It’s not unusual for people in their 50s to find themselves in a marriage that has ended. I’m one of those. I separated in 2009 and divorced in 2010. What is perhaps a little bit unusual is that I have not re-partnered. Most men who have been through similar experiences have, but I’m quite happily single.
While that might be unusual among men, new research indicates that the majority of separated women enjoy being single. The study, completed by CoreData research, shows that 61 per cent of separated or divorced women are satisfied being single.
For men, that figure is only 47 per cent. The 61 per cent figure for women is increasingly a relevant one for Australians over 50. The median age at which both women and men have been divorcing has been rising steadily for 40 years.
In fact, more than a third of divorces being filed in Australia involve couples aged over 50.
Why newly single women are happy to remain so
With the benefit of hindsight, I can’t say I’m surprised more women than men are happier living the single life. As much as I tried to be a ‘modern’ father and partner when I was married, I was not fully aware of the imbalances that many western marriages entail – even today.
Myriad research papers have been published on this topic, the vast majority indicating men enjoy greater health benefits in marriage. In my circles, it became clear to me over time that marriages were reverting to type despite best intentions.
Actually, reverting to stereotype would be a more accurate description. Along with several of my male friends, I wanted to believe my marriage would be one of genuine equality. Looking back, that did not happen. I found it easy to slip into stereotypical husband/father mode. And given I was the one who benefitted more from that reversion, no wonder I found it so easy!
Such reversions among ostensibly equal partnerships must be quite devastating for the disadvantaged partner – almost always the woman. Single life is surely a better option.
In some cases, genuine danger from a partner adds to what amounts to the antithesis of ‘marital bliss’. For many women, ending a marriage is not only an escape from inequality but also physical and emotional violence.
What has historically made the transition to ‘single’ status very hard to achieve though, has been financial inequality. In many cases, the inequalities inherent in marriage have made it very hard for women to make a financially sustainable move to becoming single.
Fortunately, this has become less so over time. Financial adviser Helen Baker, founder of On Your Own Two Feet, has helped many women in this regard.
There remains a level of social stigma around remaining single after the ending of a relationship, particularly marriage. I used to use stereotypical phrases that reinforced this. “After my marriage failed…” I would write, without a second thought.
I think there are two inherently incorrect implications in that phrasing. The first is that our marriage was a failure. My ex-wife and I were married for two decades, during which time we produced two wonderful and happy children. We had our moments of despair, but we had many happy ones in that time (even without the kids). In the end, we grew apart. But was our entire 20-year marriage a failure? Not at all.
Second, the term ‘marriage failed’ can also imply that remaining single for any length of time afterwards is also ‘failure’. I think I believed that for a period after our divorce. No longer.
Every single time
Author Jill Stark is an inspiration in this regard. This week, Ms Stark spoke about spending Christmas alone on Channel 10’s The Project. But she spoke of the experience as a positive one, not one which should leave people feeling sorry for her.
Ms Stark has introduced ‘Solo Sundays’ events to emphasise the positive aspects of being single. These events are designed to smash the entrenched narrative around single life. “Because there is more to life than ‘partnered and happy’ or ‘single and sadly searching’”, she wrote last week. “There is solo and thriving.”
And the number of ‘solo and thriving’ single women out there looks set to keep rising.
Are you a divorced women aged over 50 who has remained single? How do you – and those around you – feel about that? Let us know via the comments section below.
Also read: Rise in older divorces threatening retirements