Tell Me About It: Sixty is no longer seen as old — you need more engagement and social connection
PROBLEM: I live alone in the countryside, about a mile from a small village, and I am very lonely. I moved here from Dublin about 10 years ago with my partner and our relationship broke up just over four years ago.
Neither of us came from this part of the country, but we bought the house due to the low cost of housing in the area and we were both into hiking and cycling, so the location was perfect. I work from home and make enough money to get by, but very little else. I am well integrated into the neighbourhood, but everyone has their own family and their own life. I go to a gym and attend a few social groups and classes but there is only so many of these things you can go to and most of them are attended by people much younger than me.
My parents have long since passed away and I have one brother and he lives abroad. My best friend visits once a year, and I really look forward to her coming, but it is only ever for the weekend. I don’t tend to visit her because she lives in a small house with her family and I can never afford to stay in a hotel.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not think I am depressed and there are certain aspects of my life that I find exciting and am more than happy with. I enjoy my work and I love my pets, as well as my house and garden. But once the evening sets in I am all alone and I find that very hard. My friends have suggested I sell the house and return to Dublin where there would be more people available to establish a more active social life. Ideally, I would love to do that, however, the sale of my house would not cover the cost of even the smallest or most derelict property in the capital. I am entering my 60s so unlikely to get a mortgage.
It is the very simple things such as watching a movie or a television programme with someone and being able to discuss the plot or share my views with someone on world events other than the lady in the Post Office. I do not wish to get into another relationship for the sake of company; my last relationship ultimately existed for the purpose of sex, we were and continue to be very close friends, but I did not love him, nor him me. I have never actually been in love, at least not in the way that others describe. I just wish I did not feel so alone.
ADVICE: You have expressed very well what has become a common issue in our world, that we are lonely and not seeking a relationship but rather companionship and belonging. You have tried the usual routes of gyms, social groups etc, but these have not produced enough in terms of real friendship. There is no doubt but that you need to address this, as a couple more years of long, dark, lonely winter evenings might have a very negative effect on you.
Working from home is no doubt contributing to your loneliness and if you decide to stay locally you might need to give serious consideration to working from a joint workspace, hub or even changing job. It might not be too difficult to replace your income and you would benefit from workmates and getting out of the house. Alternatively, moving to a city or large town, is worth serious consideration. At 60 you have an awful lot of living to do and perhaps you could try it for a while to see if it suits you. To do this you might need to rent out your country house and rent in the city to see if you can get a job with better money or to see if renting is a long-term option for you. We tend to cling to the idea of owning property but this is proving difficult for many people so we may need to adjust our cultural expectations.
What you do know is that you need more engagement and more social connection with people and if you do this you will thrive, and this will help you live a healthier and longer life. Sixty is no longer seen as an entry to old age and it is clear to you that you will be restless and dissatisfied if you accept your life as it is.
You say you have never been in love so this might be your opportunity to explore that issue. One book worth reading is Jane Juska’s A Round Heeled Woman (Villard) in which she describes her journey into late life adventures of sex and romance. Self-exploration can be challenging so you could consider sending out a proposal to your friend group to set up a discussion on love and relationships and other meaning-of-life topics. In fact, there are so many people who feel as you do (good life but lonely) it is possible that if you were to put up a post or invitation to discuss the issue on social media you might find a lot of willing participants.
Of course, you would need to do this with caution, so seek advice from someone well versed in online communities before proceeding, but there is no doubt that having meaningful conversations is the first crucial step towards connection and belonging.