In the past (and not too long ago at that), a woman over age 50 who was single inspired sympathy and concern from her married peers: Will she ever be able to find someone and settle down? True, even today, many unattached women in this demographic dream of hearing wedding bells. Still, a surprising number have the exact opposite attitude and think, Why the heck would I want to get married now?
Most people believe that men over 50 have long cherished their bachelordom. But these days, a growing number of women also feel that staying single has a whole lot of benefits. When I was conducting research for my book, The Boomers’ Guide to Online Dating, I was surprised by how often I heard this sentiment. This doesn’t mean these women aren’t dating — on the contrary, their calendars are packed with fun plans and romantic prospects. But if a well-meaning male suitor starts putting out feelers along the lines of, “So do you ever want to get married someday?” they’re more likely than ever to hear a woman say, “I doubt it” — and really mean it. What’s caused such a dramatic shift in 50-plus women’s romantic goals? Read on to find out.
Reason #1: They’ve got plenty of company
Perhaps the first reason women are happier to stay single is because they’re hardly the pariahs they were in the past. Today, a whopping 16 million boomers — more than 25 percent of men and women in this age group — are single. That means unattached women this age are rarely lacking in a little company, whether that’s a night out with some single pals or a hot date on a Saturday night. Internet dating has also helped turn the world into their oyster, presenting them with tons of prospects, many of whom are much younger and very interested in wooing an older woman.
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All in all, it’s easier than ever for women this age to get the same emotional perks that their married counterparts do, whether that be affection, intimacy, shared fun or laughter. In fact, some of these singles might argue that their love lives are even more exciting by comparison, since their relationships aren’t weighed down by the draining domestic concerns that marriage entails. “You’d be surprised,” says Carol Ford, a fiftysomething widow of 10 years and online dater for two years, “how easy it is to find someone who is warm and interesting to be with. I’ve been out with a lot of charming men my age. Then after a romantic evening, I can go back to my little retreat and he goes to his, and there’s no squabbling over ‘Why didn’t you fold my laundry the way I like it?’”
Reason #2: They’d rather downsize domestically
While 7.6 million boomers have never been married, the majority have tied the knot at some point. Many have raised children. If they find themselves single again after the death or a spouse or divorce, marriage is rarely high on their list of priorities because, well, they’ve already been there, done that. In fact, many women have spent so much of their lives compromising in the name of family — sacrificing dreams of starting a business to take care of kids, passing on that girls-only Caribbean vacation because her husband argued that money was tight — that being single can feel downright liberating! Ford, for one, is reveling in her ability to do what she wants, when she wants. “Today, for example, I bought a $2,500 ‘shabby chic’ entertainment unit with chicken wire on one of the panels,” she says. “My husband would have flipped out. But I didn’t have to explain to anyone why I just had to have this beat-up old cabinet!”
Reason #3: Their families come first
Another factor for women who already have families under their belt is how messy things can become with a new husband in the picture. Conflicts of all kinds can crop up once families blend together, even if the kids are already out on their own. Some women express reluctance to share their family inheritance with someone else in addition to their children. Others worry about the emotional impact a new husband would have on the family dynamic. Rather than rock the boat, they’d like to keep things at the status quo. A copy editor acquaintance of mine from New Jersey has this story to share: “I dated a really nice man and we had no problems with each other,” she says. “But he would criticize my 22-year-old son, and I was very sensitive to that. You know, if you bring up a child, you have this history; you see the long-term view. Maybe the kid isn’t doing so well at this point in time, but you remember how hard he worked to win the 400-meter butterfly in a junior varsity swim match, say, and you believe he’ll dig down and be a winner again. It felt disloyal to hear someone doubt him. So I picked motherhood over marriage.”
Reason #4: They don’t need a man to make ends meet
Now more than ever, women in this age group are engaged in successful careers with lucrative salaries. The impact of this fact has been twofold: One, they’re less likely to think they need to marry a guy to get by. Two, they’re often so focused on their careers that socializing and romantic pursuits get put on the back burner. Think of former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice. She is not atypical of other women with doctorates, who, as a group, are twice as likely as doctoral men never to have married or to be divorced.
Sometimes high achievers feel marriage would be more of an annoying distraction than a welcome diversion. Just ask boomer Jan Harayda, a successful author and former women’s magazine editor: “There have been many points in my career,” she says, “when I’ve really had to concentrate to meet deadlines or the work is going smoothly and I’m having so much fun with it that I just don’t want to stop.” And while many men often view marriage as a support network that will help further their professional goals, women still tend to think in either/or terms: They can have a family or a career, but “having it all,” so to speak, isn’t as easy as the slogan suggests. Whether or not this is true is debatable, but the feeling is real and very prevalent, keeping many women content pouring their energy into a career rather than forging a new long-term relationship.
The bottom line is, there are so many mature unmarried folks, male and female, that going solo doesn’t feel like a lonely proposition any more. If you want companionship but not necessarily commitment, love but maybe not wedlock, chances have never been better that you’re in very good company.