The Single Files: over 50, over child-rearing and unattached
Susan Conley says meeting someone 'would be lovely, but the horse would have to come first'. Photograph: Eric Luke
'As I get older and have more time for myself, I think, yes, I'd like someone around,' says Jayne Baird. Photograph: Eric Luke
Our week-long series continues. For people in middle age, looking for a new partner can be a daunting prospect, but facing a future alone isn’t easy either, writes HILARY FANNIN
Between the ages of 50 and 63, separated and divorced women outnumber their single sisters. Their stories are entirely individual, but among the warm and dynamic women I spoke to in this age category, there are some shared patterns and concerns.
Three are mothers of adult and teenage children. Having parented these children, they placed their own lives partially on hold until their offspring gained independence. Conversations with them tend to veer towards their interest in finding a new partner, now that their children are older and they finally have more time to themselves. The idea of looking for a new partner can be quite daunting. However, facing into a future alone, with the fear of becoming overly reliant on sons and daughters whose care and education has involved much personal sacrifice, is also not a straightforward prospect.
Re-entering the fray
Gill Doherty is 51, elegant and spirited. She was widowed eight years ago when her much-loved husband died as a result of an aggressive cancer. The shock and numbness have almost lifted now; the dark days when, she says, she pulled over on the motorway, overcome with despair and unable to drive, are behind her. Her children, a son and daughter, are now in their teens.
Armed with the confidence of having once been in a strong and happy marriage, she is ready to start looking for a new partner. Her decision to wait until her children were older before doing this has, she believes, stood to her and to them. For many years after her bereavement she felt “cheated, not single”; now she recognises that “there is a me in here somewhere”, and is finally comfortable enough in her own skin to re-enter the fray.
Her work as an IT trainer is varied and stimulating, but, she says, most of her colleagues “are about 12”. So where do mature women go to find men their own age in this country? The internet, the first port of call for many singles, has, Doherty feels, been a total waste of time. A brief dalliance with a dating site, which charged €50 a shot to view a profile, unwittingly led her to “sleazy men looking for email sex talk”. She had two dates; neither merited a second meeting.
She is “railing a little against suburbia”, frustrated with a society that seems to make decisions for her and with social mores that favour the married classes. Despite a “wonderful group of girlfriends” and the support of family and neighbours, couple-dominated dinner parties and the school gate leave little opportunity to meet someone new. But “you live in hope that Mr Right will walk into the office”.
Those coupled-up dinner parties can indeed be an exclusive club, one that Siobhan O’Donnell, 51 and the mother of a teenage son, has, at times, found herself excluded from. O’Donnell, a holistic therapist, has a judicial separation from her husband of 20 years and, like Doherty, describes having a circle of close female friends and a busy, fulfilling life. But couple rituals tend to prevail at the weekend.