Q. Is it OK to want to grow old alone? I've been married for 25 years. The last 19 have been sexless. I believe I married my husband to please my mother (yes, I know that's dysfunctional). Now, however, we are staying married because we have three children in college and need two incomes to pay tuition.
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He is an airline pilot away from home three days a week, which is perfect for me. When he's around, things are tense, but the big problem is I find myself so sick of the general selfishness of men that I truly picture myself alone in the future.
I would love to live in a low-maintenance condo that I can decorate myself and have my kids (and someday, hopefully, grandkids) over occasionally, with an active social life that includes friends both male and female, but zero romance. Is this normal? Do I lack self-esteem or feel unworthy of love?
I'm 53 and have been told I look younger and I feel attractive for my age. I exercise daily, eat a balanced diet and have a job I love. Other than in relationships, I'm pretty happy. I've just been pretty much ignored by my husband for 25 years and now I think I'm just used to it. I have no problem getting divorced once the kids are out of college. I just worry about being "abnormal" because I don't want a man around. It seems that everything I read in your column is about “making relationships work.” I'm tired of trying. I just don't care any more.
A. Marriage, or even couplehood, is not for everyone. So, yes, it is OK to want to grow old alone.
You say you got married to please your mother, but it’s unclear whether you didn’t want to marry at all or you didn’t want to marry this particular man.
Still, it sounds as though you are glad to have children and look forward to having them partner up and give you grandchildren. So that family aspect is an enjoyable part of your life. And you are not seeing couplehood as a negative for your grown children.
I don’t intend to imply in my columns that everyone should pair off or marry. I answer questions about making relationships work because those are the questions people ask. I believe that, if people choose to solidify a relationship with marriage, it is worth trying hard to make it succeed before throwing in the towel. This is especially true when children are involved.
But I think there are people who, for either long or short stretches of time, or permanently, prefer to be on their own. This is not a pathology. So if you don’t want to compromise or reorder your life to accommodate a man, that is completely fine.
You are correct in noting that society is geared toward couples, so being alone brings fears of abnormality. Clearly, your mother has imposed that myth upon you and, at least in the past, you bought into it, enough to marry a man you didn’t love. Fortunately, this kind of social pressure is lessening. Approximately half of the adult U.S. population is living unpartnered.
You give no indication you are unworthy of love. I detect the opposite in your note. You are saying instead, “Men are unworthy of me.”
You are “sick of the general selfishness of men.” If your wish to be alone stems from your conviction that the entire male population is narcissistically consumed, that is an unfair generalization. Not every man is a rigid, negative, selfish jerk who will make you miserable. In fact, the majority are not, and will find happiness with a woman.
It is fine to have a full life on your own. There is nothing abnormal about not actively seeking a partner. But I would urge you to think about why you don’t want a man around.
It is unwarranted to actively ward men off at all costs. What if you were living happily on your own and happened to meet someone and really like each other? It is limiting to drive him away on the chance he might end up selfish and horrible. It is erroneous to believe that having a man in your life is necessarily harmful.
In your case, your marriage hasn’t worked for a long time. It sounds like you are living mostly on your own anyway and your marriage continues as a financial arrangement for the sake of the kids’ tuition.
Still, if you and your husband haven’t had sex for 19 years, I wonder whether you truly hate your husband or whether there is some other kind of inhibition that is behind your claim to not want a man or a romantic life. Only you know the answer.
Still, there is no problem with the “been there, done that” attitude, and to proceed with life on your own.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Some people prefer to live a life free of partnership and romance, which is completely fine.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.
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