Reflections on single retirement and meeting friends

Flowers for your single friends – or you!

It’s coming up again: Single Working Women’s Day (August 4) and Single Working Women’s Week (7/30 – 8/5/17). It’s the time of year when we get to buy flowers or gifts or do little favors for the single women we know and appreciate – including ourselves, of course. Thank you to Working Woman Report and to TimeandDate.com for talking up the holiday recently.

Is singleness different when you’re retired? If you’re retired and live alone, whether you’re widowed, divorced or never married, you face unique challenges, yes. But for many of us, being able to choose our activities and allocate our time just as we like can make up for a lot of inconveniences.

Say, for example, you decide to spend an entire day reading – or two days or whatever your heart desires. You don’t have to make excuses or apologies to anyone about it.  What’s it worth to you not to have to worry about offending someone by passing gas or burping? To eat when you feel like it and eat whatever you want without having to explain yourself? To experiment with super-healthy recipes that no one else has any interest in? (If that idea clicks for you, check out this cookbook, Sneaky Blends, that shows you how to up the nutrition in lots of different recipes.)

The most important thing is having at least a couple of sympatico friends who like to go out and do things together once in a while. We humans are social animals, and a workplace always provided an automatic social setting. When we’re retired, we don’t have that setting, but we also don’t lose the wish to socialize. Even for those of us who are semi-loners, occasional companionship colors the world a little brighter. Having someone with whom you can share what your day was like can soothe the spirit.

In some cities, like Cleveland, Ohio, for example, many natives grow up with a ready-made social set – people who went to grade school and high school together tend to stick together throughout their lives. Although I lived there more than 30 years, only one native/local woman ever made even a small attempt to be friends, and she admitted I was the only “outsider” she’d ever socialized with. The rest of the folks I met and/or hung out with were all transplants like myself. Here’s an interesting chat forum on the subject of the “them” vs. “us” mentality in many cities and towns.

How do we meet new friends when we’re getting up there? Well, there’s always Meetup.com. In Chicago and in many cities across the country there’s a “school” for people over 55 called Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. This is a peer-led organization that gets lots of retired (and semi-retired or still working) people – most are 70-ish – coming together in study groups to tackle subjects of mutual interest. The one in downtown Chicago – and in Evanston, too – is housed on Northwestern University’s campus, so there’s not a ton of diversity among the members, but it’s still possible to meet people with the potential to become friends or at least going-out buds.

So consider treating your single women friends somehow during Single Working Women’s Week. It’s a great time to celebrate the joys and challenges of being a single working – or retired – woman.

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Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) in Chicago...

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It’s the middle of the worst time of the winter–and this Chicago winter weather’s a real bear so far! Two feet of snow in one day; dirty, ice-encrusted mountains now of three and more feet high—even close to three stories in some of the big parking lots. Plus I’ve been fighting a severe case of bronchitis-cum-crud for more than two weeks, including a trip to the ER for coughing that was keeping me sleeping bolt upright far too long. Hope you’re doing better than that…

Monday is Valentine’s Day. A day to treasure yourself and your friends with words and even cards or hearts. Some single women tend to get down because they don’t have romance in their lives on this day. Why surrender to that kind of thinking? Put romance in your own life—take a bath with rose petals. Pour yourself a glass of champagne; treat yourself to a really special chocolate or other fabulous dessert. Seriously, find a really good chocolate shop and buy yourself a couple of favorites. Do it at home alone, or do it with friends—at home or out somewhere. Buy yourself a beautiful piece of lingerie if you love that sort of thing; you will know you’re wearing it. Or even treat yourself to a beautiful new piece of jewelry.

Tree decorated for Valentine's Day in San Dieg...

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But it can be most rewarding to share with your friends. Spend an evening together—talk about all the fun things you do in your lives. Talk about the fun times you’ve had. Plan an excursion together. Surprise each other with thoughtful little gifts. Women are each other’s greatest supports—a day like Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to honor that truth. Who cares what anyone else is doing?

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Is truth subjective? How about when a friend refuses to see it?

The HeartMath Institute sends out a quote every day–some of them from famous people, some from the founders of the organization. Almost all are gems. Found this one today:

“Everyone stumbles over the truth from time to time, but most people pick themselves up and hurry off as though nothing ever happened.” – Winston Churchill

It’s easy to see this happen when you’re looking at other people. How easily we can recognize when a friend or relative is turning away from a truth that’s uncomfortable. Not so easy in ourselves, of course.

The big question we face when we see it going on with a friend is, where does our responsibility lie? Are we supposed to point the “truth” out to the friend who can’t see it or who disagrees about it? What most likely happens if we do is the friend gets angry with us, feels misunderstood and judged. Because the fact is, when someone’s ignoring the truth, it’s usually because they are either unable or unwilling to acknowledge it. In any case, it doesn’t appear to be truth to them at all. So you can come off as preachy or holier-than-thou if you bring it up–even if you do it very diplomatically.

Do you gauge your course of action by whether you think it will make a difference? Do you only say something if the person is putting herself in imminent danger? Some people choose never to say anything, and that’s always safe. But if you want to be truly intimate with another person (whether it’s a close friend, a significant other, or a family member), that’s where the choice becomes more complicated.

The best course is to let love guide you. But that’s often easier said than done. In an insightful book called The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, written originally some 40 years ago, the author talks about the components of love being care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. Though a few of his ideas are dated, it’s worth reading this book to get a deeper perspective on the meaning of love in all its forms–and sound guidelines about when and how to discuss a difficult issue with someone you care about.

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Former TV star's advice on living alone

She was the cute and savvy sidekick on the 60s television series “Get Smart.” At some point in her life Barbara Feldon’s marriage dissolved and nothing else seemed on the horizon. Eventually, she adapted and is now thriving–her book, “Living alone and loving it: a guide to relishing the solo life,” offers some cool advice. A few points:

  • Stop imagining that marriage is a solution for loneliness.
  • Nurture a glowing self image that is not dependent on an admirer.
  • Value connections that might be overlooked.
  • Develop your creative side.
  • End negative thinking. (Just say “Stop it!” when those thoughts intrude.)

A really important item: Live within your means – ruthlessly. Give up the idea of an ideal caretaker who will provide a safe haven and relieve you of your responsibility for your financial security.

Like this one. Treasure your home – it is a portrait of what you think of yourself. Explore your own taste – unfettered. “Your space is the litmus test of your self-esteem.”

And especially appreciate this one: “Our romantic nature is one of the dearest aspects of being human. Whether it is expressed directly in mating or sublimated in friendship, affection, fantasy or art, it deserves to be celebrated and encouraged to take wing.” Concentrate on the loving connections in your life – not on what is missing.

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