Saturday 28 November 2015

Single Over 50

Princess Diana's Mother, 1989
A woman in the Telegraph writes about what it is like to be "Single" (she's divorced with children) in her 50s. There's a lot of sadness in her article. She advises discontented married friends not to get divorced.  At the same time, though, she notes that there is a lot of unhappiness in middle-aged marriage.

Well, you know, there is a lot of unhappiness in middle age although, to be frank, in the west these are what might be called First World Problems: oh wah, it's harder to stay thin, one is not as attractive as one was at 27, one does not have so much potential, one is less likely than ever to become a millionaire, one's spouse has not given up that annoying habit after umpteen years, one's dear same-age friend has been diagnosed with cancer, one's knees ache half an hour into a dance (if one even goes to a dance), one sometimes feels a shooting pain in one's hand--is it early on-set arthritis?!

Frankly I feel very lucky to have met B.A. a few scant years before I turned forty because he is the right sort of person I need to have around when I am mooching about feeling middle-aged. First World Problem Story: I took out two beautiful young things for dinner and a concert as a sort of chaperone, and--no word of a lie--on my way to the power-room I glanced in a mirror and was instantly reminded of Princess Diana's mother. When, after an evening of accompanying blooming youth, I found B.A. asleep in bed, and I was enormously comforted because he looked as old as I did.

But to go back to dating at 50, good heavens. Surely at 50 it is really time to stop thinking in terms of dating and more in terms of making friends--or keeping--friends? Not only is one too old to have children (or more children), which is what sex is primarily for, SORRY,  but one is too old to adopt babies. (Many countries won't let you adopt babies after you turn 40.) If at 50 one decides to marry a friend, old or new, then that's lovely. But surely one of the joys of being in late middle-age is that it really doesn't matter as much?

My grandmother Gladys was widowed at 60, and although terrifically popular with elderly men, she never showed the slightest interest in romance, dating or marriage. She went on holiday with her old pals, she carried on volunteering with her pals (they had a band), she went to seniors events, playing cards and doing aerobics and whatnot, she listened to the radio, she smoked until double-pneumonia told her to stop, she read bodice-rippers and "sagas" late into the night and on Sundays she visited family, i.e. us.

The author of the Telegraph article says that it seems to her better to have been married with children and then divorced than to be single-never-married at 50, but then I suspect she is horrified by the very idea that her children might not have existed. There are many 50-something nuns who are quite content to go on being nuns, and I imagine (indeed, I hope) there are many 50-something women who have passed through their sorrow at never having married and had children and realized that not only are they at peace with it, they wouldn't have it differently now. (I'm still going through BA-and-I-can't-have-children grief myself.)

What is cheerful about her article is that she points out the personal freedom Single women have. The Single woman who is financially independent of a husband or family does get to make all the decisions. She doesn't have to ask permission to go on this trip or that trip or to take early retirement to go back to university or to sell all that she has and give it to the poor.

One thing that interested me most in the article was the cheeky questions the author gets as a "Single" woman over 50. I think she is too optimistic when she says no-one asks young blondes about their sex life, as everyone just assumes they have one. Maybe they didn't when she was a young blonde, but I can assure her that older married people (like male bosses) started asking me such questions when I was 17

As for remarks about married life, I agree that in general in the UK married women are considered sacrosanct and you just do not ask them such questions. An American once did make a salty remark about my marriage at a dinner party, and I hit him with my handbag, right there and then. Were I a widow, I imagine I would level a cold stare at the impertinent person through the top halves of my bifocals (which I am beginning to need) and say that I am devoted to the memory of my late husband. It seems to me that dozens of generations of over-50 British women had something to teach us about dignity.

Update: Someone who married older that I did written in to suggest I am too dismissive of later marriage. I apologize for that. Although the subject of being a Searching Single after the menopause is indeed very important, it is something of which I have no firsthand experience. The best I can say is that I think it must be much different to be a widow, looking back fondly (or not) on one's married days, than to be a Single-never-married. However, I hold out the hope that being Single might matter less, not more, the older we get.


  1. I have a question that is not related to being single after age 50, but is related to being single! I somehow stumbled across a Catholic blog which seemed to be endorsing the use of novenas to... get oneself a husband, for better or worse! Specifically, a novena to St. Anne. Plenty of examples, blog-writer included, of how ladies had met their future spouses either during the novena, or immediately after, etc, etc. My question is basically: Wise Seraphic, what do you think of this?! I'd never heard of it before. And to sit down and pray a novena with that sort of expectation seems sort of like... testing God, not in a good way. And much as I think I'd love to experience romantic love, I don't even know whether I'm called to marriage (well, I suppose one doesn't until one is specifically asked :) ), so praying like this seems rather... presumptuous.... ?

    1. If you pray a novena with sufficient attention (and perhaps dedicate to some other purpose in addition to finding a husband) you may find, not a husband, but the wisdom and courage to accept your situation as it is and as it may develop. That's part of what prayer is for, as I learned in praying for the recovery of sick people who did not recover. I believe that those same people also benefitted by my prayers, if not in the way I had initially hoped.

      Alias Clio

    2. Michelle, I know exactly what you mean. Some prayers and pilgrimages sounds like attempts to cast magic spells. But the Church does not have a problem with novenas and pilgrimages, so I guess the controversy is with one's attitude towards them.

      My family didn't pray novenas and my mother was/is super-sensitive about ANY devotion that could be considered the weeniest bit superstitious, so I don't pray novenas. I just pray simply for what I hope for, and when I happened to be at St Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, or remembered St. Joseph, I asked him to ask for a husband for me. Husbands and children are not exactly material objects; it seems to me that there is good biblical warrant for women to pray for a husband and then, having got a husband, children. I did go on a pilgrimage to York, as there was a traditional R.C. Mass celebrated in honour of St. Margaret of York in Yorkminster, and I promised St. Margaret that if her prayers moved God to send me a baby girl I would name her Margaret. St. Margaret did not come through for me (or was unsuccessful). Oh well. but I know a lady who had been married for a year or two without any baby luck, so she made a pilgrimage to St. James of Campostella, and now she has three sons and has been exhausted ever since the first one was born.

      When B.A. came to Canada to visit me, we went together to St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal to say thanks to St. Joseph for his prayers. So although St. Anne is indeed a patron of girls-looking-for-husbands, I would sentimentally recommend St. Joseph myself.

      The St. Anne prayer I know is "Anne, Anne, send me a man." I think there's a Scottish one beginning "Saint Annie, God's granny...." but I don't know how it ends.

    3. Thank you for your replies, Clio and Seraphic! I agree about the purpose of praying the novena with sufficient attention. Clio, I suppose your comment highlighted for me that I'd rather pray one for someone, rather than for myself, but praying a novena as an aid to discernment of one's vocation seems like it could be good. I feel the same way as you about praying for those who are sick but do not recover.

      Seraphic - magic spells indeed! I guess I've become less comfortable with superstition over the years, especially as some people in my family are big believers in "signs" if that makes any sense. It makes me happy that you mentioned St. Joseph -- I have certainly asked him for a great deal of intercession with regard to unrequited feelings...St. Joseph's Oratory is stunning, and so deeply moving in its starkness. I was there a few months ago (ah, Montreal -- so many beautiful Catholic churches!). I am still sad for you -- but also very grateful for your "spiritual mothering" of us young ladies on the internet.

      I've heard a variation on the St. Anne prayer, except about St. Anthony (finder of lost things): "Tony, Tony, find me a man, if you can't do it, no one can!"

  2. As a ( I hate to say it) middle aged, never married single myself, marriage is still very important to me. Moreso because living alone becomes less and less appealing. And, though I may never get to have children or adopt them, I'd like very much to be a grandmother.. Assuming I could be one of the step variety.
    As well, as much as I enjoy helping and takiNg care of others, I do still long to be taken care of.
    I've been blessed to have met a charming widower, and we are happily dating.
    And yes, I met him after praying to saint Anne for myself and several friends, some of whom have also recently met decent Catholic men. (One herself, being a widow for a good decade... And is very happy with her new beau)

  3. Stated more simply, the desire to love and be loved doesn't just go away because one has reached a certain age, and her eggs have shriveled up. Particularly if that one has been waiting her whole life for love.
    To suggest we just give up and settle for friends is insulting.


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