26 February 2007

Old doesn't have to mean lonely

Many women who have been widowed suddenly find themselves confused about their role in society and socially isolated. What can they do to kickstart their social lives?


“What is the shelf life of a widower? As long as it takes from the funeral to when he buys his first meal-for-one at Woolworths.” A Cape Town widower

Widow’s pique?
Women live longer than men. This harsh fact of life means that many women become widows in their sixties or seventies. Form a mental picture of a widow of 67. Lonely, spends her life looking at pictures of her grandchildren, waits for the phone to ring, sits and watches soap operas all day, only getting up to feed the cat. Right? Wrong!

The good life
Many women in their sixties and seventies are healthy and active members of the community, doing much valuable work. They have roaring social lives, go walking in the mountains, go on exciting overseas trips, read interesting books, drink good wine, see interesting movies and have to schedule visits from their children beforehand to make them fit in with their other activities.

Going it alone
“This is the time of their lives when they get involved in those hobbies they could not fit in between working, housecleaning and nappy changes,” says Ilse Terblanche, Cape Town psychologist. The one thing, however, that many older women lack and would want in their lives, is a partner. But older, available men are in short supply. Furthermore our society emphasizes the sexuality and relationships of young people. The sexual and social needs of older people are often overlooked or relegated to the ‘quaint, but slightly senile’ category.

“But it is nevertheless important for a newly widowed woman to broaden her horizons and deal with her grief, before rushing headlong into a new relationship,” says Terblanche.

Reactivate your social life
So what can older women do to meet interesting partners and spruce up their social lives? “A lot more than vying for the big fish in a small pond that recently moved into the retirement village,” says Terblanche.

  • Get involved in a variety of activities. No-one is going to be interested in someone whose most interesting topic of conversation involves the cat’s dietary details.
  • Look after your health. Go to the gym and get someone to help you work out an exercise programme. Mid-morning is a good time to go to the gym, since the others who exercise at that time are mostly retired, but still quite active. A request for assistance from one of the other people could be the start of greater things.
  • Join a book club, or start one of your own. If you know any single older men, ask them each to bring a friend along.
  • Start a supper club involving a wide variety of people. Show me a widower who will not grasp at the chance of being cooked for by someone else.
  • Get a group of friends together who go to the movies on a regular basis. With pensioners’ discounts, this is a very low-cost outing.
  • Get involved in some form of community work, be it at the hospice, a children’s home, animal welfare, the church, the listener’s library. Not only will you be doing good work for others, but you will also be able to meet lots of people.
  • Join societies, like the Botanical society, a Walking Club, an amateur dramatics society (lots of things need to be done here other than going onto the stage) or a museum club.
  • Resist the urge to talk about yourself and your family on a continuous basis. Other people, especially if they live alone, really like talking about themselves and if you are a good listener, you will quickly get a large circle of friends.
  • Accept the fact that our society tends to function in a couple-oriented fashion. It could happen that if you have recently been widowed, your normal social life could be disrupted. Cultivate friendships with people who find themselves in a similar situation to your own.
  • Talk to people – especially older men – who look lost in the supermarket.
  • Organise joint holidays or expeditions with friends – ask each of them to bring another person along. It’s a great way to meet people.
  • Don’t sit at home waiting for things to happen. They won’t. You have to go out and make them happen. Be there for other people and they will do the same for you. Who knows what interesting people you might meet, while taking a friend’s children to the park or visiting someone in hospital? Stranger things have happened.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24)


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