I’m constantly checking that my partner is still breathing—which annoys the hell out of him as you can probably imagine. Firstly as he’s a healthy 71, and secondly because we are both aware that I’m doing it much more for my benefit than his.
He was quite happy to suggest I go on a First Aid course recently and learn how to use a defibrillator, just in case. But waking up to my worried face holding a mirror over his mouth every morning is beginning to feel uncomfortably close to being a deal-breaker.
We got together at 50 and 64, respectively, and the last, almost seven years have been an eye opener to me just how happy I can be with another person. On the downside of course, it also lures my mind into incoherent terror of losing the partner I do just about everything with. The truth about aging alone is that I have not the remotest idea what I would do without him.
Of course, I’ve been there before, and it was only after I got divorced after 24 years of marriage that I realised that I had never lived alone in my whole life. But I still had teenaged sons and a waistline, so actually it felt more like opportunity than an ending. (In fact, it was a lot of fun.)
But now, the game is entirely different.
I’ve done it all wrong you see. I ought to be becoming more independent as I get older, more in control of my own finances, secure in independent friendships and building up solo hobbies. Instead, he and I are out grabbing every opportunity to live life together, throwing caution to the winds and maximising this hugely enjoyable second chance as a couple.
It’s lovely, but I should also mention that I am a mother of grown up boys, now 24 and 26. I felt quite smug when my friends were enduring the hormonal years of having daughters distraught over a haircut, or screaming habdabs over some imagined slight by a former best friend they were never going to speak to again, ever. Or for a day or two, whichever came first.
My boys in comparison were calm, accepting and warm towards their mother. Somehow I told myself it would ever be thus. Then woe is me; it’s Mothering Sunday this weekend and one is stuck on an oil rig and the other is at the very opposite end of the country. And he’s genuinely far too poor/early in his career to be able to come back all that way just to take his mother out for lunch.
And then there’s the girlfriends. One, (thankfully now binned) who would physically stand between me and my son at all times and answer for him if I posed a question.
I am deposed.
I tried hard to mentally prepare myself for aging alone since they were tots, but I find myself now ALMOST considering adopting; possibly co-opting and occasionally kidnapping the female offspring of friends. Who, it turns out, were right all along to put up with the tantrums and tiaras for the lifelong commitment of daughters.
There’s even a name for the future I most fear.
Apparently, I am in danger of finding myself as an elderly orphan—either without kids, or without them sufficiently nearby to be much use for the kind of social interaction that might stop me sliding prematurely into isolation and all the health nasties that go with it.
Around a third of American citizens aged 45-63 are single, and as many as a quarter of women in the US are childless.
Perhaps early on they found a solution to the problem of who will tell you if you have a stray whisker (and by that, I mean an outcrop like Popeye’s) on your chin, when your own eyes lack the clarity to find and annihilate the little beggars with tweezers.
You can tell from the vehemence of that description that I haven’t. (And don’t tell me to buy a magnifying mirror. I’ve got one but it’s nowhere near as brutally honest as my 24-year-old when he’s home.)
And maybe any decision to be childless seemed sensible when it meant there were no restrictions on where to go out, what to drink and what time to come home. But as an elderly orphan, those decisions just might, God forbid, be taken by a state appointed guardian. And that ruling might stretch to imposing a care home, where it’s orange squash for celebrations and lights out at nine.
Are you now getting the picture why I’m pumping my poor partner full of vitamins and insisting he goes to a personal trainer so I don’t end up aging alone?
In a life full of uncertainties, there are no reliable answers. Not everyone has the luxury of choosing to have kids, never mind which gender, and finding love and losing loved ones is an arbitrary business which offers no one any guarantees.
It’s only because what I have gained, relatively late in life, is so good that I find myself disproportionately, even ridiculously, afraid of losing it. But the irony is not lost on me that some days I am indeed in danger of “losing” the day to worrying about it, instead of living in the present and making the most of what I have.
Sure, I need to cut down on cakes and wine so I give myself the best possible chance of growing old gracefully. I need to save towards a pension until I have enough to sustain me and I need to smile sweetly at girlfriends who come and annexe my sons with the ruthless efficiency of Russian tanks.
I need to keep up with my own girlfriends and give generous presents to nieces and nephews in the hope that, should I ever find myself aging alone and needy, there will be people around who will care, and step in, and provide the care I might need in my second childhood.
Alternatively, I could draw up plans for a commune of wrinklies where we all make a binding commitment to look after whoever goes loopy first. Wine, dancing and song would be mandatory and everyone must regularly “wear purple,” as in the poem.
That’s the only kind of orphanage I might be able to suffer, if I really had to.
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