[Bella’s intro: Here is the second and final part of Diane Marty’s essay on her decision to live apart from her partner. Part 1 is here.]
The End Game, Part 2, by guest blogger Diane Marty
Curious to know the dynamics of late-life relationships involving other widows my age before I plunged headlong into the end run of my own committed relationship, I immediately searched the archives of my memory. Soon, the names of two former widowed colleagues who had entered devoted, prolonged relationships after long term successful marriages surfaced.
Next, I mined the social networks of current local friends and acquaintances. They offered the names and e-mail addresses of four more widows who met my qualifying criteria. All were widows between the ages of sixty-one and eighty-nine, married for decades, and all but one were now living in devoted, separate-dwelling relationships.
My compulsion to hear their stories intensified when all consented to e-mail interviews.
Here’s their take on why they chose committed companionship over remarriage, how this way of living enriched their lives and how they handled moral issues once they agreed to commit themselves to an exclusive, loyal and loving relationship.
After ten years of widowhood, sixty-one year old Kathy, veteran of a twenty-eight year marriage, now shares her life with an unattached man in a committed ongoing six-year “Live-In” arrangement. She is the only one of my widowed interviewees who shares her residence. She and her partner do live together.
Admitting that control of her material assets influenced her decision to consent to living in an unmarried but cohabiting relationship for the foreseeable future, she flatly stated: “It” [my situation] “is too complicated with material things to get remarried at this point of my life.” She also readily cited a key disadvantage she felt in choosing such a lifestyle. “I am also Catholic so there is a bit of guilt” [on my part] “associated with this relationship, we do live together.”
On the other hand, Betsy, age seventy-one, widowed for four years after a forty-six year marriage, shared other concerns about her current eighteen-month-long new alliance. She
addressed the importance of keeping her hard earned independence. She wrote:
“Surviving the first few years of grief and widowhood gave me a sort of grim confidence in my ability to survive and even thrive as an older woman alone. I am not likely to give up that independence without serious consideration.”
She had also reflected upon the effect her new affiliation might have on her assets, particularly her finances.
“Money, too,” she wrote, “is something we may not want to have entangled. My own pension checks are mine to control as I see fit—either wisely or foolishly. . . . I want to retain the power of that choice.”
Betsy’s reluctance to surrender the new sense of empowerment she gained after surviving the trauma of loss and grief is notable. From the ashes of her loss, widowhood gifted her with renewed confidence in her own strength and abilities. She wanted nothing to do with a bond that would obligate her to another’s control.
Eighty-eight year old Beth, widowed for twenty years after a forty-eight year marriage confirmed the value her contemporaries placed upon unfettered independence and freedom. From the vantage point of her own ten year experience, she noted a key advantage enjoyed by the participants engaged in committed but living apart alliances. She wrote:
“The fact that he’s not here everyday I still have a life of my own and freedom to do my own thing.”
My respondents also cited the advantages of relationships undertaken without legal ties. They perceived that freely chosen, but not legally binding private pledges, whether spoken or implied, imposed no obligation or sense of indebtedness upon either partner from entities outside themselves. Therefore, they could freely exchange love, companionship and intimacy without the need to surrender or compromise the freedom of either partner. Such unfettered freedom allows the partners in such relationships to participate in a completely voluntary choice.
Another anonymous seventy-five year old widow, married thirty-four years, widowed nineteen and sharing her life in a seventeen-year ongoing, dual-dwelling relationship, acknowledged that her lifestyle choice accorded her the power to exercise her unrestricted freedom of choice. In her words:
“It’s a choice unencumbered by the wishes of one’s parents or friends, a choice made entirely by the widow to enhance the ‘Golden Years’. Let’s face it,” she emphasized, “it’s a lot more fun to share that pot of coffee in the morning and the sunset in the evening.”
Still, assuming personal responsibility for making such a choice, if made with less than a clear conscience, can prove burdensome to either partner if they cannot manage to modify their moral code or their lifestyle choice to coincide with each other.
Kathy, the lone Catholic among my interviewees, readily admitted the lack of a resolution to such a conflict had come at a cost to her peace of mind. She explained:
“I have not changed my lifestyle, [to conform to my religious principles] thus the guilt [I feel because] of not being married and being Catholic.”
Nevertheless, despite her discomfort, she did not allow her personal struggle with her conscience to inhibit her choice of lifestyle. She expressed no intention to withdraw from the relationship because of it.
Marian, eighty-nine and widowed twenty-three years, outlived both her husband of forty-eight years and her companion of eight years. She chose to measure the morality of her choice against present day social realities. She pensively stated:
“I suppose there are some risks [to defying conventional rules] but I didn’t feel them. This is a different day and age and I think people look at situations differently than in decades past.”
Her generational sister, eighty-eight year old Beth, echoed her sentiments when she wrote: “I think times have changed so much that most people do not find non-marital committed relationships immoral or even unconventional.”
Consequently, as I mulled over the e-mail responses of my interviewees, I concluded that these were indeed women I’d be proud to emulate. They were uninhibited and unhampered by any restriction other than their own conscience. Without a doubt, they assumed their freedom of conscience was a sacrosanct right.
As such, they refused to permit any outside source—whether family or friends, religious statute or conventional or unconventional values—to relegate them to the weeds of loneliness and despair. Instead, seasoned with life experience, they chose to recognize and embrace the positive empowerment their widowed state granted them. In addition, their testimony showed that choosing the dual-dwelling-duo living arrangement lets us widows maintain the much treasured, independent single life we regained through widowhood that includes our time alone.
Moreover, I concluded that choosing the living apart scenario at the same time we commit to an exclusive linkage to another person, provides us with the much needed element of balance between a life of overabundant solitude and one of measured togetherness. Both components are needed in a healthy relationship but balance is crucial to a contented life.
Upon further contemplation of the words of my counterparts, my confidence in my own resilience and self-worth grew. As a result, I accepted my congenial buyer’s proposal to commit to a compatible, non-marital relationship that offered me companionship, love, intimacy and loyalty all wrapped in a mutual zest to explore new horizons. Seven months into our relationship, the initial electrifying vitality continued to inspire us as we planned our first overland trip to Alaska and back in the old/new truck camper, the talisman that launched my investigation into the relationship choices of late-life widows.
As I see it now, I’m living the best of both worlds. Not relinquishing my freedom to keep single, independent control over my own needs, i. e., where and how I live, how I manage my financial affairs, whether I stay or leave, sell or keep my home, who takes care of me in a healthcare emergency, etc.—maintaining such independence is paramount to the success of such live-apart but dually committed exclusive partnerships.
Hence, I heartily embraced the wisdom inherent in the words of my widowed sisters, for it affirmed the long-standing value of the old adage—Let your conscience be your guide.
About The Author: Diane Marty is a retired English teacher who taught English and Expository Writing in high schools in California, Wyoming and Michigan. She has attended several writing conferences in her quest to hone her Creative Writing skills. Her essay, Doomsday, was published in the 2008-09 Bear River Review and her short story, On Resurrecting Sleeping Dogs, was also published in the 2010 edition of The Bear River Review. Diane is a widowed grandmother to seven grandchildren and she lives in Dowagiac, Michigan. She also wrote the essay, “Second singlehood: A time to blossom.”
Camper image available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 14 Jan 2014