Hit me with some hope
July 14, 2018 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Do you know a woman over 50 who had not been working for a decade or more, was left by her husband of 30 or so years, and came out okay? If so, I sure would like to hear about it. This was me and I'm doing surprisingly well, but am scared as hell about the future. Please don't tell me anything that's not absolutely true; I'm not interested in fairy tales. But if you have an encouraging story, or even a not-dismal story, do tell.
posted by johannsebastianbachpuppet to Human Relations (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
My mother ended things in 2011-2016 (protracted divorce) after finding out that my stepfather had been cheating on her since 2003! They had been together since 1985. She is now 65 and doing great. There were definitely some less than great years in there, but she prevailed!

The work angle is a little different because they owned a business together, but it is/was really her business and she finally managed to excise him from it.
posted by 8603 at 4:05 PM on July 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

What she has done--I don't know if this is an option for you--is reach really deep into her Rolodex and unearth some friends from high school, college, and even childhood. Pretty impressive for a woman in her 60s.
posted by 8603 at 4:09 PM on July 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

Do you know a woman over 50 who had not been working for a decade or more, was left by her husband of 30 or so years, and came out okay? If so, I sure would like to hear about it.

Oh God, I sure do! I'm not going to lie to you; I also know women who did not come out okay. Those are the women who thought that if they continued to be pleasing, this would all work out and their exes would just be less angry.

The women I know who came out well were the ones who's attitude was FUCK YOU, MOTHERFUCKER, PAY ME. And who had lawyers who fought very hard to get them temporary alimony and several years of financial education or re-training support.

One of the women I know who came out well and really thrived (personally, not just financially) used her divorce money to start a small business that supports her very well and has grown and is something she's justifiably very proud of (and is still running at 70+ years of age.)

I also know a woman who got half of not much, made a lot of practical choices about COL and employability and got some kind of nursing degree and is able to support herself and live a modest but happy life 5 years after she finally stopped burning effigies of her feckless ex.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:51 PM on July 14, 2018 [24 favorites]

I told you this story last time, but it bears repeating. Not long after college, my best friend got married and in support of her husband (who had a tiny daughter from a prior marriage) did not pursue a career in her field but instead took a job in retail so she could help care for the child. They had three more children, and moved around the country in support of his job. She was progressively more unhappy, and eventually they divorced. It was not a pretty sight.

She was certain that after a dozen years without any track record in her planned (or any) career and not having worked outside the home (for pay -- she had a number of volunteer roles, as most moms do, and had, of course, done all of the project management tasks that relate to parenting tiny humans) that she would be unemployable in any field that would allow her to care for her children. (For spite, her husband refused to take any job that did not pay him under the table in order that he could refuse to pay court-ordered spousal support (initially) and court-ordered child support.)

Long story short, my friend got a job in an administrative position, basically secretarial, in a pharmaceutical company, through a serious of tenuous networking contacts. (It was a good pharma, not the icky kind.) She stayed with that company, working her way up, and though she started with absolutely zero self-esteem (relics of her childhood, her marriage, and the way society treats women who choose family over career), she kept working her way up. She did what she was asked, she asked questions about things she didn't know, and she applied the same tenaciousness to her new job that she had to raising strong, healthy children.

She's at the same company now, having been emotionally supported by colleagues and supervisors for about 15+ years now. When you asked your last question, she had just been sent (or had just returned from) a conference to which they sent her in Amsterdam, and allowed her to bring her younger daughter along, whom she is sending to medical school next month. All of her kids got to go to college. All of her kids survived the divorce. And they're all proud of her that she faced her fears of not being able to have a post-marriage future.

There isn't a month when she and I haven't had a conversation where she doesn't marvel at how lost she felt when her marriage ended, and how she could not see a way forward. But every day, she built friendships, then networks, then gained skills, then built upon those skills, and she has used her experience to role-model resilience for her children and for me.

I give this advice so often, I start to feel like it's trite. But imagine someone you respected and liked came to YOU and said "My marriage of many decades is over and I haven't worked in over a decade and I can't see a way forward." What would you tell that person whom you liked and respected? Would you say "Oh, well, you're screwed?" Or would you say, "Well, sometimes it will be hard, but you have talents you've forgotten about, and abilities you don't know that you have, and will have opportunities you can't even imagine. Take it ONE STEP at a time."

I bet you'd give that person you like and respect the latter message. Well, try liking and respecting yourself. You don't have to be johannsebastianbachpuppet circa 2028 yet. Be johannsebastianbachpuppet circa July 2018, and you will get there. My friend got there, and though she had a good education, she did not have the advanced degree and credential that you have, and she didn't have a network of people upon whom she knew she could count for anything career-related. It's not a fairy tale; her life isn't perfect. Both she and her children have had setbacks during this time -- medical and emotional and financial and sometimes just "the car is dead and we can't afford a new one" kind of setbacks. But she got through them all, and her life far exceeds what she hoped for during that dark time.

You don't have to stick with your prior field, but you'd be amazed how people will look at what you've already accomplished and see it as a sign of what you CAN accomplish. (I'm not working in the field in which I earned an advanced degree, but having had my degrees has opened lots of doors over the decades. The same was true for my best friend.)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 4:51 PM on July 14, 2018 [39 favorites]

My Mom divorced my Dad after 28 years of marriage. She had been a stay at home mom for the last 20 of those. She started her own business, which had ups and downs, but she's happily retired now and "shacking up" with her old boyfriend from college. My dad's remarried. They actually are good friends now that they don't have to be married to each other.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:59 PM on July 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

My mother divorced my step-dad after 30 years together, 15 of those married. She was 68. She was still working full-time at his insistence. Even though he had much more money that her, and retired at 63, he insisted they pay for everything 50/50. I think she stayed for so long, even though he was an emotionally abusive and controlling jerk, because she was worried her lifestyle would suffer significantly (they were solidly middle class, and had a house she loved). There was also a pre-nup that basically said she would leave the relationship with what she brought into it (discounting appreciation on the house and all the decorating and major landscaping work she did). She tried to settle with him out of court for a very reasonable amount, but he refused while threatening and belittling her. He drug the divorce out over a year. Meanwhile she was able to buy smaller but very nice house (and for the first time I was able to help her with some cash to make the down payment).

Divorce finally went to court, prenup held no water, and my mom got about $25,000 more than she originally asked for, while he paid a big chunk of legal fees. She payed off her house, which she really loves and was able to finally retire. She has friends, activities and can travel, and it would have been a good ending right there.

But a year later, despite swearing off men, she decided to try online dating. In deep red-state TN, she met a lovely, widowed, retired professor who is politically progressive. They dated for a year, took lots of trips together, and he DOTES on her. He really wanted to get married, but she's been there done that. So then he decides he'll be happy if they can live together... and he will pay for whatever house she wants as well as foot the bill for redecorating. She can keep her house as a rental property or sell it, whatever. Last week they moved to the new house, I'm going over tomorrow to help her hang up artwork.
posted by kimdog at 5:04 PM on July 14, 2018 [38 favorites]

I've known 3 women whose husbands left them when they were about your age. The two who did well learned about managing money.

One is a legal secretary and the other is in an administrative staff role at a university. Both own condos in the suburbs and have reconnected with their divorced friends from school. They seem happy and are able to take care of themselves financially.

The one who hasn't done well never learned to manage money and still seems to live in denial that she is no longer wealthy. The successful women were more middle class before the divorce, so they didn't have as far to fall financially.
posted by parakeetdog at 6:01 PM on July 14, 2018

I've always worked, but I did divorce a husband at age 50, and I know that fear. I only have one bit of hope to hit you with, but it's a good one.

You were married to him for more than 10 years, so you (and I!) are entitled to collect up to half of HIS Social Security when we retire.
posted by caryatid at 6:10 PM on July 14, 2018 [10 favorites]

It’s scary, but get your head right and go forth into the unknown! We can do this!

I recently ended my marriage of 25 years. We were together 28 years. We have three children so I spent nearly 20 years at home with my babies. I loved that life but my marriage was never great and he didn’t want to work on it. I started talking about a split late last year. He moved out in January.

About a year before I asked for this separation, I went back to work. I leaned on a close friend for a professional introduction. I networked. It worked. I got myself into an organisation I wanted to be in, in a temporary role, then into the department I wanted to be in, again as a temp, then into a temp role doing the thing I love. It is in my field but when I say that I mean I got the degree but had never worked in it. From there, my connections put me in touch with someone hiring for a permanent role. I got it. I’ve been there 9 months. I love the work. I’m finally doing what I trained to do. But more importantly, it gave me the financial stability to give me choices. Two months in, I told my husband we were done.

We have had minimal arguments /conversations about dividing things because I don’t care. I just want to be done with him. He could take everything if it meant I never had to deal with him beyond kids. I have enough for me and the kids. I would rather lose money than spend any time and energy getting what’s mine. I’ve told him he can have whatever stuff he wants. I’ve told him I don’t want any child support. I don’t fight him about when he sees the kids. The effect that has had is that he’s been decent about most things so I haven’t lost anything at all. He’d be fighting by himself if he wanted to start something.

And I am in love again. Unexpectedly. Wildly. Beautifully sweet. It’s very new and nice. Knowing someone can be attracted to me in my mid forties post children body and marriage wearied head, and that I can feel this way about someone again has been really special. I don’t even need it to go anywhere. The feeling of being in love is enough. I am happy.

Sending you a big internet hug if you want it. Be brave. You can and will make a new life.
posted by stellathon at 8:46 PM on July 14, 2018 [10 favorites]

My mother. She wasn't quite 50 when my father left her (and eventually married a former staffer of his and moved to the same neighborhood (yeeeechhhh)), but she did amazingly well. They'd been married over 30 years at the time and she was enraged and devastated. However, she leveraged her contacts to find herself a job, built her professional level skills, eventually went into business for herself, and, many years later, owns her own home that suits her right down to the ground, has a wonderful circle of friends, volunteers regularly, and, in all respects, has a wonderful and enviable life.

She never remarried, but that was her call. Certainly, there were a number of men who would have been very interested if she'd ever reconsidered.
posted by dancing_angel at 11:59 PM on July 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thank you all so much. These are wonderful stories. I actually have gotten a little job already, a temporary, part-time one clerking for a judge, that starts tomorrow. I feel wholly inadequate because at this point I know less than a 1L. I couldn't be less prepared or in a worse emotional state, and I have a bad wrist that is massively aggravated by typing and it's all flared up. But I'm lucky to have found this job, lucky to have so many wonderful, supportive friends, lucky to be making more every day (a weird development that I wasn't expecting!), and so, so lucky to have you all behind me.
posted by johannsebastianbachpuppet at 6:38 AM on July 15, 2018 [17 favorites]

Not a story involving divorce, but...

Years ago, a friend of mine, who was fifty-something at the time, had been working in tech for a while when she decided she wanted to do something completely different. She got in touch with Maryknoll and spent a couple of years in Thailand working with women who'd been adversely affected by human trafficking. Had she wanted to, she could probably have parlayed that experience into work with a non-profit or an NGO. She regrets absolutely nothing.

If you don't have folks relying on you for financial or care-giving support, and you're not carrying significant debt, you're free to do what you want, and it might not be a conventional job.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 7:18 AM on July 15, 2018

There are many encouraging stories at Chumplady.com. Look in the archives for "Tell me how you are mighty"
posted by Enid Lareg at 11:12 AM on July 15, 2018

This is probably every one of my mom's friends. In 5 years, you'll be surprised with how well you are doing. In 10 years, you'll be incredibly impressed with how far you've come. Good luck with your clerking job. I fully expect that by the time you retire, you will be judge.
posted by Toddles at 8:22 PM on July 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yup! My mom’s close friend, who is a huge inspiration to me, was left by her husband for his hairdresser as soon as their kids went to college. A friend secured her a part-time admin job and she went back to school to study law. She worked insanely hard. Ten years later she’s a highly respected district attorney and married to a doting, wealthy man she met online. They travel all the time. The husband and hairdresser divorced within a year.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 8:07 PM on July 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

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