One is NOT Necessarily the Loneliest Number

When we kids were growing up, our parents repeatedly told us that being happily married was the best state to live in.

The key phrase, of course, was happily married.

Which was obvious, since they lived together 60 years, until Death did them part.

But all of us aren’t that blessed. Some never find Mr. or Miss Perfect; others think they do but things turn sour.

While longevity isn’t a sign of a good marriage, brevity isn’t necessarily a sign of a bad one.

Meaning, things happen.

People change. Or grow apart. Or find they weren’t really ready for that big step.

And then, recognizing their “mistake,” acknowledge it publicly and do whatever it takes to rectify things.

Such as divorce.

And just because they’re alone doesn’t mean they’re lonely.

The other day, I read an article in Mom’s AARP The Magazine by Marion Winik, who was married twice but found herself happily single after 50.

What was going on, she wondered. Wasn’t a single person the “unmatched half of something”? A problem to be solved by well-meaning friends?

Turns out, a survey of 5,000 American singles indicates 80 percent of those over 50 are quite content without a partner.

Eighty percent!

Only 8 percent of the 50+ age group is actively seeking a relationship; 51 percent say they’d take the right person if he/she came along; and 24 percent prefer their single state.

Another study (by social scientist Eric Klinenberg, Ph.D.) found similar results:

Older people who are single like it that way. They want integrity and independence.

Some balk at the give-and-take good marriages require. Others have had it “up to here” with dating and kissing frogs. And still others just really prefer keeping open the possibility of friendships with lots of different people, or are grieving a spouse’s death or a difficult breakup.

So I wonder: Is it selfish to want to do what you want every day, without having to take a partner’s needs into consideration?

Maybe not.

Maybe you’re “high maintenance” and know it. Maybe you’re driven by a cause, or a business. Maybe you need a lot of alone time — to create, for example.

Maybe you just would rather be single than face the possibility of more hurt.

To your bank account. Or your psyche. Or your heart.

Still, I’ve got to wonder: Would these surveys have uncovered similar results by talking to 30- and 40-year-old singles??

39 thoughts on “One is NOT Necessarily the Loneliest Number

  1. VERY interesting post, Debbie!

    “And just because they’re alone doesn’t mean they’re lonely.”


    I’ve been single for SO MANY years, and I have to be honest, I have never felt alone. Ever.

    Yet, I’ve met several people who are in a relationship, who DO feel alone.

    ” Wasn’t a single person the “unmatched half of something”?”

    See, that’s the thing, many people feel as though they have to be matched (like Noah’s Ark), or they don’t feel complete.

    One of the things I’ve learned about having a relationship is that if you don’t feel complete within yourself, you won’t find that in a relationship because you’re putting too much of an obligation on the other person to COMPLETE you.

    Two half’s don’t make a whole. Two wholes make a whole.

    If in the future, I do end up having a partnership with someone, I think it will just happen naturally. But until then, I sincerely enjoy being single.

    GREAT post topic!

    • “if you don’t feel complete within yourself, you won’t find that in a relationship because you’re putting too much of an obligation on the other person to COMPLETE you.”

      I love that, Ron! I’d never really noticed it before, but we do tend to be a Noah’s Ark kind of society, don’t we? Well-meaning friends and relatives constantly ask singles, When are you going to find someone? As if that’s the be-all and end-all in life.

      When one is “comfortable in one’s own skin” and living a full, interesting life, you can give yourself to others. Sadly, too many people stay together out of the wrong reasons and end up living lives of regret. And honestly, who wouldn’t rather be happily alone than miserably married?

      Thanks for dropping by, my dear, and have a SUPER weekend!

  2. Call me cynical, or overly sensitive to my debate teacher’s criticism, but the first thing I wonder is why is sharing results of a survey saying most singles over 50 are happily single. I wonder what their statistics are for making successful matches in that age group. 🙂 (Sorry!)

    I also wonder about the survey itself. Not just this one, but any survey that gives statistics. What was the purpose? How was it administered? Who responded? How were the questions worded? How was ‘loneliness’ (in this case) defined? Or ‘happiness’? Or for that matter, ‘single’? Were responses weighted based on subgroups? Did the responders respond again after any given period of time?

    For example, someone who has spent, let’s just say for the sake of discussion ‘her,’ her adult life in an unhappy marriage (or even a happy one, for that matter), whose spouse dies and leaves her debt-free and in good financial shape so that she is free to pursue hobbies or to travel or to do whatever she wants would probably not self-identify as lonely or as unhappy, especially not if she’s free to sit at home and click survey buttons on the Internet. (By the way, anecdotally speaking, this is a fantasy of an alarming number of my married friends.Widowhood is so much more financially and emotionally rewarding than divorce. They’ve blatantly said that.)

    A couple of years down the line, that same person or someone like her, might be feeling a little bit more lonely, having tired of traveling or pursuing hobbies alone.

    Her counterpart, someone who has never married or had children, who has dedicated her life to a solid career and personal fulfillment, might on a good day say, “Sure, I’m happy!” and on another day be a bit more reticent to say that.

    I guess what I’m saying — and what I know Abraham Lincoln did NOT say, is, people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. 🙂

    • As with most surveys, this one didn’t specify how the results were obtained, or what the circumstances were of the respondents. That said, I suspect you’re quite right in saying the same person on a different day might have weighed in with a different response — most of us, after all, find “Happiness” and “Loneliness” rather hard to define and certainly relative to our circumstances at the moment.

      I know that for me, a bad mood from having a rotten day at work doesn’t merely evaporate just because I walk in my front door (although having a Sheltie love on me truly helps!). Most of us tend to let our hair down with those we’re closest to, unloading our frustrations here and there. And while it’s nice having someone to “take” all those bad feelings, it’s really not fair to them, when they likely didn’t have anything to do with contributing to that mood.

      And it’s plain to see how having money and good health might play a big role in how one views his happiness (or lack thereof). Same thing with having a job one loves or fulfilling volunteer work or extended family ties.

      It looks as if “Abe” might have been right in putting the onus on each individual to find and secure his own happiness!

  3. Well, I’m 67 and happy as a clam with my single state. I wasn’t always, but it’s been years since I fussed over it.

    A story. Back in the 80’s, I knew a 93 year old woman who was being pursued by a number of fellows in their 70s and 80s. She knew they weren’t after her money, because she wasn’t loaded, even though she lived comfortably. But she thought she knew what they did want,and she wasn’t having any of it. As she put it, “I’ll be darned if I’m going to spend the years I have left washing some man’s socks and cooking dinner for him. I put in my time and have other things to do.”

    I’m a little surprised to see “50” as the benchmark, but I wouldn’t be one whit surprised if the results came back for the over-60s. We have other concerns. There’s a good bit of contempt for us – including from the people putting together this health care system. As Ezekiel Emmanuel put it, if you’re over 65, you’ve had your shot. Resources need to go to people who still have a life.

    My response to that would not be suitable for your blog – but I know perfectly well there are a whole lot of us old geezers who are going to make an attempt to live as far below the radar as possible, and take care of ourselves. Worry about a suitable companion is a luxury for the young ones. Staying out of the way of the bureaucrats who want to kill us off is what concerns my friends and me.

    • My late grandmother was just like your 93-year-old example. In fact, she swore that if something ever happened to my grandpa, that was it. Finis. No more husband for her. And she kept her word!

      I wonder if our country ever really revered age, Linda. I know my generation certainly didn’t. What was it — Don’t trust anyone over 30, or some such? Anyway, I look at other cultures (particularly the Asians) and see an entirely different way of life. One that honors and appreciates the wisdom and experience of their elders. And it makes me kind of sad that we’re not tapping into this goldmine, too. We can ill afford to give everyone over, say 70, a pill and a raft and float them out to sea!

  4. You know, Debbie, I get the AARP magazine. What issue was that article in? Sounds fascinating and right up my alley. As someone who has been divorced and single for years, it’s kind of empowering to hear. Thanks for writing this. Can never understand those who feel they lonely when they’re single and that they have to have someone or else. I really do feel better off. Sometimes I get nostalgic for the feeling of being in a relationship, but I know with that would come the baggage, too. And somehow, that’s something I can do without. I’ve got my own, after all. So where exactly do you stand on the subject?

    • It was in the August/September 2013 issue, Monica, the one with that fabulous Gloria Estefan on the cover.

      I, too, have been divorced and single for years. At first, it was difficult — after all, “good” Catholics don’t get divorced, nor do they raise children from their marriages all by themselves. But I’ve found that, over time, I’m quite at peace with my situation. Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. One can be lonely in a room FULL of people! My life is so full that it’d be a challenge fitting in the time and attention a spouse or significant other would require. And maybe I’m just a tad selfish, in that I actually enjoy my own company, ha!

  5. I’m glad to see this perspective, Debbie. The world is SO focused on matching up men and women that we do tend to think that a person living the single life is only doing so temporarily. We assume no one WANTS to be single forever. But maintaining a partnership with another person is a LOT of work, as we all know. And as hard as you have to fight to keep things even and smooth in a relationship, you also have to fight hard to maintain a sense of individuality. There’s a lot less stress to being single in that regard!

    • Terri, we foist that expectation on our young people, too. How many times have I heard of parents practically demanding of their kids, When are you going to get married? People mature at different ages, and like you said, marriage is a huge responsibility, one that’s definitely NOT for those not yet ready for it. I so admire the couples pictured in the newspaper who have reached 50 or more years of marriage, though — what a lot of give-and-take they represent!

  6. Excellent point, Debbie. Too much focus is made on being in a couple to find happiness when interestingly enough statistics show that women who are happiest are single women in midlife. Anyone who has a passion for any of the arts need lots of alone to time to create.

    • You’re right about that alone time, Pat. While it doesn’t keep you warm at night, neither does it make many demands, ha! Seriously, I, too, had heard that single women and married men are the happiest — hmm, that doesn’t exactly compute, though, does it?!

  7. I think everyone dreams of widowhood when they are married ^ and honestly it has some advantages 😀 I loved Joe like crazy but my marriage was both the best and worst of times. I never had any doubt about motherhood, but never believed I would make a great life partner. Some of my friends in their 50’s are hooking up and I cheer them on, and recently I’ve begun to notice and smile as several of my friends marriages have blossomed past the empty nest phase as they reacquainted with each other. Other friends continue to cherish being without a full time partner.
    Perhaps what has changed, and I think this is a good thing, is the expectation that marriage brings us happiness and fulfillment; those ideals have to be found with or without a life partner.

    • I love your last paragraph and agree that philosophy makes the most sense. To expect any other person to make us happy is rather ridiculous, considering the fact that all of us at some point have to admit that even WE can’t make ourselves happy!

      I think it’s truly beautiful when a marriage works; it’s also beautiful when a single person — whether single by choice, divorced, or widowed — can find happiness outside of being a couple. After all, happiness is what we’re all striving for!

    • Well said, Dawn. The happy times in my marriage were simply grand; it’s sad when those happy times don’t last and nothing you do can bring them back, and you realize you’d be better off alone than in a miserable union. You deal, that’s all.

    • You’re right in saying, Nothing worth having is easy. That’s true for happiness, too, regardless of the lifestyle choice that finds you. Sadly, far too much of what you find after 50, or so I’m told by those women who’re looking, are “damaged” by previous battles (or are ailing and need a nurse more than a wife, heehee!)

      • Well everyone who is NOT willing to go on a spiritual journey will be stuck and damaged. I think that’s just a people suck you have to weed through the bad ones kind of thing. Dating just PLAIN OLD SUCKS but I am SO grateful for my husband. I would do it all over again to get back to him.

        • I’m a sucker for a happy ending, Jasmine! You’re blessed to have found someone so loving and compatible — and so is your husband, but I’ll bet he already knows that!

        • He does and when he forgets I watch bridezilla and housewives with him and then he remembers! LOL

  8. I think people who are comfortable in their own skin tend to be more comfortable being alone. While I’ve been married for over thirty years I still enjoy time to myself!

    • Balance is a good thing, Suzi. The happy couples seem to have found just the right amount of together and alone time. And you know, some of those old couples pictured in the newspaper who are celebrating 50 or more years together even have started looking like one another!

  9. Interesting article. It doesn’t surprise me that so many are content with single life, though. A few years ago, my husband joked that if he died, I’d take the insurance money and find another man. I corrected him: I’d take the money and go on a nice vacation and then I’d get another cat! I told him that I’ve spent so many years trying (unsuccessfully) to train him and I’ve learned my lesson 🙂

    • Ah, Janna, you’re funny. Another cat?! I suppose this is another case of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I still believe in the power and magic of love, even if I’m single! Not that I’m searching, either, because I so love having my own space and time to call mine! If an idea strikes me in the middle of the night, for instance, I don’t have to make apologies to anybody for getting up and writing it down — right then!

  10. I agree with Jasmine….Marriage is a lot of work in serving and dealing with a difference in personalities. That never ends throughout the marriage and the older you both get…and you don’t feel as well and old age makes you a little weirder… it a little gets rough. But then the companionship is great.

    I’ve been married 39 years next month and I don’t think I would remarry. The thought of dealing with a new commitment after that first year of newlywed bliss would drive me crazy. I think having Jesus as my very best friend would be enough to last me until I make that transition myself. I enjoy my alone time now when my husbands away. Thought provoking blog today Deb.

    • Thanks for dropping in and adding your thoughts, Tanya. Oh, and congratulations on almost 39 years of marriage. You two are an inspiration! I’ve always heard it said that it takes three to make a good marriage (husband, wife, and Jesus); and most folks don’t realize how much WORK is involved in keeping a couple together. The most important thing to come from my own marriage was my son!

  11. This is interesting. Plus in my opinion single is better than heartbreak that might result from a relationship. Which is usually almost inevitable as I’ve onserved.

    • Hi Alia Eva, and welcome! Nice to see a new commenter here every now and then.

      I think the key is how happy you are by yourself. Me? I’m pretty good company (so are the voices of characters in my head, haha!). But then, I’ve always been the kind of person who could happily entertain myself without a roomful of others.

      While some relationships are headed for heartbreak (for one or the other person), many work out just fine. The people are happy and fulfilled, spurring each other to grow and become the best they can. Sadly, that’s not always the case. Mismatched partners either work *extremely* hard at getting along, or they go their separate ways.

    • I hear you, Kim, I really do. That’s exactly my thought! My own space, my own time, my own idiosyncrasies — and no criticism or complaints or expectations designed to make one feel rotten when one fails!

  12. I watched a movie that was, for the most part, miserable this last weekend, but one line, when the characters were dining al fresco in Greece stuck with me, “It’s not the love one person that matters, in the end, it’s the love of life.” From someone who is married, but loves her alone time – I think I’d weigh in on the “doing just fine alone, thank you.” I appreciated this post subject and the insightful comments too. Thank you for putting it out there, Debbie.

    • This is so true, Barb. Perhaps it takes a few years before a person is comfortable enough in his/her own skin to be able to say with all honesty, I’m content, just as things are. This is not to say that “contentment” equals lack of growth; more, it’s that contentment frees one of the pressures of “finding their other half” and helps them focus on BEING WHOLE.

  13. Debbie, this post is definitely food for thought and I have to add my two cents. If I have to divorce husband number two, then I’m definitely remaining single. Especially with midlife just around the corner. This might sound awful but I’m happiest when I’m “single” in Spain. No having to hear moans and groans of “when are you cooking?” or “roll over, you’re snoring,” or “why are you hogging all the blankets?” Grief. Yep, it’s party of one for me. Unless Javier Bardem is available. If that is the case, I might have to think about it! hee hee! 🙂

    • Bella, it’s always special to read your comments. I hear you, my friend! Dallas is “needy” enough without adding another husband to the mix. I suppose the “sleeping differences” are what eventually drive older couples to separate bedrooms, where they manage to get along quite peacefully. People’s needs change as time rolls on, or so I’m told, and most of us learn that a good night’s sleep is vital! Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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