[Bella’s intro: I have never met Lisa Cook in person, but I have been impressed with her since I first learned about her experiences turning isolation into community. When she found herself unexpectedly isolated after a move, she did not mope or just try to make things better for herself. She looked at the big picture and asked how more people in her situation could more readily find and build community. In short, she acted. She is continuing to innovate to this day. Thank-you, Lisa Cook, for sharing this essay with Single-at-Heart readers.]
“And She Lived Happily Ever After…”
By Lisa Cook
Typically, we picture ourselves growing up, leaving home to strike out on our own, and eventually entering a committed relationship. While living alone in our twenties and thirties may be a great adventure, typically we do not aspire to live alone through middle age and beyond. There’s that nagging fear of “growing old alone” with no one to take care of us. After all, there’s not a single fairy tale that ends with, “And she lived happily ever after…”
Fairy tale endings are unanimous – “they lived happily ever after”– a man and a woman in a romantic relationship that lasts forever.
These days, we’re smart enough to know that fairy tale romances may start strong but end in divorce court. “Happily ever after” covers a wide variety of living arrangements – partners of the same gender, partners living apart, single parents with children, multiple generations under one roof, etc.
But what about those of us who live alone through middle age and beyond? Men have better role models than women in this regard. Whereas men are glamorized as “lifelong bachelors,” women are still labeled as “old maids,” “spinsters,” and “cat ladies.”
It’s time to change these negative stereotypes, especially now that the US Census has found that those of us living alone occupy more than 1 in 4 households. People living alone are more common now than people living in nuclear families.
Mary Tyler Moore broke new ground with her positive portrayal of a single, independent career woman, but it has been more than 40 years since she moved to Minneapolis. We are way overdue for new strong, positive images of single women living alone and thriving.
I live right outside Minneapolis, Minnesota with my two cats, Darcy and Gracie. Like Mary Richards, I moved here as a single woman in pursuit of my dreams. I have two graduate degrees and a great job. However, Mary made moving here look much easier and a lot more fun! She never mentioned the social isolation of our long Minnesota winters or mice taking refuge from the frigid temps insider her nice warm home!
This spring, I enjoyed the rare opportunity to tell my real-life story as a single woman living alone and building a new life in the Twin Cities to a large audience at a local TED forum. My 10-minute talk “Living Alone, Living Connected” has been well-received on YouTube and www.tedxmahtomedi.com. (From Bella: Here’s the link; beware: sound will come on.)
My story highlighted my efforts to build community and support people who live alone or have moved here from other places. I call my venture “Plan B Connections.” I maintain a website and a Facebook community to connect folks and share community building strategies and relevant resources.
My most important Plan B Connection to date was having a single, elderly neighbor on my radar after her cataract surgery. Unable to reach her for more than 36 hours, I called the police. They found she had fallen in her kitchen and was too weak to stand up on her own. She was taken to a hospital where she was diagnosed with pneumonia. Fortunately, she made a full recovery.
I want to hear more stories of other single people living fulfilling and meaningful lives. “Cat lady?” As Minnesotans would say, “Yah, youbetcha!” But that’s just part of the picture and it needs a new frame.
“And she lived happily ever after – with her two cats – supported by a really strong community that she helped build. That will be the legacy she leaves behind.”
About the Author:
Lisa Cook, J.D., M.Ed., enjoys helping individuals make meaningful professional and personal connections in her role as a career services director. In her spare time, she builds Plan B Connections, serves on her homeowners’ association board, and hosts events for the Twin Cities Transplants Meetup group. Her vision is for all individuals living alone to feel supported by a community.
For more information, please visit www.planbconnections.com
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Last reviewed: 23 Jun 2013