Is a Romantic Union Necessary for a Mentally Healthy Life?

Or, is living as a millennial the way to go?

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Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Every new generation impacts the ones before them and those to follow. The baby boomer peace movement and hippie generation and the ’70s, the millennials, the post-millennials, or maybe it’s the ‘X, the ‘Y’, and the whatever.

What we thought was true, wasn’t. “Times change,” we’re told.

I think I’m living like a millennial.

I divorced after a thirty-year marriage and left a four-year cohabitating relationship.

When I began living alone, eighteen months ago, I was in the middle of major life events that were known for stealing years from one’s life expectancy (I wrote about some of it here).

And, I was being treated for depression, developed high blood pressure, and felt an enormous amount of financial stress.

I didn’t live near family members (the closest was an eight-hour drive). I didn’t have close friends within eight hours, either. Or at least the kind that would take a day off work if I needed outpatient surgery.

I fit the profile for a much shorter life. Family and a few close friends kept asking why I chose to live alone in Raleigh, NC.

So, how is it going after eighteen months living like a millennial over age 50?

I began taking blood pressure medication, which the doctor has since lowered the dose to what she said was the lowest dosage possible, and my readings are normal.

I’m out of depression and got through it without Prozac. And, it wasn’t that I wouldn’t have taken it. In fact, in hindsight, I’m surprised that I wasn’t given a prescription. I was seeing the psychiatrist twice a week for months and perhaps that was the reason.

I do have a degree of financial stress but who doesn’t. And, besides, it seems to me now that I worried about it much more when I was married or cohabitating and I no longer wake at 2 a.m. in a panic.

Recently, I asked myself if I could still live to be a hundred? Gaining centenarian status has been a fantasy of mine.

Recent research agrees with the millennial.

A recent study in the reexamined society’s held beliefs on partnership status in older adults (over age 50).

However, “unmarrieds” in those studies were lumped together, failing to distinguish among cohabitors, daters, and unpartnered, and with the rise in cohabitation and dating coupled with the retreat from marriage in those over 50, they designed and carried out a new study.

In short, there appear to be few protective benefits of partnership status for older women, at least for psychological well-being.

These findings for women were contrary to the researchers’ expectations based on marital status as a continuum of social attachment.

The study discussed prior research that claimed partnered women may gain fewer benefits than men from their unions due to gendered spousal roles in older adulthood that often involve caregiving. And wives tend to be the caregivers and husbands the care recipients. Caregiving is stressful and can be detrimental to well-being.

The researchers felt their results aligned with prior work that showed women’s self-rated health was not diminished by transitions to either widowhood or divorce.

For unmarried men, co-residence was the key factor.

Men that cohabitated (versus married, dating, or unpartnered) were less likely to report frequent depressive symptoms, reported lower levels of loneliness and to perceive stress rarely.

This pattern was not consistent with the partnership status as a continuum of social attachment that expected marrieds would fare better than cohabitors.

And it did not support the researchers' alternative hypothesis that cohabitation operated as a substitute for marriage in later life.

How do I feel about the study since I’m an unpartnered male over 50?

I live alone and I’m not lonely.

Yet…

I’m not lonely. I don’t feel depressed. And I’m less stressed.

Living alone has brought a sense of peace and fulfillment.

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Photo by Sam Bark on Unsplash

What I’m doing right to remain psychologically healthy while living unpartnered.

My life has changed a great deal. I sense surprise in old friends and colleagues when they call or email to catch up. Most of them, I think, expect to hear about the next business venture and moving back to Boulder or maybe back to Boston.

Instead, what they hear causes them to say, “Really?”

And I sense them looking for ways to end the conversation. And, I rarely hear from them again.

In that context, it’s easy to get down on yourself and down on life in general. And, when you’re living alone and not dating — unpartnered — the only person to pick you up, is you.

How does someone stay mentally healthy through all of that?

My Secret Sauce to Living Unpartnered Over 50

Electronic Touches.

Since face-to-face, in-person time with my daughters or close friends was difficult, we text, email, FaceTime, and Skype. Not a day goes by without “electronic touches” of some kind.

I feel like I’m part of their life despite not seeing them every other day or every week. I know when they have a doctor's appointment, that they take a long bike ride in the afternoon, I know what they think about current events, and they know about my daily life.

At one time, I complained about people living their life electronically through texts, emails, and FaceTime. But today, I find it to be a vital method of staying connected and wonder what I would do without it.

I noticed a difference between those who are ten years older and me. They don’t take advantage of an electronic connection.

And, I noticed a difference between those who are ten years younger and me. They use social media much more. Things like Facebook and Instagram. Maybe I should, too.

Sense of Purpose.

As I said, I was processing a few major life events when I began living alone. I couldn’t find a job or consulting work in my field, and in the end, I don’t think I wanted to find something. But I lacked purpose or at least a purpose that I wanted the world to know about.

I tried real estate while a voice kept nudging me to rediscover the writing career that I began and then left many years ago. Once I decided to follow the voice, finding purpose was easy.

I work on the craft of writing eight to ten hours a day. I’m working on a fiction novel and recently decided to become a dedicated writer on Medium and replace my twelve hours of weekly Uber earnings with blogging.

I have a reason to get up at 5 a.m. I have a sense of what I want to achieve and the direction I need to go.

I Got a Dog.

I got Barkley (Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier) when he was eight weeks old. He’s now seventeen months. He’s a great companion and I do think he was an important factor in getting through depression.

He takes me outside for long walks. We play fetch every day. We meet other dog owners every day. And it doesn’t matter if it’s sunny or a hurricane is bearing down.

He cuddles next to me when I write, read, and sleep. And, he makes me laugh all the time.

Nature Walks.

Barkley and I live next to a walking trail that circles a conservation area. If we don’t walk the 2 1/2 miles around it every day, we at least walk a portion. We also drive to state parks and wildlife preservation parks.

I think spending time in nature relaxes me mentally. I feel stress turn into calm as the distractions in my head clear out.

Exercise.

The one thing I did wrong when I began living alone was to stop going to the gym. I had been an avid workout guy for fifteen years, and I just stopped.

I lost muscle, I gained weight, I felt sluggish. Now, eighteen months later, I have started back. For me, weight training has always kept me mentally refreshed and sharp. As well as turning a pessimistic mood into an optimistic one.

Meditation.

I meditate every day. Sometimes it’s fifteen minutes and sometimes it’s thirty minutes. Often, I meditate in the morning and at night.

I express gratitude for what I have in life, and I visualize the steps I need to follow to reach my goals.

Meditation has become a source where I gather peaceful energy. And it has become an important exercise in reducing stress and worry.

Entertainment.

I found it important to sit back and be entertained. It takes my mind away from all the things fighting for attention, like solving the problems with the middle build of my novel or coming up with 200 ideas to blog about.

I love UK-based mystery and crime miniseries and movies. I look forward to watching them and most days I can’t wait for 8 p.m. to arrive (I typically watch for two hours).

In conclusion:

Five years ago, if you would have said that I would be living the lifestyle I have now, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But, change was thrust upon me. As divorce, widowhood, or sudden disability is for many others.

At first, I blamed the change. I blamed it on the unforeseen dead-end on the road I was barreling down. But I had a choice. Either remain depressed with worsening hypertension or figure life out. And, fortunately for me, the technology existed that helped and supported me on one side, while I worked out the other.

I watch my two millennial daughters and their friends live an intentional life. And, I believe, they are psychologically happier for it.

Written by

Storyteller on life’s twists in the pursuit of “enough.” Words in PS I Love You, The Ascent and Startup. vince@vpnovak.com

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