We hosted a fascinating Women’s Conversation Circle last week, with a diverse group of women tackling the subject of solo aging.
If you’re a woman in the United States, there’s a good chance you’ll be on your own in your later years. Women who are single or childless, or both, already know they are potentially looking at a solo journey through their golden years. Realistically, all women should be paying attention. Statistically, women outlive men. The number of divorced women age 65 and over is rising, even as the overall divorce rate falls. Children cannot necessarily be counted on to support us, or we may not want to place that burden on them.
Our circle was intended to offer a safe place to examine our later lives, when we may be on our own whether by choice or circumstance — and to do this from a place of empowerment and control rather than dread. By creating space for us to think about how we would want to live, with whom and in what kind of surroundings, we were able to approach the future with ideas and plans to shape it as we would like.
Whether single, widowed or divorced, childless or parent or grandparent, we all learned from each other.
Among the common themes: the central importance of family, and most especially friends, as we age and may have greater dependence on others. We want to have our affairs in order and not be a burden to others. We want to have relevance, a sense of purpose.
When we envision our ideal setting, many of us want to be near water, whether the ocean or on a lake, or just able to hear the sound of a little stream from one’s balcony. Some want the convenience and variety of urban life (and an elevator building), some look to join an intentional community, and others prize their privacy and even solitude, perhaps for the first time. One shared her plans to hit the road in an RV and travel the U.S. visiting friends and national parks for a few years, before settling somewhere tropical. “Tell us how that goes!” we said enviously. One of us discovered during COVID that she was an introvert, after a lifetime of living as an extrovert. For those born outside the U.S., with loved ones spread across country or continents, the question of where to settle is up in the air.
Our role models of those who had “done it right” as they aged shared a common theme, whether older women relatives or figures like Michelle Obama or Jackie Kennedy Onassis. They were all strong women (and one grandfather) who “rose to the occasion,” kept on going about their lives and sense of purpose as they aged. As one of us said, the goal is to “do what you love.“
There were sobering thoughts too.
One of us shared a family history of dementia, and her expectation she may be in a care facility. We acknowledge the importance of good health to all our plans. We learned about the Swedish tradition of “death cleaning,” in which people methodically shed their possessions as they age, so as not to burden their heirs.
I came away with new ideas and the motivation to begin planning now — even if retirement is some years off — to turn a vision into reality. Sitting back and letting fate dictate is not a great option.
Again, we thank everyone for participating, for sharing, for being candid and open and funny. There are some good resources out there to help us navigate this process: I recommend the book Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers, by Sara Zeff Geber. Another title, for those considering some kind of communal living situation or financial commitment, is The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life and Build Community, by Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow.
If you have any questions springing from our conversation or other money topics, please feel free to reach out to us via [email protected].
We hope you will join us for future circles. Please note, we have changed the date of our next circle to Wednesday, September 8, at 4:00 p.m. Pacific time. Our topic will be “Take Control of your Money: Developing Your Own Money Policy.” We hope to see you there.