I have no idea how many people truly are single-at-heart – and neither does anyone else. The concept has never been fully developed, recognized, or tested. (I’m working on that now.) Without a way to measure it, we cannot count the number of people who fit the category. Without any relevant cultural conversations, many people never consider the possibility that living single could be, for them, the most meaningful and most authentic way to live.
There may also be an important component of age or maturity. In the early adult years, when so many people are preoccupied with dating and mating, it can be difficult to realize that the coupled life is not for you. Maybe that’s an insight that is more likely to be developed later in life.
It was Jane Gross who got me thinking about this. She founded the New York Times blog, The New Old Age, and she is also the author of A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents – and Ourselves. Her musings about the single-at-heart, though, are in a recent column, “Why some of us reject marriage,” on the PBS site, Next Avenue.
In her 20s and 30s, she said, “all I wanted was joined-at-the-hip, happily-ever-after togetherness, with babies, even a mother-in-law.” Now that she is 65, her desires are different:
“…I’m greedy for the quiet of my own home at the end of a long day. And I’m grateful not to have to sit through movies I don’t want to see, stay at parties longer than necessary, eat at “proper” meal times, collect towels from the floor or have someone follow me from room to room, expecting me to talk when I don’t feel like talking.”
That quote, dear readers, is going straight into my folder of favorite single-at-heart sentiments.
In her story, Jane Gross mentioned some of the usual metrics suggesting that single women of the Boomer generation are valuing their independence more and more. For example:
- The number of single boomers is growing.
- Although the rate of divorce has leveled off among the young to middle-aged adults, in the 65 and over crowd, it is increasing.
- Of those who were married previously, only 11 percent want to remarry.
Then she adds some anecdotal observations about what seems to be an increasingly popular way of maintaining your independence while having a close romantic relationship, too. It’s called “living apart together” or dual-dwelling-duos. The two people in the relationship want the relationship to continue, but they don’t want to live together. So they each have places of their own.
As I continue to interview people about their innovative ways of living, I want to talk to more people who have chosen the dual-dwelling-duo life. What has been interesting, and unexpected, so far, is how many people spontaneously describe fantasies of living-apart-together. One woman who has been divorced for some time said that she would love to be in a romantic relationship again – as long as the guy lived on the other side of the country. Others described similar daydreams, though most would like their partner to be a whole lot closer than that.
One of the great things about growing older, I think, is that you are less likely to be pushed around by what other people think you should be doing with your life. Pair that with the societal-level evolution toward greater choices in how to live, and I suspect that our innovations in designing our lives are just beginning.
[Note: Thanks to Leslie Westbrook for the heads-up about this article.]
Apple with heart photo available from Shutterstock