Are you a gray divorcee?
If you are one of those seniors who was married to the same person for decades and you recently split with your long-time partner, you may be confused about what to do next.
You, like others in your situation, are likely to have a good many questions.
Things to Consider if You’re a New Gray Divorcee
Self-reflection is the first place to start! One of the first questions to ask yourself is why you decided to leave your spouse after all these years. Did you leave because you were interested in someone else or were you simply tired or fed up with that person?
If you were fed up, why? With what? Behaviors? Boredom? Conflict? Once you’ve answered those questions, your new situation (that of being single) is likely to spawn other questions, especially those that include what it is you want in your new life cycle — one where you choose whether or not to go it alone.
If you want to start dating, for instance, how long has it been? Forty years? Will you be able to remember what it was like and do it successfully? How about online dating? What is the anticipated reaction from family and friends if you do decide to date again, or even marry again? These are questions you will ponder as you take your next steps.
If you get remarried will your expectations differ from those of when you were young? If you’re a senior, chances are you are not going to have more children, unless you adopt. How do you blend the ones you may have with those of your new partner?
It’s likely you both have children — and grandchildren. These are all sensible questions to ask. Another very important question you will need to answer is: if you do remarry, how will you adjust your will/trust to include your new spouse? Or will you include that person at all? Is a prenuptial agreement in order? Whatever choices you make in addressing these issues, consider how they will impact your children, the grandchildren, and other family members.
Further, it is often difficult to combine two households in which people have accumulated “things” and habits over a lifetime. What can you live without? What do you absolutely need? What habits are you willing to change? Are you stuck in your ways or willing to try new ideas and adventures?
How about “just” living with the person and not remarrying? Are you comfortable with that arrangement? Are your expectations — the ones you have placed on yourself or those imposed by others — going to affect your day-to-day living now that you are “older” and living together? For example, if you want to have serial sexual relationships rather than marry or have a companion, is that more acceptable now at your current age or do your values dictate that such an arrangement had only been permissible in your 20’s?
What About Your Children?
What your children think might be another factor since they are likely a heavy influence in your life as you age. Will they think it is okay for their 75-year-old father to be with a 35-year-old woman or for your 80-year-old mother-to-be with a 65-year-old man? What kind of talk are you likely to get from them? Will their opinions dictate your decisions? Should they?
For some seniors, the potential negative reactions from friends and family may keep them from doing what they really want to do out of fear of losing the ability to be with them. This concern is common when grandchildren are involved. Yet, there are others who say to heck with the opinions of the people around them—life is short, and they want to get as much out of it as they can; especially if they felt repressed in their long-term marriage.
I had a client who had been married for sixty-five years and got divorced. She said she had never had sex with anyone other than her spouse and wanted to explore that “prospect” at eighty-four! Her family thought she had dementia!
In a youth-oriented culture, it is obviously very difficult for the young to imagine being seniors with saggy skin and wrinkles and thereby even more difficult for them to imagine being sexually attractive to another person. However, these can be the same people who may have the illusion they will not be alone later in life; those who see themselves as always active socially and sexually. I say to them, “Keep an open mind about the generations before you. You’re probably going to be in that older group one day, so honor the elders who have lots of privileges and choices.”
My primary job as a gerontologist and clinical psychologist is to empower my clients to see aging not as a disease and not to believe that the young people in their lives know what is best for them, but to decide for themselves what is best and let the others’ mindsets fall in line. I’m convinced that the more social connections you have, the better you live. Social support is more important than wealth and health! Whether you decide to remarry, stay single, live with a companion, or have serial/non-serial sexual encounters is up to you!
If you’re still wondering and questioning how to move forward, I offer the following suggestions for navigating your way through your gray divorce to ensure you are going forward to live a happy “rest-of-your life”:
- Be positive about what you want. If you want another relationship, go for it!
- Allow yourself to grieve for as long as necessary to get over the loss of your marriage. Just because you chose divorce does not mean that you didn’t anticipate a long marriage earlier on.
- Don’t deny your feelings of missing your spouse in certain ways and what he/she/they represented to you. If you have children, that person will still be the mother or father of your kids, and you are probably going to remain connected to them until one of you passes. Learn to manage that “different” relationship constructively.
- Don’t acquiesce to the concept of “ageism.” Are you telling yourself you are too old to fall in love again? Nonsense. Are you concerned about what others think about a person dating in their 80s or 90s? Who cares what they think!? What’s important is what you think.
- If you want to move forward alone, value that choice. There is real value in “total freedom.”
- If you want to have a companion, enjoy that choice. For most, wanting a mate is a natural human urge.
- If you want serial (or non-serial) sexual relationships, cherish that choice. It’s yours and yours alone to make.
- If you change your mind about 5-7 above, value your prerogative to do so.
If you’re a gray divorcee, you may be happy to hear that research shows it is best to be in social relationships as one grows older. This is especially true in not living alone, after the death of a spouse.
The bottom line is this: You have now lived long enough to become more like yourself. So, whatever you want to do, do it! Allow yourself time and courage to find out what choice(s) you want to make and act on them. It is true for all of us that “life is short!” As we age, most people come to realize it does become shorter.