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Building a life as a long-term single in middle age
August 10, 2014 3:13 PM   Subscribe

After spending many years with my head buried in the sand, I am trying to adopt a more realistic and pragmatic approach and build a smaller, simpler, but less stressful life. I ended my long-term relationship as while in it I had no possibility to do voluntary work or retrain for paid work (I posted a 2012 question about this but it took me until now to face the facts). I will soon be moving out into my own modest flat, with few friends and limited work opportunities due to not having worked since 2005. I am 44 and don't plan to seek a partner again, at least not unless I was working and in better shape physically and mentally, so I was wondering what middle-aged single people do that brings them happiness? Given some free time, what would help me the most to rediscover my appetite for life?

I am wanting to take some time to regroup before taking on the stress of working (paid or unpaid) again - this is something I need to be careful with as I have bipolar disorder, though thankfully it is in remission. I am quite overweight (240lbs at 5 feet 11) and getting outside daily will be a priority, but I've never kept up strenuous exercise so I think I am more likely to stick with exploring my home city than a gym membership.

I have the benefit of occasional sessions with an Occupational Therapist. She has been discussing various ideas for when I move out, things like a walking group, a learn to cook group for single men, and doing some kind of voluntary work in time. These all seem good ideas to me. I also go occasionally to Meetup-type events where I practice my beginner's Spanish, though people are friendly to me there I have social anxiety and haven't made any friends from there who see me in between meets. I am at that "too old for disco too young for bingo" stage and am looking for new age-appropriate interests to pursue. I do get enjoyment from chatting online with people from my local social anxiety site, participating on the forum and meeting up occasionally but I think I spend too much time on that. Last year I bought the NFL game pass and enjoyed watching the football games a lot but again it's a lot of time spend with little to show for it. I am not the most well-balanced person I like reading self-help books and watching romantic comedies and world cinema but have plenty of DVDs and books to get through. What I would really like is to find a few local friends my age who I could meet up with for coffee or to see a film, so suggestions as to how I could do that would be great, but home-based pastimes might be good too as I am a homebody by nature and will have more time to fill when single. I would be especially interested to hear from someone in middle age who anticipates remaining single and has a happy life, what brings you happiness at this stage of life? And from anyone, what daily activities could I begin to incorporate that would give my days structure and improve my mood?

I have got a lot of assistance from the Metafilter members when I have reached out, sometimes advice I wasn't ready to put into practice at the time but I saw the wisdom of later, so thanks in advance again for any suggestions.
posted by AuroraSky to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
...getting outside daily will be a priority, but I've never kept up strenuous exercise so I think I am more likely to stick with exploring my home city than a gym membership.

Get a bike. Take your time exploring the bikeable parts of town on it. If you have to get a bike rack and haul your bike to wherever you start, that's OK. You'll get outdoors, exercise, and exploring in all at once.

What I would really like is to find a few local friends my age who I could meet up with for coffee or to see a film

Bike to the coffee shops. Say hi to the other people who biked there, you may hit it off. If you're OK with seeing a film solo, ride to the theater (get good front and rear lights if you do this at night!) and see who you meet.

You don't have to ride far or fast to have a great experience on two wheels, and there's a good chance you'll connect with others with similar interests in the process.
posted by altcountryman at 3:27 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]


Sorry, just to add, it would be great to have both suggestions for the initial "regroup" period - which I don't want to last more than about 4 months, although time permitting I will keep some hobbies for the future - and also for tips about shifting to either doing temp work or volunteer work. It might look from my question that I'm not paying much attention to work, that will be a huge priority actually, it's just I have been so incredibly inactive and passive for years that I know I won't be ready for a day's work until I have become more active.

Also any recommended books for singles in my position, or for middle-aged people, would be great!
posted by AuroraSky at 3:30 PM on August 10


By any chance do you like making music? I think joining a chorus or local jam sessions (I live in a small town and we have some that are open to anybody who wants to join in) can be terrific in two ways: (1) making music is such a healing act; (2) you'll meet the people who are involved.

I know that might be a way-out-of-the-box approach... but it could also provide you with a great hobby: learning to play uke, or guitar, or something.
posted by correcaminos at 3:35 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I joined a UU Church and a few of the sub-groups within. You can't feel like the odd man out at a UU meeting. I'm here to tell ya! I sang in the choir, served on committees, participated in Wiccan rituals, ran Empty Bowl dinners, whatever there was, I did it. I had a BALL!

Get out and walk. It's good for you to get out in the fresh air. Take different routes, discover new stuff. Perhaps get a dog to keep you company on your walks.

Have a library day. Go to the library, get books, turn books in. Be a regular.

Join a bi-polar support group.

Take a class, perhaps something vocational. Discuss with your vocational counselor. I always recommend Salesforce.com and Excel. Both you can teach yourself, there are on-line tutorials and videos on You Tube. You can get an entry level job as an administrator.

Market everyday for your dinner. You become more in the moment with your food, and you can get everything super-fresh.

Do whatever you want. Seriously. Sitting around reading magazines and eating a plum. Go for it. Watching your favorite movie, go ahead.

Its not singlehood, it's your life! Enjoy it!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:48 PM on August 10 [11 favorites]


I understand the feeling that makes you want to regroup before entering the vol/paid work force but I would suggest you reconsider that a little.

Doing for others helps our minds and hearts become more grounded and whole and I recommend you start volunteering as soon as possible. It doesn't have to be formal: you could, for example, offer to do gardening or run errands for the old people in your street every Monday & Wednesday morn for an hour. Or you could take the oldies in a nursing home out in the garden for a walk a few times a week. In other words, volunteering doesn't have to be formal or tiring or stressful. It can be what you make it if you look around and see who needs some help.

If you start that soon, dive in, the regrouping will take care of itself and soon you will find yourself in a better place for more formal work. Good luck. You will get there.
posted by Kerasia at 3:52 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Join a running club! There are a hella lot of people in my running club both single and paired between 30 and 67 with the majority being mid-30/40s. Hell, one of my friends (who is 51) just married a lady he met in the club recently (she is 39). Besides all that it's fun, challenging, social, and fun! Some people are more serious than others but the camaraderie rocks.
posted by floweredfish at 4:27 PM on August 10


I tend to get somewhat myopic in LTRs and lose sight of the fact that life is vast. There are so many things to do, see and get interested in, those choices are endless. You can really start anywhere that piques your interest and follow that somewhere else you had no idea you would be passionate about.

Sounds like you already have some great ideas to start with. Walking is really fabulous and can be as easy or vigorous as you need it to be. I do it as a part of my regular exercise routine. It keeps my energy levels up and the pounds off. It can also be very meditative if I walk in beautiful, relaxing places. You may have local parks, botanical gardens, etc. that are conducive to this. Bonus points if you can find opportunities to walk with others.

I'm not a sports fan (I'm more of a wine bar/jazz club kind of person), but I have heard that sports bars can be lots of fun. I'm sort of thinking of a combo of the bike (or walk) to coffee shops and NFL season pass ideas. It's a way of enjoying something you like with others who like the same thing. Perhaps you'll make a few new friends along the way.

I'm also a big fan of local meetups for exploring new interests and meeting new people. I find that most of the folks I meet fall into the "friendly acquaintance" category: friendly and enjoyable to interact with, I learn a lot from them, but the friendship is not strong enough to transcend the activity. That's ok. You are going to meet all sorts of folks who will fall in the acquaintance to BFF spectrum. Most of them will only ever be acquaintances. All of those relationships are important, and generally speaking, it will take time for acquaintances to evolve into closer friends. So hang in there.

Most of the meetups I attend are professional. They are a great way to learn about new stuff, get a sense of where the local jobs market is going, and enhance my network. That might be a way of dipping your toe into the work world again and getting a sense of where you want to go from here.
posted by jazzbaby at 4:40 PM on August 10


I would suggest for one - don't get too hung up on what's age-appropriate. I mean, who decides that stuff, anyway? If you're physically capable of doing something and you find it enjoyable, and it doesn't hurt you or anybody else, then it's age-appropriate. If that means disco, disco your heart out. If it means bingo, more power to you. It sounds to me like you're setting some counterproductive limits on your activities. Give yourself a break!
posted by kythuen at 4:57 PM on August 10 [6 favorites]


What about a dog?

A dog is so much company. I recently got laid off and am at home all day, and my dog Pepper makes a difference in my mood. She often comes up to me wanting to play or be petted, which makes me smile. My daily exercise is mostly taking her out for walks to burn off some of her energy. While we're out, people often like to stop and talk to me about her, because she's a sweet tempered and cute dog. We've made friends with other dog-owners in the area.

A long time ago I had an older friend with chronic fatigue syndrome who went through periods of basically being a shut-in. Perpetually single, few friends. But he had a dog, which he loved very dearly. That black lab kept him going for walks when he didn't feel like it. And we know he was in a more positive mental state because of that dog too, because the dog was company and he made friends through people wanting to talk about the dog. Eventually our friend worked up to getting a job as a hotel clerk, and took the dog with him for night shifts. When that dog passed, he eventually got a puppy, which was even more work... and more fun.

Yeah there's costs associated with a dog but that's for another post. Having some kind of pet in general may be a good thing, if you're not a dog person or can't keep them in your flat.

Cats can be affectionate. Rabbits are litter-trainable and can be very sweet, between cat and dog in personality. Even fish are calming to watch.
posted by lizbunny at 6:41 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]


Go to community college. You should be able to get financial aid to cover tuition, books, and perhaps some of your living expenses.

Community college is a great way to restart your life when you're at a low point -- in addition to training for a new career you'll also meet a lot of other adults in your situation. Join student clubs and form study groups in your classes. If your college has a Women's Center, that could be a great place to hang out between classes.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:47 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


Seconding Lizbunny's dog - and if you're not ready for the commitment of owning a dog yourself, you could look around your new area and see if there are any old/infirm people who'd welcome the help with walking theirs.

Dog walking is surprisingly sociable.

Also sports bars for the NFL, and depending on your team there might be a bar that most other fans go to (which gives you an immediate 'in' with everyone there on Sundays).
posted by dvrmmr at 10:43 PM on August 10


Is there a second-run repertory movie house or film scene where you are? (Profile says Glasgow, but you're talking about the NFL, so I'm not sure.) You could volunteer for staffing the festivals, or get on the list for previews. I met one of my best friends when we were both in line for a film festival screening and we just randomly got talking. He's now my movie buddy.

I moved to my husband's city and found it hard to make new friends of my own at first. I met a bunch more people when I got involved in a local history group and started going on guided tours and walks. You don't have to be a history nut, but you can get involved doing research from home if you're into it (I am constantly looking up neighbors' ancestors for them!) and you can get out and about in your hometown as well.
posted by vickyverky at 11:17 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Have you thought about joining co counselling international? Check it out.
posted by tanktop at 11:36 PM on August 10


I am older than middle age, single, do not work and have a great life.

After coming out of a period of depression 8 years ago I started with one art class at my local community college. After a few semesters of art I decided to finish my GE classes and took Math for 2 years. What a slog that was. I have finally finished all of the classes I have been avoiding for the past 40 years.

I also volunteered at the local shelter visiting with the older cats. I just went in once per week and played with them. No pressure. Then I took on more volunteer responsibilities that did not involve direct animal contact which is what I prefer. I like being on small committees with people I enjoy working with and after years of volunteering I belong to a group of people that work together for different organizations that we like to support. Our main focus has been with the shelter and botanical garden.

What I found worked for me was trying something and if I didn't like it for whatever reason I moved on. I didn't do a big head trip about it, I just tried something else. You meet people and some you click with and others you don't. I have made some great friends and some great just-volunteer-together friends. They don't always overlap and that is fine with me.

Try and put your fear and anxiety about all of it, in a chair next to you. It will be there to visit whenever you want.

The world is an incredible place, with all kinds of things to do and interesting people to do them with, if you show up and check things out. One of the things I checked out was volunteering in a thrift store. I was great a pricing but a total bitch after about an hour as a cashier so no more of that torture.

Be patient with yourself and others. Don't let the so-called failures drag you down, move on till you find what works for you.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:47 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


All great suggestions, thanks everyone. I am in Glasgow and we have a great arthouse cinema. I realised reading vickyverky's response that by the time of the next big film festival I would be free to see a whole bunch of films, in future years if I was working I could even schedule staycations around it. I think this place is one of those charities like pet shelters that is overwhelmed with people wanting to volunteer, but they run film appreciation courses regularly so I could sign up for those. And taking the idea of walks a bit further by doing that in the company of others such as a history group would be a good idea too. Studying Excel is a great idea as that could open up some temp work possibilities. Salesforce.com I am less familiar with I wonder how could I discover if it is used much by Glasgow businesses?
posted by AuroraSky at 12:58 AM on August 11


Meetups, walking clubs, music -- all great ways to do things with people and to socialize under little or no pressure.

Or you can walk, bike, or go birding by yourself. Photography is one thing I truly prefer to do by myself, although, as a novice, a photography club helps me learn from other people. That club is full of odd fellows and singletons, many of whom are in my age group, which is a good thing for me.

I find that setting out to "make friends" is counterproductive; I prefer just to show up, talk with this one and that one briefly, then head back to my introvert hidey-hole. Any friendship I've ever been in has just kind of "happened" - I didn't set my mind to it.

There'll be one or two things you'll find that won't get old on you. For me, those things are photography and birding. Some activities will be passing fancies only. I spent a fair sum on supplies for a hobby last fall and I wound up walking away from it after I figured out that I wasn't that into it. I donated the supplies and didn't beat myself up.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 1:21 PM on August 11


Salesforce.com I am less familiar with I wonder how could I discover if it is used much by Glasgow businesses?

Hard to say, I didn't see a whole lot on Linkedin, but I'm not sure how much it's used for finding employees in Glasgow.

Find the websites you would use and do a key word search. If it's not adopted, see what other skills make sense. Excel is pretty great to know.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:58 PM on August 11


If you decide you want a pet, but a dog is too high -maintenance, get a cat. Most cats won't walk on a leash outside, and you can't take your cat running with you, so they aren't as helpful with the "get out and meet people" aspect, but they are companionable and fun to have around. They are also much more low-maintenance than dogs (who are as much work as a small child in many cases) - you don't have to walk them or obedience-train them. My kitties do a lot to brighten my day, keep me company, and they are fun to watch and play with (they all love their mousie-on-a-wire toy!).

If you go the kitty route, go to a shelter and get an adult cat - they are so much less trouble than kittens, and their personalities are already solidified. Most shelter workers are a great help in guiding you to the cat best suited for you.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:19 AM on August 12


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