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  SeniorSinglesStickman

                                       “How Do I Survive in a Singles Lifestyle?”

             
Peter’s* question emerged from our discussion about the changes brought on by the death of his wife. Although five years had come and gone since her death Peter was still struggling to adapt to his new lifestyle as a single man. His grief work had been hard as was his adjustment process. Now, at age 61, he wanted to move forward with his life. “I need to do more than just exist,” Peter stated. “I don’t want to get married again, but I do want the rest of my life to mean something. Frankly, I’m having a hard time just surviving day to day. I haven’t prepared myself for being single at this age. How do I survive in a singles lifestyle?”

Patty’s* struggle was similar to Peter’s situation, except her singleness was the result of an unexpected and unwanted divorce. At age 56 Patty was forced to face a single lifestyle that presented changes and challenges that she felt ill-equipped to handle. However, ready or not, the harsh reality of being “single again” hit her in the face with the dawning of each new day. Because of several important factors, including her children and her financial situation, Patty made a clear decision to remain single for the duration of her life. For her a second marriage would be too risky on multiple levels. Like Peter, she also struggled with the same question, “How do I survive in a singles lifestyle?”  

Preston* also struggled with being single, but, unlike Peter or Patty, he had never been married. As a young adult he had hoped to get married, but now at the age of 57 Preston had given up on his dream of sharing life with a wife. For many years he had lived as a single adult, but those years were difficult and challenging, perpetuated in part by his inability or unwillingness to accept the reality of singleness. He felt tortured by the thought that as a single he was missing out on life as a married person. His suffering was compounded by his belief that his singleness meant that he was not good enough or not appealing enough to get married. After traveling a single adult journey for many years Preston was still asking, “How do I survive in a singles lifestyle?”  

Can you identify with these individuals? Are you a senior adult and single? Before you respond you need to know that I’m using the age of fifty-five as the starting point for the Senior Adult journey. With that age in mind would you qualify as a senior adult trying to survive in a singles lifestyle? If you do qualify, to what extent are you currently struggling with survival?  If the word “struggle” seems to fit your situation you can be assured of this fact: you’re traveling the same highway with many other Senior Singles. As you’ve no doubt discovered, that highway can get quite bumpy—and scary! If you’re struggling with these bumps in your journey I invite you to travel with me as we explore survival on the Senior Singles Highway. 

This particular article is directed primarily toward Senior Singles (individuals over the age of fifty-five) who are committed to remaining single. The content of the article could be relevant and applicable to men and women who are trying to find a romantic partner and get married, either for the first time or in a remarriage situation. However, the primary purpose in this material is to explore survival for Senior Adult men and women who are committed to remaining single for the duration of life.

A choice to stay single might puzzle and even confuse people who view marriage as a much better lifestyle than singleness. Even though marriage could be a legal option many Senior Adults choose to remain single. Their decision is influenced by a variety of important factors, such as family issues, financial concerns, personal problems, or spiritual matters. For example, some individuals have children and grandchildren and don’t want to complicate their relationships by the introduction of a new spouse. Other SeSinglesSeniorsBlocksnior Adults are concerned about their financial security and prefer not to place their current assets at risk through a first marriage or a remarriage. For some individuals the presence of significant personal problems makes the idea of marriage unrealistic and unwise. Another key factor is the consideration of personal spiritual and moral values. Some divorced individuals who are spiritually oriented believe that a remarriage would be a violation of values based upon Scriptural teachings in the Bible. Rather than risk their spiritual well-being through remarriage they elect to remain single. Additional factors might influence one’s decision to remain single, but once the choice is made the individual faces the daily challenge of surviving in a singles lifestyle.   

Let’s return to our original question “How do I survive in a singles lifestyle?” There is no easy or simple answer for this tough question. Through pondering the question and brainstorming for answers I’ve thought of many tips and tools that seem relevant and beneficial to a typical man or woman who is committed to singleness during the post-55 journey in life. In considering these various ideas I asked myself, “What are the basics for survival?” Sometimes we use the phrase “The ABC’s” to capture the concept of basic steps to take in regard to some struggle or an identified problem. To apply this phrase in our current exploration of singleness we ask the question, “What are the ABC’s for survival in our journey on the Senior Singles Highway?” Let’s examine three survival steps suggested by the phrase “The ABC’s.”   


A =  “Accept your Singleness!”

 

The A-step in “ABC” suggests an important goal: “Accept your Singleness!” My survival in a singles lifestyle begins with acceptance. I must get to a point in my journey when I accept the reality of my singleness. The focus in this first step is upon internal identity. I see myself as a single person. I am not married; I am single. This acknowledgement leads to acceptance. “I am a single person and I accept it.” Admittedly, the ability to acknowledge and the willingness to accept singleness are often extremely difficult for the individual who has been happily married for many years. Whether widowed or divorced these individuals must reshape their internal identity from “married” to “single.” The never-married person must reach a point where he accepts singleness as his lifestyle reality, if he has not already done so.

The positive acceptance of singleness involves our self-talk, that is, the specific messages that we tell ourselves. For example, let’s say that I’m a Senior Single who is resisting and fighting singleness. On a daily basis I tell myself “I’m single—and I hate it! I can’t stand this single lifestyle! I will be miserable as long as I’m single.” Clearly, these thoughts have a profound impact upon the level of suffering we experience in reference to singleness. If our goal is to accept our singleness we must change this negative thought pattern into a new thought pattern that will move us toward acceptance. The new thought might be “It’s true—I’m single. That’s my reality. I’m committed to this lifestyle and I will find a way to survive. Being single may be hard, but I will deal with it and I will be okay. I believe that there is good life for me as a single, and I’m determined to develop that good life.” As this new self-talk is reinforced deliberately on a daily basis we come to look at singleness as a more positive picture or lifestyle.

A key component in this first “A” step of acceptance is a decision to focus on what we do have instead of what we don’t have. We would do well to identify and write down on paper the specific benefits of a singles lifestyle. The awareness of benefits will help us to appreciate what we have in our daily life as a single adult.  For example, we might say, “I may not have any romance in my life, but by staying single I do have more personal freedom.” Or, we might remind ourselves, “I may not have a spouse, but staying single is a simpler, less complicated lifestyle.” I recall one widower who described bedtime in two ways. “It’s negative,” he said, “because you have no one to share the bed with you.” Then he added, “It’s positive because you don’t have to share the bed with anyone.” Clearly, bedtime can be negative or positive depending upon our focus, that is, how we choose to think about the issue. In a larger sense our acceptance of our singleness involves our ability to be content with what we have. Through the right focus our acceptance will bring a sense of contentment that will reinforce our day-to-day survival in our singles lifestyle journey.


B =  “Build your Strengths!”

 

The B-step in “ABC” suggests another vital goal: “Build your Strengths!” The focus of this second step is upon individual improvement. Some Senior Singles do a pretty good job with the first step, that is, they accept their singleness, but they stay stuck in acceptance. The challenge is to move forward in our journey along the Senior Singles Highway in terms of individual improvement. This challenge involves the building of strengths through three efforts. First, we identify specific weaknesses that have maintained negative behavioral patterns, and we develop and implement a realistic plan of action for overcoming those weaknesses and patterns. As we decrease or eliminate negative thoughts, emotions, and actions we become healthier individuals. Secondly, we engage in a personal grief recovery program through which we grieve and adjust to the losses we’ve experienced in our divorce, the death of a spouse, or never getting married. Thirdly, we identify specific traits or skills we want to cultivate, and we design a plan of action for undertaking and fulfilling growth in the desired items. The detailed work done in these three efforts will vary from person to person, but the primary purpose is to overcome our shortcomings, grieve our losses, and undertake needed growth.

One item of individual improvement is the definition of purpose. Tragically, too many men and women reach the post-55 era of life without ever defining clearly their purpose in life. Without that defined purpose they have traveled through life thus far in a meaningless meandering manner. They have no real clue about their destination in life, other than just getting older and dying. Such individuals would do well to invest some personal time in pondering their purpose in life. Hopefully, they will understand and accept that purpose and allow it to influence every choice and action they make on a daily basis.

In contrast, other people may already have a well-defined purpose for which they’ve been working during their journey in life. Their challenge is to reconfirm that purpose and to live life so as to fulfill their purpose in day-to-day activities. Over the years I’ve asked many people about their purpose in life. A typical inquiry has been, “So, what are you living for? What’s your big purpose in life, and how does this current decision serve to support that purpose?” As you would imagine, I’ve heard a variety of responses to my questions, ranging from simple personal goals to complicated humanitarian efforts. Recently I listened to one post-55 Senior Single who defined his purpose in a spiritual context. Interestingly, in his description of purpose he referred to a Scripture in Jeremiah 9.** He paraphrased the verses by saying, “God tells the wise man not to boast in his wisdom, the strong man not to boast in his strength, and the rich man not to boast in his riches. Instead, if a man boasts he should boast that he knows and understands God, that God exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on the earth because He delights in these things.” This Christian man had adopted the purpose of knowing and understanding God through the Scriptures and through the natural world, and to imitate God’s efforts in exercising kindness, justice, and righteousness on the earth. His ultimate destination, as he described it, is to join God in heaven when his journey on earth is completed. As a Senior Single he had committed himself to that purpose and wanted to make sure that every decisioSinglesSeniors3Strengthsn and action in his life supported that overall purpose, including his choice to remain single for the duration of his life.

A second item of individual improvement is self-caring. Many people reach the post-55 part of life without having a good understanding or the necessary skills for effective self-caring. These individuals tend to neglect themselves toward increased unhealthiness, or they depend too much upon other people to take care of them. As a Senior Single we must learn how to take good care of ourselves while avoiding the negative extremes of self-neglect and selfishness. Self-caring means many things, including emotional independence and self-control. In reference to emotional independence, we grow in our ability to manage our emotionality so that we are not overly dependent upon other people to meet all of our emotional wants and needs. The emotionally dependent person lives at high vulnerability and in constant jeopardy, simply because he relies excessively upon other people for their emotional acceptance, approval, and validation. Clearly, such a person will suffer much more from emotional loneliness than does the person who understands and practices healthy self-caring. Many Senior Singles need to grow in the area of emotional independence. Additionally, self-caring involves growth in self-control. The Senior Single is faced with many temptations which represent threat and danger to personal health and well-being. Resistance requires enough self-control to set and enforce appropriate boundaries that will protect and safeguard the individual from harm. Growth in self-control can help the Senior Single to prevent unwise spending, sexual misbehavior, and other inappropriate activities. As impulsiveness is decreased by the growth of self-control the individual can be more purposeful and deliberate in his daily choices.

A third item of individual improvement is basic survival skills. Some Senior Singles are inadequately equipped in the skills that are basic to survival. For example, a widow has always depended upon her husband to take care of all financial matters. After his death she is at a total loss about financial management. Obviously, she needs a crash course in how to work a budget, control her spending, pay her bills, and make investments. Additionally, she may have to learn new skills to equip her for the work force if she has been a stay-at-home wife. Men might have to learn how to do laundry and how to cook, particularly if they’ve always depended upon their wives to do these jobs. Thankfully, there are community resources that are usually available and affordable through which these basic survival skills can be learned.    

This second step of “Build your Strengths!” focuses upon individual improvement. We’ve identified three important items of growth:  the definition of purpose, the practice of self-caring, and the usage of basic survival skills. No doubt other growth items are also worthy of attention and effort. Hopefully, this short discussion will generate within you a desire for personal growth in other significant areas of life.


C =  “Create your Solutions!”

 

The C-step in “ABC” suggests a third goal: “Create your Solutions!” The main focus in this third step is upon initiated involvement. In the first two steps attention was given to internal and individual issues. If we stop there we limit our ability to travel safely and successfully along the Senior Singles Highway. We must add a third step that pushes us to initiate more involvement with other people and with life in general. Specifically, we create solutions that will cultivate positive friendships and connect with meaningful activities. The word “create” suggests intentional choices and assertive effort. Friendships and activities do not happen accidentally; they require choices and efforts. As Senior Singles we consider what we want or need in regard to friendships and activities. Then we develop a realistic plan of action which we use daily to move toward the friendships and activities we prefer.

Friendships are essential to the health and happiness of most Senior Singles. In the absence of an ongoing marriage or a romantic relationship the single man or woman looks to positive friendships as solutions for companionship and support. Unfortunately, many post-55 individuals suffer from an inadequate supply of friendships because they failed to cultivate and maintain them over the earlier years of adulthood. This reality is particularly true of older men who depended upon their wives to take care of their social network. Following the death of the wife or a divorce the man wakes up to a daily existence void of real friendships. The resulting aloneness often generates emotional loneliness and perhaps serious depression. Every Senior Single would do well to assess his or her current state of friendships and determine what is needed in terms of additional friends or more time with existing friends. Then the individual must stretch his personal comfort zone and reach out more assertively to current friends and potential friends. The cultivation of friendships is vital to an enjoyable journey through life. Friends are there as welcomed solutions to promote personal growth, produce practical support, and provide needed companionship.

Another type of solution that needs to be created is meaningful activities. Human beings are not designed to be idle and nonproductive. The Senior Single needs to be involved in SinglesSurvivalABCactivities that help fulfill his main purpose in life and that help him to take care of himself and to provide assistance to other people as needed. Some activities could provide financial compensation necessary to personal needs. Other activities might be more fun-oriented like pleasurable hobbies and enjoyable travel. Involvement in appropriate activities prevents boredom and promotes quality of life. Since many chosen activities are done with other people this involvement also increases the potentials for friendship cultivation and maintenance. Some singles prefer church-oriented activities while others like to get involved in community or civic service organizations. Other singles might focus on group-oriented sporting events or school alumni activities. If we prefer a more personal setting we could get together with selected friends to play chess, cards, or other enjoyable table games. The list of potential activities is almost endless. The challenge is to be assertive enough to create the solutions that are needed for meaningful involvement with friends who are co-travelers with us through life.  

This “ABC” approach to survival cannot answer every question or deal with every issue inherent in the Senior Singles journey. However, the approach does provide three key steps, each of which has its own specific goal and focus. My hope is that we will take the three steps and adapt and apply them as needed to fit our unique situations.

 

Concluding Thoughts . . .

SinglesSeniorHwyLife in the post-55 period of adulthood is an interesting experience, one that is characterized by a mixture of adventure and adversity. Our challenge is to enjoy the adventure and to endure the adversity. The Senior Single faces unique challenges that his married counterpart does not face, and vice versa. Each lifestyle has its own positives and negatives, and both must be approached with wise decision-making and effective problem-solving. Survival on the Senior Singles Highway is certainly achievable, particularly if the traveler will use workable tools such as the three “ABC” steps presented in this article.

If you’re struggling as a Senior Single and are searching for solutions, I hope that this material will be of encouragement and benefit to you. Additionally, please consider the wisdom of talking with your co-travelers to find out what they are doing that enables them to travel successfully on the Senior Singles Highway. Surely, one or more of their solutions would be applicable to your personal situation. With some adaptation you can use their solutions to equip you for a better journey. Another helpful resource is professional therapy in which Senior Singles resolve key issues and explore options for personal growth and development.  As you work hard and as you use appropriate resources, hopefully you will be able to say with active assurance and calm confidence, “I am a Senior Single. I will survive the journey!”


Single Adults #201
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*Peter/Patty/Preston:  These three names are fictionalized and do not refer to specific individuals. Instead, they represent men and women in general who struggle with singleness in midlife and later years.

**Scriptures: The specific Scripture that was shared was Jeremiah 9:23-24.

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VIDEO: To watch a television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses “Senior Singles: Surviving in a Singles Lifestyle” please click on the image to the right or click here.



 
 








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