The Solo Issue.  By Lisa Ellex

The Solo Issue. By Lisa Ellex

. 15 min read

In a series of in-depth conversations with midlife women and men, this author asked volunteers from the PrimeCrush community to share the things they’re hesitant to say out loud to even their closest coupled-up friends.

The Solo Issue: Are Midlife Solo’s Looking for Love? Six Honest Conversations.

Somewhere in Mesopotamia, circa 2350 B.C., someone said “yes” to the dress (okay, so it was more like a sheath) and as quickly as one could say, “I do,” they did. Should the union end in divorce – and the wife was deemed to be a good one – she was permitted to remain in the marital home where she would be fed, clothed, and paid a slave’s salary.  If she was deemed to be a bad wife, she would be drowned.  Pondering this tragic ending, one can’t help but wonder if the horrific fate of our predecessors has instilled in modern man/woman a cellular fear of remaining single.

The stigma of “singleness" is so universal that it’s been a theme on the big screen since the early days of cinema. From Bette Davis’ institutionalized spinster in Now, Voyager (1942), through the ticking of Marisa Tomei’s infamous “biological clock” in My Cousin Vinny (1992), the dread of being solo continues to be a storyline staple of many a screenplay, over eighty years later.

To honestly convey today’s midlife solo experience, PrimeCrush presents Part Two of our candid conversations with six readers – three female and three male – who have agreed to share with us what life is like inside their single world. Do note, their names have been changed here.

We first spoke with Klara, a 58-year-old HR executive, divorced for sixteen years.  She recently reconnected with a man she knew when both were younger. “They see you through different eyes than someone you just met. There was something that was very comforting to the both of us. But he wanted to ‘staple it down’ and it’s not what I wanted.  I’m more introverted and it didn’t feel like the right fit for me. He was a really great guy. He was divorced after twenty-something years and it was difficult for him.  Men who raised a family in a marriage are less adaptable and want another structured relationship/marriage.”

Single for one year now, I asked Klara if she desired to be partnered.  “It doesn’t bother me so much, I guess. I’m a pretty independent person and I would like to find a partner to spend my life with but I find I’m a bit set in my ways and I have a lot of interests and I wonder if I could make room for someone else in a conventional way.  I hope that happens but I think part of not doing it now is that I’m very flexible about arranging my life around somebody else's. When I’m with someone I don’t set up my own boundaries enough. I can meet my needs when I‘m alone but when I’m with someone I don’t do it as much.”

Klara explained that she recently achieved a major professional goal and she is now thinking about her “next step.” “I’m giving myself some space. I really do hope I find a partner but I’ve gotten comfortable with the good possibility that I won’t and I’m very grateful for my interesting and wonderful friends,” she said.

Next, I spoke with “R,” a 50-year-old woman in the healthcare profession, who has been single since her 19-year marriage ended three years ago. She wanted the divorce, he did not.

“I looked around and had a moment of, ‘Oh, this is what my life is going to be for the rest of my life,” and thought, ‘I am too young for it to be this. Taking care of a man-child.  He was happy being ‘as is’ and I wanted more. To grow and change and explore.  He had no interest in that. I had an epiphany one day. It was a lightning strike moment of, ‘I can accept this or do something.’ I was 46 and realized I was too young to settle. I have a lot of life still to live. I have dreams. They won’t be actualized if this is the life I choose. I made a conscious decision to live with intention.”

When I asked “R” if she was hoping to find someone she answered, “I like companionship but I don’t feel the need to partner up and have somebody be here every day.  I’m enjoying having my space. I liked being single in my twenties. I was never someone who was dying to get married. I can’t imagine having a marriage again.  I have a joke that if I lived with someone our house would have two sections– and they'd be across the street from each other!”

“V,” a 47-year-old woman who runs a private concierge service in a major northeast city has a very practical approach to living single:

“There is a difference between loneliness and being alone. If I need that sort of companionship I have guy friends who are available. One friend in Chicago will fly in to take me on a date and I still have a lot of really good, comfortable male friends. We're one another’s best wing partners in bars, helping to pick someone up. I’m happy doing it this way. I don’t need to be – want to be – paired up with someone. I’m perfectly content on my own.”

When I spoke with our three male readers from part one on the subject, their overall views were a bit different than those of our female readers.

“M.”, a 55-year-old bar manager in NYC, has been amicably divorced for two years after a ten-year marriage. “We decided to break it up not because we didn’t care but because the unhappiness was growing larger than the moments of happiness. When that ended, I got to live my life the way I pleased. I learned a lot about myself by not having to keep myself in check for someone else. We do our best to make ourselves the best for someone, to our own detriment. But we are holding the keys to our own happiness.

When I was a kid – when you're in a relationship – it was one-on-one as long as it lasted. My marriage was the first relationship in my entire life that I was completely monogamous. My generation has been conditioned but the conditioning is being worn down. A sexual revolution happened right after COVID. People needed something different after being trapped with one person. It had to happen, even if underground. We’ve never been as awake about our sexuality as we are now. I really like the way it’s going.”

Still, “M’ tells us, “I’m happy on my own but always have my eyes open…the rest of my life is now an adventure. Now each year might be troublesome or tough but it’s still an adventure. This is my next adventure. I’m gonna go with it and see what happens.”

“C,” is a 56-year-old Bostonian professional, married for 20 years, divorced for six. He’s active, social, successfully co-parents his children, and enjoys staying physically fit. In addition to being a PrimeCrush reader, “C” is one of our trusted sex toy testers. He says,  “I tried all those toys…amazing little vibrators, butt plugs. A friend of mine had never had anal sex so we played with that.”  In addition to being open and adventurous (and a really good friend!), “C” is honest in telling us that he is actively dating and pursuing partnerships, saying, “If it happens, it would be awesome.” Though “C” doesn’t feel the need to be married he says, “If it was important to the woman, I would not say, ‘no way.’”

Finally, “Jay,” a 60-year-old restaurateur shares, “I guess I’m fortunate that I have a full social life involving friends and extended family members. Still, I would most definitely like to have a special lady in my life. I’ve dated, but there's really been no one special since my divorce ten years ago and I really miss having that lovely feminine energy in the house, in my life.  I miss going out with someone I’m completely comfortable with. Familiar with. I miss going to dinner and I miss traveling and sharing special moments with someone I feel close to. Yeah, I miss the closeness. Honestly, I miss taking care of a woman. I’m one of those protector/provider guys, I guess. This may sound strange – or even spiteful – but the truth is I miss being married but I don’t miss my ex-wife. But I miss the connection and the routine and the comfort that we had early on. And those laughs that you have with someone you have history with.  It would be great if all that came along for me again but what’s sad is that I’m at a stage in my life where we can’t create history. There’s not enough time.”

Time. It waits for no man. Or woman. Perhaps the quiet that follows that last “tick'' of our biological clocks has enabled women to accept and thoroughly enjoy their newly-found solo lives more so than their male counterparts.

According to a July 2020 piece in MadameNoire Why Divorced Men Want To Remarry But Divorced Women Don't, “...divorced women of a certain age get out there in the dating world, looking for companionship, and find divorced men who want wife number two.” It’s certainly an unexpected plot twist from the standard Hollywood storyline, so let the remakes begin! Until then, stay tuned for the third and final piece of our solo series.

Take me back to The Crush Letter No 99

The Secrets That We Keep: Brutally Honest Conversations About Being Solo.

If you’ve suddenly found yourself swimming in the deep end of the solo pool, beware of the prying friend who often asks, “You’re such a catch…why are you still single?” Those of us who have been solos for a while, whether by choice or circumstance, whether male or female, know to expect it. Each time I hear this, I cringe and resist the urge to reply, “You’re such a catch! Why are you still married?” Next thing I know, the prying friend is trying to pair me off with a recently divorced brother-in-law or dentist. I thank the friend for their concern, then politely explain that having them choose my mate is like sending them to the market to select my fruit; I much prefer to see, smell, fondle, and pick the produce myself.

Curiously, these friends who express concern over my singleness are the same friends who have stopped inviting me to couple-centric events. Seldom am I asked to attend certain dinners and activities where couples are in the majority and I can’t help but wonder how, in this era of inclusiveness, am I finding myself excluded from the “cool” table like the new girl in the high school cafeteria?  What is it about my freedom that makes my friends uncomfortable? Perhaps the very sight of me reminds them of just how stuck they are in their own relationship. Is my presence a threat to them somehow? As a married woman, I was an asset to couples’ social events. Single, am I a risk?  Just when did I become the apple in the Garden of Eden? And are single men having the same experience?

According to a January 2018 New York Times article, an estimated 42% of marriages are not monogamous (and those are just the parties who admit it!). Whether they are in a mutually open relationship, having a clandestine affair, or both parties are conveniently “looking the other way,” one or both parties in the couple are going outside their relationship. So by keeping the available people out of sight, are they kept out of mind?

We were fortunate to have candid conversations with some uncoupled PrimeCrush readers about how they relate — or don’t — with their coupled friends. What they have to say may —or may not — surprise you.  

Klara, a 58-year-old HR executive living in Massachusetts has been divorced for 16 years. She’s been solo since ending a relationship one year ago and tells us, “I have clearly experienced being excluded. I’m attractive, I do well professionally, I'm engaging and I think there are unhappily married people [who] don’t want single women around.  There’s nothing lonelier than being in a committed relationship that you’re unhappy with. Also, I think where I live is the most nuclear family-oriented place. There is a subtle judgment about being single. I felt it with my daughter in our small community. People are getting their kids together and I felt they don’t want their kids to come to our house maybe. I once attended a family-style dinner at a resort and I was sitting next to a man who was with his female partner and I thought this woman was going to punch me out because I was making small talk.”

When asked what she wished her coupled friends knew about singles, she concluded,  “I wish they didn’t feel threatened. I find when I do speak with their husbands I am careful not to be perceived as flirty. I would enjoy getting to know my friend's husband better, but I don’t. I see his wife instead. And that's the extent."

PrimeCrush reader “R” is a 50-year-old woman who is a healthcare professional. She initiated the split in her twenty-year marriage and is now divorced for three years. I asked her if she felt that married couples are reinventing the idea of marriage to having open marriages, either publicly announced or quietly agreed to. “R” says, ”Most of my married friends tell me they are not having sex with their spouse. My female friends have confided that they are having affairs. Of my high school friends with whom I have stayed in touch, a good number of them admit to having male/female affairs with each other. Very few of my friends are happily married or in love with their husbands and feel companionable with their partners.  Interesting to me why people make the choice to stay and why we all felt the need to do it.”

I asked “R” if she feels her coupled friends are treating her differently: “When I was married, we did a lot of socializing. We invited couples and singles, too. Now, I am the only friend here that is divorced. I have one friendship that feels changed. I have a separate relationship with the husband; we connect professionally. I asked the wife of this couple, ‘Do you not invite me over because I’m single now? Because we used to come over all the time. Is your husband uncomfortable with me being there?’

She said they don’t get together with anybody. I told her that’s not true because they are busy every weekend. I’m trying not to feel like a paranoid teenager like everyone is invited but me. The dynamics do change when you’re not a couple.”

When I asked “R” if she longs for companionship she said, “I tried online dating. I’ve been propositioned about sex many times but never asked out on a date. I have a sense of humor and can take it with a grain of salt. I feel good about who I am and, like many women, I struggled with my body image but don’t anymore. I come off as stable. I don’t give off crazy vibes. I got this 25-year-old guy [online] and so I played along. He was lovely. He was the only guy I chatted with who didn’t go into sexual stuff. He was polite and appropriate but hadn’t given me sufficient info that I could google him. When I did, I found a news story that he held his girlfriend hostage and beat her. But I hope that I find romantic love again. I worked hard after my divorce to not make the same mistakes that got me to my divorce; to be wiser. I can’t imagine how it will go the next time around. “

"V", a 47-year-old woman in Boston who runs a private concierge service has been single for three years after realizing that she and the person she was dating had different goals and interests.  She clearly feels that her coupled friends find her to be a threat to their relationships. “I’ve always been a tomboy so my female friends are insecure about that. I don’t need to be paired up with someone and some people are appalled by that. I’ve lost two friends for turning down marriage proposals because that was what they wanted for me [because] they are in relationships and their partner wouldn’t marry. When they hear I turned down someone, it's jealousy. I could have had the life they want, but I would rather be happy and single.”

On being set up with a date: “I do have rules. If people say they have the perfect person for me and I don’t like who they are dating, I don’t let them set me up. Be honest with your friends and tell them if the date was not for you. Maybe they really don’t know you or maybe they’re mad at you. Or they don’t want you to be a threat.”

After speaking with three women, I spoke with three men. The first, “C,” is a 56-year-old Bostonian divorced for nearly six years. He considers his marriage of twenty years as healthy. “The proverbial excuse of growing apart epitomized our relationship at the end. We are very close right now and on the same page and very aware of our children and keeping them in the center of all our actions and thoughts.”

“C” does not find he’s getting fewer invites from married friends. “I’m a fun third wheel. My coupled friends are in the know about my life. They don’t try to pair me off with people. I do have a couple of friends that are really accomplished, both in their second marriage. I’ve known the guy since college and I call his wife directly and she’ll give me advice on how to handle dating things but they don’t try to pair me off with people.”

When asked if he is hoping to find someone he answered, “I would love to be with somebody.  I don’t feel there's a need to be married.  If it was important to the woman I would not say ‘no way’ but I would love to be with somebody I could spend the rest of my life with. I’m actively pursuing it. If it happens it would be awesome “

Regarding dating apps: I go on and off. It’s like a drug. I feel like I’m always going to be looking for something better. It’s like shopping. You get on these things and you flip through and you see somebody and you think you’re attracted to her looks or her profile and it feels like you could just keep going to those sites and find someone else. We didn’t have that option when we were younger. It’s a great resource but at the same time it’s like a drug.”

Next, I spoke with “M,” a 55-year-old bar manager and long-time Brooklynite. Single two years after a very amicable divorce, he says the breakup was his idea. “The [10-year] marriage had become sexless. Unless we were drunk. It became very unfulfilling for me. I didn’t want to stop caring for one another, I wanted to stop being indifferent to one another.”  

“M” says he has a lot of coupled friends but he doesn’t attend couple situations because he and his ex shared friends. “But I do spend a lot of time with people in my age group that are divorced. I have many friends in relationships not yet married and their relationships seem to be working out. In business, I work with people half my age.  It’s interesting watching their dynamics. Their take on relationships is much different than mine. It’s more open.”  We talk about the future and “M” says, “I love being alone. My rules, and my ways, but after so many years of being with someone, I would love to sit down and cook dinner with someone. Or see a show.  I’m happy on my own but always have my eyes open.”

Finally, there’s Jay, a 60-year-old restaurateur who says, “My social life has not changed much since my divorce [ten years ago] but I really attribute that to the fact that I have always made an effort to reach out. But coming from the restaurant business, the people who you choose to stay in touch with are really like family. The hours were long and you saw more of your co-workers than you did of your real family. It’s what led to my divorce, actually.  I still socialize with many of the friends who have remained couples. Now that I think about it, when I receive an invite from them, it’s almost always from the woman, and yes, on occasion they try to fix me up with someone, but I honestly don’t mind. I actually find it fun, whether it works out or not. I’m an easy guy.”

If you’ve been keeping score, you’ll notice that three out of three women agree that they’ve experienced exclusion, while three out of three men have not. So what does this single writer wish my partnered friends knew? The new girl in the cafeteria has a lot to bring to the table. Invite her.  Besides, hiding the cookie jar doesn’t mean your partner isn’t going to go looking for the cookies.

If you love me as much as I love you (and I really do love you!), then please help me grow by forwarding this {love} Letter to a friend!  And I'd love to have you join us on instagram, facebook & twitter.

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The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter curated by Dish Stanley on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?




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