Either through choice or circumstance, many of us at 50 are alone. But that doesn’t mean we feel lonely. Despite what dating companies would have you believe, not everyone needs another half, some of us are already complete.
We thrive on our own and with friends, enjoying doing what we want, when we want, without having to consider a partner, embracing the spontaneity that being single affords us.
“People who are single at heart lead their best, most authentic lives on their own. It’s ridiculous to assume that everyone who is alone is lonely“, social scientist and TEDx speaker Bella DePaulo (PhD), author of “Single with Attitude” explains. “It’s just as ridiculous to claim that single people are less connected than those who are in relationships. Studies show that the opposite is true. Once people partner up they become less connected to friends and family because they build a life around their partner“.
It certainly takes courage to be single in midlife. But still, this is probably the best time for flying solo, a chance to finally get yourself back. According to DePaulo, time alone for solo dwellers can be relaxing, fulfilling, and rejuvenating. It offers opportunities for self-reflection and spirituality as well as allowing you to spread your wings as far as they would unfurl.
Solitude can feel familiar, even intimate and empowering. Take twice-divorced TV celebrity Carol Vorderman, 60, for instance. She recently talked about being “happily single” saying that she was finally revelling in doing her own thing and running on her own “clock“. Thrice-married actress Kim Cattrall, 65, seems quite relaxed about being single, too. “You know so much more about what you want and what you don’t want and what you’ll put up with”, she says.”I feel in that area, romantically, retired.”
Hally Barry, Diane Keaton, Drew Barrymore and Jennifer Aniston have also discussed how empowering it is to stand on your own and focus on one’s desires and achievements. “The truth is, most likely, one day you will meet someone and it will be gone. And once it’s gone, it’s really gone!” says Drew Barrymore. “Why does no one tell us how important it is to enjoy being single and being by yourself?”
A growing demographic
Whether or not people are choosing to stay single for good, statistics show that it’s become far more common, across all ages. While only 28% of U.S. adults were single in 1960, the number now stands at an astounding 45%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
This is fueled by a rising divorce rate among older Americans. The divorce rate for adults aged 50 and up has doubled since the 1990s, according to a Pew Research Center report. And only 15% of divorced or widowed women say they want to remarry, found Pew, while 29% of men say the same.
The Office for National Statistics in the UK also shows that women not living in a couple, who have never married, is rising in every age range under 70. In the decade-and-a-half between 2002 and 2018, the figure for those aged 40 to 70 rose by half a million. The percentage of never-married singletons in their 40s doubled.
What’s more, according to a study published in The Journal of Gerontology – The changing relationship between partnership status and loneliness: Effects related to ageing and historical time, by Anne Boger and Oliver Huxhold, satisfaction with single life increased over time, historically, and with age. Partnership status became less relevant to loneliness over time and with age.
Main reasons for being single at 50
There are several reasons why more women than ever before are choosing to be single at midlife. “Think of all those hours of sleep you’ve already got on the rest of humanity“, says Emma John award-winning author of ‘Self-Contained: Scenes from a Single Life. “All the nights no partner or child has kicked you awake. Holidays will also be better. No compromise destinations, no make-the-best-of-it camping, no hours of enforced boredom in the cafe of a soft-play centre. You won’t be hamstrung by your partner’s reluctance to go out or the complex tapestry of kids’ extra-curricular activity”.
Nowadays, there may be less predictability to how your life unfolds if you stay single, as compared to following the more celebrated life script of marrying and having children, and then more possibilities. According to DePaulo, women are no longer tethered to husbands for economic life support. Neither men nor women need a spouse to have sex without stigma or shame. Children born to single mothers now have the same legal rights as those born to married mothers.
“When sex, parenting, and economic viability were all wound up together in the tight knot that was marriage, the difference between single life and married life was profound“, she explains. “Now, the institution of marriage remains ensconced in our laws, our politics, our religions, and our cultural imagination. But it is of little true significance as a meaningful life transition“.
People who aren’t single don’t understand that it’s possible to be happy without a partner, so they may make judgments as a result. However, instead of getting mad at your friends or family members for their assumptions, try your best to ignore them; you know that you’re happy flying solo, and that’s what matters.
It is time, surely, to change the rules and the conversation. “As the population of never-married women expands, we should be honest about what it meant, and means, to be one “, concludes Emma John. “We should celebrate our identity and the life experience that has been given to us. We should reclaim our history and stop being defined by others. Why not start by taking back that dread word, spinster?”
On the same page Catherine Gray, author of ‘The Unexpected Joy of Being Single‘. “Over a third of us are now single in the UK. With the single camp growing at ten times the rate of the actual population. But nobody seems to have told society, romcom makers, songwriters, marriage-hungry mothers, ‘tick-tock’ uncles, our mates or us that. Let’s start the reverse brainwash and locate our happily single sanity, for good“, she writes. “What is being single, really? It’s freedom, space, financial independence, emotional autonomy, mastery of all the tasks, and sourcing love and romance in your friends and family. Being single for an extended period gives you a set of skills that make you feel slightly invincible, so to ever put those down just because you have a ring is madness.”
Being single at 50 is an opportunity to focus on yourself. Falling in love with yourself first is actually the most important relationship you need to deal with. Make peace with who and what you are, with your strengths and your weaknesses, and be happy.