22. At 66, without an ex-husband, or even a deceased one to memorialize, I've flown through life solo. With two brothers and their combined five marriages, resulting in 19 offspring, I often envied their lives.

When my big brother—who owned a law firm, a big house, fancy cars—told me three months before his passing that he was jealous of me, I was shocked when he replied, "Because you've lived life as a free spirit." I was shocked. Has my life as a “one” been as much fun as my brother believes it has been? Yes and no.

When my father passed away in 2006, after 63 years of marriage to my mom, I noticed that my still glamorous and social mother was not dating and didn’t seem to have any interest.

“Mom, you’re so vibrant. Don’t you want to meet a man?” 

“They’re all looking for a nurse with a purse,” she replied. “This is the first time in my life that I don’t have to answer to anyone.”

She married my father when she was 18. So, what is life like when you don’t have a partner, lover or spouse and there is no need to compromise? You can watch what you want on TV, eat when and what you want, and travel anywhere you want to go. The single life has allowed me to engage with many fascinating people and have varied, exotic experiences.

However, now that I am closer to 70 than 60, I’m thinking, Who is going to be there when I can no longer take care of myself?

My intimate relationships, a few of which pried opened my heart, did bring me joy I never felt when being alone. Randy, my live-in boyfriend, loved me like no other. When I returned home each night, I’d find yellow stickies filled with love notes. I’d wake up seeing him staring at me. My sleepy eyes focused on his handsome face, and I heard him whisper, “You’re so beautiful!” That was over 25 years ago, before gravity kicked in and my skin lost some elasticity.

Eric was 12 years younger. We traveled the back roads together and laughed nonstop.

“How could you not fall in love with him with his bedroom blue eyes?” my dad asked. Eric was also an amateur photographer, and I was his favorite subject. Although I was self-conscious of our age difference—“Just call me Mrs. Robinson,” I often told him—no one else seemed to notice.

Again, this was a couple of decades before my eyes became hooded and my neck turned crepey. Most recently, Walter managed to captivate me. A Harvard graduate, he would gloat to his family and friends about my achievements, with this: “You have to watch her films. She even won an Emmy.” His attention to my work and constant encouragement filled a huge void.

Although he had a face- and neck-lift, followed by regular injections of Botox and fillers, he wasn’t pushing me to do the same. It was his obsession with straight-haired blondes that drove me to smooth my curly brunette mane. But, finally, his addiction to porn and those other women ended our relationship.

Alone again, back on the dating apps, more jaded than before, I search with skepticism, weeding out the con artists and scammers and looking for someone with whom I can at least enjoy a face-to-face one-hour conversation.      

As I now find myself, one year later, temporarily living with my formidable 98-year-old mother, I don’t see an exit. We are two forces under one roof, and she keeps reminding me it’s her roof. Some days I am so overwhelmed, I gasp for air in her presence 24/7.Compromised by a recent broken shoulder, as a result of her missing a step, she was not able to receive physical therapy due to COVID-19. My once-fearless mother now shuffles when she walks, prefers her bed to the recumbent bike and huffs leaning forward to tie her shoelaces.

How could I leave her now?

Social psychologist Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, writes, “When aging parents need help, they are more likely to get it from their grown children who are single than those who are married.”

Since my father died 15 years ago, I have been Johnny-on-the-spot for my mom. When she informed her children that she was having prolapsed-bladder surgery seven years ago, my brothers and I jumped on a call to determine how we would share her care.

One brother offered to fly down for only the day of the surgery, and the other, who lives just a three-hour drive away, said he would come for one weekend. Guess who was there from the beginning for several weeks until she was healed? You got it. Moi!

Still, some studies have found that despite their added family responsibilities, older singles are not compromised in levels of happiness.

Researchers from Michigan State University examined the relationships of 7,532 people, followed from ages 18 to 60, to determine who was the happiest at the end of their lives. The July 2020 report, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, determined that lifelong singles and those who had varied relationship histories didn’t differ in how happy they were at the end of their lives.

“What too many people don’t realize is that for some people, being single is how they live their best, most authentic, most meaningful, and most fulfilling life,” writes DePaulo, who calls these people “single at heart.”

She also notes that people who have always been single tend to exercise more, given their more overall “me time.”

Perhaps one day I will find my soul mate. And if not, I would rather weather the solitary life and still have my freedom. I do know firsthand that being in a bad relationship can be lonelier than being alone.

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