Losing a spouse or long-time companion to death or divorce can be a nightmare. Some people may jump into a new relationship just to have someone around; others may become depressed, even deciding that life isn’t worth living. It’s human nature to want to bond with another, and when that bond is terminated, it’s hard to know what to do.
Studies show that loneliness can adversely affect health. Lonely people tend to drink more, exercise less and become less trusting of others.
However, loneliness and living alone are not the same thing. Many people survive, and even thrive, after a death or a bad breakup, even though it may take a while.
My own space
Barb Cotting, 76, lost her fiancé 26 years ago and never remarried. Though she now has a significant other, they both agreed that living together wasn’t in the picture. “We get along great because we each have our own space,” Cotting said.
Cotting likes the freedom to do what she wants when she wants and having no one to tell her what to do or how to do it.
“At first I was terrified of living alone,” she said. “I moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, bought a condo, and got a job with a legislator. I’d go to Juneau when the legislature was in session…and I roomed with my [female] boss. I looked forward to getting back to Fairbanks and learned to enjoy being alone to recover from the intense activity.”
Perhaps the biggest downside to living alone for older people is the fear of something happening and no one being there to help. Cotting and her sister call to check on each other frequently. Seniors choosing to live alone have developed ways to cope with loneliness.
Cotting is active in Rotary, volunteers at the soup kitchen and sings in the Grand Mesa chapter of Sweet Adelines.
“I also have a couple of pets I adore,” she added.
She is also an accomplished watercolor artist and plays the piano.
“Life is for living with no regrets.”
Living with no regrets
Wayne Michaels, 71, has lived alone for 10 years, first through divorce and now by choice.
“I do the same things living alone as I did when I lived with someone,” he said. “I enjoy my alone time and I enjoy
my shared time with friends.”
Working with Mesa County Search and Rescue with his ham radio keeps him busy. He also belongs to a wood carvers’ group and spends time in his shop creating carved statues.
“I don’t like cooking for just one,” Michaels said, “and not sharing adventures with a woman who is a great friend, intimate confidante and great lover.”
Loneliness isn’t an issue for him. He schedules time for spiritual immersion—seeing a bigger picture of how much love there is in the world—which doesn’t leave room for loneliness.
“For me, loneliness would be about living in the past and wishing for something that won’t be,” he added. “Life is for living with no regrets.”
In fact, Michaels said people who have been single for a long time are the hardest to love.
“They have become so used to being single, independent and self-sufficient that it takes something extraordinary to convince them that they need you in their life,” he said.
Michaels said marriage, or even living with a woman, isn’t in his future, although he has met someone, who fortunately, also likes her own space. For them, a relationship is not a tightly enmeshed enterprise.
“We come together for fun, companionship and shared interests,” he said. “Then we’re able to separate to our own hobbies and pursuits without any jealousy or guilt. Then we come together again.”
If you’re suddenly left without a partner, give yourself time to grieve and adjust to being alone. No one can tell you how long that might be, but when the pain has diminished, make the effort to move out of your isolation and into the world, even if it’s only a leisurely stroll through the supermarket. Small steps bring you back into a world that has shifted, but you may discover a whole new one just waiting to welcome you.
Tips for adjusting to living alone
- Don’t shut yourself off from the world. Open the curtains and chat with the
neighbor over the fence. Spend time outside gardening or just enjoying the day.
- Get up, dress up, show up.
- Create rituals for living alone. Dance in your skivvies. Paint or draw without
- Try new things. Learn to speak French. Eat at a restaurant you’ve never been to.
- Go to a free library presentation.
- Find your community. It could be through church, a poetry group, or a book club.
- Realize that your situation is unique to you. There’s no point in envying the couple
down the street because she has a built-in handyman and he has a willing
housekeeper. Save your energy for something you can change.
- Learn to be happy for yourself and for others. Happiness is a choice
When she isn’t writing, she teaches writing workshops and edits both fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. She facilitates the Colorado West Writers’ Workshop and belongs to the Authors’ Guild. Visit her website for more information and links to her books and classes.
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